BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 02 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1561 feet
South Lake - 58
Duncan to Gunflint
July 27, 2014
South Lake (58)
Number of Days:
Getting an early start at Gunflint Outfitters (7am), we were driven out to the entry point for Duncan at West Bearskin. The parking lot was already quite full, which made us wonder how much of a "wilderness experience" we would have:
Traveling over West Bearskin Lake was pretty uneventful, although quiet due to the rain. We found the first portage easily, and excitedly saw the BWCA sign. We were on our way into the Wilderness!
The portage was a bit uphill, but with ood footing. We made it through without incident, but were sobered as to how hard single portaging would be, with a 75lb personal pack, a 65lb canoe, a 50lb food pack, and a 50lb gear pack.
On Duncan, we investigated some granite cliffs and my friend even got out to be closer - they were majestic even in the muted light:
2 sites on Duncan were occupied, but we didn't see inhabitants - they were probably hunkered down and riding out the rain.
Landing on the Stairway portage, we found out how slippery rocks can be underwater, making some really bad footing. We also found 4 Hungry Jack Outfitter boats, obviously on the way out. This turned out to be a very large group which we would pass all throughout the portage as they went back and forth (double and triple portaging over the Staircase is not for the faint of heart!). Traveling up the hill to the top was work, but without incident. We unloaded at the open spot where the portage meets the Border Route trail, so we could roll down to the falls unimpeded. This was a good decision, since it also allowed us to get a taste of the downhill, and the challenges it would give. There was roots all down the portage, worn smooth by the traffic which were treacherous footing even unloaded, then a rock stair before even arriving to the falls. [paragraph break] We spent a small amount of time looking at the falls:
After going back up to load up, we started our decent. Carrying the canoe, I slipped on roots almost immediately, leading to a nice crash down. One of the guys in the other group helped me back up, but I again went down by the small rock stairs. This time was my last fall, although by now I was pretty shaken up.[paragraph break]When we arrived at the actual stairs, footing became much better. My friend took a tumble between the staircases, to which I just continued to the Rose landing, hoping to give him some help after I unloaded.
At the Rose landing, I met up with a couple having lunch by the landing. They were doing the same trip as us only backwards. I asked about the trip, and their only issue was the Height of the Land portage, which was a shoe-sucking mud pit. I bid them good luck, since they had the fun of climbing the staircase.[paragraph break]Returning to my fallen friend, I found that he was making slow progress down to the next set of stairs, and I pulled in a pack and we headed down.[paragraph break]We loaded up and headed across to the first campsite by the portage (#649). The landing was a bit rocky, but manageable. The kitchen was way up the bluff, allowing for a nice view of the main body of Rose Lake.
We set up the hammocks, and were serenaded by the falls and the sound of other groups coming out of the portage. We spent a good amount of time trying to find a tree to hang our food pack, and were just barely successful getting it up.[paragraph break]Starting a fire at our new campsite proved to be very challenging due to the weather, almost defeating our first night steak and potatoes meal, even though there was ample welcome wood available for our use. We did get a small cooking fire going, but it was quite small and took a long time for us to get any food from it. Our dessert for the night was s'mores, but we decided to bypass them, and enjoy just a bit of hot chocolate.[paragraph break] Bedtime at sundown as the mosquitoes chased us in - soaking our clothes in Permethrin was an excellent idea, but they still closed in on exposed skin.
Breakfast was the first morning eggs (all broken due to rough handling) and bacon. The propane stove given to us was a simple affair, with a small burner on top of a pounder, and a plastic stability base. I cooked the bacon first, alternately burning parts and leaving other parts less done on the dented frying pan. After removing the bacon, I left the burner on while preparing the eggs. Well, I spent too much time preparing the eggs, which led to the bacon grease hitting flash point, creating a nice fire. Since the stove was on the fire grate, I poured the burning grease onto the bacon wrapping paper sitting on the grate, making a better fire than we had the prior evening. I then went forward with cooking the eggs with cheese in them. It turned out pretty well. By this omen, we set off on Rose.[paragraph break] Rose was a long paddle as the western part seems to be almost a river.[paragraph break]The Rat Lake portage (4 rods, 136 feet) was just a bit of lifting over some rock to bypass the rapids - just an unload and luggage carry. We took a small break at the portage, eating some snacks. When we went back to pick up our backs, my friend saw a sizable ribbon snake heading off into the bushes - he must have been sunning on the rocks when we arrived.[paragraph break]Rat lake was little more than a puddle, taking not much more than 15 minutes to traverse, even with lazy paddling. [paragraph break]The South Lake portage headed off into the darker woods surrounding the rapids between South Lake and Rat Lake, so we couldn't see what was ahead. As we traversed this path, we found out that it crossed the stream of the rapids, with some widely-spaced and slippery rocks to navigate. This portage was a good uphill, leaving me panting at the top. [paragraph break]South Lake was quite windy, which led to 1-1½ft waves. We foolishly just crossed the lake in a direct path, rather than hugging a shoreline, arriving tired and beaten to the campsite right by the Height of the Land portage. [paragraph break]We were able to get a tarp up over the kitchen area, which helped, as rain was coming. In fact, the rain started coming in waves, build for 10 minutes, then quit and then sun. It was a strange phenomenon for sure.[paragraph break] Later on, we heard a group coming out of the portage as we made dinner. After eating, and cleaning up, we still heard them coming out of the portage, so we investigated. It turns out the 9- person group had lost shoes on the Height of the Land, and had spent much time digging them out. Of course, these were camping sandals, and not hiking boots. We also explored the west side of South since the wind died down, and saw a beaver building a lodge down one of the side bays. We sat and watched him for awhile, but left after he slapped at us twice (certainly an expression of his displeasure of us being there). Back to camp, and more hiding under the rain tarp as another storm rolled in. This time, though, we had pea-sized hail! We learned this time that having a shelter up is a good thing! [paragraph break] Bedtime was soon after, as the mosquitoes also liked our shelter, and decided to feed while they were hanging around.
The Height of the Lands portage was as described to us, a muddy mess, with a river heading down the trail into South Lake. It was still neat to see the monuments, and I mounted a camera on the canoe to film the entire portage.[paragraph break] After completing the portage, we stood in the waters of North Lake, and completed our Voyager's ceremony - sprinkled each other with a wetted balsam branch, vowed to do this ceremony with another newbie when we crossed over, vowed to never kiss another voyager's wife (unless she asked), and then took a swig of rum. We didn't have guns, so we couldn't do the gunfire :)[paragraph break] The crossing of North was nice - 68°, sunny, and little wind. We took off left, which led us into confusion as the bays of North are deep. We eventually ended up in Canada as we tried to determine where the channel to Little North Lake was, and saw the boundary markers: We finally settled into a decision, and found the right channel, gliding up between the banks and listening to the birds. [paragraph break]I wondered how we would identify Little North Lake, but it was really apparent to see, as there was two peninsulas of weeds separating.[paragraph break] The rapids between Little North Lake and Little Gunflint lake seemed to be navigable (with an experienced team), but we took the portage, which was an old boat transport rail system for most of the portage: Since it was wide and short, we unloaded, pulled the packs across, then luggage-carried the canoe over. [paragraph break] We ran into a few Scout groups going across Little Gunflint, and eyed the thunderstorms brewing in the north. As we got across Little Gunflint, the storms began in earnest, and we paddled hard to get off the lake, stopping at the beach on the west end of Gunflint while watching the weather cross the big lake (and, of course, joking that we have a beach vacation as well, with boat drinks. [paragraph break] After the weather broke, we headed to our final campsite - Camper's Island, which was right aside of Bridal Falls. This was an awesome campsite, with even a picnic table! We spread out a tarp to handle the inevitable rain, made dinner, and generally relaxed on this little oasis. Even the latrine is fun, since it sat in a circle area of dense pines, with the path directly to it (we called it the Throne Room): The campsite is evidently popular, since 2 other groups decided to come by later. Dinner, and a bedtime chase by the mosquitoes.
Waking up early, I got a few shots of the sunrise over Gunflint, with the morning mist hovering between the islands: Packing up and launching early into the calm water, we anticipated a smooth paddle back to Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters. Well... [paragraph break] the winds on Gunflint did not cooperate, and were fetching straight from the west, making 1½-2ft waves. Of course, this was right in our face too, so progress was slow. We took to a strategy we called "dock hopping", where we would rest periodically by holding the end of the cabin docks on the southern shore..
2 hours later, we arrive at Gunflint Lodge, and portaged our way back: