Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Sawbill to Cherokee, October 2010
by paddlefasterpastor

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 10/02/2010
Entry & Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
Weather can be great or terrible on any given Boundary Waters trip and even then it’s all a matter of perspective. But this trip’s weather would prove it hard to argue against the possibility that “good” weather definitely can enhance the hedonistic communion with one of God’s greatest environments.
Day One: There were four of us. Steve (from Iowa) came up to my place on Friday night to expedite our travel plans. We met Matt and Brooks (satchmoa) in Wisconsin and after transferring my canoe to his rig and packing our gear we headed north. We neared our turning point at Sawbill Trail and conferred about supper. That’s also about when I realized a very embarrassing gear faux pas. I… um… forgot… paddles. After a decent supper at the Blue Fin Grille we made it to Sawbill Outfitters where I was able to snag a couple of Sawyer paddles (very used and somewhat damaged) for $5 each. They would suffice for the trip and maybe even beyond. We set up camp in the campground there, shared a brief campfire and called it a night as the temperature continued its decent towards the frosty zone.

Day Two: Woke up to a “hard, hard frost,” as Bill (I think) from Sawbill put it when we stopped in for morning coffee and final prep needs before our departure. I was admittedly a little concerned as I was prepared for cooler than expected weather, but not this, at least not if it was to be all week. Fortunately that would not be the case. We pushed off from the Sawbill put-in around 10:15AM. Before long we were being welcomed into the quiet waters by a single majestic eagle leading us into its home for a visit.

Entering the BWCA Entering the BWCA via Sawbill Lake

Soon we made our first portage into Ada Creek. Once there we remained on the creek and avoided the second portage. What an exhilarating, remote experience it was to paddle the narrow channel of Ada Creek, meandering back and forth amidst the high grasses. There was a unique calmness about paddling this kind of area.

Ada Creek Ada Creek paddle

Once on Ada Lake I made a minor navigational error that led us into the wrong bay, but only temporarily and we were back on course to the next portage. Next came about a 1 rod beaver dam, followed by a 12 rod out and in.

beaver dam Beaver dam approach

Wilderness travel kept us honest with the final 180 rod portage. I think it felt like every bit of the 180 rods that it promised. Along the way I met a squirrel troll, scolding at the edge of the trail on both of my passes. I also dealt with a moment of heebie jeebies when a stick I stepped on slithered away to safer ground.

Short portage on Ada Creek Portage on Ada Creek

Soon we were paddling Cherokee Creek into the open waters of Cherokee Lake. A real gem and this time of year even more quiet. We pin pointed a campsite to check first and once landed agreed it would fit the bill and decided we didn’t need to check any other options. It took us 6 hours from launch to arrival at our campsite. Not bad for this crew.

First look of Cherokee Lake First look at Cherokee Lake

Cherokee is a beautiful lake with plenty of islands and fantastic vistas. This was my first time on this route and area and I was soaking it all in.

Sunset on Cherokee Sunset on Cherokee

Day Three: I was first up this morning and began my day with a little minor clean up and then a little lure testing. Soon everyone was stirring and we shared a fine breakfast of bannock, oatmeal and coffee. I hear our first loon calling during breakfast and a smile wells up inside me and manifests itself across my face. We all pitched in with collecting, cutting and splitting of wood for a significant hoard of fire timbers. All this work required a late morning hammock rest of course.

Cherokee Lake Cherokee Lake reflections

After lunch we hit the lake for our first real attempt at fishing. Iowa Steve was the first to catch anything and he brought in a fine trout. Surprised at the catch we snapped a photo and promptly released him for another season. Steve P.'s trout Steve P.’s “first catch” trout

Otherwise there was no catching taking place. We enjoyed some Jambalaya with smoked sausage for supper, followed by some grand campfire chats and another sunset to send us off for the night.

friends in camp Supper prep and hanging around camp

journaling2 Journaling can be a great answer to quiet times in the BWCA

happy Brooks Brooks is in his happy place

Sunset Sunset on Cherokee Lake

Day Four: Slumber held me captive until after sunrise this morning. It’s so nice to let go of agendas and schedules and relax. Once I emerged from my tent however, I was treated to a very misty lake scene and the sun blasting the eastern shore and islands. After a joint breakfast of eggs and bacon we planned our day trip to North Temperance Lake.

The 140 rod portage into Sitka is just plain rough. It complains of chronic up hills, and coughs up large boulders that require stretching steps. We took a few minutes to fish Sitka and pulled out a few northern. We put the mild success on pause and hit the 105 rod portage to North Temperance in hopes of hitting it big in a certain fishing “hot spot.” I fell in love with North Temperance and vowed to venture that way again sometime and spend a night or two there. The northern island campsite became a great place for lunch. This site was actually quite nice, with open spaces and fine tent pads. The landing was not so great, but the views of the high hills surrounding North Temperance countered in their own way.

North Temperance Looking into North Temperance Lake

After no luck in the “hot spot” we headed back to Sitka where the northern were still cooperating. The 140 back to Cherokee was a little easier in this direction. Again, a required hammock rest was in order back at camp. Supper was chicken soup w/dumplings and a side of pan-seared northern pike. We couldn’t believe the clear blue skies that have been our stay each day and night. Libations and laughter were in order around the fire tonight. One of my favorite indulgences of any BW trip is the joy of stargazing and this night was offering some its best. The sky this night was beyond words.

campfire The pot is on

Day Five: I found myself to be first up again this morning and this was the first morning of the trip where I didn’t need to wear gloves. I prepared some coffee, changed last night’s dishwater and began breakfast. Soon the others joined and we shared duties and some pretty fine pancakes. High winds had come in during the night and were continuing their assault today, at least enough to hold us land bound for a bit longer than desired. Being wind bound allows for taking advantage of other, sometimes neglected, joys of boreal travel. Brooks and I took a walk, with cameras in hand, throughout the island that held our site. I am always delighted by the small side of our world and we did our best trying to capture some that.

heart lichen It’s called Love Lichen, no really... ok, that's just what I called it.

birch on blue Birch on Blue

shrooms2 It’s a small world after all

Wow, it was soon time for another required hammock rest. brooks hammock

With more time available this day due to the wind keeping us from a more significant day trip, Brooks and I opted for a short exploration of Sniff Lake. No portage is marked on the map, but it proved to be a short lift over into a really nice, cozy, little lake. We fished it too, with minor success, but no keepers.

This was another glorious clear day. The wind couldn’t even diminish the rating. As night closed in we made plans to move from this comfortable spot to another on our entry lake of Sawbill for the last two nights. However solid these plans were to just move campsites, it also brought a bittersweet realization that our time was nearing the end.

whittlin2 There are many ways to relax

Day Six: Guess what? Yep, another amazing morning met our waking eyes. Our alarm clock this morning was a screaming loon that we all actually appreciated – why not?! We leisurely had our breakfast, packed up, and launched from our Cherokee Lake home at about 9:50AM. Today was some of the best, quiet water paddling under… yes, you guessed it, perfectly clear blue skies. Paddling and portaging back the way we had come a few days earlier was just such a pristine and unique experience – I don’t want it to end. Once on Sawbill Lake we ended our campsite search on a somewhat out-of-the-way site at the end of the bay on the west side of Sawbill that leads to the Kelso River.

Cherokee Creek Cherokee Creek

The end of the day was spent just relaxing and making ourselves comfortable for 2 more nights.

my tent My tent on Sawbill campsite

Sawbill bay Our bay on Sawbill Lake

Day Seven: Another relaxing, but early start to the day: A pattern I will miss in a few days. We sat around camp after breakfast and began playing with the grey jays that complimented this site.

greyjay9 Making friends

greyjayalone I don’t think they wanted us to leave

We eventually set out for more fishing and day tripping. We soon left our bay and took the short portage into the Kelso River. Iowa Steve and I took an unmarked trail out of Kelso into Alton Lake for more exploring of new-to-us areas and fishing while Brooks and Matt continued further down the river. The campsite on Alton that this trail opens at is simply amazing. We enjoyed checking it out and dreaming of venturing back and setting up camp here. Before long we were heading back up the Kelso, enjoying the views of tamaracks, pitcher plants, and… well… everything. It actually was quite warm today, but another superb day – we were truly spoiled.

Sawbill panorama A panorama of our bay on Sawbill Lake

Back at camp I lazed around facing my mixed emotions of loving “this” and yet wanting to be back to my wife and home. This was the absolute best “good weather” trip ever. Today was another cloudless sky. Classic Brooks I think Brooks likes it here

Wouldn’t you know it; it was time for another required rest in the hammock before getting ready for supper this last night. After supper I would have one of the worst “body shiver” moments I’ve had in a long time. I went to wash my dishes after supper in the already dirty dishwater. Ok, we hadn’t changed it since breakfast (pause for the “oh gross” comments), sorry about that. Since I couldn’t see the bottom due to the soap and, well, leftovers, I swished around the bottom to grab the sunken utensils. I fished out a couple of my things, then a serving spoon. I reached down for one last check and found something else. I picked it up between my thumb and first two fingers and as I breached the surface of the sink I found a dead mouse where I thought a utensil of some sort might be. Needless to say, it threw me for a bit of a loop and I promptly dropped it, let out a bit of loud “yuuuuck!” and did a small shiver dance. I don’t mind mice, but this just caught me off guard. Anyway, I changed the dishwater.

We eventually did get things cleaned up and enjoyed our last campfire of the trip.

Day Eight: Hey, guess what? Another clear blue sky morning, who’d have thought? We packed up early and all too soon were pulling up to the Sawbill entry landing where just a few minutes ago (wasn’t it?) we launched these same canoes. Walking away from the water and loading up the truck was very surreal. This was indeed a top shelf trip; great company, great weather, and a great place.

Sawbill end of trip The end of the trip