Trip Participants: Bob Hart (co-leader), Bill Beville (co-leader), Drew Dickerson, John Carlson, Tim Calahan, Chris Jordan, Bill Farrar and Bill Armstrong.
Lakes – Kawishi, Square, Kawaschong, Townline, Polly, Koma, Malberg, Phoebe, Hazel, Knight, Phoebe, Grace, Beth, Alton and Sawbill
Our group met up in Indianapolis in the afternoon with the plan to drive straight through to the outfitter. At one point we stopped at a rest stop to sleep for a few hours. When we arrived at Sawbill Lake, we spent the first night camping on their camp grounds so we could have an early start the next day.
First day on the water: The morning looked like it was going to rain and it did. We entered at 37- Kawishiwi Lake. Our group was excited to start. Our route took us through the 2011 Pagami Creek fire area. New growth is back in the area but you can still tell there was a fire. On one of our longer portages of the day, we ran into a couple portage angels. Two young women traveling the opposite direction carried a couple of our packs back when they headed back to pick up their remaining gear. We didn’t learn their names, but I will think of them as a couple of angels.
It rained most of the day and, on some of the portages, the mosquitoes were so thick we either had to portage in our bug nets or end up with a mouth full of bugs. Our first day ended on Koma Lake. The camp site we picked was not big enough for our group. The eight of us used six tents and two hammocks. Half of our group picked another site on a small island.
The next morning the fishing crowd decided to check out Malberg Lake. Tim and I decided to get out of our campsite and explore north to Malberg Lake. We checked out a couple camp sites; one was taken by a couple that passed us the day before. The other was a beautiful spot, but would have been too small for our group. When we headed back to our campsite on Koma, the group decided to break camp and head to Polly Lake. There was a great view and enough room for all of us. The guys sleeping in hammocks found trees on the water on which to set up. They had a wonderful morning wake up view. The only negative on this site: as soon as it got dark the mosquitoes swarmed; it was like a cloud. We all headed in for the evening.
It rained during the night and everything was calm. The sky was clear and the morning water was like glass. The day’s plan was to paddle to Phoebe Lake. Most of the route was upstream. There was little current and the portages had some beautiful small waterfalls. The only incident was when one canoe in our group became hung up on some rocks at a put -in point and overturned. A small beaver dam and slippery rocks made for a tricky put- in location. There were a few bumps and bruises but everything dried out eventually that night. We reached Phoebe early enough to check out our campsite options. We settled on a small island that didn’t seem like it was used much. It was a great spot with few mosquitoes but large ant colonies on the island. As the sun began to set I watched a large bald eagle checking out a canoe from our group that was fishing. The group were catching very small fish and tossing them back. The eagle decided that was a waste of good fish and snagged a couple from the water when they were tossed back in. I wish we could have stayed at this campsite a couple days. The only complaint was that there were no good trees for hanging our bear bag. Instead, we went to plan B and found a spot in the woods, away from our campsite, to put the bags under a tree.
Day 5 on the water: We had heavy rains during the night. The morning discussion mostly focused on the portages we were facing that day – a 285 rod portage from Grace Lake to Beth Lake and another 140 rod portage from Beth Lake to Alton Lake. The plan was to find a campsite on Alton and have an easy last day. The 285 rod portage tested all of us. We planned to portage halfway, lay down our gear and go back for the second load. We stopped on Beth Lake for lunch and began the discussion. Should we go with the original plan and stop in Alton Lake or push on and camp at the outfitter and get an early start to get home? Even the suggestion came up to push to the end, take a shower and find a hotel somewhere near Duluth. Just as we were about to push off, it began to rain; it was one of the hardest storms I have ever been in. During the middle of the storm the decision was made to push to the end and find a hotel. We had about three inches of rain in our canoes after the 30 minute storm. Worrying about another storm rolling in, we pushed hard across Beth Lake to our last long portage, 140 rods. As we were pulling into the portage take-out, a family on a day trip was sitting there. Their canoes were on the Alton side of the portage. We must have looked like a group of drowned rats. The adults each grabbed a pack and carried them over to Alton. Of course, they didn’t take mine; it was the heaviest pack.
Alton was a large lake, with lots of camp sites but most were filled already. Just before we reached the last portage our canoe hit an underwater rock and we were stuck. Luckily, we freed ourselves before we went for a swim. The portage to Sawbill Lake was a short 25 rod trip. We were through the portage and at the take- out point in no time.
After hot showers we were on the road home. We stopped in a small town north of Duluth to eat. We checked our electronics and noticed we missed a massive storm that night in the BWCA. That was good news, then some bad news. All the hotels in the area were booked for a convention in Duluth. We eventually found a small motel in central Wisconsin around 1AM.