A Chilly Trip Down the Frost River

For our 1996 trip Stacey and I decided that we would try a different sort of Boundary Waters trip than we had done in the past. Instead of hopping from lake to lake, we traveled up and down some of the small river systems in the southeast region. So we picked up our entry permit at the Tofte Ranger Station and headed up to our Sawbill Lake entry point. A few words on weather conditions are in order. It was late May -- the week before Memorial Day -- but we ended up going in two days late because the lakes were still frozen over. When we got to Sawbill we picked a campsite, finished up some leftover Green Mill Pizza and headed down to the lake for a look at what lay ahead for tomorrow. Well, the lake was clear, but there was still plenty of snow to go around if you knew where to look for it.

We put in on Sawbill the next morning and it was quite breezy and cool. Fortunately, it calmed down a bit as the day wore on and we made our way north through Ada Lake and Cherokee Creek. We had been on Cherokee Lake before, but we had never stayed overnight on the lake. With the weather as it was and had been in the recent past, we pretty much had the place to ourselves, so we paddled up the west shoreline looking for a nice site sheletered from the wind. We were struck by how beat up most of the sites were but finally settled on one that was a bit farther along than where we had intended to stop.

Our second day in never really seemed to "dawn." It was drizzly and overcast all day long. More to our liking, however, was the evident less-than-traveled look our first major portage of the day displayed. There were a number of windblown trees across the portage from Gordon to Frost Lake that made it challenging, but we only detected two sets of bootprints and one set of dogprints in the mud. One of the benefits to this point had been very high water (when we came out we noted that the water level in Sawbill had dropped by about a foot-and-a-half). But one of the Frost River portages appeared to be entirely under water, and we had to bushwhack our way around the rapids. We were pretty wet most of the day. After making our way around one last beaver dam built across the river, we decided to call it quits on Chase Lake, about one half the way down the Frost River. We tried to dry a few items out overnight to no real effect -- they froze instead.

On the third day it warmed up considerably and we were much more comfortable as we made our way down the Frost River. With the high water we really picked up some steam on some stretches, and we enjoyed the scenery as it rolled past. The portages continued to be challenging, including a couple tricky mid-stream beaver dam crossings where there were no definable river banks as such. We were all smiles as we approached the next to last last portage of the day -- a mere 20 rod jaunt into Fente Lake and from there into Whipped Lake. Well, the thing is pretty much straight up and then straight back down (farther) on the other side. The photos really cannot do it justice, but the view from the top was as impressive as some of the rock faces we were forced to traverse. At least it was dry. We set up camp on Whipped (now we know why it has that name) as a foraging moose kept an eye on us from across the lake.

Our journey on the Frost came to an end the next day as it emptied itself into Little Saganaga. The day was so calm that Little Sag was mirror-flat. We made our way west and camped on Makwa Lake which had a couple neat features. The most obvious were the cliffs at the north end of the lake with some sort of mineral deposit on them. The site we picked also had a nice rock bowl you could sit in and dangle out over the water -- not very comforting given the water temps at this point in the season.

On the fifth day we rediscovered people. Memorial Day weekend had arrived and with it great gobs of people coming down the Kawishiwi River for fishing while we were making our way up. We camped early on Koma Lake to make sure we got a spot and spent the day napping and watching the traffic go by on the far side of the lake.

The next morning we observed that hordes of people occupied all of the legal and illegal campsites available on Polly. Amazingly, with the portage out of Polly and into the Phoebe River system we left them all behind. After a less-than-strenuous paddle upstream, we camped overnight on Hazel and had the place to ourselves.

On our last day we passed from the Phoebe River to the Grace River and on east to Beth Lake. At that point we ran into several more groups of people coming in from the Sawbill entry point. We decided at that point to bail out a night early since we had beat ourselves up pretty good -- my right knee had been giving out periodically since the vertical portage from hell a few days ago and Stacey was just generally tired from all the portaging. Overall, we had done something like 56 portages in the previous six days not counting beaver dams. So we did have our different experience after all, and it was well worth the effort -- the rivers are something to see. Best of all, there was still snow on the ground when we left after a week of paddling.

View a JPEG of the map showing this route: Map (510K)

Last Update on March 16, 2005

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