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Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: July 2010
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « June 2010 | August 2010 »

7/31/10 - The Sawbill crew relaxed last night by going to the opening ceremony of the official North Shore Dragon Boat Festival in Grand Marais (this year's slogan; Do it for the dragon). The ceremony was lively and well attended, unstopped by damp and misty weather. The ceremony was followed by a live performance by the Splinters. Sawbill's own Bill Hansen played lead guitar, with Jeff Deshaw on bass, Rick Brandenburg on drums, Chris Gillis on trumpet, and Leah Thomas on the accordion and vocals. The Splinters play lively accordion dance music, or, as Leah Thomas says, "A kind of Zydeco electric waltz/folk." Regardless of what you call it, festival goers danced away until the very last song of the performance, and then the next two songs after that.

Leah Thomas and Bill Hansen perform in front of a very moody Lake Superior

The Sawbill young'uns pose for their own album cover on the shore. Roo refuses to pose.

- Kaj

7/30/10 - I am sorry to report that Frank Hansen, co-founder of Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, has been diagnosed with acute leukemia. He is in hospice at the Care Center in Grand Marais. He is fatigued and weak, but in full possession of his faculties. In spite of his poor prognosis, he is busy providing for the future of the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic (where he has been chair of the board for many years), providing ad-hoc counseling for the Care Center employees, and spending many hours visiting with family and special friends.

If you'd like to send him a message, it is best to do it through his Caring Bridge website. - Bill

Frank Hansen

7/29/10 - Sawbill crew member and future National Geographic photographer (at least he should be) Luke Opel got this majestic shot of a Bald Eagle on nearby Alton Lake recently. Mr. Baldy here has been riding the thermals for a while, undoubtedly preying on some fresh Alton fish. Bald Eagles have eyesight eight times stronger than our own, fine enough to read newspaper print from across a football field - or to spot a pike from 500 feet.


I had to resist using the word "majestic" a lot more writing about this one.


7/29/10 - We received this wonderful letter and photos the other day:

Hi Bill,

My wife Andria and I were at Sawbill last weekend with a couple of friends. Andria and I were celebrating our 5 year anniversary, and I have to say for me personally this is one of the best camping trips I've ever had. We couldn't have picked a better destination to celebrate our marriage. In fact, 5 years ago after our wedding we stayed at a cabin on the North Shore. We didn't get to do any canoeing on that trip, and have been looking forward to this last weekend for a very long time.

We stayed at the campground all weekend, and I'd have to say, we definitely made the best of our 2 days on the water. Saturday we paddled to the North end of Lujenida and back. Sunday we made it all the way to Flame where we had the lake to ourselves for about 4 hours where we did some fishing and spent most of the time sitting on a group of rocks in the middle of the lake just staring off into the wilderness. The scenery was truly amazing! Around every corner, one of the 4 of us said "WOW!" the end of the weekend we had named our trip "Wow Weekend 2010". Hopefully there will be a "Wow Weekend 2011"!

On our way back from Flame, we were portaging from Burnt into Smoke.
Andria and I were already in the water waiting for our friends on shore when we heard some loud thumps, rustling, and branches snapping----pretty sure it was either a Moose or a Bear, but we didn't actually get to see it---even though we estimated it was probably only 20 ft away from our friends on shore.

The campground at Sawbill was great. All the amenities we needed and more. And I'd have to say, everyone we met---other campers, and Sawbill employees were polite, informative, and friendly. We left Sawbill completely exhausted, but wanting more. We all can't wait to get back. I would imagine that Sawbill will be one of our favorite destinations for many years to come.

Thanks again for everything. Hope to see you again soon.


Mark, Andria, Jonah & Katie






7/28/10 - Over the past few weeks I have been trying to make it a point to walk down to the landing to take a few quick photos of Sawbill Lake. It's amazing to see how much it changes with the influence of different lighting, wind, and weather. Here are a few of my favorite pictures. - Jessica

The lake during a foggy day.

Sunny day on the lake.

The lake just after sunset.

7/26/10 - The blueberry season is in full swing and the crop is excellent this year. Not only are they plentiful, but the individual berries are quite large and succulent. As a side benefit, the black bears have been content with the berries and are staying away from campsites. - Bill

Ahh... blueberry heaven.

Dan Seemon, former Sawbill crew member, in an undisclosed location.

7/23/10 - This season Sawbill acquired some brand new sleeping bags for use in the outfitting department. As a result of this purchase some sorting needed to be done in order to weed out some of the not so new ones. This seemed like a daunting task when considering that we possess over 150 bags.
Luckily Sarah, Meg, and Ellyn were up for the job. The first order of business was to unpack all of the sleeping bags and lay them out in piles according to style. Secondly, they sorted out the ones to sell in the fall. They then had to stuff the bags back into their appropriate stuff sacks. Finally and most importantly, they had to make a giant sleeping bag fort out of it all. - Jessica

Meg, Ellyn, Sarah, and Leif taking a break on the piles and piles of sleeping bags.

Meg stuffing the sleeping bags into their stuff sacks.

Homer testing out the fort.

7/21/10 - Last night after all the work for the day was finished, the entire Sawbill crew convened for a delicious and festive dinner. Crew members Tyler, Luke, and Liz concocted a delectable fish fry along with some fresh greens, potato salad, bruschetta, and baked beans. Appropriately, the selected theme for the attire to be worn to the banquet was "fishing". Many bobbers made an appearance, along with a variety of fishing lures and a few fishermen. All in all, it was a jolly good meal with a wide array of amusing costumes. -Meg

The entire crew, featuring Cindy as a daredevil lure in the foreground.

A rainbow trout, a seafaring pirate, and a fisher-woman from the show "The Deadliest Catch".

Mr. Twister fishing lure wiggling around.

7/19/10 - Yesterday, crew members Luke, Kaj, Joe, and myself went snorkeling along the shore of Sawbill Lake in search of fishing lures and any other hidden treasure we could find. After an hour and a half of swimming through the beautiful (but chilly!) water, we returned to shore with blue lips and desperately in need of hot chocolate. Despite our frozen state, the escapade was completely worthwhile as evidenced by these photographs of all the reclaimed items from the lake. -Meg

The complete collection of tackle.

Some of the more unusual finds, including a flashlight and sunglasses.

A close-up of some of the loot.

7/19/10 - Carl and I took a wonderful canoe trip in Canada last week on the Kopka River which is about 3 hours north of Thunder Bay, Ontario. We went through our good friends at Wabakimi Canoe Outfitters in Armstrong. We had a very relaxing five days of fishing, bushwhacking, swimming and generally lounging around. - Bill

Carl admires the Double Falls on the Kopka River.

The Kopka has so many beautiful waterfalls that this beauty doesn't even have a name.

Carl is dwarfed by this interesting cliff at the end of one of the crazy Kopka portages.

The infamous "billy goat" portage that requires a rope to lower the canoe, gear and even is needed to aid in climbing. I'll never complain about a BWCA Wilderness portage again!

7/17/10 - Tom and Nan Gager, from Burnsville, MN, are celebrating their 40th year of camping at Sawbill this year and are also celebrating their 40th year of marriage! Tom writes, "Forty years ago we made Sawbill one of our stops on our honeymoon. We've always referenced it in our travels. We always miss it the day we leave until the day we return."

Tom and Nan Gager.

7/15/10 - Crew members Jessica, Kaj, and myself were recently venturing around Alton Lake when we stumbled upon a sight none of us had ever witnessed before. Five loons were convened in front of our canoe, seemingly fishing as a group. The three of us had previously seen at most two or three loons fishing in such close proximity to one another. Amazed (and a bit confused) we paddled stealthily towards the fishing party until we were within twenty feet of the birds.

Soon, a few of the loons began issuing short and high pitched calls to their fellow creatures scattered all over the lake. We watched five loons turn into seven and then seven turn into eight as three more loons flew to the very same spot to join in on the festivities. The loons circled up and seemed to be corralling the fish, although their true purpose remains unknown to us.

The first five hunters.

The complete hunting party.

And now some zany loon facts. Of all birds, loons have the lowest wingspan to body-weight ratio. When you see them take off, you can tell- they take as much as a quarter mile of lake water to get in the air. In fact, it's almost impossible for loons to take off from land, or to even walk properly (they have to furrow with their chest, doing a great wheelbarrow impression). The compensation for a lousy flying ability is that they are some of the best swimmers. Loons are also some of the deepest diving birds. Lake Superior fishermen have reported catching loons in nets up to an unbelievable 240 feet under the surface. They even fight under the water, propelling their sharp beaks into other loons that have dared tread upon their territory. Loons are some of the most solitary birds- they aggressively defend their territory against other loons, and often only choose one mate over the course of their entire life. However, according to author Bill Bryson, every fall loons of neighboring lakes have an "open house." In groups of up to 20, each loon will lead the others to its nest. After a minute of observation, the other loons will erupt into a mass-chortle. Finally, loons have very few natural predators, but the two know adult loon predators are the bald eagle and the sea otter.
-Meg (zany facts courtesy of Kaj)

7/14/10 - Thanks to an unusually warm spring, blueberry season has almost already arrived up here, a full two weeks earlier than usual. I'm already thinking of delicious blueberry pie, backcountry jam, and melt-in-your-mouth blueberry cake. Or, you know, you could just eat them.

Luke found an excellent patch nearby that Meg, Jess, and I couldn't resist checking out for ourselves. Sure enough, row after row of berries are just starting to ripen. In about a week or two, we'll have more pickings than we'll be able to carry out. Meg suggests making berry-picking a full-time Sawbill job. We're keeping our spot secret, but you should be able to find blueberries and raspberries in any sunny clearing.

We weren't the only berry-pickers out there--a fresh pile of scat proved a local black bear was getting in on the goodies as well. Bears here are easily scared, much preferring berries and other food it doesn't have to chase, but getting close to one is still a thrill.

This article says that blueberries are full of phytoflavinoids. Yeah, I don't know what those are either, but if it means more blueberry eating, then I'm all for it.


7/12/10 - This week we welcomed 25 Boy Scouts and their leaders from Troop 333 to the Boundary Waters. They hail from Prior Lake and Savage, Minnesota, and are spending their trip camped on the beautiful Alton Lake. For many of the boys, it is their first time venturing into the BWCA. We wish them a gorgeous trip filled with adventure and successful fishing!


7/10/10 - Sawbill crew members like to take trips into the Boundary Waters, too. Recently, Jessica, Ellyn and I paddled for three days in the less traveled Frost River Loop. The Frost River isn't a cakewalk (by the end of the second day, we had beaver-dam-hopping down to a science), but the challenge meant that we shared the route only with the moose. During the trip, we went cliff jumping in Cherokee, spotted bear cubs at Mesaba, and watched the stars come up over Hub.

Day one: Kaj (myself), Ellyn, and Jessica.

Jessica roasting smores. She likes marshmallows that resemble charcoal briquettes.

Resting after taking a morning paddle through the mist on Hub.

A feisty loon tries to scare off an opponent. Loons are very territorial--we watched a furious battle between four of them on Frost Lake.

Us hugging. Because we're at Hug Lake.


7/5/10 - Establishing a new tradition for the 4th of July, the entire Sawbill crew celebrates with a mock dragon boat race. The race is not taken lightly. In the hour they had to prepare, teams put on intimidating face paint and developed elaborate strategies. In real dragon boat races, teams of at least 22 (and up to 80!) paddle a specially made dragon boat, like a long skinny canoe. Well, we don't have any dragon boats here, so we improvise by jamming four people into our two-person Wenonah MN II Kevlar canoes. This year, four teams competed. Team Topless Pirates, with Cindy, Andy, Luke, and Sarah, was expected to win, even accused of being stacked by other racers. However, after a furious start, Team Dragon Force raced ahead by successfully butting the other teams onto the tip of a point. Team Dragon Force maintained the lead and won, becoming the Sawbill Dragon Boat Champions of 2010. - Kaj

Pat Eidsmo is the embodiment of Team Tucan spirit.

The Sawbill crew racing down Sawbill Lake with natural fireworks in the background.

Leif Gilsvick, Clare Hansen, Liz Foot and Kaj Snow in the post-race glow.

7/4/10 - Today, crew members Joe, Leif, Liz, and Kaj ran the annual Tofte Trek Wilderness 10K. They joined over 200 other runners, both locals and visitors coming to the northwoods for Independence Day festivities. The course was hard- runners slogged through waist-deep shoe-sucking puddles and up slippery slopes on the Superior Hiking Trail. Liz ran the whole race giving the number one sign, thanks to a heavily bandaged pointer finger, while Joe "took it easy" and finished in the top seven for his age group.

Sawbill runners, from the left; Karen, Liz, Leif, Joe, and Kaj. This is before the race, when we were still smelling like daisies.

The start of the race!

And the Sawbill runners afterwards, smelling more like mud.


7/2/10 - The last two new crew members have arrived for the summer. Meg Simon hails from Cincinnati, Ohio and attends college at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Meg's grandfather, Larry Wilbers, has been a Sawbill canoeist for many, many years and is one of our favorite people. He has introduced many friends and family to the joys of BWCA Wilderness camping over the years and we're delighted to have Meg on staff.

Meg Simon

Leif Gilsvik arrived a couple of weeks ago, but he is somewhat camera shy, so we neglected to announce his arrival. Leif just graduated from Two Harbors, Minnesota High School. He is attending Gogebic Community College in Ironwood, Michigan this fall on a cross country skiing scholarship. Gogebic has one of the top skiing teams in the nation, so you know he's fast! - Bill

Leif Gilsvik

Current Sawbill Newsletter | « June 2010 | August 2010 »

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