Newbies on a Saganaga to Seagull Lake loop- 7 days
The first portage while only 5 rods into Swamp Lake was complicated by some rain, and then thunder and lightning, and then 2 other groups arriving at the portage immediately after us. Given the weather conditions we were content to remain on the portage, off to the side but the 2 other groups rushed on shore, not for protection but to power through and continue quickly on their way. These were the only groups that I felt were marginally rude at the portages, not waiting their turn. But we probably looked new at portaging and they didn’t want to be behind us, and they were obviously not as cautious of the weather as we were. Otherwise throughout the trip portage etiquette was great.
We paddled through Swamp to the Monument Portage. It was our first longer portage, and we were double portaging for this whole trip. The portage was uneventful. I will add here that in general we thought the portages were harder than expected throughout our route primarily because of the footing and many rocks. It definitely required careful foot placement. And also we were all wishing we had 10 lbs. less in our portage packs.
We had been anecdotally advised of prior trips having difficulty with finding campsites down Ottertrack so we elected to take the route into Ester, hoping for a campsite as the day was progressing and we were aware of the issues with campsite availability. Pretty paddling but no campsites available. So we paddled onto Hanson.
The wind was picking up on Hanson and the day was seeming long and we were discouraged thinking we were getting skunked on a campsite the first day. It was 3 pm by the time we found that the last site down the lake, #325 near the portage to Clam Lake was available. It was perfect for our group size of 4 tents. Most have rated the site a 3 or so, but to us it was a 5+ as it was available!
After a long first day, we were happy for a shorter day 2 trip to the South Arm of Knife. We enjoyed the waterfall on the portage from Hanson to SAK. We snagged site #2039, which fit our group size. We were able to spread out our 4 tents. This site was rated a 2 but I would give it a 3. The views were a little obscured but after the worry of finding a site the day before, we felt lucky to have it. This was our home for 2 nights. Once settled we portaged and paddled Toe Lake, and then paddle around the bay of SAK nearby. During our 3rd day, which was a layover day, we paddled the 12 mile round trip on SAK to Thunderpoint where we hiked up to the top for a view while we ate our lunch. The wind on SAK was challenging on the way back. We were entertained in the evening by a large group of dancing loons on the water near our site. Very cool.
Day 4 was our day of fast and furious portaging. From SAK to Eddy Lake to Jenny Lake to Annie Lake to Ogishkemuncie. We enjoyed the falls on the portage to Eddy Lake. The pace of short portages and quick paddles really refined our portaging skills and we got progressively better with each portage. We finished on Ogishkemuncie where we hurriedly paddled in search of a campsite. We were earlier though and secured a very desirable island site, #785. I'd give this site a 5 rating. This was our home for 2 nights. Awesome to have an island home all to ourselves. Good birdwatching on the island, a Sharp-shinned Hawk nest above the fire grate area with fuzzy chicks in the nest and a family of friendly grouse wandering about all day. Lots of views including sunset. Day trip to Spice Lake to escape the wind on Ogish, pretty mucky back there. Also took a day trip hike to Mueller Falls off the portage between Mueller and Agamok Lake for a lunch picnic which was lovely. Ate a few tiny blueberries, saw fresh bear poop and moose poop there. Paddled Mueller Lake and saw 2 beavers working on improving their lodge. We hated to give this site up and move on.
On day 6 we had to start moving closer to the finish line of our trip. We got a fast and early start as the forecasted winds were 14 mph by noon and we wanted to be off the water. We vigilantly monitored the weather and I recommend a weather radio or use the weather feature like we did on our In Reach satellite locator. It really helped us to make good decisions and to stay safe. We portaged from Ogish to Kingfisher, Kingfisher to Jasper, and finally Jasper to Alpine. The wind was steadily increasing as soon as we arrived on Alpine. After finding numerous sites full and with the wind ever increasing we scored site # 351, at the southwestern end of an island across from the portage onto Seagull. The winds continued to grow and 2 ft. waves and whitecaps crashed the rocky shore all afternoon, only abating later in the evening. This was another great site with views from multiple places and lots of room for 4 tents. I found semi-fresh moose poop on the island which was a surprise, but no moose. I would give this site a 5 rating too.
Our last day, an early start and onto the portage from Alpine to Seagull. We debated taking the rapids/short portage option but feared it would be too shallow due to the drought. We took the longer portage, meeting several groups coming the opposite direction. When we paddled by the area where the rapids/short portage entered Seagull we saw others who had successfully paddled it. Seagull was thankfully calm and we made short work of the paddle back to Voyageur Canoe Outfitters to turn in the boats, shower and grab the cars to begin our ride home to Ohio. We saw multiple eagles on Seagull and Gull lake. A wonderful week in the Boundary Waters over.
In summary, we had fewer animal sightings than hoped. The only bear we saw was sitting in the ditch eating berries on Gunflint trail. No moose. More birds though- loons, bald eagles, hooded mergansers, ruffed grouse, sharp shinned hawk, cedar waxwing, ducks. Lots of bold chipmunks in camps waiting to steal food. The bugs were very tolerable before sundown, but after that head for your tent or be eaten alive. Despite talk of overcrowding, we found campsites, although the earlier you move during the day the better the selection. The sites were clean, not trashed by crowds. We did see other boats on the lake, maybe 10 a day, often far across the lakes or at portages.
For being Newbies on this type of trip, we really did a great job. We worked well as a team, made good decisions, got along, worked hard, followed leave no trace rules, had fun and just soaked up the beauty of the Boundary Waters.