Eagle Mountain and Whale Lake camping
Posted by Nandagikendan
Entry Point: Eagle Mountain
Number of Days:3
Day 1, June 21: Setting Out for Eagle
Our first family trip of the season was getting ready for a new experience: portaging. We had camped on Horseshoe Island on expansive, magical Saganaga, the favorite of Sigurd Olsen. This year we would begin the carry to be able to reach lakes hopefully further off the beaten path.
Leaving the Twin Cities around dinner time we fought the inevitable traffic north. We made it as far as Temperance River State Park around 9PM and pulled off Highway 61. Bedding down to the murmur of the grey, foamy surf stirred by an angry Lake Superior we drifted off in a misty rain.
Day 2, June 22nd: Practice for Portaging
The next morning we made our way to the trail head for Eagle Mountain some 30 minutes or so north of Grand Marais located up dirt logging roads and thick dense boreal forests.
With June in BWCA comes winged pests. We swatted the clouds of gnats and mosquitoes swarming around us as we dragged our backpacking packs out of our car, loaded up our kids with their packs and water bottles and began our trudge to Whale Lake below Eagle Mountain.
A deciduous forest envelopes the pine needle-covered trail. Mossy, bog patches litter the route as well. It’s mostly a flat path to the lake.
About 40 minutes or so, we reached the entrance to the BWCA and took a quick lunch break, slathered ourselves with mosquito dope and quickly shouldered our loads. Upon reaching Whale, we checked out two available sites, one is the first to be reached on the west side of Whale but we thought it a bit too weedy and wet to work.
Hiking around to the north side of the lake we found the wonderful 4-star site which was already taken by a family! They graciously allowed us to camp nearby on a craggy outcropping just outside of the fire ring. The pewter grey skies threatened rain so we snuggled in right after a hasty dinner.
Day 3, June 23rd: The Climb to the Top
Skies broke a bit with lighter patches of grey but no sun. We were hopeful. Packing up a quick lunch we began a slow methodical climb up the rocky, inclined path the Eagle Mt. summit. Our son, Ethan decided to stay behind to hang out at camp and explore. Our daughter Leah accompanied my wife and I up the trail, stopping frequently to gather flowers and munch granola trail mix.
The climb to the top is not long. Perhaps 20 or 30 minutes depending on your hiking speed and conditioning. We made it a bit closer to 40 minutes and were rewarded with an panoramic view over the Misquah Hills and southwest over the forested ridges. We couldn’t quite make out Gitche Gumee or Brule Lake which were too far for the naked eye but the view was stunning none the less. We realized at that moment that we weren’t actually standing on the highest point in Minnesota. That led us to explore and find the marker which was further up the summit by climbing the granite slab just northeast of our perch to a wooded grove.
After a couple of hours up top enjoying a picnic lunch, resting and enjoying the view, I began straggling down with my daughter to allow my wife a few extra moments up top before descending. We carefully picked our way down the trail to our camp to find our son happily ensconced under our tarp munching snacks. Dinner, a walk-around the various short trails and camp chores were followed by all four of us tucking in a bit early. Tomorrow was pack-out day and we needed to rest our aching muscles.
Day 4, June 24th: Pack Out to Salvation
Our last morning in the woods was a bit clearer. No rain in the forecast was followed by sun peeking out from time to time to encourage us for our 2-hour walk back to the trailhead and our car. Loading up after a hearty breakfast of pancakes, fruit and oatmeal, we again made the human-mule train-of-four beginning the trek homeward. The trail around Whale is quick rocky and rooted. The rain and mist from the previous two days left everything slippery and treacherous which slowed our progress. The mosquitoes had also not abated. As long as we kept moving we were fine. Pausing only briefly this time at the BWCA boundary, we pushed on. My son Ethan was in the lead at times with my wife and then I passed them both with my daughter to take the lead in the last stretch of our route. Finally, the trailhead came into sight. We dropped our sacks at the car, ate some snacks as we changed out of our grimy camping garb and reloaded everything back into our car. Tired and happy, we celebrated our survival with chocolate bars and leftover trail mix.