To Canoe or Not to Canoe, that is the question.
Day 2 Travel Day. The alarms went off at 6am and the cabin started to get busy……. slowly. We packed up and got everything ready and went to the dinning hall by 7am for the French toast breakfast which was just as good as I remembered it. With carbs and coffee consumed we were ready to face the day! We got the canoes to the dock and loaded the packs, gave quick tutorial of how to paddle a canoe for the newbies and off we went. The canoes were to be manned with the same tandems the whole trip, with some challenges and much entertainment. The canoe pairings were mom and dad, with dad in the bow. And Nate and I, Nate in the bow. One would think that the experienced paddlers would pair up with the inexperienced people however this was not the case. It was age vs. youth; inexperience vs. experience. We pushed off about 8am and set off across Round Lake to the first portage taking us to Missing Link Lake. This portage was a little difficult to find but Nate, the seasoned navigator that he is, put us in the right general area. We just had to get closer to shore to see the opening, guess our eyes weren’t BWCA ready yet. As we crossed Round Lake, we noticed the wind was picking up blowing from the East /Northeast. That first portage was to be a challenge as it was as hard or harder than any of the portages we did on the last years trip in both distance and difficulty. 137 rods, rocky with some decent elevation changes. I feel like this portage would be easier coming into Round Lake as opposed to leaving Round Lake.
On this trip Nate and I were destined to do every portage twice (except the last one). On this first portage, each person took their own pack and then Nate and I went back and got the canoes giving mom and dad some time to enjoy the solitude and beauty of the BWCA. We tackled this portage with the energy, enthusiasm and excitement that I imagine every return BWCA traveler has as they come back to the place that exudes the quiet beauty and peacefulness offered as only true wilderness can. Halfway through we stopped and took our obligatory picture in front of the sign that lets you know you made it. With the first portage under our belt, we loaded up and took off across Missing Link Lake. This is a smaller more intimate lake that I would like to go back and visit sometime. The couple of campsites we passed looked decent and I could see how the lake would be quiet with the mile plus portage on one side and the other portage’s being more difficult.
Did I say mile plus portage? Yes, yes I did. The portage from Missing Link Lake to Tuscarora Lake is 362 rods of ups and downs, twists and turns. In all honesty it really wasn’t that bad, just long. We tackled this one by implementing the leap frog technique. We sent mom and dad off to complete the whole portage with their packs. Nate and I accompanied them on the first third of the portage, dumped our packs and went back for the canoes. We then took the canoes 2/3rds of the way, set them down and went back and got our packs and took them the remaining distance to the Tuscarora side landing. Then went back for the canoes. Once mom and dad finished taking their packs the whole way they came back and helped us get everything to the Tuscarora landing, pretty efficiently in my opinion.
It was 10:30ish by the time we got everything to the Tuscarora side and we noticed that it looked a little rough out on the main part of the lake. We loaded up and started across the lake stopping in deeper water to refill the water bottles as we drank quite a bit on the long portage as you can imagine. The wind was pushing us around a lot more than we realized as we were filling up our water bottles. We took a bearing from shore before we headed out but after filling the water bottles, we just tried to eyeball it and go. We ended up approx. three quarters of a mile south of where we wanted to be. And to get where we needed to, we had to head straight in to the wind and waves. At one point we got to knee deep water, hopped out and towed/pushed our canoes to give our upper bodies a break. Back in the canoes we rounded a point and thought we found the portage as we saw a canoe on the beach at an opening that was not a campsite. We pulled up and didn’t find anybody around and no trail, odd…. So, we got back in the canoes and kept going. The portage was around the next point which took us another 20 minutes or so. We were elated to finally find the portage and be out of the wind for a little while. Mom and dad did great especially with the wind, waves and extra distance that we had to travel exposed to the elements. At the portage we ran into two gentlemen who asked us if we saw another canoe with two guys and a dog. We told them about the canoe we saw on the beach and wondered if that was them. The two other guys showed up a little while later. Apparently, the dog was not a fan of the waves so they had to beach the canoe and travel cross country to the portage. I do not envy them one bit, the BWCA is a thick mess in most places and canoeing is definitely a more efficient way to travel. We took the portage to Owl Lake which is 67 rods and of no consequence and took a break for lunch.
This started our string of smaller waters before we reached our destination lake of Little Saganaga for the night. One thing I look forward to on the smaller lakes is the opportunity to see wildlife. While I don’t want to see a bear in my campsite, seeing one from the water a safe distance away would be a memory I would cherish forever. Same goes for a moose and wolves. Owl is a smaller lake and we had the advantage of watching another group canoe the lake while we were eating lunch so we knew exactly where we needed to go. Another nice plus on these smaller lakes is that the wind doesn’t affect you as much so we were across pretty quickly. The next portage is a short 50 rod portage to Crooked Lake. We wasted no time and started across Crooked Lake taking a left at the point and following the shore around behind an island to the portage. We had some trouble finding the next portage as the landing was very small and really rocky. Luckily there is a sizable rock cairn marking the entrance. Bless the individual or group that set this up as it saved us a lot of time. The landing definitely challenged our skills but we got through it and pushed on. It is definitely a one group at a time type of portage as there really is no place to store canoes out of the way so other groups can make it through. Luckily, we were the only ones around. If a portage landing is any indication of how difficult a portage will be, this portage was going to be a bear. And it was. It starts basically straight up from what is the landing and then curves around to the right and then has a couple of elevation changes until you come out to the landing on Tarry Lake. The landing on the Tarry side is in a cool Cedar stand that is dark and open with a stream and waterfall on the north side. To be clear, you cannot see the waterfall from the portage but there are some little side paths that will take you there. It was pretty cool. We got across Tarry pretty quickly as this is another small lake. The portage from Tarry to Mora Lake is a small 14 rod portage. Up and over quickly we set off on Mora and attempted what we thought to be a shortcut through a little creek marked on the map behind an island. There definitely was a little creek behind the island, unfortunately it did not allow for us to navigate due to the large rocks. So back in the canoe and around the long way. The day was starting to get long and we were just about ready to be done. However, we had one more portage and more big water to tackle before we could call it a day. I always like to have an ambitious first day to get out ahead of the crowds I but did not realize how challenging this route was, especially on day 1. Once across Mora we portage to Little Saganaga which was a pretty portage of 47 rods. There were a couple of challenging spots but definitely not the toughest portage of the day. As we set off on Little Saganaga we reflected on the fact that we had not seen any of the aforementioned wildlife and decided to have a little fun and find a moose through the viewfinder of our camera (see photo). We had a little fun with this when we got to camp and told our parents that we saw a moose after they setoff on Little Sag and they missed it! They got a good laugh out of our picture.
On Little Saganaga we had about an hour of paddling to get to the campsite we wanted, campsite 820. During the paddle over to the campsite we saw our first bald eagle perched in a tree along the shore. It was a little after 5pm at this point and we were all tired with fingers crossed that the campsite would be open. I had a feeling it would be as we had not seen anybody since we left Owl Lake. And sure enough, the site was open. We pulled up and checked it out and deemed it good enough for the next two nights. We unloaded the canoes and started setting up. It is amazing how different things are when you have some BWCA experience under your belt. We got the main tarp set up in no time with the tents and hammock shortly after. Campsite 820 is on the northwestern most island on Little Saganaga Lake and is a nice site. The campsite has 3 good tent pads and plenty of trees to hang a hammock(s). The firegrate area is elevated with windows facing north and west to the Lake. There was little to no wind so I cannot speak to wind protection but if I had to guess, with a north or west wind it would have been a pretty breezy site. We also had to get creative hanging the bear bags.
With everything set up and the fire started, it was dinner time. As mentioned earlier, we planned and packed our own food. I took the responsibility of packing for mom, dad and myself and Nate packed his own. The difference between what we packed couldn’t have been more different. I packed some fresh fruit, eggs, bacon and other luxury items while Nate packed strictly dehydrated meals. Since one must pack out what one packs in, we (mom, dad and myself) had a much larger garbage footprint and the weight of the fresh food did not seem to dwindle as fast as I thought it would. Even with rest days baked into the trip, my pack would not get any lighter than approx. 50 pounds. Lesson learned. There are so many options for dehydrated meals these days, Backpackers Pantry, Packit Gourmet (thanks Shug!!), Mountain House to name just a couple, you can get the variety needed to skip the heavier items. All that is required is water and there is plenty of that around! With dinner done and cleaned up, we fished (with no luck) while watching the sunset and the off to bed.
Rods portaged: 720 (2.25 miles) Lakes traveled: Round Lake, Missing Link Lake, Tuscarora Lake, Owl Lake, Crooked Lake, Tarry Lake, Mora Lake, Little Saganaga Lake