BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 09 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1150 feet
Little Vermilion Lake - 12
Leaky Canoe on the Little Indian Sioux
September 08, 2016
Little Indian Sioux River (north)
Number of Days:
Wednesday, September 07, 2016
We took off from the Twin Cities around 5pm, which we knew would put us getting in to our cabin at Big Lake Wilderness Lodge quite late. The ride up to Ely was fairly uneventful. Once we jumped on the Echo Trail it was pouring and the dirt road was more like a mud road. We were thankful that we were putting in tomorrow instead of today!
When we finally made it (~10:30), it was pouring so hard that the 25 foot distance between the car and the cabin was sufficient to get us completely soaked as we ran inside. We went to bed shortly after running inside, hoping for an early start tomorrow.
Thursday, September 08, 2016
Morning came later than we hoped, and by the time we organized our packs, got our permit, and BLWL got the three aluminum canoes loaded on their trailer, it was after 9 am. We drove our cars the 20 minutes to the LIS entry point as well, so that we could just drive back to the outfitter upon our return. After showing the newbies the basics of canoe portaging, we were on our way. One unfortunate rookie portager took a spill on the fairly steeply inclined rock face on this first portage. Leaving the parking lot, it is all downhill to the river. Again, a little teaching lesson for everyone getting in the canoe the first time, but it didn’t take long.
The plan for the trip was a large loop around the Weeny PMA. I figured that with 6 strapping young men, this was aggressive but not too extreme. For tonight, I was hoping to get somewhere between Slim and Fat.
This is a beautiful entry point, and set a good first impression for my crew.
Shortly after setting out, we met a Ranger canoe. They said hi, but didn’t ask to see our permit. The winding river was relaxing and a good opportunity for the rookies to learn how to steer a canoe. It was overcast now, but would turn out to be a beautiful day.
I had made a bit of a mistake—put the two people who had never canoed in the same canoe. They were swerving all over the place and were several hundred yards behind the other two canoes. They were also complaining about water in the bottom of the canoe getting their stuff wet, so I figured their paddle strokes must be launching water into the canoe. Elm Portage was extremely busy, but all groups were good at giving space to others.
At the other end of the portage, we wisely decided to switch up the canoe groups to at least put an experienced canoe steerer in each canoe. A couple hundred feet from shore, one of the other canoes made a startling discovery: their canoe was taking on water! I guess it wasn’t the rookies’ fault earlier—the canoe had a leak!
We paddled back to the portage to investigate. We couldn’t tell where the leak was coming from, so it must have been some leaking from the rivets on the bottom. So what do we do now? It was a half hour paddle and 20 minute drive back to the outfitter. But we also had a lot of paddling ahead of us if we didn’t turn back. Would the leak get worse?
After much discussion, we decided to press on. We put the packs in the other two canoes to both minimize weight and keep our things dry. We would monitor the water in the bottom of the canoe and go to shore to empty the water when necessary.
Another 30 minutes or so and we were into Upper Pauness. So far, so good: the canoe only had a little water in the bottom. We took the quick portage into Lower Pauness and before you know it we were at the Devil’s Cascade. We dumped our canoes on the cliff and decided to have lunch next to the falls.
As we snacked on sandwiches, cliff bars, and trail mix, I was surprised to learn that half of the group was already tuckered out from the day. That was bad news, as I had planned to travel much further today.
I was able to rally the troops after lunch and we finished the portage to Loon. We received a warning from a canoe portaging the other direction: the wind is tough on Loon. We paddle up the little stream and once we get to the main body of water, we see the wind is indeed strong. We hug the right shoreline, and a couple waves nearly capsize one of our canoes. We have to paddle hard, as the wind is blowing south. Finally, we get around a tip with a campsite, and we are much more sheltered. We winded around the rest of Loon with little difficulty and set our sights on Little Loon. We got a little disoriented for sure and needed to get out the compass to find the narrow strait to Little Loon. Once in Little Loon, I was able to convince the guys to do one last portage into Slim. By this point the leaky canoe had a couple inches of water in it. We dumped it out, and decided that was about as long as a paddle we could do without dumping out the water. This was a nice landing--good place to spread out and take a rest before tackling the portage.
Wow, this portage was tough. Felt uphill 80% of the way and with the recent rains, it felt like climbing up a waterfall. The Slim landing is cramped and was muddy, so there was no rest for the weary at the other end. Everyone had had it, so we took the first campsite on Slim and set up camp. Not a great site, but it would do for the evening.
I had planned to take the unmaintained portage from Slim to Fat, so a couple guys went to scope it out. They successfully found it, but reported that it was difficult and recommended not taking it. I take their word and with that, we decided the route was too aggressive. So we planned to portage back to Loon tomorrow and take the portage over to Heritage and paddle down to Shell. I was a little disappointed, but given the morale level, I knew the trip would be much more successful with the shorter itinerary. We roasted hot dogs and potatoes, did some stargazing, and called it a night.
Friday, September 9, 2016
The morning brought another beautiful day.
With our new relaxed schedule, we decided to leave late morning. A few people fished in the morning. A few of us took a trip to the eloquently-named Section Three Pond.
We packed up and retraced our steps over the Slim-Little Loon portage. It was much easier going the other way and on a fresh pair of legs. We paddled through Little Loon and back on to Loon. We decided to camp at the site next to the portage to Heritage. It’s a great site. A ton of elevation, very spacious, good trails for exploring, and to our delight, there was a sandy beach nearby right at the portage.
We went swimming at the beach and played some cards in the ‘card room’ on a flat rock near the top of the site.
We scoped out the portage for tomorrow. It took us a little while, but we found the portage at the south side of the beach in the tall grass. Dinner that night was spaghetti, which went over very well. While refilling water bottles, one of the guys took a spill in the lake—the rocks near the water are very steep. We all had a good laugh!
Saturday, September 10, 2016
I arose early and decided to get a fire started and put breakfast on. This was probably my favorite part of the trip. Soaking in the BWCA by myself, the smell and crackle of the fire, the joy of cooking hashbrowns and pancakes over in open flame. It was just a moment of tranquility that stuck with me.
We packed up and paddled across the bay to the beach portage. The portage was long but not difficult except for one sloped rock face in the last 20 rods that several people slipped down. As is our custom, we all took a shot of whiskey upon completing the portage.
We continued down the scenic Heritage Creek and through Heritage Lake. After completing the portage to Shell, we checked out all three vacant campsites on the northern island. By our account, the southernmost campsite on the point was the best. Therefore, that’s the one we chose. My friend and I chose to put our tent right on the grassy point since there was no wind to speak of. This may not be a good place if there is wind, since I bet wind would whip through there.
There’s a good rock ledge at about water level for jumping in to swim and this site offers great views of the lake.
We spent the day again swimming, playing cards, eating, and preparing wood for our evening campfire. We stayed up late tonight soaking in every last bit of BWCA before our exit tomorrow.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
We awoke before dawn and packed up donning head lamps. Near the end of our packing we got to experience some awesome morning colors before the sunrise.
We shoved off before sunrise and made our way toward the portage to Lower Pauness.
The portage was long and the beaver pond a third of the way through was unexpected, but all in all not a bad portage. After that, the short portage back into Upper Pauness and we were paddling down the LIS in no time.
In my opinion, the LIS is a perfect exit paddle. Its beautiful, meandering nature is perfect for reflecting on the trip. Elm Portage was even more crowded today—many people entering today. In too short a time we arrived at the portage back to the parking lot. We left the aluminum canoes in the parking lot and headed back to Big Lake Wilderness Lodge. We threw on a fresh pair of clothes, informed the owner of the leaky canoe, and we were on our way back to civilization. We took a brief stop at Adventures in Virginia and made our way back to civilization in the Twin Cities. Another successful trip and even better, four new people introduced to the BWCA.