BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 06 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1150 feet
Little Vermilion Lake - 12
2011 Heritage Lake Basecamp
September 22, 2011
Little Indian Sioux River (north)
Number of Days:
Building on some of the learnings from my first trip a year prior, I began planning a second trip. Knowing that my newly-wedded buddy, Matt, would likely be unavailable (and possibly uninterested after our bit-too-aggressive first trip), I decided to plan a more mellow trip with my wife, Sarah. I made adjustments from the first trip. I wanted to go in cooler weather with fewer bugs, and I was less interested in the crutch and comfort associated with seeing other visitors. I didn’t want to make and break camp every day, and I knew the trip would have to be relatively short to accommodate my vacation schedule and my mother in law who was coming to stay with the kids from California.
Using Pauly’s book once again to scout potential routes, I settled on EP 14 and planned to basically go in as far as we could in one day and stay at one camp site for two nights before returning. Working with the folks at VNO, we targeted the north site on Heritage Lake and would have numerous options should we decide we wanted to stop sooner.
I don’t really have many memories of leaving the Twin Cities and heading up to Ely. My mind must have been at ease, and there couldn’t have been anything too monumental that happened. We got up to Ely a little after VNO had closed, but Lynn saw us poking around the bunkhouse and let us in to get our personal pack and watch the video so that we could get our permit. This was during the Pagami Creek fire, and there would be a complete fire ban for the duration of our trip. That was kind of a bummer, but nothing could be done. We had an EXCELLENT dinner in Ely and got gas and some last-minute supplies before retiring to our bunkhouse for the night.
We went for an early breakfast at Britton’s which was completely filled with fire fighters – we found a couple of seats at the counter. We got back to VNO when they opened at around 7 AM, and we packed up the car. The fellas loaded and secured the canoe to the top of our car, and we were off to EP 14. It was overcast, cool, and damp, but it wasn’t raining. I don’t remember much about the drive other than it was pretty and I was getting excited to enter the wilderness.
We got to the parking lot which had more cars than I expected. By the time we took our final inventory and completed one last pit stop, we encountered a soloist heading in from the parking lot. He had already made his first trip down to the landing and was coming up to get his second batch of gear when he told us that he saw a moose down at the river. We let him scurry on ahead of us as we were in no rush. To no one’s surprise, the moose was gone by the time we arrived at the landing. The trail from the parking lot was nice, but I knew it would seem like a mountain climb when we returned at the end of our trip.
The paddle down the LIS was beautiful, but we could tell that the water level was a couple of feet lower than normal based on the waterline of the shore. We found our paddling groove pretty quickly. This was Sarah’s first time on a canoe trip, and this was my first time in the stern of the canoe. The first portage was uneventful (just the way I like them), and we found the short portage between Upper and Lower Pauness with ease upon emerging from the river. The landing at the portage from Lower Pauness to Shell was muddy as we had been warned, and the landing at the Shell side was a sloppy damn mess (again, as we had been warned). We had a minor navigational error that sent us in to the wrong bay in search of the portage to Heritage Lake. With a minor correction, we found the portage and made our way across. Shell was a very pretty lake. The landing at Heritage was terrible. The low water level made the portage shorter than it should have been, but putting in was challenging in the marshy conditions.
It took us longer than I had in mind, but we eventually made it up to the northern camp site after seeing no one at the western camp site. Details are sketchy in my mind, but we got camp set up. I remember being pretty tried by the time we got to camp, and I was very happy to call this place home for a couple of nights. We had brought steaks for the first night which we cooked on our camp stove. Previous visitors had left a ton of firewood that we were sad to have to leave unburned. Dinner was delicious, and the weather was cool and pleasant, making our tent a cozy oasis. We heard something outside our tent in the middle of the night. Sarah said, “David. I think there’s an animal outside.” I told her, “there are LOTS of animals outside. Let’s get some sleep.” The camp site and our food pack were unmolested when we woke the following morning.
We woke and leisurely made some coffee on our stove and tried the breakfast pack that we brought. We each had one bite and decided that it was not for us. We both agreed that our displeasure had something to do with the “eggs.” And, just for the record, there are very few things in this world that I won’t eat, and my previous experience with pouch meals (dinners at least) was actually quite good. This was just plain bad. No worries as we had plenty of other items to make a simple breakfast, and the coffee in the percolator was an absolute treat.
We sat on a rock by the lake for an hour or so just soaking in the sun and enjoying the peace. It might not sound like much, but those moments were the highlight of what was already shaping up to be a great trip. We were happy not to be breaking down camp and looked forward to another lovely evening at the site.
By 10 AM or so, we decided to explore a little and thought a trip over to Loon Lake might be interesting. We headed north up Heritage Creek to the portage that crosses the Sioux-Hustler hiking trail and leads down to Loon. I had some of my camera gear, and Sarah had a pack with lunch, but we didn’t portage the canoe. The landings on both sides of the portage were in fantastic shape, and this had us thinking about heading out this direction when we left the next day. It would be a little more portaging and paddling than on our way in, but the conditions of the landings (compared to those at south Heritage and Shell/Lower Pauness) had us interested. We’d also get to see some new territory.
Loon lake was beautiful, and the beach was big and sandy. It was late enough in the season, that we didn’t see anyone on Loon. I didn’t feel like going back to get the canoe, but we had lunch and snapped a few photos before heading back to Heritage. We spent the afternoon at camp and went out for a water run in the afternoon before preparing dinner. Another couple came by our camp from the creek, but they were the only people that we saw that day (the last people we saw were on Shell the day before). I think we exchanged a few greetings, and they pressed on to the south.
Conditions weren’t great for any astrophotography that night, but I gave it a go before giving up. No dew on the lens this time of year, but there was just a little too much haziness to get anything good. We did hear wolves that night, and it was such a thrill!
We awoke to heavy fog and began the process of breaking camp. We were both a little disappointed to be leaving and agreed that we could have easily spent another day at that site. We decided to head out by way of Loon Lake and take the Devil’s Cascade portage to Lower Pauness on our way out. Sarah suggested that we try single portaging the trail with which we were familiar from the day before. I was in front with the canoe, our gear pack, and a small day pack on my chest. Sarah was behind me with packs on her back and on her front. I told her to drop one of the packs if it became too difficult and told her that I would do the same if I couldn’t hack it. I made it all the way to the landing. By the time I dropped the canoe and my packs, Sarah emerged from the trail with all of her equipment. I was impressed with both of us, and she would later tell me that that was the hardest she has ever pushed herself in her life.
With still quite a bit of fog, we put in and headed to the LIS river. We just kind of hugged the shoreline to keep our bearings. We passed a couple of full camp sites on our way to the LIS. It was a beautiful morning to be paddling, and the river was quiet. At one point, we saw in the distance a somewhat dark object making its way along the shore of the river. Not thinking that we could possibly be lucky enough to see a bear, I stupidly assumed in my mind that it had to be a beaver. A big, fast beaver. Dumbass. It was a black bear cub, and it was moving fast for the woods. Then we could hear the mother from the woods calling to her cub. I’m getting goosebumps as I write this almost eight years after the fact. It was a really special moment, and I’m so glad that I got to experience it with Sarah. My camera, of course, was packed, so we only have the story to tell our kids.
We came to a HUGE beaver damn that went across the entire river before making it to the Devil’s Cascade portage, and we basically had to portage around it. We kept on with our single portaging and were making really good time back to the car. Unfortunately, we didn’t take time to stop at the campsite (which I think was occupied), but it was a pretty trail. From here on out, it was just the reverse of what we had done two days earlier. The final portage on the LIS before making the final landing was fairly busy. I heard one person comment that single portaging seemed like a good idea when they saw us doing it. I think I ended up taking two trips from the final landing to the car, but the trail didn’t seem as mountainous as I had thought it might two days earlier.
We packed up the car, loaded the canoe, and headed back to VNO for a lovely shave and shower. It was a wonderful trip that ended too soon. We didn’t have to deal with any bugs, and we were lucky not to have any rain. I think September in the Boundary Waters is my thing.
We vowed to return, but life and other vacations have not yet allowed time for that. Until now. I have an additional week of vacation at work this year, and I’ve reserved a solo permit for the Fall Equinox in 2019 heading out of EP 50. I can’t wait to see what that has in store!