BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 06 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1673 feet
Clearwater Lake - 62
Clearwater to Fowl loop
July 21, 2005
Number of Days:
First day out was amazing. There was a brisk westerly wind that put us right across Clearwater lake to our first portage. One hundred rods up and back down brought us to Mountain Lake. That wasn't bad. First portage down, we double portaged the entire trip. I was hoping that we could pull off at least some single portages when planning the trip, but the fishing equipment came along and crushed those hopes. Once I realized we would have to double, everything that was cool came along: Thermarest pad, bigger sleeping bags, fire starters, and extra pot, and the rain gear. The fishing equipment opened up the packing floodgates. I understand many people think those are necessities, but when I was planning light there was nothing like that coming.
We found a campsite on Mountain and spent the night. I didn't like the site much due to it's very poor landing and no place to hang the food bag.
After the big day of paddling yesterday, we pretty much took it easy. I was eager to see if a bear had taken our food (not hung). I jumped up and ran outside to find our #4 Duluth pack* untouched. Alicia and I had pancakes and pop tarts for breakfast. They tasted awesome. We headed out with sore mussles and partially closed eyes
We did the Lily Lakes early in the day (Fan & Vassuex). They were tiny. Especially when compared to mountain lake, one of the longest lakes in canoe country, it seems. The portages to Fan was pretty muddy. The landings on both sides of fan were a joke. I couldn't even get close to the water without having to walk through muck that was 3' deep. Perhaps we, or the forest service, could construct a dock or boardwalk there. Fan is very shallow and choked with weeds. It is truly the opposite of most of the lakes around, and I loved it for just that reason. Variety is the spice life.
On to vasseux (fun to say), which was more of the same story. After a short paddle we were on the portage to Moose Lake. Not bad, but I did take a spill when picking up our canoe on the Vasseux side of the portage. I'm okay. There are some big, slippery, sharp rocks over there, so watch out. At the end of the trail we set our gear down and took in the view of this beautiful lake. After paddling and fishing on Moose Lake for a while we ate lunch in the canoe. I'd never done that before but it worked well (summer sausage, cheese, and pita bread) After luch we made it a short day because we were a little ahead of schedule, camping on the far end of Moose Lake. It was a very nice site with a great view of the sunrise. Ally and I had chicken and rice for supper. Then as the sun was going down we went out fishing for 'eyes. No success using white 4" twist tails on 1/8 ounce jigs off a point near the campsite. I thought we would get some for sure...
* The #4 pack is quite large. I would say a bit too large for a group of only 2. With our tent, tarp, cooking supplies and all of our food, it was still only a little more the 2/3 full. I would have prefered a #3.
We woke up around nine and had breakfast. For some reason we had a harsh head wind even though we were heading eastward (a strange,unfortunate phenomenon). Ally and I navigated the Moose portage (tons of bugs). The landing on the N. Fowl side of the lake was very muddy, so we searched for an alternative route. By taking the right fork near the trails end we found a much nicer put-in on a small stream that runs from Moose to N. Fowl. We loaded the canoe and make the 100ft ride to the main lake.
N. Fowl isn't very pretty when compared with the other lakes we had been on. It sort of resembled a giant lily lake, being shallow, murky, and choked with aquatic vegetation. S. Fowl is basically the same story. The wind continued to blow in our faces.
After paddling to the back of a grassy bay we found ourselves at the mouth of the royal river, or I should say one of the mouths. The river flows away from the Royal Lake in both directions and is probably not navigable on the side flowing towards S. Fowl. We couldn't find the portage trail so we waded the canoe up steam 200ft. until we found the landing. The portage was long especially at this time of the day, but at least it was completely flat.
As I set the canoe on the eastern side of a large beaver dam I was unknowingly attacked by a angry horde of leeches. Alicia was safe, since she jumped in the bow without even setting a foot in the water. I spend a lengthy fifteen minutes picking off the the little predators that were turning dark red at this point. My foot was dripping with blood, but fortunately I didn't hurt at all. These little guys must have an anesthetic they release upon contact. Still gross. Watch out they're coming for you too!! The royal river is surrounded by beautiful scenery. We snapped a couple of photos off. I could feel the improved MPG (miles per gallon of sweat). The river current was like an unseen hand pushing us along.
We made the portage to John lake, and found an excellent campsite on the south east shore. The rain started to fall as we made camp. Alicia got the fire going while I cast a line into the calm bay from the rocky ledge that is the landing of our site. I was using a topwater stickbait, and all of sudden, WHAMMY! a huge lake trout came and whacked it. Unfortunately I was unable to land it and we went without fist again. Oh well, we made too much chicken soup for us to eat, even after a long day of travel. I understand this may not seem like a "long day" to some of you, but with the headwind and portages-it all adds up.
Ally and I awoke to a strong wind out of the west this time (again blowing in our faces). We had eggs and pop- tarts for breakfast. Yummy! I love eggs. We knew we’d need all the strength we could muster for the day of travel against a headwind.
We were nearly blown back to shore when we pushed off at the campsite. It was a nasty paddle to the west end of John Lake. When we reached the portage to E. Pike Lake we found a water bottle, score!! There were only two water bottles for the two of us so the third was much appreciated especially for preparing food. When we got to the E. Pike side of the trail the wind was blowing even harder. Huge whitecaps were blowing across to the lake so tall we decided not to travel in it. Alicia and I were both so tiered that we used this opportunity to rest and weren’t too disappointed. Since we were all the way on the east end of the lake and the wind was hard out of the west I had a feeling there would be a Norton swimming around chasing the baitfish that were helplessly blown to the leeward side of the lake. After only a few casts with a red &white daredevil spoon I hooked up. The incredible ten-minute battle I landed a 34” Pike on a 6.5’ medium-spinning rig without a leader. This is what I call fun!! We then waited for the wind to die down, and ate lunch. Alicia took a nap and I went fishing a while longer without any more luck. Then I cleaned the pike and we decided to head for the nearest campsite.
Since there weren’t any downwind except the one we stayed at on John Lake the night before, we headed west on E. Pike Lake, and stayed close to shore, to nearest campsite. The wind was extreme as we paddle the mile around a point in the lake. With a little bit of sweat and some hard stroking we made it to the site. It had a nice harbor with a large rock on three sides that was helpful for securing the canoe and unloading the gear.
The site was absolutely beautiful. It was just far enough off the water to shield it from the strong winds, and there was a big ol’ pile of firewood. While we were setting up camp we saw two paddlers riding the wind eastward. The bow wasn’t even paddling. All that the stern had to do was throw down a post here or there to keep them tracking straight. I’d never seen a canoe moving so fast!!
When we started to make dinner Alicia made an odd, frightening discovery…a backbone. I believe it was the vertebrae of an elk or large deer, but understand how her mind could construe it as human. She asked me, in a very serious almost quivering tone, in there could possibly be cannibals up in the BW. I responded with a short nod. Before I realized how grave the situation was Alicia was pretty worked up. Everything turned out okay, and I assure you there are no cannibals in the BW. There is probably just a church group of boys who like to play around with skeletons and pulled the remains from the woods next to a portage and messed around with it. Nonetheless, we were up at 5:30 a.m., packed up at 5:40, and gone before the sun was over the now calm lake.
We have our early start for the first time in the trip. Originally we were thinking we would travel in the mornings, but it just hadn’t happened until now. Everyday is a good day when you can wake up to greet it. I have a job back home at a horse farm. That means I’m up everyday by six, in the summertime. That isn’t natural. A high school senior that gets up at six every morning even on Sunday!! I’m used to it though, and was surprised we weren’t up until eight most days. The extra relaxation time was much valued though. I had no problem with sleeping in, except the harsh wind.
Alicia and I needed to work together to efficiently make up the miles we lost the day before due to the wind. We got going on E. Pike and saw many loons and gulls flying about. There were many campers still in bed as we paddled by on the perfect, glassy water. Going down the narrow channel at the end of E. Pike we saw many small mouth bass and trout. Sadly, we didn’t have time to fish… Alicia was worried the wind might pick up as the day rolled on, and we decided to press on. We met some 30 year-old guys from Ames, IA on the west end of the portage. They were the first people we’d talked to besides each other so far on the trip. They were exhausted, having taken the portage trail from Pine Lake (300 some rods). Ally and I enjoyed PB &J on a bagel with trail mix for brunch. The wind still hadn’t picked up (knock on wood). We watched the men disappear around the bend in the lake and then decided to hit it.
W. Pike Lake is very beautiful. There was a slight for moving across the water with us on a small breeze. About halfway down the lake Ally suggested I toss in a line. So I felt obligated to do so. As soon as the crankbait I was trolling has reached 30 ft of depth a Laker nailed it ripping line off the reel. A battle ensued, and after 3 min. we had a five-pound shore lunch in the boat. I caught smallie right after that, in the same spot off the west side of that Island in the middle of the lake with a campsite on it. The lake bottom really drops off sharply there, making it a particularly desirable fishing spot on a great lake for anglers.
We stopped and ate at the campsite right before the portage to Clearwater Lake to eat the two fish we’d just caught. There was already plenty of firewood, so we got one going and cooked both of the slabs of fresh meat. The lake trout was too large that it was hanging over the edges of the pan. It was the best fish I’ve ever eaten. The water is so clean and deep, and it truly affects the way fish tastes. Being hungry and worn out doesn’t detract from the flavor either. After eating lunch we made the portage to Clearwater Lake with full stomachs.
We paddled to a campsite we’d been to early in the trip. It was the nicest one Alicia and I had seen all week. There is a nice rock face on the east side of it that is great for watching the sun come up. I enjoy camping where there are large rocks (size of a refrigerator), because they offer great places to sit. They’re smooth and warm from the sun, which is more than I can say for most of the log benches. I’m not complaining, it’s great to have the benches. My thanks to the USFS, but I would prefer a large smooth rock any day.
It started to rain, so we cancelled our dinner plans and just got inside the tent. It was surprising how fast we both feel asleep. The sun wasn’t even down, and we were both out for the night.
We woke up to the damp cold drizzle that had been going all night. It was about 45 degrees F when we woke up at six. I dove right back into my sleeping bag for another hour. When we got ourselves going I put on literally every piece of clothing I had brought on the trip: 2 t-shirts, wool socks, long-sleeve shirt, fleece vest, and hiking boots.
Camp practically packed up it’s self. We were both ready for some cold ice cream or milk. The only things I missed while on our trip were dairy products. We brought cheese and eggs and did fine with them, but nothing beats ice cream. I like yogurt too. There is not way I’m bringing a cooler though. Or would I? I’ve heard of people bringing dry ice to keep things cool...that could work
The public landing came into view as we paddled west into the morning. We saw many groups on their way out from the lodge. One of the groups was all of the allowed 9 persons 4 canoes.
Car seats had never felt so comfortable. We made the drive back to Grand Marais to Sven and Ole's, stopping at the campground for some much needed $4 showers. We arrived at Sven and Oles's stylin'. That place has awesome pizza, and a cool atmosphere. If I were a local this would definately be my "hangout". Try the Bacon cheesburger pizza (its the best). We thought about staying the night at the Municipal campground and spending the day being little tourists, but the temptation to run home and sleep in our own beds was to much. We got rolling and made it home around midnight.
We both had an amazing time. We’re already planning our next trip. I want to go in late September. It’s great to know I have paddling partner I can count on. :)