Border Route Hiking Trip Report -- May 1995

Tuesday, 5/23/95

While the trip didn't really start until Wednesday, we set it up onTuesday evening.  I finished hiking the Sioux-Hustler Trail Tuesdayafternoon.  After a couple stops in Ely, I head for the North Shoreto meet a couple friends.  I was running ahead of schedule, so I stopat Cascade River State Park.  My friends happen to drive by and seeme alongside the road.  They stop as well.  After a dinner stopat the DQ in Grand Marais, we head up the Arrowhead Trail to drop off mycar at McFarland Lake.  We jump a couple deer along the way.  I accidentally leave my fishing license, BW permit and liner socks in the car.  We get back into Grand Marais and it's pretty late.  We decide to geta cheap motel room for the night just south of town.

Wednesday, 5/24/95

We wake up at 6am and eat in a downtown Grand Marais restaurant and headup the Gunflint for the trail head.  We found Loon Lake and unpacked our stuff and began hiking by 8:55am.  The trail followed a road for the first couple miles and was fairly level.  It was different hiking with other people.  My only other experience hiking with others were ad hoc meetings with people I'd never met before, but appeared to be going the same direction as myself on trails outside the BWCA.  We talked and made noise - so much for seeing wildlife.

After Crab Lake things change some as the road stops but we still travel on what appears to be an old narrow gage trail.  Before South Lake we run into a solo hiker - about 50 yrs old.  He came in by Mayhew Lake.  Along the southwest shore of South Lake we get our first views of the landscape we'd become familiar with by trip's end.  Just before Topper Lake, we ran into an unhappy young couple who had stayed over night.  They complained about bad conditions, but it looked more like poor equipment.  She had on fake hiking boots and he had on goulashes.  Topper Lake was totally tranquil and beautiful.  The trail ran along the lake for awhile.  It was weird...we were almost stepping in Topper Lake on right and thru the trees we could make out South Lake 250 feet below us on our left.  Much of the trail was non-distinctive, but one place the trail takes a 90 degree right where one might keep going straight.  We saw our first grouse at this point in the trail.

When looking for the Partridge Lake campsite trail we ran into a nice overlook and a boatload of downed trees, but no trail heading south to the campsite.  The trail is further along than the map shows...after the overlook.  While set further away from the water than some later overlooks, you can look back to the west with a nice view of South, Rat and western Rose.  You have everything from the west to the NE where you are still looking at the western portion of Rose and Canada . Once down to the lake we couldn't find the campsite, but to the right on a small peninsula of where the trail first meets the lake, we found camp.  Didn't really find a trail leading to it, but got there nonetheless.  The campsite was cedar with some huge white pines.  Beautiful as long as you have no lightning storm...even then I'm hoping the hill across the lake might take the hit before the white pines on my site.  The entire NE side of the lake is lined with cedars and looks peaceful this evening.  We eat venison stakes and rehydrated morels for dinner, you can't get no better than that, BW, home or your favorite restaurant.  A little rain fell today, but nothing serious.  No fish taking our lures this evening.

Thursday, 5/25/95

We got up late this morning and didn't hit the trail until 9:30am.  Before we got far ran into another great overlook.  After spending "too" much time taking pictures (2) (3) and relaxing, we headed to Stairway Portage and ran into the same middle-aged guy we saw yesterday.  The falls were beautiful.  What surprised me most was how steep the entire stream was.  It seemed to average 45 degrees.  After taking pictures (2) and relaxing we finally left just before lunch.  We headed along the south shore of Rose Lake to an outstanding precipice and ate lunch.  We'd done all of three miles by lunch!

There are some nice stands of cedar on Rose Lake shoreline.  We met up with the same guy (now a third time) as he appeared to be staying at the eastern most campsite on Rose Lake.  The backpacking site had the trail running right thru it with poor water access.  The other (the one he was staying at) was pretty close to the water and pretty nice.

As the trail hooked up with the long portage between Rose and Rove, we inspected some land that may have been on the north side of the river.  Sometimes you do things just to say you've done them...  The portage part of the trail was flat and quick.  We stopped and got water at the Daniels Lake split because we didn't know where or when we'd stop for the night. 

As we approached Rove Lake we began looking for a campsite.  There were blowdowns everywhere and no place to camp.  We traveled pretty close to the water and after stopping near its east end we noticed on the McKenzie Map a campsite on Clearwater Lake with a spur trail from the Border Route.  My knee was really hurting and it was getting late by this time.  It looked like quite a climb, but it looked like our only option.  We climbed a chute that doubled as a stream much of the way.  When we reached the top, I realized I'd lost my maps.  Since it was so late and we were quite tired I didn't go back down, but we did send another member down to check out the Clearwater Lake campsite to make sure it was empty.  It was open!  We went down to set up camp and eat just before nightfall.  The lake was calm and the cliff across the lake on the opposite shore was impressive.  I wish we'd have had more time to enjoy, but we spent our time enjoying the falls and Rose Lake vistas.  Actually spent quite a bit of time just sitting and looking over the lakes and trees.  It got mesmerizing!  Dinner was rehydrated chili which was actually excellent in its dehydrated form as well.

Friday, 5/26/95

Woke up to our first beautifully sunny day and my first one in almost a week in the woods.  We got up a little earlier after yesterday's late hiking.  I left camp a little early to hike down to Rove Lake to find my maps.  I found then in the middle of the trail where the other guys must have walked right by them yesterday (I was leading at that time)...they must have been too exhausted, and I understand that.

We headed up to the first Watap Lake vista.  It was awesome in the spring sun.  We watched mergansers swim and just ate up the day.  Unfortunately, they were logging just across the border in Ontario which detracted from the scene some.  After this Watap Lake overlook, we switch back to some slow slopping overlooks of Clearwater Lake and then our first look at Mountain Lake.  The vistas of Mountain Lake were the best of the trip with the sun shining and the colors magnified in the bright day.  The east side vista was a little steeper than the west side.  It was our last look at Canada - and of the logging.  Along Mountain Lake, there were some nice stands of norway (red) pine.  We gradually made it back down to the shore of Clearwater Lake.  We carried a canoe for a couple who seemed a little overburdened but in the process, missed our trail as it cut off the portage between Clearwater and West Pike.  We were shadowed by a hill to the south and walked thru some beautiful cedars.  We debated trailblazing around Gogebic adn even debated camping there, but decided to push for Pine Lake.  Gogebic was a nice lake with the trail right along the water much of the way.  There was a big birch stand on the south side of the lake as the trail climbed away from the water.  This predominantly birch forest reminded me a lot of the Foothills State Forest between Brainerd and Walker, where I spent much of my youth learning the ways of the woods.

The hike along West Pike doesn't look bad or long, but it was the worst part of our trip.  It seemed incredibly long.  My legs, my arthritic knee and my other knee, from trying to compensate for the other hurting, were both hurting pretty bad by this time.  We all thought it would be much shorter to Pine Lake.  The trail had only one overlook which we barely enjoyed due to how tired we were (and how late it was).  Our biologist found a black morel just before we met up with the portage trail.  We debated sending only one down to the campsite or something else to assure the campsite wasn't taken, but we were so tired we just walked down to Pine Lake.  Like the trail to Clearwater Lake the day before, much of the trail was a creek.  We got lucky, the campsite was empty.  By the time we got to camp it was almost dark and my knee hurt incredibly bad.  We ate some pasta & rice dinner and I didn't even move due to the pain in my knee.  The fire was nice as evening came quickly.

Saturday, 5/27/95

I woke up to sunshine and a knee that didn't hurt.  Another pretty morning.  We hit the trail by about 8:30am again and found it much easier going than the evening before.  There really weren't any good views of East Pike.  There is an unmarked (on our Fisher Maps) portage from the far west side of McFarland to the middle of East Pike.  We walked down to the lake and ate an early lunch.  We ran into a party who had just made the steep portage and who were day tripping it for smallies.  After lunch we had a decent East Pike overlook, though nothing like the Mountain, Watap and Rose Lake overlooks.  The going was pretty easy high up on a ridge that we couldn't really see off of at this point.  About half way along John Lake we heard a bunch of Canada Geese to the north.  Maybe in the swamp north of John Lake...could that be a geese hangout?

There's a nice overlook on John's southwest side, with the overlook facing east where the Royal River exits John Lake.  We hung out there for quite awhile realizing our trip was just about done.  Again, the remainder of the trail was pretty easy.  We stopped at a BWCAW sign for a picture and were at the McFarland Lake boat landing parking lot before we knew it.  An earlier thought of continuing on to the east exploring what is supposed to be a continuation of the trail was not even discussed.  We planned on bathing at the landing on this our nicest weather of the trip, but when we stopped hiking we realized the temperature was still probably in the high 50's or low 60's.  We did wash our hair and pits in the parking lot with some pretty cold lake water.

By about 4pm we were on the road.  We jumped a moose a couple miles south of the parking lot...our first of the trip.  We cut cross-country by the north side of Greenwood Lake.  We picked up the other car at Loon Lake and saw bad bugs for the first time.  We didn't get to Grand Marais until about 7pm and Sven and Ole's Pizza was packed.  We ate at the Bluewater Cafe  and decided how we'd split and drive "home".

This was my first trip with others.  I found the pluses included safety, help with camp chores, friendship.  On the other side, wildlife viewing, compromised trip planning and "meditation" or introspection were all negatively impacted with the presence of others.  The Border Route Trail really pushed our physical abilities in 4 days / 3 nights.  It was, though, by far the most beautiful of the BW trails...and fall would be awesome.
Posted: 29-Nov-2000
Updated: 30-Apr-2007