Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Seagull-Sag, abbreviated
by bottomtothetap

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/04/2018
Entry & Exit Point: Seagull Lake (EP 54)
Number of Days: 2
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
"The best laid plans..." 1. Sometimes you need the flexibility to adapt. 2."Fun" isn't always gonna be what you planned on. 3. Small mistakes can snowball to make a larger cumulative impact. 4. No matter how many times you've done this, one can't be too confident and there is always plenty to learn. These are all lessons that the BWCA can teach you and they were front and center on our 2018 trip--an adventure experienced with my 21-year old son Stephen. When this trip's plan was originally hatched, the group also included my brother-in-law Charlie and his friend Tate. However, a few weeks before the trip, Charlie had to bail out and consequently Tate decided to pass as well. This left just Stephen and I and despite how much Stephen was looking forward to doing this trip with his uncle Charlie, we were convinced that the two of us would still have a great time with just our father-son duo. The trip started with a pleasant drive up from St. Cloud, MN to Grand Marais. We arrived in town during the annual Fisherman's Picnic and the celebration was in full swing. We happily took part, scoping out street vendors and taking in the usual sights in Grand Marais including a hike out to the lighthouse, the mandatory Sven and Ole pizza and a trip to Voyageur Brewing Co,'s taproom. When we were done doing Grand Marais, we hit the Gunflint Trail to check out Chik Wauk Museum and enjoyed our visit there as well. After checking in to our near-by outfitter and getting settled into our bunkhouse, we headed back partway down the 'Trail for an evening meal before returning to our accomodations for the night. All in all a long but rather fun day even though it ended with a full glass of beer sent flying in the bunkhouse and therefore getting beer spilled on a lot of our gear.
Day 1 of 2
Saturday, August 04, 2018 On the day we hit the water, the weather was almost perfect for a paddle up the Seagull River south to Seagull Lake. This would start what was to be a 4-day, 3-night loop on through Alpine and north to Red Rock and Saganaga Lakes before returning from Sag. to our outfitter on the Seagull River.

After starting out, we traveled for about 1/2-hour before encountering our first real obstacle--the set of rapids below the Seagull River Falls and just west of Trail's End Campground. While I knew that the falls were coming and that we would need to portage around them, I was not aware of these rapids so while a bit confused I thought this already might be the lowest end of the falls and was fooled by what looked like a portage on the campground side of the river. This turned out to be just a trail up to a nearby drive-in campsite and we could not find anything else that looked like another portage. It did not seem that the rapids would be very navigable by canoe but I did not like the option of walking the canoe up the rapids either, noting the significant current and not having any idea of deep spots or what the footing was like. We decided to try paddling up the rapids anyway. It was soon apparent this would not work since after multiple attempts at several spots we continued to get hung up and once even got turned sideways, nearly going over and almost snapping a paddle. We backed off and then sat there rather puzzled for what to do. After a while another party came by and they decided right away to walk their canoe up the rapids. Indeed this was quite difficult for them as at one point one of them lost footing on the slippery and uneven rocks and briefly went underwater. They eventually did make it safely through to the other side. After watching them closely we cautiously followed their path and then also made it through the rapids to paddle on to the "real" portage around the falls. This portage was no simple task either as the path branched off several ways, including the wrong turn we took before figuring it out and finally reaching Seagull Lake above the falls. Once we were there, a quick study of the map revealed how silly we had been. Had we only portaged from boat landing to boat landing through the parking lot at Trail's End campground, we could have by-passed the rapids and the falls all together AND dry footed it the whole way along a smooth level path! DUH!!!

An hour or two of paddling and a lunch stop later, we found ourselves at a nice campsite about 3/4 of the way down the lake west toward Alpine along Seagull's north shore. This would be home for the night. After pitching our tent on one of the obvious tent pads we now noted a threat of rain so we also constructed a rain-fly over the seating area next to the fire grate and quickly built a fire so we would have one available for cooking our steak and potato supper. Shortly before suppertime the rain hit and the first sprinkles soon turned into a significant downpour. At this point a couple of mistakes we'd made became apparent: we had not paid enough attention to how water would drain around the site and this "obvious" tent pad soon became a bowl collecting water and submerging part of our tent (and the gear inside) about 2" deep. We also had not angled the tarp well for drainage. After collecting water for a bit it collapsed and dumped water on much of our gear and on our now-struggling fire, extinguishing it completely. I assured Stephen that we would still be able to have a supper by cooking over our single burner stove. While he set about using this stove to pan-fry the steaks, I got busy slicing the potatoes. When the steaks were done, Stephen was going to plate them up for us when he suddenly lost grip of the frying pan and the steaks ended up on the muddy ground now covered by duff. I told Stephen not to worry as we would simply rinse them off and warm them up again. Once this was done he once again started to serve them and ONCE AGAIN lost grip of the pan and ONCE AGAIN the steaks ended up in the dirt! By this time he was so frustrated with himself, the weather and the general situation that he blurted out, almost in tears, "I just want to go home!!!"

Now Stephen and I had already been on several successful and enjoyable BWCA trips together that had also featured their share of challenges so I knew that we could hang in there and handle this if needed. But the trip was not just about our ability to endure. I wanted it to be about Stephen and about us having fun together and with all of our little setbacks throughout the day there was much of the time that the fun just wasn't happening. Stephen did offer that we wouldn't really have to go home but maybe could do a re-set on the trip by getting a room somewhere and playing some more in Grand Marais or maybe even exploring Duluth on the way home. I agreed to this as long as we would wait until morning to head back since we were several hours out from the outfitter and to make it back to them before dark would be hard to do. After dozens of trips to the BWCA, and dealing with many storms over the years, this would be the first time I had ever ended a trip early due to weather.

After re-rinsing and re-warming our steaks again we did manage to finally eat them although the potatoes also became a mud victim and they just got tossed in the garbage. Instead, we had some of our freeze-dried backup food to supplement the meal. Eventually the rain did let up enough to allow us to secure camp and before dark I was able to sneak in about 20 minutes of fishing from shore (one 18" walleye). Just before final turn-in for the night the clouds even cleared enough for us to get a peek at the stars. That served as a small but welcome reminder of why, despite the hardships, I so love coming to the BWCA! While the rain soon returned were able to stay dry in our tent and elevate up off the soggy floor on some gear that hadn't become soaking wet. We ended the day by achieving a decent night's sleep.