Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

9 Day Loop out of Sawbill
by danbogey

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/10/2021
Entry & Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)
Number of Days: 9
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Frost River Loop
Just got back and finally cleaned all the gear. My son and I made the drive from Pittsburgh to Sawbill Outfitters in two days, stopping over in Duluth the first night. We noticed that the weather report that I read before leaving was spot on, cold as hell for a short period. We enjoyed our last dinner of pizza in Duluth and went over our possible routes and discussed the weather. I had a few routes in mind and they were dependent on weather and how my knee felt. I had an allograft (OATS) surgery on my left knee last year after getting back from the BWCA. An old injury that needed fixing.

We awoke Monday morning at 5 am to make the drive up to Sawbill and head out. The first thing we noticed - It was cold! After the two-hour drive, we arrived and were 1 of 6 cars in the lot, very empty. We talked with Claire at Sawbill and made the decision to do the Frost River Loop and spend multiple nights in most locations. This gave us rest days and time to just enjoy the area's beauty.

On May 10th we left Sawbill around 9:30 am and headed north for Cherokee Lake where we'd spend our first two nights. We'd be confronted with heavy headwinds and snow all along our trip today. We paddled hard and arrived at Cherokee Lake's spot 900 by 4 p.m.

We enjoyed our stay on Cherokee and only wished we'd be there when swimming was possible. Dinner that night would be mac and cheese with bacon bits. I had done my research and found you don't really need to boil noodles the entire time. Bring to a boil and then keep at 180 degrees until satisfied. We used powdered cheese which was exceptionally good :)

That night the temps got down to 23 degrees. I carry a SensorPush device that records temps, humidity, and dewpoint. Its stores the data which then is accessible by Bluetooth.

Day two and the weather started to look a little better with blue skies. Just a day to relax and do some father and son bonding.

Note: don't sit the SensorPush on a dry bag in direct sun. It recorded a temp of 108 :)

Day three and four were Frost Lake where we secured site 879. Upon arriving we were amazed at how nice this site was for two people.

While packing the 60l food barrel, I snuck in 12' Boboli Pizza Crust with a bag of mozzarella, sauce, and pepperoni. My son had a blast putting it together and it gave us an opportunity to use the Fry-Bake expedition pan

We just hung out on Frost and enjoyed our time together. We were lucky to have calm nights with great views of the stars and numerous passing of satellites overhead, especially the Starlink satellites which I think we counted at least 25 of them in a row.

Day five was Hub Lake. The small portage between Afton and Fente Lake was a real pain in the a$$ as was the portage out of Fente to Hub - Uphill. We competed the long portage into Hub and found site 851. Tons of firewood, not much room, and everyone who's stayed here has mentioned - a lot of wood ticks! We did have some moose antlers for a good pic. Lots and Lots of blowdowns on the site. Forest Crew did a great job of clearing the site. I wonder what happened here and when?

The benefit of waking up at 5:30 am to take a bathroom break, you get some nice early morning sun photos

We only stayed on Hub for a single night.

Day Six and Seven was supposed to be Mesaba Lake. The fishing season was officially open and I wanted to fish this lake. We arrived in Mesaba Lake around 12 hoping to have our choice of sites. That was not to happen. All three sites on the lake were occupied. Up next was Zenith Lake. There surely couldn't be someone here also. We paddled towards the site on Zenith only to see that this was also taken. We knew what was next - the long portage into Kelso Lake. We'd break it up into manageable pieces stopping to have some lunch at the halfway point. We were glad to finish the portage 3 1/2 hrs later and roughly 5 miles of walking (double portaging). We were now Kelso Lake for two nights. Our trip was quickly coming to an end and as fast as it arrived it was now ending. We spent our time fishing and listening to our favorite podcast (ear biscuits). We reminisced about the trip and my son, who's only been out with me once before in Algonquin, was now understanding what it means to be away for seven plus days: you become accustomed to the wilderness. It's your home away from home. The sounds, smell, and everything else are part of it! Nick actually started asking where to next. It's Woodland Caribou next year Son.

My son hijacked my hammock after night one and I never got it back.

I've not slept in a tent in a long time. The Nemo Tensor Pad allowed me to side sleep, something I've not been able to do with Thermarest Pads. I was actually very comfy and enjoyed the tent. It brought joy to my eyes that my son loved the Hammock :)

After our two nights on Kelso, it was time to move on to Alton Lake to site 870 which was very large but sat high and had some wind.

Day Eight and Nine were supposed to be on Alton Lake. After one night, the infamous black fly arrived. Didn't bother me much but was liking my son. I didn't bring the bug tent, too heavy and since it was cool outside we were wearing long pants and shirts anyhow. I had purchased head nets years ago from a now-defunct business (Peter's head nets) and they came in handy.

Nick and I made the decision to only stay one night here. We didn't see any reason to prolong the trip and I had to be home early because of another engagement. I needed at least a day to clean gear and then pack for my next trip.

We paddled to Sawbill early the next morning hoping to be there by 8 am. We rolled in at 8:03 AM turned in the canoe and headed straight for their showers!! Showering after that many days out was heaven!.

Notes about the trip: 1. Frost River was ok. Not what I thought it would be. 2. Water levels were low. Unless they receive a lot of rain, the summer paddlers are in for some really low water levels. 3. We saw a lot more people than anticipated. We did have Frost Lake for a single night to ourselves. 4. People taking moose sheds out of the Park. I'm pretty sure that's illegal. They were massive! 5. Zero bugs until the last night. What a relief. I definitively would not go when black flies are abundant. 6. I've found that I like the fall trips better. I've been to the BWCA in Sept and enjoyed my surroundings more - my personal pref. 7. We didn't see a moose (I now owe my sone $100 since I'd bet we'd see one). We did see one beaver. 8. Loons like to wake you up at 3:30 AM on Alton 9. As always we packed too much. Pizza was a welcome dinner. Next time bring 10 snickers bars! 4 liter Sawer Bag for filtering. I had the two-liter bag and that's too small for me. 10. Invest in a good saw and ax. I have the Agawa Canyon - BOREAL21 and GRANSFORS BRUK OUTDOOR AXE which was a beast in splitting wood. Get the better blade for the saw. Always bring work gloves, they came in handy. 11. Sawbill outfitters set the bar on how to run an operation. Claire was immensely helpful as was their entire staff! 12. Thanks to all who helped me in planning this trip. Memories with my son to last a lifetime! It will be a while until we return to the BWCA. Too many places to go and explore and not enough time.