Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Sawbill to Smoke 6/3/22-6/4/22
by cmolvera

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/03/2022
Entry & Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)
Number of Days: 1
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
June 3, 2022 Entry Point 38, Sawbill Lake Group Members: Sam, Caitlin, Lincoln and River Olvera
June 3, 2022 Entry Point 38, Sawbill Lake Group Members: River, Lincoln, Sam and Caitlin Olvera Friday morning, we arrived at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters and picked up our permit, PFDs, paddles and canoe seats for the kids. We unloaded at their main dock and got our gear loaded in the canoe and set off with our sights set on Burnt Lake. We didn’t want a long venture as we were only planning on being in until Sunday and this was purely an exposure trip for the four- and six-year-old. They’d never been in a canoe before, much less in the Boundary Waters. So, we wanted an easy, pleasant trip for them. Leave them wanting more, you know? We had River, the four-year-old sitting on the bottom of the canoe, in the bow. Lincoln, the six-year-old, sat in the middle of our two-man Grumman Eagle on a Spring Creek Manufacturing Canoe Seat/Yolk. It was a windy shove off, with a stiff Northwest breeze. River was very displeased with her location in the canoe, and uncomfortable with the cold and wind that we were experiencing. All of this on top of her first experience in a canoe, which, I can agree. The first time in a canoe can totally be intimidating. We got to our first portage from Sawbill to Smoke Lake and Sam took the kids with the canoe on his back, and each kid in front of him and they set off. I loaded up my Superior One on my back, and our Venture Pal on my front, a paddle in each hand and set off behind them. Eventually I caught up to them and when we reached the end of the portage, I divvied out snacks to the kids. Sam went back for his pack and the fishing poles. Upon his return we discussed our next step. Did we continue on to Burnt? Or did we spare River more panic and just find the first empty site we could on Smoke. We chose the latter.  As we waited for Sam to come back with the last pack, we were passed by two separate groups; one comprised of three gentlemen, and one of a father and son duo. The father and son snagged the first site on Smoke Lake, so we paddled a little further. We were hoping to get the northern site but as we approached the landing, we saw a canoe tied to the tree so we backtracked and grabbed the northern, east-facing site (site number 2310 on and 2021 on When we approached the landing, I got out of the canoe and looked around and couldn’t tell it was a site, so we almost left. But then I skirted the shore up a rocky path and found a fire grate. So, to avoid being stuck on the water looking for a better site, we decided to set up camp here.  The landing was TERRIBLE. It was all rock. No place to really dock the canoe. There was a nice canopy of what I think I remember as cedar trees. We found a good couple of trees to hang our hammock. And a decent bear tree to the right of the landing under that canopy. As you ascend the rocky path along shore there’s a big rock to the left that we did some fishing from. It also serves as a nice sunbathing bed for the Gardner snakes that lived at the campsite. Continuing along the path there was a nice rock staircase that took you to the kitchen of the campsite. Some logs were there for sitting, and what looked like a small area used for processing wood.  Moving on, there was what could be perceived as a tent pad, but it was very rocky and not something I’d ever volunteer to sleep on without a high-quality sleeping pad. We used this area for staging our gear. The tent pad we used for our 3-man Big Agnes Copper Spur was next along the path. Adorned with a nice front step made of rocks, it was barely big enough for us to fully stake out the footprint of our tent; no room for our guy lines.  Walking passed the tent pad we used, the path would take you to the latrine where a nice, covered, throne awaited.  We did some fishing from shore using slip bobbers, jigs, Mr. Twisters and leeches. Only one fish was brought in. Lincoln caught his first Northern! Slightly bigger than a hammer handle, we couldn’t get it on shore quite fast enough for me to get a photo before he wiggled himself right off the hook. But he was very proud of himself, as were we!  A couple times, Sam took the kids out to the middle of the lake to retrieve water for our gravity filter. That was a fun experience for the kids. Lincoln got to paddle, and River got to sit on the seat. The bugs were ATROCIOUS and getting the kids to keep their head nets on proved to be the biggest challenge. We were fortunate that a ton of beaver wood had been left behind on shore from high water receding so keeping a fire lit to keep bugs at bay wasn’t much of a challenge. Unfortunately, the smoke from the fire didn’t make a huge difference. It was difficult to tell if the Thermacell we brought was making much of a difference, also.  We all decided we missed Clover a lot and were tossing around the idea of pulling out a day early to make it home to her. If nothing else, finding a different campsite on Saturday. I made us Mountain Houses for supper and then we tossed a couple more lines in to see if we could change our luck on fish, but we didn’t catch anything. The kids made smores, and then River put herself to bed in the tent. Sam Lincoln and I chose to follow suit before it got too dark and the bugs really came out. So, the boys hung the bear bag and we cleaned up, covering anything left out in a tarp in case we got unexpected rain. We got in the tent and laid down. Snugly, since there were four of us in a three-man. We listened to some ducks sing us a lullabye, and dozed off. We absolutely did get rain, as it seems we usually do overnight in the Boundary Waters. We woke up to the beautiful song of some loons on the lake and as Sam stepped out of the tent, he realized why we only visit in the colder months. He was completely swarmed by mosquitoes and that was the nail in the coffin for packing up. So, we made sure there was ample fire-starting wood and kindling for the next traveler and headed out.  When we got to the Smoke/Sawbill portage, I loaded up my two packs and took River to the other end of the portage. When we got to the end we sat for about five minutes, and Lincoln showed up by himself. He had portaged the entire 100 rods all by himself. He was terrified, but I encouraged him by telling him he just conquered a fear and he was all done. He had found me and he was safe. He told me Sam gave him the option to go or wait for him to load up the canoe, and he “made the wrong choice.” Sam showed up a little bit later and was so thankful to see Lincoln made it safe. Then went back for his pack. We got back on the water and paddled back to our entry point with Lincoln in the bow with me, and River in the seat. At this point, River had become so comfortable in the canoe, she fell asleep while Sam and I paddled us back to the entry point.  A big thank you to the folks at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters for their hospitality. It was a lovely experience. We are already thinking of the next time we bring the kids back for a longer period next time.