Sawbill To Cherokee and Back Again, July 4, 2014

Family Canoe Adventure: Sawbill to Cherokee and Back Again
Dates: July 2nd – 5th, 2014
Portages: 5
Length: 4 days
Canoe/Gear: Wenonah Champlain
Lakes: Sawbill, Ada, Skoop, Cherokee

 

Trip Introduction:

Midsummer is a typical time of fireworks, family picnics, outdoor barbecues and parties to celebrate the holiday of independence but also to mark midsummer. Our trips due to my wife and my work schedules seem to lead us northwards to the woods and a new adventure. This time around we opted for a southern entry to the BWCA because we had largely ignored the southern region of BWCA perhaps due to my own personal preference for boundary lakes. Sawbill would be our perfect introduction despite its heavy day and overnight use. The lake itself is a gorgeous venue surrounded by deeply forest ridges and deep blue waters. If you can ignore the floating coolers and out-paddle the hordes to the northern end, your first set of portages will land you in more serene settings with fewer paddlers and reward with the beauty and stillness you seek (if you paddle ‘n carry far enough!). We did. And this is our story: Cherokee lake.

Day 1, July 2nd:  In the Dark

Turning up Rt. 2 heading north on the dirt road to Sawbill campground as the sun was setting in the western sky. A magnificent orange glow bathed the hillsides and forests as we rolled along. Arriving at Sawbill Lake and the USFS campground we noticed two things. The bugs were out and darkness had fallen. In a bit of confusion, we looked for a campsite map to find our site which turned out to be back up the road with a couple of other access sites. We didn’t climb into our tent until about 11PM but we all quickly fell asleep.

Day 2, July 3rd: Bright and Early

Breakfast at camp was a slow affair. I made coffee and rifled through the food packs to find our breakfast offerings. Everyone else in my group was very slow to wake and climb out of the tent. It was becoming clear that this would be the pace of the day.

I had loaded most of our gear in separate dry bags and kits. The back of our car was littered with disorganized bits and pieces of canoeing gear from various packs which slowed us down getting breakfast together.  We ate and packed slowly, eventually rolling down to the Sawbill Outfitter general store to pick up our permits around 9:45AM and watch the BWCA training film. The sun blazed overhead by the time we made the dock at 10:30AM dodging a group or two coming out and putting in. This is a busy entry.

At high noon and full sunshine we were finally ready to shove off. Only later did we discover that our 56-in. gold-and-green metal plastic paddle and one of our water bottles was left on the dock never to be seen again. We paddled north searching for the portage, quizzing a group of three young guys doing a selfie at the last campsite. They confessed that they were lost and looking for the portage as well. With a bit of map consultation, we paddled around the wooded peninsula to our immediate left and landed at our first carry.

The portages up to Cherokee are generally short except for your last carry of 180 rods over the Laurentian Divide. The first carry of 85 rods has a rocky takeout but quickly becomes a flat, well trodden path to Alder Creek. After a short paddle upstream, the second is a 75 rod that undulates up and down first over rocky granite outcropping and then climbing through the forest to Ada Lake. These were very congested portages with groups of tandems

Fairy Houses on Cherokee: Something to look forward to

Fairy Houses on Cherokee: Something to look forward to

descending upon us and landing right behind us so we queued up, letting some put-in and others to exit and move on to clear our paths. The third portage that day involved confronting the boggy section of creek that led to Skoop. We paddled about ½ way and my wife and I got out, sunk knee deep in the grassy ooze and lined the canoe up to an impassable set of boulders in the middle of the stream. Abandoning this tactic, we unloaded and carried the rest of the way to the original landing at the stream cascade. We didn’t know that there were only 10 rods or so left to carry because everyone flopped down, wet, muddy tired and hungry.

Premonitions on Cherokee

Premonitions on Cherokee

There are no campsites between Sawbill and Cherokee and this fact did not cheer up the rest of my group. It was about 5PM and everyone’s energy levels were low. The last, longest carry was still ahead to Cherokee Creek. I coaxed my party back onward. The Cherokee creek portage rises gently through the woods from this side and then snakes its way down into an eventual muddy slog before terminating at a wide, sandy put-in on the creek. Our kids, exhausted and hungry made the first trip and my wife and I went back to shuttle the rest of our gear across.

View west from our Cherokee camp

View west from our Cherokee camp

Site on Cherokee

Site on Cherokee

Finally shoving off we vowed to take the first, best site we could find once we hit the lake at the southern end.

Day 3, July 4th: Then the Rains Came.

There is a children’s book about the rains on Kapiti Plains in East Africa and a young herder who waits for these rains to grow the Savannah grasses so that his herd can eat. Listening to the pitter-patter on the tent the next morning reminded me of this favorite short story that we used to read to our kids when they were young.

Indispensable Tarp on Rainy Cherokee

Indispensable Tarp on Rainy Cherokee

The rains came and went during the morning, setting the tone for the day. We crawled out to set up breakfast and plan our day but not much could be accomplished. I set up a trolling line and launched out into our little bay to the north of us but had no luck.

Southwestern bay, Cherokee Lake

Southwestern bay, Cherokee Lake

I also tried my luck with a few Rapalas off of the fantastic granite promontory that accentuated our site. We duck in and out of the tent all day, playing games, grabbing a bit to eat, the kids playing around the site which had endless trails and paths back up behind us and down to the water. Finally my wife and I decide to try and make it up the lake a ways to explore better fishing spots. Our hope is a fish dinner for the evening.

Island southern end, Cherokee Lake

Island southern end, Cherokee Lake

As we launch from our site, thunder and lightning in the distance. It’s 2PM and we will be weather-bound for the rest of the day.

Huddling in our tent, the UNO cards came out. We read to each other. I jotted down trip notes in my journal and we played many rounds of hearts and talked about other trips we’d done to the Numbered Chain, Saganaga, Loon and Agnes.

The Rare Moment Out of the Tent, Cherokee

The Rare Moment Out of the Tent, Cherokee

Dinner that night was a hearty meal of rice, sauce and sautéed vegetables with hot cocoa and tea during a break in the weather. Camp chores led to a bit of an early bed, listening to the pair of loons calling to each other out on southern Cherokee.

Day 4, July 5th: Time to Go.

It’s time to pack and leave and this family is ready to go. Quick breakfast leads to a motivated pack-up and off

Paddlers heading for Cherokee Creek

Paddlers heading for Cherokee Creek

down Cherokee. The portages went fairly quick although there was another mini-mutiny from our kids about double-portaging. Even the marshy, muddy line-the-canoe portage from Skoop to Ada went well. Our final portage brought the final challenge from the wilderness. We paddled south on Sawbill, relieved that the portages were done and all that remained between us and our campsite, showers and raiding the Sawbill store back at the campground was an hour or two of paddling. The rainstorm that had been threatening all morning had other ideas as a torrential downpour forced us onto an island. We watched a flotilla of 5 other canoes head for shelter further south. As the deluge passed, bright sunshine parted the clouds. We loaded and made our way south landing on the docks of Sawbill Campground a little before noon.

A happy exhaustion takes over as we unload, find our camp, dry out and head for showers. Treats, cold drinks and snacks in the store were our rewards for surviving our trip.

 

BWCA: Eagle Mountain and Whale Lake camping, June 22-24, 2013

Eagle Mountain and Whale Lake camping
Posted by Nandagikendan
Trip Type:Hiking
Entry Date:06/21/2013
Entry Point: Eagle Mountain
Number of Days:3
Group Size:4

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.

Trail to Eagle Mt

Trail to Eagle Mt

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.

Uploaded to summitpost.org by Milanite (2010) on August 2011

Uploaded to summitpost.org by Milanite (2010) on August 2011

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.

By DuskTransfixed , May 6, 2011 upload to Google Earth

By DuskTransfixed , May 6, 2011 upload to Google Earth

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.