BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 25 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1150 feet
Little Vermilion Lake - 12
5 Rivers Trip or Lac La Croix circumnavigation
September 07, 2009
Little Indian Sioux River (north)
Number of Days:
We spent the previous night at the Fenske Lk campground before getting up early for the drive up the Echo Trail to the Little Indian Sioux (LIS) entry point. Warm night, traditional grilled steak dinner and fire for atmosphere left us ready to hit the trail. We heard either wolves or coyotes about 6:00 AM. Nice to be serenaded.
The day warmed up quickly as we made our way down the LIS. Saw quite a number of parties at the Pauness Lakes. But once we hit Loon lake and then finally Lac La Croix (LLC) things got much quieter. That was a very pleasant surprise. Not much wind, lots of sunshine and temps approaching 80 made for some nice, if warm conditions. We stopped at the middle campsite on Sandbar Island. I went for a swim and we just enjoyed our first night back in the Boundary Waters.
The wind had picked up some and was out of the south as we pushed off at about 7:30 AM. Over the last 20 years of annual canoe trips, my older brother and I have found a pattern that works well for us. Up early, stop early, fish, swim, read and just enjoy being in some of the most beautiful country God put on this earth.
With the wind out of the south we had a relatively easy time picking out way through all the islands and bays of the south shore of LLC. We had not seen another canoe party or occupied campsite since we hit Loon Lk yesterday. We found that very unusual. Even the Canadian traffic around the First Nation community was subdued as we went by. It was not until we turned south at the narrows on the west side of Coleman Island that we saw a two person party. We fought the by now heavy wind until we reached Fish Stake Narrows where we took the first campsite. A very nice one we thought. I swam again and then later in the evening we had 3 eagles hang around for quite some time. It appeared that a juvenile had two adults sort of keeping an eye on it. Much flying around and calling back and forth. Made for great entertainment. With the warm temps we had no interest in a fire, so we hit the tent early in hopes of catching the calmest part of the day in which to view the LLC pictographs.
The wind continued to blow all night, but had seemed to diminish. We were on the water at 6:30 AM in hopes of catching the best conditions to view the pictographs. As we came out of Fish Stake Narrows and in sight of the rock wall, to our dismay we found that even the wind we had was blowing up some nice rollers out of the south/southeast and directly in our direction. We made our way to the east shore in hopes that we might get some protection from the wind and waves, but upon reaching the pictograph wall, we found that it was fully exposed. Concern over getting pushed into the wall and keeping the canoe properly trimmed for the incoming chop allowed only the briefest of glances at the Native American artwork. Disappointed to have found conditions almost exactly the same as they were 8 or 9 years ago, when last we went by, we decided we would come back yet again, so that we could give this the attention it deserves.
We crossed back to the west shore for shelter from the wind and proceeded to the portage leading to Lake Agnes. After crossing Agnes we entered the second of the "5 Rivers", the Oyster river. Good water levels made this a fine section and boded well for the other rivers we would encounter on this trip. From Oyster Lake, to Green, Rocky and finally Ge-be-on-e-quest (GBQ), we made camp at the site on the west shore directly on the way to the portage to the GBQ river. This was a very nice spot with a lovely swimming hole.
There had been a brief shower very early this morning, but as we traveled the skies cleared and the temps rose turning the day fine and warm by the time we arrived at GBQ. I swam again and even my brother was enticed into the lake, a fairly rare occurrence. The campsite had a very elaborate fire pit area with two large flat rocks on either side of the pit for preparation. An amazing labor by some party that must stay here quite regularly. Very impressive. Though the temps continued quite warm, we felt the need for a fire, just for atmosphere and stayed up until the stars came out. This entire day, once we passed through Fish Stake Narrows on LLC, we saw only empty campsites and no other canoeists. We had GBQ all to ourselves. Very unusual but very, very nice.
On the water at 7:00 AM we made our first foray of the GBQ river. A light fog/mist added a "cozy" feel to this route. Again, with the apparently good rainfall, paddling conditions, always somewhat problematic on BWCA "rivers" was very nice. We came to the confluence with Pocket creek, the third of the 5 rivers, and reached Pocket lake without having to negotiate the short portage that takes you directly into Pocket Lake. There was just enough room between rocks and enough water flowing out of Pocket Lake that we just pushed our way up. We saw one occupied campsite on Pocket lake. Our first group since early yesterday morning. As we moved into Finger Creek, the last of our "5 Rivers", those good water levels continued. Again, as the day progressed the clouds dried up and the sun came out and the day turned fine and warm. We moved through Finger, Thumb, Beartrack, East Beartrack and Eugene to our final destination of Steep lake. Both my brother and I were really impressed with the beauty of the lovely little lakes. I, for one prefer these routes with a few more portages over smaller, "cozier" lakes. It was a lovely paddle. We had actually covered quite a bit of ground yesterday so I gave my brother a break and we stopped at the most out of the way campsite on Steep lake at about Noon. While the landing was very difficult, the small site on top of the hill was really nice. A lovely tent pad and fire area looking out over the narrow east arm of Steep lake. A truly superior swimming hole allowed for cannonballs off the shore. We spent the afternoon relaxing, reading and swimming. An hour of fishing yielded only lost lures and no strikes. We again had a fire strictly for atmosphere as the weather continued to be some of the warmest we have ever encountered in September. Just before retiring, having stayed up until we could see the Milky Way start to appear, several shooting stars came by on a slow track through the sky. One followed the other by only moments. The second one actually flared as some part of it broke off. Very neat.
This morning dawned clear and warm. We dallied some this morning as we expected to make an early stop, leaving us a short trip back to the car on Friday. We found the portage from Steep Lk into South Lk to be one of the more "interesting" of this trip. It dropped quite a bit and even though it appeared to have received some extensive work by a trail crew, it would be a real challenge in wet weather. Once we got to South Lake we found the entry to be mostly exposed lake bed, only recently starting to dry. As we looked around the shore it was obvious that the water level had dropped over 2 feet very recently. I speculated that a beaver dam at the outlet of South/North lake into LLC must have failed, sometime in only the last couple of weeks, causing the catastrophic water loss we saw. The portage to Section Pond was also newly drying lake bed and a mucky mess. Once it dries it won't be a problem, but it took us a bit to finally hoist the gear and move off down the trail. Having traveled alot in the blowdown or fire affected areas of the BWCA in the last few years, I have to say it was a real treat to move through this country wich had large stands of exceptional white pine. Section Pond and Slim Lake were no exception. We found a large beaver dam at the connection between Section Pond and Slim. We were able to pull over the beaver dam, making a big improvement over the 65 rod portage. We were off Section Pond and onto Slim Lake in no time. This was a truly pretty paddle. Then it was on to the East Bay of Loon Lake and Loon Lake proper and finally back onto the LIS. By now the wind had come up out of the south and by the time we reached Upper Pauness lake it was blowing quite hard. Now back in the more heavily trafficked area, all of the camps on Upper Pauness were taken, but we found an acceptable home for the night on Lower Pauness. We were on the second site north of the 40 rod portage between upper and lower Pauness. While it had the best landing of any camp we used, it had only very poor tent pads. The one we chose had a bit of a pitch to it, but we managed. It was also the home to several very large ant hills. They were pretty much everywhere.
With visions of a hearty breakfast in Ely dancing in our heads we hit the water at first light. It was a very pretty paddle through the light fog up the LIS river. It was the warmest trip we have ever had in 30 years of Septembers. I have never swam every day, or was less interested in building a campfire. Never zipped up my sleeping bag once and would have gladly left the rainfly off my tent, if we weren't so familiar with the quick changes the BWCA weather gods can bring. We saw very few other parties for this time of year. We didn't get the to look at the LLC pictographs very long, but I guess that gives us a reason to go back again. It was a great time.