Musings from the Gunflint
by Boppa

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/24/2008
Entry & Exit Point: Skipper and Portage Lakes (EP 49)
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
This year we flew to Duluth, rather than Minneapolis as we have done in the past; for whatever reason, the airfare was cheaper to take the extra leg to Duluth. As we were going out from the Gunflint Trail it made sense but in retrospect I don't think we'll do that again. Due to a last minute airline time change we didn't arrive in Duluth until 11:15PM, and then had to pick up our rental car (an unexpected ordeal) and drive to Two Harbors, where on the drive we were put into a tripping mode as we saw one fox and three deer from the shine of the headlights. We had a reservation at The Voyageur Motel, where fortunately the motel manager knew we were arriving late so left a key for us so we could let ourselves in (that was nice) and the motel was clean, convenient and affordable, just as Bannock noted. In the morning, after taking a picture of The Voyageur, we drove down the road to Judy's cafe for breakfast (a stop recommended by Dogwoodgirl). Unfortunately for us there was better than a 30 minute wait and we decided to move on and try Judy's another time. Dogwoodgirl, looks like your recommendation put Judy's on the map! We settled for a breakfast skillet at a place just a few buildings up the road, Blackwood Tavern, which was actually quite good. We then left Two Harbors and headed for Grand Marais and the Gunflint trail. We made a quick tour of Grand Marais and found the 2 establishments we needed to visit - the liquor store and Joynes Dept. store to pick up a few items we realized hadn't been packed. Then it was up the Gunflint to our outfitters at Rockwood Lodge (another referral from Bannock). Upon arrival, we are greeted by owner Lin Sherfy, a very pleasant and friendly person. We soon met her husband Mike, also an easy person to talk with. Mike and I go over equipment, while Lin shows Bette contents for the food pack. All is in order and looks great. After the required pre trip acknowledgements and signatures, we receive our permit for Sunday, Entry 49. Mike asks what route we intend to take and we explain our intent is to begin with the portage to Skipper Lake and reach Banadad Lake day 1, and then possibly push on to Long Island Lake after a night or 2. Mike mentioned we can do a loop but my bow partner explains that we enjoy getting to experience and know the lakes we visit, finding, exploring and rating empty campsites. Later we head to the Trail Center for an early dinner, stopping first at the Ugly Baby Bait Shop for leeches and a couple of recommended lures. Once at the Trail Center, they are already busy but to avoid a wait, they offer to seat us at the bar. As I settle onto my stool, I realize I am seated next to a young man I recognize seeing earlier at the outfitters. We share introductions and I learn his name is Jeff, he's from Ohio and he is doing a 6 day solo trip. His brother normally would have been with him but was side tracked this year by a medical issue. Jeff shared that he would be in a Prism, it was his first solo trip and he hoped the wind wouldn't be an issue. At that point, the waitresses began offering advice on which stroke would be best for soloing - j stroke was preferred. While exchanging info I realize Jeff is quite knowledgeable so I mention this site. He gives me a glance and says his site name is Monnster; I laugh and re-introduce myself as Boppa. Well, we have a great time at dinner and enjoy his company. It makes me wish that it would be possible to meet and share a beverage with many on this site. We wish each other well and hope to catch up Friday afternoon to share our experiences. At Jeff's suggestion, before returning to Rockwood, we take a sobering ride down the Gunflint to observe the fire devastation from last year. Very sad to see driveways and mail boxes that no longer lead to homes or cabins. Back at Rockwood, we run into Mike as he was closing for the night. I mentioned our encounter with Jeff, which leads again to mentioning this site. Mike indicates he has had other visitors from this site - a few notables I might add. I tell Mike that our entry point was based on advice from Trygve (many thanks) and that the outfitter was recommended by Bannock (again thanks). I suggest he should become a sponsor; Mike smiles and says he has been asked. Adam, I think he's considering it.
Day 1 of 6
Sunday, August 24, 2008

The alarm (watch) goes off at 5:40AM - a quick shower and dress and we take our packs down to the canoe area, we go over to the lodge for a quick breakfast and yes Monnster is good to his word, he has already left as he said he would. We enjoy some conversation with Lin, then Mike, who had a Souris River Quetico 17' waiting and Bette and I soon had it packed and pulled out at 7:50AM, later than we wanted but heck we were enjoying ourselves and the company. We quickly were facing a strong breeze, but just ignored it, it was great to be back in the BWCAW. The portage from Poplar to Skipper is easily found and, as reported long(320 rods) but OK. What I found different was that this area was hard hit by the blowdown, then a prescribed burn, which has created/promoted a lot of new ground growth. So there are many times you cannot see where your foot was going to land, a great set up for a turned ankle. Just going a bit slower seemed to lessen the risk. A surprise was discovered, blueberries were still around, not huge amounts but enough to gather for pancakes. Also raspberries were all around, the prescribed burn has yielded some abundance of unexpected treats. Did I mention that this portage is long - but it ends at a rock outcropping with a wonderful view down Skipper Lake. We double portage and then sit to have a bagel and a drink of water. We load the canoe and shove off up Skipper Lake. Soon we realize the wind is strong and directly into our faces, but we are still energized and ignore it. We pass the lone site on Skipper and it looks like nice one - I put this in my memory bank. As we paddle to the end of Skipper we begin our search for the 22 rod portage into Little Rush, it does not appear and we end up taking a couple of false animal trails. I realize at the stream coming into Skipper that I can see a huge opening at tree height to the West, which must be Little Rush. We are paddling up the stream, it begins to get shallow and we get out of the canoe, hold on and push forward, when another canoe enters the stream from the opposite end, a couple smiles and waves. I ask about the location of the missing portage and the man replies, 'no you haven't missed it, this is it.' I am once again reminded that I get a bit anal in my expectations and evidently a portage doesn't mean a canoe gets shoulder carried; oh well. While Little Rush is small, it still has wind which we choose to ignore once again. It is here that I realize I have forgotten the leeches in my container back on Rockwoods dock. Well TGO, even though I cannot believe my forgetfulness, I am very happy to have my plastic tray of artificial lures along. We find the portage from Little Rush to Rush Lake easily, it is listed at 50 rods, this is the one that has been mentioned by our outfitter as being in bad shape due to beaver activity on Rush Lake. Water has been diverted right down the portage trail which has become a solid bottomed stream in sections and calf sucking muck in others. We again double portage and it really wasn't that bad, especially when you are expecting worse. As we paddle down Rush Lake, we realize the wind is really blowing and the paddling is tough but we are traveling at a pace that allows us to really observe a few of the campsites. Two are occupied, but the one on a point looks like a very nice site. Again, no problem finding the next portage, 10 rods into Banadad Lake. Rocks, mud and a little extra maneuvering with the canoe around some large boulders and we are ready to go. As we took this portage there was a bridge in some disrepair to our right that I suspect must be used for snow shoeing and cross country skiing as it does not enhance the portage and needs a little attention before this winter sets in. We load the canoe, paddle off, and you guessed it, the wind was right there. My bow partner quietly mentions that looking for a site might be a good call; I agree, but recall a site mentioned by Egath as a nice one to look for. The first site we pass is not inviting so we continue around and into a small cove and are 20 feet from a startled beaver who hops off the downed tree and gives his predictable tail splash and is gone. His antics and surprise make us laugh as we come up to the next site on the first island. This one has possibilities but I request that we go to the next island site and a quiet approval is given. We are getting tired but onward we push. As we come to the next island we don't pick up the site (Maps location is approximate) but of course I treat it as gospel. We have nearly circumvented the island when we find a path up a small incline. It is the site and (thanks Egath), it is a keeper. We begin the transfer of packs and camp slowly takes shape. As I go back out on the lake for water, I realize how tired I am. Bette has our steaks rubbed and ready to put into the pan (fire ban) as I go to hang the food pack. I smell the aroma and return to finish cooking the Au Gratin potatoes. After a great meal I enter the tent and begin the pump up of the Big Agnes with the pillow pump. There has to be a better way (and thanks to butthead's suggestion, sounds like there is) it is just too slow when you are tired. I do manage a headlamp toast with my bow partner for a job well done and to celebrate our first night back in the BWCAW. We are soon in the sleeping bag and yes, the wind still can be heard. You just have to love those west to east lakes.