After missing our Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) trip the last 3 years, I was excited to go back! Granddaughter Grace (soon to be 18), daughter Kara and I explored the western section of the BWCA near Ely in 2018 so this time, along with my brother Tim, we went up the Gunflint Trail to explore the east side of the wilderness area. It was my 30 year anniversary of exploring Sea Gull, Alpine, Red Rock and Saganaga Lake in 1981. Beautiful place!
Tuesday July 20, 2021
Grace and Kara were excited to get started and arrived at my house an hour early. Finished packing the truck and loading the canoe and we were ready to hit the road!
We drove to Grand Marais, MN to meet Tim at Voyageur Brewing Company after a nice dinner and a couple local brews, we navigated the road construction on Hwy 61 to drive up the beautiful Gunflint Trail. We arrived at Tuscarora Lodge & Canoe Outfitters to meet owners Andy and Ada, who have been extremely flexible as they have adjusted our trip several times to match our busy schedules. Great people!
With forest fires in the Ely area to the west and in Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park to the north. Put a smoky haze in the sky and cancelled many trips in the Ely area. We were fortunate to be on Saganaga Lake, well east and south of the fires.
It did make for a beautiful red moon.
We moved into Bunkhouse #8 and found that Tuscarora Lodge has a wireless network that was very strong outside the buildings, so we sat outside to watch the Milwaukee Bucks play game 6 of the NBA Finals. Oldest son Scott is a season ticket holder and a big fan of the Bucks. Scott invited me to attend Game 4 at the fabulous Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. The win tied the series at 2-2 and it was a thrill!
The town was buzzing with excitement over the Bucks, filling the Deer District for each game. Even Game 5 in Phoenix, when Kara joined 65,000 people to watch the Bucks win on the big screen TVs at the Deer District. Wild!
We sat on the tailgate, cracked some excellent brews from Mineral Springs Brewery (Tim is a brewer and owner). At first, we watched Game 6 on Kara’s iPhone, before our new neighbor brought over his laptop. Sweet setup!
It was a tense, exciting game, with the Bucks pulling away at the end behind 50 points and 14 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo (aka the Greek Freak). Very exciting!
Wednesday July 21, 2021
Tough to fall asleep after the big win but our breakfast reservation was on for 6:45 am. Hot coffee and a tasty breakfast got us ready for our first day. We loaded the rental canoe (a very nice Northstar Northwind 17) and we were off!
We drove up the Gunflint trail to Cook County 83 to find BWCA Entry Point 55A. Nice landing, easy place to load the canoes and was fortunate that the water was warm for Kara to take a morning swim.
We headed north past a few nice homes and dodged a few motor boats before entered the wilderness in big Saganaga Lake. We turned west and hugged the south shoreline (avoided the big open water on the Canadian side of Saganaga Lake) and tucked in behind several islands for a long paddle. Light winds were appreciated on the big lake. Saw a bald eagle and a loon with a baby on her back. When we reached Red Rock Bay, we turned mostly south to find the short 10 rod portage to Red Rock Lake.
Red Rock Lake has 8 campsites and we checked all of them before finding one down the far southeast arm. The camp is up on a large rock point, so there is normally a nice breeze. We setup camp and settled in to our home for the next few days.
With the dry conditions and the fires, there was a ban on campfires. Too bad, there is lots of dry down tree branches that would have made for great firewood.
We made pepperoni personal pizzas, always a favorite meal in camp! After dinner, I wrote in my journal and we watched a family of ducks swim past and the youngsters zoomed around their siblings.
Rain started and forced us into the tents for the night.
Thursday July 22, 2021
We slept in as a light rain hit the tents. A loon was calling as I started coffee. Very peaceful until I realized that I bought whole bean coffee! Tim poured some beans into a zip lock bag and he cracked the beans with the side of his pocket knife. We enjoyed the coffee under the canopy as the rain picked up as we watched a little mink run along the far bank and swim over to our side. We also saw a big family in 4 canoes looking for an open campsite in the rain, they looked miserable. Glad we found a base camp.
When the rain stopped, Tim and I made breakfast of biscuits and gravy with eggs.
Tim often says that the most important skill in brewing beer is being a good dishwasher!
We talked to a couple of guys that were having good luck fishing in our little bay. We decided to give fishing a try and we are glad we did! Kara and Tim started fishing first as I tried to find weight to add to the front of the canoe to better balance Grace and I in the empty canoe. After a few failed attempts, we were ready to fish! Tim and Kara had already caught 3 small Walleyes along the rocks. They let Grace and I try the spot and we had a blast! Grace caught 2 Bass and one Northern, but struggled to get them into the boat. I caught 3 Bass, one keeper for dinner. Kara and Tim caught a couple more small Walleyes and a small Northern.
Tim’s fishing rod broke after one eyelet and Grace lost the end eyelet – just left with a spear! Made for quite an odd collection of different length fishing gear.
A bald eagle put on quite a show, diving to pickup a fish from the surface of the water while being chased by a smaller bird. A red squirrel stepped out of his rocky home to chatter at us.
Kara noticed a wallet on a rock in 4-5 feet of crystal clear water. They could not snag it with a Rapala, so they asked to use one of my big jigs and that did the trick! When we inspected the contents of the wallet, we did not find any money, but we found that Joseph Warren Schmidt of Lino Lakes, MN – a suburb north of Minneapolis – likely lost this wallet between 1992-1995. From the drivers license, employee badge and credit cards, we hope we can find the rightful owner and return his wallet.
We cleaned the Bass for supper along with Lasagna with meat sauce. Fried the fish with panko breading. Completed the meal with Raspberry Crumble for dessert. Wonderful!
Watched a beaver swim across the smooth lake. Saw a beautiful nearly full moon rise over the trees that had a red haze from the forest fires.
The bugs swarmed us as we washed dishes and forced us to bed.
Friday July 23, 2021
Slept poorly, rain overnight kept me awake, but we woke to a nice morning. Kara was up early crushing the whole beans for coffee on the rocks.
Watched a bald eagle and a loon fly past our camp. Made biscuits and gravy with eggs again for breakfast.
This is our explore day! Grace rode with Tim, much better balanced in the 17′ canoe. Kara stepped into my big canoe and slowly tipped over. Fortunate to report no injuries and warm water.
We quickly paddled to the 50 rod portage from Red Rock Lake to Alpine Lake. Good workout even with empty canoes to climb the hilly rocky portage. A nice breeze off of Alpine Lake was greatly appreciated.
We explored Alpine Lake and found the 105 rod portage to Sea Gull Lake. we decided to pull the canoes into the brush and just hike the portage. A tired group of Girl Scouts were recovering at the landing. The portage is long and rocky, but well maintained.
At Sea Gull Lake, we talked to 3 guys from Colorado and a 3 generation family of 2 grandparents, 2 parents and 3 little kids tackle the portage. When we walked back to Alpine Lake, we were reunited with our new friends from the Bucks game in front of the bunkhouse. They were set to portage all of their gear and 2 canoes in a single trip – very impressive – good to be young and strong!
We explored the river rapids between Alpine and Sea Gull Lakes. With the low water levels, it would be rocky and slippery adventure to take this shorter, but much more difficult portage.
Saw a few loons close to the canoes and bald eagle in a tall tree.
Tim and I portaged the canoe across the 50 rod portage back to Red Rock Lake and paddled back to camp. I changed clothes and enjoyed the breeze from the top of the rock and took a nap. Grace tried to fish from shore while we cooked Mac & Cheese for dinner with Cream Brulee for dessert.
Thunder and lightening in the distance turned into rain, which pushed us into the tents for the night.
Saturday July 24, 2021
Strong thunderstorms rolled through twice overnight. Started coffee and made pancakes for breakfast. Tim and Kara packed up the wet tent and gear. Grace hauled the packs to the water.
We paddling through Red Rock Lake, across the short portage to Red Rock Bay. As we got to the bigger portion of Saganaga Lake, the wind picked up and caught the front of the canoe with Grace and pushed us to the shore. We rearraigned the packs to put the big cook set ahead of her feet to help put the bow back in the water deeper, less of a sail. We could smell smoke and see the haze in the air from the forest fires.
We took one wrong turn down a bay thinking it was the channel back to the truck. Bad time for my GPS battery to go out. Other than the straight lines, this was the route we took and the map sections we used.
After 5 hours of paddling, we arrived at the landing, loaded the truck and put the canoes on the roof. Tim and I cooled off with the last of his MSB Beers while Kara went for a swim and had a chance to ride a moose!
Dropped of the canoe at Tuscarora Lodge, changed into fresh clothes and said good bye to Tim before we drove the 400 miles back home after a great trip!