Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

First BWCA Trip
by AlexC

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/11/2020
Entry Point: East Bearskin Lake (EP 64)
Exit Point: Clearwater Lake (EP 62)  
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 10
Trip Introduction:
We spent the last 5 days in the Boundary Waters on Lake Caribou. What an amazing place! Two dads and 8 eighteen year old boys, four canoes, a dozen fishing rods, four tents, two campsites and one black poodle.
Our trek from MPLS began Friday morning - we drove 4+ hours up to Clearwater Lodge where we spent the first night in the bunkhouse. The stars were the brightest I’ve ever seen them - zero light pollution! At 7 am the next day we all got up and got the gear ready for our portaging into the wilderness. We divided into two groups, one of 7 and one of 3 as we had two different permits - one for EP62 and one for EP64, two entry points as the limit is 9 people for one group together. The three of us dropped into East Bearskin Lake at 9:15 for the paddle to the first and longest portage of 115 rods over to Moon Lake. We put in about a mile East of where we planned so the paddle took quite a bit longer. We were determined to do our first portage in one trip so we packed everything possible into 2 carrying packs per person. It worked until we got to the stairs! Challenging to get a 20 ft canoe down a stairs... we had two more short portages to Deer Lake and then to Caribou and met up with another canoe in our second group as planned at noon for lunch. The third group had set out for the campsite on Little Caribou earlier and we didn’t see them until dinner. After scouting #1 and #2 campsites on Caribou we chose those two and base camped because they were so nice and they had a handy trail behind them that was a 5 minute walk between the campsites. I set up my tent in the most amazing spot up on the cliff looking over the lake.

Dinner the first night was steak and chicken breast with sides. Unfortunately, the outfitter forgot a few things in our food kit - 7 steaks, 7 bagels, missing cookies and zero coffee, more on that later... We spent the day fishing and caught a couple from shore. The next day we explored the lake in pairs trying to find the best spots to fish. Lots of time was spent gathering dead wood for the camp fires. Luckily they had lifted the ban right before we left. After dinner we rigged the bear barrel about 7 feet off the ground over the cliff edge to the lake. We figured if he tried to get to the food he’d likely fall into the lake...

Day 2 - I woke up to the sunrise out the front of my tent - beautiful! Looked at my watch, WTF - it was 4:45am! Oh well, tried to get back to sleep, but the loons were calling each other and it was cool to listen to so I walked the shore and took in the wilderness. While we were fishing that morning I managed to drop my fishing pole in the water, duh. Since I had to retrieve it, I spent some time floating around in the life jacket, felt wonderful. We decided to swim to the boys campsite - a little less than a quarter of a mile. We thought they’d be impressed, nope. They had seen a snapping turtle and decided to pass on swimming. He came to try and steal some of the fish in the rock cove the boys had created. We later saw him or his brother at our campsite too. He was about the size of a trash can lid.

We challenged the boys to catch as many fish as possible. After inventorying all the food and realizing we were short a dinner and a breakfast we would have to ration the remaining food to make it the four more days. This went over well with 8 teenagers... however, they came through and caught at least a dozen larger fish. We had bass and walleye in ShoreLunch batter with garlic mashed potatoes for dinner and it was exceptional! Dessert was 1/3 of a cookie due to our rationing. We saw a bald eagle hunting and catching fish on the lake, quite a sight.

Day 3 - We spent fishing and hammocking. We caught just 4 fish, but it was fun trying to figure out where they were hiding. I tried fly fishing, but no luck - there were so many bugs on the surface and little biting - they were deeper in the lake. When we visited the boys campsite we discovered they had put the fish carcasses too close to camp and witnessed at least 7 vultures shrieking and fighting over the remains. Bet they didn’t get much sleep that night! The dads then decided that if the two of us took one of the smaller Kevlar canoes with just the bare minimum we could probably make it over to the outfitter and back in 3-4 hours. So we let the boys know and headed back starting with the 210 rod portage from Caribou to Clearwater. It quickly became a challenge to see how fast we could get back. Have you ever seen a grown man running with a canoe on his shoulders? We made it in 45 minutes! Quite pleased with ourselves when we docked, we explained what happened to Clearwater and they apologized and loaded us up with T-bones, bagels, coffee and extra dessert and gave us a beer and a tow across Clearwater Lake. It wasn’t quite as fast to portage with the additional coolers but we made it back round trip in less than 3 hours including waiting for them to pack the missing food. We proceeded to surprise the boys with steak on a stringer (our version of catching fish) and we ate very well that night - steak and mixed veggies.

Day 4 - Brought our first rain so we rigged up two tarps to cover the majority of the seating area in our campsite. Today was spent much the same as yesterday with fishing in the morning and late at night. We explored more of the south side of Lake Caribou, found lots of downed trees and big rocks for fish to hide behind. We caught 6 fish today, all bass. Went further west and discovered a small waterfall. We never made it to Johnson Falls leaving something for next time.

Day 5 - Clean up and pack out after some early morning fishing with my son. We improved camp site one by cutting two stools from a huge oversized log, at least 9” in diameter. We also stacked firewood under the tree for the next resident. The boys added rocks to the camp fire area and fully built out the fish house / cove. After we made sure everything was cleaned up we started out. Getting everything carried with the extra coolers and trash required double portaging with two groups on each return path. Dads and 2 kids took one route, paddling across Caribou while the other boys hiked on the trail to Clearwater. When we got to the lake we saw big whitecaps and the wind was very strong. We paddled hard and hugged the edge when possible as I concentrated on keeping the canoe point4d into the wind. We made it back to the lodge and had a welcome beer and everyone took a needed shower. We settled up and headed out to chow down at McDonalds.

Overall a fantastic trip. We definitely want to return and explore more of the BWCA lakes. Most used item; the MSR water filter. Least used item; extra clothes. Most valuable tool, the dealy bob bungee cords - we used them for portaging, holding everything together, setting up the tarps, hanging items in the tent, hanging the trash to the bear barrel, etc... excellent invention. We forgot tongs for cooing and could have used a 3 or 5 gallon bucket for a lot of things...