Clearwater entry: Fish, fun and the virgin latrine
by lindylair

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/13/2012
Entry Point: Clearwater Lake (EP L)
Exit Point: East Bearskin Lake (EP 64)  
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
My buddy Jim and I have been to the BWCA many times but we both missed a lot of years to raise a family, build a career, etc.. Last year we took his oldest son, Scott, who was then 18 and had a fabulous trip entering through Poplar and spending time on Meeds and Horseshoe Lake. This year his youngest son, Eric joined us and he is 17. Jim and I are both 56.
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My apologies; this is a long and detailed trip report. I love planning them, I love going on them, and I love talking about them afterwards!

The trip: Jim and Scott drove up Friday and stayed at Eckbeck State Forest Campground, just north of Tettegouche State Park. Eric and I joined them Saturday afternoon and we enjoyed one of our favorite Minnesota campsites; a large clearing with several gigantic pines spread throughout the site and the rushing Baptism River just a few feet away.It was a night of fresh food and cold drinks, and of course the final excitement of planning the trip.


Sunday morning we drove up to Temperance River State Park on our way to Grand Marais where we made some last minute purchases, including bait. At Temperance we hiked back to the famous swimming hole to show Eric the cliff diving spot and the massage waterfall. We had a ball and after an hour or so, continued on our way.

After Grand Marais we made our way up the Gunflint Trail. We stayed that night at the Flour Lake campground which is very nice, and drove over to check out Clearwater Lodge where we were renting one of our 2 canoes from and beginning our trip. Back at camp, final preparations and a good meal before going to bed early in anticipation of our trip.


Monday morning we were up early and did the final packing before heading to Clearwater Lodge for a big breakfast of delightful pancakes and sausages...a great way to start a trip! We were on the water by about 9AM and headed towards the portage to Caribou lake. Our plans for the first day were not very ambitious (actually for the whole trip)as we hoped to camp on Caribou and start the relaxing and fishing as soon as possible. The portage to Caribou is long enough and a bit of a challenge, but took a different twist for us. We knew the trail split and took the left fork as we should have, but what we didn't know is that it splits again...and we needed to take the right fork. Well, we took the left and realized our mistake when we ran into a campsite full of folks about 1/4 mile past the end of the portage. As it turned out they had done the same thing (we ran into two more groups who had done it also)but they graciously allowed us to portage through their campsite and canoe back to the end of the real portage. From there two of us went back for the two packs that were waiting at the other end. An interesting start to the trip...but no harm done..

We began canoeing across Caribou on a beautiful morning and found campsite 1 filled, campsite 2 filled and campsite 3 filled. It was early and we weren't overly concerned but we wanted to stay on Caribou for the fishing and we had heard the 5 star site on Little Caribou was occupied by the Forest Service and we really didn't want to go all the way to Pine...but site 4 was open and we're glad we had to wait. It is a really nice site with a "living room" right at the edge of the lake, a small island right in front of it, ample tent sites and as we found out, good fishing. We planned to spend 2 nights there and then move on and that is what we did. The rest of the day was spent putting up camp, swimming and fishing on what was the nicest and warmest day of the trip.

My experience with Caribou Lake is that it seemed to be a very good smallmouth lake. We didn't see any walleye but caught lots of smallmouth in the 10-13 inch range and an occasional 16 incher. It was such a nice day that we were able to wade out hip deep and cast a bobber and a leech or jig and a leech and catch fish regularly. Towards late afternoon and time to start thinking about dinner, I cast my jig and leech out one more time a little further to the west and the bobber went down right away. Now I had brought two rods with and was using the medium light rod with 6 lb test but didn't anticipate these smallmouth being all this rod could handle. Especially this one...as soon as I set the hook I knew I had a good one and it took several minutes and a lot of muscle to get him in...a nice 19 1/2 inch smallie, nice and chunky, that had to be in the 5-6lb range. Boy was I excited! After a few pics, I let him go. Back at Flour Lake on the night before the trip we had carefully marked our spare wooden paddle with one inch increments between 0 and 30 inches so I know the length for sure...best smallie I have ever caught.


Dinner on our first night was to be steak and fresh potatoes and onions fried in oil and garlic. However, the steak was still frozen and being flexible, we decided to eat the 2 lbs of bacon for dinner since it was thawed, along with the potatoes. Jim and I had both owned different brands of backpack stoves which were very compact but before the trip we decided to each buy a Primus Classic Camp Stove (backpack stove) which were a little less compact but sturdy as heck and with a larger flame pattern so less likely to create hot spots. We brought a non stick griddle with us and becaue the stoves were the same height it worked beautifully to set up 2 stoves on a level spot and lay the griddle across them both. Dinner was a success. We enjoyed a nice evening and a small fire and early to bed.

Tuesday morning Jim and I were both up before the sun, which is our custom. We are both early risers and avid photographers so the question isn't are we getting up early but who is making the coffee. It was one of those calm foggy mornings and we could barely see the island in front of our site. A great way to start our day.

As the fog began to break, the colors changed and new scenes emerged...

The plan for the day was to day trip to Johnson Falls which we had heard so much about. After sunrise photos, coffee and a breakfast of steak (finally thawed) and a dozen eggs, we packed up fishing gear, cameras and lunch and made our way across Caribou, Little Caribou and into Pine Lake. The trail to Johnson Falls is pretty easy to spot at the very West end of Pine Lake. It is a mildly rugged trail that takes about 15 minutes to traverse but the reward at the end is so worth it. On the portage into Pine Lake you cross a pleasant little river winding its way through the woods but this turns out to be the same river that rushes over two different set of falls that were quite impressive. The lower falls is beautiful and has a great swimming hole at its base. We spent a lot of time there swimming and made it to the base of the falls for another waterfall massage.

You would never guess that there was another set of falls upstream from these but luckily I had heard about them and they were even more spectacular than the lower falls.

We spent 2-3 hours at Johnson Falls and had a blast but eventually took the path back to the canoes and made our way back to Caribou Lake. A bit of fishing and much relaxing was the order of the evening. From here on out we were on dehydrated meals but it all tastes good up there and we enjoyed every one of them. Monday had been upper 70s and today had been maybe 70 and the forecast was for rain and temps to continue to cool down a bit. We had decided to move tomorrow, rain or not, to see some new country.

Wednesday dawned as beautiful as any other morning so far and Jim and I beat the sun up again. Another beautiful sunrise, perhaps even foggier than the day before and different photo ops this morning.


Breakfast of oatmeal and dried fruit and a hasty takedown of camp and we were on our way. Our destination was Alder Lake for that day via Deer, Moon and Bearskin. The portaging was just challenging enough to remind us that we weren't at home watching TV, but it was a nice day and we were in no hurry. Upon getting to Alder, we checked out the campsite to the west of the portage but it wasn't anything special so we moved on. As we got to the main part of Alder, there is a nice looking campsite on the east facing point but it was occupied, as were the 3 on the north shore. So we headed for the far west facing point; we were willing to move on to Canoe Lake or even further if necessary but at the same time hoped to stay on Alder. As we approached it looked to be empty but didn't look so great. Looks can be deceiving, it was a very nice site with plenty of tent room and a large open elevated main camp area with a nice fire spot. So we made camp and relaxed the rest of the day. Thursday was to be another layover day with the focus on day trips further west and some serious fishing. We thought...

Our campsite on Alder

Thursday morning dawned with a fierce wind from west to east across the expanse of Alder right into our faces, and for good measure rain squalls that would last for 15 minutes, let up for 10, and then start again. This was to be the weather of the day; we were windbound. This day turned out to be a lazy one, with lots of coffee, snacking and storytelling around the fire. At one point about midday we decided to bushwhack back into the woods and see about getting some serious firewood, since it looked like we were going to be in camp all day. As I came back into camp with an armload a canoe was pulling into our site. It turned out to be a couple forest service guys who were soaked and a bit shook up by the ride they had just taken. Their mission was to replace the latrine in our site (which needed it badly). We shot the breeze with them for a bit and displayed our permit upon request, and then they got to work. After selection of a new site for the biffy, they began the arduous process of digging a 3x3 square hole 4 feet deep amid hope they didn't run into a huge boulder halfway down. Well they did, but luckily they were able to get it out. these guys were probably around 30, knowledgeable about the BWCA and fun to talk to. They were also working hard and sweating up a storm despite the cool temps. They finally finished their task about 4PM and we found out that they had really hoped to camp at this site so they could dig the new latrine at their leisure over 2 days. Oh well, they were resigned to moving on to Canoe and hope for an open site there. It was a tricky takeoff for them but once they got going they seemed to do okay...didn't look like that much fun though as they were very heavily loaded and bucking a fierce wind. As they left there was some joking about the virgin latrine and who was going to spoil it. Well, I am proud to say, I can add the Alder Lake latrine to my long list of conquests!

We finished up the day with dinner and fireside conversation and high hopes for better weather tomorrow. We planned on heading out tomorrow and going east to west on a couple large lakes in this wind wasn't the greatest prospect. As the sun went down the clouds seemed to break a bit for a nice sunset and we were hopeful...

A colorful sunset from our windbound camp on Alder Lake

Friday morning we awoke to somewhat better conditions. It was partly sunny and less windy although far from a calm day. We figured we better get breakfast done and camp torn down to be on the water somewhat early...not that we had a long day in front of us but to avoid the wind that seems to rise as the day goes on. Breakfast for the second day in a row was a dehydrated meal that we wrapped up in tortillas and it was very good - we had never brought tortillas with us before and they proved to be a good addition. We spooned some of the dehydrated dinner entrees into them a couple nights and it worked well...they also work with peanut butter and sausage for lunch.

The way out was Alder to the southern portage into East Bearskin, which was a much nicer alternative than the northern one we had taken into Alder a couple days earlier. Across Bearskin halfway, then cut north to the portage to Flour Lake. Of course by this point it had turned into a pretty nice day...seems it is always that way when you're heading out. As we headed across Flour Lake we were transitioning back into civilization with occasional cabins and a resort. At the far western end the Flour Lake access was waiting for us. Our plan was to stay here again tonight, in the same awesome campsite if we could, and it was open. We lugged all our gear to the campsite, grabbed a snack and then began the walk to Clearwater Resort and outfitters where our cars were parked. The walk was maybe a couple miles and actually rather pleasant. Once back in camp, there was nothing to do but relax. Scott and I went out fishing and I closed out the evening with a nice 18 inch smallie as the sun was going down. Tomorrow we were to head back home.

It was another good trip, enjoyed by all. Weather was mostly good, the scenery was gorgeous, the fishing was decent, the company was good and there were no mishaps to speak of. We start the trip camping for a night in a state or national forest campground and spend our last night after coming out of the BWCA the same way. I really like doing it that way, it seems to ease the transition going in and coming out. Johnson Falls was a definite highlight of the trip. If you are in the area and haven't seen it, I would do it. Jim and I chatted about how long we hope to be able to continue to do this...I think we settled on 70 for a goal, but why stop then if we don't have to?

A few more pics from the trip:

The living room of our Caribou Lake campsite

There is no better place to enjoy an early morning cup of coffee

Our Alder Lake campsite

After a nasty day of wind and rain, we enjoyed this nice Alder Lake sunset

Lakes Traveled:   Clearwater Lake, Caribou Lake, Little Caribou Lake, Pine Lake, Deer Lake, Moon Lake, Alder Lake, East Bearskin Lake, Flour Lake,