Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

2020 - Back by Dinner!

By Riley Smith Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:July 8-9, 2020
Entry Point:55 - Saganaga Lake (BWCA)
Lakes:Ashdick, Cherry, Ester, Gijikiki, Hanson, Lake Of The Clouds, Lunar, Ottertrack, Rabbit, Saganaga, Swamp

The day before our trip, my coworker stumbled on some stairs and rolled his ankle. Not the best way to start the trip! After our shift, were dropped off at American Point and paddled west in the Alumacraft the outfitter had available for us that week. The theme for our trip was taking routes we didn’t usually recommend to guests. The Esther/Hanson/Ottertrack loop is a really common one for canoe groups heading out of Sag. We would be taking the “alternate” version! Our first deviation was to take the portage into Ashdick which I had always heard awful things about but had never completed myself. A clearing crew had been through and, though it was obvious the wind had done major damage here, the trail was open. With it being a late afternoon start, we were worried about finding an open campsite on Esther. We were right to be concerned. By the time we got to the cluster of campsites in the middle, all four were well occupied for the evening. Undeterred, we portaged into Rabbit where both campsites were open for the evening. We took the better of the two and enjoyed the distant flashes of lightning as they cut through the sunset.

Rabbit Sunset

The next morning, I took the canoe out solo to go visit Maze Lake and check out the other campsite on Rabbit. When I got back to camp, we packed up and portaged back into Esther. After a brief side venture into Totem Lake, we headed for the infamous portage into Cherry. Cherry is a beautiful lake surrounded by tough portaging; I have always found the chain of lakes between Esther/Hanson and Ottertrack to be quite beautiful and well worth the effort. Halfway across the portage, I was portaging the canoe with not a ton of forward visibility. All of a sudden, the bow of the canoe collided with an unforeseen tree in front of me hard enough to unseat the yoke from my shoulders. The great hulk of aluminum, no longer balanced on yoke pads, dropped swiftly, making the unmistakable sound of a gong when colliding with the top of my cranium. It brought me to my knees. My coworker asked if I was okay and all I could squeak out was “I need a minute.” In retrospect, I have termed this misfortune the “Hull of a Headbutt.” I shall look to avoid such a travesty in the future! From Cherry, we took the portage towards Lunar. This portage had actually gotten worse since I had visited the year before, now featuring knee-deep water in the beaver pond in the middle, and the poison ivy was still very present! After Lunar comes Lake of the Clouds and the magnificent cliffs en route to Rivalry. After Rivalry is the boot-sucking mud pit on the way to Gijikiki and then comes falling out of the sky to Ottertrack. Ottertrack is one of my all-time favorites for many reasons. As we got partway down the lake, we ran into the unimaginable: an 8-canoe, 17-person group traveling together! Sigh... that’s not in the regs. They were taking up much of the channel and passing them proved difficult. We did briefly but then we stopped and took some time paying our respects to Benny before getting back into the canoe and paddling hard.

Benny's Cliff

Staff dinner was at 6:00 and we would be picked up at American Point as soon as they were done. However, as goal-setting individuals, we decided to see if we could push ourselves. Could we still make it back in time for dinner? There’s only one way to find out. It was already about 2:00 by the time we headed out from Benny’s. The “lead sled”, not well known for its speed, and only marginally assisted by a small tailwind, would be pushed hard to make it. Nearing the end of Swamp, we caught our 17-person group again getting ready to take the short portage into Saganaga. It was an absolute disaster! There were canoes, gear, and people everywhere. With eight canoes trying to cross, we had no hope of passing on the trail. With a dinner to catch, we paddled straight into the small rapid set, jumped out and lined it, and jumped right back in. The large group didn’t even talk to us, they just stared and what we had done to pass. Oh well. We can’t befriend everyone I suppose. After getting out in the open water, we passed another group that also didn’t seem very oriented in their location. We continued on to the big water of Sag while they tailed behind, also obviously looking for the main lake. We overheard them mention how we were going the wrong way as they turned off into what we knew to be a dead end. Not prepared to defend our position, we carried on, hoping they would find their way eventually. It certainly was an odd day to be on the water! Lots of interesting groups about. We paddled out into main Sag and headed towards American Point. Munker narrows came next and we shot for the campsite on the island before Clark where we cut into the inside channel and followed the shore to the mouth of the Seagull River. We pulled into the dock at the outfitter at 5:45, 15 minutes before dinner. Perfect! It was another spectacular adventure with unforgettable scenery, a few laughable moments, some painful moments, and all together another glorious couple of off days in canoe country.

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