Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Sawbill to Phoebe Lake and back
by tipboat

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/17/2022
Entry & Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)
Number of Days: 3
Group Size: 5
Trip Introduction:
Our trip route is travelled by many but appreciated by us none-the-less. We spent months preparing our packing list, planning our food, buying our gear, and generally savoring our opportunity to enjoy God's great outdoors.
Our crew of five was all men ranging from two 19 year olds to three "seasoned souls" 50-ish. After driving in 7 hours, we camped at Sawbill Saturday (the night before our trip) and feasted on fire-roasted steaks with the works that included smores for dessert! Car camping is great for allowing that kind of decadence. Having retrieved our canoes just before the outfitter closed, we were in control of our departure timeline the next morning. We had a compass and map in each boat and with the landmark navigation available and dedicate navigators (somebody ALWAYS needs to be paying attention to your location) we never got lost. Thankfully, no magnetite on this route.

Sunday was our outbound assault on the objective. We chose the dry-foot method with sturdy hiking boots (ankles support!) and used standard backpacks (e.g., Kelty Redcloud 90) with watertight packing inside. I can see the benefit of Boundary Bags because they don't have stuff dangling outside to get caught up in/out of the canoe. However, we really enjoy the solid fit of the regular packs for the portages. Our packs were in the 50 pound range so good support was important. Outbound we chose pack+boat on portages for one trip on each. You really have to be in somewhat beastmode shape to do that with a 30-man canoe and 55 pound pack but we managed.

If you are in reasonable shape and have the blessing of favorable weather, the trek from Sawbill to Phoebe (via the long portage into Grace) in one day is not an issue though we were spent and ready to be done. There were some downed trees across the portage paths but really, it just added to the adventure. The lilly pads and blossoms were delightful.  It took our crew about 7 hours to reach Phoebe site 1030 {beautiful!!!) with a decent amount of daylight to pitch camp, filter water, eat, and crash before the hoard arrived. Yes, the mosquitoes were substantial even during the day and swarming after dark-much more than in 2020. You get creative about where you spray that Picaridin and how you use that bandana to keep the airspace clear while answering those collect calls from Ma Nature. 

We intended to spend 2 days exploring Phoebe and fishing before returning on day 4 but a member of our group became ill so part of the crew explored for a day then we bailed a day early. The hit/miss thunderstorms throughout the trip mostly hit at night but there was enough wind, etc. during the day that our fishing was not productive beyond a few fingerlings. This was despite hauling in the lures, etc. recommended by other trip reports (no live bait for us). Other groups we encountered (they were outbound while we were inbound) reported excellent fishing results on Phoebe so talent+weather+time of day+kit will produce varying results. Sidenote: Thunderstorms rolling over the lake at midnight are amazing to hear approaching, if not slightly terrifying. 

Outbound we doubled the portages (pack or boat but not both) because we had an odd pack as a result of unloading our ill team member so the trek was somewhat longer, though no less beautiful. Lunch provided enough delay for the whitecaps and wind to fade on Grace to improve our odds of forward progress on the lake. The eastbound journey required some effort but was productive and rewarding.

This route is a good combination of some portage grinding/hiking and open water paddling. It's a good experience for the newbies but not so hard that you can't do it. BWCA Is an international treasure and we worked hard to leave no trace. We hope you do, too, as you enjoy the great outdoors.