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x2jmorris
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06/07/2019 11:57AM
So long story short I want as long a trip as possible and couldn't get the vacation this time around. So I will be putting in on the lake probably around 8pm on Sawbill.

My plan is to launch and portage to Alton and then find a campsite. Quickly set camp up and then wake up early and continue along my way.

I know Alton is popular but I should be able to find a site easily right? Daylight goes to about 10pm?

I have never bothered trying to stay on Alton before so I guess I never really pay attention to where the sites are and if anyone is normally on them this time of year.
 
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06/07/2019 12:40PM
I don’t know if I would gamble on finding a site in that short of time, in that area...
x2jmorris
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06/07/2019 01:16PM
walllee: "I don’t know if I would gamble on finding a site in that short of time, in that area..."

Well I mean it is already going to happen lol but you aren't making me feel any better about it.
x2jmorris
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06/07/2019 05:18PM
Mostly wondering if anyone else has done this and how did it go?
marsonite
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06/07/2019 05:50PM
I did it a long time ago. Went into Disappointment late and there were no sites available, or on Ahsub either. Wound up sleeping in the bushes. Miserable night. Of course no one can say for sure, but generally that close to an entry point, all the sites will be taken. I think more and more people don't go more than a lake or two in. I'd stay at the Sawbill campground and head out in the morning if I was you.
Northwoodsman
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06/07/2019 07:00PM
Why don't you just stay at Sawbill Campground the first night? It's hard to gauge how much light you will have without knowing the date of your trip. Alton could be full.
x2jmorris
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06/07/2019 08:07PM
Northwoodsman: "Why don't you just stay at Sawbill Campground the first night? It's hard to gauge how much light you will have without knowing the date of your trip. Alton could be full."

This sunday is the date.
x2jmorris
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06/07/2019 08:08PM
Also entry date is sunday. So yeah I could stay at the campground but then I'm breaking the rules.
Northwoodsman
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06/07/2019 08:53PM
Alton can be a dangerous body of water with wind; it's also a large lake close to a very popular EP with a very easy portage into it. You could spend a lot of time finding a campsite. The portage into Kelso isn't bad and there may be a campsite open there, the portage to Beth is a long and difficult one. There may be sites open with people coming out on Sunday and it's early in the season still.
I would change your permit if at all possible for the next day. There is a campsite (#2212) on the east side of Sawbill, north of the portage into Smoke that's not on all maps. That could be an option. If that's taken there are a couple sites across from it on the way into Kelso. Good luck, stay safe.
x2jmorris
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06/07/2019 09:04PM
Northwoodsman: "Alton can be a dangerous body of water with wind; it's also a large lake close to a very popular EP with a very easy portage into it. You could spend a lot of time finding a campsite. The portage into Kelso isn't bad and there may be a campsite open there, the portage to Beth is a long and difficult one. There may be sites open with people coming out on Sunday and it's early in the season still.
I would change your permit if at all possible for the next day. There is a campsite (#2212) on the east side of Sawbill, north of the portage into Smoke that's not on all maps. That could be an option. If that's taken there are a couple sites across from it on the way into Kelso. Good luck, stay safe."


Yeah that was kind of my thought. Ive been on alton and sawbill a lot and have done all the portages. I think I'm going to risk it. Just another adventure right :)
06/07/2019 09:37PM
x2jmorris: "Daylight goes to about 10pm? "

Um, It's 9:36 p.m. while I type this, and I live out in the country away from city lights, in the woods no less... it's really - really dark.

My co-worker's husband went into Lake One at night during a busy time but went in around 8pm. Still then he had to stealth camp on some random island until he could get his barrings in the daylight and find an available campsite.
x2jmorris
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06/07/2019 09:49PM
MN_Lindsey: "x2jmorris: "Daylight goes to about 10pm? "


Um, It's 9:36 p.m. while I type this, and I live out in the country away from city lights, in the woods no less... it's really - really dark.


My co-worker's husband went into Lake One at night during a busy time but went in around 8pm. Still then he had to stealth camp on some random island until he could get his barrings in the daylight and find an available campsite."


Lol yeah.. its pretty dark here too
mjmkjun
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06/08/2019 12:54AM
Watch out for those sneaky boulders just beneath the surface. If no sites to be had, there are always those nice cleared areas at each end of the portages. :-|

I don't know who's issuing your permit but if it's Sawbill Outfitters you'd be wise to call them with your ETA to confirm they can enter your reservation # in the system and print your permit. The outfitter's storefront may open but there are restraints on when a permit can be routed by an outfitter thru the system.
Might be prudent to have it issued in Duluth while still early in the afternoon.
x2jmorris
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06/08/2019 05:26AM
mjmkjun: "Watch out for those sneaky boulders just beneath the surface. If no sites to be had, there are always those nice cleared areas at each end of the portages. :-|


I don't know who's issuing your permit but if it's Sawbill Outfitters you'd be wise to call them with your ETA to confirm they can enter your reservation # in the system and print your permit. The outfitter's storefront may open but there are restraints on when a permit can be routed by an outfitter thru the system.
Might be prudent to have it issued in Duluth while still early in the afternoon."


Always grab it at duluth pack the day before. That has always concerned me and I'm glad you can get it a day early because most of my trips start at 5am.
06/08/2019 06:22AM
I would go for it with the intention of paddling and portaging a few lakes in. Get an extra headlamp and strap on 2 of them for the portages. It will be an adventure that I'd like to read about in your trip report.

Those first few portages are well worn and won't be a big deal if you go methodically with no loose items to carry. It'll be fun unless the weather is bad then I'd hole up somewhere till daylight. Shoot, if the going is good you'll be on adrenaline and could go till 12-1:00 AM then simply set up the tent and crash. You'll have a story to tell and make some new memories. Take pics along the way if you do this.

Have you read the Matt and Peter trip report of their 70 hour no sleep paddle along the border route? There's some inspiration for you if you haven't. Life is short and we aren't getting younger.




Nordstjernen
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06/08/2019 07:12AM
Paddling at night takes a little practice, but if you have a GPS with campsite and portage data loaded on it, it's pretty easy and safe. Google boundary waters kml and you'll find all the stuff you need to load up a GPS if you are willing put in the upfront work.

Other than that study your maps ahead of time to look for any pitfalls. Are the portages easy to find at the ends of bays? Or tucked along a shoreline? Campsites can be surprisingly difficult to spot (unless they are occupied) but a good headlight will get you there.


Map and compass can be done in the dark too. I would highly recommend a thwart mounted compass for quick orientation and to keep you from getting dizzy if there is fog. If visibility isn't horrible turn off your headlight for big crossings if you have any chance of seeing a decent horizon silhouette. Pick a spot on bearing and paddle for it. You'll travel much straighter this way.
Nordstjernen
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06/08/2019 07:33AM
Oh yeah. If you don't have a good gps, all you need is a smartphone with backcountry navigator, your area downloaded for offline, and the bwca kml loaded. This has become my preferred "GPS". Just bring extra zip locks to protect the phone.
x2jmorris
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06/08/2019 07:59AM
TomT: It has been a while since I have written a report though I will this time I believe. Especially if I go in at night. Double headlamps is a great idea. Though I really hope to be done portaging before dark but we'll see. I did read Matt and Peter's trip.. that is a bit insane lol. I will be moving much slower.

Nords: I have done a little night paddling but only on clear nights and from camp and back to camp. So no navigating really. On the bright side I have done this route many times and don't even need a map to find the portage...campsites I will need if I do stay on Alton. I feel I could find them from the shore but if its dark and cloudy it might help to have a map to try to figure it out. Just stay near shore and look for openings right? Never even considered fog....that would suck. I have been on big lakes in heavy fog and it is hard to figure out where you are even with a map.
06/08/2019 07:59AM
I say go for it. You’ll find a campsite somewhere. If there’s any moon out this weekend, that’ll brighten things up too. Night paddling is awesome. One of my favorites. A good head lamp and slow travel close to shore will ensure safety and help you locate portages. Good luck and have a great trip!

Tony
Jaywalker
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06/08/2019 10:01AM
If you get the timing just right, people in camps may have campfires or lights going which would help you distinguish occupied from full from some distance. Good luck with this, and trip report or not be sure to come back here and post how it went!
06/08/2019 10:12AM
Good Luck! Have Fun! and Ride EZ!

and yes... please report back after your trip
analyzer
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06/08/2019 10:54AM
There was one year, 6 of us were stranded for a day in grand marais, with a blown motor. My brother came to the rescue, towing a replacement vehicle from the twincities to GM, on a flat bed. He then towed the broken vehicle home. That was an 11 hour, round-trip for him, and he saved our trip. I'll forever be in debt to him for that.

Either way, we didn't head up the gunflint trail until after 6 pm. By the time we were on sag it was after 8pm. We wanted to base camp on Zephyr.

It got dark about the time we were between 2nd and 3rd bay, and the portage from 3rd bay into Zephyr was in the dark. We set up camp at midnight and were eating steaks at 2 am.

It was a full moon, there wasn't the typical drop in temperature that you normally get around dusk, and there was zero mosquitos. It was the perfect night. The stars and the moon all aligned for it to work out. In fact, the year before there had been a fire that came within about a 1/4 mile of zephyr, and the fire fighters had set up on Zephry. When we were there the first week of June, the following year, the yellow tape was still up at the portage, preventing use of the portage. I knew that yellow tape was no longer valid, but it damn near reserved the campsite for us. So everything worked out perfectly. We were very fortunate.

However, when I thought about it later. It was stupid. If Zephyr had been full, we wouldn't have known it until we paddled right up to camp at midnight. Even though I've been on that route so many times I can find my way in the dark, it's not fair to another group of campers to potentially be bugging them at midnight.

Some groups pull their canoes up into the campsite so you're not really going to know if anyone is there, unless you're shining lights into their campsite. It would bother alot of people. I was selfish to take our group in late like that.

Had we not gotten Zephyr, we would have been forced to back out, and check 3rd bay, 2nd bay,1st bay etc. Paddling right up to the edge of those campsites at 1 am / 2am etc, is not fair to those campers. i can see where some people would be irritated, and rightfully so.

I don't think it's a good idea to be hunting for campsites after dark if you can avoid it. It's just not fair to everyone else.


Nordstjernen
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06/08/2019 12:50PM
x2jmorris: "

Nords: I have done a little night paddling but only on clear nights and from camp and back to camp. So no navigating really. On the bright side I have done this route many times and don't even need a map to find the portage...campsites I will need if I do stay on Alton. I feel I could find them from the shore but if its dark and cloudy it might help to have a map to try to figure it out. Just stay near shore and look for openings right? Never even considered fog....that would suck. I have been on big lakes in heavy fog and it is hard to figure out where you are even with a map."

Yeah we had rain fog and dark on the granite chain for the border run. It makes you dizzy trying to follow shore with a headlamp. The thwart compass was key to giving our eyes a break.
I have really appreciated some type of GPS when I'm looking for campsites in the dark... If you go with a map it takes some guess work, but yeah basically stay close to shore and look for openings in the general vicinity of where it shows on a map. It's just surprising how many false positives you get at night. Fortunately, the campsites close to entry points are usually a bit more obvious.
A trick that worked good on the border run was to set my watch to beep every 10 minutes. It helps keep track of miles. I feel like otherwise I always overestimate how far I've gone at night. 3.5 or 4 mph is a pretty chill pace at night and is probably pretty typical for most people.
Pinetree
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06/08/2019 07:21PM
It is very nice to have a good headlamp when night traveling.
pswith5
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06/08/2019 10:53PM
It will help that you are going in on a day most others come out. Worst case scenario you don't find a site on Alton and you go back a either find site on sawbill or stay at campground. Even in car. Still be able to leave early in the a.m. Worth the risk! As far as the rules; sawbill is bwca lake.
mjmkjun
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06/09/2019 05:07AM
Pinetree: "It is very nice to have a good headlamp when night traveling. "
Absolutely! Just not so nice when one is scoping your campsite during the dark of sleep hours.
x2jmorris
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06/09/2019 06:01AM
mjmkjun: "Pinetree: "It is very nice to have a good headlamp when night traveling. "
Absolutely! Just not so nice when one is scoping your campsite during the dark of sleep hours. "


After your comment I thought about this. I guess I myself wouldn't care so much if someone drove by and flashed a light to check. I would probably get put on a edge a tiny bit just because there are some psycho's out there but that moment passes rather quickly and then I would feel bad for them as they continue their journey.
Pinetree
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06/09/2019 07:58AM
You surely would want to be discreet and not shine where people are camping if all possible. I guess you would wonder big time now adays what the heck is going on. Better than climbing on shore than looking tho.
The headlight is very good in finding a portage and portaging and setting up camp tho.
Michwall2
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06/09/2019 08:34AM
Since this is going to happen, the thread might turn to finding the most successful strategy to find a campsite quickly. Talk to everyone at the landing. Someone may have intel on open spots or the campsite they just left. Alton is a large Lake. There are more campsites in the north end and the portage comes in a little north of center on the east shore. The concentration of campsites makes the north end the most efficient use of paddle time. Do you have a pair of binoculars? If there is enough light when you get to Alton you could potentially scope 5 campsites on the west and north shores from the end of the portage. You could get lucky and find an empty spot or change the odds enough that it would be better use of your time to paddle south. At the very least, the binoculars could save you some valuable paddling time and daylight. The east and south shore hold almost all the campsites on the south end. And there are more islands to hide them behind meaning more paddling to check the them out.

Could the use of a headlamp be mitigated by using one with a red light? It might not penetrate the darkness as far, but it could still be enough light for you to see and not cause as much concern in the camp?

Portaging at dusk? Remember that bears are more active at that time. Do you double portage? Some system to attach your food pack to a tree at portage ends may be wise.

Just some thoughts s I think about your dilemma

Have a great trip.
x2jmorris
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06/09/2019 10:09AM
Michwall2 I do double portage and have a bear barrel. I've never seen a bear up there but all this recent bear talk lol now has me thinking about it more and more. I'm heading south which leaves me 8 sites it looks like and if not there then 4 on Beth. No I do not have binoculars but that is a good idea. The more I think about it though the better off I am going to be. Leaving Duluth about 4pm so I should be on the lake at 7.....I think which is an extra hour more than what I though I would have. So I should be on Alton with plenty of daylight I think.
lundojam
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06/09/2019 01:15PM
Troll a shad rap!
I start getting nervous about noon when it comes to getting a site. If you get shut out, fish until it's light out and then just start over. Drop an anchor (when you are done trolling), throw out a lighted bobber, put in a chew, have a bump, and wait 'er out. It gets light early, too.
Good luck.
x2jmorris
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06/09/2019 01:27PM
lundojam: "Troll a shad rap!
I start getting nervous about noon when it comes to getting a site. If you get shut out, fish until it's light out and then just start over. Drop an anchor (when you are done trolling), throw out a lighted bobber, put in a chew, have a bump, and wait 'er out. It gets light early, too.
Good luck."


Haha that sounds perfect actually. And yeah it does get light early. What am I worried about :)
x2jmorris
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06/09/2019 01:28PM
Thanks for the ideas and stories everyone. I am departing from work in 30 minutes, finish packing, and everything seems to be going to plan so far. Only thing that isn't is the clouds as that will make it dark faster and darker :\ but I'll make it one way or the other.
Cc26
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06/09/2019 08:51PM
I would check the 2 campsites in the bay just before the Portage to alton...
Cc26
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06/09/2019 08:53PM
Looks like you've been on the water abt an hour now...haha... good luck
Jaywalker
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06/09/2019 09:12PM
Cc26: "Looks like you've been on the water abt an hour now...haha... good luck"
Yep, almost dark right now. Eager to hear how it all works out.
06/10/2019 07:38AM
I’ll bet my spare canoe paddle that he found the first site open and was set up by 8:30.
Selfsuffi
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06/12/2019 10:27AM
TomT: "I’ll bet my spare canoe paddle that he found the first site open and was set up by 8:30. "

not taking that bet....lol
shock
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06/12/2019 06:38PM
all i can add to this is ,,, 1 trip got up the arrowhead way earlier than expected , took off and was lucky enough to get the very last campsite on Pine lake , so yes as others have said , being close to an entry point and finding a site late can be a crap shoot. best of luck :)
x2jmorris
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06/14/2019 06:51AM
Well I made it. We were on the lake by about 7 and Alton by ...maybe 7:45? I don't have a watch so rough estimate. Most of the campsites were open. We pushed to the south did one more portage and then set up camp. Only thing to note is I realized I don't like being alone on a portage as the sun is setting (probably cause of the wolf talk right before). The rest was pretty nice. I'll have the trip report eventually but the only picture I currently have is scaring my wife at Palisade Head on the way out :)

lskidder
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06/14/2019 10:17AM
I'll never forget, back in the early 70s, my wife and I were camped on an island in Wind Lake. A huge thunderstorm was skirting us with lots of lightning. About midnight or 1AM, a party was passing by us and hollering for directions to the portage to Moose Lake. I directed them to the portage by way of the worst of the lightning. Can't imagine being on the water in anything remotely close to that but maybe someone needed to get back to work!
x2jmorris
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06/14/2019 10:53AM
lskidder: "I'll never forget, back in the early 70s, my wife and I were camped on an island in Wind Lake. A huge thunderstorm was skirting us with lots of lightning. About midnight or 1AM, a party was passing by us and hollering for directions to the portage to Moose Lake. I directed them to the portage by way of the worst of the lightning. Can't imagine being on the water in anything remotely close to that but maybe someone needed to get back to work!
"


Same... I was on a lake once and lightning rolled in quick. Not really a great feeling and was kind of unsure what to do. No campsites were near. Just went into shore and hoped for the best and thankfully it worked.
andym
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06/14/2019 05:22PM
Glad it worked out well. And I know what you mean about dusk. We've gotten some creepy feelings at that time when we realized that we were in an area that seemed like perfect habitat and hunting grounds for our local predators. And our local predators are mountain lions.
 
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