Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

25th Annual Trip
by Lightfoot

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/17/2011
Entry & Exit Point: Clearwater Lake (EP 62)
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
This is my first attempt at posting a trip report on this site, so please forgive any issues with the formatting and including photos.
Day 1 of 8
BWCA – 2011 (Sept 17 – Sept 23)

25th Anniversary Trip:

Anticipation for this year’s trip was higher than most years. This year would mark our 25th consecutive year of going on a BWCA trip. The route and dates had been set since our 2010 trip. The Brant Lake entry permit was reserved in February so all we had to do now was wait. Then as the date got closer, we began to think that this trip wasn’t supposed to happen.

During our 2010 trip, Craig informed us that he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to go in 2011. He works at the Ford plant and with the plant scheduled to close in 2011, his availability was unknown. He said he would know by early to mid summer. We met in early July and talked a few times, by the 3rd week of July he decided. In his words, “I just love it up there so I have to go”. He is now committed and our usually crew was all set to go.

On August 3rd I’m all set to drive up to Duluth for my companies annual convention. That morning I receive an email from Craig. With the Ford plant closing date now set, they are transferring employees to other plants, when and where they are needed. One employee to be transferred is Craig’s backup and he is scheduled to go at the end of August. As a result, Craig cannot get the time off, and will not be able to go on the trip. He’s not happy, and neither are we.

Earlier in the year Chris had mentioned that Dennis told him that he would like to go on a trip with us if we are ever looking for a 4th. So after seeing Craig’s email I forwarded it to Chris (and John so he would know what’s going on) and then left for Duluth. I checked my email the next day and Chris had already sent a reply. He checked with Dennis and he will be happy to fill in for Craig. So at least we still have a crew of 4 and everything is still a go as planned. Dennis would be a very good fill-in since we all know him from several bike tours he’s joined us on. Things are looking good again. It’s just too bad Craig would not be able to join us on this trip, but he offered to let us borrow any gear he usually brings.

Our entry permit was for Brant Lake on Saturday, Sept 17th. On Thursday, Sept 8th, news reports start talking about a fire that’s burning just south of Lake One. This wasn’t a big concern since Lake One is quite a distance from our entry point. Then on Monday, Sept 12th the 30 – 40 mph winds cause the fire to explode. It goes from about 11,000 acres to 60,000 in one day and the Forest Service is evacuating canoeists from that entire portion of the BWCA. On Tuesday, Sept 13th I received a phone message from Tuscarora Outfitters, all entry points south/west of the Gunflint Trail were closed due to the Pagami Creek fire, this included Brant Lake entry. I called and talked to Tuscarora Outfitters since this is where we were picking up our permit. They said we could either reserve a permit for another entry or just hope they re-open Brant entry before Saturday. They were going to attend a Forest Service meeting on Wednesday morning in Grand Marais and would know more after that meeting and to call back after that.

Wednesday morning I went on line and checked for Clearwater Lake entry. There were still permits available for Saturday the 17th so I reserved one. At this point I also kept the Brant Lake permit, in case it opened, we could still go on that route. I had already mapped out a route from Clearwater Lake that I was going to suggest for our 2012 trip so it was an easy adjustment. I sent a message to the rest of the crew explaining the new plan and included a map of the Clearwater route. They all agreed it was good to have a backup plan and were glad I got an alternative permit reserved. Wednesday evening I checked permit availability again and now there are no permits available for Clearwater Lake. The next day I received an email from the Forest Service saying that our Brant Lake permit has been cancelled. This told me that there was no chance that entry point would be re-opened before Saturday.

So now, the trip was still a go. We just have a totally new route and a new crewmember. We had never been in this section of the BWCA so it would be completely new to all of us. The route would be to enter at Clearwater Lake and head over to Pine Lake for our first site. From there we would exit Pine Lake on the east end and swing through McFarland and John to East Pike Lake for our next site. Then we would stop on West Pike for our last site. This would be a more relaxed trip than was originally planned but at least we’re still going on a trip and we get to see all new territory.

Friday we drive up to Tuscarora Outfitters to pickup our permit and settle into the bunkhouse for the night. We also check the forecast. Saturday and Monday were supposed to be sunny, Sunday, Tuesday, and the first part of Wednesday were supposed to be wet, the rest of the trip would be mostly cloudy but dry. Well, the first 3 days were correct. We usually travel every other day and spend 2 nights at each campsite. This would mean that we’d travel on the 2 nice days and spent the wet days in camp. All day under a tarp or in the tent is not fun so I suggested we spend 3 nights on Pine. This would allow us to make a day trip to Johnson Falls on Monday, the only other nice day forecasted for the week. None of us had seen Johnson Falls but it sounded like a nice day-trip so all agreed. It ended up being a very good decision.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Clearwater Lake entry to Pine Lake (9 miles, 3 portages, 305 rods; low=34 high=64)

After a comfortable night in the Tuscarora bunkhouse, we’re up, dressed, packed, and to the ‘mess-hall’ by 7:00. After a very good French toast breakfast, we’re on our way to the Clearwater Lake entry. We unload, park the vehicle and began paddling by about 9:00. Yes, our 25th annual trip is going to happen (well, for 3 of us any how).

There’s just a light breeze out of the south as we head SSE across Clearwater Lake. With the temps now in the mid 40s and a bright sunny sky, this was a great start to the trip. We saw 3 kayaks paddling along the south shore just out to enjoy the nice morning. We enter the little bay that leads to our first portage. As we approach the portage we see the sign letting us know that we are now entering the BWCA.

The portage to Caribou Lake is listed as 210rds but it seemed quite a bit shorter than that. Even though this area has been very dry for Aug & Sept, this portage was a bit muddy on both ends; other than that it was a nice trail. Caribou Lake is a very pretty lake surrounded by high hills. During the week we will discover that this is a common feature of all the lakes in this area. As we cross Caribou Lake we only see 2 open sites out of the 6. During our drive up we had discussed the possibility that this year would seem more crowded and we would have a tougher time finding open sites. With the closure of so many entry points and everyone having to rebook into a limited area, it appeared to be a very real possibility

Along the portage from Caribou to Little Caribou we met a group on their way out from Pine. They had spent a couple nights at the 3rd site along the north shore and really liked it. We decided that we’d head for that site and grab it if it was open. As we paddled across Little Caribou the only site was occupied. It looked to be a very nice site but was in the narrowest spot on the lake so all traffic passed by close to that site. We crossed the short portage into Pine Lake and headed east following the north shore.

The 2nd site we came to was open so we stopped and checked it out. It had a very nice fire grate area but exposure to the lake and level tent pads were pretty much none existent. We pushed off and headed for the next site to the east. This site was also open and it had a nice landing and lakefront as we approached.

The fire grate area was good and there was a nice grassy/open area behind it and to the right where we could easily fit both tents so we claimed it as home for the next 3 nights.

It was now about 1:00 so we decided to have lunch before setting up camp. About 1:45 we went down to unload the canoes and there was another group of 4 passing by, heading east looking for a site. Yup, less than an hour later and we probably wouldn’t have gotten this site. Looking SSE, we could see the sight on the south shore of the lake and that site was also occupied. We were thinking that our discussion of the area being more crowded than usual was true. We setup camp and still had a couple hours to relax and we saw another group of 4 go past looking for a site. Since the forecast called for rain tomorrow, we made sure to setup the tarp in an area we could sit under and cook if necessary.

About 5:00 we start to prepare supper. Boneless pork chops and stuffing was a slight variation from our normal steak and rice but was very tasty. As we were cleaning up clouds moved in and it was completely overcast by 6:30. With the cloud cover there would be no sunset or star gazing tonight and the forecast for rain tomorrow looked to be a good bet. It was still a nice evening to enjoy our Barons down by the lake. We had a toast to our missing crewman, Craig, and to Dennis who was able to fill in for him this year. We continued to talk and enjoy the evening until about 9:00 when we turned in.