West Pike, Gogebic, & Salvelinus Fontinalis ~ Good reason for freezin' by TuscaroraBorealis
Entry & Exit Point:
Clearwater Lake (EP 62)
Number of Days:
We planned on trying to get up to Gogebic lake and camp for a
few days to do some fishing & hiking along the Border Route
Day 1 of 6
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
John, Mark, & Shawn all planned to work today, so the plan was to meet up at Marks' place in Gilbert at 4:30 P.M. I work weekends so all I needed to do was wait for our friend Clarissia to show up to watch Aurora and I would be northward bound. I arrived on "Da Range" about 2:00 so I popped in to visit with my parents & Uncle Allen who had also stopped by. Had a hardy bowl of ham bone soup before leaving for Marks' place, which is only about a 10 minute drive from there.
Mark meets me outside and helps unload the precut UHMWPE sheet I had for his future tobaggon building project. We then unload all of our gear on a plastic tarp he has setup in his driveway so it is ready to be loaded into Shawns' truck when he arrives. Alas, shortly after doing so Mark contacts Shawn & discovers he is in Orr. Over an hour away and still has to stop & pick up John yet. Mark & I contemplate the situation and decide to drive up ourselves. We'd meet up with Shawn & John at Bearskin lodge later tonight. Marks' wife Tammy sends us off with some freshly baked rolls & honey.
I had called ahead to Bearskin lodge saying we'd be running late. As promised, upon arrival, they had left a note with instructions on which cabin was ours & how to get there. While Mark waited in the parking lot for the others I hauled our overnight bags up & got the sloppy joes going. Apparently Shawn was driving like a madman & arrived within a half hour of us. We settled in for the night, eating the sloppy joes & chips while shooting the breeze.
I thought Bearskin Lodge was a very, very nice place. More than met my expectations.
I was the first to turn in at about 11:00. Just as I was doing so a red fox hopped up onto the deck just outside our windows. Unfortunately, he disappeared before anyone could drag their camera out.
Day 2 of 6
Thursday, February 02, 2012
Woke to a balmy morning with a variety of feathered participants eagerly feeding on the smorgasbord of seeds from the feeder just outside our window.
After feasting on a delicious egg bake prepared by Mark, we packed up, and went snooping around the lodge a little further.
Soon enough we were on our way to the landing on Clearwater lake. There was an excellent plowed road all the way out to the wilderness boundary. We didn't want to offend whoever maintained that road so we parked our vehicles on shore. Shawn & John already had their sleds packed & ready to go. But, it didn't take too long for Mark & I to "saddle up." There was already a decent trail running east past the plowed road. That, coupled with the only 4-6 inches of snow on the lake, made the need to wear snowshoes unnecessary.
It was a foggy morning but the temperature was very mild with only a very light wind. We were targeting the site just before the portage into Mountain lake as our destination for today. Not really sure why? But soon after leaving the plowed road Mark, then John headed off the established trail and took a more southerly route. While Shawn & I stayed on the trail. After we passed the palisades it became apparent that Mark & John were lagging behind. Soon, they merged with us and we all followed that path east.
As we made our waydown the lake I would posthole occasionally. But, it was usually only a couple of inches or so. Also there were a handful of slush pockets to be negotiated. But, once again, they were only 2-4 inches worth and didn't last more than 30-40 yards. Sweat management seemed to be the biggest obstacle we had to overcome. We took our time, taking several short breaks along the way.
Pressing on we find that the established trail leads right to our desired campsite & that it is currently occupied. Our makeshift plan is to now find a suitable spot somewhere along the south shore, perhaps around the large point to offer some protection from a north wind. We break new trail eastward towards the large southern bay. Finding no suitable protected areas, (there is slush on the lake near shore) the decision is made to push for the eastern most campsite near the portage into West Pike.
As Shawn, then I break trail towards that destination we encounter some bad slush just before the opening we presume is the campsite. Fortunately, for me, my boots are just high enough (by an inch or two) so as not to allow the slush/water to run in over the top. Having big feet finally pays off! The rest of the crew end up with wet feet.
Pulling up on shore there is a convenient flat opening perfect for our shelter. Even a couple of nice downed trees very near for firewood. It's a little cramped, and I don't see a firegrate, but it will serve us nicely.[paragraph break]
Mark and I begin gathering than sawing/splitting some firewood while Shawn prepares the ground for our shelter. John clears, then builds up a nice fire ring and has a blaze going in short order to warm up wet feet.
We'd traveled & worked a little harder than expected today. But, this will be home for tonight, and we were happy for it.
After drying out some, John & Mark prepare supper. Brocoli cheddar soup & polish. Mark took note of the fact that Shawn had only taken a spoon or two of his soup and then just set it down. Wondering if there was something wrong, Mark asked why Shawn hadn't eaten his soup yet? Well, Shawn had just had 22 of his teeth ground and capped a couple days prior to this trip and his teeth were still quite sensitive. In fact he was still on pain medication. So his response to Mark was, "That soup is so f@$%ing hot that it lit my mouth up like a Christmas tree! I'm waiting for it to cool down some." Needless to say that became a running joke for the duration of our trip.
Fortunately temperatures were mild so drying out wet boots & socks wasn't as problematic as it might have been otherwise. 3 of us slept under John's canvas shelter while Mark fashioned a lean to out of my CCS tarp. Apparently he didn't want to have to climb out of his bag to answer natures call in the middle of the night? I had some trouble regulating my sleep system. First I actually got too warm, then later, was chilled before finally finding the happy medium. John complained of a similar problem. The occasional distant owl calls resonated throughout the night.
Day 3 of 6
Friday, February 03, 2012
There was some concern last night about the condition of the lake with regards to slush the remainder of the distance to the West Pike portage trail. No one wanted to try it if it was anything like the last 100 yards or so before we got to this spot. So while breakfast was being prepared I went to scout out and hopefully break trail to the portage.
I was happy to report back that, while there was some slush, it was nothing terribly bad & that we would be able to make it without getting wet feet. Also, I discovered the actual official campsite was just down the shoreline to the east. Ah well? Our site had served it's purpose. Meanwhile, there was a bit of drama unfolding back in camp as Mark was stressing about his wifes' camera battery that he had apparently lost or just misplaced.
About this time a lone skier was approaching our camp and stopped to chat. He was the fella who was staying at the site we had wanted yesterday. He was on his way to Gogebic to try and do some fishing. After he pushed on we couldn't help but comment on the fact of what were the chances that first someone would be occupying our desired site, second, be heading for Gogebic just as we hoped to do. While I must admit everyone was a bit dejected about "sharing" Gogebic. It was tempered by the fact that HE would be breaking trail.
After we broke camp I went on ahead following the path provided. It was shaping up to be a glorious day as the sun was trying to and finally succeeded in popping out. At a tricky section of the portage trail I noticed the lone skier we'd met earlier coming back across the trail. We both stopped and chatted for quite awhile. His name was Chad & he had made it part way to Gogebic before surmising it would take him too long to get there. (He was only on a day trip) So he determined to head back to his camp on Clearwater. He informed me that the trail was quite rocky and climbed considerably. I wondered aloud where the rest of my crew was. Apparently they had unsuccessfully spent some time combing the campsite for Marks' camera battery and were also having some difficulty as Shawns' sled was not tracking properly. But, eventually they caught up to where Chad & I were and joined the conversation. With the intel Chad had given us we then unamimously determined that we would change our plans and head for West Pike to look for a campsite. Leaving Gogebic for a possible daytrip later.
The trail across to West Pike was mostly level and generally in pretty good shape. But, there was one downed tree that we cleared off the trail.
After the intersection of the Border Route Trail we were breaking trail anew. It was interesting to see the various animal tracks. Presumeably it was a wolf, or bobcat tracks that lead down to West Pike. They were old tracks and had melted considerably so it was difficult to say for certain. Also we passed very near where the small creek that flowed between Clearwater and West Pike opened up a bit.
To say the least it was an enchanting walk through the woods. Going where the ground was untrammeled by man, at least since the last significant snowfall, only added to the excitement & adventure.
Finally, the trail had a prolonged gradual decline down to the lake shore. The snow was over knee deep here & initially I thought that the snowshoes would have to be unlashed from the sled. But, the depth quickly tapered off and there was actually tracks from an otter running along the northern shoreline. Complete with an open hole where he apparently had lunch not so very long ago.
Travel across West Pike proved to be very similar to that of Clearwater. A few small pockets of slush but, mostly just 4-5 inches of crusty snow. We knew the first campsite would be open so we walked along the shoreline, only cutting across the small bay, until we reached it. It looked very accomodating situated up in a nice grove of mature red pines. There was plenty of room for our shelter and the firegrate area was also layed out nicely.
John & Shawn set about clearing and leveling the snow for the shelter while Mark & I wandered down the shoreline looking for suitable firewood.
The day was glorious! I couldn't imagine a more perfect setting. The rich blue sky contrasting against the untrodden powdered snoe stretching across the lake made for a magical wilderness scene.
For me, this scene alone was justification enough for enduring the rigors of getting here.
To the total surprise of everyone, Shawn had packed in his homemade Snowtrekker style tent complete with wood stove! This would be the christening first use and he was understandably excited to see how it performed. To his credit, Shawn never complained of having to haul this obvious extra weight.
Our sleep systems were setup for cold camping so we didn't stoke the fire up at nights before going to bed. But, it was handy and more convenient for drying out wet boots & clothes. As an added bonus, Shawn fired it up early in the morning before anyone had gotten up. In that way everyone had hot coffee or water for hot chocolate without ever having to crawl out of their sleeping bags. Plus it was a bit warmer getting dressed in the morning.
While the Forest Service recommends camping anywhere but designated sites, there is one overwhelming undeniable advantage of camping at or very near the established sites.
Upon arrival I had piled up some snow near the firegrate area. After it had sintered for awhile, Mark fashioned it into a very nice food prep & cooking area. It was also a nice area to store and keep things somewhat organized.
As evening fell, Shawn was manning his stove drying out wet or damp items and John donned his handmade wool jacket while Mark searched in vain for his missing camera battery. And later regaled us with further misadventures. As, apparently, this (not finding the battery) would not be this first time he would return from an outing with "the boys" where his wife would be less than pleased with him?
Clearwater Lake, West Pike Lake
Day 4 of 6
Saturday, February 04, 2012
Yet another glorious day in the works. John cooks us a scrambled egg, sausage, & onion breakfast in the dutch oven.
Our original plan was to camp up on Gogebic lake for a couple of days. Overloaded as we were, that wasn't a realistic goal. But, we still wanted to get up there and see what it was all about and try some fishing. So we loaded up one sled with some fishing gear, food for lunch & snacking, first aid kit, my CCS tarp as an emergency shelter, as well as some extra clothes, hats, mittens etc.
It was another bright sunshiny day as we embarked. Following our track back across West Pike made for very easy travel.
Once we hit the woods and the portage trail we made an interesting discovery. We were not alone! There were fresh wolf prints over the top of our sled tracks made less than 24 hours before.
The trail out of West Pike has a prolonged gradual climb until it intersects with the Border Route Trail. Yesterday Chad had started down, breaking trail until he turned back at the bridge over the small creek running through there. From here on we would have to break trail for ourselves. For the first time this trip I would use my snowshoes.
I thought we might have some trouble locating just where the trail ran? But, quickly realized that there were already some wolf & bobcat tracks leading the way. Back home Shawn runs a trap line and was quick to point out the various tracks we encountered along the way. They included fisher, pine marten, bobcat, wolf, deer, as well as rabbit & squirrel. Really interesting seeing those as well as other interesting winter phenomena along the way up to Gogebic lake.
Even though it was only midday and barely a cloud in the sky? There were spots along the way that were so sheltered by the large tree canopy that it seemed as if it were already evening. As we proceeded up the trail everyone conceded that we had made the right choice by not trying to bring all 4 of our loaded sleds up here yesterday. As it was, John & Mark worked the sled up the hill while Shawn & I broke trail.
We passed by what appeared to be an intersection in the trail. There seemed to be a trail heading back towards West Pike. Decided to investigate this further upon our return.
It was definitely a workout getting up there. But, I don't believe anyone was overly exhausted? As we emerged from the snow laden forest, our eyes beheld the sublime spectacle of Gogebic lake in pristine condition with a perfectly smooth, unblemished skin of snow covering her watery underbelly. Immediately the question was posed, "I wonder how many people have gotten to see this lake in the winter?"
It really had a mountainous feel to it & reminded me of Gadwall lake Vickie & I had visited last spring. It was at this moment that (at least) I had the inevitable eternal struggle. Leave this pristine wintery scene untouched and untrodden, or ......We cut a swath across the lake looking for a suitable opening for our impromptu temporary base camp.
We headed west down the lake and found a spot with a nice sitting log right along the shoreline. Figured it was good a place as any to punch a few holes. We started near shore and worked our way out augering a half dozen holes or so.
We hung out for about 3 hours. There's only one word needed to describe the fishing. Slow. But, at least by the end of the day, both Mark & I could claim to have each caught our first brook trout through the ice.
Helped make the day all the more rewarding and I, for one, savored every moment on Gogebic.
It goes without saying that I wish we coulda spent more time up here. But it was getting late and we wanted to get to West Pike, as no one wanted to have to walk back through the woods in the dark.
It didn't take long to throw things back together on the tobaggon. We quickly made it back to the intersection and John went ahead to scout it out. He returned saying it headed straight for West Pike. A shortcut! I had heard a little about this but, it was not shown on any map I'd seen. The one caveat of this shortcut was that it was almost straight downhill. John & I broke trail. Even though my snowshoes had crampons, it was still more like downhill skiing than snowshoeing. Mark & Shawn did a masterful job of easing the tobaggon down the hill without it getting away on them.
Needless to say, we saved a gob of time using this route. But, I couldn't imagine using it going the other way. At least not with a loaded tobaggon.
The decision was made to just cut straight across the bay, versus us walking all the way around the shoreline back to our established trail.
The snow was a little deeper here. But, was still very manageable. As we approached the middle of the lake slush appeared and began to get deeper. Wound up being nothing too serious. Maybe 3-4 inches worth??? And it tapered off as we closed in on the north shore.
We gathered some birch firewood on the way back to camp. Mark reasoned that the coals from the birch would last longer than those from the cedar & pine we had back in camp. Which would make cooking his dessert in the dutch oven easier.
Once back in camp I realized I no longer had the water bottle I had brought along to Gogebic. I walked back to where we gathered the firewood but returned empty handed. I must've set it down on the trail back from Gogebic? I had an extra bottle in camp so it wasn't really that big of a deal. We'd be heading out tomorrow back towards Clearwater and I figured I could get an early start and check that trail tomorrow.
Shawn had a close call while using my hatchet. While trying to split up some firewood it got away on him. He wasn't used to the light Gerber handle & we nearly had a full blown emergency. Fortunately he wasn't injured at all.
As already stated, fishing today wasn't fast 'n' furious. Never the less Mark & I celebrated our success of each having caught our first salvelinus fontinalis (brook trout) through the ice.
John set about preparing a delicious venison, onion, & bacon supper. Shortly there after Mark made his famous dessert. Once again, it wound up being a little runny. But, as usual, it tasted great. And there was even some left over to top our oatmeal in the morning.
I probably should've changed my socks as soon as we got back to camp? As the sun went down and I was becoming less active sitting around camp, for the first time, my feet were getting a little cold. Not because snow or water had gotten into my boots. Working as we did to get up to Gogebic in the very mild (for winter) temperatures caused me to sweat. While I just took off my hat or opened up my shirt to cool the rest of my body, I had neglected monitoring my feet. They were perfectly fine as long as I was active. But, once becoming sedintary back in camp they cooled considerably. Lesson learned.
West Pike Lake, Gogebic Lake
Day 5 of 6
Sunday, February 05, 2012
Slowly the wheels were set in motion and we began ripping down & packing up. I got my stuff packed fairly quickly as I wanted to go on a search & rescue mission for my water bottle without holding the rest of the guys up. I found said water bottle on the top of the hill to Gogebic where I must've set it down to help with the tobaggon yesterday. I made it back to our trail and waited for the rest of the gang to round the point.
The spots where there had been slush had frozen up nicely making travel exceedingly easy. Though the portage was considerably more difficult going this way due to the prolonged gradual climb up out of West Pike. Once again there were fresh wolf tracks along the trail as we proceeded on.
Shawn had the foresight to make the trail a little more user friendly on our first trip across (a couple days earlier) by building up a snow berm on the slanted tricky section of the trail. It had also firmed up nicely and made for a much easier passage. Past that point the trail was mostly flat and straight.
On the north side of the trail just before you reach the landing for Clearwater lake is a tremendous white pine tree.
Most impressive. The landing also had some nice trees and was rather idyllic as I found a dry spot to cool off and wait for the rest of the crew to make it across.
Just as on West Pike our trail on Clearwater had firmed up nicely. Yet again it was another sunfilled day with little or no wind. Really made things all the more enjoyable.
Though he was not holding out hope? Mark thought we should make the obligatory stop at our campsite from the first night to see if we would run across his lost camera battery. I don't know if we'd even been there 30 seconds when Shawn exclaimed, "Here it is!" If I hadn't of been there I would've never believed it.
Needless to say, Mark was euphoric as he no longer had to explain to his wife how he had lost her camera battery. With that accomplished we figured this was as good a spot as any to dig out some snacks and have a trail lunch.
Once we got going again we ran across some bobcat tracks out on the lake.
There was a fork in the trail as well. When coming in we had come down the south shoreline. Chad had cut straight across to his campsite, which is where we hoped to stay tonight. So I decided to follow his tracks which essentially ran right down the barrel of the lake. The sun was at the peak of it's powers & the wind had picked up some. So I pulled out my balaclava more as protection from sun/wind burn than any great need for warmth. This trail wasn't as well packed as ours had been, (I postholed occasionally), but still travel was quite easy.
As we neared our prospective camp, I noticed 3 other people heading towards it from the west. By this time Shawn had caught up to me and we figured we'd miss out on that site again. As they were closer & on skis. But once we got closer we learned they were camped back around the bend and were just coming there to do some fishing. In fact 2 of them kept right on moving as they were headed for Mountain lake.
With that settled, and the weather being what it had been, Shawn determined that we should sleep right out on the lake. Thus saving us considerable time in having to rip camp down in the morning. So after we hung our bags out to dry for awhile we started piling snow up for our "ice beds".
While waiting for the snow to sinter, Shawn began making supper. I don't remember the exact ingredients....But, I believe it had instant mashed potatoes, cheese, onions, & bacon. A high caloric, stick to your ribs, kinda meal. There was a nice rock wall along the shoreline that offered protection from the wind here as well.
After some time we went back to form our beds. It was really quite an easy process and they wound up being very comfortable.
Before supper Mark & I also tried our hand at fishing. I had a couple of follows that I'd seen on my vexilar but never got anything more that that. The people who had come over to fish didn't have any luck either. Supper was ready as the sun was falling so I packed the gear away for a quicker exit tomorrow morning.
After supper we spent the remainder of our waking hours huddled around the campfire haphazzardly drying our boots & socks while drinking some of Shawns' homemade raspberry tea. Once again the moon & stars were a spectacle to behold while providing incredible illumination as well.
West Pike Lake, Clearwater Lake
Day 6 of 6
Monday, February 06, 2012
Up quite early this morning.
It seems everyone slept perfectly fine in their ice bed.
A quick breakfast of oatmeal & boil some water for coffee, hot chocoloate, & topping off the water bottles before departure. There is a lone Whiskey Jack meticulously cleaning up our campsite as we pack up the tobaggons. In no time we are loaded and back on the trail towards the EP.
The trail back is now a virtual highway. But, it is a bit colder and more blustery than what we've seen the past few days. Still it's quite temperate. We make great time coming back and many times I hardly even notice I'm pulling a sled. There are a few spots where the slush has frozen and it is quite slippery. So I'm thankful to have my ski poles to better balance my self. Soon we are on the plowed road and one of the local fishermen pops out of his house to chat. We talk for awhile, and he admits that fishing has been quite slow as compared with recent winters. I then push on to the vehichle strip down and load the gear.
To save me from an extra 2 hours of driving, Mark agrees to ride back with Shawn & John. Since they didn't want to stop for a burger, I decided to head straight for Grand Marais myself and forego Trail Center. Along the way I run across a couple of moose along the Gunflint Trail. I stop at My Sisters Place and eat there while calling home to let Vickie know I survived and ask how Little Miss Aurora was doing.
After all was said & done I can safely say, that for me personally, this was an extremely rewarding trip. Being able to hike back to West Pike, and especially up to Gogebic, were accomplishments I won't soon forget. Catching my first salvelinus fontinalis through the ice, and seeing Mark do the same, was also very special & something I'd definitely hope to do again. Sleeping on the ice bed was also a new experience for me and broadened my knowledge. I was happy with the performance of my gear. The ski poles helped more than I would've thought, And, overall, I'm happy with my sleep system. Though, I would like to add an Exped down mat when finances permit. More for the comfort of my back than the need for added warmth. (I guess I'm getting old?) The need to snowshoe on this trip was, at best, minimal. But it did help immensely in breaking trail up to Gogebic. With the total lack of snow back home in central Minnesota, I thought I did pretty well considering I hadn't snowshoed since last winter. Somethings I'm still improving on; I need to pack necessities on the tobaggon a little better so they are readily accessible on the trail without having to dig too deep, or rip everything apart. Also, my monitoring of keeping cool, yet warm, needs some work. Especially with regards to my footwear. Changing socks more frequently in warm weather, like we had, will likely go along ways to resolving this issue. It's always makes it so much nicer to have a total team effort like we did. With everyone contributing to the overall good. We all shared some good times and good laughs. As I write this my eyes "light up like a Christmas tree" and I'm wishing we could have stayed another day.....or two.....or.....