BWCA Three Headwaters Tour: Over the divide and back again
The 1500 mile drive from Toccoa, GA to Tuscarora Outfitters was enjoyed over three days. Stayed and visited with old friends in Indianapolis, picked an old renovated roadside motel near Chippewa Falls, WI and stayed at the Tuscarora Outfitters bunkhouse. I had a good dinner at Trail Center, too.
Day 1, Monday July 16
Round Lake, 142 rod, Missing Link Lake, 180 rod, Snipe Lake
After the wonderful French Toast breakfast at Tuscarora Lodge and Outfitters I pushed off into Round Lake about 7:30. A light south wind was easily overcome to reach the first portage and test my legs. All went well portaging and I arrived late morning at a familiar campsite on Snipe. The wind was howling by that time so I moved in. The open site and wind kept the mosquitoes at bay. I spent the afternoon carving a spoon out of a piece of cedar kindling. I had forgotten to pack a spoon!
The portages were hard on me. My ankles are sore and my hips, too. My back and knees seem OK. I moved slow and carefully through the rocks and mud. It will be interesting to see if it gets easier as the trip progresses.
After stashing the food and setting up the tent it was calm enough to explore the south part of Snipe Lake. Lots of high rock walls. A wonderful little lake. There is one loon hanging out here and another that has flown in twice to visit. It stays about an hour and flies off again.
Day 2, Tuesday July 17
Snipe Lake, 47 rod, Cross Bay Lake, 56 rod, Rib Lake, 37 rod, Lower George Lake, 28 rod, Karl Lake, 35 rods, Long Island Lake
I explored the boggy creek that flows into Lower George Lake finding a wildflower I had never seen, Swamp Candles. I am enjoying the July flora. I have not been on a July trip since 1976!
Staying at another familiar campsite. After five portages I arrived at a wonderful island campsite in western Long Island Lake at 1:00 PM. I saw a solo paddler on Cross Bay Lake and a group of 4 on a portage. Very few folks for mid July.
Mosquitoes are bad this evening. I took my dinner out in the canoe and paddled out on the lake. Escaping the shore works for bugs, but sitting in the canoe at the end of the day hurts. I am contemplating a screen shelter!
Day 3, Wednesday July 18
Long Island Lake, 5 rod, Long Island River, 28 rod, Gordon Lake, 13 rod, Cherokee Lake, 140 rod, Sitka Lake, 105 rod, North Temperance Lake.
Sore and stiff this morning after sleeping hard last night. I think my neck and shoulders are sore from the binocular harness. Going to leave it off today.
Long Island to Cherokee is a breeze and a beautiful route. I paddled hard for Cherokee Creek area to catch someone headed out to Sawbill to mail a letter to Sue. She'll get it days before I get out. Succeeded.
The two portages to North Temperance beat me up bad. Cherokee to Sitka took me from the Hudson Bay watershed across the height of land to the Saint Lawrence River/Atlantic Ocean watershed. I will cross back over in a few days. The second carry would have been easy if the first had not worn me down.
Camp went together slowly after traveling for eight and a half hours. I fixed dinner early as I made camp and ate half. That revived me and I saved the other half for later in the evening. The cider and brandy worked wonders along with the aspirin.
Paddled to some outcrops in the middle of the lake to swim, finish my supper and watch the sunset. The swim felt good after a pretty hot day, mid 80s I believe. Found some of the same rock formation that I saw in 2016 on Cherokee. There are wave worn columns and my island has a cave at water level with columns deep inside. Maybe an entrance to another world! I am camped in the northern most site on the lake isolated from the busy camps at the south end.
I did a full regimen of stretches before getting nestled in to sleep. Hope that will make the morning more pleasant.
Day 4, Thursday July 19
North Temperance Lake, 55 rod, South Temperance Lake, 10 rod, Brule Lake, South Cone Lake, Middle Cone Lake, North Cone Lake, 160 rod, Cliff Lake, 14 rod, Wanihigan Lake, 14 rod, Winchell Lake
Another long day of travel, 8 hours and 45 minutes camp to camp. The morning portages were busy and easy. It amazed me how much water from Brule Lake flows into the Temperance River watershed. The lake drains from both the east and the west ends.
Brule Lake started being windy as soon as I arrived, starting out breezy and pushing up some big waves as I work my way east. The wind was from the south, pushing me against the north shore as I worked my way to Cone Bay. The canoe handled the waves and wind very well. Moving the seat to adjust trim prevents any weather-cocking. It was a workout, but the wind was cool and the waves were fun.
The Cone Lakes portages were all avoided. I walked the canoe up the first channel. The second I paddled through with only a few bumps and abuse of my Clement paddle which has withstood many such navigations. The third one was a wade through. The Cone to Cliff Lake portage blew me out, but the last two were easy. I was behind a slow moving group so I drifted around in the wind and relaxed, enjoying the beautiful cliffs in the neighborhood.
When I got out on Winchell I could tell the east end of the lake was well occupied. I went straight north to a campsite that is not popular because of the tiny landing area. It suited me fine. Good swim place and wide open rocks for drying my outfit and laundry and just for sitting and watching the day go by. After four straight days of travel, this is a nice lay-over camp.
Day 5, Friday July 20
'Totally overcast in the morning with an east wind off of Superior. Occasional mizzlin' rain that will stick around until the wind changes. It feels good to stay put, lounge around and read. I took the time to make oatmeal this morning and really chowed down. Until now I have had enough trail mix left over from my daily allotment for breakfast the next day. I am getting into the phase of the trip where appetite comes on strong. The outfit is reorganized moving the remaining food into one bear vault. I filled the empty one with stuff that made packing the duffel and #2 tight and difficult.
Lots of folks on the lake and passing through. A weekend crowd is developing. I think finding a camp on Gaskin is going to be dicey. I am electing to stay here for two days and skip Gaskin, portaging directly to Omega on Sunday. I'll be well rested for the portage back over the height of land between Kiskadinna and Muskeg.
I am feeling rested and content just being still. I didn't launch the canoe until evening for a paddle to the west end of the lake.
Day 6, Saturday July 21
A great layover day. Swam a bunch, washed clothes for the rest of the trip, aired out my sleeping bag in the sun and wind and read and napped. More sunny than not and a good breeze to keep the mosquitoes in the woods. I really do prefer to travel, but these two days have really revived my energy. I think three days travel with one day off would be ideal for me. I am thinking about routes with big lakes. More paddling, less portaging.
Day 7, Sunday July 22
Winchell Lake, 44 rods, Omega Lake, 35 rods, Kiskadinna Lake, 185 rods, Muskeg Lake, pull-over beaver dam, Muskeg Creek, 20 rods, Long Island Lake
A day of wonderful contrast. Starting dark and misty with the same east wind off Superior, but a clear line appeared on the eastern horizon. I had to move to regardless of the weather. I had a slow breakfast and assembled the outfit at a similar pace. The sun broke through on Omega. Such an enchanting lake to enjoy the warming morning.
The portage to Kiskadinna made up in height what it lacked in length. The height of land back to the Hudson Bay watershed on the Kiskadinna- Muskeg carry was my big challenge of the day. I decided take it in three equal parts and paced them off pretty well. The three breaks returning for the second load were very pleasant. The view from the top across the roof of the forest had me taking an extended break on that segment. I really enjoyed the portage and taking my time allowed that.
The next treat was the marsh at the west end of Muskeg Lake. Lingered there and let a fast moving couple pass me by to the portage. The contrast of marsh and bordering outcrop poking up through the post fire succession was magical. I picked up common golden-eye ducks and sedge wren while drifting about in the marsh eating a snack.
The short Muskeg Creek portage was over a four foot tall beaver dam and a bouldery walk down the creek. Good raspberry picking on the walk back for the second load! I took the island campsite in the eastern end of Long Island Lake. A real fine campsite with views in three directions.
Day 8, Monday July 23
Long Island Lake
This morning I had a parade of six adult loons come by my canoe as I was filtering water. No loonlings in the mix. They were sort of paired up as they swam by and I was thinking they might be first year adults pairing up for the first time. They would be about 13 months old.
I wandered off in the canoe after breakfast looking for all the birds I am missing. Seems the recovering burned habitat is the place to be! I found cedar waxwings, chestnut-sided and yellow-rumped warbler and more in the first burned area I cruised through. I am thinking this is where the moose are, too. When so much of the forest was mature and closed-canopy the moose were feeding a lot on aquatic vegetation creating a lot of paddler/moose interaction. Now the succession in the burn areas is dense birch saplings, providing abundant forage and cover. Paddler don't see them as often.
I paddled all the eastern bays and then up into Karl Lake. There is lots to see on these lakes. Excellent basecamp lake.
I got back to camp in the early afternoon. Hot today, so a long swim felt good. I found a spot in the shade to read and dose. The hot wind is keeping the mosquitoes down. I fixed dinner at 3:00 thinking I would nibble on it through the late afternoon and evening. The regular 2 person Mountain House meals are too big for me. The Pro-Pack meals are just right.
This site is amazingly isolated from the crowd on this busy lake. I had one large group and a single canoe come by since yesterday afternoon. Clouds are building toward overnight storms and making a wonderful sunset. All is ready. I actually gathered wood for a fire and started it in the twilight, but the mosquitoes came out in force when the wind dropped. Not wishing to apply repellent before getting my sleeping bag, I doused the fire and retreated to the tent. I sure have been sleeping well.
Day 9, Tuesday July 24
Long Island Lake, Karl Lake, 28 rod, Lower George Lake, 37 rod, Rib Lake, 56 rod, Cross Bay Lake
Three easy and familiar portages today gets me to the Cross Bay Lake Hilton. I love this site and am amazed that I always find it unoccupied. The wind started blowing hard from the NW while I was on Rib Lake and the canoe nearly blew out of my hands when I was lowering it into Cross Bay Lake at the end of the portage. I actually had to put extra stakes on the tent to keep it in place.
Soon after I got camp set up a couple stopped, hoping to camp here. It was still early in the afternoon and they had plenty of time to get to Long Island Lake so I didn't offer to share the site, and they didn't ask. If it had been late I would have suggested they stay and not do portages in the dark. I am glad to have the place to myself on my last night. I organized the outfit for a quick departure in the morning and settled down for a nice nap with the wind blowing through the tent.
The wind finally dropped enough at 7:00 to go moose watching. I explored all the "cross bays", but did not see a moose! It was a beautiful last sunset with clouds making lots of color. With the moon bright, I stayed out on the lake until I started to see stars. This is better than a campfire!
Day 10, Wednesday, July 25
Cross Bay Lake, 24 rod, Ham Lake, 40 rod. Cross River, 50 rod, Cross River, Cross River Access
I had a very pleasant half day on the Cross River heading out. Still no moose, but I picked up northern waterthrush for my bird list. This is a very scenic run for my last day. I was early enough to have it all to myself until the last portage. It was busy with people heading to Long Island Lake and several families doing a day trip through Snipe. The Cross River Access was busy, too. Tuscarora Outfitters staff were dropping off folks starting out on a day trip so I got a ride back to my car.
I unpacked my damp gear and spread it out in the back of the car, changed into some clean clothes and headed down the Trail to town. I stopped at the new Poplar Haus for an absolutely great burger and a beer. My cabin would not be available until 3:00 so I stopped at the laundromat in Grand Marais and enjoyed the great view while my clothes processed.
I spend the first night after the trip in Grand Marais finding it hard to drive much after 10 days outdoors. Nelson's has a nice room for me and I enjoyed a whitefish dinner at Angry Trout. I spent the rest of the evening out on Artists Point watching the waves and birds on beautiful Lake Superior.
Post trip thoughts.
54 miles total paddling. This includes side trips and explorations. Its probably only 44 to do the route. Real short for a ten day trip. 27 portages totaling 1588 rods = 4.96 miles. About average for my 10 day trips.
This was wonderful loop trip. Beautiful lakes, great campsites and a variety of old forest and areas recovering from fires. I was pleased, at 66, to be able to handle the 27 portages well. I took my time and I broke the longer or difficult ones in to sections. I was certainly stronger at the end of the trip, so a 20 day tour is still in the works. I traveled on 7 of the 10 days. Only 2 of those were full (8 hour+) days. Five of the days I was looking for a campsite by late morning or early afternoon. I am sure, in my younger days, this could have been a five day trip or even four, but I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much. Lots of exploring to do on this route.
I loved the Bear Vaults. I did not miss hanging food one bit, spending that time spooning around on the lake in the twilight!