July 3 Baker Lake EP, Cherokee loop
The pandemic changed our plans for the 4th of July, leaving us with the opportunity to spend the 4 days we had scheduled to work at an event, into a trip to the BWCA. We had a permit for later in the summer, but like many, found last minute permits were scarce and found one for Baker. We met a high school friend of my wife’s for camping at Sawbill the night before and I crashed early as she and the friend burned midnight oil. The next morning, I was shaking her awake so we could break camp and be on the water by 7:30am.
Day 1 - Baker EP to S. Temperance
Baker EP is pretty easy to find and there is a place right next to the water where you can unload. We quickly threw our packs and seat thwart bags into the canoe and shoved off. The paddle to the first portage is very short, with a 10 rod into a River that feeds towards a waterfall that feed from Kelly lake. We missed the easy 3 rod portage to the right of the falls and took a very rugged rock garden non-portage to the left which caused the first of many curse words as we struggled the canoe across the top of the rocks.
The paddle up Kelly was quiet and we were quickly to the 65 rod portage into Jack Lake. The weather was warming up and we spent a lot of time dipping our hats into the water to keep cool. Jack soon led us into the short 12 rod portage to Weird lake. A quick paddle led us to an 80 rod portage and then a quick paddle to a 240 rod into South Temperence. By now, we were both getting tired from our double portages and decided to find a site. We ended up at the farthest site to the northwest which had a great swimming area and nice spot for our tent. The view was spectacular and my bride was ready to just stop there as a base camp and go back in a few days to our EP. I should have listened to her but more on that later. I tried my best at July fishing from shore, but with no luck, we broke open the bear vault and made a dinner of red beans and rice in tortillas and some red wine from a bag.
Day 2 - S. Temperance to Cherokee.
We had a leisurely breakfast and broke camp to get to Cherokee, figuring it was only a simple, three portage day. The first 55 rod into North Temperance was not terrible and took us into lovely lake we both agreed would be enjoyable to stay on in the future.
The next 105 rod into Sitka was testing us a bit from the day before and double portaging was causing issues for my wife. We had two large packs with us, one being an old Duluth style pack which was a bit too heavy for her, but much smaller than my Granite gear monster. The heat and weight was taking it’s toll on us both, and I knew from other posts on here that we had a killer portage ahead. I told her that we would pace ourselves and that we were not in a hurry as we crossed the small Sitka lake for the portage into Cherokee.
A group of four much younger than us were coming down the portage path and they looked beat. I asked a guy who was the size of a grizzly how it was and he just said “not easy”. This is not what my wife wanted to hear. I told her she only had to do one trip and that I would triple portage this one, but she assured me she wanted to help. As we trudged up the hill towards Cherokee, it felt like my pack was weighted with lead. We would stop often to catch our breath and take a sip of water. The trip back always allows you to think and get a better lay of the land, but 24O rods can feel like a long walk. I threw my MNII Kevlar onto my back and the heat of day along with the tough portage made me feel like the boat was made of steel. We decided to try and do a double carry, with her in the front and me in the rear. We quickly decided that this did not work, so I just took over with many breaks along the way. By the time we were finally at the other end, all we wanted was a camping site and a glass of wine. We met some people coming out who told us about a 5 star site on an island and decided to try to paddle to it quickly. We over shot the site and had to backtrack but did end up finding it just before another group who was headed to it as well. The site had many good attributes but the key was a west facing rock that had a 200 degree view. Unfortunately, it also smelled of dead fish, and we realized when we went to go swimming that the what we thought were white logs under the water were in reality many, many dead fish. We set up a bug tent in the woods and made dinner while fighting small biting flies by the camp fire grate. We ate quickly and then retreated to the anti bug room. Many people paddled by the site only to find us there, and I was shocked at how many, very late, large groups were searching for a site. Our tent was in the woods and away from the lake, making sleeping very hot and sticky. We slept on top of our bag and prayed for any wisp of air. None happened.
Day 3 - Cherokee to Burnt
We started out after a quick breakfast towards the portage to Skoop Lake. Unfortunately, I read the map wrong and we ended up turning too early. We went by a lovely camp sight and into a very beautiful channel that matched the map, but when we came out the other side, nothing matched the map. I pulled out my very old GPS and fought the light to try and read the screen. We were definitely in the wrong spot and lost an hour as we back tracked to our location where I made the error. Using the GPS, we followed the track to the small River that then led to the Skoop Lake portage. There were times where we were convinced that the river was the wrong path. We crossed a few beaver dams, and it became very narrow and shallow. But soon, we hit a sand beach and knew we were in the right spot. 180 rods of double portaging up and down fairly steep hills got us into the tiny Skoop Lake.
A short paddle led us to a 12 rod portage into Ada. Another short paddle and we were in an 80 rod into another puddle lake. This ended with a swampy path that we tried to paddle but found ourselves stuck on sunken logs. It was squishy so we were very cautious about getting out of the boat. We made it to a wide spot where two couples were roping through their boats. We decided to get out of our boat when one of the couples said, make sure you step on that rock or you will sink in. We thanked them as we did just as they said and pulled our boat up on land. We were now in their way to pull their boats up the creek and the second boat seemed in a hurry. Just as she hit near spot her friend had warned us about, I saw her disappear. She went under the water and bobbed up covered in mud. I was truly shocked at how quick it happened and just stared at her as she cursed like a sailor. Her friends were laughing and my wife were doing all we could to see if we could help without laughing.
We paddled the short swampy lake to the next 80 rod into Sawbill Lake. We fought the wind down the lake, hot from the weather, parched from not drinking enough water and hungry. We were headed towards the 100 rod Smoke Lake portage and it was a pretty lengthy distance from our last portage.
Once we hit the portage we made water and made a quick sandwich as we were definitely dehydrated and running out of steam. It was then that my wife asked “Is this having fun to you!” I told her it was, but she was having none of it. The Sawbill to Smoke portage was done in grumpy silence. I lightened her pack and convinced her just take just one trip. I was now triple portaging our gear. At the Smoke lake portage is a wooden floating board walk dock that you launch at. By now we were both tired and hot and my wife was mentally and physically done with our trip.
We both agreed though that Smoke wasn’t a lake we wanted to camp, so we took the 90 rod portage from Smoke into Burnt. We weren’t picky about camp and looked at one near the portage but decided we wanted to go a bit further. We were soon at camp and my wife sat as I set camp, made food and I encouraged her to soak in the lake. We had been watching storm clouds and I wanted camp set just in case we got hit. During the evening we heard thunder but only had a small rain burst overnight.
Day 4 - Burnt to Baker EP
We both were tired and very glad we were on the final leg. We broke camp at sunrise and did the 230 rod portage to Kelly Lake. I made my brides pack as light as I could and she slapped bugs and cursed as I followed behind. At the end of the portage I set down my bag and told her to sit on it enjoy the view and I would return. 3 trips and we were off towards the last two portages.
We found the short 3 rod portage around the falls on our return and and stopped to take photos and laugh that we had missed it going in. We soaked our feet and admired the small falls.
We paddled down towards Baker but the river the opposite way had a totally different look. We hit rocks we didn’t remember and back paddled to find the portage. We never found it so I waded into River trying to navigate our boat through the rocks. We finally made it and sure enough, found the portage about 50 yards further.
The final push 10 rod portage around the falls going into Baker gave my spouse the chance to portage the canoe and smile that she was almost done. We got to the end and happily unloaded to boat for the ride back home.
Conclusion. We figured out that we don’t enjoy the mileage challenge but rather the beauty of the trip. We have shifted to a 2 day camp, 2-3 portage, 2 day camp goal for future trips. For us, this allows us to enjoy a lake and solitude while resting up for portaging. Our later summer trip involved a single base camp and doing short legs into neighboring lakes with plenty of fishing, swimming, hammocking and listening to the loons. I promised my wife this when we finished the Baker- Cherokee loop.