Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

40 years of dreaming of this trip: Mission: Sawbill to Cherokee Lake
by paddelingruth

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/26/2013
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)
Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)  
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
My husband Dan had dreamed of this trip since 1973 when he bought his first canoe. Early this spring he approached me about going canoeing in the Boundary Waters.

8-23-2013 Boundary Waters trip: And so it begins! Tonight we put the final stuff in back packs or I should say Dan has been diligently figuring out what to put in what pack & distributing the weight. The months of stuff piling up, reading (thanks B.W.C.A) & preparing as best we can for this adventure. Dreaming of moose, fishing, canoeing & Camping & praying for distance between bears and wolves. Tomorrow we are driving from Lincoln Ne to Duluth MN and completing the drive to Tofte area on Sunday, so can enjoy the scenic route 61 along Lake Superior.

We took a hike along a trail and found some blueberries and it wouldn’t be a trip if my husband didn’t drive some 4 wheel drive trails. We were able to pick raspberries out our windows on this drive.

We had reserved a campsite at Sawbill Lake and had arranged a canoe rental with the Sawbill outfitters(thanks Bill), this all worked out great. When we got to camp we decided to try and switch our reserved site with one that at least had a view of the Sawbill Lake and that worked out fine. We went down after supper at camp and took a swim, it was in the upper 90’s and the water felt great.

Sawbill Lake put in at #38 to first portage Ada Creek 76 rods Ada Creek to Ada Lake portage 80 rods, Ada Lake to Scoop Lake 7 rods, Scoop Lake to Cherokee Creek portage 180 rods and Cherokee Creek runs into Cherokee Lake.

We had 90’s for four days of our trip and we had planned for 70’s what a shock.

Today is the day, we were up at 5:45 am, had the canoe in the water and were headed out on our adventure by 7:15 am. Sawbill lake was quiet and big and lots of big rocks in the lake to watch for while canoeing. We saw 2 other set of canoiers as we went along on Sawbill. My husband had a larger map and map case so the map would stay dry, he traveled with a compass but was always able to navigate just fine. We found our first portage at 9:05 am, this one was 76 rods. It was very rocky and lots of tree trunk roots. When we were getting ready to enter the path another gentleman traveling by himself came thru behind us, he indicated he was headed to Cherokee Lake also, but we never saw him again, unless he was the man camped across from us. We then canoed Ada Creek and Ada Lake was very narrow, the portage from Ada Lake to Scoop was very short like 7 rods. From Scoop Lake to our next portage we met several people who had been camped on Cherokee Lake. I was worried about being able to locate the portage’s but usually there was a hat in the distance and you knew where to go. It was good to pass other people who had been where we were going. They all seemed very happy to be there and had been doing the BWCA for years. It is really nerve racking for me I am a planner and I have no sense of direction, so I wasn’t able to know exactly where we were going and what to watch for. I had looked at the map, but it all starts to look the same when you are on the Lakes.

We meet 3 groups of people who had been on Cherokee. They were all nice and had been there 5 days and said the flies were bad. Did I mention it was upper 90’s they had predicted 70’s. The 180 rod Portage from Scoop to Cherokee Creek was almost a deal breaker for me. We had to double portage each time. My husband carried the canoe part of the way then we put it down and set our dog in the canoe and told her to stay and she gladly did. We then went back and got our last two packs and carried them to the end and took our dog with us then went back for the canoe and our last pack. My husband did amazing carrying the canoe on these trails of tree trunks and rocks and sharp turns, with a canoe on your head is not easy.

I should mention we had the following for packs: 1. Food bag, one burner camp stove and dishes, pans etc weighed 30to35 lbs and air mats. 2. Sleeping bags and chairs weighed 30 lbs . 3. Gear bag and clothes, fishing poles, 30 to 35 lbs 4. Backpack with rain wear , water filter pump system.

We did bring our 13 year old springer, Sam with us she loves to canoe and fish, the portages were hard on her. She has pretty much lost her hearing but knows hand signals and she never barks, she was happy to be with us.

As we entered Cherokee Lake a Bald Eagle greeted us and the loons were talking as well, as if to say welcome to our world. We had gone on B.W.C.A website and found the camping site we wanted, it had a beach and great shade trees right on the shore, on Cherokee this is what kept me going when we finally got back in the water after the long portage. We paddled with excitement to know we were almost there, we turned that corner on the Lake and someone was already there. My husband said I saw your paddle drop with disappointment. My husband had marked the map with the campsites we would like and so we headed to campsite #2 on his list. We headed on and found the best campsite ever. We were so glad to get it. It was west facing and this helped with bugs and breeze it was great. We arrived at camp at 3:05 pm and we had left at 7:15 am. We were both spent and were glad to get camp set up quickly. We loved our campsite and even though I was disappointed that we didn’t get the beach site this was beautiful. There were two good spots for tents. My husband quickly set up ropes to run the back pack up the tree from the bears and was faithful about doing this each time we used things out of the food bag. The toliet was way back in the forest and I might say I never went up there myself. My husband was good about coming with me. But just imagine taking your shirt off and your swimsuit down guess where the Mosquitoes’ went. Our campsite had two ways in and out from the water. The people before us had stacked rocks towers in various places and that was fun to find and imagine who had been there.

The loons did their dance for us many times, right in front our our campsite. The loons also sang each night and morning. We had a family of mergansers’ ducks swimming around at least 3 days. We did catch Northern and had one supper of fish it was fabulous. We took steak and potatoes to cook the first night of our trip what a feast. The scenery was unbelievable!!The water reflected the beauty over and over again. The paddling has created a memory to keep for a lifetime. You could set your clock to what time the mosquitoes came flying into camp each night, you could hear the roar across the lake.

When my husband first asked me about doing this trip he had showed me the B.W.C.A website and explained briefly about what would be involved and indicated he had always wanted to do this trip. His dad was quite ill and 90 years old and we weren’t sure we should be scheduling this trip, but we did it anyway and got out permits. My husband Dan later tells me he had dreamed of this trip since 1973 when he bought his first canoe. Then I was really on board to see that we made his dream come true. That Wednesday nite when we ate fresh cooked fish and sitting on our rock with a view of Cherokee Lake and all its wonders, I glanced over to my husband and saw his face and I thought Mission accomplished!! This is what pushed and carried me through the whole trip.

It is so hard to describe to someone who has never worn the backpack, felt the mud on your toes and the paddle in your hand and you’re eyes on the beauty, why you should experience this.

It took us 8 hours to canoe and portage going and probably 6 hours back.

We did head out fishing 3 days. The files moved in on Tuesday and by Wednesday am they were gone. They were biting flies, we had to cover our dog in the canoe that day to keep them off of her. The 2nd day was the best we caught many northern, mainly catch and release, since we had no way of keeping them cooled.I caught a 30 inch northern boy was that fun to bring in the canoe. We did discover of all the things we left our dip net in the truck. On the 3rd day it began to sprinkle lightly and we decided we better get back to camp, when the thunder started. We headed to the portage and the rains came down, the wind blew. We took shelter in the forest and our dog took shelter under the canoe we turned it over for her. When the wind and rain let up we headed back across the lake. We had one dry towel and two wet people and one wet dog. We all took refuge in the tent and took a 2 hour nap. When we woke the sun had come out and we began to set everything out so it could dry. By the time supper was finished everything was dry. It was a beautiful night on the rock. We did some prepacking what we could so in the morning we would be a little ready to go.

We had seen lights shining at us from across the lake at another camp and Dan answered back with two flashes of light from his head lamp, they answered back. The storm rolled back in at about 9:30 that night and it was a stormy rainy night, but we stayed dry and we listened to the water hit the shore in our tent early that morning wondering if we would be able to leave. We did have enough food for another day. Things calmed done and we started getting all the things ready to go. The wind was blowing in the right direction and giving us a little push. When we packed out on Friday morning we said good bye at 7:50 am to our rock and felt like we were missing this place already, after 5 days and began the journey back. Past Spartan’s rock(spartan 2's favorite campsite), past the kids we had been flashing lights at and onward to Sawbill Lake. As we portaged from Ada Lake to Ada Creek we had a group of 3 college age kids right behind us. I asked where they had come from and they said Cherokee Lake, I said we were there also. Then I asked if they happen to be the ones on the camp with the big rock that slopped and did you shine your light on us, they said that was you guys? We all laughed the one kid had seen our light and the others had not and they didn’t believe him.

Most people we ran into had a history of doing this adventure before. One guy was really impressed with Dan’s canoe ability, the way Dan had tied our paddles in the canoe for portaging, the fact he had a compass, map and the way we hooked our life jackets to the seats for less to carry(only during portage's). Dan had also tied a rope on each end of the canoe and had bunged in case he had to grab the canoe quickly or tie it somewhere. We had canoed in Arkansas, Missouri, and Nebraska so we had a little experience with that part, but not in carrying everything with us for camping, canoeing and food in one canoe.

We got back to Sawbill Lake by 2:00 pm and returned the canoe to the outfitter and paid $4.00 for a shower, best $4.00 bucks I ever spent. We each had an Ice cream bar, and started making the long drive to our next adventure.

Mission Accomplished!!!