Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

First Time in the BWCA - Sag to Swamp Lake
by CanoeViking

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/27/2015
Entry & Exit Point: Saganaga Lake (EP 55)
Number of Days: 3
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
This was my first time in the BWCA. I had been backpacking a lot but had never been to the BWCA, so when my brother asked if I want to come with him, I said SURE! After a rough first day and disappointed of not reaching our goal, we then had a blast catching smallies! Then, had to cut the trip short due to weather.
Day 1

We got a late start out of Voyager Outfitters heading into lake Saganaga at 10:30am. It was a very overcast and cool day and shortly after we set off the wind picked up and just got worse as the day went on. Coming out of the channel heading into the bigger part of Saganaga we met a couple who had been trying to enter the lake, but due to the northwest wind couldn't make it. So my brother and I decided that we would give it a try. We made steady but slow progress and pretty much paddled from island to island using the islands as a windbreak and a place to rest. After 3 1/2 hours of this we finally reached Munker Island and decided to use Englishman Island as a windbreak and head to American point coming from the mainland side again using the mainland as the wind break. We came around the bend of Rocky point to American point and it was a hard paddle to a distant island for rest. The waves were as big as the canoe and some splashed over the front, we had rain also to add to our fun. After a good rest and food we headed to the narrow passage between Saganaga and Bay 1 and finally the wind wasn't as bad and we could make better headway. But but by this time we were wiped out and wanted to set up camp. So we headed into Bay 2 and went for the first campsite which was a little ways to the left and it was taken. We paddled on through another narrow passage into Bay 3 and the campsite to the immediate left was open and we went right for it. After 6+ hours of canoeing in strong wind and waves we were exhausted. We didn't explore much we just set up camp, fixed supper, enjoyed the sunset and crashed from our exhausting day. The campsite here is a nice site with several places to tie up a bear bag and a place for a hammock or two. It is some-what a point and exposed which is good for less bugs. Not perfect but very nice. Lesson learned from Day 1 is next time no matter what the weather, take the tow to American point!

Swamp Lake Sunset

Day 2

We woke to a nice breeze and cool morning. We had breakfast and then headed out on the canoe for Ester Lake. So we had a short paddle to the first portage between Bay 3 and Swamp lakes. This is a real easy portage and anyone with about any set up can make it across this one. Next we canoed through Swamp lake and came to Monument Portage. This is a real portage, and for a first timer, a long one. It has ups and down and it is marked with monument markers like this.

Monument Portage Markers

After we crossed the portage. We took off into Ottertrack Lake and again we had a headwind but not near as bad as Saganaga. We paddled on enjoying the view and the many loons which are so amazing to watch and listen to. They would often let us get within 10 feet or so and we really enjoyed that. After a little while we came to the portage to Ester lake and we quickly realized that this one is no joke especially if you have anything other than a Kevlar canoe. It heads steeply up flattens for about ten yards and then steeply back down and muddy the whole way. We got to the other side with our gear and stood looking at beautiful Ester Lake. We started thinking about our aluminum canoe and that we were still feeling the affects of our less than ideal trip the day before. So we decided that we wanted to start fishing more than we wanted to keep exploring. So we hiked back over and loaded back into the canoe and started to canoe back to Swamp Lake. We couldn't fish in Ottertrack due to the wind again, so we went straight back to Monument Portage in hope that Swamp Lake would be more calm than Ottertrack. After crossing back over Monument Portage we were delighted to see Swamp Lake as calm and more calm than we left it. So we paddled out of the main thoroughfare and began to fish. Very shortly we were very glad we decided to fish than to explore. The smallies were very hungry and we spent the rest of the day catching smallies (even some over 20 inches) and a few small pike. This was the rest and relaxation that we had been looking for. We pause to get supper and then back to fishing and they were just as hungry.

Second Smallie

First Pike

One Hungry Little Smalllie

After fishing for the rest of the evening we remembered that the weather was calling for a storm and high winds so we decided that if we didn't leave tomorrow morning we maybe stuck out for a few days and would miss flights and work, so when we got back to camp we started to consolidate and get things ready for the morning. Then we drifted off to happy fishing dreams.

Day 3

Today started early trying to beat the wind that was to start in the afternoon, coming from the southwest (headwind again :( ) After we packed up on the glassy lake we started to paddle back home and the first three lakes were glassy with loons singing and we watched a beautiful sunrise.

Sunrise on Swamp Lake

Things went very smoothly and very peacefully until we got back to the main part of Saganaga. The wind started to pick back up, however, again not as bad as day one but still more than desirable and we had to paddle hard the rest of the way back. We hid behind islands and mainland for breaks as much as possible and made much better time coming out, about half the time. There were a lot of folks coming in for the weekend and that had it better than us, having a tail wind.

Thus, concluded our trip. It was an amazing experience and would have been twice as good if we would have taken the ferry and there wouldn't have been so much wind to fight almost the whole time. But I must echo the words of Douglas McArthur "I shall return!"