Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

East Bearskin August 2016
by cowdoc

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/27/2016
Entry Point: East Bearskin Lake (EP 64)
Exit Point: Clearwater Lake (EP 62)  
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 5
Trip Introduction:
I knew it was going to be a busy spring and summer with one member of our group planning a wedding and another member taking a summer college class. August was our only option and I did not want to go during peak season. The week we chose was a small window between schools starting up and the Labor Day weekend rush. As it turned out, things were very quiet. Had our pick of great camps, saw very few people and weather was great.
This was kind of a squeezed in trip. Daughter was planning a wedding.....son took a summer class.....lots going on. I had been on a Fall trip out of East Bearskin years ago and liked the area. The kids had never seen Johnson Falls. It just seemed like a good place to go, but I know it can be busy. The last week of August looked appealing with schools starting up and the Labor Day crowd not yet there. We drove up on Friday the 26th and came out on Thursday 9/1 and drove home Friday 9/2 we watched the hordes of campers, boats, RV's and other traffic streaming north. All in all, the timing was great. I had been on call Thur. night but got my partner to cover last couple hours in the morning. Rolled the kids out and ripped all my work gear out of truck and reloaded with canoes and packs. It's about a 9-10 drive for us and we pulled into Gunflint outfitters around 4pm. Checked in with Mocha and gave her a chunk of Smoked Gouda, I am going to miss her up there, always a gracious host.......checked into our bunk house, and headed down to the patio for supper. Kiporby, who had been working at Seagull, and his daughter joined us as did Mocha. Some good beers, good food and good talk followed. The night finished with beautiful sunset and some pretty cool temps.

Getting ready for bed, we had our first mishap. My son tripped on some stone steps while headed to the bath house and layed open his knee cap with a nice gash. We dug the first aid kit out and I debated suturing it (yes....I carry a suture kit), but instead I just cleaned it up well and used surgical super glue. We had to clean it up a few times on the trip, but by the end, it was healing quite well, even with a fair amount of swimming. We were up fairly early and downed a box of donuts and juice boxes. Mocha let us throw some beer and cheese (Gift cheese for our last night at Tusc) into their walk in cooler and we hit the road for East Bearskin. The landing was quiet and after a quick "corny" pic (thanks gang....), we headed east on a beautiful morning paddle in the BW.

As we approached the portage to Alder, a pair of middle aged couples was pulling out and they said that they had just left a wonderful site, straight across from the portage on Canoe Lake. We thanked them and kept it in mind as we paddled down Alder while looking at other sites. Most of the good ones were occupied but some were open. We did the portage into Canoe and sure enough, the site directly across was open. We paddled over and grabbed a snack and I set the tarp up because it looked like it could rain. We did not unload the rest of the gear because the group at the west site looked like they were loading up to leave. We took a break and waited and checked over the rest of our present site. It's a nice site, lots of room, nice tent pads, good landing.......but it lacked variety. The rain held off and we paddled down to check out Paddle Lake. The boys went exploring up the creek to the north, but Lilcowdoc and I headed back just in time to see the group leave the west site. So, we paddled back to our temporary site and grabbed our gear and made an executive decision to move. By the time the boys came back, we were well into setting up camp. No other paddlers came by looking for camps and as it turned out we had Canoe to ourselves for the next 2 days. The new camp sits higher on a little point with fire grate up high and tents down by the water. There is a decent landing and some nice flat rocks out front.
We have a good steak and mashed tater supper and while relaxing around the fire, the night time snacking leads us to discover our next little mishap. Evidently a spare fuel bottle stored in the blue barrel along with some gear and some spare food has been leaking and has tainted a spare bag of jerky, gorp, 2 layover day Mac and Cheese lunches and a 24 pack of breakfast bars. This is not good cuz these boys can eat! Lilcowdoc does some inventory and some repacking and thinks we'll get by ok with just slight rationing and some meal rearranging. Disaster avoided! Tomorrow we will day trip to Johnson Falls and do some fishing. It's been kind of cool today and mostly overcast but it seems muggy in the tent and it rains a little over night. We wake to a nice day and polish off some bacon and pancakes for breakfast. The plan is to paddle to the east end of Canoe, stash the canoes, and hike up over the big Pine portage and take the spur trail to Johnson Falls. It will be a good warm-up for tomorrow when we portage all our gear across this monster. About 2/3 of the way across, there is evidence of the bad storm from earlier in the summer. Wow! Big trees just snapped off and others totally uprooted! The portage crews had done a great job of clearing the trail, but what a mess it must have been. I can't imagine what it must have been like in the woods that night. The spur trail is in pretty good shape and before long, we reach the falls. The group is really in awe of the sight and say it's one of the prettiest things they've seen in the BW. We brave the cooler water and swim a little while in the pool and take some photos. Then we go up and see the upper falls and climb way to the top. After a brief snack, we start to head back and meet a pair of women just arriving. They too think this is a wonderful place.
We hike back across the portage and paddle back to our site on the west end of Canoe. The afternoon is spent fishing and the boys get a few eater bass and my daughter catches the biggest walleye of her life. It's fish fry night with hashbrowns. Another storm rolls through sometime in the night with some thunder and lightening. It quits right before I roll out of the tent and the morning gets nice enough to dry out the tents and tarp so we can pack them up fairly dry. Time to move. I've been telling the group about the nice site on Little Caribou and they want to try for it. I tell them to have a plan B ready.
The day warms up quick, and it's muggy from the rain. Not a good combo for the Pine portage. We try to single portage usually, but I leapfrog and single the couple different hill climbs. The sweat is really rolling by the time we reach Pine so we rehydrate at the landing. My vote to look for a site on Pine is vetoed and the boys head for the Little Caribou portage. My daughter and I take our time and plan to sit at the landing while they scout ahead. They send a runner back across to tell us the site is taken, but, by the time we make the portage across, the people at the site pack up and head for our portage. It's the 2 ladies from Johnson Falls and they tell us to enjoy the wonderful site and we tell them to enjoy the Pine portage! Fair trade?? Old dad has to eat crow because I kept telling the crew this site is always taken in the summer. (I did stay there once on an October trip) Camp gets thrown up quick and the hot, sticky day begs us to use the small jumping rock off the front of camp to take a refreshing swim. After the swim, the afternoon is spent relaxing, some shore fishing and looking for some decent firewood. Tonight is going to be pizza night so we need enough fuel to cook 3 "zas" in the reflector oven.
The day finishes off with a gorgeous sunset.
Next morning is pancakes and bacon and a little day trip over to Caribou for fishing. The wind kicks up a little and makes fishing tough, but we scrape out some smallies along the south shore. Paddled by the far east site on Caribou and scoped it out from the water. Looks like a decent site with a nice set of front steps. At lunch time we head back for some some makeshift tacos and soup. More relaxing and exploring in the afternoon. The boys find some old tin can relics behind camp. Supper is spaghetti with some garlic biscuits baked in the reflector oven. Tomorrow we will pack up and head for Clearwater. The night is a little cooler and better sleeping....feeling more like September is coming.
Lilcowdoc and I are up early for coffee and rock sitting. A family of 3 otters makes their way down the bank across from us. They are fun to watch but hard to get a picture of because they never hold still. A beaver swims back by the other way.....I think the otters pissed him off. Time for a quick breakfast and break camp.
The nice morning doesn't last long and it gets overcast, breezy and cool as we pack up and shove off. We make the portage into Caribou and have a short paddle over to the portage to Clearwater. A pair of eagles are hanging around near the portage....a little too far away for a great photo, but nice to see.

I'm glad it's a little cooler this morning because this portage is a gradual uphill climb for a long ways. It's a good path for the most part, but it will get your heart thumping. "Clearwater has clear water". Yes, it looks very clear compared to Little Caribou. I'm not sure what was going on in Little Caribou but it had a very green hue to it. Probably an algae bloom. Clearwater looks gorgeous and very empty. We don't see anybody around and decide to look for a site here on the east end seeing as how there is a pretty good wind blowing out of the west. The far east campsite is open and looks like a winner. We decide to stop travelling early and set camp up here. The gang would rather relax in camp than keep paddling. They've had a long, busy summer and I'm just glad they made it up here. This is actually a pretty nice site. Decent landing, some good tent pads, nice firepit area and a pretty decent jumping rock. There is some blowdown from one of the summer storms. I bet things were a little dicey here that night. After camp is set, we take a little paddle and do a little fishing but the wind drives us back to camp. This site faces SE and blocks the wind a little. A pair of FS workers paddle by headed east with saws and tools.....probably doing more trail clearing from the storm. A boat comes by later......I forgot that Clearwater allows motors and it kind of surprises me. It's a little cool, but the boys can't resist jumping off the small cliff by camp. They had brought swim goggles and checked out the depth ahead of time and came face to face with numerous small mouth bass. Another surprise was a group hiking the BRT that came into camp. The FS workers had told them this site was open so the y pressed on from West Pike area. They were a little bummed to find the site occupied. I told them sorry, but that I was sure the FS had seen us there. We invited them to stay at some open areas behind the site but they chose not to impose and I think they bivouacked somewhere back up by the trail. Supper was chicken and rice tortillas and the cool, cloudy day turned into a pretty cold night. It was good sleeping.
We're up early, eat breakfast and pack up camp. The plan is to paddle out the length of Clearwater to Clearwater Outfitters and get a ride back to my vehicle. It's a cool morning and still a tad overcast, but the good news is that there is a decent east wind that will be AT OUR BACKS! It is a very pleasant paddle down the lake and the views of the cliffs and palisades are spectacular. Lilcowdoc and I catch a glimpse of an otter running down the bank as we paddle along checking out the campsites. Only one is occupied. While paddling past the biggest set of palisades, we see a bird take flight from one of the highest peaks. Lilcowdoc says it appears to be a "bird of prey" and keeps watching it. I turn forward and keep paddling. Suddenly, I hear a loud tearing of wings in the air and Lilcowdoc gasps, "Falcon!" I hear a Bluejay screeching and turn to my left to see a Peregrine Falcon with a Bluejay in it's talons flying about 20 yards above the water alongside of us. Lilcowdoc had seen the whole event unfold as the Falcon stooped from 250 feet up and picked a Jay out of a small flock that was crossing the lake. Eventually we find the dock at Clearwater Outfitters and I purchase a ride back to my vehicle. My gang gets the canoes pulled up and unpacked to make loading up quick and easy.
After loading up and thanking the Clearwater people, we head for Trail Center for ice, a cold beer, and some malts. Then we head to Gunflint to pick up our beer and cheese from their cooler. Thanks again Sheryl! Then it's off to Trails End Cafe for a relaxing lunch out on the deck. We are going to grab a bunk at Tuscarora but on our way there, we stop at Seagull to see if Kiporby is there and make plans for supper at TC. He is working a split shift and is gone but we leave a message with another worker who was expecting us. Then it's off to the Magnetic Rock Trail. The day has gotten warmer and sunny and it's a beautiful walk out to the Rock. The small maples are already turning red as Autumn reminds us that it is not too far away. The kids have never seen the Magnetic Rock and enjoy the trail.

After our hike we head to Tuscarora and check in, drop off some great Wisconsin cheese and grab our bunks and a shower. They have converted the old store into a bunkhouse with a table, couch and some easy chairs along with 9 beds. Nice digs!

By now, the beer has chilled on the ice and it tastes good as I sit and relax on the couch. We lounge for a couple of hours until supper time and then head down to Trail Center for another great meal there and have a good time talking about our trip with Kip and his daughter. In the morning, we head to Grand Marais for coffee and Worlds Best Donuts before hitting the road. Another great trip is in the books.