BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 18 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1150 feet
Little Vermilion Lake - 12
Little Indian Sioux #14 Sept. 2014
September 12, 2014
Little Indian Sioux River (north)
Little Indian Sioux River (north) (14)
Number of Days:
On Wednesday, September 10th, I left work around 2:45. I had hoped to leave earlier but had a customer come in to the bank so I couldn’t get away. Dad and I left for Minnesota around 4. We had almost all our gear packed from the previous week but went over everything one last time and packed a few final food items. We stopped at our usual place in Stuart, IA for gas and McDonalds. We barely made it there because the low fuel light came on about five miles before we got there. At McDonalds there were about four guys out front loitering around smoking cigarettes in a way that made you think they were up to something. We got some food and some ketchup packets to take along on our canoe trip. I let dad drive from Stuart, IA to Ames, IA which was maybe 100 miles. We got to the Super 8 at around 10 for the night. They had a decent breakfast of yogurt, oatmeal, fruit and rolls.
September 11, 2014, Thursday – My brother called us on our way up and said that he still had the jack handle for my vehicle in his pickup since we went to Sturgis. I wanted to have one because that is the only way to release the spare tire. We stopped at a salvage yard that morning that was about a mile north of the motel to see if they had one. They said it would cost $30 and they could have one off a vehicle by that afternoon. I wasn’t going to pay that anyway but we sure couldn’t wait around until the afternoon. After having two flat tires two years ago, I felt like we better be prepared. We continued up the road about 50 miles to another salvage yard that was out in the country about 5 miles. It was a place where you pay $2 and go find your own part. After searching the whole place, I only found two handles and none were like the fold up one that I had. I got one anyway and the guy only charged me an extra $1 for it. That was quite a bargain compared to $30.
In St. Paul, we ran into road construction that slowed us down about 30 minutes. There was one lane traffic that choked down from two lanes. All the inconsiderate idiots who didn’t want to wait would get in the second lane, pass everyone and expect to be let back in right at the choke point. I wasn’t going to let anyone in but everyone else did at the expense of all the decent people. There was more road construction in St. Paul but we make it through in decent time. We continued through the Quad Cities and got to Ely around 4. It had started to rain about 50 miles before Ely. Ryan, the owner of Cliff Wold’s, was there to meet us and got all the paperwork ready. We didn’t have to watch the video since he knew we had seen it already. The total for permits, fees, bunkhouse rent and canoe rental was $277. Renting a canoe is only about $18/day but all the other fees are the ones that get you. A 7 day fishing license is like $36. We also bought a couple embroidered patches that were really nice. I had been looking for ones like that on the internet but had never found any.
We had some time to kill so we walked downtown to see what was going on. The place was dead. This time of year there aren’t many people around anyway but it seemed very slow. The cold and wet weather also didn’t help the atmosphere either. We went through a couple shops that were still open at 6 in the evening and looked around. One was a t-shirt shop that had thousands of BWCA shirts. We also went to Piragis. I enjoyed going upstairs and looking at the books for sale. They had many outdoor and adventure type books that I would love to read.
Since it was near supper, we drove around looking for a place to eat. We went to the Grand Ely Lodge which looked like a nice place but it was probably a little higher priced than we were looking for. If it were just me, I probably would have spent the $20 on a meal. We then went by a sign just south of the Grand Ely Lodge that pointed west to a place near a resort along the lake. It didn’t look like there was any café around but maybe it is a place that just serves during the summer. In this area I remember seeing smoke come out of a chimney and thinking of Prairie Home Companion’s “News from Lake Wobegon” segment. Garrison Keillor talks about fall coming and how no one wants to be the first one to light up their wood stove because they will look weak. He joked that the first ones to light their stove always say that they are just testing it out to make sure that it is working. I love listening to Prairie Home Companion because it is such a relaxing program that describes how fun and relaxed life should be.
We then decided to eat at the Ely Steakhouse which would be a first for us. I had the Bucky Burger which was a great tasting burger with mushrooms and Swiss cheese. The menu said over 100,000 had been served so now I am in that club. The burger was excellent and the way one should be. I was reminded of the terrible burger we had in Sturgis this summer that was the same price and supposed to be fancy but the meat was horrible and I think it had been warmed up about 10 times throughout the week until we finally got stuck with it.
Since we would be eating Subway for our lunch meal tomorrow, we had to stop there and get something. When we pulled up to Subway we saw a bus with about 30 kids pouring out of it. I couldn’t believe our bad luck that we now had to wait for an entire bus of kids to get their food. I hurried in to get in line but it was too late. The group of girls were probably a junior high volleyball team that just got done with a game. Fortunately they had called everyone’s order in ahead of time and it was just a matter of each kid paying and picking out their chips and drinks. I heard someone say that Subway had been working for 3 hours getting all of their orders ready. A group of about 5 high school guys came in behind me and stood in line and they also wondered what they got themselves into. After being in that environment with all those kids, I am glad I don’t teach junior high. Those kids were talking a mile a minute and it was a roar in there. I kept hoping that the other employee at Subway would start my order since no one was making sandwiches. She said that they wanted to clear out most of the girls before they started serving everyone else. I waited maybe 20 minutes until I finally got served. I didn’t like to wait that long but I knew this would make for a good story and one that I would remember.
The evening was damp and cool so with nothing much else do see or do at this time of night, we decided to go to the bunkhouse and get some sleep. We each took one last shower and repacked some gear. The facilities at Cliff Wold’s were very clean as always. It always helps to be the only ones using them this late in the season. With as cold as it was that night, I was wondering if I had enough clothes along. All I had were a couple extra t-shirts so I packed them just in case. That night, the northern lights were supposed to be easy to see because of a solar flare that took place earlier. I hoped to see them because it would be a first for me. I got up that evening to take a leak but there was too much cloud cover to see anything. The weather for the week would actually be almost perfect. High temperatures were around 55 with lows around 40. The wind didn’t blow too hard and it was partly to mostly cloudy each day.
September 12, 2014, Friday- We got up around 6:30 and decided we just as well get going. After eating a quick breakfast of granola bars and an apple, I brushed my teeth and then headed to the restroom to take a dump. As I looked around I asked myself “where did the urinal go?” It was there last night. Then it hit me that I was using the women’s restroom. No one was around so it didn’t really matter but it is just kind of weird using a women’s restroom. I think most people would agree. I locked the door just in case someone came in.
I kind of wanted to eat at Britton’s Café but also wanted to get on the road since it would be an hour’s drive to the entry point. The road to entry point #14 on the Echo Trail was a nice one for a hard packed gravel road. The road curved around and was lined with trees that would almost canopy over the road. Along the way, we passed all the entry points that I had considered when planning my trip. It was about 30 miles to our destination which took about an hour. We crossed the Moose River and then the Little Indian Sioux River which was where we would put in at. The parking lot had about a dozen cars in it and I remember seeing license plates from Minnesota, Wisconsin and one from New Jersey and Illinois I think. We unloaded all our gear at the base of the trail and talked to some guys who were also headed in but were only going to Shell Lake. The morning was beautiful and I couldn’t wait to get the canoe in the water. It was about 9:30 when we officially started our trip.
The portage to the river was about 30 rods and downhill. Our method of portaging for the whole trip would be to double portage with me taking the 65 pound aluminum canoe and the 50 pound food pack while dad would take the two lighter packs. The Little Indian Sioux (LIS) was a river about 100 feet wide but with a main channel of about 20 feet. All the rest of it was reeds and lily pads. There is no current to it although it does flow north.
Our second portage was 60 rods and average in difficulty. We must have paddling fairly fast because we were already caught up to the group that left in front of us. This portage was along the river and we got to see the water create some mini waterfalls and hear the water rushing. From there we wound around and pushed over about 5 beaver dams which didn’t give us too much problem because we could usually get enough momentum to just push over them; one advantage of an aluminum canoe. On Upper Pauness Lake was a large marsh area that we had to push through. We saw some guys coming our way but didn’t realize that is where we needed to go to at first. Once we looked at our map, we realized that we needed to head through the marsh to the 8 rod portage. At this portage was a group of two canoes of what I assume was a family of two parents and two high school aged girls. They were headed out on our way in.
The 8 rod portage was actually fairly difficult for its size. There were quite a few boulders and rocks to maneuver around. With it being so short, I figured I would save us time and grab two packs to haul over instead of make dad haul over a second pack. This choice would affect the rest of my trip. A couple years ago on my Mudro trip, I hurt my left knee which still bothers me today. By taking two packs and hopping through the boulder field on this 8 rod portage, I would feel something give in my knee again. It didn’t hurt right away but I knew that I had injured it again and would have to take it easy. I couldn’t believe that I could be so stupid to get in a hurry and injure myself again. This would cause me to overcompensate with my other leg for the rest of the trip which would also cause me to injure it too.
On the other side of this portage, we had a quick snack before we headed up the Lower Pauness Lake. We didn’t examine the campsite at the 8 rod portage very well but it didn’t look to be a very good one. It would be at a high traffic area and was kind of exposed. The other three sites on Lower Pauness looked to be decent sites as they were on rock outcroppings with good views. Our next portage was the 160 rod one at Devil’s Cascade. The first half of it wasn’t too bad but the second half was steep which made it difficult on the way back up it. The good thing was that the path was fairly straight so you didn’t have to snake around much with the canoe.
Along the trail I remember seeing an octagon cement stone with a hole in the center of it and wondered where it came from. I decided it was probably something from the logging days and was used along the portage because it was nearby. I was kind of disappointed with Devil’s Cascade because I thought it was a 75 foot waterfall that fell over a cliff. Instead it was just a gradual waterfall that dropped gradually for 75 foot of elevation along the portage. The portage runs on the east side of the river and there is a camp site along it that overlooks the canyon that the waterfall flows through. It was a decent site with a good high view of the canyon and valley but I don’t know that I would want to stay there. You would have to go too far to water, it was too near the portage and people were always walking by and also it was too close to a steep drop off down to the river. If you were standing too close to the edge or dropped something too close to the edge of camp, the was about a 100 foot drop below.
At this portage I was able to talk to a guy from Iowa who had been fishing with a group of guys up on Fat Lake. He knew where I was from because he said he used to work road construction in central Nebraska. His group had been coming to the BWCA for 20 years with fishing as their main goal. They did fairly decent and caught a 7.5 lb, 23 inch smallmouth along with some pike in the 36” to 38” range. He said they had one that broke the line that must have been over 40”. This got me thinking that we would also have good luck fishing but that would not be the case. He also told me about the unofficial portage from Slim Lake to Fat Lake. He said it was about a mile long and very difficult. On the way back for our second load of gear I carried some of his stuff and had a nice talk with him. He sounded like a nice guy and I wish I could have tagged along to have his group teach me how to catch fish. He also said that they caught smallmouth at the start of the portage before the water goes down the waterfall. He said that if we wanted to stay on Loon Lake, there are some sandy beaches there. Talking to people on portages is fun because it makes the time go by faster and you also get to learn about their adventure. My dad talked to one of this guy’s fishing partners who was from Missouri. It was about 6.6 miles from the start of the entry point to where we were at Devil’s Cascade.
After this portage we had more river and beaver dams to cross until we got to Loon Lake. Ahead of us we saw some guys take a campsite that I had considered if we were feeling too tired to push on. We would eat lunch at this site on the way out. Loon Lake is a large lake that allows motor boats but we only saw one while crossing it. It seems kind of pointless being on a lake with motor boats because that boat was speeding across the lake and covered more time in a minute than we did in a whole hour. In looking at the satellite maps, I looks like there is some kind of cabin or fishing lodge near the boat portage on the North West side. We didn’t go over to check though.
We curved around East Loon Bay until we got to Little Loon Lake and saw the signs saying no motorized vehicles beyond this point. That area was kind of neat and was where I first felt like we were now at the gateway to getting completely away from people. It seemed like most people were probably cutting from Lower Pauness to Shell Lake so we were already away from people. At the portage from Little Loon Lake to Slim Lake, I would be tested. The portage was 173 rods which didn’t seem too bad if it would have been like the earlier 160 rod portage. I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Before I start to sound like a complete wimp, I should say that my knee problems were what made this seem like such a difficult portage. It started out flat for about 100 feet so I was hoping it would be easy but his quickly changed when I saw the steep boulder field that we would have to cross. All of the rain has washed the portage out to where it is a two foot deep trench in some places. Inside of the trench are boulders and rocks so you aren’t walking on a flat path. It is also pretty steep in some areas. You could also see that there were quite a few blown down trees in the area that had been cut up. With uneven footing on the trail, I was hardly using my left leg and putting all the pressure on my right leg. This overcompensation quickly caught up to me where both knees hurt with every step. For the first time in the BWCA, I felt like putting the canoe down halfway through the portage and taking a break. I can be stubborn though so I kept telling myself that no matter how much pain I was in or how tired I was, I could keep going because the end had to be near. It never seemed to come though. On the back side of the portage, the trail got much better because it was straighter and also not so much of a rocky path. It was a fairly steep decline though. When I finally got to the end of the portage, I was completely exhausted. The landing was fairly wet but I just walked through the mud and put my canoe down. I was so weak that when I let the canoe down, I lost my balance and fell in the mud. My elbow sank into the mud and got my white shirt all wet and muddy. I didn’t care though. Instead I found a dry piece of ground to lay on and just sprawled out for a few minutes. As hard as this portage was for me, I wondered how dad would even make it across. He came across about 5 minutes later and was also tired. Unfortunately we still had to go back for our other packs. It was much easier the second time around just coming with a pack instead of a canoe.
I really should have prepared myself better to get into shape for this trip. After last year’s #32 Kawishiwi River trip of very few portages, I got lazy and didn’t walk or do any exercising to get ready. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I think the total time it took to double portage was about an hour. We were both ready to find a campsite and call it a night. We paddled past the first site on Slim Lake because I had read that the north one was better. When we got to it, we saw that it was taken so we had to turn back south to the other site. My eyes were playing tricks on me because I was sure that I saw a tarp at this invisible campsite. Fortunately this wasn’t the campsite and the south one was open. I’m not sure how we would have made it any further if there were no open sites on Slim Lake. It had been about 14.8 miles and 7 hours from our start of the entry point to the camp on Slim Lake. Total portage distance for the day was about 258 rods.
This campsite wasn’t too bad and I would rate it a 3. There was enough room for about two tents but the landing wasn’t the greatest and we couldn’t find any good bear hanging trees. The site was also kind of set up on stair steps so the tent was on one level and the kitchen area on another level. I noticed this only because my knees hurt from climbing up and down it. We got the tent set up and all of our gear laid out which gave me a good feeling that we were finally at our destination. I went out to the middle of the lake to filter water while dad got supper started. The weather was really nice and there was hardly any wind. It took about 30 minutes to pump out a gallon of water and then I headed back to eat. Tonight we ate hot dogs, corn and some other stuff. I had originally wanted to bring brats along but dad thinks they are too greasy. Instead he bought a bunch of hot dogs which he claimed were the ‘good ones’. I know that brats probably aren’t the best of meat but they are sure better than a slimy hotdog. I guess dad’s idea of a ‘good’ hotdog is one that is made from the ears and tail instead of the scrotum and lips. They still tasted o.k.
We went to bed around 8 which was when it got dark. That night was a little cold and I would guess it was in the upper 30’s. I had plenty of clothes on so it wasn’t too bad but I probably should have put on an extra pair of socks. I had to get up a couple times to take a leak because I drank too much water to rehydrate myself before I went to bed. One time dad got up and I told him to watch out for one of the ropes that helped tie the tent down. I didn’t realize it until the next morning but dad said that he was thinking so much about not tripping on the rope that he lost his balance and stumbled down the hill and almost fell in the lake. Another funny thing that night was that when I got up once and opened the zipper, dad woke up in a dazed slumber and started shouting and whistling. He thought that a bear was getting into our tent. I just had to laugh because of the way it all happened.
September 13, 2014, Saturday- I slept o.k. that night but had to roll over every 30 minutes because my side would start to hurt. My inch thick air mattress just isn’t quite thick enough. I also hurt everywhere. My shoulders, back, hips, and knees all bothered me. For some reason though, I always have all kinds of crazy dreams when I am out camping. It is like a movie theatre in my head at night. I got up before dad did and took some pictures of the fog on the lake. It was perfectly still and very peaceful. We had bacon and eggs this morning. The bacon was nothing more than slabs of fat that didn’t cook up very well. We will only take sausage next time. It was still a good breakfast and fresh eggs from our chickens tasted great.
Dad brushed his teeth and I saw him spitting back into the lake. I got after him and said he could at least spit on land. You aren’t supposed to do that in the BWCA and if nothing else, it is kind of gross when you are getting water for cooking right where someone brushed their teeth. He knows better than this but I guess old habits are hard to break. This incident kind of reminds me on my first trip when I was oblivious to peeing in the lake. I remember we were on Boot Lake on EP #23 and I had to take a leak really bad. There was this flat rock in the middle of the lake in front of a campsite with people on it. I stood on the rock and just peed on it so it naturally ran into the water. I remember at the time thinking that those people were probably wondering what I was doing but I guess I never made the connection that I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing. I know better now. I do wonder though how many people pee at the end of portages instead of going back into the woods. This probably happens a lot. Drinking fish and moose urine is one thing, but human urine is a whole different story.
Today was Saturday and we would just stay around Slim Lake and Section 8 Pond. We met a group heading south out of Slim Lake and also waved at the people who were staying at the north site. These would be the last people we would see for an entire three days. It was great. It started out a little windy and I probably should have taken an extra jacket along. We tried to fish the deep spot near the north campsite but didn’t catch anything. The wind was blowing us around so I fished while dad tried to keep us in one place. We then went to a shallow little cove and fished there where it was calmer. From there we fished our way north. In a small cove on the north side of Slim Lake I did manage to catch a pike that was about 26 inches long. I hoped I was on to them but that was the only fish for the day. I threw about every lure I had in my box but just couldn’t get anything to bite. Around noon we crossed the 50 rod portage to Section 8 Pond to fish and have lunch. In high water you might not even need to portage because you could just float down the narrow waterway between the two lakes. We had to portage another 10 yards or so with the lower water because you couldn’t quite get in where most people seemed to put in at. There were a couple beaver dams in this part that we really had to get speed up for to get over them. Section 8 was a shallow lake of maybe 6 feet at the deepest. I fished a little but nothing was biting. Shallow weedy lakes like these would be prime spots to fish where I am from.
We ate lunch at the only camp on Section 8. It wasn’t a very good site and I would probably rate it a 1. There is no place to pull you canoe up on so we tied it off to a tree. There was just one small tent pad and not very much space. You could tell that this site is rarely used. The grass where the tent pad is was tall and the fire pit only had a couple charred pieces of wood in it. There was even grass growing in the fire pit. My guess is that only one person had camped here all summer. For lunch we had summer sausage, crackers, mixed nuts and maybe some chips. We took a 15 minute nap which felt good after our hard day yesterday. At around 3 we headed back to our campsite. We stopped at the north site on Slim and checked it out a little better. The landing wasn’t the greatest and there was a good incline to get to the campsite but it was an otherwise good site with a nice view. I would rate the overall site a 3 or 4 just because of the poor landing and steep incline. The camp area itself was probably a 5. You had a great view of the lake and there were a couple nice large tent areas. The previous occupants left some nicely cut wood so we took it with us.
We had some time to kill so we decided to take the unofficial portage from Slim to Fat Lake. The previous day our neighbors on the lake must have been exploring there because they left their canoes at the start of the portage and we didn’t see anyone for a few hours. Anyone who tries to portage that with all their gear definitely has their work cut out for them. Walking it wasn’t so bad but I would hate to take gear over that mile long portage. It starts out with some steep rocky areas where it would almost take two people to lift a canoe up so you could continue on. The trail also winds around and would be very hard to not continually get hung up in the trees. I would think this would be very difficult. It took us about 20 minutes to walk to Fat Lake and we saw a tent on the only campsite there. My knees were really hurting me on this portage but I found that if I walked pigeon toed, it would take the pressure off of my outside ligaments so that I could walk easier and without pain. Along the way dad lost a waterproof plastic tube that we used to put food in. It was just filled with trash at the time but I don’t like the thought of leaving stuff behind in the BWCA. I think what happened was that he had it in his vest pocket and when he took his vest off along the trail, it fell out.
Supper tonight was hotdogs and mashed potatoes. It was another good meal. Nothing too interesting happened tonight but I do remember laying there at night and wondering if Nebraska beat Fresno St. It was 11 at night and I figured they were probably in the 3rd quarter but there would be no way to know if they won until Wednesday. I was surprised to learn later that they won by a score of something like 55-17. We were both tired so we went to bed at 8 and slept until about 7 the next morning. Total distance traveled was about 5 miles with 100 rods of portaging plus another 2 miles of hiking to Fat Lake. September 14, 2014, Sunday- Breakfast was sausage and pancakes. It was really good even though the pancakes were all torn up from sticking to the pan. The previous day, dad saved all the bacon grease and said we could cook with it. I didn’t exactly want to coat the pan in bacon grease so that is why the pancakes stuck to the pan. It rained that night so we had to pack up our stuff wet. After getting all our stuff packed up, we headed up to South Lake to camp for two days. The portage from Section 8 to South Lake was a nice easy flat one of 73 rods. I was glad for that. The end of the portage was pretty muddy without much of a place to easily load the canoe except for in very shallow water. We still managed to keep our feet dry.
We took the first camp site right near the portage on South Lake. I would rate it a 5 and probably the best site I have stayed at in my few years traveling in the BWCA. It had a nice canoe landing area with a large rock outcropping surrounded by water on 3 sides. The tent site was flat and protected and the kitchen area was good except I would have placed the fire grate facing more towards the lake. We even had a nice large pine tree with large branches to easily hang a bear pack. This is the first site I have stayed at where we could easily hang our food from that was so close to camp. We also checked out the site that is supposed to be just north of ours on the island but there was a sign there saying it had been moved north. It didn’t look like that great of site anyway and was too close to the other one.
Just after we got everything set up, it started to rain lightly. I was just sitting under the pine tree taking a nap because I didn’t think it would rain much. After a couple minutes I got in the tent with dad to get out of the rain. We stayed in there for about an hour and slept while it rained. Once it cleared off, this was probably the most we saw of the sun all week. I decided to throw my line out from shore and on the very first cast I had a small pike follow my lure. In a few more casts I caught two other small pike. I hoped I was on to the fish. Since it was only about 3 p.m., we headed through North Lake and through the channel that heads to Lake La Croix. I’m not sure why North and South Lake are even considered two separate lakes because they are basically just one lake.
On our way to Lake La Croix, we crossed an awesome beaver dam about 40 feet across that was made with wood but also covered in rocks that the beaver had hauled in. It created a drop in water level of about 3 feet and was neat to see. We fished the channel but nothing was biting. Dad said he saw someone on a jet ski out on the lake but I bet it was a boat. It would have had to be on the Canadian side of the lake since boats aren’t allowed on the U.S. side. I suppose I can say I saw Canada since we were here. I really wanted to catch a “dual citizenship” fish in this lake just to say I did it but couldn’t get it done. On our way back we stopped at the moved campsite on the north of North Lake. I would probably rate it a 3 but the kitchen area was definitely a 5. There was a natural sofa made out of the rock that had a ledge to sit on and a high back to lean against. On top of that was plenty of more area to sit stuff. Someone had also hauled in some logs and flat stones to make a good table right by the fire grate. We took more wood that someone had already collected and fished around the shallows of North Lake.
When we got back to camp, dad started to cook supper while I went fishing. It was a beautiful and calm evening. I actually managed to catch 6 or 7 more small pike about 15 inches long that evening. I caught them mostly on a spinner bait and diving Rapalas. Three of the fish were when I was trolling across the lake. I wanted to check out the south campsite on South Lake so I drifted and fished my way towards it. This campsite was another average one with nothing too special and kind of small. There was extra wood at this site too so I put it in the canoe. It probably seems like all we did was steal wood but we collected and left just as much wood for the next groups as we took. Besides, this late in the season, there probably won’t be too many people using those campsites anyway so there is no need for the wood to just rot away. At this campsite by myself was where I got a taste of what it would be like to be alone in the BWCA. I enjoyed being on the lake by myself. I really hope to take a solo trip sometime because it would be a completely different type of trip. Since I had been out by myself for at least an hour, I decided that I should head back to camp since dad would probably have supper ready. We had thick stew tonight which was pretty good. Bedtime was around 8 again. It lightly rained tonight which was kind of relaxing to listen to. I didn’t mind so much since the tent could dry out during the day. Total portage distance was 123 rods and about 4 miles of travel.
September 15, 2014, Monday- Our breakfast today was two packs of oatmeal each and some rolls. We also had hot chocolate this morning as we did every morning. Our morning routine was to boil a bunch of water to drink for the day. We gave up filtering water after the first day because it isn’t very dirty anyway and boiling it will kill off anything that might be in it. This saved us a bunch of time. I can’t remember which day it was but I told dad that I would just take care of washing dishes. He would just run water over the stuff and call it good. This is fine but at least get all the food particles off of everything.
Today our destination was Fat Lake. I had read on the BWCA forums that the 120 rod portage from South Lake to Steep Lake was mountain goat climb and that was true. I would like to know how much higher Steep Lake is that South Lake because it seemed like the portage was up the whole way. Even though it was steep, I thought that it was much easier than the one from Little Loon Lake to Slim Lake. The portage to Steep didn’t have too many rocks on it so it was just a climb. My legs were on fire though when I finished it.
On Steep Lake we checked out the campsite which was another one I thought we might stay at. It was just average. I thought the lake was pretty neat though. It had some narrow areas to fish through with an island in the center of it. Today the wind was probably blowing the hardest it did all week but was still only about 10-15 mph. We drifted south while I fished and then headed to Eugene Lake. The 45 rod portage to Eugene was an easy one. Since it has some 50 foot deep places in it, I fished deep here but couldn’t get anything. We tried to find the campsite at the narrow part of the lake but didn’t see it until our way back. It isn’t that great of site and I would rate it a 2. This was originally going to be our home for 2 or 3 nights in my early planning. I’m glad we didn’t stay there. Eugene Lake isn’t a very neat lake either since it is basically just two large circle lakes. I prefer narrow winding lakes that have more character. We continued along the eastern shore of Eugene Lake looking for the portage to Little Beartrack Lake but couldn’t find it. I had hoped to cross the short portage just to look at the lake and say that we were there. I’m sure we would have found the portage if we would have taken our time but we really wanted to get to Fat Lake and fish there since the guys on the way in said it was some good fishing. The portage to Fat was an average 60 rod one with few rocks on the trail. As soon as we got to the lake, I knew that the reports of it being a very clear lake were true. BWCA lakes all seem very clear to me anyway but this one was unreal. It looked like it was one big swimming pool. For anyone in that area, it is definitely worth checking out.
For the first time, I decided that I would put my GoPro under water to see what I could capture on film. I had the camera underwater for a short while when a big gust of wind came up so I had to help dad paddle again. I thought that with the clear water it would be easy to see fish with the camera. After looking at the footage, you can’t see very much. I wonder if the lighting had something to do with it. Anyway, we had lunch at the only campsite on Fat Lake which was just another average site. The good thing about it is that there was plenty of deep water around camp that you could fish from shore. Lunch was tuna salad on crackers, chips, trail mix and a fruit pouch.
I fished from shore a few minutes while dad waited around. We then headed across the lake so that we could drift back east. In the calmer shallow water I again took my camera and held it underwater but the footage doesn’t show much. You could actually see through the water better in person than you could with the camera underwater. We let the wind drift us across the lake and I again threw out every lure that I had in my tackle box. As we drifted across the 50 foot deep part of the lake in front of the campsite, I caught a fish. At first I thought it was a small pike but when I got it to the boat I realized it was a 15 inch lake trout. I couldn’t believe it. They are hard to catch being so deep and with the luck I had been having it surprised me. It struck on a #3 orange Mepps Cyclops spoon. That seems to be my best catching lure at the Valentine Refuge. I was pretty excited at catching this trout even though it was a small one because it may be the only one I ever catch. I’m still trying to catch an elusive smallmouth bass. I thought I would catch one of those before a trout. We canoed up wind and drifted across the deep part again but that would be all the fish we would catch except for one the last day of the trip. I caught 11 fish total on this trip. It was around 4 in the afternoon so we decided we better get going since we had an hour trip back to camp.
On the way back through Eugene Lake was when we stopped to look at the campsite at the narrows. On the portage from Eugene to Steep I heard dad fall and he dropped my tackle box. At least it didn’t bust open. He fell or lost his balance a few different times which isn’t good concerning his bad shoulders. A fall could really mess him up. I should mention that this year I made a copy of my official map and highlighted all of the important things on it so dad could follow around. I hardly looked at my map because I have viewed the satellite maps enough to know exactly where I was. It was better that dad had a map but he still struggled to figure out where we were or where the portages were. That is something I just don’t understand because we would just come through a lake or portage and he would forget where we were or if we were headed in the right direction.
The portage from Steep to South Lake was much easier going downhill the whole way but it was still nice to get it over with. Tonight we had salmon and instant mashed potatoes which were very good. I fished a little more tonight but couldn’t catch anything. That night I remember lying in bed thinking how great it was to be in the outdoors. It was mostly silent with an occasional bug chirping that hadn’t been froze off yet. We were completely away from everyone and everything and I kept thinking how anyone who isn’t where I was is caught up in the chaos of the outside world. It’s just not worth it. I didn’t have a care in the world and wished it could stay that way. If only a person could go on a vacation back in time a few hundred years ago when the whole country was wilderness.
This is a random thought but for some reason this whole trip, I kept hearing the Motley Crue song Helter Skelter from their Carnival of Sins Tour in my head. Specifically the part where he swears at the crowd asking if they know they are on tv. I’m glad I saw them in Sturgis while I had the chance since this was their final tour because of Mick Mars’ back problems. That was the second best show I have ever seen behind Guns N’ Roses in Las Vegas. I guess you could say I am a rough character.
Tonight just as well have been my final day in the BWCA because tomorrow we would be heading back to camp near the original entry point and nothing would be new. It would be a travel day so there wouldn’t be time to enjoy anything. I like partial base camping trips but a circle route would at least keep the excitement up because everything would be new and it wouldn’t seem like you were ending your trip to backtrack. I was dreading tomorrow because we would have to head back on the long portages. Total distance for the day was about 6 miles and 450 rods of portaging.
September 16, 2014, Tuesday- We had oatmeal this morning and tried to eat some extra stuff so that we didn’t have to pack it over the long portages. I had a minor panic when I thought I lost my brother’s $80 water purifier. We looked everywhere but it ended up just being under a jacket. Camp was picked up by 9:30 and I said goodbye to South Lake. When we portaged our first load of gear back to Section 8, I hurried back to get the second load and just stood there looking at our lake and home for the past two days. It was a great spot and one that I will probably not see again. After a few pictures, dad came back so we got our last two packs and headed back.
We passed by our campsite on Slim Lake and I thought back to our time there just a few days ago. On the long portage from Slim to Little Loon Lake I was really dreading it but kind of wanted to take it on again just to know that I could do it better the second time. It was definitely easier going over it the second time because my knees didn’t hurt as bad and there is more downhill slope to the back of it when you are heading out. I still took a good break when I got the aluminum canoe over it. I waited for dad and then we headed back. Back at Slim Lake I took one last look at it and grabbed both packs. I carried them maybe 50 rods where I met dad and gave him one of them. On the rocky tough part of the portage I stopped to take a picture of dad. He used both paddles to help balance himself over the rocks. Dad also took a couple pictures of me at the end of the portage where there are tall old cedar trees. They are the size of the big ones we have around home and not the small 10 foot pasture kind. We ate a quick snack and headed down Little Loon Lake.
Loon Lake is the big lake so we wouldn’t have to portage for a couple hours. The wind was slightly to our backs so it helped out some. We didn’t talk much on our way across this lake. At the campsite near the mouth of the river on the north side we stopped to eat lunch. We had summer sausage, crackers and chips. That site had obviously been affected by the blowdown from a few months ago because there were large trees down in camp that had been cut up. While sitting there we saw a motor boat fly across the lake in about a minute. The wind had picked up to maybe 15 mph and there were a couple guys heading into it across Loon Lake. They had quite a paddle into the wind.
From here we headed back up the river and across the beaver dams. I had to get out and push us over one that was harder to go over this direction. We also met an older couple of a guy and an Asian woman. By the time we got to the portage going from the river to Lower Pauness, I was out of water. I only had my 32 oz. bottle to last me until we could refill. It had been about 12 miles from the campsite that morning on South Lake to Devil’s Cascade. The steep part of the long portage wore me out this time. At the campsite on the portage of Devil’s Cascade were some people camped. I thought this seemed odd but would soon find out why. Once in Lower Pauness I saw that the campsite nearest the portage was taken. I wanted this one because we were going to fish at the top of the cascade.
We continued to the next campsite and it was also taken. There were about 4 people there, two of them reading books, so we stopped to ask if they knew if the next campsites were taken. They weren’t sure but when we paddled around the corner we saw that the one was. These people seemed so relaxed and made me wish we would take our time more and just relax when we go to the BWCA. Our plan was now to fish at the top of the Cascade before taking the 40 rod portage into Upper Pauness. I didn’t want to stay at the poor looking site near the 8 rod portage. We fished for about 30 minutes in the deep water near the Cascade but didn’t get anything. I was so thirsty with no water that I just put my water bottle in the lake and drank straight from it. The water is clean enough that it doesn’t really matter. I do regret not drinking straight from Fat Lake since it was so clear.
We fished more and watched and listened to the people at the nearest campsite tell stories and swear. A couple people from that camp were fishing the shallows so we went over there to see if they were catching anything. It looked like they were doing about as good as we were. We took the 40 rod portage to Upper Pauness to find a campsite. I remember dad banging the aluminum canoe around at the start of the portage and getting after him for making so much noise with people around. This portage was very easy and looked like a highway. It was about 6 feet wide and flat. I have read trip reports of people saying not to take it but I am not sure why. You could see that it might get muddy during a rain so maybe that is why. When I was describing this lake to dad as we were heading in, I thought he would remember when I told him it was the lake that had the big marsh on it. He couldn’t remember the lake at all. Again, maybe I just have a better sense of the outdoors and my surroundings than he does.
We took the first campsite north of the portage which was an average one. The landing wasn’t very good but the site was fine. You could tell that this was a popular site and I didn’t like the idea of being back in civilization. On the way in all of these sites were open but now the area was covered in people. This site had been picked clean of wood and there were trails everywhere in the woods from people looking for wood. I had our fire going faster than I had all week and got supper ready while dad got the tent set up. I think we had tuna salad and chips again tonight. We were basically cleaning up leftover food so we wouldn’t have to pack it out.
I took a hand bath before we ate and felt much better. Today was warmer and I was sweating so it felt good to clean up. It was still warm enough that night that I walked around camp with my shirt off. I had my Gopro on around camp because I had plenty of battery and memory left in the camera. Tonight I was actually warm sleeping so the temperature didn’t drop much. I was going to miss sleeping on uneven hard ground, being dirty, not using toilet paper and most importantly, being away from civilization. A trip like this makes a farm boy realize that they weren’t made to work in an office the rest of their life. Sometimes I envy the unemployed. It started to rain lightly early in the morning so we would have to pack our gear away wet again. Total distance today was about 13 miles and 373 rods of portaging.
September 17, 2014, Wednesday- Today was take out day and I was dreading it. We ate oatmeal and whatever else we had left in our pack. The tent went down wet and when we rolled it up there was mud all on the bottom. Once everything was packed up, dad and I took a few pictures of us together like we do every year on the final day. Dad had to take care of business so I went off my way to also take care of business. Nearby me was this large rock that was perfect for sitting on that faced the lake. It was another nice morning so I sat there for a while just taking it all in before we left. I wished I could just sit there all day and stare out over the lake. After one last walk around camp to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind, we headed off. Shortly before we set sail, I remember the wind coming up and blowing the leaves off of a tree. Fall is definitely here.
We checked out the other two campsites on the north end of Upper Pauness and they looked to be just average sites from shore. I think the one we stayed at on that lake was the best one. We drifted south on the lake while I fished. I could tell that dad was in a hurry to get out. He was also paddling while we were drifting even though I told him I wanted to just drift across the lake so I could fish. I took this to be a subtle sign that he wanted to get going. I caught one small pike near our camp and around 11 we decided to officially head out. By leaving now, I hoped that we could make it to Britton’s by 2 and eat there. We wouldn’t make it though.
On the 60 rod portage on the LIS river we got into a traffic jam. There were four groups of people there. One group said they were heading in for just three days and another group was going as far as Loon Lake to go fishing. One group of guys were carrying all their gear in their canoe across the portage. This seemed like more work that just packing the gear over the normal way. We actually portaged faster than they did trying to single portage it. Nothing much happened on the final hour long paddle to the entry point. We wound around the river until I recognized where the take out point was. It was depressing. At the landing were two older guys each in solo canoes. I unloaded our gear away from them at the portage so they could get going. At the end of the portage which was now the parking lot, I talked to a four guys who had also been out fishing for a week around Shell Lake. They said they caught only two fish all week. Maybe my 11 fish weren’t so bad. I headed back for my final load of gear and when I got to the start of the river, I again just stood there and looked at it one last time. It was a good trip and now it was officially over. I really hated to turn away and leave it behind for the rat race of the world. Dad met me halfway on the portage and I let him carry the pack the rest of the way. We packed everything away but must have lost the stick that we used to hold the food pack up. Our food pack has two rings on each side that you can stick something through and then hang it with a rope so that it doesn’t crush the food in the pack. Dad was going to sand it down and keep it with the pack because it fit perfectly. I guess we will have to find another one next year. Total distance for the final day was about 4 miles and 90 rods of portaging.
On the way out dad took a picture of me standing by the entry point sign and we headed on our way. On the road was a pickup and maintainer parked basically in the middle of the road talking to each other. I could barely get between them. I was able to get some good footage on my Gopro of the road and color in the trees on our way out. We got back to town just after 2 so there wasn’t enough time to eat at Britton’s. We dropped the canoe off and then ate at The Ely Steakhouse again. It was about 3 in the afternoon and there was a decent crowd of guys sitting at the bar eating and drinking. We had the special which was a blue cheese burger. It was good but not as good as the Bucky burger. While eating I was finally able to get caught up on the news. I learned that Nebraska won their game and that was about the only news that happened.
Whenever I go into the BWCA, I wonder if when I get out if there will be some big news event that I missed out on such as another 9/11. With all that is going on right now with terrorists, I almost thought something like that might happen when we were in there. Distance on the final day was about 4 miles and 90 rods. Total overall for the trip was 1394 rods or 4.36 miles plus 2 miles hiking and at least 47 miles canoeing distance. If you figure the total distance we portaged with double portages, we portaged 3632 rods and 11.35 miles pluse 2 miles hiking.
After eating lunch we went to Dairy Queen to get a large Blizzard. It cost $9 for two of them which seemed high. I guess I never go to DQ to know. From there we stopped at NAPA because I had a burned out headlight. We tried for 20 minutes to get the bulb changed but it wouldn’t unscrew. I looked on youtube to see if there was something we were doing wrong but it still wouldn’t come out. Dad finally went back to NAPA and asked the guy that sold it to us if he could point us to a mechanic to help us. The guy came out and helped us tear apart the vehicle and change it the unconventional way. I don’t know who was running the store while he was away but we really appreciated it. Dad gave the guy $10 even though he didn’t want it and refused it. Eventually dad did get the guy to take it. We now didn’t have to worry about getting stopped at night on our long drive home.
We headed home and when we passed the Sawmill Bar and Grill at one of the Quad Cities I thought to myself that I need to stop there sometime. The Big Bear Casino also seems like it would be something to see because it is a huge casino. It reminds me of Las Vegas when I see it. I think Gary Allen was performing there that week. We stayed in Clear Lake, IA that night at the Super 8 and had another good breakfast. We got home around 2 in the afternoon and started unpacking our stuff. I think mom was happy to see us home and the cats also seemed happy because they were rolling around in our gear. It was nice to be home. Two weeks later and I still have to unpack a pack. Next year I hope to take another trip and hopefully with some people who haven’t been there.
Final thoughts- Of the 1726 miles we drove, I drove all except for about 200 miles on the trip. We got 17.9 mpg. We spent around $900 on the trip. $325 for gas, $160 for motel, $277 at the outfitters for permits, canoe and bunk and maybe $150 on food. We had an extra day’s worth of food left over but I would rather have too much food than not enough. Our meals weren’t as good as last year but we were trying to pack more efficiently. Anyone who goes to the BWCA should get a pair of $40 1967 Vietnam issued military jungle boots with spike protective soles. I loved those boots and they worked great by giving you plenty of traction and support around your ankles.