BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 09 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1150 feet
Little Vermilion Lake - 12
LIS Loop of Solitude
June 13, 2022
Little Indian Sioux River (north)
Number of Days:
Day 1 Recap: After spending a great weekend in Ely, we grabbed coffees at Northern Grounds, bought another bottle of bug dope and some itch-relief cream at Piragis, and took off down the Echo Trail, destination EP:14 Little Indian Sioux North. For this trip, we planned a significant amount of travel and packed as light as possible. After reading forums and posts from other visitors, made the decision for the first time to rent a SPOT device from Piragis-- just in case. While we never turned the device on during this trip, that extra sense of security provided a level of comfort considering some unknowns -- rumors of high water, anticipation of fewer visiting groups with permit reductions, and a new route and territory for Emily.
The first thing we noticed – fewer vehicles in the LIS parking lot than we’d ever witnessed before. Unloading our canoe and gear, we did one last check of our provisions and down the first portage we went at about 9:45am! We had the wind at our backs as we paddled down the LIS river. We elected to take the 40-rod portage between Pauness lakes and noticed the water levels had appeared to have receded from earlier season reports. The portage near Devil's Cascade was easily accessed and was not flooded on June 13th.
Paddling up through East Loon Bay on Loon Lake, we stopped for a late lunch at an empty campsite after entering Little Loon Lake. The day was filled with on and off rain, head nets and long sleeves were helpful on mosquito-filled portages. After Loon Lake, we did not pass or notice another visiting group for the remainder of the day; no campsites were occupied after the sand beach site on East Loon Bay. Many of the portages appeared to be very infrequently used -- most had fall leaf matter still "un-trampled". Wolf scat in abundance. We met a number of ruffed grouse on portages, as if they were greeters on Sunday morning at worship as we went from lake to lake. Orchids were in full bloom on portage trails along the way.
South Lake is quite flooded. It should be noted that the portage into South Lake from the west required paddling through some trees to get onto the lake… and the portage out was a little tricky to find.
At about 4:30pm, we decided to set up camp at the northernmost campsite on Eugene Lake. Fairly fresh moose tracks went right through the campsite, and we figure they must have been fairly recent considering the rain that had been coming down. We pitched the tent, set up our tarp, unloaded some gear, and enjoyed steaks and mashed potatoes. It was a long day and we retired to our tent around 9:00pm, reading until falling asleep to the loons calling out to each other.
Lightning flashed and became a bit complex. Rain started to pour, and flashes of lightning and quick, loud thunder was ever present. Then came the hail! So much hail! Larger than marble size. (Hopefully I can share the video here to tell the story). The hail lasted for at least 5 minutes as we sat underneath the tarp and the campsite became quite saturated. Where I had sat and made coffee not long before became a little pond of water next to the fire grate. We decided to hunker down under the tarp for a while even after the storm had passed in case any other systems were to follow.
Finally, after the system appeared to be in the distance and we finished another round of coffee, we packed up our wet gear and started on another long travel day.
Hailstones lined portages as we went from Eugene to Little Bear Track, Bear Track, and Thumb lakes. We made our way to Finger and Pocket lakes, stopping on Pocket Lake for a dehydrated lunch. Pocket had one campsite filled, our first group we had encountered since Loon Lake. We noticed a second group paddling into Pocket Creek before we put our lunch away and started again to our next destination. Clouds prevented any sunshine for most of the day. We made our way through a short bit of Pocket Creek into Ge-be-on-e-quet creek and into Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake.
The group that had been paddling before us had just arrived at the northern campsite on Ge-be-on-e-quet, so we elected to paddle a bit further and set up camp at the southernmost site before the portage into Green Lake. We wanted to try to get to Oyster Lake that day but decided to set up camp a bit earlier than planned to air out our wet gear from the storm that morning.
We spent the late afternoon catching dozens of small mouth bass on Mepps spinners and enjoyed a nice fish fry that evening. No walleyes were caught with other lures, but we had a great time catching smallies and that was enough for us! We cleaned our fish across from our campsite on an island and buried the fish remains far away from shore and paddled back to our campsite with our fillets ready for the fry pan.
Angry clouds continued to loom over us, and the sunset came quick. Because that campsite is quite small, and we anticipated more rain, we elected to hang our tarp above our tent for added rain protection. Prepping for the evening, we hung our barrel in a tree as far away from the site as we could and fell asleep again with books in hand as some drizzling rain came and went.
About 1:30am, I woke to what sounded like a stick or twig snap. I brushed it off at first, but then heard a few more. I sat up in my sleeping bag on my pad and listened again to heavy footfall.
“Hey! Get out of here!” I shouted, waking Emily, and we both grabbed our headlamps. Unzipping the tent, we heard quick and heavy footfall and some crashing in the brush down from our tent on the other side of where our canoe was located and where we had hung our barrel. Grabbing a couple of pots from the fire grate, we made some noise and did a perimeter search with our head lamps.
After determining we were alone again, we went back to the tent and after an hour, Emily fell back asleep (though with a headlamp on her head). It took me until about 4am once the loons started to call and the birds started to sing to finally crash from the adrenaline rush and catch a few more hours of sleep. The next morning, we found a few bear tracks near our canoe and near the tree where our food was hanging. The closest track we found was about 15 yards from our tent! I had definitely slept through most of our guest’s visit and had woken only when it had stepped on some fallen branches, loud enough to wake me! In conclusion, keeping a clean campsite and hanging our food was a good decision – and hopefully our encounter isn’t replicated as the summer progresses. No food was taken, no further interactions at the site were had. We figure we may have been one of the first visitors to this campsite this season – and remember we are guests here! ~Eugene Lake, Little Beartrack Lake, Beartrack Lake, Thumb Lake, Finger Lake, Pocket Lake, Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake
As we headed west out of Oyster lake, we followed fresh moose tracks for half of the portage, hoping we might see one somewhere! But alas, even with the fresh tracks, we did not get a chance to see who had made them. The sun finally peaked out as we arrived on Hustler Lake – the first time we had abundant sunshine in three days. And of course, a little sun burn in a short amount of time!
We observed no campsites to be occupied on Green, Rocky, Oyster, Hustler, and Ruby. As we entered Lynx Lake, the clouds filled the sky and wind picked up. Most of the sites were filled on Lynx and we decided to press on into Little Shell and then to Shell Lake. We finally interacted with another group as we entered Shell Lake… and found the northernmost site on Con Island to be empty. We set up camp as the sun came back out and enjoyed the excellent views from the elevated site with tall red pines. We did a little fishing after dinner, a family was staying at the southern site of the island and reported they were doing quite well trolling for walleyes. Our fishing was cut short with some winds (we chose to leave our small canoe anchor at the truck to cut some weight and now wished we had brought it with) and we returned to our site to catch a sunset (finally) and enjoy a cheesecake dessert. It was a great day – and we were tired from all of the portages!
Emily kicked my butt in a game of cribbage and enough whiskey was consumed to lead us to a deep sleep under those pines. We were proud of the amount of distance we had put in – but concurred that those long trips were easier in years past – is it possible to say that in our early 30’s, we were longing for the energy and athleticism we once had 10 years ago???? ~Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake, Green Lake, Rocky Lake, Oyster Lake, Hustler Lake, Ruby Lake, Lynx Lake, Little Shell Lake, Shell Lake
After our final breakfast of blueberry quinoa and oats, we packed up our site, said goodbye to our lovely campsite, and paddled across what remained of Shell Lake as the wind began to pick up.
To reiterate on previous reports of the change to the long portage between Lower Pauness and Shell, it appeared that the beaver dam had blown sometime this past year. What, for years, had been a small pond to float across mid-portage, now looks like a wasteland. The blowout has caused down trees across the portage and some very muddy areas where standing water once was. It is quite a different experience than past years – for those traveling this area in the near future, be aware. This didn’t mean the portage was any more difficult, it just looks quite different!
When we arrived at Lower Pauness, the wind was quite remarkable. We had originally planned to take the 40-rod into Upper Pauness, but we decided to duck out of the wind and paddle around to the 8-rod portage. No issues were had at the bottom of the 8-rod, but this is where things became interesting and worth noting to future visitors.
While water has receded in the area, there is still quite a bit of water going through the small set of rapids in that area. We scouted ahead and walked the portage to Upper. To make the issue more complex, the wind was so strong it was creating white caps almost to the very spot where the current picks up into the rapids into Lower. There was a small, but manageable, window of space to get the canoe out onto the water, away from the portage landing and current, and head into the wind. My recommendation to any future paddlers is to make sure to stay close to the submerged vegetation on that south side and give yourself plenty of room to avoid the current near the portage.
We strategized the elements – current and stiff winds. And we made it – but it didn’t go without some elevated anxiety of having to make the maneuver fast and boldly. Again, this didn’t get to the point of being dangerous, but there was an elevated risk with the direction of the wind blowing right into the rapids.
The stiff wind at our backs was a fortunate break once we got onto the LIS river. We passed three other groups coming out – one duo headed in for a 10-day trip, a solo woman, and a group from Camp Voyageur. We made sure to share that the wind was especially difficult once the lake is reached, and we hope all the groups made it safely to a campsite somewhere!
All in all, we had an excellent and memorable trip! The elements were forces to be reckoned with – daily rain, a severe storm, a midnight visit from a bear, heavy wind, an abundance of biting insects—these all just add to the memories that we’ll carry with us even after the canvas packs are cleaned and put back on the shelf for another month.
We found wonderful solitude this trip – and were reminded once again that wild places and public lands need our due diligence for protection and conservation. While our sunburns and bug bites are temporary, tangible souvenirs of our wilderness adventure, the memories we made in the backcountry will be lifelong moments that will stick with us forever.