Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

First time in the BWCA- 73 mile solo trip - Frost River, Little Sag, Kawishiwi, Alice, Kek, and more
by nlong

Trip Type: Paddling Kayak
Entry Date: 05/24/2014
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake (EP 50)
Exit Point: Seagull Lake (EP 54)  
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
This was a trip nearly 5 months in the planning. Having never been in the BWCA and never done more than an overnight paddle trip and never solo, this was going to be quite the adventure and I wanted to make sure that I was thoroughly prepared. I estimated the trip to take 9-10 days which includes a couple layover days. The trip was completed in 6 due to great weather for travel every day.

Here is the account of my first solo adventure in the BWCA.

Day 1 of 6
Saturday, May 24, 2014

5:00am - I get up early, shower (not sure the next time I'll get the chance), grab breakfast and I'm on the road for my 5 1/2 hour drive to Seagull Outfitters. Having packed my gear and loaded my kayak the night before, I'm all set to get an early start and hope to get a half day of paddling in and make it to Frost Lake for my first night. The drive up highway 53 is quite scenic and I enjoy the sunrise and I even spot what looks to be a large coyote or possibly a wolf once I was near Superior. Upon reaching Superior, I find the bay is full of ice. It is quite the sight. I continue on up the scenic shore on highway 61. I see many vehicles with canoes loaded on top. I wonder to myself if they are headed to the BWCA and what adventures they have planned. Once I reach Grand Marais, I fill up with gas and head north on the Gunflint Trail. Temperatures look to be warming up as I leave the shoreline. I reach Seagull Outfitters at about 10:30am and speak with Debbie and unload my kayak and gear. After parking my truck, paying parking and transport fees, the outfitters load my kayak and gear and we are off to the EP50 - Cross Bay Lake. It's about 7 miles down the Gunflint Trail.

11:15am - We arrive at EP50. It's almost 80ºF and blue skies. I get my kayak and gear unloaded and the outfitter leaves. I'm now alone. It's a weird feeling being miles from nowhere, in unfamiliar land, and alone. Only one way to go now, so I load the gear in the hatches of the kayak, start my GPS recording on my phone to track distance, and off I go. I soon realize that I've started to paddle the wrong way up the river.

I check my map, and turn the kayak around. After a short paddle, I'm soon at my first portage.

P689 66 rods - The portage landing is quite rocky. I wonder if most of them will be like this and fear my kayak is going to be a bit beat up after 50 plus portages. I try to pull the kayak in gently. I'm wearing shorts and my Vibram Fivefinger Signas' so I don't mind stepping into the water. Footing is good with the shoes and the water is only mildly cold. I unload a few of the drybags from my kayak hatches and put it in the mesh portage pack and put the pack on my shoulders. I then attach my homemade yoke to the kayak and put the kayak on my shoulders. With over 110lbs of kayak, gear, food for 10 days, and 3 cameras, batteries and charging equipment, it makes for a tough portage. I only get about halfway and have to stop. I've determined it's too much weight to single portage. I let the kayak sit and take the gear in the pack to the end of the portage. I then come back for the kayak and finish the portage. I note to myself that the rest of the portages will be double portaged. Being out here solo, I just can't risk a foot or ankle injury from overloading myself on muddy portages.

Oriole Lake

It's a small but pretty lake and I'm soon at the next portage.

P690 37 rods - A rock ledge at the portage entrance was a little challenge, but I'm starting to get a rhythm down on the double portaging. Didn't take long to complete the short portage and I'm now at Ham Lake. 12:30pm

Ham Lake

P072 17 rods

The portage out of Ham lake was a little steep at the start but short, and I'm now at the Cross River again on my way to Cross Bay Lake. I pass some rock outcrops that are dappled with a patchwork of bright orange lichens.
Once reaching Cross Bay lake, I make my way to the southwest side and get a photo of the small waterfall that empties into the lake. It's obscured mostly by trees, but I still mange to get a photo.

P398 58 rods - The river empties into Cross Bay Lake to the left of the portage. I snap a quick picture before I get out of the kayak.

On the portage, I end up meeting a couple from Florida. I pass them and continue on through Rib Lake. Cloud cover is starting to block the sun. No sign of rain though.

P428 35 rods - I meet a dad and his 2 boys from the Twin Cities. They seem to have a good system down with the 2 boys carrying the packs and their dad taking the canoe. I complete the portage and continue on through Lower George Lake.

P436 28 rods - I meet the dad and 2 boys again on this portage and complete the portage before they do. I'm now at Karl Lake. I snap a picture of the rocks to my left and then continue towards the left of a small island.

Once I get to the island, I spot a loon. It doesn't seem shy at all. I get some photos and video of it doing some calls.

I continue southeast to paddle into Long Island Lake. I could have taken P107 into Long Island, but It wasn't that much further to paddle to go around and skip the portage. The sun starts to peak out again and I spot a female common merganser.

I make my way into the Long Island River and get to my next portage.

P118 10 rods - Short portage, but I can tell I'm getting wore out. I paddle the rest of the way into Gordon lake and stick to the west shore to get to the next portage that will lead me to Unload Lake.

P509 139 rods - Feels like the portage from hell at this point. Steep muddy hills and flat sections are wet and muddy as well. The good part was the landing at Unload Lake was great. Toward the end of the portage was the largest Northern White Cedar trees I'd ever seen, an impressive sight. After completing the double portage, I feel wore out. Unload lake is small with a beaver dam at the end. I paddle up to the dam, step out and easily pull the kayak over the dam. I'm now at Frost Lake and the wind is starting to pick up and so are the waves on Frost Lake.

5:30pm - There is 5 campsites on Frost Lake. I had planned on taking one of 3 sandy beach campsites on Frost. I paddle up to the first one to find it occupied. The next 3 campsites are on the sandy beaches. Next one occupied, and the next. As I approach the 4th campsite, which is the last one with a beach, 2 guys in a canoe are paddling to it from the south and reach the site before I do. I get up to them as they are unloading their canoe and ask if the last campsite is open and they said it looked that way, but if not, they said I could camp at their site if I needed a place. I feel a bit relieved. I get to the campsite and find it empty. No good spots to land the kayak on the south side. Instead I paddle back around to the north side of the point and find where I can pull the kayak in.

C878 - I unload my gear and start to make camp. Tent is setup now and I grab my portable shower bag to gather water. I paddle the kayak out a ways from camp, fill the bag and head back to camp. I then fill my sawyer filter bags and use them with the sawyer mini filter to fill my water bottles. I light my small pop can alcohol stove. Putting my dehydrated tortilla soup in a titanium pot with some water and placing it on the stove, it's not long till it's at a boil. I remove the pot and put it in a pot cozy. While that's sitting, I munch on some dark chocolate and dehydrated fruit. Soon the soup is done and I add some tortilla chips into it and dig in. Tastes so good after a long day's travel.

I wash up my dishes and clean up camp, then cut a few small logs from downed trees and start a small fire in the fire grate. Finding a good spot to hang my food pack was a bit of a challenge, but I found a branch overhanging the lake on a tall pine that I was able to loop a rope over and tie it off safely.

As the sun sets, the wind starts to die down. The frogs are noisy and I hear a loon calling as I turn in for bed at about 9:30pm.

12:00am - Awakened to a big spash near my camp, my heart sinks as I fear my food pack dropped in the water from the limb it was hanging from. Raccoons messing with it possibly? Worried that the food pack is in the water, even though it is in a dry bag, I grab my flashlight and rush out of the tent. I point the flashlight at the tree my pack was hanging from, and there it is right as I left it, secured in the tree. A bit confused and not fully awake yet, I wonder what the sound was. Just then I hear a loud SLAP on the water. Beavers. Nothing to worry about, I crawl back into my tent and try to get back to sleep.

1:00am - It seems like I just got to sleep and I'm awakened again. This time by noisy loons having a yelling match across the lake. Where's the earplugs when you need them? Not sure when I actually get back to sleep, but I'm up at 5:30 am with the sunrise.

Day 1 Summary

11.02 miles | 10 lakes | 2 rivers | 8 portages | 389 rods

Cross River, Oriole Lake, Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake, Long Island Lake, Long Island River, Gordon Lake, Unload Lake, Frost Lake