Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Back to Jack
by WhiteWolf

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 10/09/2014
Entry & Exit Point: Baker Lake (EP 39)
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
This was kinda of a last minute deal that I really didn't finalize until I reserved a Magic from Sawtooth Outfitters in late Sept. I had known my schedule earlier in the summer and new I had to work Wingnight weekend-- so figured I would try and slip one more trip past the better half. Timing is the key to stuff like that and I got the green light in mid Sept. I wanted some smaller water and an area I was familiar with ( I had been to Jack in May 04' coming from Baker) as I likely would be fighting a drive up from the Twin Cities and entering on the same day in OCT-- Jack -- here I come!!!
Day 1 of 4
Thursday, October 09, 2014

I was up and Adam by 6:30 and on the road by 7:30 leaving New Brighton and planning on picking up the Bell Magic at Sawtooth outfitters by around noon. It turned out to be near perfect timing. This would be the 2nd time in 40+ trips that I would be renting a canoe and did I love not having the hassle of tying it on etc.. I just love how between Stacy and North Branch ( I believe?) the pines on the East side are all lined up in perfect lines-- the beautiful cloud less sky was allowing the sun in the eastern sky to filter in and out of the pines like an old movie projector.

Exit #152 in Harris has always been my stop for bait (when not Vados) for over 20 years since my trips up North with my Uncle up to Lake St.Joesph. This would be no difference and I picked up a scoop of "river mix" minnows and a dozen crawlers. I asked the bait guy how long they had been without leeches and he said "about 3 weeks". Made good time through Duluth and arrived at Two Barbers (a nickname that has just stuck) around 10am. I could see Culvers was not open yet and didn't have time to wait and didn't feel like checking anything else but Subway as I knew they had breakfast. Subway it was and I was back on the road at 10:20. I lost about 10 minutes in road construction -- but arrived at Sawtooth at 11:35. Perfect. Loaded up the Magic on my canoe rack- grabbed a canoe yoke and was on my way up the Sawbill just after Noon.

Once you get to the top of the hill and plateau out after about 3-4 miles-- I always love the view to the West and Northwest with rolling hills in the distance. This was enhanced by nearly peak fall foliage (in fact, I was surprised on the "color" on the entire trip). I knew the Baker turn off the Sawbill Trail onto "The Grade" was just before a hard left turn that road signs showed and made a right towards the NE. Arrived at the Baker landing at about 12:45. A group of 3 cars (6-8 people) had the landing effectively monopolized ( I always love it that people will portage 400+ rods,, but can't carry their stuff 150' feet? ) so waited in my truck before I went down to "visit". One of the said they were sorry they were in my way,, I said no problem (but too myself I said , "it wouldn't be a problem for you if you hauled your gear another 150' :O) I went back to my truck, unloaded and filled out the permit and ate more of my sub. Once I had my gear down to the landing they left so I went back to my truck to grab my steak out of the cooler and I said - "Iam driving down also" :O). As soon as I was out of my truck and packing the food pack-- Housty9 comes around the corner at the landing in his Prism? at the tail end of his solo!!! The words out of his mouth after less then 2 seconds of eye contact were "WHITEWOLF??" yes I responded!! Housty? We chatted for about 20 minutes as I finished packing. I would've wanted to talk longer but it was around 1:20 and I always get a little anxiety before a trip (especially with 6 cars in the lot--which one turned out to be Housty and I eventually figured out I had 4 vehicles to contend with) and that Housty said there was large group of 3 canoes just going out when he came in. SO I feel bad that I ended our conversation on a rushed note.

First thing I notice upon getting in the Magic is how low the seat sits. I guess that is a good thing for stability but took some getting used to. I manage my way through the small 10 rod portage into Peterson and the tricky rocks at the pinches. Just 4" more of water and it would not be such a tricky encounter. In the open water I start to realize that this "Magic" rips and really holds a line!!! I start doing the Math with the 6 cars in the parking lot. Minus 1 for Housty = 5. Housty said there was a large group of 3 canoes just going up Kelly as he finished the portage out of Burnt. I figure that must be at least 2 vehicles which means I'am down to 3 vehicles. I'am starting to have some doubts whether I will get the peninsula site on Jack. As I go by the first and only campsite on Peterson-- I glance over at it and think that just last wk-end my good buddy Tim took his 4 and 6 yr old sons and his Mother to that site in absolute brutal weather.

Somewhat surprised about the literal 1 rod portage from Peterson into Kelly but not a big deal-- good to get out and stretch. Once on Kelly I notice a group coming around the point that leads into the Eastern part of the lake that holds several campsites. I ask them if any of the sites are open where they came from on Kelly and they say all of them and that a large group just headed N on Kelly- and that one site on Jack was occupied last night. My hopes of getting the Jack site are further declined imo- but this reduces the vehicle # left unaccounted for to 2 and perhaps 1 if the large group just ahead of me has 3 vehicles at the landing. Time will tell.

As I push up Kelly- the lake becomes much more river like and is loaded with dying lilly pads (as mentioned by lindylair)-- so much so that they actually slightly impede your progress by slowing the canoe or your getting tangled in your paddle. The effects of 99' derecho are quite apparent along the northeastern shore of Kelly.

I'am very curious as to whether the site that sits at the far N end of Kelly is open or not. If open -it is good and not so good news I think- for that means the large group is still ahead of me and likely camping on Jack but that I have a site close to Jack. As I go around the last turn in the winding "lake" I see the sight is open and paddle over to it to check it out. I have a decision to make-- camp here or roll the dice on the 2 sites on Jack or come back here or continue on to Weird. I also know from talking to the group on Kelly that one site on Jack was occupied last night. And the large group just in front of me. Screw it. I'am moving on.

The landing on the Kelly side of the portage to Jack is a pain. Even more ammo to not come back and move on if need be. I check the time on my cell phone and it's 3:35pm. Doesn't sound like late-- but the sun is getting noticeably lower in the mostly cloudy sky and I don't have a site yet. The landing on the Jack side is much easier to deal with. As I make my way N on Jack after squeezing through some tight pinches-- man is this moose territory!!-- I start remembering the lay of the land and that the peninsula site should be just behind that island-- or is it that island?? A quick check of the map shows my initial thought to be correct and I spot what looks like a grey tent right where the site should be high in an open spot in the woods. Not good. Or is it a large rock?? I start feeling much better as I see no canoe or other camp gear as I approach the landing. I made it!!! Before I take a site-- I always like to "check it out" (fire grate - latrine- etc) before unloading gear but as I took a few steps up the tiered - almost stairway- I thought that since its quite steep (funny how I don't remember this from 04') I decide to grab my main pack. I sling one strap across my left shoulder and trudge to the top. The first thing I notice as I reach the grassy/open/ plateau is a solar shower that someone must have left in a tree (I have found them before) and then I notice a tent sitting right where I saw it from the lake along with a some freshly split wood. An expletive comes from mouth as I descend back to the canoe. Finding a site is done. Finding an OPEN one is not.

As I paddle past the peninsula point-- obviously looking for the next campsite tucked back into the bay to the East-- my eyes are happy when I see an obvious landing with no camp gear to be found anywhere-- even as I unload the canoe!!! An open camp is found!! This site is not much but in a way is cozy for one. One rather large grassy area and a cozy fire pit surrounded by blow down from the recent July of 14' derecho. In fact-- the blow down made getting deep into the woods on a search for firewood impossible and this site turned out to be the most difficult site I could remember for gathering of firewood. Many of the trees blown over were still green and useless for firewood. This pretty much sealed my fate on fishing tonight -- which is fine by me as I just wanted to relax after getting camp chores done around the fire and do some photography during prime time fishing. Hopefully most of the blown down in this area is dried out for burning in the near future.

Tent is erected leisurely as I snack on crackers/jerky and cheese. With a decent amount of confidence I decided agst erecting a tarp and instead focus my efforts on firewood.

I try waiting until the very last minute in starting a fire so I decide to eat first at about 6:30pm. MH Beef Stew it is. As I'am letting the meal rehydrate- a distinct noise made by something large comes from the NW. I would continue to hear this noise throughout the evening. I string some Luci Lights up-- eat my supper while lounging in my new Helinox chair (AWESOME!!) and then hang out around the fire until around 9:30pm when I hit the sack. Baker Lake, Peterson Lake, Kelly Lake, Jack Lake