Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Spring Thaw Cherokee Loop
by Makwa90

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/21/2022
Entry & Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 3
Trip Introduction:
We were not sure this trip was going to happen due to the late ice out on Sawbill Lake! The ice officially was out a week before our entry date, but the resulting high water levels from the rapid snow melt made us a tad nervous. Nevertheless, we made the trek up Sawbill Trail and found ourselves on the edge of the wilderness once more. This trip will be the first time I’ve paddled a solo canoe for multiple days (with my parents taking our tandem boat). It’ll be a good preparation for my first solo trip in September! The plan for this trip: a short 4 night loop through Cherokee to Frost Lake then over to the Temperances and out Burnt and Smoke back to Sawbill.
Part 1 of 5
Saturday, May 21, 2022 Our first morning dawned dry with a bit of a breeze coming out of the north. A headwind of course! We loaded up Smoky Gold (out retired outfitter tandem canoe) and picked up my solo and headed to the landing nice and early as we had a fairly long paddle ahead of us. After a little experimenting with weight placement in my craft I felt comfortable and ready to go. The water was over the edge of the timber retaining walls at the landing! The warblers came out to serenade us from the cedar lined shores as we paddled towards the boundary island. We were in!

The hills are bare of leaves with the willow flowers and Aspen catkins the only signs of spring. My arms were barking but I slowly got the hang of paddling my craft. It’s slow going that’s for sure, but mom and dad eased their pace so that I could keep up. We passed rocky islands, fishing mergansers, and soaring eagles on our way to the first portage. We had to do the dreaded double portage method due to our added vessel and extra food and layers of clothes. Luckily we are not in a hurry to find a site and the only people we’ve seen were headed back in.

Lots of beaver activity down Ada Creek! Fresh beaver chewed sticks lined the boggy shores. We had a quick snack at the start of Cherokee Creek on our way to our destination for the night: Cherokee Lake. It was good to take a short breather after that portage. The downside of coming out this early in the year is the accumulated winter tree debris across the trail. There were several large tree trunks to step over! As warned, the portages were very muddy and had standing water in sections. I’m definitely glad I chose to wear my xtra tuff boots as the water definitely would have gone over the waterproofing in my hiking shoes.

The water on Cherokee Creek was glass smooth as we glided under tall rock outcrops drooping with lichen. We turned into the lake and nearly paddled the whole length before settling on a peninsula site on the east shore with a dense canopy of large white cedar trees. Immediately upon landing, a loon wailed in the distance: a sign that we were home! The camp kitchen was spacious with excellent seating options and the camp area was spacious and open with an understory of Canada Yew. Cedar scent wafted through the air… mmm!

Our entertainment for the night was watching a pair of loons bathe loudly off our point. Their white bellies glowing as they flipped upside down and flapped their wings madly. Dinner was delicious: Moroccan spiced couscous with chicken, dehydrated sweet potatoes, and chick peas. We kindled an evening fire from a stack of wood that someone left behind in a nice neat pile (birchbark and all). There’s plenty of downed branches from the winter ice storms to scavenge too. Light sprinkles came late and we decided to call it a night.

An odd thing happened today: while it’s normal to find maybe one thing that a paddler has forgotten at a portage during a trip, we found four. Four items on four consecutive portages. A Gerber multi-tool, a pair of leather boots (and socks), a bucket hat, and a pair of brand new crocs. Weird! ~Sawbill Lake, Ada Lake, Skoop Lake, Cherokee Lake