Seagull Lake Paddling Trip Report -- September 2003

Trip Planning

Compared to my last trip, this one was a breeze. Planning was little more than finding one or more friends and picking an entry point and exit point. My friend Tom is about the best trip partner the world has ever seen and once he committed, I was extremely content. Then, entry point. Well, we had decided on September because I'm not a huge fan of crowds. But I thought I'd use this opportunity to enter on a busy lake, something that I've tried to avoid during the peak summer months. After some debate, we decided on a Gunflint site and then Seagull. Not one to enjoy the same views twice, we decided that our takout would be Round Lake, enabling a loop of sorts with no backtracking. Since I was coming from Indiana and Tom from North Dakota, we had two cars.

I decided not to bring my smaller tandem/solo combo canoe. We rented a Wenonah MN II from Way of the Wilderness Outfitters. We also decided to use one of their chalets to assist with staying someplace close and dry the night before enabling an early start.

The goal was a 6 day trip from Seagull, thru Ogish, Kek, Fraser, Little Seagull, Gabi and out thru Round Lake. I had previously been on the route from Fraser thru Makwa, but this was just a small part of the trip. This was also new country for Tom. At first, I was concerned with shorter days that this might push us more than we wanted to be pushed, but we would find out that this was not the case.

Thursday, 9/18/2003 - Setting up the Trip

Work kept me up late on Wednesday night, preparing for a week and a half of vacation. Got to bed around 1am, up by 3am for the long drive to MN. Planned to meet up with Tom somewhere along the North Shore. We ended up hooking up in Two Harbors. We picked up our permit, had some pre-trip pizza at Sven & Ole's and started up the Gunflint Trail. We hit a heavy down pour at Poplar Lake and it pretty much rained all evening.

There was still some light left when we hit Way of the Wilderness Outfitters. We squared away our canoe, dropped off my car at Round Lake and started packing our stuff. Our nine mile trip to Round Lake let us encounter about a dozen whitetails. They seemed pretty thick to me. We wanted everything packed and ready for an early start. We hoped to hit the water at day break. The chalet was very basic, but perfect for what we needed. With an all evening/night rain, it turned out to be an even better idea than I had imagined. To bed around 10pm, alarm set for 5:45am.

Friday, 9/19/2003 - Day One, Seagull to Ogish

It rained all night. So much fo the fire danger sign that read "Extreme" on the Gunflint Trail. Inches of rain overnight was pushing it to "Low" quickly. Although not totally motivated, we got up. We ate a cold breakfast and got things finalized. We drove down to the landing at 6:45am and took the truck back to The Way of the Wilderness for the week. The rain didn't let up, but we were on the water right at 7:00am.

One of the concerns was wind on Seagull. There was clearly some wind out of the NE, but rarely was it an issue. It was a constant, moderate rain. It rained every minute of the day while we were in the canoe. Tom and I both wore Gore-tex and have the right frame of mind to not let a little water bother us.

Throught the north central island section of Seagull Lake we had no issues. Steady rain, but limited wind. As we entered more of the main body of the lake, we felt a much stronger NE wind and definitely had to dig a little more on each stroke. At times we had some spray, but nothing serious. The MN II road the wind and waves great. We made good time into a quartering wind with a steady paddle. I took stern and kept in mind something I learned in math years ago, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Tom was in the bow and provided a constant, hard bow stroke that kept us moving even if I practiced my steering technique a little too much.

We saw one group of two canoes and five guys on Seagull Lake, pretty close to the portage from Alpine. First party of the day! Not bad for one of the busiest lakes in the BW. They were headed out. We decided to take the 105 rod portage into Alpine. I took the canoe and light backpack. With the canoe only 40-45 lbs, a 25 lb backpack kept my load under 70 lbs. Tom took our other pack weighing in around 60 lbs. Because of the blowdown and subsequent controlled burn, the 105 rod portage was actually windy. I didn't expect to have to deal with wind on the portage. The canoe blew off my shoulders and kept me working my arms to keep things going in the right direction. Most of the portage trail, with a good sand & gravel base, was covered with one to four inches of water. As a busy entry point lake, the portage had a solid base and no mud. That was nice. With rain pants and good hiking boots on, the water wasn't a big deal.

Alpine Lake was too bad. Tom pulled out his fishing rod and we fished the last half mile to the portage to Jasper. We caught one small smallie and that was it. Not sure about fishing in the rain, in late September after a thunder and lightning stron the evening before, but we tried.

On the portage to Jasper, 45 rods, we switched and I thood the pack. Beautiful, classic BWCA portage. Rushing rapids/falls beside the shorter portage. Tom pulled out his digital camera for a classic photo op, despite the steady rain. We fished the first half mile into Jasper with no luck. At this point the dampness started catching up to us and both of us were a little cold. I went hoodless for much of the day and ended up getting wet around the shoulders from water running down. My feet went under while wet footing the Kevlar MN II and my arms were wet, soaked below the elbow from paddling and portaging (probably more portaging) the canoe.

We saw one campsite occupied on Alpine and one group fishing in the rain. We saw another occupied campsite Jasper with three canoes secured at the landing. Not too many people enjoying the steady soaker.

We portaged into Kingfisher. We met a second canoe, a couple, crossing Kingfisher. Here we encountered our strongest wind. It's a smaller lake, but it was straight into the wind.

With the wind and rain, we decided to portage into Ogish and find a campsite. The portage was relatively short and uneventful. On Ogish, we wanted a campsite out of the NE wind. I was hoping to find one with some pines for protection. After paddling past the first half dozen sites without finding one that met our expectations, we started to hope that one of the last ones woudl be acceptable. We checked out the one near the bay to Spice Lake and while a little open, it was decent and definitely accpetable given the day.

It was still only around 1:00pm, but it had been long enough. About 13 miles by Tom's GPS. We set up the tent in the rain under some cedars. After setting up, we violated a sacred BWCA rule - we ate lunch in the tent. We also both put on dry closed and napped until early evening.

After much debate, we finally decided that we would have to get up. No napping from mid-day until the next morning, no matter how good it sounded. The hardest part was putting on the wet cloths to go back outside. Unbelievably, the rain was starting to let up and once in a while, stopped completely. Tom fished a little, while I explored around the site.

We ate Chicken and Salsa on Tortillas. This is a little something I've created over the past couple years. It hits the spot. Tom agreed. We cleaned up and hung the packs as dark decended on us. It was time to retire - we didn't even comtemplate a fire after the past 24 hours. Tom and I agreed, it was a great day despite the rain. We saw only four canoes on the water and maybe five or six occupied campsites. We made some good distance, but our bodies were accustomed to paddling and felt a little sore.

A little side note is in order here. Today is my 11 year anniversary. Evidently, staying in a great little "hotel" that looked out at the Duomo in Florance Italy last year, as part of a twelve day tour of Europe, bought me enough to get by with this trip. Last year's Europe trip took too much time for me to get another week for a BW trip, so I was really looking forward to this years trip.

Saturday, 9/20/2003 - Day Two, Ogish to Kek

In what must have been an attempt to fully recover from some lack of sleep leading up to this trip, Tom and I don't get up until almost 9am. After a healthy nap yesterday, we did stay up a little later than expected BS'ing. I woke up a number of times early in the morning, but just never felt like actually getting up until 8:45am.

It had stopped raining and we could actually see the sun shining into the tent. It didn't feel all that great putting on the wet socks and damp cloths, but it's part of the whole experience. We got up and tried to dry things out while we made breakfast. We had my standard BW breakfast, oatmeal and hot chocolate. We packed up our drying stuff and hit the water just before 11am. Ahh, a September trip with no crowds!

Our quick paddle out of Ogish didn't take long. Ogish was beautiful in the early day sun! Lots of islands and shallow water. With the late start, we kept the rods put away in order to make a little headway first. We took something like eight portages, the longest something like 20 rods. From Ogish we went thru Annie and then Jenny. On Jenny we felt the calling and pulled out the rods, but caught nothing. We did see our first people of the day as we paddled thru Jenny. They were headed towards Gabi. We portaged into Eddy and ran into another group of two guys out day tripping for fish. They had been having some luck - not us. I wonder if they had fished before the Thursday-Friday rains?

From Eddy, we portaged into a Kek Pond, the first one never got more than five feet deep. Silk bottom and basically no weeds. Seemed weird. Water was still extremely clear. The next Kek pond was a little deeper. Tom started fishing while I snacked on GORP. He ended up landing a nice 3lb pike. Not bad! We portaged our way to Kekekabic by 2:15pm. We ate lunch on the portage - another BW sin, but no one was around and it seemed like a good idea at the time. We started paddling down Kek at 2:45pm while fishing. We fished three different good looking spots, including a mid-lake reef, and caught nothing. We wanted to stay on Kek for the night, but as close to Strup Lake as possible. We took the campsite just to the north of that portage.

Kekekabic Lake has some great cliffs on the east end. We took some photos and just enjoyed our paddle down the lake. We chose our campsite by location, but it turned out to be an excellent site, not just the most convenient. While the tent pad was a little short of perfect (lots of rocks), we quickly set up and started drying off our gear. Today had been much nicer than yesterday. We decided to set everything up, but instead of eating dinner, we chose to fish until dusk and then eat as dark set in. Great plan, fish didn't cooperate.

We dined on another of my favorites, Tortilla Pizzas. Another great dinner. We built a little fire to enjoy the nice evening, but retire to the tent around 9pm. It was a beautiful, dry, sunny, 60-some degree day. The wind was light causing no problems crossing Kek. As the gods look down on us, the wind is actually picking up as the sun sets. We camp among some of the few standing pines in an area devestated by the July 4, 1999 wind storm. Behind camp, most of the trees are wiped out, but the site itself is in pretty good shape.

Tomorrows plan has us going south to Fraser and then back to the east, stopping at either Sagus or Cap for our next camp. We get a little introspective. We've just spent a great day on Kek, without seeing another canoe. It doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, 9/21/2003 - Day Three, Kek to Cap

We managed to get up around 7:30am this morning. Late, but better than yesterday. We took our time getting going, enjoying a great BW morning. Ate our standard breakfast. We definitely moved slowly, enjoying the whole thing. We hit the water at 10am.

It was a quick paddle from our campsite to the Strup Lake portage. 85 rods and 85 feet of elevation gain. It was tough, but Tom had the canoe and light pack and I'm sure it was worse for him than me. Strup Lake was undistinguished. The portage from Strup to Wisini looked like a portage crew had spent a week building it. Six foot wide and steps made fo big boulders. Only 10 rods.

Wisini will go down as one of my all-time favorite BW lakes. It has a campsite mid-lake that is awesome. The canoe landing, storage is not great, but if you want to swim, this is the place. Great, mostly low, diving rocks everywhere. The site itself is perched up on a point in classic fashion. I counted almost a dozen different diving platforms ranging from 2 to 30 feet. We fished the area, got water, and moved on. We saw a neat cliff area along the southwest shore, just north of the portage. I convinced Tom to stop and check out the area. We spent about 45 minutes taking dozens of pictures of awesome cliffs and a series of overhangs. Words don't do it justice. I'm sure our pictures don't either. If you ever pass through, I definitely recommend a little side exploration. It was a magical time & place. What started off as a wild hair turned out to be one of those special BWCA moments.

Unable to live up to Wisini, the next couple lakes were a blur. Ahmakose and Gerund went quickly with relatively short portages. Tom took the canoe almost all day. Have I said how great of a partner he is? If not, let me be straight, he is the best paddling partner ever! The wind picked up today and it threatened rain all day.

Fraser was a little windy, but not bad. We agreed to eat a late lunch after the 65 rod portage to Sagus. There was a classic BWCA photo spot of a distant bog. We took a few pictures before eating lunch and pushing off into Sagus. I've heard that there are walleyes in Sagus and figured we'd try out luck. Tom, fishing with a beatle spin type lure it first. For the most part, I handled the canoe while he fished. I had one great bit, definitely a bigger walleye, but it pulled out before we got a look. Tom hooked a second walleye, but the bite wasn't steady enough to hold us that long. After about an hour we decided to head out with two walleyes for dinner on the stringer.

We had decided to head for Cap Lake. We double portaged into Roe Lake, our first double portage of the trip, in order to keep our walleyes healthy. Roe Lake is one big swamp. Reminded me a lot of our duck hunting slough in the middle of the state. We weren't sure where the next portage was, but followed some open water east and eventually the portage appeared on the north side of the open water.

The 140 rods to Cap Lake was uneventful. We single portaged and figured the fish would just have to try to make it. Surprisingly, they did. The Cap Lake campsite is right across from the portage landing, mis-marked on the Fisher map. It's open and high and I was at first reluctant, but I came around and now think it's a pretty nice site. The tent pad was excellent. The water access is nice. The fire pit sits up on a big flat rock overlooking the lake. We probably didn't arrive until 5:30pm. After exploring and fishing much of the day with a 10am start time, it was still an excellent day of travel. We had two walleyes for dinner with a side of mac & cheese for dinner. Potato flakes and some oil made some darn good tasting walleyes. Tom was in heaven.

After dinner and cleanup we hit the tent right at dark, about 8:00pm, maybe a little later. We reviewed our pictures from the day and wrote in journals. The rain that had threatened all day finally started coming down. Recounting the day, we realized that we did not see one canoe or occupied campsite. We covered some good miles and no one. We had some great exploration, caught (and ate) some walleyes. Does it get any better?

Monday, 9/22/2003 - Day Four, Cap to Gabi

We start the day with drizzle. We got up a little before 7:00am. With the rain, we opted for breakfast cooked by stove, skip the fire. The wind was light, but would increase as the day wore on. We hit the water by 8:45am, early by this trip's standards. After a short paddle across Cap Lake, we start a solid day of BW travel with a 200 rod portage to Ledge. Ledge was another short paddle to the 160 rod portage into Vee Lake.

Halfway across Vee we passed our first party in a couple since Eddy Lake a couple days ago. With the off-and-on drizzle, we didn't realize that the single canoe party of three was an all women group. The customary "howdy" made them sound Brittish, although I can't be sure. Tom and I both scratched our heads, three women paddling one of the most remote routes thru the BW in late September. All the more to them. It was the only party we would see all day.

After Vee Lake we had a couple shorter portages. First to Fee, then to Hoe. Just before Hoe Lake, we crossed paths with at least one ruffed grouse right on the portage trail only a couple feet in front of me. Tom thought he saw other just off the trail in the woods.

We fished Hoe Lake and caught nothing. 100 rods to Makwa, then another short paddle to the 60 rod portage to Elton. Elton was a nice lake, still pretty much out of the way. We decided to take the single, 140 rod portage to Little Sag instead of the double portage. The 140 rod trail had quite a bit of elevation gain and was a nice, relatively lightly used trail. Most portages prior to Little Sag were of that variety. They resembled the Pow Wow Hiking Trail more than portages you'd find near entry point lakes. We ate lunch on Little Sag, in a narrow area, as the wind picked up on the main body of water. We made it across the open stretches without much hassle, but it was definitely kicking up. We were lucky enough to be going down-wind thru the worst of it.

We fished the inlet to Rattle Lake. There is a beautiful stream that flows between Little Sag and Rattle. I caught two northerns, nothing big. Pushing on to Gabi, we portaged along another beautiful, classic BWCA stream. On Gabi the wind was blowing hard, coming almost out of due east. We decided to shoot for the big island, SW corner campsite. It turned out to be absolutely beautiful. One of the best campsites I've ever been on for so many reasons. The wind howled across the lake battering our site. Light ran fell off and on. The site's northern shore is a cliff like ledge maybe 10-15 feet off the water. The water gets deep fast - diving would be a possibility if there were places to get back out of the water. Rumor has it that Gabi is the deepest lake in the state and it looks deep to me. There is another point to the SW of camp, on the island, that has an almost verticle cliff face down to the water. I found a little used trail to the top and enjoyed the view, first by myself and later with Tom.

The campsite itself has a tent pad behind it's initial peninsula with cedar surrounding it completely out of the raging wind. It sounds like the wind is gusting at almost 40 mph right now, but no wind to speak of in our sheltered tent pad.

Tuna Helper for dinner. Good stuff. Easy late trip dinner. Finished eating as dark descends on camp. We raised our food pack to a truly bear safe height for the first time of our trip. Tom did an excellent job of finding a tree. The pack is about 10-12 ft off the ground and 8-10 ft from each tree.

We debate a layover day tomorrow. It's a good paddle from Gabi to Round Lake, so maybe we need another day to setup our exit. We think about a little hiking on the north side of Gabi. Like all good trips, we will play it by ear and decide tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9/23/2003 - Day Five, Gabi to Bat

The day starts as yesterday ended, with strong winds and rain. We decided to sleep in because neither a hike nor lake trout fishing sounded all that good. We finally got moving around 9:30am. It had stopped raining, but was still overcast, windy and cool. We at breakfast and decided to revisit the peak before leaving. It's a great place to sit and comtemplate life. After about taking 30 minutes to pay our respects and enjoy the view of the surrounding country, we climb back down and break camp by 11:30am. We decide to lake trout fish our way out of Gabi. We fish the entire north side of our island. We fish for a couple hours with no luck. We see a couple other parties cross the lake.

About 2:00pm we hit the portage to Peter Lake and decided we needed to get moving. While Gabi was windy, Peter Lake was calm in the bay that we put in. We head out across Peter and there are a couple guys and kids at the first campsite on the point. They said an earlier party had some luck catching fish, but we needed to make tracks and pushed on. About half way down the lake we decided to get water. While I pumped with the filter, Tom dropped a line. We were in the middle of the lake in probably 60-80 foot of water. Right when I finished filling our jug, Tom yells, "Fish on!" and started realing in what looked like a fish. I get the camera because I know it has to be his coveted lake trout while he is babbling something about it being a pike. After ten minutes it surfaces and confirms my thoughts, lake trout. Tom's first ever lake trout! He was pumped.

We made another pass thru that area, but didn't catch anything. We started paddling down the lake again only to stop before reaching the portage to eat lunch. It was probably 3:00pm by now. After a great lunch - bagels with gouda cheese and summer sausage, we take our portage into French Lake.

French Lake has some interesting rock cliffs, but we cruse thru pretty quickly. We caught up to another group on the portage, but plan on following the rules and enter a hold pattern until the portage is clear. They have more bags, many small, than I could count. All very professional, almost yuppie, looking. They tell us they are from New Mexico. It took them forever to portage. We kind of felt sorry for them with all that gear.

The sun had finally emerged as the clouds slowly disappeared as the day wore on. Gillis Lake was clear and cold. Beautiful lake. No fishing for us, trying to make up some lost time. As we passed the second campsite on the north shore in some shallow water two loons emerged from the water only about 15 ft from our canoe. We hadn't seen them paddling up to this spot. Not sure where they came from, but it was cool. Two huge loons, not afraid of us at all. I talked to them for a minute and then we pushed on.

The portage from Gillis to Bat was tough for 25 rods. It gains 53 feet with some tough up hill climbs. I took the canoe and pack on most of the portages today. On this portage, Tom took the main pack and his lake trout.

Once on Bat Lake we decided that the campsite across the lake from the portage looked nice with the cliff face and fire grate on top so we stopped to check it out. Another great BW campsite. We had to stop.

It was warm and sunny as we reached camp at 5:20pm. Tom suggested a swim. It sounded like a great idea, but we knew the tent needed to dry out. We had to put it up first thing. After setting up cam we cut to our skivvies and went down to water's edge. It's now about 6:00pm and the sun's setting quickly. No longer is it sunny and in the 60's. Suddenly the water isn't as warm as it was an hour earlier. Tom gives me no choice as I am the first one to go from waist deep to completely submerged with a thigh deep dive into water that deepens quickly. Wow! Cold. I could hardly breathe as I quickly rise my hair twice and hightail it for shore. Refreshing! Tom goes next and definitely understands the term that I had just used, refreshing. I have the balls to do it one more time before getting out and drying off.

At 6:20pm dinner is on the agenda as we decide to skip one more attempt at fishing. We clean the lake trout and cook it with the skin on but filleted in grease. At 2.5 - 3.0 lbs, it produces two good sized fillets, one for each of us. We decide to skip the rice, but have the apple streusel for desert.

It is dark as we cleanup. We check out things down on the waters edge and notice fish swimming in the shallows. Tom thinks smallies and lake trout, but comes around to my suggestion of chubs - big minnows.

The evening is almost clear and cooling off very fast. The stars come out and eventually we retreat to the tent around 8:30pm. As I write this journal entry I can hear the outlet of Bat Lake cascading down to Gillis Lake, across the lake from us. A constant, beautiful sound. The wind is calm tonight, a nice blessing.

Thinking about going out for a little star gazing tonight. It's definitely cooling off, but we haven't spent any evenings outside yet on this trip. It's our last night of what has been a great trip. Tom's been a great partner. His constant awe of the great things we find/experience in the BW actually enhances my experience. Hopefully he has renewed his own interest to the level that he'll return without me. If not, he'll always have a place in my bow.

Wednesday, 9/24/2003 - Day Six, Bat to Round and out

Unbelieveable. It rained hard, with lightning and thunder last night. We went to bed after a stargazing session and wake up to clear skies, but did it ever rain in between. Tom's tent leaked pretty bad. We stayed awake using my packtowel to keep the water mopped up.

We slept in again. Nothing new there. Got up around 7:30am. The wind started picking up just as we got up. By the end of the day it was as strong as ever. We took our time breaking camp. I ran out of fuel and we decided to skip the firewood thing and ate a cold breakfast. We packed up and said goodbye to yet another great campsite at 10:00am.

We drifted down Bat Lake, but I eventually broke my line on a snag. No more fishing for me. Two northerns was all I got, but I sure enjoyed watching Tom go for the cycle - smallie, walleye, northern and lake trout.

The first couple portages were significantly uphill out of Bat Lake. From Flying to Gotter there are actually steps. Some more great BWCA scenery on more of these lakes. I like Gotter, the rock cliffs and bog all in one.

Ran into two guys on the Gotter-Brant portage. We stopped and talked for a bit. They were going to Little Sag adn then over to Tuscorora fishing mostly. They, like everyone else we met, seemed impressed at our route and how quickly we covered it. Tom and I discussed this issue over our last bagel lunch on the Brant side of the portage. While we definitely did cover a fair bit of ground, we thought our pace was actually rather leisurely. We didn't didn't have any layover days, but I'm not sure the weather was good enough to warrant any. We typically didn't gtet going until late morning and may have only averaged about 6 hours on the water per day. With single portaging the 40 lb MN II canoe, we made great time on both land and water. We didn't have to push ourselves to make great time.

By Brant Lake it had clouded up and gotten windy again. As it started to rain off and on, we saw two of three Brant Lake campsites occupied. While the portage on the BW side of Brant were all fairly challenging, the last three were extremely easy for their distance. No, I mean zero elevation change. When we reached Round Lake and got ready to launch it started to sleet hard. I started to wonder about snow, but don't think it was cold enough. We reached my car at the Round Lake landing at around 2:00pm.

With the return trip to Trail End and some quick packing, we didn't make it down the Gunflint to Grand Marais until 4:00pm. Tom and I stopped in a couple gift/equipment shops before a quick meal at the DQ and a splitting of the ways. I had another two days of quasi-circum-navigating Lake Superior on my agenda. I was due in Kalamazoo, MI on Friday afternoon and thought I'd "take the long way home". I spent a night in Thunder Bay and another near Sault Ste Marie. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive around the lake and would recommend it to anyone with a little time to kill. I especially enjoyed a short stop at Pukaskwa National Park was well worth it. A place I'd like to return to as their coastal hiking trail sounds like it might be worth the effort. Lake Superior Provincial Park has some great scenery but the park was basically closed for the season.

I can't say enough how much I enjoyed the trip. While it probably rained more than five inches while we were there (I heard reports that it was 8 inches, but doubt it), Tom and I aren't ones to let a little rain ruin our fun. Seeing him catch the BWCA cycle was great, even though the fishing wasn't all that good. This was my first September trip after many October trips. Either month is great as the crowds really thin out.

September 2003 Seagull Lake Paddling Trip Site
Ahmoo Creek Home
Posted: 15-Jun-2007
Updated: 17-Jun-2007