Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Long Island Lake Base Camp
by mfliehr

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/10/2014
Entry & Exit Point: Cross Bay Lake (EP 50)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
Wed. 9/10/14 thru Sun. 9/14/14
MN Rovers trip that I led Wed - Sun Sept. 10 - 14, 2014 following a route that I had paddled solo this same weekend, last year.

Two of the group were new to me, having only met them once at the pre-trip planning meeting. My trip had originally been planned for 7 - 8 people, and we were up to 7 people, when 3 backed out. At that point, it was easier to go with a smaller group than to introduce 3 more unknowns into the mix. Rosie, who I had been on 2 other trips with, graciously agreed to handle the meal prep.

Wed. Sept. 10th. The group met in Duluth. We had 2 travelers from the Twin Cities, myself from the Chippewa Valley in northwestern WI, and one person from Duluth. We dropped 1 vehicle in long term parking in Duluth, picked up the Duluth member & headed north. Lunch was at the Rustic Inn on HWY 61. The food was good, though a bit pricey & slow to be served I.M.H.O. We traveled to Grand Marais, then turned north on the Gunflint Trail. It was about a 60 mi. drive to our destination, the Tuscarora Lodge.

When we arrived, we began to double check gear. Group gear was passed out among the group to distribute weight. We brought a 60L barrel for the food. We left for dinner at the Trail Center Lodge, driving south about 20 mi. Arrived at 8:45, just in time to make their closing time of 9 pm. The staff was accommodating & gracious despite our late arrival, and the food & atmosphere is fantastic.

Thursday 9/11/14. Got up around 6 am. Breakfast was served (Hard boiled eggs, lime mayo. bacon bits, and cheese accompanied by bagels)Fortified by a hearty breakfast and hot coffee, we returned to final preparations. Left the Tuscarora Lodge for the put-in about 9. We had planned to launch no later than 7 am. It was a 50 degrees or so with gray skies & light winds.

9:30 found us launching at EP 50 (Cross Bay lake) The put-in is just a few steps from the parking lot, so launching was a breeze. The first long portage south was fairly difficult with challenging terrain & deep sucking mud.

The north end of the portage into Ham Lake was challenging to land. On that portage, we met an older gentleman who was solo tripping & having a lot of difficulty. The first 2 portages had left him very tired, soaked with sweat & obviously not enjoying himself. Our group portaged his gear to the Ham Lake end, and I suggested he take the first camp site on Ham Lake which is very nice & only 100 yards or so from the Ham Lake put in. We were concerned for him because it was cold & damp & he was soaked & wearing cotton. Fortunately, the site I suggested was open & he was able to get dry & warm quickly.

We continued south thru Cross Bay, Rib, & Lower George lakes into our destination lake; Long Island Lake. The remaining portages were not very difficult.

We entered Long Island Lake on the east side of a huge peninsula. We took the short portage across the north end of the peninsula, and emerged on a beautiful sandy beach!

We had planned to camp on the big island on that side of the lake, but the site was occupied. We scored a very nice site just a bit east of where we had emerged on the beach.

The wind blew from the NE pretty much the whole trip, but the waves were rarely over 12- 18". The rest of the trip passed without rain, until Sat. nite.

Thu. nite, temps got into the 20s. I had an untested down 30 degree bag along which kept me toasty, when combined with thermals. I had brought my SOL Bivy cover, figuring that someone in the group would be cold in their bag, and I was correct. The person I loaned it to said that it added about 20 degrees to his bag.

Fri. was a leisurely morning followed by a day trip to Frost Lake. We ran 2 beaver dams, and the long portage into Unload Lake came to be known as "sucks to be you" portage. Frost Lake is gorgeous! The campsites were outstanding.

Fri. evening, I baked a cake in my Outback oven, and it turned out well. Nice to have warm cake on a chilly evening!

Sat. day tripped to the east end of long Island Lake and walked the portage out of the NE end without boats. The terrain on the east end of Long island Lake is dramatically different from that on the west end. Well worth the trip!

Sat. nite was Chili & fresh baked corn bread from the Outback oven. Wine was passed around the campfire. Sat. nite it rained & the forecast called for rain all day Sun. Fortunately, it didn't rain on Sun. other than the occasional sprinkle, so the majority of the gear was packed dry.

Sun. we reversed our route north out of Long Island Lake. The portages in & out of our destination lake had taken us about 6 hours. That was with each person doing 3 lengths of each portage.

We checked in on our Ham Lake friend on the way out & he was doing well.

A point of pride with the MN Rovers is that we always leave a site better than we found it. We picked up bits of trash on the portages, and at all the campsites that we visited. (When will folks learn not to throw tin foil in the campfire?!)We also helped folks portage gear when the opportunity presented itself. I myself have been the recipient of that same kindness from a group of Sierra Club folks, and I always try to pay it forward.

We stopped at the Golden Eagle Lodge on the Gunflint for showers, then headed south. It was a quiet ride back to Duluth, where we divided up the remaining groceries & went our separate ways.