Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

50 Years Later

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/03/2020
Entry & Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
It took me 50 years before I could return and I got to share it with 2 sons-in-law and a grandson
Day 1 of 5
Thursday, September 03, 2020 Gusts to 45 mph was added to the forecast on the weather radio that morning. That seemed a lot more threatening than the 35 mph forecast we heard the night before. We wondered a bit about whether even to start as we got out of the car to push a balsam fir out of the road enough to get to Sawbill Canoe Outfitters. I hadn't been to Sawbill since 1969, and it seemed strange to think that the granddaughter of the founders was now running the place with her husband Dan. We checked in, got our gear packed and with trepidation stood on the landing watching one party struggle against the wind and another seemingly trapped on the far shore, struggling to get toward the Alton portage. I quickly found my stern paddler skills challenged as I hadn't paddled a canoe without a lake keel and the gusting winds seemed to enjoy trying to spin us around.... Note to self...get in better shape next time...The two canoes quickly got separated as we chose different means to quarter into the wind and moments of driving rain. We were already behind schedule to get to Cherokee in early afternoon and my concern about getting a good campsite and the headwind gave us an opportunity to change plans. We would do the Cherokee loop backwards and I hoped a campsite would be available on Cherokee by the weekend. Going with the wind toward the Smoke Lake portage was a great relief to my mostly novice companions, and here I noticed another portage signs, the ones that used to mark the next lake name and the rods of distance involved...Got our feet wet for the first time unloading the kevlar crafts and as we chugged over our first portage, as usual, realized that we packed a bit too much. I couldn't help but notice that the packs with their padded shoulder straps and hip belts were so much more comfortable than those army-green Duluth packs with the leather straps of yore. Smoke was an easy float as we put in off a makeshift dock in the shallows and took advantage of the wind at our back to the Burnt Lake portage. As novice campers we chose to put in at the first open campsite on Burnt for our orientation on where stuff was, how it would work and the sense of relief that we had done reasonably well our first day. With my almost 70 year old back, I immediately missed the log tables that were on sites way back when. Bending over all the time has its disadvantages, but bending over to cut up my first night steak was a pleasure.