Crowded Clearwater loop
by eagle93

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/09/2007
Entry & Exit Point: Clearwater Lake (EP 62)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 8
Trip Introduction:
This was the sixth trip this summer as part of our school's summerschool program. A total of 34 students, 20 girls and 14 boys, participated. Sixteen were rookies.
Clearwater to Pine and Back Through the Pikes.

Group was six 16 or 17 year old females and two mid 50’s males. Joe is the husband of our school secretary and active in the community. Five of the six girls are former students of mine. Tia is a thrower that made it to sectionals last spring as a sophomore. This is her third trip and I’m happy she is along. She is strong, funny, and a good team player. Alex is on her second trip. She’s a lifeguard, tough, and organized. Natalie is also a lifeguard. This is her first trip. I was a little worried (needlessly) about her physical strength. Her ever-present smile and good nature is an asset to the group. Kaari is also on her first trip. She becomes the camp mom and keeps everyone on task. Bobbi is 5 feet nothing and 90 pounds. She proved that good things come in small packages when she carried the 70 pound canoe on a half-mile portage. She does power lifting in school and has lifted well over 400 pounds total. Her only problem, she needs to be fed every two hours or she runs out of gas. Haily is the only unknown to me as she went to elementary school in Ettrick. She proves to be tough, hardworking, and has a wicked wit. This turned out to be one of the best groups I have ever had the pleasure of traveling with. They were tough, determined, and fun.

Day 1 August 8

We left Galesville around 8 AM. Took our usual route and were in Superior by noon. Lunch and leeches were bought and we were on our way again. We stop at Gooseberry as usual, again not much water and too many people. On to Grand Marais where we pick up our permit. A short stop at the Holiday station and it is up the Trail to East Bearskin for the night. The campground is almost empty. Strange for this time of year. Supper is followed by a campfire where we discuss the plans for the next day. We want to camp somewhere near the west end or middle of Pine Lake.  We hit the sack by 9:30 to an increasing wind. Does this sound familiar?

Day 2 August 9

Up at 5:30 and at the Clearwater landing by 7:15. There is only 1 parking space left and we see 2 groups of canoes already on the lake.(Clue #1) We get to the portage by 8 AM and share it with 2 other groups. (Clue#2) We had talked about this portage being confusing, but there are three intersections, not just the one shown on the map. The girls do fine, Joe takes a wrong turn and ends up doing an extra 300 or so rods. Was a good experience for the girls to see an adult make a mistake and provided an amusing anecdote that was brought up frequently during the trip. Joe was a very good sport about it. After that we appointed one of the girls to guide him on the portages. The wind decides that Caribou will be were it begins to be a problem. We are going east, directly into the wind. We stop at a closed campsite for a snack. With girls, I usually stop at open campsites for snack so they can use the latrine. But there were no open campsites on Caribou, nor would we see one until 5:30 that afternoon. We portage into Little caribou and find its only campsite occupied. On to Pine. On the portage we meet two groups who have just left Pine and find out which sites they had vacated. Joe and I help Tia and Bobbi over the portage so that they can go ahead and find the “empty” campsites. The rest of us finish the portage and follow. They report back via radio that the first 3 sites are taken, only a half-hour ago 2 were open. We stop for a snack short of the occupied south shore site. Joe and I scout out the next 4 sites, filled. Even the backpacking site has canoes on the shore below it. We stop at a island that would do in a pinch, but it has tall trees and a thunderstorm is threatening and I decide to move on. Joe and I split up and paddle with Bobbi and Tia. Their dash against the wind to find a campsite has left them tired. At this point let me say that I am getting worried about where to spend the night. The girls have been real troopers and continue to paddle without complaint. Storm clouds start to chase us down the lake. We hear thunder and pull over to the shore. We wait for about a half hour than continue paddling in the rain. The wind has let up some by this time. About a half mile from the channel into McFarland Lake we meet 2 guys that tell us the last campsite on Pine is open We thank them and with renewed energy paddle to the still open campsite and claim it as ours. Everyone is happy with the site. It is spacious, grassy, and has a great view of Pine.

The rain has stopped and the sun came out! We love it even if it is our only choice. It is 5:30 and we have a home for the next two nights. The only downside is that our backdoor is on McFarland Lake, which isn't in the BW. Tents go up and suits go on. The girls want to swim before eating. After the swim, everyone pitches in, supper is made and eaten, and cleanup is completed. Six pounds of sirloin, 16 servings of mashed potatoes, 2 pounds of carrots, and a package of Oreo’s disappear. Suddenly, Pine is no longer the cursed lake most thought it was earlier, but a very stunning and welcoming lake. We had gone by 16 campsites until this one. We had paddled about 13 miles into the wind and with rain. We had faced the possibility of no campsite, a first for me. We were beat. Everyone, however, felt a real sense of accomplishment. The girls were actually very upbeat about the whole day. Things had ended well. I feel that this group has jelled already and the best is yet to come. While sitting along the shore, a couple of groups come by our site heading for McFarland. They are heading home. It is too crowded. One trio had been on Mountain Lake last night and had traveled farther than we had today. One of them said, “We did a 5 day trip in 38 hours. ”It really was a zoo today, the worst I had ever seen. Everyone is in bed by 9:30. I look at the map and wonder if we move tomorrow to East Pike if we will find a campsite. I decide to do a layover day tomorrow and have the girls rest up. When we move and if East Pike is filled, I want the girls rested enough to move to West Pike.

Day 3 August 10

Even though a layover day, most are up by 6 AM. It is sunny and pleasant. Bobbi is the last up and comes out of the tent when she smells the blueberry pancakes. This becomes the joke for the trip. If Bobbi isn't cooking, she always comes when she hears the rattle of the pots. During breakfast we enjoy a very pleasant visit with Rick, a ranger. He gives us many ideas for side trips , even points out some alternative (illegal) campsites on E. and W. Pike. We discussed the campsite situation and he gave me a form that he encouraged me to fill out and send to the Forest Service. He also showed us yellow spurge, an invasive species on our site. The girls pick all they can find during the day. He also stopped back later to mention a portage over the hill behind us that would cut out a lot of paddling. The rest of the day is spent reading, writing, resting, swimming, and fishing. Several smallies are caught and released.

Later that evening, while looking at the channel into McFarland, he ran into a fellow CCBBer, Carl.  He has a cabin on the lake. Carl gave us many tips and a lot of info on the area, including more on the portage from McFarland to East Pike. After our conversation, we went back to camp, gathered the group, and discussed the options. Option 1 was about a 7 mile portage with a flat 180 rd portage. Option 2 was a 240 rd portage over the hill behind our campsite. This portage is on 2 of our maps, but not the others. McFarland lake has an elevation of 1464, the top of the hill 1765, 300 feet of difference. East Pike is 1532, that’s another 150 down. I tell the girls that it would be like portaging Brady’s Bluff in Perrot State Park. There is little discussion, as a group they all say, “We can do that!” Plans are made to stay on West Pike tomorrow if we can find a campsite. We hope that West Pike is less crowded. That night, while trying to get to sleep, I am entertaining doubts about tomorrow. Can they do it? Will it break them? Will it kill me? Only tomorrow will see. I have a troubled sleep that night.

Day 4 August 11

Everyone is up and moving at 5:30. No relaxing cup of coffee this morning. They want to hit the water and assault the portage. We drift through the short channel to McFarland and to the landing that is only 150yds from our campsite. We discuss the plan; haul everything to the top, rest, than continue. The portage starts out rather steeply than, for the most part, continues as a gradual, steady climb. This continues for about 2/3 of the portage. We reach the top of the ridge and then go back for what was left. When all gear is up the hill we rest and drink plenty of water. The downhill part has several very step parts. So steep, that my knees are shaking when I reach the bottom.

Some of the girls actually run back up the portage to get their second load. We finish the portage in 1 1/2 hours. I am very proud of them and mention that last night I had harbored some doubts about their decision. They laugh at that and say “We said we could do it.” We paddle across East Pike to one of the alternative sites pointed out by the ranger and have a snack and a rest. East Pike is a somber lake. The dark firs and the skeletal trees along the shore and the drizzle that has started contribute to the feeling. I’m glad we had decided to move to West Pike, besides, the only campsite we pass is occupied. The 130 rd portage to West Pike reminds me of hiking in the woods at home. There are many birch and aspen, few conifers and little undergrowth. A hiking trail crosses our path near the end of the portage. Two of the girls wait at the intersection to direct Joe down the correct path. At the landing we meet the first people of the day. Very friendly and helpful. They have one of the campsites the ranger mentioned, but say that the island site is open. We reach the island site and look it over. It’s not a bad site, but too small for our group. It could do if we had to. It does have unique stone benches around the grate. Joe and I head out to scout the second site the ranger pointed out. The girls have another snack. The site is open and it is a 4 star site. Only thing missing is a big sitting rock. It makes up for it with many tent pads, a 270 degree view, and an openness that really gives a sense of freedom. We call the group on the radio and they head down the lake to us. They are happy with the site and soon make it home. Tents and tarp go up and gear is organized. The sun comes out and it gets breezy.  A great site and a great afternoon. Swimming, reading, and relaxing begin along with some fishing. The afternoon is 
very pleasantly “wasted. “ A wicked looking thunderstorm passes to the south of us. A lot of lightning. I feel sorry for whoever is under those clouds. There are very few bugs that evening as we gather on the rocks for some meteor watching and stargazing. The conversation becomes very philosophical as the girls marvel at the amount of stars and the brightness of the meteors. It is a great night. After going to bed the winds begins to really pick up, but the sky stays clear.

Day 5 August 12

Morning dawns clear, crisp and brisk. Most are up by 6:30, all by 7:00. Hot chocolate, coffee, and oatmeal are eaten in a unhurried fashion. After breakfast dishes are done, we find sun-warm rocks to sit on. Like reptiles, we soak up the warming rays. Hard to think of anything better. If the wind dies down, Joe and I plan some serious fishing. But that was not to be. The wind was stiff most of the day and we fished from shore with some success. This was another “wasted” day.

Something these girls don't often get to do with their busy schedules. They explore the area around our site, read, write, swim and relax. I take a 2 hour nap myself (migraine again). The day passes quickly despite doing nothing. That night we have a great conversation that covers many topics. These are tough and bright girls. Joe and talk about what a great group they have been and how much fun it has been to share this time with them. We relive some of the tense and happy moments. I tell them I appreciate their willingness to overcome the obstacles that had been placed in our path. They say thanks to Joe and I for taking them to the BW. An early out is planned for tomorrow, hopefully there will be no wind.

Day 6 August 13

We are on the water by 6:30 and heading for the portage into Clearwater. It is 214 rds with some ups and downs. A piece of cake after the “mountain portage.” We stop for a snack and a bathroom break, then continue down Clearwater.

The wind is behind us for the first time this trip. As we approach the landing, one of the girls says, “It looks like the gathering of the armies of Mordor.” There are several groups of canoes heading for the landing. We join about a dozen canoes already at the landing. The parking lot is still crowded and more are coming. Two groups are going out and 3 or 4 groups are leaving. I caution the girls to keep an eye on everything and we load quickly. It is 11:00 AM. We head to Hungry Jack to shower and I buy a BW patch for each of the girls. I visit with Dave Seaton while the girls finish, then on to GM for shopping and pizza. We spend the night at East Bearskin again.

Day 7 August 14

Up early and at the World’s Greatest Donuts when they open. It’s an uneventful trip home.