BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 29 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1673 feet
Clearwater Lake - 62
Clearwater Lake With My Wife
August 11, 2010
Number of Days:
Tawney and I left Minnetonka at around noon with our boat in tow and headed for Clearwater Lodge off the Gunflint Trail. Made it through the traffic in Duluth without much of a problem. Once we got past Two Harbors the weather turned to fog and drizzle and by the time we turned onto the Gunflint Trail it was a steady light rain. We found Clearwater Lodge and checked in to our B&B room at around 6pm. What a beautiful place! Took a few minutes to explore the property and headed up to Trail Center for dinner just as the sun began to peek out from the clouds. Dinner was very good and we washed it down with a few beers before we headed back to the lodge. On the way back we stopped and made the short hike up to the top of Honeymoon Bluff to see the sunset. The panoramic view of several lakes was a nice way to end the day and to set the tone for the beauty of the next several days.
We woke up at around 7 and headed out to go for a walk. At 8 the lodge staff served us a hearty northwoods breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes, and toast. This was a great way to start our adventure. After breakfast we did a final check on all of our gear, fed Slim Jim (our 105 lb yellow lab) and headed to the entry point. The parking lot was packed with cars and we waited while another couple parked their car and got ready to launch their canoe. As I got ready to back down the ramp, the guy walked over to our truck. As it turns out it was Greg Busker (gbusk) from the BWCA.com site and we chatted for a few minutes before he and his wife pushed off from the landing. I finished putting the boat in the water and started to load up. Man, I’ve never had so much gear for a BWCA trip in my life! I have never brought a cooler on a canoe trip but it sure was nice to have along since I didn’t have to paddle or portage with it… I had to separate the trailer from the truck and park them in separate spots to allow us to park but we finally finished the job and pushed off. My balky old Johnson 9.9 HP motor took about 20 pulls to get it started but we were peacefully drifting in the light 5 mph breeze out of the west so we gave it not concern (this would not be the case on our exit). After about 2 miles we caught up with Mr and Mrs Gbusk and drifted for a moment to take a photo and discuss campsites before we headed off on our way. As we progressed down the lake we noticed that there were no open sites. This was a bit of a concern since the motorized permit does not allow you to portage to any other lakes. What would we do if there was nothing open? Finally, we found an open site on the northeast end of the lake between the Mountain and West Pike portages. It was an ok site for the two of us and Slim Jim but it would have been pretty tough for a larger group to make it work. The site had one tent pad which was kind of uneven and a decent kitchen/fire grate area but not much else. We set up the tent and tarp, fetched water for the Basecamp filter, and got some lunch ready. After lunch we headed out into the woods to gather firewood. Tawney got a ton of great kindling and birch bark and I worked on some of the larger logs with my Sven saw. Once all the wood was cut and stacked under the tarp, we put on our swimsuits and went in the lake for a nice refreshing dip. It was about 80 degrees and humid so it felt awesome to float around. After our swim we sat out in the warm sun on the rocks at the end of the point for the rest of the afternoon just talking and reading. As evening approached, I made a couple of vodka lemonade cocktails and got the coals going. We had a fantastic dinner of asparagus and New York Strips along with a couple of cups of Black Box Cabernet to wash it down. The day was capped off with a beautiful sunset, after which Tawney retired to the tent to read and I lingered by the campfire with another cocktail until around 10.
We awoke to overcast skies in the AM. The weather radio called for thunderstorms so we decided to take it easy. I made a delicious egg and cheese sandwich for each of us and we sat out on the point discussing what we felt like doing. After we finished the dishes the sky started to clear. We decided to take a boat ride up the lake to see if we could locate Gbusk and his wife. We had not noticed them pass by our site the previous afternoon so we figured that they must have found an open site that we did not see on our way down the lake. I went down to the boat to prime the motor and get all the life jackets, etc. while Tawney finished cleaning up around camp. Soon she arrived at the boat with Slim Jim and we hoisted the hulking beast into the boat and prepared to shove off. The motor was not cooperating. I must have pulled that dang cord about 80 times without even a sputter. I also noticed that the pull cord was beginning to show some serious fraying. It was about 1/3 frayed through! I revised my pulling tactic to shorten up on the rope. Luckily, the motor sputtered a few times and started shortly after that. We were off! Gbusk had mentioned that he would have a large green tarp so we looked at all the sites on the north side of the lake for his maroon canoe and green tarp. By the time we got up by the landing we figured that they must have portaged into Caribou or West Pike if there were no openings on Clearwater. We spent the next couple of hours casually exploring some of the bays and coves and taking some pictures of the amazing palisades and beautiful scenery as we puttered back towards camp. By this point the sky was clearing and a breeze had picked up so we tied up the boat and spent the afternoon swimming, gathering wood, reading and chatting. Around dinner time I mixed a couple of bloody mary’s and got the coals going on the fire. We cooked up some burgers and hung around the fire until the bugs came out and then we went out on the point where it was breezier and enjoyed another very nice sunset. It was obvious that a front was about to move through from the thick line of clouds coming in around sunset so we put the rainfly on the tent and went to sleep. The weather radio called for a chance of showers and sure enough it began to rain right after we got into the tent. I awoke at around 3AM and went outside the tent to pee. The rain had stopped and the sky was absolutely crystal clear. This was our chance to see the Perseid Meteor Shower! I woke Tawney and we walked down to the shore to scan the sky for meteors. What a gorgeous sky! We lingered on the rocks for about 30 minutes and saw around 25 or 30 shooting stars. I felt very fortunate to have seen this incredible sight.
We awoke to clear skies and immediately decided to take the opportunity to hike the Mountain portage to the Border Route Hiking Trail. Tawney and I scarfed down a couple of granola bars and I got the backpack ready and filled the water bottles. We loaded up our giant hound and shoved off for our adventure. I shortened up on the cord in order to avoid any further damage and was able to start the motor on about the 15th pull. Not too bad considering yesterday’s fiasco… We made the short motor to the Mountain portage in about 5 minutes and tied up the boat. The Mountain portage is a pretty steep uphill climb. Just as you crest the hill and start to be able to see the lake through the trees, the unmarked Border Route Trail intersects with the portage. We turned left and headed west along the trail. There was quite a bit of blowdown which I assume is from the July 4th 1999 storm and we saw quite a bit of wolf sign on the trail. I was glad that we had brought 3 liters of water. It was quite hot and the trail ascends and descends through the forest where the breeze is next to nonexistent. Slim Jim is a 100% house dog and, although he was quite enthusiastic at first, he began to fade as we climbed the final couple of hills to the Mountain Lake overlook. Well, I must say that it was well worth the effort to get there. We stopped and took a few pictures at the first overlook and continued to the next one. Wow! This is a fantastic view looking east down the Voyageur Canoe Highway as it heads toward Lake Superior. This is far and away the best view that I have ever seen in the BWCA. We could see for miles! After a short rest and lots of photos, we decided to head back. The map showed another set of contour lines which suggested a very promising spot for an overlook but it was about another 2 miles away and I wasn’t sure that Slim Jim would be all that excited to be dragged along. After all, it’s his vacation too… When we got back to the boat his tongue was almost dragging on the trail and he had been way behind us for the last ¼ mile or so. He spent the next 10 minutes standing in the lake drinking like a dying man in the desert. When he had drunk his fill, he lay down in the lake and let the waves break over his back. I have never seen him so worn out and it made me glad that we hadn’t pushed him for the next overlook. I don’t know much about heat stroke but my guess is that he was not far away from it. The breeze was really beginning to pick up so we loaded up the boat and pushed off. We had no idea that this was just the beginning of the windiest bunch of days that I have ever spent in the BWCA. After a leisurely cruise up the lake we headed back to camp and got some lunch. I had picked up some of the foil packed tuna salad packets on the advice of some of the BWCA.com board members and they were spot on. The sandwiches were so delicious that it left Tawney and I wishing that we had brought along a bunch more! By around 1PM the breeze had turned into a steady wind at about 25 mph and the whitecaps were really kicking up. It was a beautiful sunny day but the wind was really causing some problems for the groups of canoes we watched from camp. One, in particular had 3 canoes and it looked like 2 of the canoes had adults and the third was paddled by what looked to be young boys. Eventhough the wind was at their backs for most of the lake, they really struggled to make the final push toward the West Pike portage. Somehow they ended up sideways in the huge whitecaps as they tried to paddle over to rejoin their group. Tawney urged me to get in the boat and rescue them before they ended up on the rocks. I stood by the boat and told myself that I would not go unless they dumped with all their gear or hit the rocks. To me, there’s something exciting about saving yourself and it’s all part of the wilderness experience. In the end, one of the adult canoes came to get them. These guys were both very strong paddlers and, once they committed to the rescue, they really put their backs into it and got the job done. As they paddled away into the protected bay on their way to the portage, I reflected on how important it is to pair the weaker paddlers with strong stern paddlers to keep that kind of thing from happening. At about 3PM we heard a loud cracking sound and a huge crash. Tawney and I both jumped up from our seats along the shore and ran toward the noise. A large rotten birch tree had come crashing down about 50 feet behind our tent and broken into 4 or 5 pieces. We double checked the site again for widowmakers and used a lot of extra caution around the large pine tree which was leaning over the far edge of camp. As afternoon turned to evening we ate cheese and crackers, sipped some wine, and shared a nice warm shower using our sun shower bag which we had left in the sun for about 5 hours. It was a very nice way to wind down the day. I have never brought one of them on a BWCA trip before but they are lightweight and don’t take up any room in the pack so I plan on adding one to my gear list for future trips. Once again we were treated to a beautiful sunset after dinner and retired to the tent with the wind still howling.
I woke up at around 6AM with overcast skies and about 30mph+ sustained wind with 2-3 foot whitecaps. I grabbed the weather radio to get the most current forecast since today was our planned exit day. The computerized man’s voice gave us the bad news: “ in grand MARAIS, winds THIRTY to THIRTYfive miles an HOUR increasing to FORTY miles an HOUR after twelve PM…” (that’s my lame attempt to describe the voice) Anyway, it meant that it was only going to get worse, so I woke Tawney and we hustled to break down camp and get the boat loaded. I think we set an all time record. We had everything packed and loaded in about 35 minutes. After a quick sweep around camp to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind, we hoisted Slim Jim into the boat, put on our life jackets and full raingear suits, and said a quick prayer to call on Tawney’s Grandpa Allan to help us get the motor started. He had passed away about 2 weeks previous to our trip and he had owned the boat for 30 years prior to giving it to us in 2009. I remembered his description of the motor as “a little finicky but she runs good once you get ‘er goin’”. From our campsite location we were going to have to push the boat out as hard as we could to get away from the rocks so I could get the motor down and attempt to start it. The problem was that, by doing this, we were starting out sideways in the large waves and would be fully committed. If the motor didn’t start in time, we would be pushed up on the rocks in the bay about 200 yards from camp and in this type of wind, it wouldn’t take long for that to happen. It was do or die, I shoved with all my might and jumped on board. I immediately put the motor down, choked it, and began to pull. The waves were coming over the side and after about 20 pulls I decided to try the trolling motor to see if we could at least get our bow into the waves. This turned out to be a waste of time since the electric motor did not have nearly enough power to do anything. I quickly abandoned that plan and resumed my attempt to start the motor. We were only about 25 yards from the rocks and there was that heavy silence in the boat that only happens when people are getting really nervous. I tapped the motor twice and muttered “c’mon Allan”. The next pull got a sputter and then it died. I put the choke to half and pulled again. This time it started but died when I attempted to shift it into forward. I took the choke off and pulled with all my might, hoping that the frayed section would not give out on me. To my relief, the motor kicked to life and engaged as I shifted into forward just a matter of 10 to 12 feet before we hit the rocks. Tawney and I both let out a whoop of joy as I gassed it up and turned the bow into the wind and waves, headed west toward the EP. The ride back to the EP was very rough and Slim Jim looked very nervous as the waves crested the bow and soaked him. He seemed to grip the pack that he was lying on with all his might and looked very stiff. We attempted to find some protection from the wind and waves but the east/west orientation of Clearwater Lake offered no shelter. Even with a 10HP motor, we were making very slow progress and we were sure that very few canoes would be able to make it out that day. We scouted for Mr and Mrs Gbusk to see if we could offer them a tow but once again did not find them. As we came past the point near the EP my hat blew off my head. I never even attempted to turn around to get it. I was relieved that a hat was the only thing lost in that situation. At the EP, Tawney and I quickly changed back into some dry clothes and loaded up the truck with our gear. I re-hitched our trailer and loaded up the boat and we celebrated a successful trip with a big hug. The ride back was long but uneventful. Since it was Sunday, the traffic in Duluth was really brutal but we made it through all the detours and the road construction on I-35 and picked up the kids around 5pm. When we got home we ordered pizza and unpacked from our trip and put away the kids’ bags from their stay with Grandma.