Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Making the Most of No Available Permits
by TreeBear

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/06/2020
Entry Point: Skipper and Portage Lakes (EP 49)
Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (EP 47)  
Number of Days: 1
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
In the summer of 2020, the pandemic was busy changing everyone’s lives. For me, a job out west closed down and a guide season cancelled. I ended up finding a job at an outfitter, made some great friends, and spent plenty of time in the BWCA, so it wasn’t all bad. Most every week I managed to get in for a trip on my off time and systematically worked my way through the Gunflint entry points. The fun part about how the outfitter ran their staff time off was that it was rotating days so I would be off with a different coworker each week and get to go on a wilderness trip with each of them throughout the summer. The challenge though was that we didn’t always know who had what days very far in advance and permits could be tough to come by last minute. One week rolled around where my time-off coordinated with a coworker who had mentioned a few times how he was looking forward to our trip together. When the day finally came, low and behold, not a single canoe permit on the entirety of the Gunflint, or anywhere else for that matter, all the way to Hog Creek! This trip report is how we made the most of it!
We were both bummed that we couldn’t take an overnight trip, but that’s when bad ideas began creeping into our heads. We could always take a day trip and cram everything we wanted to see into one day right? Pack nice and light since we don’t need the overnight gear and we were sure to make decent time. The second hiccup came from our choice of canoe. We were using outfitted equipment which would be fine, but it was a busy summer and the options were slim. We had worked our way down to a heavy, possibly leaking Alumacraft. Sigh, long miles and a less than ideal hull, but we were just happy to be heading on trail.
Our entry point of choice this day was Skipper Lake, a seemingly odd choice for a day trip for those familiar with the area. We put in on Poplar as early as we could and made the mile-long portage into Skipper. The next two portages are short on the way into Rush and we marveled at the remnant burn zone where Ham Lake took its final gasps before extinguishing. The portage into Banadad is brief also and we were making decent time down the lake. The “lead sled” didn’t appear to be leaking which was encouraging at least. We stopped on the westernmost campsite on Banadad for a snack and spent a good bit of time checking out the unique rock formations there. The anticipated toughest stretch of the trip was just ahead.
There are four longish portages without much paddling between them on our way to Long Island. We switched off every other portage since it would be selfish to hog the canoe for oneself all the time! The portages heading through this way were a muddy, mucky mess which slowed progress some. Nevertheless, we were pleased when Long Island came into view. At Long Island, we started seeing other groups which we hadn’t seen much of so far this day. It felt good to really be out in open water again after the chain of little lakes in between the portages. We made it to the SE corner of the lake and pit stopped for a hike. We walked south and peaked into Fun Lake, a unique lake wedged into steep topography which burned in the Famine Lake fire.
We headed east across the beaver dam/boulder field portage heading into Muskeg. After Muskeg is an infamous portage we had been bracing for all day. It heads up, up, and up some more on the way to Kiskadinna. Phew, no time to rest as the car is still a long ways away! It’s a nice paddle down Kiskadinna though one of the major blowdowns really rocked this area so, at least from my eye, the forest isn’t all that interesting. Omega is a beautiful, complicated lake, and we enjoyed the scenery as we passed a few more groups in their campsites.
On Henson Lake, we stopped for a little while to search for the Otto portage. It is way off from where my map had it marked, but this side venture would come in handy when I camped on Otto with a guided group the next summer. We checked out a cool little cave on the portage before returning to our canoe. We kept working our way east through the chain of lakes on the way to Caribou. By the time we made it, the sun had begun to set. It was a beautiful sunset and, in a way, made it feel like we had truly completed the day, though there was some work still to be done.
Darkness was closing in by the time we had crossed Lizz Lake. It would be a night crossing of Poplar. We stopped on a small outcrop island on Poplar to enjoy the stars for awhile. As we sat and marvelled at the seemingly endless stars, a faint orange glow began on the horizon. Soon an incredibly bright full moon crested into the night’s sky. This magical moment capped the end to a one-of-a-kind day in canoe country. It certainly wasn’t what we had hoped for when we set out to plan our off day, but in some ways it was so very much better. 
~Poplar Lake, Skipper Lake, Little Rush Lake, Rush Lake, Banadad Lake, Sebeka Lake, Ross Lake, Cave Lake, Long Island Lake, Fun Lake, Muskeg Lake, Kiskadinna Lake, Omega Lake, Henson Lake, West Otto Lake, Pillsberry Lake, Swallow Lake, Meeds Lake, Caribou Lake, Lizz Lake~

Lakes Traveled:   Poplar Lake, Skipper Lake,