BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1150 feet
Little Vermilion Lake - 12
Familiar waters-strange circumstances
July 16, 2021
Little Indian Sioux River (north)
Moose/Portage River (north) (16)
Number of Days:
After looking at the displays we loaded up and went to the Wolf Center. After going on trips the last 15 years or so I hadn't visited either the ranger station or the wolf center so check and check. The wolf center was pretty interesting but the two white wolves they had in the enclosure where more comfortable in the den avoiding the sun and heat and were not real active. I don’t blame them its too hot out! Probably at least 85-90F. They did eventually walk around, and we got a good look at them. Pretty cool! After the Wolf Center we went to the Boathouse for a drink and burgers. We ate too much and headed out of town on the Echo to Fenske Lake Cabins and Resort. We wanted to be closer to the entry point and figured we would give this place a go. First impression was that it is a very quaint and well taken care of resort on what seems to be a quiet lake other than a public campground right across the lake. The bunkhouse is nice and simple with bunkbeds complete with a plastic mattress protector It did not have AC. Have you ever had to peel you face off of a mattress like it’s a dead mouse on a sticky trap??? I have…
The first two portages are easy and beautiful. Noah and Brody have the day pack and fishing tackle bag and do well falling into a good routine. The first people we saw were on Upper Pauness. It appeared all the sites were full on upper and lower Pauness. To the long portage to Shell we went. Its starting to warm up and we make sure to push the water consumption. We finish the portage into Shell and much to my astonishment there is but one campsite occupied. We paddle across the lake with the giant white glacial erratic as my bearing to get to the Little Shell portage. We make quick work of this portage and the paddle from here to Lynx is an easy one requiring the fat older guys to get out of the boat and line the boat through the narrow connection between Little Shell and Lynx.
Lynx has pretty clear water especially compared to the shallower Shell Lake. Its clear waters have lured me back. We see that the peninsula site is open across the lake to the east and we figure it would be good to catch whatever little breeze there may be, so we make it home. First thing the kids do is jump in the lake. Austin and I opt to work first but you better believe we jumped in soon after our hammocks were hung, and camp set up. We all cool off in the lake for an hour. This was a reoccurring activity the two days we spent here. A reminder was given about PFDs being worn after this photo was taken.
The site is elevated and if there were a breeze would be great but there really isn’t much shade, so things got toasty. If not for the thick haze from the smoke in the air who knows how much warmer it would have felt like. Towards evening we head out fishing with limited success. Brody hooked up with a Smallmouth near the NE campsite and that was about it other than a few smaller Bass. This campsite was occupied along with the site just north of ours. We get back to camp, eat dinner and get things ready for the night. As dusk came so did the mosquito's…they were deafening and unlike most evenings they did not seem to really let up with time. They were whining and buzzing next to my bug net and ear all night and the ones not by my ear were somehow biting through the hammock fabric anywhere my skin was against it. It was a fun game of being to hot, uncovering, donating blood covering up and repeat.
We needed to stretch our legs so we paddled over to the south campsite on Con Island and checked it out. Noah and Brody found and caught a grouse that had fishing line tangled up on its feet. They were giggling and really smiling the whole time we worked on it. Eventually we freed it and off it went. Again I was surprised by how few people were on Shell lake. We saw a group of canoes day tripping and a canoe on the south end of the lake. After paddling on the north side of the island not catching anything we head back to camp and eat a late lunch. We spend most of the afternoon lazing about camp in the water cooling off or on the rocks taking in the view. That evening we again troll around trying to pick up a walleye but no luck. We turn in early as we know we have a big day tomorrow.
Hustler is a beautiful lake and hopefully Ill be back to stay there. Noah catches a decent pike trolling across the lake. Upon getting into the bay where the portage to Oyster is I see two people on the portage just finishing it. They are USFS folks and when they see us and we get closer I got the feeling they were going to tell us something important. The guy who seemed in charge asked what day of the trip we where on and then was like “So I assume you haven’t heard of the closure order?” Austin and I looked at each other and we both knew it was game over for this trip. The guy was very nice and apologetic about it. He advised us to at least get to Nina Moose tonight then exit the next day understanding that from Hustler to exit is a push with kids along. It turned out this guy married a women who grew up not far from our hometown and actually knew the wife of one of my Dads employees. We thank the rangers and wished them safe travels.
So here we are with a still very heavy food pack and a long way to go to get where we need to be with the longest portage ahead of us. We get going all along looking to the sky as we walk. Distant thunder becomes not so distant and by the time we are on the Oyster lake side of the portage its clear we are going to get hit. We are fortunate that we're on this side of the portage as the topography really blocked much of the wind and we were able to ride out the storm under the canoe. We later learned that a guy drowned on Loon Lake in this same storm.
Its about 11:00am when we are able to start our way across Oyster. We decided to book it out in one day as a stay at Nina Moose Lake didn’t appeal to us. We made our way through Agnes and down the river not seeing anyone until the 2nd portage from the takeout. It was a large group of younger 15 -17 year-olds. We eventually got ahead of them on a portage and then the next group we saw heading out was a crew of Stu Osthoff’s finishing up there carry to the parking lot. Stu speaks often in his magazine about how he brings gallons of milk and lots of fresh food on his guided trips. It was apparent these guys didn’t appreciate having to carry fresh milk and milk jugs of ice out of the park. We had our heavy packs too. At the end of the portage near the parking lot the Sheriff had put a road closed sign in the middle of the trail and yellow tape across it. He then took down our names. He talked deer hunting with Noah and Brody while we went down for our second trip. Austin and I were beat. That’s as much paddling and portaging as I’ve ever done in a day all with a food pack that was still nearly full. Lynx to Oyster to Nina Moose EP is a jaunt by my out of shape standards.
Not wanting to go home so soon we decide to stay a few nights in Crane Lake. We had Andersons move the truck from EP14 to EP16 so we had to go and pay the bill anyway. After settling the bill we went over and talked to Beth at Pine Ridge Motel. We have stayed here numerous times before and hoped she wasn’t booked up. I explained our situation and she moved a group to the cabin they have and put us in a motel room. Beth is awesome and I so appreciate her being able to accommodate us. After showering up and making the required calls home we went on down to Trails End Resort to eat. They have some really good burgers and we usually hit them up whenever we are on this side of the BW.
After taking in a meal at Voyageur Lodge on Crane Lake we drive to Orr to stay for the night then we headed home the next day.
All in all the trip was not what we had planned but I’m happy that we salvaged the trip after receiving the news of the closures. The Vermillion River is really an awesome” BWCA “light” option if your ever in a situation like ours or as THE option it wouldn’t disappoint either. I’m very proud of the boys as well they were in good spirits the whole time. A great trip in a weird year!