Posted by: Bearskin | June 6, 2009

Erik’s Journal: Savanna Portage 5/24/09 – 5/27/09

5/24/09 Day #33   28 – 6 5º    Wind  Calm   Sunny / Savanna Portage

Awoke at 5:00 AM in a near hypothermic – hallucination state, hearing an undefined yet wonderful symphony-like chorus in surround sound.  Focusing to shake my confusion, I realized that the beautiful sounds were trumpeter swans singing at dawn. 

Determining my location, I navigated by compass, bushwhacking west-southwest through thick brush. This was the end of the six-mile long portage trail, although today unidentifiable and completely overgrown.  So thick was the brush that I would drop my canoe and packs at 20 foot intervals, leapfrogging the outfit to maintain direction.  I always left Kitigan to guard the food pack, given the abundance of bear sign, fresh tracks and scat. 

Entering Savanna Portage State Park

Entering Savanna Portage State Park

At 9 AM, after 4 hours of “crashing,” I came upon a ditch that I recognized as the eastern end of the maintained portion of the Savanna portage.  Here I breakfasted  and dried gear before resuming the long carry.  I double-packed, double-carried until dark, camping at the Continental Divide, 4 miles into the portage but 12 miles of actual distance covered due to the double-carry.  Hundreds of wood ticks, dozens of deer ticks, mosquitoes thick.

5/25/09 Day#34 40 – 55  Wind Calm  Overcast  Continental Divide  Finished remaining two miles of Savanna Portage.  Very sore and tired but in good shape overall.

5/26/09 Day #35  40-55  Light Rain  Rest Day  Layover day at Savanna Portage State Park.  Kitigan and I both slept well.

5/27/09 Day #36  Big Sandy  45-60  Wind NE 5-15 mph  Cloudy  Resumed travel down West Savanna Creek, Prairie Flowage, and across Big Sandy Lake.  Portaged around US Army Corps of Engineers dam and paddled down Sandy River 1 mile to confluence of Mississippi River, then up this mighty river.  Made 15 miles.  Saw a lot of geese, ducks, turtles, herons, beavers and eagles.  Mississippi River has high water and powerful fast current.  Poled upriver along bank more than paddled.  A terrific feeling to have crossed the Savanna Portage/Continental Divide and enter the Mississippi River. 

Paddled 250 miles from start, 750 miles to go!

** Historical Note:  According to local historian Larry Luukkonen, author of Between the Waters, the last officially recorded excursion to complete the Northwest Trail (Lake Superior to Mississippi River via Savanna Portage) in a birch bark canoe was made in 1878 by Minnesota State Geologist Newton H. Winchell, 131 years ago.  Very few others have traveled this route since that time.

Erik, after crossing the complete Savanna Portage.

Erik, after crossing the complete Savanna Portage.



  1. Erik walks, canoes and dogsleds where few people roam.

    A true frontiersman in this day and age of posers and slackards.

  2. Great Job Erik.

  3. What a great accomplishment! Many years back my wife and I with our two children camped in the SP State Park. New to MN at the time, I didn’t realize it’s importance. Have since visited the portage at Portage, WI, which served a similar function but later, I think, than the MN site.

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