BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 08 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1554 feet
Magnetic Lake - 57
BSA Troop 409 Granite River 2022
August 22, 2022
Number of Days:
Introduction/Day 0 After having a trip cancelled with the BWCA fire closure last summer, BSA Troop 409 would send 4 intrepid explorers up the gunflint trail in August of 2022. This would be the 3rd trip for troop 409 in as many years, as we try to establish an annual BWCA excursion into the troop itinerary. This is to be the first BWCA trip for Eric and Gavin, 4th for Rayn, and somewhere north of number 20 for me.
The trip got underway on Sunday morning, as Eric(Dad) and Gavin(13yo Son) drove up our driveway. Rayn (new Eagle Scout!) and myself quickly loaded our gear, went through our checklist one more time, and said goodbye to Mrs. Cricket. The drive was uneventful. First stop was picking up Culvers for a quick lunch at Lakeview Park and a fill-up in Grand Marais. We arrived at Voyageurs Canoe Outfitters at the end of the gunflint mid-afternoon in plenty of time to finalize the packing of our gear, go over our planned route, and just enjoy the Northwoods for the evening. Gavin even took a dip in the Seagull River. We very much enjoyed the pizza Voyageurs has available and set up in our bunkhouse.
Day 1 Up early to enjoy a pancake breakfast courtesy of Voyageurs before getting a ride to Gunflint Lake for our Magnetic Lake entry point. We scored a picture perfect day to start our trip, as Gunflint Lake was a giant mirror reflecting the morning Sun. Our route plan is to travel up (down?) the Granite River to Saganaga and then either take the border route to Ottertail and down through Hanson and Ester to do a loop through Ogish or to take a shorter route through Red Rock and Alpine. The goal for today is to reach a campsite near the Devil’s Elbow area.
We quickly unload our rented Royalex Canoes and our gear and are on our way. I am excited to see the Granite river, as I have never traveled it before. Shortly before we enter the BWCA proper an Eagle perched on the Canadian side of Magnetic Lake greats us. We take this a good sign for the week in front of us.
The portages along this route we discovered are quite challenging. Some were difficult to locate and many had large drops to negotiate. We also experience our first setback, as a strap on the H2Zero pack I had borrowed from a friend broke. We were able to re-arrange some things but we would have an extra drybag of food that would need to be carried separately on portages, at least until we ate our way through some of the food. We were able to do 1.5 trip portages.
Around 11:00 we arrived at Clove Lake for a quick lunch and our first ‘decision point’ where we could decide to continue to our goal or make a decision to stop for the day. This is something I aim to instill in the scouts is that plans can be changed depending on conditions, how everyone is feeling, etcetera. I am emphasizing that unlike so many other activities that the scouts do, lots of things can be changed and we can improvise as we go. After enjoying some packaged flavored chicken or tortillas, we decide to proceed per our original plan.
Throughout the route, we were able to avoid several portages by running the min-rapids, but our luck ran out just before Gneiss Lake. We were scouting it out (no pun intended) and I did not like the look of the tree that had fallen across half the width of the stream. However, I found we had already been caught up in the flow and we were already committed. In trying to avoid the tree, we turned just a bit too much and over we went. Thankfully it was a warm day and all the gear was safely in drybags, but a bit of blow to the ego. We quickly gathered up our bags and ourselves, pulled the canoe up enough to dump it out, and continued on our way.
Our hope was to get the island campsite on Gneiss, but that one was taken. As was the next one. At this point it was around 2:30 but more importantly the clouds were building, and we think we hear what sounds like distant thunder. Thankfully as we round the next corner we find campsite 1949 open. After a quick look we deem it suitable for our first night. We unload the Canoes as we watch some ‘weather’ to the north of us, seemingly to pass us by. Eric and Gavin set up their tent while Rayn and I find spots for our hammocks. As a precaution we take out the 16’ tarp and cover the gear before we enjoy the great jump off rock at this site. It was a plenty warm day and the cool water is just the thing we needed! We are glad we thought to cover the gear, as we had a couple of showers pass through. We enjoy brats for dinner (our last ‘real’ food for the week) around a small fire before calling it a night. ~Gunflint Lake, Magnetic Lake, Clove Lake, Gneiss Lake
We have some difficulty finding the portage around Saganaga falls (hint, it is not on the Canada side) and end up coming out to at least 30 people milling about the falls and sitting/laying on the rocks. Pretty crazy scene, never seen anything like it in the B-Dub. We have to weave through the crowd to get our canoes across and to the water. We had thought we might enjoy a lunch by the falls but decide to move on and find somewhere else. I didn’t even realize but in our haste to move away from the crowd we never even really took a good look at the falls.
We follow the shoreline to the west thinking we might enjoy a lunch at campsite 418 to see if it is really a 5 star site, but we can’t seem to find it and decide to proceed towards our goal of Horseshoe Island. We stop at campsite 423 and find it in a bad state of disuse. There was nice cove of larger pines where we enjoyed a quick lunch and get serenaded by the college crew signing a paddling chant on their way back to their camp
There is a bit of concern with campsite availability so we keep lunch short and set out again against the light breeze. We see the kids are split between the two campsites on Oskenonton Island. Approaching Horseshoe Island we see that the eastern site is taken, but we are hoping to get the site the outfitter had recommended on the NW part of the Island. As we rounded the NE point of the island we see that the site ahead of us on the island north of Horseshoe is open, so Rayn and I take the long route to take a look just in case our first choice is taken. This site (376) looks like a nice site and open, but after lingering for about 10 minutes and not seeing Gavin and Eric, we decide that they much have found and taken claim of our first choice.
And indeed they had and this was really a great site. Unlike most of the area we had been travelling through, this island seemed to have been spared any of the fires over the last couple of decades and had a number of mature pines. The best feature was the tall rock shelf in camp at perfect working height, so we were able to cook, prepare meals, etc. without having to stoop on the ground. Again we got camp all set up and this time took the time to properly set up the tarp, as it looked like more substantial rain was on the way. This is confirmed when I check my Inreach mini. We also see that it will likely rain pretty much all the next day.
With this in mind, we have a discussion and ask the scouts what they want to do. They don’t like the idea of packing up and traveling in the rain, and note that this is really a nice campsite and decide that tomorrow will be a layover day. That afternoon we get just a bit of fishing in before we scavenge for firewood to put under the tarp. As a bonus, I find a couple of Blueberry patches! Night falls and the rain starts, so it is a pretty early night, and I fall to sleep listening to the raindrops on the hammock tarp.
Later in the afternoon Eric took Gavin out and had a blast catching a bunch of smallies, a couple of which ended up as a nice addition to our dinner!
Overall it was a great day and everyone agreed that the layover was a great idea, even if it happened earlier in our trip as was planned. Highlight was watching the Eagles take the fish scraps we had left on the nearby point in front of camp. ~Saganaga Lake~Saganaga Lake
As we neared the portage, we got a great show in the back of the bay. I have never seen this before, but there ware a few dozen mergansers being chanced around by a loon. The loon would be underwater and pop up right next to the young ducks and they would frantically try to get away, running across the water. Quite entertaining! The rest of the travel through Red Rock and into Alpine was uneventful, with a stop for lunch at the North campsite on Red Rock. We dipped the paddles into the waters of Alpine lake around 1:00PM, with hopes to grab the island site mid-lake. We were hopeful as Red Rock was more or less empty as we only saw one campsite that was taken. However, as we made our way down the lake, we saw that the sites we passed were all taken. When we got closer, we saw the site we were hoping for was also occupied. We continued to make our way around the other islands and to the East side of the lake and site after site was full. Finally at 3:30 we found that the side closest to the Rog Lake portage was empty. We were not felling great about this site as we assessed it from the water. Rayn and I pulled up and started looking around while Gavin and Eric decided to check to see if the portage across from the Jasper Lake portage was open as we could not see this from the main lake.
Rayn and I after surveying the site a bit more decided that this was actually a pretty good site. There is a huge rock behind the site thar rises about 30 feet and affords wonderful views. Better yet, I don’t know if I have ever seen a site with as many blueberries as this one. Yum!
Eric took Gavin out for some fishing later that afternoon and caught the one walleye we were to catch the whole trip, but it was a bit on the small size for eating so back it went. After a half hour or so our forward scouts came back and reported that the site was open, but it was not that great. So with that we knew were we would be staying that night. We enjoyed a quick swim to cool off and set up camp once again. Rayn decided that she would grab the sleeping pad and her sleeping bag and spend the night on top of the rock that night. She was rewarded with a wonderful view of the night sky when the clouds broke up during the night. It put the Thermacell to the test as there was no wind to keep the mosquitos away, but she reported that they largely left her alone. ~Alpine Lake, Red Rock Lake, Saganaga Lake~Saganaga Lake, Red Rock Lake, Alpine Lake
Instead we would head to Ogish as a daytrip, which turned out to be a bit of a challenge as the wind was building coming out of the West. We headed out of camp and made our way to Jasper Lake. We found the campsite on the point on route to the Kingfisher Lake portage open. We pulled up here to spend some time and have lunch. I had stayed on this site about 20 years ago and remembered it (correctly) as a great site. It has a little cliff to jump off from right in front and everyone enjoyed a few jumps into the refreshing water.
After lunch, Eric and Gavin were ready to head out towards Ogish but Rayn wasn’t feeling it as there was a pretty decent headwind at this point and wanted to head back to chill at camp. We made our way back, taking our time to enjoy the falls between Jasper and Alpine. We were back to camp around 2:00 and I decided to try some fishing in our fairly protected bay, hoping that I could find a walleye or three for supper. I managed a couple of smallmouth, but nothing to write home about.
Back at camp we were waiting the return of our explorers as the afternoon was winding down but the wind was not letting up. Around 4 or 4:30 we watch a canoe paddle to the back of the bay and then back around towards us. The two gals pull up to the site and ask if we can confirm their map. Like mine, their map shows a campsite right next to the Rog portage, but it looks like it is closed. They need to get to Threemile Island for a pickup by the next day so were hoping to camp there. After we chat a bit and it is pretty obvious they are pretty spent…my Daughter reminds me “A Scout is Helpful”, so we let them know that if necessary we can make room for them in our camp. They do seem relieved. They plan to check on the site in Rog, but are glad to have a backup plan. We did not see them again that night and assume the site on Rog was open for them.
Around 5:00 Eric and Gavin come paddling back. They had made it about halfway down Ogish and had a great time, but also reported that every site on Ogish had been taken, so we were glad we did not decide to try to move camps. We had another nice evening in camp, and that night Eric and Gavin decide to sleep up on the rock. I thought about it but felt like I might be intruding on their father/son time. They also ended up having clear skies and were pretty awed by the stars and milky way. ~Alpine Lake, Jasper Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Ogishkemuncie Lake~Alpine Lake, Jasper Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Ogishkemuncie Lake
We started with the short paddle to the portage to Rog. The portage does not seem to be used all the much with lots of growth encroaching on the trail, but over we find it a fairly nice portage. We battle a bit of wind across Rog and then take the short, rocky, and muddy portage to Seagull. Once on Seagull we stay close to shore along the peninsula but at it’s end we face the full ford of the 15mph, gusting to 30 SE wind. We take a quick breather behind the island, where we emphasize that we will paddle straight into the wind to get to the south shore. After a good 30 minutes of very hard “Character building” paddling into the winds and waves we make it to the wind shadow along the south shoreline. Here we happen to meet up with the two gals we had met the night before, who also was taking a little break and we have a quick chat. We watch as they head towards their pick up point and notice that they are not struggling much as the hills on the south side of Seagull are doing a good job blocking the worst of the wind.
With our spirits lifted and the paddling much easier, we make our way NE largely following the shoreline all the way to the leeward side of Threemile Island. We enjoyed a nice easy paddle at this point following the shore and end up at campsite 473 by about 1:00. We were glad to be off the water and could see the whitecaps on the main lake. We take our time and set up camp and have some lunch. I get a bit creative in setting up my hammock where I can get a nice view of the lake and set up my tarp in ‘porch mode’. Feels good to chill out for a bit and just watch the waves we are no longer fighting. The wind dies down a bit later in the afternoon and we do a quick trip over to see the palisades, but other than that we just enjoy what’s left of our last day. We enjoy a nice fire and talk about the trip, what we liked, what we could do better, stuff to remember for next time, etc. Gavin is quick to declare that this trip was his favorite activity as a scout and vows to encourage more scouts to join in future trips. In my book that makes this a successful trip! ~Alpine Lake, Rog Lake, Sea Gull Lake~Alpine Lake, Rog Lake, Sea Gull Lake
A couple of notes” • We really were glad to have the Inreach. It was so useful to get a forecast each day. I also used it to let my wife know each day when we were traveling and when we made it to camp. The best thing is that this is giving her peace of mind as I hope to set out on a Solo trip next spring. • We did not have a set of maps for the kids to look at in the front of the canoe. For future trips we will make sure they can follow along and start getting a feel for navigation. • For future trips, we plan to do more canoe training, and in particular go over what to do if we swap a canoe. In the wind we stayed pretty much in control, but I could feel during a couple of the gusts that cam up the boat really wanted to turn sideways. • I happened to bring a razor and after my itchy beard keep me up one night I heats some water and had a shave. I found that I felt great after having some nice hot water on my face and will add this to future trips. • Really looking forward to Gavin and other scouts building experience and really taking over the planning and leadership for future trips. ~Sea Gull Lake