Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Paradise and Tribulation...A awesome unforgettable trip!
by CanoeViking

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/22/2016
Entry Point: Saganaga Lake (EP 55)
Exit Point: Saganaga Lake (EP 55)  
Number of Days: 3
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
My wife and I try to take a backpacking trip twice a year, but we knew we would only likely get one trip this year due to a little one on the way. So I decided to take her to the BWCA for her first time. May 22 was the chosen date in hopes that the bugs would not be out yet and hoping that it would not be to cold. The trip goal to put in on Saganaga Lake and head to Hanson and Ester Lakes.
Saturday, May 22

We loaded up and took off from the Cities about 2:00pm heading for Voyaguer Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Gunflint trail. We took our time to enjoy the trip up. We were hoping to see some wildlife on this trip. My wife had never seen a moose and was hoping to see one. When we got on the Gunflint it was just beautiful. I told my wife that last time I was on this road I saw a baby black bear and shortly after I said that we saw two moose. Then, about a mile or two down the road we saw a huge black bear. (I have seen many black bears and this was by far the biggest I had ever seen.) After the bear we kept driving and about 5 miles from our destination we saw a fox and as we stopped to look at it, it was not the least bit scare and kinda gave us a show and then continue about its business. We couldn’t believe it, we weren’t even on the water yet and we had already seen two moose, a bear, and a fox! We couldn’t wait to see what else this trip had in store. After arriving at Voyaguer Canoe Outfitters we settled into our bunk house, organized our gear, and got our permits. Also, this time I got a tow to American Point, because last time I did this trip it was in high waves with my brother and I wasn’t going to do that again, especially with my 4 month pregnant wife. We then ate supper and afterwards I started feeling anxious about canoeing on Sag. My wife asked why and I began telling her in more detail what I had went through last time with the wind and waves, taller than the canoe, on Sag. So my sweet wife had the idea of quoting Bible verses that we had memorized and that soothed my nerves and then it was off to dream land.

Sunday, May 23

We woke up a little early to be ready for our morning tow at 8:00am. Today’s destination was Ester or Hanson Lake. We ate an awesome, all you could eat, blueberry pancake break from the VCO crew. The folks there are super to work with and very nice. Then we loaded up the gear and canoe in the tow boat and then we were off to American Point. We both were enjoying the lovely Sea Gull River and then we came out of the Narrows and to my relief Sag was very calm and peaceful. Once at American Point, we unload and hopped in the canoe and the paddle began. The wind started to pick up but not to bad and we made it through the narrowing part of Sag and Bay 1 just fine. In Bay 2 I decided I wanted to start trolling and so I threw out my trusty shad rap and in short order caught a small pike. After that I trolled till I lost my lurer on a bad snag coming into Bay 3. Since it was right next to my favorite campsite of the 3 bays I stopped to show my wife. She instantly fell in love with the site and ask if we could stay there sometime. After a little rest we headed over to the 5 rod portage to Swamp Lake. Once in Swamp Lake we paddled through to Monument portage. This is where our trip started to change. We carried all of the gear over which is when I realized we brought to much stuff. Monument portage is not bad, unless you brought to much gear like we did and you have a 90+lbs Smoker Craft Aluminum Canoe with nothing but a straight thwart for a yoke pressing the entire weight of the canoe on your spine. By the time we had everything thing over it was past lunch time and my pregnant wife was spent and needed to eat and I was in the same canoe minus being pregnant. Also, it was unusually hot about 90 degrees and my Minnesota wife doesn’t handle heat well especially pregnant. So after lunch we had a trip pow-wow and decided to head back to the Bay 3 campsite she loved so much and make this a more leisurely trip, fish, and explore more of Bay 3 and Zephyr Lake. We portaged back over to Swamp Lake, fished a little bit, and then headed back to the campsite on Bay 3. We set up camp and took a nap. When we woke up we filtered some water and began to cook supper after we finished supper s’mores were in order and then we sat back and just enjoyed the evening air and sunset. Even though the itinerary was changed, the day ended a success and we were ready for the new adventure of tomorrow.

Monday, May 23

We were awaken a little earlier than expected by the mysterious and enchanting song of a pair of loons. We laid awake just soaking in serenade. Today our goal was to explore, fish, and relax. It was a little breezy, so after breakfast we decided to go explore Zephyr Lake to the south. We explored the rest of Bay 3 and then we found the portage to Zephyr. Before we portaged the canoe over, I wanted to explore the shore a little and look at the main part of the lake since the wind was picking up. As I was exploring I found all sorts of fresh moose tracks and scat that couldn’t have been more than a couple hours old. I finally quit exploring and went to look at the main part of Zephyr and it was really choppy. Beautiful sunny day but way to wind to enjoy a canoe ride. So my wife and I paddled back to the campsite regrouped, took at nap, laid out in the 90+ degree sun, and then had lunch. After lunch it was still windy so we talked, went for a small hike, read, and just tried to soak the beauty of it all it. The BWCA even in the more travelled areas is just so refreshing and peaceful, that it invigorates the soul with new and fresh life. After some more relaxing and finding many object lessons we decided it was time for some fishing. It was still windy but Swamp Lake was just a quick paddle away, and is often glassy smooth when all the other lakes are rough. So off to Swamp lake we went and sure enough it was calm. 90 degrees and calm…not so good for fishing, but I was hoping for fish anyway. We paddle the entire American side and came up with one 26in pike and one 19+inch smallie that fought really hard and was a blast to catch. Figuring another paddle around the lake wouldn’t be much better we decided to head back to camp and get ready for a storm that we saw coming. We were glad we left when we did because the wind was much strong in Bay 3 that it took everything we had to get back to the campsite.

The storm didn’t last long, so we made supper and decide to call it a day and went to bed. Not long after settling in for bed, nature called and would not be ignore so I climbed out and boy am I glad I did. There was one of the most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen. I called my wife to come see and there we stood just soaking it in till it was gone. Bonus, the bugs were gone during the entire sunset.
After the sunset we felt our senses couldn’t take anymore so we said our prayers and thanked our Creator for His incredible creation and then drifted to dreamland listening again to our serenade from our friends the loons.

Tuesday, May 24

Woke up early again thanks to our friendly loons. We wanted to leave early to make sure we caught our tow at American Point which was to arrive at 9:00am. We were low on food so I skipped breakfast and made sure my wife ate plenty for her and baby. We broke camp, loaded the canoe, and bid our campsite and loon friends farewell and till we met again.

The lake was all glassy with a light fog dancing over the water. The loons were singing and it was just paradise. I don’t know how to describe it, it felt sacred. I even told my wife to stop paddling and coast…I just had to soak it in. Its experiences like these that bring me back to the BWCA.
We took our time paddling and made it to American point by 8:30, thirty minutes early for our tow. There was a group of pelican there and they let us get quite close before they would flew away. I wetted my line with a few casts but nothing was biting. So we just hung out till it was time for our tow.
This is when things got interesting, our tow was at 9:00am and 9:00am came and went no tow. 9:15am came and went and no tow. 9:30am came and went and still no tow. I began to have this uneasy feeling that there was not going to be a tow coming. I was even more uneasy about this because I had no map past American Point because I was expecting the tow. Also, I knew Sag is easy to get turned around on with all the islands and peninsulas. I was even more uneasy because the last time on Sag was in high waves and I knew a storm was coming that afternoon. We were nearly out of food and I hadn’t eaten since yesterday ( I know, always bring more food than you need, and all my life I’ve always brought 1-2 days extra food, except this one time…go figure). I also knew this was not going to be an easy paddle for pregnant wife. Fortunately I found saved to my phone a pixelated picture of Sag and the outfitters tow routes. So I started to paddle towards Munker Island and began to painfully navigate my way through the islands with my pixelated map. Finally I saw the peninsula that leads into the Narrows that lead into Sea Gull river. “Almost there.” I told my poor wife who was nearly spent. So we rounded the bend and to my great disappointment…dead end. My wife had to put her head down and cry for a little bit. Frankly I wanted to too. I was starving and so was she, and here I had gotten us lost. I pulled out my compass and it said we were in heading straight south, which is where we want to go so I figured I must have turned to soon. So we paddled out to the last point that I could see everything well. We regrouped and prayed for guidance, and I found where we were on my pixelated map and then looked in the direction we needed to go and I saw tow boats coming and going…Yippie!! So with renewed courage and with the last remaining strength (at least it felt like it) we pushed off sure of our location. When we made it around the bend we saw the welcome sight of Sea Gull River. Another mile down the river and a tow boat coming from behind called out and asked if we were the “Little’s”? I said with a slightly indignant tone “Yes”. The boat drive apologized profusely and asked with we would like a ride for the rest of the way. I asked if we would have to pay for it and he said “NO WAY! This is on us, I’m so sorry.” So with much relief and gladness we loaded up and rode the rest of the way back to the outfitter. I won’t lie I told myself I would never use the same outfitter again unless they really made up for it. Fortunately, when we got there they profusely apologized and said that had never happened before and that they were so sorry for messing things up. The credited us back the entire package to be used for a future date. They asked what else they could do and I told them that we were really hungry. So they made us a large pizza, huge bowl of fresh strawberries, tall glasses of orange juice, the works. It all tasted grand! They really out did themselves and did much more to make things right, more than I will mention here. Voyaguer Canoe Outfitters is an awesome outfitter and I have used them again and have had nothing by outstanding service and would recommend them to anyone. After loading up everything back into and onto the car. We said our thank you’s and farewell’s. It was nice to heading home again. My wife was such a trooper for her first trip, especially when pregnant. She did amazing and it was music to my ears, when were cruising home next to Lake Superior, she said “I can’t wait till we can go back again!” Next time it will be with our little son.