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Email: info@sawbill.com
Phone: (218)663-7150
Fax: (218)663-7980
Mail: 4620 Sawbill Trail
Box 2129
Tofte, MN 55615


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Sawbill Newsletter

4/23/14 - Today's ice measurement on Sawbill Lake was 27". It's steady progress, although the forecast is calling for 3" of snow tomorrow.

One of our favorite Sawbill canoeists, Dale Benham, from Lincoln, Nebraska, sent along the video below. Dale is a professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University where he teaches a seminar called "The Necessity of Wilderness." In 2012, his class took a couple of GoPRo cameras on their Sawbill canoe trip. - Bill


Follow this link: http://www.wildernesslas.com/ if you're curious about the seminar.

4/22/14 - Finally, some progress! Today's Sawbill Lake ice measurement is 29". - Bill

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Jessica "Hammer" Hemmer, fifth year Sawbill crew member, starts the '14 "summer" season by drilling a hole in the ice.

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A sure sign of spring is the annual migration of new canoes from Winona, MN to Sawbill.

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Crew member Leif Gilsvik uses his full height to finesse a Wenonah 17 off the top rack.

4/21/14 - This morning's ice measurement on Sawbill Lake remains 31". However, the surface snow has now become mostly slush and the ice is obviously more degraded. Two days in a row of temperatures in the mid-50s have taken a toll.


Our great friend, Jerry Vandiver, was kind enough to share this video of his performance at the Canoecopia show in Madison last month. Enjoy. - Bill

4/18/14 - I'm starting to lose faith in the arrival of spring. There is 31" of ice on Sawbill Lake today. - Bill

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Here is the scene on the walk down to the lake this morning.

Here is this week's edition of the Cook County West End News from WTIP-FM, North Shore Community Radio.

4/17/28 - 28" is today's Sawbill Lake ice measurement. I don't think we've lost any ice overnight. The bottom of the ice sheet undulates, so you can get several inches of variation depending on the where you drill the hole. - Bill

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4" of new snow overnight. Spring seems far away today, but things change fast at this time of year.

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Phoebe, Chief of Outfitter Security, is an enthusiastic helper in the daily ice thickness test.

4/16/14 - Here is the sweetest essay from Matthew Campbell about a canoe trip he took last summer with his brother, Sawbill crew member Tyler Campbell.

Last summer i went on a three day trip into the boundary waters with my brother Tyler. My brother works at a campground in Tofte Minnesota, the campground is named Sawbill. Sawbill is a wonderful place that my family has been enjoying for many years. We make sure we go at least once a summer. My brother has been going to Sawbill since he was a very little child, all of my siblings have. This is a magical place. Its a getaway spot for my family that relaxes the mind,soul and body. Its a place for family and fun and getting away from the stresses of daily life. It is a place to get in touch with nature and it really makes me think about my life. It is a place with many memories.

Like i said i went on a three day trip into the boundary waters with Tyler. When we first planned this trip my other brother, Ben, was supposed to come with us but he was unable to make it because he had hockey. Just before we had finished packing Tyler and I decided we were going the take the Kawasachong river up past Malberg down River lake to see some pictographs. We also decided not to stay on one lake the whole time but instead pick a new site each night. It was set to be a great adventure.

We started our voyage on Lake Kawishiwi, a twenty minute drive from Sawbill Lake. It was a cloudy overcast day with a chance of rain, but nothing could get in the way of having a great trip with my brother. We paddled hard for hours through rain, fog, and a tiny bit of sun. When we finally got to Lake Phoebe where we were planning to stay. We went all around Lake Phoebe checking out all of the sites hoping to find an open one, but to no avail. We had to paddle a little bit farther to Lake Polly where we settled in for the night. My rain jacket had kept my arms and torso dry but i forgot my rain pants so my legs were soaked to the bone, i felt 20 pounds heavier because of all the rainwater.

The campsite we found sat on a gently sloping hill with a gigantic rock at the base that extended far into the water it looked like it went on forever reaching into the deepest depths of the water and acted as a landing of sorts for canoes to load and unload. About fifteen yards from the rock was a tiny island with a small pine tree and two baby poplars. It was more of a rock than an island. The space in between the rock and the the island would have been perfect for fishing if the weather had permitted it. The hill the site was on had two natural banks in it. On the lower bank there was a small fire box, about the size of a shoebox surrounded by furniture made of logs and big rocks. The upper was a perfect spot to hang our tarp and set up the "kitchen". To the left of the lower bank was a small, circular area, shaded by a multitude of trees, for our yellow , three man, Eureka tent. After unpacking our green Duluth Packs the first thing we did was put up the tarp. Next we set up the tent and by then it was time for dinner. We scarfed down a dinner of Hamburger Helper and hot chocolate as fast as possible because we had not eaten anything but trailmix that whole day. I think its amazing how food seems to taste better when you are so hungry you could eat a horse. After washing the dishes Tyler hung the pack so the bear wouldn't get it while i brushed my team and made sure nothing was left out in the rain.

I hopped into the tent and whipped off my soaked clothes and put them at the base of my camp mattress so i could stuff it to the bottom of my Sealpack in the morning. Tyler climbed in through the other side and did the same. We each grabbed our books, I was reading The Hobbit and he was reading Walden. After maybe ten minutes of quiet reading I heard a shuffling a little ways from the tent followed by a low grunt. I wasn't sure if something had actually grunted or if i was hearing things so I didn’t say anything to Tyler and I continued to read. About a minute later i heard the same shuffling and grunting, this time i put my book down and listened to the silence of the night straining to hear the sound again but I couldn’t and just to clarify that i wasn't losing my mind i turned to Tyler and asked in a hushed tone "Did you hear that?" he set Walden down and replied "Hear what?" He had just confirmed that i was in fact going crazy. I said "Nothing...nevermind." Two minutes after that i heard it again but Tyler had confirmed that i was paranoid so i ignored it. This time Tyler put his book down and whispered "Matthew!" He had surprised me with his sudden shout of a whisper and i jumped and whipped my head to him and replied in the same tone "What?" "Did you hear that?" He craned his neck to listen for it "That grunt?" he turned to me and smiled. He said "Matthew, I think we have a bear in our campsite." Before your trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) you must watch a video that tells you the basics of what you must do, in the video there is a circumstance where a bear enters a site and the two campers bang their pots together to scare off the black beast, but we didn't have anything to clang together. I wish i could have seen how wide my eyes were when I looked at my brother and asked whispered "what do we do??" my reaction only made him smile wider and chuckle to himself. My eyes widened not because i was scared but because I was excited. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I got really pumped because its not everyday that you get to be this close to a bear. He thought for a second and said "while we need to make noise to scare him away I’ll read from my book." I set The Hobbit down and fell asleep listening to my brother read a very lengthy description of a pond to a bear.

I woke up the second day to the pitter patter of rain over my head. I sat still listening to the ratta tat tat of rain on my tent as a waited for Tyler to wake up and watched the drops of water streak down the rain fly, when i watch then i like to think are racing. Tyler woke up and we got dressed trying to delay getting wet for as long as possible but it was inevitable. We rushed to take down the food pack and prepare a breakfast of instant oatmeal and hot chocolate. "Well are we going to pack up and move on or just day trip to the pictographs?" I asked even though I already knew the answer "We can pack up now and see the pictographs today and stay on malberg tonight and then paddle back in the morning tomorrow or we can stay here and see the pictographs today or we can just paddle around and not go to the pictographs. Its up to you." "Since its raining i think we should keep camp here and paddle to see the pictographs now." "Okay do you still want to go fishing on Koma?" Tyler asked because i had been talking about fishing all trip long and Koma is a great lake for catching walleye "I would love too if this rain would ever let up" i chuckled. He brushed his light brown dreadlocks out off his face and scratched his his tiredly. "Alright lets bring lunch in the small bag and hang the big pack. You get the paddles and lifejackets I'll get the food." "Sounds good."

Tyler pushed us off the big rock into the water, rippling from a heavy drizzle of rain. There was a breeze blowing directly in our faces as we paddled hard towards the portage to Koma Lake. We canoed through Polly and Koma easily but then we had to row all the way up the long narrow Lake Malberg. By the time we took a break on the portage to Malberg the wind and rain had both picked up to make a nasty combination to be traveling in. "Do you want to go back now?" Tyler asked, rain dripping off his barely visible, scruffy, blond beard. "No we made it half way lets push on." He looked at me with doubt that i would make it all the way. "Okay lets get going." We made it to the last portage of the day, through a whipping wind with horizontal rain biting into my skin like needles. This last portage was a long one with parts that had knee deep swampy water. "Are you sure you want to keep going?" he asked "I don't know" "well its up to you Matthew." "lets go back." "alright." I felt terrible. i had looked forward to this trip for weeks and seeing pictographs was one of the coolest things and now I was turning around because i was too weak to continue. We stopped at a campsite on Malberg to have lunch. The campsite was on a huge rock that was more like a cliff than a boulder. The rock would have been great for jumping into the water if the weather had allowed it. We ate a lunch of refried beans on a quesadilla with cheese and salami. It tasted much better than it looked. We paddled through Koma and fished a little but it was pointless because nothing would bite in this terrible rain.

When we got back to camp we got the food pack down and snacked on red licorice while Tyler read and i just sat on a log and thought about nature. It's not often that anyone takes the time out of their busy life to just sit and appreciate nature. That is the reason i love the BWCA, it really allows you to connect with mother nature and calms the soul. Tyler started dinner and I approached him. "Can i make a fire?" I asked him. "Sure! matches are in a ziplock bag in the food pack, you know what wood to pick right?" "Yes only wrist sized pieces that are dry and dead." "Alright go ahead." I gathered firewood and started the fire. It was a challenge to start it with what i had. the rain had ceased so we could finally eat and warm ourselves and dry our wet sandals. After we ate we sat around the fire, feeding it wood until we ran out. We talked. Tyler smoked one of his honey scented cigars, the pine smelling smoke from the fire mingled with the smoke from his cigar creating a delicious smell that relaxed me. The reason I had looked forward to this trip so much is because my brother Tyler was twenty-four. I was thirteen. He moved out of the house when he was eighteen and spent as little time at home as possible before that. I was seven when he left. I never really got to spend any time with him when I was little like my brother Ben did. For as well as I knew him my parents could have just found a bum on the streets and told me I was related to him and i would have believed them. This was the first time I had spent time with him. And this night in particular was my favorite night i have spent with him. Around the fire talking about adult things. Almost as if we were equals. It was the first time we had really connected. I am the youngest of four children. My closest sibling is ben who is six years older than me, next is Katie ten years older than me and then Tyler at eleven years older than me. Katie was only a year younger but i was a lot closer to her. Tyler was my role model when i was little, I wanted to be like him sooooooo much because he was the coolest. I tried to spend as much time as I could when i was younger, he loved music I just happened to love to listen to the same music he did, he lifted weights and i asked him if I could try. I must have been like the annoying puppy he never wanted but he was still a great brother. This night, around the fire, was one of two moments that I had really felt like his brother instead of a little kid he had to see sometimes. I went to bed that night with the biggest smile I have ever had.

Sawbill Lake ice was 31" thick again today. At least it hasn't added any thickness. - Bill

4/15/14 - Today's Sawbill Lake ice measurement is 31". There was very little progress yesterday. The high temperature was 25F and the low was 13F. The sun did provide a little melting, despite the cold temperatures.

Here are some pictures taken by ice measurement crew this morning:

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First the bad news. The Sawbill store still looks like the middle of winter, except for the snow being shed from the metal roof.

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Now the good news. Sawbill Creek is wide open, which is a major indicator of impending spring.

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Leif Gilsvik hanging out on the old, abandoned bridge across Sawbill Creek.

4/14/14 -
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Today's Sawbill Lake ice measurement was 33". A cold snap is definitely slowing down the melting today.

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This very fresh wolf scat was near the canoe landing this morning. It made Roy very nervous.

4/13/14 - Today's ice measurement on Sawbill Lake is 31".

4/12/14 - Today's ice measurement is 35" with the top 6" highly degraded and honeycombed. The first ice-out lakes have been reported in southern Minnesota. We are usually about a month later, but it depends entirely on the weather.

We had a nice visit the other day from the new interns at North House Folk School. Former crew member, Jessa Frost, is the program director at North House and Sawbill's own Cindy Hansen works there part time. If you're interested in traditional crafts, you will love North House. - Bill

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(Front to back) Emily Derke and Mary Cowen - NH interns, Leif Gilsvik, Jessa Frost, Austin Kennedy - NH intern, and the ever graceful Cindy Hansen. Photo by Nils John Anderson.

4/11/14 - The first measurement on the countdown to ice-out on Sawbill Lake was taken yesterday. 33" of ice was the official reading.

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Sawbill crew member Leif Gilsvik puts his back into it for the first daily ice measurement leading to the open water season. Photo by Nils John Anderson.

That said, we've lost at least half our snow pack in the last few days. A high sun, warm winds and temps near 50 have all taken a toll. I estimate an average snow depth of about 18", down form nearly 40" at the beginning of the week. - Bill

4/8/14 - Cindy and I took our first extended vacation over the last couple of weeks. We wisely chose to head far enough south that we missed the last several blasts of this bitter Minnesota winter of 2014.

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Here is what we had to put up with while the blizzards were raging at home. That's me in the chair to the far right. I think I was napping at the time. - Bill

Here are some recent Cook County West End News from WTIP-FM, North Shore Community Radio:
West End News: March 20th
West End News: March 27th
West End News: April 3rd

In a few days we'll start the daily Sawbill Lake ice report.

3/18/14 - Here are a couple of pictures to prove that both we and winter are still alive at Sawbill. - Bill

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The classic, non-flattering selfie, including a bit of lunch stuck in my teeth.

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For this whole long winter Sawbill Lake has had deep, soft snow covering almost universal slush. Finally, the freeze/thaw cycle is allowing us to get out on the lake to wander around and play with Roy and Phoebe.

Here are the last four editions of the Cook County West End News from WTIP, North Shore Community Radio:

West End News: March 13th
West End News: March 6th
West End News: February 27th
West End News: February 20th

3/4/14 - Jerry Vandiver is a successful Nashville songwriter, dedicated wilderness canoeist and friend of Sawbill.

Jerry has recently released his second CD of canoe camping themed songs, "Every Scratch Tells A Story." The CD begins with the song "My Wilderness Journey." While Jerry was recording the song, he cut an alternate version called "My Sawbill Journey" (click on title to listen).

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If you are inspired by Jerry's Sawbill journey to share a picture or short video of your Sawbill journey, email it to me and Jerry will produce a YouTube video of the best pictures set to the song.

By the way, Jerry is perfoming with his "One Match Band" at Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Sawbill's guides, Amy and Dave Freeman are also speaking at Canoecopia. - Bill

2/28/14 - Our fabulous guides, Dave and Amy Freeman, were featured today in Minneapolis Star Tribune article.

 


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