BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 18 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1406 feet
Crab Lake & Cummings Lake - 4
Phantom Lake Bushwack
May 05, 2008
Crab Lake and Cummings from Burntside Lake
Number of Days:
The area lies between Burntside and Vermilion Lake. David Backes in "Canoe Country: An Embattled Wilderness" describes this section of the BWCA, "...the Little Indian Sioux Wilderness Area was too small to satisfy ardent canoeists. It also was too demanding for casual users, requiring several one-mile-or-longer portages to reach its beautiful Lakes."
I have traveled these waters by canoe many times and plan another trip this summer. However, the area contains the remnants of old logging roads dating from the 1940's through 1970's. Logging ceased in this "Portal Zone" in 1978.
My brother and I made this trip
We followed trails/old roads not officially designated for hiking. Therefore they are not particularly scenic nor challenging in change of elevation as other BWCA hiking trails might be. Finding designated campsites (a condition for entering this wilderness) requires some difficult bushwhacking.
In addition, realize that bugs would be awful during the summer months. I recommend hiking the BWCA only in early May or September. However, this is a personal preference.
We had 5 goals for undertaking this trip.
1. Enjoy early spring in the Great North Woods. 2. Discover the condition of the old logging roads in the area between Burntside and Vermilion Lakes. 3. Learn to use our GPS units to navigate in the wilderness. 4. Determine if these trails/old roads continued to be used. 5. See Western Lake.
We accomplished all but the last. In the summer we will bring our two sons back into the "Little Indian Sioux Wilderness". We'll make a day trip to Western to renew our friendship with this lake after 30 years.
We obtained an entry permit for Crab Lake from the Forest Service. We also designed this first day to avoid private property at the Tamarack Lake end of the Wolf Lake Road which has a gate. We bushwhacked 1.3 mile from a logging area just outside the gate to meet the old road.
This initial mile and the Phantom Lake campsite were the most beautiful part of the trip.
For some time I have wondered if the old logging roads would provide trail for hiking. Aerial photograph show the roads/trails clearly. This trip verified my suspicions. The old roads can be used (and evidently people have done so over the past 30 years and continue to the present.)
We experienced cold night temperatures (high 20's to low 30's) and day temperatures in the 4o's and 50's. The late spring left many patches of snow in shaded places.
Initially we had great trouble finding our way in and out of the campsite to the trail through the tangle of windfalls and swamp. Finally, I put away the GPS hiked directly to the lake which I could see from 'Old Red' a very large, very visible pine. The route to the lake was clear. We then walked along the shore crossing a muskeg swamp on fallen logs. Old Red a tall red pine provided the marker to this 'easy' path in.
Track of this dayTrack of this hike:
We hiked in with our gear in hiking backpacks. We switched to smaller packs to carry only lunch and water (and other essentials) for our day hikes
Someone has cut windfalls along the trail. However the trail is not brushed along the side. Gloves, long sleeves and long pants kept scratches to a minimum. Shell casings indicate people hunt here. The trails are used.
The trail has sunken in many of the swamps. At least this spring, we sometimes hiked in a trough of shallow water. Beaver have built damns on top on the trail in places. Some culverts are gone in other spots.
We spent time looking through the big quantities of trash left by the loggers in the area between Battle and Phantom Lakes. Perhaps after 30 years trash becomes artifacts? Some of the stuff surprised us: TV chassis (I doubt the area was electrified), a broken toilette (in a land of outhouses?) I kept thinking, "They took the trees and left the trash!" Traditional travelers in canoes see little if any of this, fortunately.
We discovered an old Core Craft Canoe. It appeared to be abandoned rather than stashed.
Originally we hoped to hike north to Western Lake. We realized we would not do that having just a base camp on Phantom. We also discovered that Schlamn Creek flowed across the trail (and the portage.) The stream flowed wide and full. (see the picture) We couldn't find an easy way to cross.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008 to Clark 8.2 (round trip)
Track of this day Closed to motor vehicles, motorized equipment, hang gliders and bicycles! The Forest Service posts this warning on a sign at the edge of the wilderness.
Wednesday we traveled south to the point where the logging road entered the wilderness. We then retraced our steps and traveled east past Meat Lake to Clark Lake.
Years ago I frequently fished in Meat Lake. I caught many stunted northern pike using barbless hooks. I realized when I arrived at the lake that I had traveled to it by way of the old Clark Lake Road not the Wolf Lake Road. This access was closed when the 1978 wilderness legislation moved the boundary further south.
The trail to Meat Lake was a surprise. Most of it does not seem to follow an old logging road. Aerial photos did not show this trail. We discovered it as we hiked. (Someone had carefully brushed the entrance to the trail where it joined the Phantom-Battle portage.)
We walked all the portages we crossed during the trip and found them well maintained. I am wondering, however, how canoeists cross Schlamn Creek which runs across that portage. Maybe the flow lessens considerably after the spring melt. Personally, I do not like portaging with wet feet, even in August!
We had lunch on the shore of Meat Lake then made our way to two old cabin sites on Clark Lake. We found cleaner sites but still the ever present theme of empty beer cans: Steel cone tops. Steel flattop requiring an opener to punch an opening. Steel cans with aluminum tops and flip tops and our present day all aluminum. I don't recall seeing any plastic bottles - but then, beer doesn't come in plastic bottles!
Track of this day Thursday we traveled west. Years ago my bother and I had canoed on Soroll Lake. This small deep lake has clear water and and light colored gravel bottom. We could watch large northern pike follow our lures from the depths up to our canoe. None bit however. The lake has no official portage in from Glenmore, but obviously many do portage in.
Thirty years ago I made a spring hike in the area traveling an old woodland trail from the Mud Creek Road still shown on topographical maps but, as we discovered, that trail has now disappeared.
We encountered a number of large marsh areas, beaver dams and streams crossing the trail/old road.
Near the end of the trail we found a winter camp site. Cut and split wood had been stored under an old metal washtub. Tree stumps 3 or 4 feed tall indicated somebody cut wood with snow on the ground.
Track of this day We dawdled at the campsite reluctant to leave. We pack up our high-tech backpacks and began walking about noon.
For this trip we laid aside our traditional Duluth Packs and acquired high tech hiking packs. We packed and ate freeze dried food (aside from the bagels, peanut butter and cheese which we took on our day hikes.) We did not, however, discard our army surplus woolen attire as the photos show!
Wool is tough, warm when wet, and dries quickly. However as our sons say, it does make us look like old guys.
However, I remind them even with the latest synthetic fabric we would still look like old guys. Only, we would look like old guys in high tech.
This trip introduced my brother to spring in the woods. We agreed that he would join me on my next spring hike (traditionally during the first week in May.) He hunts deer in the fall and is to busy to joining my fall hike (traditionally the last week in September.) We enjoyed this trip, but will probably seek out the variety, views and easily reached campsites of an established BWCA hiking trail or perhaps the Superior Hiking Trail.