Clearwater, West Pike and Pine, with a side of Gogebic
7:00 AM We all meet at the church in the Twin Cities, a big groggy troop with repacking into borrowed/rented packs going on everywhere. It is already hot, a bad sign. There are 4 groups of scouts going in. 2 on Clearwater today and 1 on East Bearskin today. 1 other group going in East Bearskin tomorrow. An hour later, we are still in the dang lot. Umm... Be Prepared? I have read that to get a campsite on Clearwater, we need to be in early. I tell myself to relax, understand "early" won’t be in the cards for us, and go with the flow.
I am on a entry permit with 3 dads and 3 boys. One pair are record holding, Extreme Fishermen. One pair are very experienced BWCA Hero’s complete with their sidekick, the portage dog, they are the ones who have all the cool stuff. Then there is us, the Newbies.
Our ride to Grand Marais is uneventful. Happy to have some good times with the father/son talks on the way. My son is quite excited for the adventure. Our group is last to leave the cities, by 20 minutes or so, but not the slowest. We start passing other groups in Cloquet/Duluth area. I have never been to the BWCA, but every canoe on 35 catches my eye.
In Grand Marais we meet as Sven & Ole’s, some groups are happily digging into pizza lounging away. I just want to start our adventure, drop in and find a site, but we get a status update. It sounds like we have minivans and SUV’s spread up and down 35 and 61 with various senses of urgency and various mechanical problems.
A full hour later, we stand around the ranger station parking lot for another 30 minutes waiting for folks to get more gas in their car, round up slower drivers. There are folks with alternator/battery and tire problems. Note to self, plan in small groups for such trips, this is crazy.
After the movie, we head up the Gunflint trail. Another 30 minutes are lost standing around Clearwater Outfitters pointing at maps and investing in leeches. I finally ditch everyone standing around and go to the EP. A full group of college kids are at the entry point already so I start unpacking the car and changing clothes while they do their thing. I help them with a departure photo and off they go. They are going to Caribou as they think Clearwater sites will be taken. It is 3:30 after all. As the rest of my group drive up and start to load the canoes we see the 3 aluminum rental canoes meander by that are our the guys of our other Clearwater group.
We bid the Port-O-Potty adieu and we are off! There is a perfect wind on our back and we slide over small whitecaps. We cross the BWCA border and there was much rejoicing. The cabins are far behind us, and the canoes breeze by the palisades with camera’s snapping away, this doesn’t look like the Minnesota that I know. Smiles are everywhere. Although I do notice that 11 year olds don’t paddle continuously regardless of encouragement.
The BWCA Heroes Kevlar MNII is flying, luckily they have the food pack and dog to weigh them down or they would be horizon bound. The 17 ft Red Old Town Penobscot of the Fishermen and my green 16 ft Penobscot are dragging behind a bit, but still overtaking the Aluminum canoes of the other scout group. Lots of aluminum zig-zagging around us as I try to keep us from becoming a despised “flotilla”.
As expected all Clearwater sites are taken and we start to hit the portage to West Pike. 218 rods, not sure what that really means as this is my first portage in life. This does not count the walks I took my canoe for during the last week. Our cabin neighbors scratching their heads as my green canoe crosses their driveway views over hill and dale. Who walks canoes down the road when there is a perfectly good lake. I feel strong, not tired and healthy enough to single portage today. I also see both groups are now merging at the portage, it looks a bit like the storming of a beach head, so I rush to get the heck out of there. I skip my boots and soggy Keen my way across the portage with fully loaded #4 on by back, Canoe with spare paddle, rods and canoe seats on my shoulders, brat buns and eggs duct taped under seats. HOLY CRAP! By ¼ of the way, there is a long flat rock, making the path, I can’t lift my head anymore so that is all I see. Hot, sliding in mud. Will put on boots next portage. Something just passed me. Oh yeah, the dog. The rest of the portage is a hazy blur of mud, rock and greenery. I think this is the same thing a Clydesdale goes through on hills, when their muscles bunch, the heads bob and they simply continue on machine like.
At the end of the portage I walk back to help out with our group’s gear and food packs. I find our two groups are mixed together and the other group is struggling with heavy canoes small packs and large tents. I find BWCA Hero son failing under a large blue dry pack with some rods and other loose stuff. I grab the big pack from his back, know his dad has the rest of our stuff covered and get back to West Pike end. Load up and into our second lake. Happy again! I doubt I will carry that much on a single load again soon.
Our group leader is still on the end of the portage talking to our other group. “Is that everything?” Answer: “Pretty much, everything but the cooler.” COOLER? Ice packed food and drink? BWCA Hero Dad is bewildered. This wasn’t part of any plan. He offered spare packs, food packs the works. He helps the other grop with the cooler (3rd trip on the portge) and he sends us off to look for a site. “Everything but the cooler.” Was a source of comedic relief throughout the trip and ever since.
The first site on West Pike is open, looks a bit enclosed though, so we fly by it, hoping for one of the north side point sites. Wind still pushing us, sweat is drying, and the portage forgotten. The sun is getting lower. Both point sites are taken, so I am getting a little concerned. Cross over to look at the island site which was the kid’s first choice when looking at the map anyway. It is OPEN! Relief. It seems pretty heavily used, punky birch shreds everywhere. It has 2 decent tent sites, but not a good 3rd really. The fire grate area is good enough, not great. We unload and stake our claim. The other group from our troop notices point sites are taken and turns back for Site 1, other than being tucked in a bit to bug-ville, that is a decent site, great fire grate area and such. I wave in the Fishermen dad and son, we gather a bit of wood and start the fire. We wave in the BWCA Heros dad and son who tell us the story of the cooler. Laughter.
We set up our Island site as base camp for the next 4 nights. Putting two smaller tents on one pad. The frozen/fresh meats get cooked as tomorrow promises to be quite hot again. Brats and shredded chicken sandwiches. We start the cycles of canoeing out to the middle of the channel between the island and mainland to fill the 4 liter Sawyer gravity filter. AMAZING. Really happy with BWCA Hero’s equipment now. That Sawyer filter is the best thing ever. Easy, quick, clean water whenever, and lots is needed. Did I mention it was hot.
Attempt to sleep. Too hot. My son is sawing logs, so is the portage shepherd dog in the tent next door I stick to everything, happy to have a silk liner. Should have soaked in lake first, lesson learned. Clearwater Lake, West Pike Lake