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Isle Royale

Growing up I had oftentimes heard stories of friends and family having incredible adventures at Isle Royale National Park. I have always desired to experience the island for myself and return with my own stories to share, and working at Bearskin this summer has allowed me to do so.

My aunt, a Grand Marais local and wonderful backpacking companion, agreed to join me on my Isle Royale adventure. On one of my days off, she and I packed our bags and headed to Grand Portage early in the morning to catch the ferry to Isle Royale. The weather for the ride was perfect; the water was like glass and the rising sun quickly warmed up the cold Superior air. The calm condition of the water allowed us to see the famous sunken steam ship “America” very clearly as we pulled into the Windigo port. My aunt and I quickly got our park permits and settled into a campsite, eager to hit the hiking trails.

We decided on hiking part of the Huginnin Cove Loop, a nice wooded trail where we were hoping to see some beautiful sights and maybe even a moose. The views on the hike were lovely and though we didn’t see a moose, it was very enjoyable to find hundreds of their tracks along the trail.


By the time we got back to our campsite we were looking forward to a big meal, and we soon found out that we weren’t the only ones. As I was cooking over the camp-stove, I heard some splashing coming from the little stream behind me. To my surprise, there was a moose coming down to the water right across from our site to join us for dinner. We watched her munch on plants along the shoreline for a good 15 minutes before she swam right over to our campsite and trotted off into the woods just a few yards away from us! It was the most amazing moose experience either of us had ever had.

The next morning we were ready to take on more hiking adventures. We chose to do the Grace Creek Overlook trail along the lake because it got hotter and buggier the further inland we went. Walking along the water allowed us to watch boats and sea planes come into and out of the Windigo harbor and it also provided the perfect habitat for Lady Slippers–we must have counted over 50 of them along the trail!


After we finished our hike, we packed up our bags and headed to the boat for our journey back. The weather was very overcast, creating an eerie sight as we passed by the Rock of Ages Lighthouse which was barely visible through the fog.



Before we knew it, we were back at Grand Portage and on our way home, excited to share our own new stories about Isle Royale. It was an amazing experience and I would definitely recommend the trip to anyone looking for a unique adventure.



Round Lake to Gabi and Back


This week Kate and I took a quick overnight trip starting at Round lake, and looping through Gabimichigami.  We had great weather, and shockingly, saw very few people.   Our route had us portage into W.Round lake, and head towards Brandt lake from Brandt we portaged to Flying, and then Fay lake.  Water is very high in this area, and the portage to Fay involved long stretches of knee to waist deep water.  I had been over that portage in June, and it was much drier.  I suspect there is a beaver to blame somewhere.  From Fay it was on to the Chub river and Warclub lake.  I was eager for this section, since neither of us had paddled the area between the Chub River and Peter lake.  We ate lunch on Warclub, and had our fill of blueberries.  Next was Seahorse lake, one of my favorite lakes of the trip, with high rocks and sprawling bays.

Once we portaged into French lake, and then Peter, we were done with the small lake portion of the trip.  Like all of the lakes so far, Peter was burned, and didn’t look like it offered great camping.  From Peter we portaged to Gabi, our destination for the day.

Gabi is a large expanse of water, and with the exception of the south bay, unbroken by islands or peninsulas.  We found a nice campsite and made our home for the night.  We swam and looked for berries, before eating dinner and going to bed.


The next morning it was a treat to have fresh blueberries in our granola!  We were on the water by 8:30, and made our way through Rattle lake to Little Sag.  Little Sag is a pleasure to paddle, and we wove between its islands as we made our way towards Mora lake.  We’ve always enjoyed the portage to Mora, with its great views of the last drop of the Frost River.


From Mora we paddled Tarry, Crooked and Owl lakes.  On Crooked we watched a Loon feeding its young.  We portaged to Tuscarora lake, and paddled to an island to swim and eat lunch.  The day had become very warm, and it was nice to find some refuge in the shade.

We finished lunch, and made our way to the long portage out of Tusc.  Despite my love of the Howl Swamp portage, we choose the more direct route to Missing Link lake.  The portage was long and hot.  There was an abundance of frogs on the Missing Link side, many still with tales.  We paddled Missing Link and returned to Round Lake.  On the drive home we bemoaned the lack of a functioning air conditioner in my truck.

It felt so great to get out over night in the middle of the season.  We were very lucky in regards to the weather and the solitude.


Nighthawk lake through Poplar Creek

I have, on a few occasions, tried to access Nighthawk lake from the small flowage to the east of the lake.  I have always enjoyed overlooking the lake in the winter from the Poplar Creek ski trail.  As the planted white pines surrounding the ski trail grow larger it’s possible that in a few years the view of the lake will be diminished, and without a reminder every time I ski or groom by, my curiosity about the lake will wane as well.


My previous attempts at getting to Nighthawk have failed due to lack of time, lack of water, or lack of heart.  Most of the marsh between the creek and lake sits firmly in the middle ground between land and water, where neither paddling or walking is possible.  It is impossible to not become covered in mud, and the bugs are ferocious.


This time I gave myself plenty of time.  Our water is fairly high.  After a few hours of pushing and dragging through through the swamp, I was able to crash through the woods to the small beaver pond down stream of the lake.  One more climb over a beaver dam, and I had done it!  A paddle around Nighthawk revealed it to be a small nondescript lake.


I determined that it would be much easier to simply portage back to my truck on the ski trail.  In around twenty minutes I was loading up my canoe.

nighthawk swamp3

Poplar creek is on the right, Nighthawk the left.

The yellow is the "paddling" portion, the orange the walk on the ski trail.

The yellow is the “paddling” portion, the orange the walk on the ski trail.

Leaving the main creek

Leaving the main creek

Less water already

Less water already


The Swamp

At the other side of the Swamp.

At the other side of the Swamp.

Almost to the beaver pond

Almost to the beaver pond

Nighthawk at last

Nighthawk at last


In summary:  Is it possible to get to Nighthawk lake from Poplar Creek? Sort off.  Should you try it? No.

Visiting friends up the trail

Last Tuesday I headed up to Round lake to visit with a couple friends up the trail. Round Lake is the home of Tuscarora Outfitters, now owned by former Bearskin mainstay Andy.  Andy has more spare time in the winter these days and is making the most of it.

From Round I strapped on the skis and headed a few miles into the BWCA to find Bear from Northstar Canoes.  He’s made the BWCA his winter home since the New Year, and it was great catching up and seeing his setup.

It was a beautiful day, and I was blown away by the difference in these lakes in the winter season.  Gotter Lake is beautiful?  Who knew.  Skiing with only a pack on my back, instead of a canoe and gear, made the rapid succession of portages enjoyable.  The contrast of dark rock and white snow exposed cliff faces that would go unnoticed in the summer.





I didn’t get any photos of Bear’s camp, because I forgot.  And I didn’t get any of Andy, because I didn’t want to risk breaking an expensive camera.


The Boundary Waters Expo recap

As the planning begins for the 2016 Boundary Waters Expo, I thought I’d give a recap of this year’s inaugural event.

The Boundary Waters Expo was held at the Seagull Public Landing in mid June.  It was highlighted by expert speakers, knowledgeable exhibitors, beautiful canoes, good friends, and perfect weather.  We had a nice turnout of around 200-300 people, enough to fill the presentations but not so many that you couldn’t get one-on-one time with the speakers.  While the event took a lot of time and effort to get together, in the end I thought it was a great success.

For info on the 2016 show, go to The Boundary Waters Expo or find us on Facebook.

Our 2015 Sponsors:

Camp Chow

Duluth Pack

Enlightened Equipment

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness

Frost River

St. Croix Canoes

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

Stewart River Boatworks

Nemo Equipment

Seattle Sports


Cooke Custom Sewing

Sanborn Canoe Company

Northstar Canoes

Nova Craft Canoe

Souris River Canoes

Radiant Spirit Gallery

The Gunflint Trail booth was front and center in the big tent.

The Gunflint Trail booth was front and center in the big tent.

Tom from Loon Lake will talk your ear off!

Tom from Loon Lake will talk your ear off!

We had boats to demo from Nova Craft

We had boats to demo from Nova Craft

Northstar Canoes

Northstar Canoes

Stewart River Boatworks

Stewart River Boatworks

St.Croix Canoes

St.Croix Canoes and (not pictured) Souris River.

Nemo Equipment brought a variety of tents and other innovative equipment

Nemo Equipment brought a variety of tents and other innovative equipment

The Gunflint Trails own Camp Chow was at the show with their wonderful camping meals.

The Gunflint Trail’s own Camp Chow was at the show with their wonderful camping meals.

Eric Simula, Bearskins Musher, presented about bark canoes.

Eric Simula, Bearskin’s musher, presented about building bark canoes.

A highlight was personal paddling instruction for canoe legend Cliff Jacobson. Cliff has agreed to be available for lessons through out the entire expo next year.

A highlight was personal paddling instruction from canoe legend Cliff Jacobson.
Cliff has agreed to be available for lessons throughout the entire expo next year.

Cliff also demonstrated portaging, and gave a few tips.

Cliff also demonstrated portaging and gave a few tips.

Dan Cooke showed everyone how to rig a tarp. Watch out Dan, someone is sneaking up behind you!

Dan Cooke showed everyone how to rig a tarp. Watch out Dan, someone is sneaking up behind you!

The landing was full of great places for speakers to give there presentations.

The landing was full of great places for speakers to give their presentations.

Patti Johnson of the USFS arrived in style in a Forest Service Beaver. The Pilot happily gave spectators a tour of his plane.

Patti Johnson of the USFS arrived in style in a Forest Service Beaver. The pilot happily gave spectators a tour of his plane.

Voyageur Brewing Company stopped by and gave out free samples

Voyageur Brewing Company stopped by and gave out free samples


A brief history of Bearskin Staff visitation to Trap Lake (2009-2015)

trap lake

Trap lake is a small, very shallow lake located south or Crocodile Lake.  From the water there is no sign of the marked 73 rod portage, and many people assume that it doesn’t exist.  After all, there is really no reason to go there, the lake has no campsites and can’t be much for fishing.  When I’ve been asked if I’ve been there, the question is usually followed by a chuckle.

72 rods of the portage from Crocodile to Trap are fairly obvious and easy to follow, it’s the first rod that makes it hard.  The portage starts up what is essentially a small cliff.  From the water one would never assume that it was the start of a trail, and because it seems so little used, there is minimal evidence that it is one.

In the winter of 2009 I set out to camp on Trap Lake.  During the winter you are free to camp away from designated campsites in the BWCA, meaning it is the only time of year where camping on Trap is possible.  I had been up on Crocodile earlier in the winter, and thought I had located the portage.  Bob skied with me to portage to Trap, and then left me to haul my sled up the steep portion of trail.  Once on top I was greeted with a clear trail, covered in a couple feet of untouched snow.  The following snowshoe was challenging, but beautiful.

I made camp on the small island in the middle of the lake.  I built a small fire at the base of a large rock, and packed a flat space to set up my tarp above.  The next morning it was easy traveling on my packed trail back to Bearskin.  The next summer I returned to Trap Lake twice by canoe, once with Bob and once with Kate.


Looking back at Trap Lake in 2009

Trap Lake in 2009

My visit to trap lake in August of 2015 was inspired by my co-worker/explorer, Jordan, who after spotting it on a map, became curious.  Having spent a fair amount of time paddling and portaging in Canada’s wilderness, Jordan had a special place in his heart for the overgrown and unmanageable terrain that this trip offered.  Jordan and I collected info from Bob and Quinn and set out after work one evening.  It was a lovely night and smooth paddling down E. Bearskin Lake and the portage to Crocodile.

It was only after wandering back and forth down the south shore of Crocodile that we finally found the sheer cliff we were told marked the beginning of this portage.  I must admit that with two strong men, minimal gear, and some teamwork, we were able to easily ascend this first challenge.  What followed proved to be just as adventurous.  The “trail” was evident, yet overgrown from an obvious lack of use.  I wondered out loud to Jordan whether the last visitors were Quinn and Kate in 2009.  Feeling inspired, Jordan heaved the 60 lb Aluminum Canoe over his head and began his bush-wack adventure.  I could tell he was in his element when he dropped to his knees and steadily portaged the canoe under a fallen ash that blocked the non-existent trail.  This was only bested by his scrambling over boulders while barely hesitating to maintain perfect balance.  We eventually arrived at Trap Lake, and Jordan introduced me to the concept of a “portage high,” informing me of this natural state of euphoria following a grueling feat of physical endurance.



Trap Lake was worth the trip.  The value, however was both in the destination and the journey.  The shallow, lily-pad infested lake felt fantastically otherworldly and was a just reward for our efforts. I took my turn to portage the canoe on the return trip, while only managing to fall once.  The experience of a “portage high” was everything Jordan talked it up to be.