BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

May 20 2019

Entry Point 12 - Little Vermilion Lake

Little Vermilion Lake (Crane Lake) entry point allows overnight paddle or motor (Unlimited 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 45 miles. Enter from Crane Lake. Note: Not the entry point to use for Trout Lake (#1)

Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1150 feet
Latitude: 48.2995
Longitude: -92.4268
Little Vermilion Lake - 12

2018 Team BeaVer Fever Kruger Challenge

by BeaV
Trip Report

Entry Date: September 15, 2018
Entry Point: Little Vermilion Lake (Crane Lake)
Exit Point: North Fowl Lake (70)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 6

Trip Introduction:
This was to be my 5th trip along the border route- twice I had completed it solo and twice as a group of three. The first time I had attempted it just to see if I could do it, it took me 15 days and the last time I attempted it with the idea of setting records, I did it in 91 hours. For this year I decided I wanted to have more fun and also to expose more people to the experience of this adventure. The way to do this was to go with a large group concept having as many as 9 people (the maximum allowed by BWCA rules). I knew with this decision I would likely have to give up my streak of finishing first at Grand Portage. Not really a problem as I have never looked at these events as a race, but I do push limits and it has just always ended up with top results. Instead, my goal for this year was the challenge of getting a large group to the finish within the allotted 8-day time limit. Being first was not important but getting everyone to make it and do it with a sense of accomplishment was! So invites were sent first to prior years’ team members (all 3 were game) and then to other people, some I knew of a little and some were strangers to me. Knowing we would end up with a mix of seasoned border route participants along with first-timers, the goal would remain to finish within the 8 days allowed but the seasoned guys agreed to challenge themselves harder than before by traveling an extra 50 miles but do it in less time than prior years. This became “our Purpose” and was set at a finish time of 124 hours. Any new people joining our group would have to accept and prepare for our Purpose. The team-to-be was finalized only a couple weeks before the start with a last minute dropout. Team BeaVer Fever consisted of (using our WaterTribe nicknames): Canoe #1- WhiteWolf (completed twice before) and MeatPuppet (completed it once before) Canoe #2- JimmyJustice (completed it once before) and Deke (newbie) Canoe #3- BeaV and MAKK (newbie) Deke is a Floridian with limited canoe paddling background and no tandem canoeing experience. He would not meet the rest of us until just prior to the Challenge. MAKK is the first woman on my team to make the start and had no adventure racing experience. Like Deke, she did not know us, for the most part, but did meet some of us during the summer as we paddle-trained together. For the most part, each of us prepared and trained individually. Some paddle-trained with me especially my canoe partner to be, MAKK, who spent over 200 miles on the water. I was confident of our strengths and speed, but WhiteWolf and MeatPuppet did not paddle train together, and JimmyJustice and Deke would not sit together in a canoe until the start of the Challenge. I hoped that when we all got on the water together, our paddling skills and most importantly our speed would be similar. As three canoes, we would only be able to travel as fast as the slowest boat….There were many unknowns going into the event with the outcome of our Purpose uncertain. On paper the plan to make 124 hours looked good.

Day 1 of 5


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Fifteen challengers were present at the start of the Kruger Challenge route in International Falls. The distance to Grand Portage finish is roughly 250-270 miles depending on selected route. These events are time-restricted challenges, not races, but human nature had me sizing up the other teams. I had heard rumors that the youngest-age team of 2 guys, Kelso and Nordstjernen, were gunning to beat my previous years’ solo time of 91 hours. I hardly gave that a thought…good for them and good luck- it would have to be earned through some hardship, that I knew. As we move eastward, we set a pace that I think we can sustain for a long day. MAKK and I begin to pull away from the rest of our team and the other teams except for those two young guys whose WaterTribe names I can’t pronounce. Their names sounded of Norwegian heritage so that is what I begin calling them, “The Norwegians”. The Norwegians pull slightly ahead and I let them go. Later as we enter an area filled with islands, I noticed that they stop paddling at important navigational moments. We would nearly catch up and then they begin paddling again going the way we were heading. Hmmm, I think they may be using me to help with what direction to take (or maybe their maps aren’t so good?). I relay this observation to MAKK and we agree not to catch up with them anymore. Instead we use this opportunity to reunite with the rest of our team. The last sighting of the Norwegians for the day is when we dropped south into Black Bay.

The rest of the daylight paddling is noneventful. MAKK continues to set the pace in my canoe and I follow cadence but this puts us in front of our team throughout the day. So every so often we would stop and wait. When canoes #1 and 2 catch up, they want their time to rest, eat, and drink water too. This is not good for progress and was supposed to be avoided. I grow concerned as I know this will cause our average speed to drop and we will fall behind schedule. We finished with Rainy, then through Kabetogama Lake and into Namakan Lake when darkness begins to fall. I turn on a red-lit flashlight taped to a thwart so I can read my deck compass mounted on the floor of my canoe. I had hoped since our plan was to stay close together, the other boats would be able to see the red glow and could follow me at night as I navigate.

Rain begins to fall along with darkness. Thunderstorms are creeping up on us from behind. We are back into “bouncy” waves again. I can’t see the other boats behind…all these things are not good. MAKK and I stop paddling once again and shine headlamps back into the rainy darkness hoping to reunite. It works and I find out they can’t see the red light in my boat good enough. Next we try glow sticks and off we go. Thunderstorms bear down on us and again we quickly lose track of each other. I flee for some protection of the southern shoreline. A motorized fishing boat can be heard approaching fast. MAKK and I both agree we don’t like getting run over. I turn on my headlamp and shine at them and they veer off behind us where the other canoes should be. We can hear the motor heads cursing at our companions as again they run too close to canoes in the night (I’m sure they are surprised and frustrated by these canoeists popping up from out of nowhere). The six of us safely make it near enough to shore as the first wave of thunderstorms pass and I push the “I’m OK” button on my Spot to indicate we were. I’m feeling uneasy for what we just went through and our continued struggles to stay together. And they still can’t see my boat with the dim glow stick lights so JimmyJustice throws out the idea to strap his Luci Light to the stern of my boat. Problem solved! That can be seen well enough and still doesn’t interfere with my night vision.

Lightning continues to flash steadily off to the south and west of us. So frequent are the flashes as to make bow paddlers movements look like a strobe-light affect. With the promise of more thunderstorms to come, there was a chance we will get caught out in a wind burst that could capsize us. Earlier in the summer, I sent out a YouTube video to the team on how to rescue capsized boats using the canoe on canoe method and I had requested that everyone try it. So sometime that evening with capsize conditions possible I asked, “did everyone practice capsize recovery?” Oops, no one did. So we briefly went over what we would do. We were not going to stop for thunderstorms and I trusted my partners would not have problems saving me if need be.

Ahead lay an optional portage called “Grassy” which I was told was more of a winter trail due to wet boggy conditions or we could stay on the water. Timewise it was not much faster than staying on the water but with the nasty weather getting off the water seemed like a good idea. I had never been to this area before and was pleased to find the portage. A sign warned us of traps set nearby to catch wolves. We scatter down the portage with MAKK out in front of me. I have our canoe on my shoulders so I have a hard time seeing her. Suddenly she yells “trap!” and I fear she is caught in one. Nope, she just almost fell over one that was already sprung. Why some dummy set this right in the trail where people walk seems silly to me. We continue along and yes this portage is soft, mucky, and boggy. It is a challenge not to get stuck in the mud and eventually, MAKK falls through deeper than her knee. She is stuck and could use help. That’s right, I recall, I promised not to leave her behind on a rock so I decide it is my duty to help. We just get going again when, from behind us, I hear WhiteWolf yell that he fell in and is stuck. I do not go back to help as I know there is someone else back there that can.

Back on the water of Sand Point Lake, lightning continues an awesome light show and giving me momentary opportunities to see where shoreline is in an otherwise black night. We push on for our planned resting spot still hours away. At times I question if we should take shelter from the storms and especially when I can’t tell if the following 2 canoes are still coming or have lost me in the storm’s confusion. We hug the shore when we can and run for shore when we can’t! At around midnight, we enter the BWCA at the south end of Sand Point Lake. Unknown to us at the time, somewhere near here, the Norwegians are holed up under a cabin deck for shelter. We continue on heading to our destination of the south end of Little Vermillion Lake. Two miles away from camp, torrential rains pour down on us making navigation near impossible and seeing anything impossible. I veer toward shoreline so I can hug the shore and not paddle past our planned camp. I question to myself how the hell we are going to set up camp in this downpour and try to come up with a plan for what I will do when camp is found. The other 2 canoes cannot see me and after some time they go to shore to empty boats of rainwater. At 1:30 am the rain quits, MAKK and I reach the designated camp, she begin putting up tents, I get cold supper pulled out of packs, and with flashlights pointed out into the lake, become reunited with everyone once again. We are 3 hours behind schedule due to slower than planned paddle speed, headwinds, and 5 hours of lightning/thunderstorm-induced confusion. Despite this, we are satisfied and in good spirits for what we accomplished this first day. Adventure is about overcoming adversity and today we did! For everyone but me, today’s 57 miles paddled/portaged is a new all-time high. As we head for our tents, I say we are getting up in 2.5 hours from now. I think some of the team thought I was joking…. Tomorrow will be a new test for all with another long day planned.

 



Day 2 of 5


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Cold pancakes (a tribute to Verlen Kruger’s preferred paddling meal) and back on the water at 6:15 am with twilight coming soon still 3 hours behind schedule. Not known to us at the time, Team BeaVer Fever had passed the Norwegians in the night and we were about 4 miles ahead. We talked about where we thought they made it to last night as we paddled up the Loon River. We did not know that they had actually seen our headlamps in the early morning as we left camp. For them the chase was on, for us tired muscles and little rest made for a lazy start to paddling. At first I wasn’t too concerned. I figured once their muscles warmed up they could paddle again at a good pace. But miles later, we were still unable to paddle with any gusto (I call this “Lilly dipping”). Now I grew deeply concerned at the slow pace and what was looking to be the end of our chance to fulfill our Purpose of 124 hours. We discussed our slow pace, I flat out stated we need to do better, and I gave a couple pointers on paddling technique to try to improve our speed.

After the 2 mechanical portages, we entered Lac La Croix Lake. We pulled over at some cliffs to look at the pictographs there and the Norwegians caught up to us exchanging some quick updates and they were off heading north with today’s southerly winds. Further up the lake, they stopped for some food which allowed MAKK and me to catch up with them. We paddled side by side exchanging more stories of last night’s paddling. I sensed the Norwegians were paddling hard so as to not let us pass so I smiled inside and paddled harder without making it look like I was trying. MAKK was smiling inside too and soon our 2 boats were flying down the lake. I think MAKK and I did a good job of pretending to be paddling without effort. I know, I know we’re not racing…but it was still fun to maybe get into their heads a little. I pulled aside and our group had a little laugh over what we just did.

We paddled east through the main part of Lac La Croix before having to turn south into some substantial headwinds. This required everyone to paddle hard even though our muscles didn’t want to, sucking strength and willpower away. Arriving near Fish Stake Narrows around 3:00 pm, WhiteWolf and MeatPuppet questioned the wisdom of continuing any further for the day as we were about to face the same stiff headwind again. I was not really too surprised as ours bodies would love nothing more than to rest. And there was a case to be made that this next headwind area would have bigger waves and could be dangerous. A group consensus was reached to continue far enough to take a peek at the condition of the waves and if too large, we would stop at the last campsite available before having to make a crossing. When we got to that campsite it was already occupied! “Perfect”, I thought to myself, “now we have to keep going!” The group agreed, we talked how to safely paddle in the 2’ waves, and off we went. All went well and we portaged to Bottle Lake and then we entered Iron Lake. Once again, tired paddlers wanted to stop for the day. Giving in to their pleas, I agreed but with the understanding that we would get an earlier start than planned to try to make up for lost progress. We stopped to camp on Three Island at one of WhiteWolf’s favorite sites. I felt like I may have pushed too hard that first day and now hoped with a shorter day today and more rest tonight, the energy levels would return to us. I think all were disappointed by the fact that we were falling further behind our Purpose but we were still in a great mood in camp that evening with time to enjoy a fire and a hot meal. We were not beaten, just bruised a little. A short 12 hours on the move and “only” 38 miles traveled today has put us 12 miles and 6 hours behind schedule.

 



Day 3 of 5


Monday, September 17, 2018

Awake at 1:00 am and traveling in the dark at 2:30 am. I knew last night’s negotiation left me with a more difficult navigation duty coming up. Crooked Lake will be a lot tougher to traverse in the pitch black now. Launching into southwesterly winds, I needed to concentrate on paddling as the waves grew larger as we traveled east out in the middle of Sunday Bay of Crooked Lake. But as we near the opposite side of Sunday Bay, I needed to navigate through a tricky area without error. With the blowing crosswind, if I didn’t concentrate on watching the deck compass, my boat would quickly get blown off course. There was no tree horizon to see- just pitch blackness. In the time it took to click on my headlamp and look at the McKenzie Map, my bearing would be completely messed up. And the wind was strong enough it kept blowing my map around so I couldn’t read it. I even resorted to turning on my GPS but it didn’t show any information on the Canadian side of the line and you need to be moving to get much useful info from it. Every time I attempted to check my map, our canoe would spin around and we’d be heading in who knows what direction. The other 2 boats following me must have thought I was drunk driving or something the way I kept changing course. And to make things worse, when I set my paddle down to hold the map and or GPS, the boat became unstable. Eventually I dropped to a kneeling position to get more stable. I don’t think the others knew I was struggling but I was very relieved when we made it to the right spot in the islands and a respite in the wind and waves came.

I will admit that later in the night near Friday Bay, I did miss one little opening between islands which caused us to go a little extra distance and wasted some time so I could figure out what happened. There is extra pressure when you are the one expected to know where you’re going and 5 others are counting on it. Twilight showed itself as we neared Wednesday Bay and I was relieved to see something other than the wall of blackness we had been paddling into for the last 4 hours. With daylight now we were feeling good and making better progress. Finishing Crooked Lake, passing through Basswood River, and paddling into big Basswood Lake, the wind direction changed from southwest to west or northwest.

The new wind direction was to our favor today as we were mostly heading east. I made another navigation error when I missed the English Channel shortcut. Oh well, I’m not a big fan of taking shortcuts anyhow. Shortly thereafter, with a nice tailwind pushing us, MAKK and I decided to have some fun and see how fast we could go- with GPS on to measure speed, we pulled hard and fast on our paddles getting up to 7 mph.

Shortly after 2:00 pm we made it to Prairie Portage and we lingered for 40 minutes here with some mid-day lack-of-energy-blues. MAKK shared some food with those who needed a boost before we headed through a series of small lakes and multiple easy portages on our way to Knife Lake. By the time we reached Knife, our portaging efficiency was perfected- this was great as the rest of the route to come has the bulk of the portages. Darkness fell (8:00 pm) while we were half way across Little Knife Lake. The whole team did real well today and with darkness coming it was time to consider how much further we would travel and get prepared for it by putting on extra clothes, food, and headlamps. We gathered together and decided we had had a good day and we would camp as soon as we entered Ottertrack Lake only a couple miles away.

With that incentive in our heads, we all raced down the remainder of Little Knife and crossed over a little used portage that I have used in the past. Most stay on the border and take a slightly longer route. This portage we would take allows only one canoe at a time to get back in the water since it has hardly enough room for even one boat. MAKK and I are the first back in the water and we head out on our own to locate a vacant campsite. The first 2 close ones are occupied and we paddle down the lake toward the next site. As we reach that site, we hear panic yelling coming out of the darkness…”me and MeatPuppet capsized! We’re all wet and cold, we need to get to a camp quick!” Oh no, I think to myself, all the sites are taken. Just then a lady from the 3rd campsite came down to the lake and told us that a little used site is open back the way we came, back by the portage that we didn’t take.

Back we went, everything is harder in the dark, including communication, travel, and finding a little used campsite that is so because it is accessed up exposed granite rock. None of us spoke of it but we all knew the urgency to find this site quick and get dry clothes on MeatPuppet and WhiteWolf. All went well and the site was found. I scrambled up the granite rock face toward the fire grate area and was greeted with a swarm of yellow-jacket wasps as I grabbed a tree root. The rest took an alternate route up to avoid getting stung. In no time JimmyJustice had a warm fire going, wet clothes were off, and I had a hot meal prepared. Over the warm fire, the story of how they capsized as they were shoving off from the portage was told. This little incident helped all of us to realize how well we were working together as a team and that we could trust each other to overcome problems. We were handling adversity together and with concern for each other- we were all becoming friends. Today’s progress was very satisfying for all- we had pushed ourselves even harder than that first day. We had traveled for almost 20 hours straight covering 58 miles! We were making up ground, now only 5 miles behind our schedule. For the first time, all were excited when I said we would get up earlier than planned so we will be back on schedule tomorrow.

 



Day 4 of 5


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

3:00 am came way too soon because we had spent too much valuable resting time hanging out around the campfire. As was becoming customary, after my timer woke me up, I would let loose with my super loud imitation raven call to make sure everyone else woke up. After a big bowl of hot oatmeal and a cup of instant coffee, we were back on the water paddling in pitch blackness again due to overcast skies. But nighttime navigation on this long narrow Ottertrack Lake was much easier. I just followed the shoreline for the most part. Only one small navigation mistake took us into a small dead-end bay- MeatPuppet called this a “lollipop” and I was sure they wouldn’t forget what some might say was a mistake. MAKK and I just wanted to see what was in that bay- satisfied we paddled back to our planned route. Spirits were high as we reached the last big lake called Saganaga in daylight, winds were light, progress was good, and I reminded all that we had made up for lost time and are back on our schedule! Our goal for today was to reach Rose Lake. Everyone was so excited to be back on our Purpose, we hardly cared we were tired because we were having fun. Portages now became an opportunity to express that and chants with topics such as “Team BeaV” and “a girl from Delano” sprouted and were sung over and over. We traveled through Saganaga, through the Granite River area, past Gunflint and into Rose Lake under moonlit skies. We made camp right on schedule. We celebrated with a big campfire, all you can eat Mac & Cheese, hot apple cider, and some even puffed on cigars. We had overcome much together to be here at this moment, on time, and truly reveling in our success. 50 portage-filled miles traveled today in 17 hours.

 



Day 5 of 5


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The cry of the raven sounded again in the darkness and Team BeaVer Fever was up and on the water for our last paddling day. Thirty-seven miles to go to reach Fort Charlotte and the beginning of the Grand Portage. Today we will have many portages including some of the longest and toughest yet. These can become a bit grueling if you let them but JimmyJustice had other plans. One such time, I was starting to feel tired and focusing on the pain the portage pads was putting on my shoulders…when from behind Jimmy yells “I like chocolate ice cream!” I instantly laughed at this and forgot my pains and gave my opinion. Then I yelled forward to MAKK who was walking in front of me. Soon the three of us were yelling our preferences about meaningless things and the portage was done. Later, on other portages, the chants started up again. Once again, the entire team was having a blast, and soon we arrived at the Pigeon River.

The Pigeon River…well it was hardly acting like a river. The current was exceptionally slow with the flow at only 71 cfs. It was navigable in most of the swampy areas but the English Rapids area was a boulder field requiring walking of boats. Walking on the river bed is tough in that area as it is filled with slippery boulders. MAKK slipped once bad enough that all but her head got wet. So whenever the water was deep enough it was best to get back into the canoe and paddle. Instead of constantly getting into and out of the canoe, MAKK and I developed a new way to paddle…we would just sit on top of the gunwales with our legs dangling over the sides. We called this “horsy paddling” because it gave the appearance of sitting on a horse’s back. It saved time climbing in and out and helped keep some of the water and mud out of the boat. Our Horsy technique allowed us to pull away from our team and as evening approached with falling temperature, MAKK became chilled from her wet clothes. We decided to go on alone to get her off the river and warmed up. On our way to Fort Charlotte, we stopped on the river bank and loaded up with firewood. It is tradition to have a last fire here, dry clothes, and repack gear for the big portage ahead. Deke, JimmyJustice, MeatPuppet, and WhiteWolf catch up with us as we’re hauling gear and wood to one of the two designated campsites here. With our last camp set up and the fire going good, we burn extra food and stuff that we won’t need any more to lighten our loads. We have time to spare to get to the Fort in the morning so we celebrate a little and fill our stomachs with food shared from everyone’s stashes. Feeling satisfied, I set the timer clock to give us a couple extra hours of time to reach the finish in the morning, and into our tents we crawl for the last time.

The Grand Portage trail was in great shape (i.e. not muddy) and we made good progress eventually getting split into 3 groups. MeatPuppet and Deke, both canoe bearers, got so excited near the end that they ran to the finish. JimmyJustice, with newbie to the trail MAKK following, were almost to the finish when JimmyJustice thought they were on the wrong trail and turned around and walked back up the trail ½ mile. This worked out well because WhiteWolf and I were bringing up the rear slow and steady and were reunited with at least part of the team. The last four of us crossed the finish together rejoining the runners. We bettered our group Purpose by 2 hours finishing in 122, and in doing so, my goal was accomplished too! We were greeted by a small group at the finish line including the Norwegians who had finished the day before with an awesome time of 98 hours.

 


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