Trout Lake entry point allows overnight paddle or motor (25 HP max). This entry point is supported by La Croix Ranger Station near the city of Cook, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 30 miles. Access from LakeVermilion via 60-rod canoe portage or 180-rod portage that allows the use of portage wheels. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
Entry Date:July 14, 2008
Entry Point:Little Indian Sioux River (south) Exit Point:Trout Lake (1)
Number of Days:
With Eric finishing his thesis and both of us preparing to move to Chicago in November, we had thought a trip to the Boundary Waters would be out of the question this year. Then May rolled around and we decided to go for it. It would have to be a short trip to allow time for visiting with Eric's family during our week in Ely, so we broke out the maps and checked the permit availability. There it was, calling to us--the Little Indian Sioux South entry point. With a quota of one permit every other day and the whole month of July wide open, we were sold. Four days seemed perfect for exploring this little orphaned piece of the Boundary Waters.
Part 1 of 9
Saturday, July 12, 2008 [paragraph break] On a plane bound for Minneapolis there is, as one pilot put it, a "sporting breeze" which makes the landing exciting to say the least. Eric--supposedly connecting through Detroit--gives me quite the shock by walking onto my flight to Duluth. Due to weather he was re-routed and by some strange coincidence ended up in the seat next to me. What a wonderfully surreal way to begin the trip. [paragraph break] Another wild flight lands us in Duluth where we're met by his folks for the drive up to Ely. The lakes we pass are rolling with white caps. When we arrive at the house on White Iron, we're informed by his visiting sister's family that a couple of poplars have blown down. These will not be the last downed trees we encounter.
Part 2 of 9
Sunday, July 13, 2008 [paragraph break] Packing day. We pick up our permit at the new ranger station and Ranger Tom assures us the water is about three feet above normal right now--good news for a trip on tiny rivers. [paragraph break] In town we buy three new Fisher maps (we want to make sure we're covered since we have several contingency plans). Three brand-new maps equals an entire trip of brand-new territory for both of us. We get some groceries at Zup's and then it's back to the house to assemble our gear. [paragraph break] Eric, bless his heart, is much more likely to wander away to play with his niece and nephews or to sit in the midst of the chaos tinkering with some gadget than to actually put anything in a bag. He takes a moment to show off his pirate headgear. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We lay out the maps and show Eric's folks the rough plans: Plan 1--Little Indian Sioux all the way to Cummings and exit Crab to Burntside. Plan 2--LIS to Trout, then make our way through Chad and Buck to Cummings or Lunnetta and exit through Burntside. Plan 3--LIS to Trout and exit Vermillion. His dad thinks we're crazy but his mom knows we want adventure.
Part 3 of 9
Monday, July 14, 2008 [paragraph break] Day 1--Little Indian Sioux River--Little Pony River--Bootleg Lake [paragraph break] After two days of cool weather and rain, we begin the trip with a bright blue sky and mild temperatures. The river is postcard-perfect. And also quite wide which relieves some of my anxieties about our proposed route. The river dwindles to a single line on the map so a narrow river at the put-in (where the river is depicted as quite wide on the map) would have meant it was impossibly small farther south. We wave goodbye to his parents and start to wind our way up the river. [paragraph break] A couple of miles in there's a sign marking our entry into the Boundary Waters. Shortly after that we investigate some yellow squares nailed to trees and discover a section marker. Township 65, Range 15, between Sections 13 and 14. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] With the water so high we figure we might be able to paddle through the first portage. Not quite. Sioux Falls is a very impressive little water fall. Its water has carved out a pool free of grass and ringed by foam. A short carry, a little beaver dam (the first of many), and we're paddling through monster hair. Waving in the current the stuff looks seriously like the hair on the back of some great beast. It's mesmerizing to watch. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We're able to find the Pony River easily enough (we had worried) and it wasn't as tiny as we had feared. With clouds piling up we get out the rain gear and have lunch on the river. Have I mentioned the bugs? The mosquito hoards make time on shore into a windmilling, swatting dance (when we can actually find solid ground to get out on that is). We're traveling on a tiny river surrounded by swamps. Maybe we really are crazy. [paragraph break] A light shower puts an end to lunch and we continue on the ever narrower river. The beavers have been busy. With the high water we're able to paddle over most of the dams. Until we reach the granddaddy of all beaver dams--the Boover Dam. This busy beaver had made himself quite the little pond; no wonder since a good two-and-a-half feet of dam sticks up above the water. It takes some doing, but we're still able to just lift the canoe over. More winding river, a couple of pretty short portages and we're at Bootleg Lake. We choose the southernmost campsite and, with the skies threatening, quickly set up camp. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We wait out a passing shower in the tent. When the sky clears we take a quick dip and start a fire for dinner. Thunder rumbles in the distance. A light rain starts up. I urge Eric to eat more quickly so we can do the dishes, hang the bear bag and hide in the tent. The storm is on top of us now. Wind, rain, lightening. We--ok, I--cower. Eric very reassuringly points out that the tent is far enough from the trees that they won't blow down on top of us but close enough that we're not the highest point around. Ok, we can do this. It's just a little rain. And wind. And lightening. [paragraph break] Huddled in the tent we watch the storm. Before my eyes the far end of the lake is blotted out by grey. It was there, and then it simply wasn't. The nothingness eats away at our lake and, as fast as I can point it out with wild shouts, hail is pounding down around us. Inside the grey curtain we can see the lake again and it's boiling with hail. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Being a good Midwestern girl, I know that hail presages Bad Things. Having lived in California for the past six years, and having seen nothing more sinister than a thick fog, I am Scared. We have a Nylon Tent for protection. We are in the Middle of Nowhere. We have seen No One all day long. What if a tree falls on us? What if we're struck by lightening? What if a tornado tears through camp? [paragraph break] Eric may not be much of a help when it comes to packing, but he sure is a comfort (and a good man-shield) in a hail storm. And all my fears were unfounded: the hail passed, the sun came out and a double rainbow arched from one end of our lake to the other. We survived! [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Another storm rolls through in the night. Lightening very effectively illuminates the inside of a nylon tent. Too exhausted to worry about another storm, we both roll over and go back to sleep. [paragraph break]
Part 4 of 9
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 [paragraph break] Day 2--Bootleg Lake--Little Indian Sioux River--Little Trout Lake [paragraph break] Sunlight through the tent. Now that's a nice way to wake up after an eventful evening. The tent and tarp dry out while we eat breakfast and pack the rest of the gear. We decide, based on the shallowness of the Little Pony River, that we won't follow the length of the Little Indian Sioux upstream to Cummings. Even with enough water to float a canoe, it would be a long, curvy paddle to the first campsite. For now we'll head to Little Trout and see where we can get after that. [paragraph break] We're on the water pretty early, but make up for it by our inability to find the portage. As we nose into the fourth or fifth likely opening, a beaver plops into the water and slaps his tail at us. He probably knows we got past the Boover Dam and is saying, "Good luck, suckers! Wait 'til you see what I've been up to!" [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We had checked out the new Voyageur maps while in Ely and read that "the long portages in the northeast corner of Map 3 receive infrequent maintenance and are quite challenging." They did their homework. In spite of the long-dead and newly-fallen trees which require amazing feats of agility to maneuver over, under, around, and through the snagging branches and enormous trunks (downed by vengeful beavers or recent winds), and aside from being pretty overgrown, the first 75 rods or so of the trail is fairly distinct. [paragraph break] Then the trees thin, bare rock protrudes, and a multitude of paths appear. Eric's gone ahead with the canoe and I struggle to find his trail. I try to tap into some dormant, primeval tracking skills that early man surely possessed. My ancestors obviously did not stalk the elusive canoe-carrying Minnesotan. Lacking skill, I go for the trial and error method instead. I start off in a couple of different directions before I spot a stone cairn marking the path. [paragraph break] We're trying out the portage-and-a-half method for the first time so I drop my gear in what I hope is an obvious place (bonus if it's actually the portage), and start back for the second load. Eric and I meet in the middle (miraculously finding the first load of gear) and he brings the joyous news that there is actually a river at the other end of the portage. There are no pictures of this 200-rod portage. We load up the canoe, have some mint chocolate cookies, and continue up the river. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We put into practice our "river = overgrown lake" theory of navigation. Instead of tediously tracking each bend in the river, we just assume the trees are on islands in a grassy green lake. We paddle on and on. And on. River travel is very relaxing in a grassy, crooked sort of way. [paragraph break] Our theory begins to break down, or at least trees are beginning to grow in unexpected places. All the anxiety from the night before comes flooding back--we think the portage should be here somewhere, but how on earth are we going to find it when the "shore" is one big mass of undifferentiated swamp grass? [paragraph break] I see and dismiss from mind a log jutting out of the water--where is the portage? Is that it? No, that's another game trail. There? No, just another inlet. We paddle on until Eric says, "Huh. That log sticking out of the water had a sawn-off end. Let's go back and take a look." Ok, sure, why not? Maybe we've already paddled past the portage. [paragraph break] See that log just to the right of my shoulder? Now, see the portage? Yeah, we wouldn't have either without that log which turned out to be part of an old submerged dock. We shove back out onto the river (the bugs really are terrible this year) to have lunch before attempting the 376 rods. [paragraph break] Muck. Mud. The portage is pretty easy to find--just follow the mucky mud. And the downed trees. If you stray from the path, look for a downed tree. If you're sinking to your knees while looking at said downed tree, you're on the portage. After helping Eric shove the canoe through one particularly dense downed pine, I fall behind. The paddles and fishing pole are catching on everything and I probably should have changed out of my sandals for this one. Oh well. About a third of the way across, the muck gives out as the land begins to rise. We're doing the portage-and-a-half again so I drop the gear and head back through the muck to slog through it all over again with the food pack. [paragraph break] We finally make it to Little Trout and almost push the canoe right through a perfect little bird's nest. We paddle to the island to take a quick dip and rinse off the portage grime. While pulling off 10 or 15 ticks each, we discuss our options. The discussion goes something like this: "There's at least 510 rods of portaging before we get to Buck." "Looks like the clouds are piling up again." "Let's camp here." [paragraph break] Picking a site that looks breezy, we set up the tent and head out to try and catch dinner. This is the first year I didn't buy a license. I've finally made peace with the fact that I don't enjoy sitting in a canoe holding a fishing pole. I'm much more happy paddling Eric around while he trolls--I can let my mind wander and not have to jerk back to reality too late to catch whatever was nibbling at my untended line. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] It's pretty windy and Eric's not having much luck so we head back to camp and eat dinner while watching the clouds build. It starts to sprinkle so we scurry to all the chores then retreat to the tent to watch the sun go down. We are both asleep before it has completely set. [paragraph break]
Part 5 of 9
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 [paragraph break] Day 3--Little Trout Lake--Trout Lake--Pine Creek--Pine Lake [paragraph break] Awoken at an unseemly hour by a little red squirrel making a big racket, we lounge in the tent awhile longer. Then: a wolf howl! Off to our left there's a wolf howling! And another wolf answers from off to our right! We're in between two howling wolves! How cool is that?! We sit there grinning at one another until the howls die out and then begin our day. [paragraph break] We have some oatmeal and hot chocolate, break camp, and head out into the overcast morning. The creek into Trout Lake is tiny, rocky, and choked with weeds. No wonder the motorboats we can hear in the distance don't come into Little Trout. Several of the rocks now are little more green, but we are able to float (and scrape) our way through the creek and in to Trout. A large part of our time on Trout is spent staring at a little bump way out in the lake--we can't tell if it's a seagull on a rock or if we're seeing our first person of the trip. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Mystery unsolved, we continue on into Pine Creek. There are plenty of water lilies and even some of their tubers floating on the surface (pulled up by wind or wave action? uprooted by some animal?). The portage into Chad is easy to spot, but we're headed for Pine Lake today. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] There's a very closed-in, private feel to the little creeks and rivers we've been paddling on this trip. I suppose there could be twenty people on the water but we'd never be able to see them with the sedges blocking our view and the zig-zagging bends shortening our line of sight. We know there are birds here though--lots of birds. We can hear them everywhere. Not just the Little Annoying Bird (which I just learned is actually a White-throated Sparrow), but lots of, um, Other Birds too. The only other one I could identify was a Red-winged Blackbird, but really, there were lots of birds. [paragraph break] We're nearing Pine Lake when, from a hill on our right, we hear something scrambling in the bushes. We stop paddling and watch a little fawn come prancing down the hill into the creek. Instead of crossing to the other side like we thought, the fawn starts swimming down the middle of the channel not ten feet from us. We drift to the bank and watch as it swims (and wades) right by us, around the bend, and out of site. After checking out the remains of an old bridge, we continue to Pine Lake. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] There on Pine Lake we smell campfire smoke and, halfway through our third day, see our first person. Of course I didn't take a picture of the guy, but after posting pictures of all the other unusual things we've seen on the trip, I am feeling the intense urge to document this rare Homo sapiens canoeus fishermanas sighting with a photo. As we pass, Eric asks how the fishing is. The guy responds but is clearly not as enthralled with us as we are with him. We paddle on and start scoping out campsites. [paragraph break] The western site on the island is beautiful--lots of Norways and a few white pines--so we claim it as ours. Stopping this early is nice. We finish our lunch, set up the tent (looked like rain again), and break out the hammock for the first time this trip. Eric had been skeptical about the whole hammock idea, but swinging in the gentle breeze while looking out over the lake he has been converted... I wish I'd made him one of his own. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Eventually I'm able to drag him out of the hammock with the prospect of going fishing. Eric catches a little northern but throws it back. He catches a nice log too but we leave that for the beavers. We troll around awhile longer and he has a few nibbles, but when he snags on another log, he's not as lucky as the first time and loses his lure. I'm getting tired and we're both getting hungry so we head back to camp to start dinner. [paragraph break] A light rain begins to fall. The gentle patter intensifies and our noodles are starting to get a little soupy. By now we have the get-camp-cleaned-up-quick-because-it's-going-to-rain drill down pat. But the darkest clouds pass us by and we enjoy a calm, quiet evening. There's a nice little point where we watch the sun set and are entertained by three loons showing off for two others farther up the lake. A couple of guys paddle by and, grinning, apologize for catching a whopping Northern in front of our site (Eric is gracious, but I can tell he's also jealous). We skip some rocks when they've gone. Eric's pretty good considering the granite chunks he's trying to work with. [paragraph break]
Part 6 of 9
Thursday, July 17, 2008 [paragraph break] Day 4--Pine Lake--Trout Lake--Vermilion Lake [paragraph break] Another beautiful morning. We have more oatmeal and hot chocolate for breakfast and can tell already that it's going to be a warm day. After taking pictures of the nifty marshmallow mushrooms (which we decided not to roast over the fire or put in our hot chocolate), we pack our things and get another early start. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] The lake narrows and turns swampy as we approach the portage. It looks like a great place for a moose--in fact most of the areas we've been this trip look like prime moose habitat. I guess I don't think like a moose. We do see--something--though, swimming in the little bay. It kind of looks like a big frog... We get closer and see that there's a lily pad swimming across the lake! Huh? It swims in front of the canoe and now we see a little muskrat with a big mouthful of lily pads. [paragraph break] Just past this is the start of the 270-rod portage to Trout. The sight of a split-log path winding through the marsh is a glorious thing to behold. Past the marsh the underbrush crowds the path and soaks us with dew from the waist down. Compared to the portages we've been on though, a little dew is nothing. Eric fortuitously drops a bag by a patch of blueberries. When we go back to retrieve it, we're thrilled to find a precious handful of very blue blueberries instead of the hundreds of greenberries which have been taunting us throughout the trip. The mosquitoes are enjoying our berry-picking too, so Eric pockets the berries, we complete the portage, and shove out onto the lake to savor our find. [paragraph break] The water in Trout is clear and we can see fish swimming around jumbles of old logs (which we assume are remnants of the logging days). I go from watching fish to watching the ripples circle out from the drips off my paddle. The ensuing conversation flows from wave propagation, to Polynesians navigating the ocean based on the interference patterns created by islands in the path of waves, and all the way to the spontaneous generation of particle pairs and the apparent emission of information from a black hole. Physicists know so much cool stuff. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We're at the portage to Vermilion in no time. A short carry and we're in civilization again. We realize that we just went an entire trip without meeting anyone on a portage (that's over a thousand rods of trail without seeing another person) and that the only people in canoes we saw were on Pine Lake. We go back to look at the falls and then shove off for the long paddle to the public boat landing. Fortunately it's a calm day so we don't have to battle the wind (though it does make for some warm paddling). It's kind of interesting to see all of the cabins on the shore that are boat-access only. We see a handful of motorboats--mostly fisherman, a couple of powerboats, and one boat towing a water skier--but there aren't nearly as many people out as we thought there would be. [paragraph break] We're the only canoe in sight and I feel a bit conspicuous. The loons certainly think we look like a threat. We come upon a pair of them calling to one another in a narrower part of the lake. Their calls are echoing off the hills so, being a sucker for echoes, I make some hooting noises too. Well. One loon dove under water, came up about three feet behind our canoe and started going crazy--standing up in the water, flopping down to do this weird breaststroke, flapping hysterically, and all the while hooting insanely. I was unaware that the hooting noises I made were Loon for "I'm going to eat your babies." I take a quick picture then we paddle away from what must be their nesting spot. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] The day grows warmer as we paddle down Vermilion. We watch the lake houses become more numerous and notice the boat trailers and trucks appear as we reach the area with road access. There's cell phone coverage so Eric calls his folks to for a ride. We make it to the boat landing, eat a late lunch, and chat with an incredibly bored DNR guy. He's there checking boats for invasive species but no one has used the ramp for hours. He doesn't check our canoe. [paragraph break] Eric's folks show up and it's back to the house for much needed showers. Eric's brother and his family arrived at the house in our absence and they've been out fishing with much greater success than we had. All fourteen of us stuff ourselves on fried fish that night. Dessert is wild strawberry and homegrown rhubarb pie. Adventures are nice, but civilization definitely has its perks. [paragraph break]
Part 7 of 9
Friday, July 18, 2008 [paragraph break] A gloriously lazy day. We eat breakfast and I take a nap. We play board games, we chat with the family and show off our trip pictures. We go sailing on White Iron and laze in the hammock by the shore. I have not been so decidedly lazy in a long time. The perfect way to spend the first day back in civilization.
Part 8 of 9
Saturday, July 19, 2008 [paragraph break] White Iron Lake--Farm Lake [paragraph break] Another relaxing day. We take the kayak out for a leisurely paddle to Farm Lake and when we return we finish stowing the camping gear and packing our bags. After a nice steak dinner, we head out for a night on the town with Eric's brother and his friends. When closing time rolls around, we go back to the house and sit on the dock watching the moon and stars shimmer in the lake until the mosquitoes drive us indoors.
Part 9 of 9
Sunday, July 20, 2008 [paragraph break] One last look at the lake, then we gather our things and head to the airport. We had wonderful trip. Simply being together is amazing for us (we currently live 2,000 miles apart). Add the beauty of the Boundary Waters to that and, really, who could want more?