Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Cross Bay Lake to Sawbill Campground with Day Trip
by mfliehr

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/10/2015
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake (EP 50)
Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)  
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
I created a trip for myself & Rosie Dauth (MN Rovers trip) to run Wed. 9/10/15 to Mon. 9/14/15 The idea was to do a point to point trip from EP 50 at Cross Bay Lake to EP 38 at Sawbill Lake.
Some general things about the trip.... I was fortunate to have Rosie Dauth as my trip partner this time. Rosie & I have been on several trips together & I have always been VERY impressed by both her knowledge & fortitude. I don't think I ever heard her complain about anything. She is always first to jump right in & tackle the heaviest loads with gusto. There were many times that She would look at what I was doing & know exactly what & why I was doing it. She did a great job on providing answers when I wanted an opinion on how to proceed. Her judgment is very sound. I can't think of anything where we strongly disagreed.

We wanted to go very light on gear this time. I brought a jet boil & a small cube stove as backup. Meals were Freezer Bag Meals (mostly home-made) Each of us carried a small bear barrel in our portage packs. Gear consisted of two medium sized portage packs, one daypack, one spare paddle & a couple nalgenes. That was 3 portage lengths worth of gear, and I'll get more into that later. Took a chance & left my rain tarp & pole behind in the car.

Weather was fantastic. No rain, and a 10 - 15 mph mph nw wind everyday but Sunday. Friday night got cold, but we were prepared. No bugs.

High points - I had hoped to expand my practical use of map & compass this time. I'm still getting used to what an inch on the map looks like on the ground. I am pleased to say that we both knew exactly where we were at all times. We did use a GPS, but it was only to verify position and to provide a morning alarm clock. Worked our way through some tricky navigation, and some spots where what was on the ground didn't match the map.

We encountered many different paddling and portaging conditions from what I had seen in the past. (more later)

Rock star gear status was earned by a couple cozies that I bought from Packit Gourmet. They did a fantastic job of keeping our FBC meals hot while hydrating / eating.

"Most proud of" We used a very good system for getting through portages fast... One person would take the canoe & set off on the portage. The 2nd person would take the lighter portage pack & the daypack or paddles & take them half-way, drop them & go back for the rest of the gear. Meanwhile the person with the canoe drops the canoe at the end of the portage, and returns for the gear the other person dropped. This system cut our portaging time by a third & reduced the distance walking with no gear by half.

Now, you may be wondering "how'd they know where the half-way point was?" We figured out right away that 8 of my paces equalled a rod, so I'd take 8 times half the portage lenth in rods to get paces to the half. We did a good beta test of this on a 180 rod portage. I figured it would be 720 paces to the half. (90 X 8) For a test, after I paced off the first half, I kept counting & it was 720 more paces EXACTLY to the end!

It can get easy to make a mistake when counting off several hundred paces, so I tied a loop of cord to my belt & added a knot every hundred paces.

Our route took us to Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake, Long Island Lake, Gordon Lake, Cherokee Lake, Town Lake, Vesper Lake, Gasket lake, Cam lake, Cherokee Creek, Skoop Lake, Ada Lake, & Sawbill Lake.

Wednesday, Sept.9, 2015 Met up with Rosie in Duluth. Drove to Sawbill Campground where we took a site & finalized arrangements for the following day. Sawbill is a favorite of mine. The people are super accommodating, and the grounds are nice.

Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 Picked up a driver at Sawbill and drove to EP 50 (Cross Bay Lake) 7 - 9:15 am. Driver dropped us & took my vehicle back to Sawbill. Put in at the landing at EP 50. Did the 66 rd. portage into ? lake, then on to the 30 rd. portage into Ham. The north end of the 30 rd. portage into Ham can be a bit tricky. As you enter Ham Lake, you'll go thru a narrow spot, and there is a primo campsite right there on the point. On the 24 rd. portage out of Ham lake, you pass into the BWCA. Then, it was on onto Cross Bay lake. As you go south, you'll reach a marshy area (just below where the McKenzie maps show the BWCA border) You will hook sharply left around the point to continue on your route. The 58 rd. portage from Cross bay lake to Rib lake is pretty easy. Rib lake is a nice paddle. Then, it's a 35 rd. easy portage into Lower George lake, and a 30 rd. portage into Karl. That puts you into Long Island Lake. We took the 35 rd. portage across the peninsula, which ends in a beautiful long sandy beach. We took the campsite on the island southeast of the portage. It's a great site, but a bit short on firewood. There are lots of tree cut down, but most all had been stripped of their limbs already. I had a "Sawvivor" saw & a parang (small machete) along. I can split wood with the parang, but I'm limited to about 4 - 6 inch logs. Thursday's lake count was 8 with 7 portages totaling about 7.5 mi. A good day's paddle / portage. It was nice to arrive at the campsite early, and have lots of down time.

Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 Paddled to our next campsite on Cherokee lake via Gordon. There was a beaver dam to cross (pretty easy) and 3 short portages. Nice to be doing more padding & less portaging today. We arrived fairly early on Cherokee, planning to scout a number of campsites. The first site that we visited was on a big island due south of the portage. That site was so nice, we didn't go any further. We explored the island and didn't see any bear sign, though we did see moose sign. Friday nite, there were freeze warnings out. I combined my 40 degree down bag with an S.O.L. bivy and I was plenty warm. We had amazing campfires both nites at the Cherokee site. Plenty of wood available, and I split it down with the parang.

Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 Woke to find the lake shrouded in fog. Couldn't see more than 50 feet. As the fog burned away, we planned & packed for the day trip to Cam. We set out for Town lake. The 10 rd. portage was really a couple rods into sticky deep mud, a couple rod paddle, and a couple more rods. We did find out on the way back, that you could walk the whole portage, but you'd have to bushwack part of the portage. Town lake was nice, then it was a 90 rd. portage into Vesper. We decided to call that portage "Say your prayers" portage. It was nasty. Vesper is tiny. The portage from Vesper to Gasket was a technical nightmare of large mossy boulders in an old stream bed. The final portage from Gasket to Cam was also difficult & technical. We decided to just walk it without the canoe. Had lunch at Cam lake. Lots of fresh moose tracks at the portage entrance to Cam. Picked up a downed dead tree about 15' long on the way back, which got process into some amazing firewood. Had a very nice campfire Saturday night, after which I found a grassy spot on a high rock dome on the NE end of the island with an amazing view where I laid down for some stargazing.

Lakes Traveled:   Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake, Long Island Lake, Gordon Lake, Cherokee Lake, Town Lake, Vesper Lake,