BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 21 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1673 feet
Clearwater Lake - 62
Oct Gales on Mountain
October 03, 2014
John Lake (69)
Number of Days:
Drove up from Duluth on Thursday night, watched the first half of the Vikes debacle at Sven and Ole's and drove up to the bunkhouse at Clearwater. Quick trips are better than no trips, and the drive from home is no biggie. So arraigned our gear, hit the rack, and woke up Friday morning to a gathering west wind. Perfect for sailing across Clearwater. It should let up by Sunday....
Made it to the Mountain portage, and watched the clouds grind over the tops of the peaks as we headed the 6 miles or so to the campsite near Pemmican. Before too long, the waves were gathering as we left the west shoreline and I spent most of the time simply "ruddering" to keep us from getting blown sideways. We rode the waves and the occasional whitecaps at a very fast clip. Stayed as near to shore as we dared due to the water temp, but mindful to not get caught in breakers or a hidden rock near the shoreline. Got about half-way down and my partner started to get a bit nervous as the waves grew larger still - consistent 2'+. Again, riding them - alert and attentive - but not worried back in the stern. Campsite was marginal, but a gateway to Pemmican. Lugged the canoe up what was a short, but a candidate for the worst portage in the BW. Steep, deadfalls, brush...did I say steep? SO windy by that time, with rain, that we fished from shore, caught one, with a couple hits. Left the canoe and hunkered back down the hill and took shelter in our tent for the evening.
Woke up to a very chilly morning, and despite the early, hour, the wind had barely let up. Canoe still up the hill, but no chance of us paddling on Mountain anyway(about 8 miles long, west to east, and we were a mile or so from the east end). Brought much of our gear up the hill and made a day of fishing - very slow trout fishing with high wind, rain, specks of sun on occasion, and SNOW. Caught one nice one, and got blown around the lake. Brought the dang canoe up the hill so we had to try it, but it was more difficult to keep slow enough to keep a lure in the water than was worth the effort. Fished from shore most of the day.
Back down the hill, and obviously, our thoughts were consumed with how we were going to get back across Mountain and Clearwater. Planned to get up early, and beat the wind.
Read in the tent with the wind howling and the waves breaking mere feet from our tent on the shore of Mountain. Tent was reasonably sheltered from the actual wind, but the sound of it hit hitting the south shore ridges was a constant reminder of it - as if it was trying to remind us that "you may have a plan, but you are not in charge!"
Woke up at about 4, and listened. You know when you hear the wind, but then you hear a gust which burst on for few seconds before gradually receding? Well, this was the opposite. Gusts of 20 to 30 seconds, with small pauses in between. Not good. Got up at first light and took a look, hoping my ears had no idea what they were hearing all morning. My eyes confirmed it, and the wind slapped me around for good measure.
What to do? Plan to give it a go? We could battle a couple miles, I suppose, but 6 before 4 more on Clearwater with an jumpy bow paddler? We had one group of 3 canoes and a kayak single file not more than 10 yards from shore at about daybreak. Chatted and observed. Pieced together than they had been pinned down for two days. Not sure how far they were going to make it, as they looked worked even though they were at the next camp site to our east. They were obviously experienced, but for my partner and I, it was not a great option. Stay another day? Perhaps - and deal with the anxiety of wanting to go? I had a third option. I carry an InReach device - can send text messages via satillite. My buddy happened to be at his cabin on the Gunflint that weekend. I communicated with my wife - she told me the forecast was the same for Monday- so I told her our options and we arraigned to get picked up at McFarland. 12-13 miles and 6 portages in the opposite direction, but the wind at our backs. Totally doable.
The trip out was incredible. Mountain and Moose gave us some work and worry - not the least of which was navigating so as to not smash the canoe on the rocks which were launching the 2-3 footers into the air on the eastern shores. Incredible views of the hills and leaves in peak color. I mentioned the scene from "A Perfect Storm" to my buddy just as the sun peeked through on Mountain - beautiful, blue shimmering lake with white caps all around, high hills in peak fall color - not a soul around. He recalled the scene, but focused on what happened next in the movie. Poor timing on my part given his nerves at the moment. A good memory now! :)
Got blown by the first portage on Mountain, but managed a parallel-park move among the rocks just to the left heading to the river. Wet feet but dry canoe. Bushwacked to the portage and we were on our way.
Portages were wet, but not too bad. Similar experience on Moose, but I choose to turn and hang in the waves about 20-30 yards before the east shore - putting the bow to the bigger waves and let the wind blow us sideways to a safe landing. Obviously it was easier for me to control the canoe with our nose to the wind. It worked perfectly, much to my relief.
By the time we got to Fowl and the Royal river, we were able to appreciate the drying rice stalks, the hundreds of ducks popping out of the rice as we paddled along, as well as a sideline view of the whitecaps breaking out in the middle of North Fowl while we hid in the wind shadow along the western shoreline. A little difficulty getting to the portage on the river, but our feet were wet since Mountain, so pulling up the thin river mouth was not a big deal.
My buddy managed a couple of grouse while he waited, and he picked us up as planned. We had to go and get our vehicle, so we had some extra driving, but also had time to appreciate the modification of our plan, and the adventure we just experienced. Technology may have taken a little from the purist streak in me, but with young kids at home, the modification of our trip on the fly was a welcome option.