Contact Us:
Phone: (218)663-7150
Fax: (218)663-7980
Mail: 4620 Sawbill Trail
Box 2129
Tofte, MN 55615

Powered by
Movable Type 3.15
Sawbill Newsletter Archives: May 2013
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « April 2013 | June 2013 »

5/26/13 - Back in 1957, Sawbill Canoe Outfitters was started as a spin off from Sawbill Lodge, which had been operating on Sawbill Lake since the early 1930s. The founder of Sawbill Lodge, Jean Raiken, had a nephew, Phil Higley, who worked at the lodge in the '40s and returned annually to visit after starting his career.

Phil's son, Phil Jr., worked here at the outfitters while he was in college back in the 1970s before starting a successful business career in the Twin Cities.

This summer, Phil's wife, Barb, is working as a clerk at the Tofte Forest Service Ranger Station, issuing permits for BWCA Wilderness visitors. Phil commutes up on weekends to visit Barb and will be spending time here at Sawbill too.

It is great to have the Higley's back at Sawbill, maintaining a family connection going back more than 80 years.

If you stop at the Tofte Ranger Station, be sure to say hi to Barb. - Bill

5/23/13 - Here is this week's edition of the West End News from WTIP, North shore Community Radio. - Bill

5/18/13 - A group of 108 juniors and seniors from Eden Prairie High School stayed in the campground this weekend as part of an elective course called Canoeing, Camping and Climbing. The course consists of a hiking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail, camping and canoeing at Sawbill Lake, and a high ropes course at the end of the school year. -Crista


The group during their last day on the lake.

5/18/13 - Sawbill crew member and freelance filmmaker, Carl Hansen, shared this beautiful picture. - Bill

Northern lights reflect off the last of the Sawbill Lake ice a few nights ago. © Hansen International Productions

5/17/13 - Our long time friend Ben Harris has recently completed his course of studies to become a Certified Massage Therapist. For at least the next couple of weekends, we'll be experimenting with having Ben provide chair massages on the deck of the Sawbill Store.

Ben's mission is to help BWCAW visitors of every kind in moving from soreness and limited movement into relaxation and freedom of motion, so that they can travel and camp at their fullest comfort and ability.

Ben will be here from 8 am until 4 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. His rates will be $1/minute for a 5 to 60 minute massage. He will also offer group rate discounts.

Ben will welcome walk-in clients or you can reserve a time for a massage by contacting Ben directly at Portages End Massage, 218-226-8418 or

5/16/13 - Yesterday was an eventful day, combining the official opening of the Sawbill canoeing season with a red flag fire danger day. Today is a perfect spring day with clear blue skies, calm winds and temperatures in the 60s. Fortunately, no fires started yesterday in this area and it sounds like some rain is on the way. Now that the ice is gone, it would be nice to see some greenery. - Bill

Sunset on Sawbill Lake as seen through a lacy ice remnant. Photo by Luke Opel.

5/15/13 at 7:45 PM - Finally, Sawbill Lake is officially clear of ice. It happened around 5 PM this afternoon. Off the top of my head, I can only remember two other years when it went out later than May 15th. - Bill

Sawbill crew member and unemployed Ice Measurement Technician, Leif Gilsvik, triumphantly holds the envelope full of cash that he won by correctly guessing this year's ice-out date. He plans to buy a new home for his mother and some liquid refreshments for his fellow crew members.

5/15/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn. Almost half of the ice is clear of the south end of Sawbill Lake. Several canoe parties have crashed their way through to the open water and have not come back, so it is opening up. In the face of warm weather and brisk winds, surely it will go out completely before the end of the day. - Bill

Panorama of Sawbill Lake from the canoe landing featuring the black ice.

An undistorted shot looking west from the landing.

5/14/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: too slushy to measure. We'll post the news here as soon as the ice is gone. - Bill

Roy, Deputy of Outfitter Security, inspects the dwindling ice looking south from the Sawbill Lake canoe landing.

Looking north on Sawbill Lake at 10 AM.

5/13/13 2:30 PM - We just got word from the Forest Service float plane that Polly and Phoebe Lakes are open. The pilot judged that Sawbill is "close." The route from Kawishiwi to Polly Lake should be fully open now. Tomorrow should be the day for many BWCA Wilderness lakes to lose their ice. - Bill

5/13/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 5". The Sawbill Lake Ice Technicians say that the lake is very slushy and the ice looks "watery." We did have a 1/2" of new skim ice form last night, but that is melting fast. Best guess is that Sawbill will be out tomorrow or the day after at the latest.

Sawbill Lake from the canoe landing at 10 AM this morning. Photo by Carl Hansen, © Hansen International Productions

Baker Lake is open, but as of yesterday afternoon Peterson (the first lake north of Baker) was still iced in. We got the Peterson report from our first canoe rental customers of the season.

Brother and sister, Dan and Sonja Burseth are the first Sawbill canoe rental customers of the 2013 season. Sonja works at the Lincoln Park R.E.I. store in Chicago.

Kawishiwi Lake is fully open as viewed from the canoe landing. I just issued the first permit of the year to a solo paddler heading in at Kawiwishi. It is pretty safe to assume that Square and Kawasachong Lakes, north of Kawishiwi, are open too. Polly Lake usually is a couple of days later than Kawishiwi. - Bill

Crew member Luke Opel holds up a chunk of honeycombed ice. Photo by Carl Hansen, © Hansen International Productions

Crew member Joe Daniels holds up a stick with last night's skim ice still attached. Photo by Carl Hansen, © Hansen International Productions

5/12/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 11". Take heart though, the wind seems to be taking a toll and there was noticeably more open water this morning. One more cold night tonight and then the warm weather is due. - Bill

This was the scene this morning. Snow on the ground and the glacier in front of the store building. All the new snow melted quickly (although the glacier will probably last until June). Today is cool, but sunny and windy

5/11/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 10". Progress is happening in spite of cool temperatures.

Baker Lake opened up yesterday, but we don't know if the lakes north of Baker (Peterson, Kelly and Jack) are open. A warmer forecast after the weekend should do the trick for most of the lakes near Sawbill. - Bill

I've been getting a lot of questions about possibly paddling around the edges of the lake. As you can see, that is not yet possible.

Sawbill Lake is getting darker, even on a cold, cloudy and blustery day like today.

Here is the latest edition of the Cook County West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio.

5/10/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 13". Not much progress since yesterday due to a cold night last night. It looks like melting will slow down during the weekend and then return with a vengeance early next week. - Bill

5/9/13 - Big progress! Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 14".

Here is note from Sawbill Poet Laureate, Ed Dallas, who lives in north central Minnesota:


Just to let you folks know there is light at the end of the tunnel as the ice on our little lake went out yesterday and I will be canoeing this afternoon careful to not be run over by all the ducks and loons. Now if by chance Sawbill Lake still has plenty of "hard water" to make the opener a little difficult then this haiku might be newsletter material.

opening fishing
the old dare devil skips
across the bay

Have a good one,


5/8/13 - Sorry for the slow post. I was out of town yesterday. May 8th Sawbill Lake ice report: 19". - Bill

5/7/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 23" of ice. The Sawbill Lake Ice Technicians had to hop across open water on the end of the dock to make their measurement. The ice hasn't "floated up" yet, but that will probably happen today. Some of the smaller ponds along the road will probably lose their ice today. The local rivers are all ice free now.

The lynx video below has gone modestly viral on YouTube. It's the most viewed and most emailed entry on the Duluth News Tribune website and was linked to on Facebook this morning by Minnesota Public Radio's popular Morning Edition host, Cathy Wurzer. What fun! - Bill

5/6/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: still 24" of ice, but the ice is quickly melting away from the shore. The bay leading into Sawbill Creek is about half open. It is already in the 60's here today and may hit the low 70s tomorrow. - Bill

Here is the latest edition of the Cook County West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio.

5/5/2013 - I had a lucky and amazing encounter with two lynx on my way to town yesterday. It was the first time I've used my iPhone for video, which explains the shaky camera work, but I was grateful just to document it. - Bill

Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 24".

5/4/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 24" of ice. It is raining today, so the rainfall is seeping down through the porous ice sheet, which is causing more damage to the ice than meets the eye.

This morning, everything was covered with a thin sheet of ice from freezing rain overnight. - Bill

5/3/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: No change with ice depth at 24". It may have actually added a little ice and had definitely firmed up with this little cold snap we're experiencing. It is actually snowing lightly as I write this.

The forecast shows dramatic warming in the near future, so don't lose hope. I still think the ice will go fast once the temperatures swing back up. - Bill

5/2/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 24" of ice. We had freezing temperatures overnight, but the predicted snow did not materialize. The lake surface is frozen hard enough to walk on this morning. - Bill

Sawbill Lake Ice Thickness Technicians Leif Gilsvik and Tyler Campbell are bundled up for their work on the cold, windy lake this morning.

The continuing ice situation is starting to get to Leif.

A pair of Common Mergansers (aka the Sawbill Duck) wait hopefully in the open water by Sawbill Creek. The male Mergansers are only here for the brief mating season, then they continue north, leaving the females to incubate the eggs and raise the ducklings. Photo by Luke Opel.

Purple finches add a splash of color to the early spring landscape. Photo by Luke Opel.

Redwing blackbird coming in for a landing. Photo by Luke Opel.

5/1/13 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice report: 24" of ice with no snow, slush or standing water. This means that the ice is porous enough that the standing water has sunk into the ice sheet and the warm weather yesterday knocked the slush on top down to nothing.

The Sawbill Lake ice measuring technicians report that the top 6" of ice is seriously degraded a compared to the 18" under that.

Yesterday, Luke Opel was photographing some canoes that we are putting up for sale when the snow on the roof of the store slid off in one large sheet. - Bill




Current Sawbill Newsletter | « April 2013 | June 2013 »

Home I Trip Planning I Rentals and Outfitting I Reservations I Campgrounds I Sawbill Store I Sawbill News I Contact

© 1997 - 2018, Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, Inc. I Privacy Policy