Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Fall 2011-East Bearskin loop
by cowdoc

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 10/08/2011
Entry & Exit Point: East Bearskin Lake (EP 64)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
I'm learning to appreciate the BWCA in the Fall more and more. No people, cool weather, no bugs, beautiful colors....
My tripping buddy Ted and I did a Fall trip two years ago in late September. We liked it so much we decided to do another, a little later, in early October. I had heard some good things about the East Bearskin area so we laid out a little loop trip. East Bearskin, Alder, Pierz, Canoe, Pine, Johnson Falls, Little Caribou, Caribou, Deer, Moon.....and back out East Bearskin. We left home about 4 am for the 10 hour drive. Grabbed some lunch in Grand Marais at My Sisters Place and headed up the trail. Just before getting to the East Bearskin road, we met Moose Plums who was coming out after his solo through the same area. We pulled into the ep and filled out a self issue permit and discovered a note left by Moose Plums. You drive 500 miles to find seclusion.....and somebody leaves you a note!? (I also had a note under my windshield wiper when we got out. A friend who hangs around the Gunflint was out grouse hunting and recognized my truck) Is there no escape!!?? There was just a couple vehicles in the parking lot. My kind of crowd.
We got on the water around 2pm and started a leisurely paddle down East Bearskin. A quick portage into the little no-name and floated through the rock channel into Alder. We were in no hurry so we paddled past every empty campsite to check them out. I think 2 were occupied. Chased a grouse out of one. After portaging into Pierz, we picked the middle site on the north shore. There was a fire ban so we couldn't grill the ribeyes we brought, so I cut them into strips and pan fried them and threw in some onions and peppers for fajitas. Believe it or not, there were still mosquitoes out so we cooked down near the lake and pitched the tent down near the shore also where a slight breeze kept them at bay.
One of the biggest things I notice about tripping in the Fall is the quiet. An occasional raven or jay and a few dry leaves rattling in the wind were the only sounds. It was a peaceful night with a couple of raindrops on the tent. Between the long drive and the afternoon of paddling, I slept like a bear.

We awoke the next morning to a beautiful day. No wind, calm waters and sunshine. The plan for the day was to head up to Pine and to maybe go into Stump to see how secluded that campsite was. After pancakes and bacon, we packed up and headed out of Pierz.

Back through Alder, into Canoe and up over the big switchback portage to Pine. That's a tough portage (glad we were single portaging), but it has some pretty views. We took a break at the landing on Pine and watched a lone canoe fishing near the portage to Little Caribou.

We paddled over to the north shore and headed east, checking out campsites again as we went. The lone fisherman disappeared but there was one other group of people aways up the lake. We stopped for lunch at the mid-lake site on the south shore and liked it so much, we chose to stay there and not press on to Stump.

After setting up camp, we decided to hike up the hill behind camp to check out the view. There were a few trails leading out of camp that quickly disappeared and it became a bushwhack until we reached the higher elevation where the trees thinned out. The view was worth it even though it was muggy, we were sweaty and there were a few October?
After bushwhacking back down the hill, we took a quick swim to wash off the sweat and grit. The water was.....refreshing. The swim was short but it felt good. Afterwards we snooped around camp. It's a very nice site and I highly recommend it. Nice tent pads, some nice big white pines, a decent canoe landing out front, good fire pit area and a pretty fancy fish live well.
It gets dark early in October so the fire ban was kind of a bummer. Sitting around the fire pit drinking Captain Morgan and koolaid just isn't the same by the glow of the headlamp. The moon was almost full and it really lit up the campsite but also negated any chance of a northern light glimpse.
The next morning we packed up and headed east into a fairly stiff breeze. I wanted to find the portage and hike up the hill and check out Gadwall Lake. We found the portage and stashed most of our gear and just took a day pack and canoe. It's quite a hike up to Gadwall. There are no sites....just a neat little lake that I wanted to check out after reading a fellow member's trip report about it. We searched for the "squatter's campsite" that he found, but came to the conclusion that it had been destroyed. We did find a fire pit area, some trash, and a bunch of sawed off trees hidden back in the south east corner.
It was a nice visit, but it was time to hike back down the hill and head west down Pine to Johnson Falls. This time we had a tail wind and made the west end of Pine fairly quickly. It's a fairly long walk back into Johnson Falls, but it's well worth it. We checked out the first falls then found the trail leading to the second. Ted hiked up further to the top where the stream enters the falls area while I snapped some pictures.
We hiked back to the canoe and made the short paddle over to the portage to Little Caribou, which is a pretty little portage. The one site on Little Caribou was open so we grabbed it. This would be a great summer site sitting up high on a little point at a bottleneck in the lake. A decent canoe landing down low with a trail up to camp, nice tent sites, open, yet with some tarp trees and a decent place to swim and fish in front of camp. After camp was set, we made red beans and rice burritos and sat around with our headlamps on....

I got up early the next morning to try and get some sunrise photos. Ted went for a solo paddle around the east end of the lake and then we both went for a pre- breakfast paddle around the west part. Along the way, we disturbed a family of beavers and we sat by their house while they swam circles around us and smacked their tails.
After breakfast, we packed up and portaged over to Caribou. It was a gorgeous morning but the wind was building somewhat. We mostly followed the north shore and checked out sites. At the west end of the lake, we checked out a site that had some old relics laying around; some cable and old steel parts. I've read that there use to be a road into here for a logging camp. The far northwest site was our lunch room and we walked out the north side of the camp and found the old road bed. It was a wavy paddle across the west bay to the portage to Deer.
The portage to Deer climbs steeply out of Caribou and then joins a big, wide, flat portage running from Clearwater down to Deer. Deer was the least impressive lake of the trip. There's not much there. It was a very rocky portage into Moon and we headed west to check out sites, specifically, the west one on the small peninsula. All of Moon's sites sit low, down by the water and are not real impressive. The site we sought was by far the nicest. Camp set, supper done and the fullest, brightest moon I've ever seen for our last night of the trip.
Our last morning in the BW was beautiful. A little fog, calm waters and big puffy, pink clouds made for some nice photo opps.
It was a short paddle across Moon after breakfast. The portage up to East Bearskin starts out steep with a set of stairs before leveling off. Paddling back west on East Bearskin, we met an older couple out for a morning paddle. They were the first people we had seen since our night on Pine. It was an overcast, muggy day with clouds building in the west. A slight west wind made us work to get back to the landing. After loading up, we drove around and checked out the East Bearskin Campground, stopped at East Bearskin Lodge and chatted and then drove down the Gunflint, went to Hungry Jack Lodge to get some snowmobile info and then stopped at the Trail Center for a burger and a malt. From there we went to Tuscarora to drop off some Wisconsin cheese for Andy and Sue and then drove up to the end of the Trail and toured the Chikwauk Museum. It was a neat and informative display that we greatly enjoyed.
Finally, we pulled into Gunflint Lodge where I had reserved a bunk with mocha. After a much needed shower, we headed down to the Red Paddle for supper and just a feeeeeeeeeew beers. Sheryl (mocha) showed up late as she was just getting back from Ely and her fall canoe trip. Thanks for the hospitality Sheryl!! We left at 4 am the next morning in some of the thickest fog I've ever seen. Stopped in Grand Marais for coffee, asprin and donuts and hit the road.