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February 1998

2/25/98 –

It froze last night and we hit the river early…

2/24/98 – It has been a truly quiet week here at Sawbill. Bizarre, warm weather has been the story here. The past few days it has stayed exclusively in the 30’s, both night and day. Earlier in the week, when it was freezing at night, we had some perfect skiing conditions on the lakes and rivers. The freeze and thaw cycle produced hard packed snow that was ideal for ski skating. If you are unfamiliar with cross country skiing, imagine a speed skater with ski poles.

On Friday and Saturday, expeditions were launched up to Lujenida and Ella Lakes. After one foray, we figured out that we had skied 12 mph on average. Speeds of 15 mph were attainable with what felt like zero effort.

Sunday, Obie organized a group of nine people from Tofte and Grand Marais for a ski down the Temperance River. We started from the bridge on the Sawbill Trail and ended at Lake Superior, a distance of approximately 15 miles. The river snow was just as fast as the lake snow, with the addition of a slight downslope. Open water was plentiful, but the snow was firm enough that there was no danger of falling through. The snow surface undulated around the open spots and in some places only a narrow snow bridge spanned the running water. We flew effortlessly down stream through canyons, oxbows, boulder fields, and even over two waterfalls. At that speed, the open spots would appear in front of the lead skier just in time for a split second decision about which route to choose. One skier would lead until they made a wrong decision and got caught in a cul de sac, then another skier would blaze the trail. Many times we would split up on alternate routes, weaving back and forth, in and out, only to converge at the next snow bridge. Since Sunday, we have not had cold enough temperatures to allow the snow crust to reform. Meanwhile, it has been raining and melting so the river keeps opening up. Sunday’s peak experience may be all the more precious for its uniqueness.

2/16/98 – President’s Day represents the peak of visitorship for the winter season. The Sawbill parking lot has ten cars belonging to "winter" campers. Seven former or current Sawbill crew members are visiting the Hansens. All of these folks are coping with very unusual weather. At this writing, it is 35 degrees with pouring down rain. For once, we are not envious of those who are on the trail. The snow cover near Lake Superior is showing major gaps and the snow at Sawbill is sinking fast. We are down to about 14 inches of wet, crystalline snow, and losing more by the hour. Bad news for skiing – good news for eliminating roof shoveling duty.

2/12/98 – This time of year we spend a lot of time in the workshop working on the canoes. New canoes arrive that must be detailed, and the previous season’s fleet must be checked over and kept in good working order. Fortunately, most of our customers have a high regard for these lightweight canoes. The majority of the canoes need very little attention: a little sanding, tightening hardware, water sealing wood gunwales, etc.. Yet, there are always a few problem canoes. A canoe that was dropped, or "beached" fully loaded at a portage, comes to the winter workshop with a broken gunwale, cracked hull, or worse. I wish this did not happen, but I’m resigned to it and have come to enjoy the problem solving. It’s a hands on process, and creative effort, to make the canoe look and work like it was new. With the right attitude, small, tangible victories prevail in the workshop. A nice change of pace from the daily management of the business. The canoes are stored outside or in our rental building. Inside, we stack them vertically to save space. This looks very dramatic and there is great potential for an intense domino effect (a fact the chandelier and I learned the hard way one year!) Unburying the canoes outside is fun, as we are treated to sights and smells leftover from Fall. Leaves and twigs on the forest floor are a novel sight this time of year, and bits of plant debris dried on the hulls remind me of warm sunny days. Yesterday, I removed some knee pads on a solo canoe and found lots of damp, trapped soil. Smelled like a spring mushroom hunt. I love the winter, but it’s nice to be momentarily transported. Sort of like those occasional August snow flurries!

2/6/98 – Four groups left for winter camping trips yesterday! For winter, this is the equivalent of a very busy August paddling day. The sunshine and very warm weather have been more indicative of the paddling season as well. We pleasantly baked ourselves on Alton and Sawbill during a snow shoe hike. Long shadows prevailed as we explored the lake. Tracks of skiers, otters, and moose crisscross the lake. In many places, however, the snow surface is untracked as far as the eye can see. Large, subtle patterns of wind become evident in these areas. Undulating lines, parallel to the wind direction, stretch down the lake and coalesce. On closer inspection, we find the lines are really tiny ridges highlighted by shadow and dust. Marked by a six foot trail of tumbling tracks, a tiny sprig of cedar interrupts the homogenous view. This sprig is no different from the millions of other cedar bits we have walked past, yet it is accorded the highest praise, oohs and ahhs like a fireworks display. We are a peculiar breed. Does the timber wolf attend to these details? Does it need to? Perhaps the ridges, dust, and sprig stir in us an ancient way of looking at the landscape, provoking a long lost understanding of natural processes – conceptions most of us are so distracted from, that we experience them in dumb awe, oohing and ahhing nostalgically.

2/3/98 – Cold temperatures at Sawbill over night, -10 degrees F. A novelty for this mild winter. Before the cold snap, a warm up on Thursday and Friday created a fast glaze on the snow. Skiing was incredible, such glide and ease. The dogs and I found ourselves exploring the middle of Alton in no time We closely inspected a recently abandoned winter camp. The dogs inquired as to whether winter campers buried food like summer campers, and I checked the quality of their camp. Some cut green branches, but otherwise a nice camp. It is difficult to be completely No-Trace in the winter, as the land must wait for April’s sun to erase shelters and tracks. A large quincee (a snow shelter) was well constructed, and Sunnie and I rested inside speculating as to when we would get out this winter. Gust poked his nose in the entrance, but some K-9 instinct forbid a further inspection. To Gust’s relief, we exited and enjoyed a lovely sunset returning for dinner.

The river canyons that pour into Lake Superior become fantastic ski adventures this time of year. Kate Surbaugh, former Sawbill employee, and I had a wonderful day skiing the Devil Track River canyon. In route to the canyon, a large beautiful wolf momentarily graced us with her presence . We smiled, knowing how fortunate we are to have such a living right outside our door. The Devil Track’s steep gradient and the fast skiing conditions kept us on our toes. Skiing around open holes and over frozen waterfalls is exhilarating. The waterfalls create bizarre ice structures. Jets of water gush from ice arches that project off the rock face like giant crystal faucets. Icy windows form as waterfalls erode snow cover from beneath. Torrents of water pass quietly by these windows, producing a confusing, wonderful image. In most places, the canyon is filled with the sound of water, it murmurs below our skis and two feet of snow and rises to crescendo as it breaks free of the ice and snow at the base of a steep pitch. The canyon walls are a myriad of hues and the snow and lichen patchwork complete a continuous rich canvas that tends to distract from the project of staying dry. Warm weather is problematic for river skiing as meltwater tends to wash out the ice and snow. Occasionally, questionable rock climbing techniques are required to circumvent the worst spots. A dose of patience while routing and a cool headed spirit are all that is required to navigate the river safely. It was a memorable day following the water to Superior, sliding over boulders, sometimes tumbling, each turn a new view, a new obstacle, getting to know the way of that wild canyon.

Posted on

January 1998

1/29/98 – All quiet at Sawbill today. Monday and Tuesday we had a visit from Jim Newman, a reporter of WDSE – PBS, the public TV station in Duluth. He and photographer Steve Asche joined Mark Hansen and Mark Spinler from North House folk school for some camping and skijoring (skiing behind a small dog team) on Sawbill Lake. They had lovely weather – warm with light snow. Folks within the WDSE viewing area should keep an eye out for the story on the "Venture North" program in the near future.

Our own Clare Hansen will be performing with the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra on Feb. 15th. This is Clare’s second chance to play her accordion with the orchestra this year. This time, she will be in a group of five young accordionists, playing two songs for a children’s "Lollipops" concert.

1/25/98 – We enjoyed a half hour of pine marten antics around noon today. We noticed a marten running around in the tree just outside the house. As we watched incredulously he/she ran to the top of a 60′ aspen, scampered out on a flimsy, dead branch and promptly fell thirty some feet into another tree. Unfazed, it returned to another tall tree and attempted an impossible leap, resulting in another painful looking fall. It was clearly eyeing a piece of leftover chicken we had placed on the bird feeder. It finally seemed to get tired of falling and came to rest on a small red pine branch about 40′ up.

Pine Marten On Aerial Surveillance

After we stopped watching, the marten nabbed the chicken and worked over a glob of frozen refried beans.

1/22/98 – Minnesota State Senator Steve Morse (DFL-Dakota) has announced that he
will actively pursue passage of legislation that will continue
restrictions on motorized use within the BWCA Wilderness. Senate file 2002 will continue the phase out of motors on Seagull Lake
currently planned for January 1, 1999. By exercising the State’s
right to supercede federal jurisdiction on waters in Minnesota, Sen.
Morse’s bill would block a move in the U. S. Congress, sponsored by Rep.
James Oberstar (D-MN) and Senator Rod Grams (R-MN), that would eliminate
the Seagull Lake outboard motor phase out.

The bill does not address the issue of truck portages within the
wilderness, or change any other motorized use currently allowed within
the BWCA Wilderness.

Morse’s bill is being co-authored by Sens. Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy), Len
Price (DFL-Woodbury), Dennis Frederickson (R-New Ulm), and Gary Laidig
(R-Stillwater). In the house, a companion bill is being sponsored by
Rep. John Tuma (R-Northfield). “It is important to note that there is strong bipartisan support for this bill.” Sen. Morse said.

1/20/98 – The Boundary Waters Permit Reservation Center finally has a website. Point your browser to They have general info on reserving wilderness travel permits, permit availability by entry point and date, and both an email and downloadable reservation form.

1/17/98 – More snow, more visitors! We’ve had several more inches of beautiful, soft, white snow in the last two days. We have more than passing familiarity with the plow and ski trail groomer. Several Sawbill crew members are visiting. Adam Hansen, Michele Thieman, Jeff Thompson, Lena Grupe, and Jason Morse are all here for the January Jubilee Jamboree – Sawbill Frisbee Golf Association Tournament. Some skiing and visiting will also take place, along with a party at crew member Natasha Warner’s house in Grand Marais.

Chris Weggemann, from Eagan, is out on a solo camping trip to Cherokee Lake for the weekend. He is no doubt enjoying the warm temps, soft snow and bright moon. He will stop in on Sunday or Monday with a conditions report.

1/15/98 – Six inches of fluffy, soft snow fell yesterday and overnight. Every twig and branch has at least an inch of delicate fluff perched on it this morning. The most notable feature is the effect on sound. A giant muffler has been dropped on the landscape and a perfect silence stretches across the wilderness. Even a shout has a quiet, muffled tone to it.

View From the Deck – 1/15/98

Lloyd and Mary Gilbertson, who had a serious medical emergency while camping on Alton Lake recently (see entry from 1/6/98), have had more bad news. While Mary was on her way to finishing in fifth place in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon this week, she and Lloyd’s house burned to the ground. This is a crushing blow for anyone and certainly comes at a bad time for Lloyd who is still recovering from a collapsed lung. Even Lloyd’s great good natured spirit must be somewhat dampened by this string of disasters.

On a more cheerful note, we received an email from Dave Hart announcing the launch of his website for the "Bloody Knees Canoe Club." Dave and his cheerful group are long time Sawbill customers and have a good set of images and route descriptions of their many trips.

1/12/98 – A quiet week here at Lake Sawbill. After all the excitement of last week, a little boredom is welcome. The big news is the much belated arrival of full fledged winter. 8" of snow fell on Friday and we are finally able to groom our entire ski trail, including the new kilometer of hills. The local ski trails are all in excellent shape now. This is surely the latest beginning of the ski season in recent memory.

1/6/98 – Many dramatic things have happened in the last few days, not the least of which the failure of both of our radio telephones simultaneously. The irony is that we will soon be abandoning our aged radio phones in favor of a microwave system. It is a shame to put expensive repairs into something we will soon be abandoning, but we are dependant on telephone service, especially for our internet connection. Anyway, if you have been trying to reach us by phone, we are now back in full operation.

Sunday night we had two timber wolves come quite literally to our door. About 8 PM a visitor, Ann Strittmatter (former Sawbill crew member), was starting out to walk between our houses when she came face to face with a full grown timber wolf in the driveway. It saw her, but did not seem alarmed. Neither did it seem aggressive. Soon it walked slowly off into the woods. A moment later another wolf appeared from behind the wood pile, walked into the spotlight shining on the driveway and sat down. By this time we were watching from the house with fascination. The wolf stood up and walked down the path toward the house. We rushed rather noisily to the windows on that side of the house and were rewarded with an eyeful of wolf sauntering by about ten feet away. I am kicking myself for not grabbing the camera which was sitting about five feet away.

The same night, musher Lloyd Gilbertson was camped on Alton Lake with 8 people and 25 sled dogs. He had three wolves walk boldly into his camp and eat the dog food. Lloyd said they were less than 10 feet from his tent and equal distance from 25 barking Alaskan Huskies. After eating the dog food, the wolves walked off, still apparently unconcerned by their proximity to humans. We are wondering if they might not be domesticated wolves that someone has released. They did not appear to be starving, ill, or in any kind of distress. In any case, all of us were thrilled with the close encounter.

Lloyd’s adventure continued the next day when he fell, broke some ribs, and punctured his lung. He immediately began to swell up and have trouble breathing. His wife Mary and son Ole rushed him back to Sawbill on a three dog sled, only to be greeted with the news that the telephones were dead. We quickly loaded Lloyd into the truck and headed for Grand Marais at high rate of speed. He was barely able to breath, couldn’t see and couldn’t talk. Obie went ahead in his small car and stopped at the North Shore Market in Tofte to alert the hospital. They sent the ambulance and Lloyd transferred to it about ten miles outside Grand Marais. The paramedics were impressed with the severity of his condition. He was quickly stabilized by the expert medical staff at the North Shore Hospital and will be able to go home after a three or four day stay.

Other than that, it has been pretty peaceful around here ;-)

1/2/98 – Sawbill is awash in people (at least for this time of year). Visitors from, England, Minneapolis, Kansas, and Chicago are enjoying some of the only significant snow in the state. There are three trucks on the parking lot, one of which carried a dog team. The weather is balmy for camping, although the forecast calls for radically colder temperatures by tonight. -15 degrees is predicted, which usually means at least -20 here.

Posted on

December 1997

12/30/97 – The Hansen family has been on the road, visiting the big town of Minneapolis for a shot of culture. Bill, Cindy, Clare, Carl, Ruthie and Adam stayed at the Hyatt Hotel on the Nicolet Mall downtown. Both the desk clerk and the bell hop are frequent visitors to Tofte. We joked that we were coming to pester them at work for a change. We went to a Timberwolves game, the Children’s Theater’s “Peter Pan”, the Dayton’s animated Christmas display (the Nutcracker, designed by Maurice Sendak), ate a gourmet meal, shopped, danced until 2 A. m. (Bill and Cindy only), and saw the broadway show “Bring In Da’ Funk – Bring In Da’ Noise.” Whew!

We returned home to catch up on chores and squeeze in a little ice fishing with the Jensen brothers Hawk (Tom), Friend (Paul), Grub (Bill), and Hawk’s son Noah. The Jensens have been camping at Sawbill since the 50’s and Hawk worked at Sawbill for several years in the 70’s.

Good fishing on a lake near Sawbill.
12/25/97 – A very happy holiday was had by all here at Sawbill. Carl Hansen, at age 8, is the perfect age for Christmas fun. Santa brought exactly what Carl asked for – a rubber chicken! (Not pictured.)

Here’s what happens to a kid who grows up in the woods 🙂
Adam and Bill Hansen continued to take advantage of the fantastic lake travel conditions. Today they skied from Sawbill, through Alton and Beth, to Ella Lake. There are a few small pockets of slush, but not enough to be discouraging. Frosted trees, wolf and moose tracks, and perfect silence were their reward at the end of a vigorous ski.

Beth Lake – Christmas Day 1997
12/23/97 – John (OB) Oberholtzer, Adam Hansen, and Bill Hansen had a wonderful wilderness ski expedition yesterday. They skied up the Brule Lake road to Homer Lake and then completed the loop from Homer, through Vern, Juno and Brule lakes, about 30 kilometers in all. Vern Lake was the epicenter of the 1996, 5,000 acre South Temperance fire. It was a beautiful but stark scene on a gray December day. There are small signs of life peeking out here and there, but mostly it is ghostly quiet: no squirrels, birds, or green pine needles. They found a moose skeleton on Juno Lake, an obvious feast for wolves, ravens, gray jays, and other scavengers a couple of weeks ago. Only the skull, spine and half the ribs remained. A snowmobile track on the Brule Lake road sped up the return to the truck, but unfortunately, the snowmobile tracks continued out onto Brule Lake, a violation of the wilderness concept (not to mention federal law).

12/20/97 – The lake is finally free of slush. The slush eventually got so bad that it seeped through to the surface and then froze. The dusting of snow we have had, combined with some blowing snow have left the surface of the lake perfect for ski travel. Several members of the St Louis Park High School cross country ski team are training on Sawbill Lake this weekend. Although today was the second shortest of the year, it was a calm, sunny, blue day with just enough new snow to make everything sparkle.

12/18/97 – We have been enjoying close encounters with a pair of pine martens that have survived the best efforts of local trappers. Monday night, a trip to the bird feeder with some leftover pasta was greeted with a series of clucks, hisses and ominous growls from a nearby tree. A flashlight revealed an very agitated marten (pine martens are basically cat-faced, 10 lb weasels). He or she continued to fuss at us for about fifteen minutes before working up the courage to descend and beat a retreat. Later that night there was a lot of commotion around the suet feeder and the morning light revealed deep scratches and claw marks in the flashing that, in theory, protects the feeder from squirrels. Amazingly, the suet feeder and the suet were still intact. Yesterday, two martens were busy chasing each other around the place all evening. We are guessing their rivalry was the cause of all the growling the other night. Nothing against the trappers, but it seems like the entertainment value of live martens vastly exceeds their value as a fashion statement for a person with too much money.

Unbelievably, we had rain overnight. It wasn’t much, but it has made the old snow even crunchier and the paths more treacherous. The lake ice on Sawbill is 6″ thick with about 6″ of slush on top of that in most places. The old slush is frozen, but plenty of new slush has formed to keep travel fairly miserable. No sign of really cold temps or significant snow in the forecast.

12/15/97 – We are scheduled for record high temperatures today. It is already in the mid 30’s at 7 AM. We are still skiing on the unplowed campground roads, but the tracks won’t be able to stand much melting.

12/12/97 – It is a sunny blue day! The grey streak is broken. The wind carrying the high pressure has the pines swaying and is making an expansive sound as it blows out of the Boundary Waters. Our resident pine marten has been absent lately, a sometimes unfortunate side effect of the trapping season. Yesterday, however, Frank saw a pine marten dodging into the log pile trailed by two eager golden retrievers. Despite their diligent patrol, the marten seems to be doing fine, as I saw its fresh tracks today headed to our dumpster. Evidence of a midnight snack on our smoked fish remains, perhaps?

The birds and squirrels continue to feed at an alarming rate at our feeders! The feeders need constant attention, a fact that Cindy is delighted to bring to our attention, as that is typically her chore. Gulls by the hundreds have been gracefully and slowly circling above the Grand Marais harbor and over the hill. An old timer says this means snow. So far, not much snow. Apparently, El Nino has the gulls confused as well.

12/10/97 – Another grey, warm day. I hate to admit it, but one day has been much like the other lately. We seem to be caught in November, unable to progress fully into winter. The air just doesn’t have a sting to it yet. It is very peaceful here. We haven’t even seen a car driving in since the weekend. The North Shore, normally a very busy tourist destination, is dead quiet. The locals all take the opportunity for extra visiting and play activities before the busy Christmas vacation season descends.

12/9/97 – Cindy is doing very well. She is back to nearly full speed, only requiring occasional help with her socks and door knobs. Thanks to everyone who sent their sympathies.

We were able to set a track on the portion of our ski trail that runs on the unplowed campground roads. While skiable, it is just barely snow covered, and will not last unless we get some more snow. The lake continues to be plagued by slush on top of the ice. Cold weather will eventually take care of that.

Clare Hansen saw two moose and two timber wolves on her way home from dance class last night.

12/5/97 – Medical update: Cindy had casts put on today. Dr. Jenny Delfs confirmed that both arms are broken, although the right one is only about half broken. Therefore, Cindy qualified for a short cast on her right arm and a full length cast on the left. This has increased her self reliance by leaps and bounds. She is in excellent spirits and plans to attend dance class on Monday, although probably will abstain from pirouettes until she is healed.

The ice depth, as measured by The Iceman – Obie, is 6″ with 3″ of slush on top. We are receiving snow at the rate of a couple of inches per day, but it is still insufficient for ski trail grooming.

12/3/97 – Cindy Hansen, co-owner of Sawbill Outfitters, broke both of her arms last night. She was taking her weekly modern dance class and on her third double-pirouette, her ankle tipped over and she fell backward onto her wrists. Fortunately, there are three nurses in the class, so she got excellent first aid. She will be in double casts for four to six weeks. The entire dance class accompanied her to the E. R., which made for a rowdy time at the hospital.

12/2/97 – The Sawtooth Mountain Clinic provides the only primary health care here in Cook County. If you should be injured or become ill while on your canoe trip, the good doctors at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic would be your source of quality medical care. Cook County is unique because it has a very small permanent population and a high number of visitors. For almost 20 years, the clinic has received a grant from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant makes it possible to provide primary medical care in the this remote location, as well as subsidizing care for low income families.

Now the grant, known as a Section 330 (Community Health Care Program), is in danger of being cut. Please take a moment to email your Congressperson from the U. S. House of
Representatives Home Page
and ask them to write to Richard Bohrer, Director, Division C/MHC, 4350 East-West Highway – 7th Floor, Bethesda, MD 20814. Have them ask Mr Bohrer to continue Section 330 funding for the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Posted on

November 1997

11/30/97 – We had a wonderful, relaxing, Hansen family Thanksgiving here at Sawbill. The family reunion was all the better with the addition of Karl Hansen, all the way from California. He is considering a permanent return to Minnesota, so stay tuned for a possible personnel update. We managed to get out skiing on the lake every day. Conditions were challenging, with a lot of slush forming on top of 4 – 5" thick ice. The slush was less troublesome due to incredibly warm temperatures. In other words, you got your feet wet, but it didn’t really matter. Each day at sunset, the cool air settling over the lakes caused a dense ground fog to form. When the lowering sun shone sideways through the fog, the light became mystical. As we skied across the lake, we could only see the tree tops on shore above the rosy, diaphanous room we found ourselves in. Looking straight up, there was no trace of fog, only a deep blue sky. At the moment the sun dipped below the horizon, the fog suddenly lifted to an altitude of about 30 feet. We could then see up and down the lake clearly, but the tree tops and sky were swathed in white gauze. Wolf, pine marten, and fisher tracks stitched back and forth across our path.

We also enjoyed the company of Tim Velner and Gus Gustason of Duluth, who camped in the Sawbill campground over the weekend. This is a long standing tradition for these two, going back almost 20 years. They prepare all their meals ahead of time, including a full-on traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and seal them in boil-in-a-bags. When dinner time arrives, they just drop the bags into boiling water, and viola, dinner is served. Dinner is accompanied by beer, which is kept in a cooler with a hot water bottle to keep it from freezing.

Tim and Gus love to play, and bring skis, mountain bikes, snowshoes, and nerf footballs. They have a busy schedule of hiking, riding and playing catch. This year, they organized the first annual "Sawbill bowl" touch football game. Slated to be played on the lake, a brisk north wind shifted the action to the parking lot. For an hour and a half, mukluk shod adults and children participated in a spirited match of touch football. The second annual game is already scheduled for next Thanksgiving.

11/21/97 – Sawbill got a nice mention in "Presentations Magazine". You can see it online at Presentations Online – Case Study. The premise is that not having power or telephone hasn’t stopped us from getting on the web 🙂

Down to 6 degrees last night. We are betting that Sawbill finally, finally has frozen that last little bit of open water in the north end. Within minutes we will be launching a skate powered expedition to find out.

11/20/97 – Finally, the bulk of Sawbill Lake has frozen over. Obie, the one man Ice Follies, reported back from his daily skating trip to the north end of Sawbill Lake, that the south and middle sections are completely frozen. The north end still has a large section of open water, but for statistical consistency, we declare the lake ice covered when the south end is completely covered.

There are some innovations on the rest of this web site that may be of interest. We have been linking equipment from the 1998 Partial Outfitting Price List to pages that have pictures and details of that piece of equipment. Also, we are beginning work on web based BWCA Wilderness Route Guide . Take a look and let us know if you have any suggestions or criticisms.

11/15/97 – Will it ever freeze? Skiing to the very northern tip of Sawbill Lake this afternoon revealed large tracts of open water in all three sections of the lake. The north end has a long stretch of open water, perhaps as much as one third of the surface area. The ice around the openings is quite sound. Yesterday, while out skiing, Bill was able to ski right to the edge and actually inch his ski tips out over the rippling water (do not try this at home). Today, the highlight was a timber wolf making its way along the same open water in the middle of Sawbill. When it became aware of the skier, it ran along the open edge and escaped by crossing the narrow isthmus of ice between two large bodies of open water.

11/13/97 – An even smaller hole of open water remains on Sawbill Lake. We are starting to theorize that a hot spring has developed :-). Actually, it has been quite balmy, so freeze up is at least a week late. This afternoon Obie and Bill had a session of "boards and blades" on the part of the lake that is frozen. Bill skied and Obie skated. It turns out to be a fairly compatible experience in terms of speed. Barely sufficient ice cover with an inch of snow made this unique experience possible.

11/12/97 – A small patch of open water remains on Sawbill Lake. At the landing, the ice is now 2.5" thick. The chill of winter is distinct today. We are experiencing sunshine for the fist time in a long while. Cindy spotted one of the largest wolves she has ever seen today just north of downtown Tofte.

11/11/97 – Well, we lied. The lake did skim over, only to open up again as soon as the sun and wind came up. Half of Sawbill remained open all day today. However, the temperature is dropping and the ice in front of the landing will now support our weight, which it would not yesterday. We continue to receive snow flurries, but only have about 3" on the ground.

We are having incredible bird activity at the feeder this season. The chickadees, nuthatches, red polls, pine grosbeaks, gray jays and blue jays have consumed almost as much seed since so far as they did all of last year.

11/10/97 – A quick check of the ice yesterday afternoon revealed more than half the visible lake once again open water. Two ducks were swimming around, showing no inclination to head south. Last night dipped to 20 degrees with light snow and skimmed over the entire lake once again. We are headed for temps near zero on Wednesday, so this time, the ice is here to stay. We have not seen the lake freeze and thaw twice in a single Fall before. One year, during the ’80’s, it did thaw late in November and we actually paddled on Thanksgiving Day. Usually it freezes for good during the first week of November, so it is nearly on schedule.

11/9/97 – Driving down the Sawbill Trail last night, we saw at least ten deer hunting camps. We haven’t seen a deer in weeks though, so their success prospects are doubtful. Trappers are also active along the Sawbill Trail. We dislike the trapping, not so much on moral grounds, as wishing the animals could be left free for everyone’s enjoyment. It seems like a poor use of wildlife to pay a few dollars to a trapper so a rich person can wear a dead animal on their back.

11/8/97 – The lake remains frozen, at least as far as can be seen from the landing. The ice is just under one inch thick, but is very rubbery and soft. It is relatively smooth, but there is snow in the forecast for tomorrow, which could ruin chances for good skating.

A Pine Marten has taken up residency in our dumpster. It has made a bed in a discarded grey Sawbill sweatshirt. Pine Martens are a large member of the weasel family.

11/7/97 – Sawbill Lake froze on Tuesday, 11/4/97, for the second time this season. It previously froze on 10/26 and thawed out again during a heavy rain on 10/31. Today, it is kind of warm again, so perhaps it will thaw another time before winter finally arrives to stay. The ice is perfectly smooth, but less than an inch thick.

Last night we had incredible northern lights. They were brightest directly overhead and were pulsing in time to some cosmic music. The lack of a moon made them all the more brilliant. It is overcast here now and predicted to stay that way for the next few days.

11/4/97 – Former Sawbill crew member Steve Surbaugh is prominently featured in the current issue of Backpacker Magazine. Immediately under the headline "Chillin’ with The King Of Cool" is a striking photo of Steve with a frosted beard and determined look on his face. Steve and Kate Surbaugh are currently working for Wintergreen Lodge in Ely, where they help arctic explorer Paul Schurke with his winter outfitting business. They took Backpacker editor Jeff Rennicke and photographer Layne Kennedy on a trip last winter that sported -30 degree temperatures. Steve reports that Kate was very nearly featured on the cover, but was bumped at the last minute.

11/3/97 – Sawbill crew members John Oberholtzer, Natasha Warner, Adam Hansen and Bill Hansen attended the Northeastern Minnesotan’s For Wilderness Rally at Camp Du Nord in Ely on Saturday, November 1st. Approximately one hundred wilderness supporters from the region gathered on the shores of Burntside Lake to socialize, network and be inspired by wilderness artists and activists. Paul Gruchow, author of the recently published "Boundary Waters – The Grace of the Wild" was the keynote speaker. Carl Zichella of the Sierra Club and Darrell Knuffke of the Wilderness Society also gave inspirational and interesting speeches, as well as local activists.

We all had a chance to meet National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg, who has the cover story in that prestigious magazine this month. If you haven’t seen it, rush out and buy a copy. "Northwoods Journal", which is also written by Brandenburg, is the complete record of his effort last year to capture one image of the northwoods each day for ninety days. He allowed himself one shot – just one click of the camera – each day. The result is a stunning masterwork.

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October 1997

10/29/97 – Monday evening we went skating on a nearby pond. The ice depth varied from 3 to 1 inches. The cracking sound while skating was a bit disconcerting, but we only had one spot where a foot broke through. The transparent black ice allowed a clear view of the bottom of the pond. Dragonfly nymphs, lily pads and minnows were clearly visible. Also on Monday night the last canoeists departed from Sawbill. We didn’t get a chance to talk to them, so we don’t know how they navigated the frozen lake. Presumably some hybrid canoeing/walking method. On Tuesday, it finally went above freezing for the first significant time in more than a week. Some of Sawbill Lake reopened. The forecast calls for warm weather through the weekend, so there is a good chance that Sawbill will completely thaw. Statistically, it usually freezes during the first week of November.

Kathryn Olson, long time Sawbill canoeist from New Jersey, emailed and suggested that we give an update on water levels. She is concerned about the fate of beavers whose house entrances were above the waterline this Fall. The water level is a bit higher than it was in early October, but still very low. The only time in recent memory that it was lower was 1977. In that year, the beavers did have a very difficult winter, with a high death rate from predators. Drought is a historical fact of life here and presumably the prey/predator relationships are adopted to them. What’s bad for the beaver is good for the fisher and wolf. We have noticed some beavers working to add material over the house entrances.

10/26/97 – Sawbill Lake froze last night when the temperature reached a brisk 8 degrees. At least 3/4ths of what we can see from the landing is skim ice. It didn’t break the freezing point here today and the sky is clear. Likely it will get into single digits again tonight. There is one group still out. They are camped on the very first campsite on Sawbill, but are showing no inclination to try and escape. Perhaps they are planning to wait until the ice is thick enough to walk on. Some of the ponds along the back road to Grand Marais have > 2″ of ice on them already. Obie is planning to try and skate on them tonight.

10/25/97 – It is full scale winter here now. After such a warm, sunny Fall, Old Person Winter has seemingly come to stay. The ground is iron hard and the small ponds have an inch of ice on them. In spite of that, two parties are out in the wilderness for the weekend. Hopefully, they are keeping a sharp eye out for forming ice and will remove themselves before they become trapped. We are having excellent bird action at our feeders already. Chickadees, Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Grey and Blue Jays, Juncos and a variety of Sparrows have already burned through 50 lbs of seed in the last ten days. In 1995-96 we fed 850 lbs of seed just at one house. The North Shore was host to huge flocks of crows earlier this week. Some tree were literally blackened by the cawing flocks moving south for the winter.

10/23/97 – The Oberstar BWCA Bill, which reintroduces trucks into the BWCA Wilderness and and blocks a scheduled phase out of outboard motors on most of Seagull Lake, H. R. 1739, passed the House Resources Committee yesterday. This is a sad day for the BWCA Wilderness. The committee chair, Alaska’s Don Young, was quoted as saying “Make them recreation areas” complaining that wilderness designation restricts access to “the physically elite.”

Today was our first day with zero customers. The snow melted slightly this afternoon, but is still blanketing the ground. There are no cars on the parking lot and no one in the campground. We are expecting single digits tonight.

We took advantage of the lull to pump and clean all the septic tanks here at Sawbill. This is the job I always think about when people tell me I have the perfect job. All things are relative I guess.

10/20/97 – The stormy weather blew most people right out of here yesterday. There are two cars on the parking lot and one group in the campground. We drained the coffee pot in the store yesterday, because the water supply pipe for it runs outside. With the forecast for temps in the teens, we will probably be forced to drain all the water in the store soon.

10/19/97 – Here’s an interesting development on the BWCA Wilderness political front. Guy Holmes, who heads up a recently formed group that advocates use of truck portages to provide handicapped access to the wilderness, and is a director of the local “wise use” group Conservationists With Common Sense, has lied to Congress. Read the Op/Ed piece by John Galland in the Mpls Star Tribune of October 19th.

Sawbill Outfitter’s Bill Hansen will be debating Guy Holmes on the PBS program “Face to Face” on November 2nd. The “Crossfire” style program airs at 6 P. M. on WDSE-8 in the Northland, and 11 A. M. on KTCA-2 in the Twin Cities.

The weather is starting to slide back into a November mode today. In just an hour we have slipped from the mid 40’s into the high 30’s.

10/18/97 – What a beautiful Saturday it was today. We used the testing of a new canoe model, the Wenonah Minnesota III, as an excuse to get out on the water for a half hour. It was a typical summer day – fluffy white clouds against a blue, blue sky and 65 degrees. The only clue to the season were the migrating grebes and the lack of leaves. A group of moose hunters from Forest Lake were coming in after intensively hunting for ten days with no success. They were surprisingly cheerful. Glad to have had ten glorious days in the wilderness, even if they don’t have a moose to show for it. It is particularly hard for them because it is a “once in a lifetime” license, so they won’t have the opportunity again. Given the amount of work to butcher and pack a moose out of the BWCA Wilderness, I tend to think they got the better deal.

Thank you to everyone who has emailed to confirm contacting members of the House Resources Committee, especially those who’s own congressperson is on the committee. Let’s keep it up until the hearing on Wednesday.

10/17/97 –
The Oberstar BWCA Bill H. R. 1739, is scheduled to be heard by the House Resources Committee on Wednesday, 10/22/97. If it passes the full committee, it will go to the house floor for debate. The senate version of the same bill is already through the committee process and awaits floor action in the senate.

Committee Vote Scheduled For 10/22/97 – Phone Calls Needed Now!!
Contact The House Resources Committee
10/16/97 – M. E. A. weekend is upon us (it’s a school holiday for the teacher’s union convention for those of you from out of state) and the last little rush of canoeists for the season. The parking lot was down to three cars yesterday. We are always convinced that there will be a couple of cars left over at the end of the year (joke). A quick walk to the lake this morning revealed the beauty of a late Fall morning. The mirrored surface of the lake was reflecting a deep blue sky while a thick white mist hovered over the surface. The tiny air movements stirred the mist into ghostlike dancers. While we were watching, a canoe emerged from the mist, paddles flashing in the sun.

10/13/97 – We experienced a distinct weather phenomenon this morning. At 8:00 A. M. the radio reported 37 degrees in Ely. I looked at the thermometer and it was 54 degrees here. At 9:30 A. M. we had 39 degrees here. Ouch. We are draining the water from the shower house today as the prediction is for the low 20’s tonight and tomorrow. We froze the pipes in the shower house this spring when the temperature hit the teens on the 12th of May and didn’t get above freezing for several days. We scrambled to wrap the build in tarps and put every conceivable heat source inside, including the gas grill. We survived with only two burst pipes, but we don’t want a re-run this fall.

The top news of the day: The Sawbill Frisbee Golf Association, which regular readers are already familiar with, has been named “Web Site of The Month” by Discgolf Online Magazine.

10/10/97 – What a day yesterday! The wind raged all day. Our wind gauge is broken, but I would guess that some of the gusts were approaching 40 mph. At least a dozen trees fell across the Sawbill Trail. David Armstrong returned from his long solo trip and reported whitecaps in excess of two feet on Alton. He also reported hearing wolves near Adams Lake. This morning is clear and cold. Freeze up is only about three weeks away now. We got the ski trail completely ready for snow on Wednesday. I suspect we may have a few windthrown trees to remove after yesterday.

10/9/97 – October returns. It is very windy this morning and temperatures are dropping fast. Travel would be impossible on Brule Lake at this time. One of the great things about wilderness is the realization that sometimes nature holds sway and all we can do is wait it out. Several frustrated moose hunters stopped by yesterday. They are having trouble finding any fresh moose sign, much less the real thing.

10/8/97 – Heat Wave! It was 60 degrees at 6 A. M., overcast, raining and humid. Very strange weather for the middle of October. John Werth and his partner Paul returned yesterday from a twelve day trip. They had themselves flown to Beaverhouse Lake on the far side of Quetico Park and paddled back to Sawbill. They traveled all day, every day, save one.

10/4/97 – Most of the trees have changed now. A few aspens are still green, trying to garner as many sugars as possible before the winter sets in. Unlike most trees, however, aspens will continue to photosynthesize after their leaves have fallen. Aspens have chlorophyll in their bark which allows them to extend their food producing season. It is this adaptation that has allowed the aspen to be found further north than other deciduous trees, and accounts for the slight green tinge of their bark. The tamaracks along the grade road are aflame in the afternoon sun and most of the pine trees look slightly more bare as they are also heavily losing needles. Due to the drought, far fewer cones top our local white pines this year compared to last. As I look out the office window, our tall pines and aspen are swaying in a warm afternoon breeze against an idyllic blue sky.

10/3/97 – Seventy seven degrees and blue skies yesterday! Sawbill crew members disappeared to play. Natasha went paddling and OB hiked the Superior Hiking Trail east of Grand Marais. Each reported glorious views and landscapes devoid of people. They excused themselves on the basis that this would be the last warm day. Hopefully, they will not read this morning’s forecast calling for weather in the seventies for the next few days. We may never see them again! Others have heard about the weather too, as we are quite busy today for an October morning. Several groups have headed North including hopeful moose hunters. No bugs, few people, amazing scenery, who can blame them?

10/1/97 – It seems we are back to gorgeous weather. Blue skies today are accompanied by a warming trend that is to bring mid seventies by Thursday! All the wind has really knocked down the leaves, but there is still some nice color. Last night was a serious frost. Cindy’s tomatoes are likely to be a memory. Hopefully she has canned enough for the winter.

Posted on

September 1997

9/30/97 – We had very high winds yesterday. The few parties returning reported tales reminiscent of high seas adventures. Dan Kato and his fellow co-workers returned soggy but in good spirits. I’m not sure if they are just generally cheerful or if blustery, rainy weather is a welcome alternative to work!
As the customers become scarce, our work begins to change. We start doing inventory, a counting nightmare, and cleaning up the campgrounds. Counting is for the cold, rainy days and we get into the campgrounds on the blue, crisp, golden days. We shovel the fire grates and occasionally are treated to the sighting of a blue spotted salamander. Such a beautiful creature, it is cool rubbery black except for sky blue spots on the belly and sides. Amongst the ash and molten aluminum cans, it is a glowing gem.

9/29/97 – Hurricane Toivo has struck the north country. We had high winds and pouring rain overnight. .47" is the most rain we’ve had at one time in a long while. The barometer is also the lowest of the season. It really isn’t that bad, just a big contrast to the beautiful weather we’ve been having.

9/28/97 – I had a lovely paddle on Alton Lake the other night. As the sun was setting on yet another beautiful Fall day, I realized the lake was alive with tullibees. All over the calm surface of the lake tullibees were rising and taking small flies (where was my fly rod!) Tullibees are a small whitefish. They are silver and run about 1 to 1.5 pounds. Their gentle splashing combined with Autumn’s glory and the salmon sky left me spellbound. As I dipped my paddle into the cool clear water of Alton lake, I felt the burden of another hectic season lift. I’m so grateful to those who were wise enough to leave Alton Lake in such a state that I can hear the tullibees. Our debt to them is to be sure the BWCAW can continue to work its subtle magic on generations to come.

9/27/97 – There are about 50 members of the Brook Park 7th Day Adventist Church in Minneapolis on the Sawbill Campground this weekend. They are a very quiet group and have been enjoying hiking and canoeing in the beautiful Fall colors.

9/26/97 – The perfect Fall day here at Sawbill. The sky is deep blue, the lake a mirror, and the forest is aflame with color. The chipmunks are frantic in there storage of seeds. Juncos, small grey sparrow-like birds, have returned from their arctic summer homes. Today will be a busy day, as many people take advantage of the gorgeous weekend.

9/24/97 – It has been an eventful couple of days. Ed Erickson, long time Sawbill camper, got lost while grouse hunting yesterday. He walked into the woods at 10 a. m. and was reported missing by his partner at around 3 P. M. While the sheriff started mobilizing search and rescue, John Oberholtzer and Bill Hansen headed out to make a quick search before nightfall. Bill followed Ed’s tracks and OB drove into another old logging road that runs north of the search area. At about 5:30 Bill and OB were close enough to each other to hear each other’s shouts, but still no sign of Ed. Both turned back with heavy hearts to meet the rescue squad. Back tracking on the logging road Obie was thrilled to see Ed, tired and dirty, waiting for him. The rescue squad was cancelled and Ed gratefully returned to his campsite for a well earned rest.

When not rescuing people, the Sawbill crew has been visiting with canoe manufacturers. Mike Cichanowski, owner of Wenonah Canoe and Kay Henry, owner of Mad River Canoe have both visited in the last two days. Safe to say you will be seeing more canoes from both of these fine companies at Sawbill next year.

9/22/97 – Another glorious Fall day. The colors just keep getting better. Yesterday, Steve O’Neil from Duluth dropped off a wallet he and his son found behind a campsite on Sawbill. The fine leather wallet had been extensively chewed by mice, but still contained driver’s license, credit cards, etc, – all dated 1995! We looked up the name on the Internet and left a phone message for the owner. Imagine his surprise after two years.

We received an unusual phone call yesterday from a local man who found a goat while fishing on Ball Club Lake in the BWCAW. He said the goat is wearing a collar and is very friendly. He was calling around to see if anyone had reported a goat missing. He took the goat home and has found a good home for it if the owner can’t be located.

Speaking of phones, one of our radio-telephones broke down on Saturday morning. This leaves us with just one frail link to the outside world, so have patience if you are trying to call us. We hope to have it repaired as soon as possible.

9/21/97 – Favorite Sawbill crew member Adam Hansen is 17 years old today. You can email him a birthday greeting at: 1997 SFGA Masters Champ, Adam Hansen. Frost on the pumpkin last night. Another Hansen, Clare, age 9, has actually managed to grow a few pumpkins during this drought season. They are about the size of softballs and still green, but hope springs eternal. With a high temp of 51 degrees and a brisk north wind yesterday, folks were scurrying around in winter jackets with bright red noses poking out of wool hats and hoods. The same temperatures in April would have found us all in sweatshirts and sunglasses.

9/20/97 – September arrived with a chill this morning. Slate grey clouds are scooting across the sun. The air has the chill of a snow line that is not too far north now. The last of the summer Sawbill crew left today. We are down to the core of veterans for the Fall season now.

9/18/97 – We had only one group come off the trail yesterday. The shower house had only one wet towel in the hamper this morning. The trees are about 25% turned to yellow and red now. There is a lot of green especially in the canopy. The underbrush is more than half turned. Moose sightings are becoming more common as the bulls start to get a little crazy. Randy Hermanson and Dan Horita from the Twin Cities had a young bull come right into their campsite on Sawbill – three times. They also reported good fishing, except yesterday, when it was too windy to go out.

9/16/97 – The sky is dark and threatening this morning and the radar map shows some heavy thunderstorms headed this way. We are hopeful for lots of rain and little lightning. The parking lot has the least cars since May, although judging from the reservation file, it will be be a busy weekend. Last night, we went down to the landing to watch the mirror smooth lake steam under a full moon, but were distracted by the moose crashing and splashing on the opposite shoreline.

9/15/97 – We had a great visit from John and Kari Halvorson of Luster, Norway. John worked for us between 1969 and 1976. Kari worked for us during the summer of ’76. John is originally from Minneapolis. He met Kari while visiting relatives in Norway in 1975. After their summer at Sawbill in ’76 they moved back to Norway where they have farmed sheep, strawberries and raspberries ever since. They brought their 15 year old son, Hans, who is a great email pal of our 15 year old Ruthie Hansen. It was fun for them to meet after a year of frequent email correspondence. John was able to point out to us all the changes in equipment and the physical plant since 1976.

John Oberholtzer is back from Washington saying "Its good to be back!" John and Patti had a good experience lobbying on behalf of wilderness protection. Although they feel like they made some progress, it is a very scary year in congress for the BWCA Wilderness. Clearly, there are some congresspersons who dearly wish to set a precedent of slowly chipping away at the entire wilderness preservation system, starting with the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Please contact your representative (see below) and ask them not to degrade the BWCA Wilderness in any way.

The Oberstar BWCA Bill, which reintroduces trucks into the BWCA Wilderness and expands outboard motor use, H. R. 1739, passed the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health on October 7th. Now is the time to contact your Congressperson (U. S. House of Representatives) and urge them not to degrade the BWCA Wilderness.

The Grams Bill, S. 783, (the Senate companion to the Oberstar Bill mentioned above) passed out of committee in the Senate on 7/30/97.

Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) introduced the third BWCA Wilderness bill of the season, "The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Expansion, Protection, and Access Act of 1997" – S.1085, on Tuesday, July 29th. Press Release, details, etc. from Senator Wellstone’s Office

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Legacy Act, authored by Bruce Vento (D-MN), is the best BWCA Wilderness bill of this confusing legislative season. Unfortunately, it has almost no chance of passing with the key committees controlled by anti-wilderness legislators. Vento is a senior Democrat on the key committees and will be in a position to pass a bill like this if the congress returns to Democratic control. Full Text of H.R.2149 "The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Legacy Act"

Please take a moment to tell these gentlemen that wilderness
protection is important to you.

Senator Rod Grams

257 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

(202) 224-3244

(202) 228-0956 (FAX)

Congressman James Oberstar

2366 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

(202) 225-6211

FAX: (202) 225-0699

You can find your congressperson’s address, phone #, and email
address at: The U. S. House of
Representatives Home Page.

The Senators are all available through
The U. S. Senate Home Page.

Sawbill Outfitters is a proud member of
Northeastern Minnesotans For
which is working to organize the many people who
support the wilderness and happen to live in northeastern Minnesota.
Visit their site for more information on the controversy and what you
can do to help protect the BWCA Wilderness.

Email us at if
you have any questions on permits, routes or anything else.