Since I had arrived at my Frost Lake campsite so early, I had debated pushing on to the only site on the Frost RiverBologna Lake, about 2 ½ miles and six portages farther. But I decided that the four or five canoes on Frost might have encouraged other solitary souls to push on. If that camp was occupied, it was a long way to Afton Lake, which only had one campsite, and there was no guarantee that it would be unoccupied.
So I left early after a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal. The temperature was in the upper 30's and there was a slight wind. The trend was steady on the barometer. I decided to double portage the first 130 r. portage. It was pleasant to walk back unencumbered. I soaked in impressions of the birch and spruce forest--so different from the Tennessee woods. The Frost River tumbled along over several rapids near the trail. The return trip with my 17# Hornbeck was painless; but I spent at least 30 extra minutes doing this portage.
Then came 12 short portages along the river. The river varied in width and depth. Luckily the water was high. It would not be easy to come down here in late summer when the water was low. I encountered 2 guys at the steep Afton Lake portage. It was so steep that I double portaged. Their presence confirmed the wisdom of my decision to camp at Frost Lake; they had camped on Bologna. We chatted about routes. They were headed back to Tuscarora Lake. I asked them if they had noticed on the map that it looked possible to skip the 100 r. portage from Whipped Lake to Mora Lake and bushwhack up a small stream to Time Lake. They showed me their map on which their outfitter had written, "Don't try it!" It was much rougher than it looked.
At the end of the short portage into Whipped Lake I found a high tech Mountain Parka that appeared to have spent the winter there. Mice had chewed into one of the pockets. I looked in the pockets and had a glimpse into someone's private life: lineament, remains of a chocolate bar, bug repellant and a bit of marijuana in a little jar. I left it for the 2 guys to check out.
I looked down the bay on Whipped Lake (the apparent shortcut) and saw a mature Bald Eagle. It's white head and tail stood out sharply against the dark Spruces. As I looked closer, I saw that there were actually six eagles all focusing on a carcass on a beaver lodge. I didn't want to disturb them so I watched from a distance through my binoculars. Their feeding reminded me of the feeding time at the International Wolf Center. The dominant eagle straddled the carcass (probably a beaver) while eagles farther down the pecking order, both mature and immature, tried to sneak in for a quick bite. Eagle #1 alternated between eating and pecking at these other birds. Several ravens darted in and out trying to get their own morsels. An eagle way down the pecking order waited in a tree.
I headed north and then west on Mora Lake and did the 45 r. portage into Little Saganaga. Beymer rates this portage as one of the prettiest in the BWCA. I agree. A good deal of water splashes around large boulders and, even under a canoe, the views are great from the trail. It reminded me of streams splashing down the sides of mountains in the Smokies.
As I headed out onto Little Sag, the sky darkened and a mixture of hail and sleet began to fall. My spray cover sagged from the weight and a good deal began to accumulate. I rarely use the skirt that velcros around my waist but I used it here to keep all the hail from melting in my crotch. (I sit on the bottom of the Hornbeck on a foam seat). I was already feeling a little cold and disappointed that I hadn't seen more wildlife on the Frost River. I had visions of repeating my sighting of a wolf last year on almost the same date. This hail was the last straw and I checked my map to locate a campsite out of the prevailing wind. I stopped at the one that is on a point and faces an island. It was still sleeting and hailing. It had taken about 7 hours to get here from Frost Lake.
I set up my tarp over my tent so that it would stay dry as I set it up. I picked a sheltered area near the water in a grove of cedars. They blocked much of the sleet and the ground under them was very soft. I retreated into my tent and read and dozed. Soon the sun was out and I heard a couple of canoes go by.
After a quick supper, I found a high rocky area to make my satellite phone call. My wife was surprised to hear of the sleet. She was sweaty from working in the garden and was worrying about the broccoli going by.
I retired soon after and resolved to get an early start. I was not in a great frame of mind. The cold was getting to me and I decided paddling and portaging was the best way to stay warm. I was at the top of my loop and liked the idea that I was now headed out.
Little Saganaga Lake camp. If you look closely you can see little patches of sleet on the ground. The tarp kept my tent dry while I set it up. (Ken E. Brown: thanks for the tip!)