West End News May 19

Paddling season ramps up for the year at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters
Paddling season ramps up for the year at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters

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Here is an update on the ongoing mystery of the disappearing campers here at Sawbill. A couple of week ago, before the ice went out, a car appeared on the parking lot with a canoe on top. The people were nowhere to be found for several days. Eventually, they returned and drove away without checking in with us, so we figured that we’d never know where they went. But, thanks to Josh Dawson, who works the front desk at the Tofte Ranger District, we now know where they went. Josh was issuing a wilderness entry permit to a couple this week when they mentioned that they had tried to canoe out of Sawbill in early May, but ended up hiking instead of canoeing. Josh quickly deduced that these were the mystery people and found out that they had hiked up the shore of Sawbill Lake to a campsite that is about two miles up. This is no easy hike, as they had to not only crash through thick brush in rough terrain, but also had to wade through knee-deep snowdrifts in some places. Of course, Josh is ethically bound not to reveal their names, but he encouraged them to stop at Sawbill after their latest trip to give us a first-hand report.

Opening of fishing was windy and cold, but on the whole better for weather than the usual. There were some good fishing reports from around the county, but in the Sawbill area fishing was very slow. I only heard about a handful of small northerns being landed. Truth be known, the serious fisher persons hold off until early June when fishing success is much more reliable.

One the Friday before the opener, we rented three solo canoes to three young men from the Twin Cities. Only one of the three was an experienced paddler and he had never paddled a solo canoe before. They launched from the Sawbill canoe landing into the teeth of a pretty stiff north wind. When they reached the middle of the lake, the farthest they could get from any shore, the leader swamped his canoe. The water temperature couldn’t have been much above freezing. His inexperienced friends were at a loss about what to do. At this time of year, his predicament was very serious. In water that cold, you only have a few minutes before hypothermia starts to set in.

Fortunately, Zoe Hartzell and Dave Taft, two young people also from the Twin Cities, were on the landing preparing to launch out on a 10-day canoe trip. Zoe is a veteran of Camp Widjiwagan, the excellent canoe camping program in Ely. She had been trained numerous times in canoe rescue techniques and is also has been trained as a wilderness first responder. She and Dave hopped in their canoe and raced out to the middle of the lake and had the freezing swimmer in their canoe in the blink of an eye. They paddled back to the landing where I met them to take the young man up to our house for a hot shower, dry clothes and hot chocolate. But, just at that moment, we heard a shout and turned to see that another of the solo canoes had swamped. Zoe and Dave jumped back in the their canoe and in just a few minutes we had both soggy men in the shower and their clothes in the dryer. Zoe herself had gotten pretty wet and cold during her rescue efforts, so she came up and changed to dry clothes and drank some hot chocolate. Zoe and Dave soon departed for their adventure in the wilderness, but the three solo canoeists were so discouraged that they headed home.

Congratulations to Maybelle Skou of Schroeder, who turned 100 year old on May 12. She was rightfully honored by family and friends at a recent gathering. Years ago, Maybelle’s husband Ed did mechanical work for most people on the West End. Ed was a true mechanical genius. Not only could he fix anything – and I mean anything – but he could also invent solutions if needed. His garage still stands in Schroeder, although it’s in pretty tough shape now. When I drove by it the other day it occurred to me that it should be put on the register of historic places. Such was Ed’s fame back in the day.

One more quick reminder of the “Gala for the Grove” benefit for the Birch Grove School in Tofte. The event includes a gourmet dinner, auction and dance at Surfside on Lake Superior in Tofte. It is coming up this Saturday, May 21 and I know it is almost sold out. Contact Diane or Lisa at Birch Grove to inquire about tickets or if you have an item for the auction or if you would like to just give a donation. They can be reached at 663-0170 or birchgrove@boreal.org.

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