Spring??? in the Misquah hills
Having spent the previous night in one of their bunkhouses, after packing up, we now walk over to the beautiful & historic Clearwater Lodge to grab breakfast. This building is an absolute MUST SEE (at least once) for anyone/everyone who ventures up the Gunflint Trail. It is a National Historic Landmark and the original proprietors, Charlie & Petra Boostrom, were the first to see the potential of the area for wilderness tourists. Inside the lodge, the unique diamond willow furniture and stone fireplace give an added north woods feel to this awesome structure. There is even an interpretive aspect; detailing the Boostrom's life here at the lodge, as well as, some of the other owners and an overall history of the place.
After breakfast we walk over to the outfitting building to pick up our permit for Ram Lake EP #44. A strange, but welcome, irony is that the man working at the outfitters just exited from Ram Lake yesterday and informs us that all the campsites on Little Trout Lake (our hopeful destination) were occupied. Good to know.
Lima Mountain road (152) is nearly over run with rabbits as we slowly navigate our way back to the Ram Lake EP parking lot. At the intersection of the Lima grade, we take a left and drive south west. (An interesting side bar - This road used to be part of the old logging railroad that ran all the way up to Rose Lake.) There isn't any signs or anything and we motor right past the parking lot. Fortunately we notice the err of our ways immediately after passing by. There is a tiny sign that is barely noticeable if coming from the other (NE) direction.
There's room for about 7-8 vehicles here, and we take note that there are 4 cars still here now. Coupling this with the recent intel our outfitter gave us about Little Trout we decide that, if we don't see anyone camped on Ram Lake, we'll grab a site there versus risking full occupancy on Little Trout and having to backtrack. Because we definitely are not gonna undertake the monster portage into Misquah Lake - or, perhaps, even further. Especially since the lone camp on that beautiful lake is a very undesirable site.
It's gray and gloomy and the humidity is sky high but, it's not supposed to rain. We set off down the trail with our first loads, excited to start our latest adventure. From the parking lot a well worn gravel path rolls up & down a few small knobs before abruptly morphing into a grueling boulder laden ascent, virtually the whole way up to Ram Lake. At one spot there is even a short stone staircase to aid in the climb. Just after officially entering into the wilderness the trail drops steeply down on another unique stone staircase that terminates at the small bouldery landing on Ram Lake. The combination of this challenging trail, bulging packs, high humidity, advancing age & first portage of the year conspire to wear us down rather quickly.
There is a clearly visible school of suckers sloshing/spawning around just out from shore as we load up. The skies are beginning to open up, increasing the heat index. Much like most designated trout lakes, Ram has a definite alpine feel with high hills rising up around the perimeter of this gin clear basin of water. Aurora wants to paddle so I give her my double blade as we head for the apparently unoccupied site in the NE corner of the lake. Indeed, it is empty, but even from shore it doesn't overly impress any of us as we change course and head for the other site.
Pre-trip planning had indicated that the western peninsula site is the better of the two on the lake. As we paddle up; we agree with that assessment and since this site is also vacant, per our pre-portaging discussion, we decide to call this home for the next few days.
Since the lake drops off rather quickly, the boulder strewn landing is quite manageable. There isn't a real convenient spot for canoe storage but, the fire grate area is nice and there are a couple of nice tent pads. Deciding to use the one nearest the shoreline for our kitchen, I set the CCS tarp up over the extra log seating provided there. My two favorite canoe country trees are white pine & cedar. This site is blessed with several mature specimens of both species that provide optimal shade, cover and multiple hammock options; while supplying an all inclusive carpet of pine duff flooring keeping the grass and brush (i.e. less bugs) to a minimum.
While Vickie & I get camp setup, Aurora entertains herself by catching frogs and exploring our nearby surroundings. The trail to the latrine is quite steep but, relatively easy exploration of the surrounding forest lures our curious child and she discovers that there is a bird nest up in one of the trees along the way and she also finds a cedar tree growing over the top of a large boulder.
Having arrived, and gotten camp completely setup, so early we decide to go out for a paddle. Aurora hooks into something fairly quickly but, it ends up spitting the hook before she gets it back to the canoe. Afternoon fishing proves to be quite tough, as Aurora's near miss is our only glimmer of hope, so our minds begin to wander.
Since we're so close anyways, we pull off to the NE campsite to take a look see. The tiny constricted landing is difficult to negotiate and there is a decent climb up to the site proper. The fire grate is sloped and cobbled with little in the way of log seating but, it does offer a great view of the lake from this elevated perch. A nice canopy of mature white pines provide a warm sheltered feel and there are a couple really nice flat tent pads. It's a fair site but, we definitely prefer ours.
Back in our camp, relaxing in the shade provided by our CCS tarp,we take a break from the humidity and enjoy our supper of porterhouse steaks and potatoes. In what for us is an unheard of occurrence on a day one of a trip; (after dishes are done) for the second time today, we venture out in the canoe for another crack at fishing and exploring.
The mayflies are hatching and we are constantly seeing trout surfacing to gobble them up. Unfortunately, I don't have tackle that corresponds and again we don't have much luck. Our original plan had been to make it back to Little Trout Lake. Obviously that didn't happen today but, we're determined to get there tomorrow or the next day. So, in a bit of a reconnaissance mission, we decide to hike the trail to Kroft Lake; which originates a short distance north behind our camp.
There is a large semi-flat boulder here that serves as a makeshift dock. The trail climbs up out of Ram over occasional rocks and roots. There are several twists and turns and a few minor ups and downs along the way. At about the mid point there is a nice cedar tree just off the trail, and there are some nice ones at the Kroft Lake end near where the diminutive brook exits this murky lake. (These somewhat remind me of the ones on French Lake at the portage into Seahorse Lake.) This end is muddy but, still has a few boulders to contend with and is already quite buggy.
Back in camp, the humidity finally begins to relent and Vickie decides to bake some muffins. Of course that means there will be dirty dishes to clean. Fortunately for us, Aurora has become quite adept at cleaning the bowl & spoon. :)