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Canoe Trips

Boundary Waters:

Boundary Waters Campsites

Bois Brule River

Flambeau River

Kickapoo and Mecan Rivers

Menonomee River

Sylvania Wilderness

Wisconsin's Flowages

Wolf and Peshtigo Rivers


Boats & Gear

Boundary Waters Gear List

Bell Wildfire (Royalex)

Blackhawk Ariel

Mad River Independence (sold)

Wenonah Prism (sold)
-cane seat installation
-thwart replacement

Custom portage pads

Seat-mounted portage yoke

Outside canoe shelter

Inside canoe storage



Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Sea Gull Lake Loop
May 25 - June 1, 2016



This trip has special meaning for me for a couple of reasons.. First, I'm traveling with my younger brother, who I haven't spent more than a day or two with since we did an overnight canoe camping trip on the Wisconsin River in 1993. Second, I've recently learned how to manage the symptoms of an autoimmune disorder (mast cell activation syndrome) that developed after heart surgery a year ago and kept me housebound when I would otherwise have been in the BWCA. I very much look forward to this opportunity for family time and my own rediscovery.

I also have a little score to settle with the Saganaga Lake area, since I haven't been able to complete any of the three previous trips as planned. I'm determined to cover the entire loop this time. We'll see how that turns out.

Note: Each link opens in a new window.

I'm going to dispense with the usual blather about boats, gear, food, and maps in favor of an outline.

  • Boat: Sundowner 18 tandem
  • Gear: The usual paddles, packs and kitchen kit. What's new this time is a pair of NRS Velocity water shoes (in the oh-so-sexy grey/red color combination). They have excellent support and traction. I also try a pair of knee-high Gore-Tex socks, which I eventually trade for my everyday wool socks. I'd rather have wet feet from lake water than from sweat.
  • Food: The usual freeze-dried and home-packed fare.
  • Map

Trip Statistics (you really want to know this):

  Total distance: 27 mi.
  Travel time: 14.5 hours
  Portages: 9 - 373 rods (1.17 mi.) in 3:45
  Portage-walking distance: 1,119 rods (3.5 mi.)


Trip report by day

Day 0 - Wednesday, May 25: Through the Portal

Don gets here yesterday evening. We go through gear, make some take-or-leave decisions, and get a decent night's sleep. I'm glad Don likes to drive, because I can't due to my eyes being hard to keep open much of the time (one of my autoimmune symptoms). It takes the usual nine hours to get to Rockwood Lodge, which is under new ownership. Carl and Stephanie are friendly, energetic and committed to making a good outfitter operation even better. The bunkhouse hasn't changed - it's still pretty spartan - but hey, it isn't the Hilton. It's clean and each room has its own bathroom. Good enough.

Dinner is something good at Gunflint Lodge.

Days 1 - Thursday, May 26

As we're packing up in the bunkhouse I get a dose of dizziness (another in my collection of autoimmune delights) but thankfully it doesn't last long. We get a nice breakfast at Gunflint Lodge and depart EP (entry point) 54 at Sea Gull Lake. Actually, we leave twice.

It's a good thing one of us is taking pictures. I wonder if the car would have been there when we got back.

It's a nice day in the 60s with a bit of wind that greets us from all angles. The first portage, a 100-rodder into Alpine Lake, gives Don a taste of what's to come. But it's the longest of all the portages we'll encounter and he manages just fine despite a bit of grumbling. He's also a quick study, and we quickly develop an efficient routine at the landings.

Other than a few navigation errors, it's a pleasant paddle through Lakes Alpine, Jasper and Kingfisher. Somewhere along the way Don spots a juvenile bald eagle.


On one of the portages I spot a yellow tiger swallowtail.


We finally end up at site no. 12 (C0792) on Ogishkemuncie Lake. I remember this place as a 6-star campsite (on a 5-star rating scale), having spent a night here three years ago. It's not quite as nice as I remembered but it's a good place for a layover day. We're both tired and I'm sore all over, the result of a year of being dormant. There's rain in the forecast so we set up a double front porch.


I'm glad to see the boat garage is still there.


Dinner is Mountain House wild rice pilaf and chicken - and beer. That's right, beer. For several years I've been following Pat's Backcountry Beverages as they worked on perfecting their carbonation system. Of course I have to get it. We have the American Logger (a lager) with dinner, and I must admit we're underwhelmed. The taste is fine, but it's a bit flat - and of course a bit warm, too, since we didn't think to bring the solar-powered refrigerator. But it's just fine by BWCA standards, and we're well-fed and happy.


Day 2 - Friday, May 27

The next morning we have a great breakfast of scrambled eggs with tomatoes and mushrooms, along with Cache Lake Italian flavor fry bread.

I'm fascinated by nature's water-drop lenses. This one is right-side up.


Here it is again, upside-down. Reminds me of a snow globe.


It turns cloudy in the afternoon, with a light rain, which continues intermittently into the evening and steady after dark.. The forecase is 50-70% chance of rain for the next three days. Dinner is Hawk Vittles' Moroccan Stew, one of my favorites.


Day 3 - Saturday, May 28

Despite a big storm during the night, we wake up dry. I'm glad to see the tarp held up. As some sailors like to say, it blew stink.

Breakfast is granola with hot milk, which is more of a comfort food than one might think.

Given the forecast and light rain in the morning, we decide to stay put. Despite the overcast, it turns out to be a good travel day. It's OK; Don is happy just to be here, and I appreciate the extra time for healing sore muscles.


Day 4 - Sunday, May 29

Today's plan is to travel but the weather gets in the way. It rains hard all night and lets up for a short time around 9:00 a.m. Then it continues off and on - mostly on - until early afternoon. It starts up again in late afternoon.

We discuss shortening the trip, since we've used three layover days here. If we continue the planned loop and the weather continues as it's been, we could find ourselves forced to travel in bad weather. Some people don't mind that, but we're not among them.

The rain stops and the sky clears in the early evening, a very welcome sight. Looking forward to a stormless night's sleep.

I don't know it at the time, but today's chronic heartburn, stomach cramps and lack of appetite signal the beginning of giardiasis. I'm fastidious about handling water (always use filtered water) but I guess anything can happen. I'm glad to say it's intermittent and only moderately uncomfortable; after we get back the symptoms increase but a dose of Flygyl takes care of it pronto. I'm also glad that Don is unaffected.


Day 5 - Monday, May 30

It's a nice day for a change and we're pumped to paddle. Last night we decided to forgo the loop that would take us around American Point and today we head back the way we came. Our destination is site 66 (C0404) on an island on Saganaga Lake. I was there once before and, after five portages, incessant headwinds, and a combination of autoimmune and giardia symptoms, I'm very happy to see it's open.


On our first travel day Don complained about the portages - lifting packs, schlepping packs, reloading packs. Today he's a regular portage monkey. I'm impressed. It's his nature to put his shoulder into the work once he gets used to it. And yet, it warms my heart to know that he's taking on more than his share of the load to help me out. Is that what brothers are for? It sure works for me.

Speaking of packs, here they are. I'd like to introduce you to the Blue Family: Big Blue, Middle Blue (the food pack), Little Blue, and Baby Blue (my day pack). Nonconformist that he is, Don's day pack is black.


Once again we set up a double front porch.


The highlight of my day is washing my hair, my body and my shirt. As my Dad used to say, there's no excuse for being uncivilized.

I don't know what we had for dinner. Whatever it was, it was flavored with contentment and camaraderie..


I make a couple of latrine trips during the night, despite taking Imodium and Pepto-Bismol (or maybe they enable me to avoid the worst of it). Around midnight the clear, starry sky stops me in my tracks and I linger long enough to absorb a bit of nature's spirit. I can't say getting giardia is the worst thing in the world if it means being blessed in this way.


Day 6 - Tuesday, May 31

Cloudy, windy, chilly, intermittently rainy - a good day for a layover. We spot a pair of common mergansers but neither of us thinks to get a picture. In the early evening we spot a pair of loons paddling around and diving together. One of them takes a moment to stretch its wings.


The sky is clear by now and Don gets a nice shot of pink lady's-slipper.


I recommend this campsite. It's the only one I know of that comes with its own rainbow.


On our last night we finally get a nice sunset. This is only a hint of the beauty and peace of the moment.


Day 7 - Wednesday, June 1

Nothing special today - just a few hours of headwinds as we paddle back up the Sea Gull River to the EP54 landing on Gull Lake. Don, as usual, is ready for anything. I think he plucked two packs out of the boat at once right after I got this shot.


We get a motel room in Duluth and, of course, the first order of business is showers. Then we head out to Little Angie's Cantina for a memorable Tex-Mex dinner.

(Looking at this picture makes we wonder: Is this big guy - he stands 6'2" - the same person whose diaper I changed many years ago?)


Day 8 - Thursday, June 2

After a good night's sleep we head back through the portal to Stoughton. Along the way Don plots various ways to surprise his wife, since he'll be home a few days early. I don't know just what he did, but I understand it was welcome. He and I are left with memories we'll always treasure. I hope we can do it again.


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Last updated August 13, 2016
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