BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 22 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1498 feet
Ram Lake - 44
Spring??? in the Misquah hills
May 25, 2018
Number of Days:
Having spent the previous night in one of their bunkhouses, after packing up, we now walk over to the beautiful & historic Clearwater Lodge to grab breakfast. This building is an absolute MUST SEE (at least once) for anyone/everyone who ventures up the Gunflint Trail. It is a National Historic Landmark and the original proprietors, Charlie & Petra Boostrom, were the first to see the potential of the area for wilderness tourists. Inside the lodge, the unique diamond willow furniture and stone fireplace give an added north woods feel to this awesome structure. There is even an interpretive aspect; detailing the Boostrom's life here at the lodge, as well as, some of the other owners and an overall history of the place.
After breakfast we walk over to the outfitting building to pick up our permit for Ram Lake EP #44. A strange, but welcome, irony is that the man working at the outfitters just exited from Ram Lake yesterday and informs us that all the campsites on Little Trout Lake (our hopeful destination) were occupied. Good to know.
Lima Mountain road (152) is nearly over run with rabbits as we slowly navigate our way back to the Ram Lake EP parking lot. At the intersection of the Lima grade, we take a left and drive south west. (An interesting side bar - This road used to be part of the old logging railroad that ran all the way up to Rose Lake.) There isn't any signs or anything and we motor right past the parking lot. Fortunately we notice the err of our ways immediately after passing by. There is a tiny sign that is barely noticeable if coming from the other (NE) direction.
There's room for about 7-8 vehicles here, and we take note that there are 4 cars still here now. Coupling this with the recent intel our outfitter gave us about Little Trout we decide that, if we don't see anyone camped on Ram Lake, we'll grab a site there versus risking full occupancy on Little Trout and having to backtrack. Because we definitely are not gonna undertake the monster portage into Misquah Lake - or, perhaps, even further. Especially since the lone camp on that beautiful lake is a very undesirable site.
It's gray and gloomy and the humidity is sky high but, it's not supposed to rain. We set off down the trail with our first loads, excited to start our latest adventure. From the parking lot a well worn gravel path rolls up & down a few small knobs before abruptly morphing into a grueling boulder laden ascent, virtually the whole way up to Ram Lake. At one spot there is even a short stone staircase to aid in the climb. Just after officially entering into the wilderness the trail drops steeply down on another unique stone staircase that terminates at the small bouldery landing on Ram Lake. The combination of this challenging trail, bulging packs, high humidity, advancing age & first portage of the year conspire to wear us down rather quickly.
There is a clearly visible school of suckers sloshing/spawning around just out from shore as we load up. The skies are beginning to open up, increasing the heat index. Much like most designated trout lakes, Ram has a definite alpine feel with high hills rising up around the perimeter of this gin clear basin of water. Aurora wants to paddle so I give her my double blade as we head for the apparently unoccupied site in the NE corner of the lake. Indeed, it is empty, but even from shore it doesn't overly impress any of us as we change course and head for the other site.
Pre-trip planning had indicated that the western peninsula site is the better of the two on the lake. As we paddle up; we agree with that assessment and since this site is also vacant, per our pre-portaging discussion, we decide to call this home for the next few days.
Since the lake drops off rather quickly, the boulder strewn landing is quite manageable. There isn't a real convenient spot for canoe storage but, the fire grate area is nice and there are a couple of nice tent pads. Deciding to use the one nearest the shoreline for our kitchen, I set the CCS tarp up over the extra log seating provided there. My two favorite canoe country trees are white pine & cedar. This site is blessed with several mature specimens of both species that provide optimal shade, cover and multiple hammock options; while supplying an all inclusive carpet of pine duff flooring keeping the grass and brush (i.e. less bugs) to a minimum.
While Vickie & I get camp setup, Aurora entertains herself by catching frogs and exploring our nearby surroundings. The trail to the latrine is quite steep but, relatively easy exploration of the surrounding forest lures our curious child and she discovers that there is a bird nest up in one of the trees along the way and she also finds a cedar tree growing over the top of a large boulder.
Having arrived, and gotten camp completely setup, so early we decide to go out for a paddle. Aurora hooks into something fairly quickly but, it ends up spitting the hook before she gets it back to the canoe. Afternoon fishing proves to be quite tough, as Aurora's near miss is our only glimmer of hope, so our minds begin to wander.
Since we're so close anyways, we pull off to the NE campsite to take a look see. The tiny constricted landing is difficult to negotiate and there is a decent climb up to the site proper. The fire grate is sloped and cobbled with little in the way of log seating but, it does offer a great view of the lake from this elevated perch. A nice canopy of mature white pines provide a warm sheltered feel and there are a couple really nice flat tent pads. It's a fair site but, we definitely prefer ours.
Back in our camp, relaxing in the shade provided by our CCS tarp,we take a break from the humidity and enjoy our supper of porterhouse steaks and potatoes. In what for us is an unheard of occurrence on a day one of a trip; (after dishes are done) for the second time today, we venture out in the canoe for another crack at fishing and exploring.
The mayflies are hatching and we are constantly seeing trout surfacing to gobble them up. Unfortunately, I don't have tackle that corresponds and again we don't have much luck. Our original plan had been to make it back to Little Trout Lake. Obviously that didn't happen today but, we're determined to get there tomorrow or the next day. So, in a bit of a reconnaissance mission, we decide to hike the trail to Kroft Lake; which originates a short distance north behind our camp.
There is a large semi-flat boulder here that serves as a makeshift dock. The trail climbs up out of Ram over occasional rocks and roots. There are several twists and turns and a few minor ups and downs along the way. At about the mid point there is a nice cedar tree just off the trail, and there are some nice ones at the Kroft Lake end near where the diminutive brook exits this murky lake. (These somewhat remind me of the ones on French Lake at the portage into Seahorse Lake.) This end is muddy but, still has a few boulders to contend with and is already quite buggy.
Back in camp, the humidity finally begins to relent and Vickie decides to bake some muffins. Of course that means there will be dirty dishes to clean. Fortunately for us, Aurora has become quite adept at cleaning the bowl & spoon. :)
A warm partly cloudy morning greets us as we crawl out of the tent. Aurora tries her luck fishing from shore while Vickie & I get breakfast going. Our plan is to eventually travel to Little Trout Lake later this morning.
Mercifully the mosquitoes are still not at the peak of their powers as we cross over to Kroft Lake. There is some interesting colorful moss clinging to the steep rocky shoreline (near the portage) of this otherwise low lying lake. Even though it's still May, the weeds are already beginning to choke the surface of this shallow waterway.
At the far western end of Kroft, our next portage into Rum Lake is easily located. This portage is much more forgiving than the others we have crossed thus far. Only a gentle rise over a decent path that sports an occasional muddy spot.
The high rising far shoreline of the western end of Rum Lake indicates that will not be the case for our next portage. As we approach or next portage we paddle past a diminutive, though pretty, island. While still a good distance out from shore, we perceive that the only likely spot for a landing is a mass pile of shoreline boulders. Sure enough, this is the portage! While, the unload isn't quite as cumbersome as at first predicted, it's still a bit of a scramble over the mess of boulders.
Even though the sheer volume of boulders decreases as one enters the woods, the traverse doesn't necessarily get any easier as the trail begins it's steep ascent up and over to Little Trout. As we near Little Trout the trail tapers off a bit just before reaching another boulder laden landing on this lake. Although, I will say, this one is a bit more accommodating.
Shoving off, we paddle west. No sooner do we pass by the islands, when Aurora reels in a nice lake trout. The clouds are also beginning to clear off and, for the time, we have a marvelous time paddling around this majestic lake. The massive white pines that are lightly peppered around the high hills that rim the lake provide a beautifully stark contrast to the soft pastel of the multitude of deciduous trees that dominate the forest. It is enticing views such as this that scintillate the sensory palette and create such a beautiful wilderness backdrop.
For the time being, it appears that Little Trout Lake is all ours. As there is no one to be seen in any direction. Eventually we pull off to the campsite closest to the daunting portage into Misquah Lake. In my opinion, none of the campsites on Little Trout are anything too spectacular. Which is another reason we decided to pull up short yesterday. Never the less, this site offers a bit of room to roam as Aurora and I play hide and seek while Vickie prepares a quick Mac & cheese lunch.
Back on the lake, I eventually discern that rapalas seem to be the winning ticket (lure)for today and get everybody switched over. We have fun reeling in a few more lake trout and decide to keep one for supper. Of course we were quite concerned when she first asked but, Aurora is even able to deftly (without impaling one of her parents) cast her line while sitting in the canoe. Not sure where she picked up those skills? But, maybe all this camping stuff is just naturally wearing off on her? Amidst all this excitement the weather has taken a turn for the worse, with dark clouds massing on the distant horizon. So, we pull into the vacant island camp to hunker down - if necessary.
While waiting out the weather, we notice some people at the portage in from Rum. We wave them over and tell them they can have this site if they want, as we are just waiting for the weather to break. We proceed to have a very enjoyable half hour visit with this nice couple from Madison, Wisconsin. The fearsome clouds pass by without releasing much in the way of rain so, we head back out on the lake for a short while after the skies clear - and then, begin the journey back to camp.
We encounter our first bit of navigational confusion after paddling back across Rum Lake. The portage to Kroft is not where our maps say it should be. A rain shower soaks us while we reconnoiter. While we duck out of the rain, I pull out my GPS and check our location. We're right on top of what is supposed to be the landing! After the brief shower relents, we hop back in the canoe and paddle to the extreme eastern edge of the lake where we find the landing. (My GPS,and all maps I've seen, show this landing in the wrong spot. Since the lake is reasonably small it's not that big of a deal. But, if you're in the area, a good rule of thumb would be to paddle to the absolute extreme eastern edge of the lake to find this landing.)
At least the rain helps to cool things down for awhile. Making it back to camp without further incident we set about preparing Aurora's trout for supper. It deliciously supplements our seasoned pork loin and, the hammock is a life saver for this over stuffed Dad.
It's another quiet, peaceful evening around the campfire as we enjoy some relief from the heat & humidity. I wonder aloud about the fact that Little Trout Lake was vacant when we had arrived today. Perhaps we should have pushed on yesterday???
Another unseasonably warm morning dawns, with high humidity to boot. Our breakfast conversation revolves around our travel plans. In the final analysis, we decide to stay on Ram Lake and keep (relatively) close to camp.
Yet again, fishing on Ram proves to be unfruitful. Much like her mother, Aurora has developed a curiosity for finding unique rocks. So, having spied some neat ones at the portage landing (on our way in), we paddle over to do some closer investigation.
Finding a few we eventually begin wandering north up the shoreline towards the campsite there. At the peak of the shoreline ridge we come across a well worn trail. Our maps show nothing of the sort, nor had I heard anything about this is planning the trip. Soon we stumble upon a pipe sticking out of the ground, which I surmise is some sort of water gauge. As we continue to work our way northward, it becomes obvious that the trail will lead us to the campsite - which it does.
Backtracking, the trail leads us all the way back to the top of the stone staircase at the portage landing. We notice that the trail also runs south as well, so we set off that way.
This path is much more overgrown but, still relatively easy to follow. And, where it does become a little confusing there always seems to be a tape trail marker hanging from a nearby branch. This really peaks our curiosity as we follow the trail southward around the lake. Along the way there's even a marginal over view of the lake, and different colors of old tape; indicating this trail has been here for awhile.
Just as the vegetation along the trail is becoming a bit too dense for comfort, totally surprisingly we emerge into an opening where there is a 15-20' swath of open forest running in both directions! We follow it right down to the lake and begin to take note of the remnant shrub and small tree stumps throughout the swath. It resembles what you might see along/under a power line. It appears that this swath terminates at the most southern point of Ram Lake. Knowing that the wilderness boundary is very close to the lake, initially I think that perhaps a private landowner has cut this. But, after hiking back up the hill and seeing just how far the swath extends....I'm of the opinion that this was more than just a short little bushwhack and required either a lot of man power or some heavy machinery. And more likely the later. Needless to say, we are stumped (pun intended) as to it's origins or reason for it's existence.
Having gathered up a King's ransom in birch bark, after we hike back to the landing we cross paths with a group of 5 young men who look completely exhausted. They inform us that Little Trout was full the day we entered and, more importantly for them, the day before (which was their entry date) as well. They wound up having to portage all the way to Vista Lake and had to settle for the crumby site in the north western arm. Also, they didn't have much good to say about the Little Trout - Misquah portage.
Our CCS tarp affords us some shade which provides a welcome measure of relief from the heat of the day. Both Vickie & I exhaustively conclude that we must be getting too old for this stuff until we turn on the weather radio and find out that the temperature has soared into the 90's! One of the primary facets of why we prefer May & September/October tripping is the cooler temperatures. Obviously we miss out this trip but, considering how stormy our past couple of spring trips have been, I guess the law of averages would have suggested weather like this. At least Aurora has enough energy to give our local frog population a run for it's money.
Aurora's persistence compels both Vickie & I (each in turn) to join her on an exploratory hikes back behind camp. While the site proper, near the lake shore, is flat; behind camp the terrain has a pretty good incline. The trade off is that, since there are several large white pines in the immediate vicinity, the pine duff keeps the brush a weeds to a minimum making exploration much easier. Still the humidity wears us 'older' folks down rather quickly.
We spend the remainder of our last evening relaxing and soaking in the relatively quiet peacefulness of our surroundings. The only real excitement of the evening comes when a pair of bald eagles perch just across the small bay and fight over a fish. At least someone had some luck fishing on Ram Lake this weekend.
As evening falls, Aurora has thoughtfully taken the time to create an early Father's Day card for me; using the resources we had gathered from the forest earlier today.
Another exceedingly warm day. Since we only have one portage today, we are in no hurry. The portage out affords a breathtaking view of Lima Mountain off in the distance, as the full splendor of the Misquah hills are unveiled across this rolling landscape. It's picturesque scenes like this that make this area so visually appealing, yet, also contributes to why so many people stay away - due to the steep terrain/difficulty of the portages.
Vickie & Aurora both grab a few more rocks before loading up. We use the south Brule road to hook back up with the Gunflint Trail. From there we head to Sven & Ole's for pizza & cold drinks. And since it's still quite early, much to the girls delight, we spend some time in Grand Marais shopping and browsing at some of the craft stores.
Another favorite post trip stop for me is Caribou Falls (just south of Schroeder). The parking lot has just been enlarged and improved with pavement and a pit toilet. The trails have also been widened. Usually this falls has been largely overlooked, since it's not in a State Park but, I suspect these new improvements will add to it's popularity.
Obviously the weather was a quite a bit warmer than we would have hoped for on a spring trip and, we didn't get to camp on Little Trout Lake. But, I think we still managed to make the most of the cards we were dealt and I thank God for allowing me to spend some quality time with the people I love most in the area (BWCAW) I love most. Although...., I'm still intrigued by the trail cut through the woods on Ram Lake.