BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 07 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1364 feet
June 27, 2009
Little Indian Sioux River (north)
Moose/Portage River (north) (16)
Number of Days:
After many planning meetings, one guy having to cancel and another guy dropping out late, finding replacements in a scramble, we all arrive at 5:30 PM in the church parking lot. Kissing our families goodbye, we hop in the big 15 passenger van owned by “L” and head west and then north. Going are 5 men ranging in ages from about 27 to 47, a 16 yo, a 17 yo, and an 18 yo. “E” takes the first leg of driving. We hit a huge traffic jam in Chicago at about 11 PM. E miraculously picks a route where we are zipping past the traffic jam to our right and separated by concrete barriers. I don’t know how he did it, but he saved us at least an hour stuck in traffic. At about 1 AM “L” takes over the driving and drives until about 4 AM. We are somewhere in Wisconsin stopped at a gas station, it’s here that I first hear the charming “Oooo ayyy” exclamation from one of the nice ladies working the night shift. I know I am in the right area of the country now! It’s also here where I make my first big mistake. I offer to sit shotgun and keep “D” up as he takes the next leg of driving. Foolishly, I believe that a one liter Diet Pepsi will keep me up….actually I am right, it does keep me up, but it’s not the caffeine. You see, I was relatively thirsty and I downed the whole thing. About 45 minutes down the road (no kidding…45 min) I have a full bladder. As you can guess from some of my posts, one of my biggest faults is my pride. And after all of the teasing I have given E over the last 9 months there is no way in H377 that I am going to ask the guys to stop. I’d never hear the end of it. It truly is poetic justice. I deserve it all and as the minutes slowly trickle by, drip by drip, I feel like I am going to explode. Still, I keep up the conversation, trying to avoid staring at the clock wishing it to move faster. My mind races to the first aid kit…no, rats….I don’t have any antibiotics that will treat a urinary tract/prostate infection. Please, D drive faster! I am pondering about the capacity of the human bladder before rupture as signs for Superior, WI come into view. It’s now about 7AM and I nonchalantly ask if anyone would like to stop for breakfast. A chorus of “yeses” is about the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. Now, the only thing I need to relieve my Hoover Dam is the Golden Arches. It will still be another 35 minutes….that’s 2100 seconds I’ll have you know…before I unobtrusively bolt to bathroom. BTW, I still have yet to pay McD’s for the hole I bored into the back of the urinal. I don’t confess my sufferings to any of the guys until the last night on the lakes. E rolls laughing and vows not to stop at all, even for food on the way home. But, it’s too late. I learned my lesson and had no further difficulties. The rest of the drive is uneventful and we arrive in Ely around 11 AM. A little earlier than expected.
We check into VNO and are staying in the bunkhouse next door. After unpacking we have Mass and then head to Subway for lunch. The weather reports indicate that tomorrow might be a little rainy and windy but it’s supposed to be 75 and sunny the rest of the week. John and Lynn at VNO are very helpful and the bunkhouse was nicer than I expected. We ate dinner at the Boathouse, bought a few souvenirs, played a wild west card game called BANG! and hit the sack.
Up early 4:30. Most guys took a shower the night before. I took the opportunity to take a shower the last minute to minimize my times between hot showers. Ate scrambled eggs and bacon in the kitchen at VNO bunkhouse.
Everything is packed in the VNO van and we are headed to EP # 14 and I am riding shotgun. We had a very nice driver, and as usual, as soon as he finds out I am an MD he asks me a few medical questions…I really don’t mind cause I am peppering him with all sorts of questions. E forgets his Dramamine and forgets to ride shotgun. He promptly loses his breakfast at the EP, stating the eggs didn’t taste as good the second time around! He tells the VNO driver where in our van he kept the Dramamine and asks him to bring it on the return trip…which the driver does… nice service! It’s starting to rain so we put on our frogg toggs and double portage the 40 rods, just to take things slow. The portage is rocky but all down hill. I am in the first canoe out and being ready, I want to tease the guys by making a few casts while they are still loading. On the third cast I catch a tiny 7 inch pike. I think to myself...at least I’m not getting skunked or this is going to be great fishing. We all head down the Little Indian Sioux which is a nice wide river but strewn with grass. Paddled around the beginnings of one beaver dam before hitting the first portage. This is a rather easy 60 rod that has a nice rapid to the right. We single portage this and are back on the river fairly quickly. The wind is picking up a little but gets fairly strong as we cross Upper Pauness and take the 40 rd to Lower Pauness. Paddling against the wind is difficult as I have the least experienced paddler in the bow. It was amazing the difference between the wind on Upper and Lower Pauness. Lower is nearly flat and our moods are lifted. We try a bit of fishing hoping the overcast will help, but nary a bite is felt. At the end of Lower is the portage that runs near Devil’s Cascade. It is a 160 rd portage and we decide to stop at the campsite if it is open to have lunch. The first part of the portage is up hill and we are singling this one. Full 75 lb packs and a canoe are a challenge. I am the first to the camp and it is good to have a break half way. One of the guys coming up next is wheezing pretty good, stating his asthma is kicking up. Turns out he also has a wrist injury that is flaring. Later, I have to make a judgment call as to whether he has a rip roaring tendonitis or the start of a cellulitis. No blood test available to help me! I diagnose correctly giving him a prednisone taper- curing his tendonitis and asthma flare with one prescription. Rain and wind have stopped and we have a lovely lunch of cheese, summer sausage and oranges. Can tell already we have packed too much food. The rest of the portage is down hill and at the re-entry to the LIS we see a deer. We all laugh as we all come from one of the counties with the highest deer populations in Ohio. I see deer everyday. Back on the LIS the wind and rain are really picking up. As we paddle onto Loon Lake we can see whitecaps in the distance. There is an island near the mouth and we decide to paddle to the leeward side as the wind is directly in our faces. There, in our canoes off the island, we take a break, have a power bar and fill up our water bottles. The decision is made to try and cross Loon to get to the leeward side and then make our way up the shoreline to Little Loon where we hope to camp. Setting out and looking ahead we all notice the whitecaps are big, 2-3’ at least. I yell out, “Is everyone comfortable with this?” as I am getting an uneasy feeling. No one says anything and we press on. Our goal is to try and stick together but the wind is very harsh and the strongest canoe is soon putting a bit of distance between the rest of us. My bow paddler is evidently nervous as he keeps stopping paddling and grabbing the sides of the canoe. I yell out, “Don’t Stop Paddling”. Too late, a big wave comes and we flip over to the right. I readily come up and am in disbelief, shore is about 150’ away to the windward side. The water feels warmer than the air but the waves are rough. We tried to flip the canoe, but without much success. I look and the packs are floating/blowing away. Our paddles are rescued. We are trying to help right the canoe when I start to lose my right boot. The boot string was tied, but these boots have a nasty habit of coming untied. I think, “this is just the first day, I can’t lose my boots” I do have a pair of tennis shoes in my pack that is blowing away, but I don’t want to risk losing my boots. So I proceed to try and hunch over and tie the blasted thing. Fortunately, my boat mate and I are both wearing our PFD’s. But even wearing a PFD, while in 3’ waves, bending over trying to tie my boot, it is not that easy to stay above water. I finally get the right boot tied and then take a few strokes and my heart sinks as I feel the left boot coming off. I go through the same procedure again. Twice during the boot tying episodes I miss time the waves, try to come up for air and there is no air to be found...just water. Twice I have to calm myself, realizing that if I just am in the proper position I will be ok. Nearly panicked. I know that I have to live for my wife and kids. Get the left boot tied and from there have no problem. I consider myself a fairly good swimmer, but without the PFD I would have had to lose the boots. By this time we are drifting away from the tipped canoe. Two of the other canoes are close together and have our canoe firmly in hand. The 4th canoe is across the lake, but heading back! They decide to bring our canoe close to shore and we will swim for it. Our canoe and paddles are safe, and all we have to do is swim. Neither of us are having any obvious problems now. The 3 canoes together make it to shore but land at around a point where we can’t see them. The 4th canoe has made it back and I tell them to tow my bow paddler to the others, which they do. I make it to shore, south of the point and am alone. The packs are here and I struggle to get the loaded packs onto the very rocky and fairly steep shore. I get the packs out and onto soil where they can be carried to the others and sit down to rest. I look out onto the lake, and here blowing ever closer is the map that John at VNO had made all of the notes upon. It is in a zip top bag. I decide I am not going to miss this opportunity and I wade/swim out grab the map and make it back to shore…what the heck, I was wet already. We learn later that one of our canoe chairs was not securely strapped in and this caused a shift when the waves hit. The winds that day were 40 mph- hence the tip. Ok, we actually made many mistakes: 1) Deciding to cross the lake. 2) Seat not strapped in. 3) Not listening to that voice in my head… and I am sure others that you all can point out J My bow paddler came looking for me and we carried the packs back to the others. We decide to rest there trying to wait out the wind. In the tip I lost my nalgene water bottle, my cup which was on the bottom of the bottle and my watch. My partner lost his tackle box. That was all and we were grateful for that, but instead of sleeping all that was running through my mind, again and again and again was how stupid I was to lose my water bottle. It’s odd but that was all I could think of. I wondered how my mistake would affect the group. Two other canoes got soaked, one tipping right near the shore and the other took on water as the waves battered it as it was not brought onto shore. We stayed 2 hours and it was getting onward of 3:30pm. We knew we had to make a decision. We decided to head along the windward side as that is where we were and camp at the 1st open site. I must confess that the rest of the trip, whenever it got choppy, my stomach was in the back of my throat. The first open campsite was just north of Heritage creek and there we set up. The rain had stopped but the wind was still pretty stiff. This was an advantage as we were able to dry out the bottom of the tents. Once the tents were up we needed to have Mass, after all, it was Sunday, and we were a bunch of Catholic guys with a priest! We did have one major problem…the hosts for Mass were soaked and unusable. We need some wheat bread, we did have pitas, but those did have yeast and we weren’t too keen on using them. A last minute decision in the grocery store lead me to buy tortillas for one meal instead of pitas. It just so happened that I picked up wheat tortillas- no yeast. We were golden. The readings were astounding. If the other guys were watching me they might have thought I wasn’t paying attention, but in truth, I had to look away cause I was getting choked up. Check out the readings if you like: http://www.usccb.org/nab/062809.shtml Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24, Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13, 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15, Mk 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43). Especially the Psalm really got to me. BTW, one of the other guys in the group had an extra water bottle and let me have it for the trip. After Mass we made dinner- steaks, fresh asparagus and mashed potatoes. I cooked the asparagus in a skillet with a little bit of oil, salted and sprinkled sesame seeds over them- delicious! After hanging things on clothes lines to dry overnight- after all the forecast said one day of wind and rain and then 75 and sunny the rest of the week- we sat by the fire a bit and went to bed. Of course, it rained that night. The bit of drying out that the wind had accomplished was undone. At this point I must say that I am very glad I had all quick dry clothing. I dried out very fast (except socks and my tennis shoes never dried the whole trip)
We awoke and it was not sunny and 75, it was drizzling and would continue to do so on and off the rest of the day. We had Mass in the morning (again the readings had a similar theme) http://www.usccb.org/nab/062909a.shtml Act s 12:1-11, Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 2 Tm 4:6-8, 17-18, Mt 16:13-19, and after a breakfast of cream of wheat and bacon we headed out around 8:30 AM. The wind was still in our face and blowing pretty hard, but no white caps. Once we made it through the gap Little Loon lake was relatively calm. We hit the 173 rd portage just as another group was coming out. They told us of a loon nesting at the other end of the portage. I’ll try and add a few photos of that. Slim lake was calm and we found the “moose trail” that the outfitter told us about. It was marked with 4 flat small stones piled on top of each other. This moose trail was supposed to connect Slim and Fat lakes (it does). The first portion of the trail is modestly steep and has some boulders to climb. We were double portaging, taking our packs through first. After the boulders there is a “Y” but the left branch quickly ends and the right is the correct route. Being early in the morning and a little used path we found ourselves getting a little wet. It was nice to have a GPS at this time because this was an unused trail and if you look at the map, one could wander off to the southeast and walk for miles before hitting water. There were 3 trees large enough to have to climb over and several areas of mud, but we made it through. Bringing the canoes through was a little more challenging because there were several tight areas on the trail which required some back and forth maneuvering. I felt sorry for the pair that decided on an aluminum canoe, after the tough morning headwind paddle, the 173 rd then the 210 rd we all were ready for a break. We ate lunch at the Fat end of the portage- peanut butter and jelly on pitas. Fortunately no one was around for us to block. A short paddle across Fat brought us to the 60 rd portage to Eugene. The logs and rocks only allowed one canoe in at a time and the swampy area was ripe full of mosquitoes. After the longer portages in the morning the 60 rd was a breeze and flat. Eugene and Little Beartrack were both easy short paddles with an easy 30 rd portage between. The 30 rd between Little Beartrack and Beartrack is also fairly easy. We had decided to camp on Beartrack which has 3 sites. My canoe was out first and the weather seemed fairly calm. No lie, my bow paddler states, “At least there is no wind and rain”, and within 30 seconds of him saying that, the wind kicked up and 30 seconds later, the rain started. The lake started to get a little choppy. I was in no mood for that and we hustled across, but in our hurry we mistook a finger of land for the campsite and had to head a little north once we discovered our error. The campsite had a fantastic dry landing with room for plenty of canoes. The tent pads were a little rocky, but there was a great fire area. Latrine is secluded and enough trees for a tarp. Of course in the evening the rain let up and we had a great dinner of jambalaya with smoked sausage and fresh green beans. It went great with the Black Box Merlot. Since the next day had to be 75 and sunny we again left our socks and other clothes to dry…you guessed it…it rained that night.
Morning came and I was up early. There were a lot of large rocks just off the point of the camp so another guy and I did a little fishing. Neither of us had a bite. Again we had Mass and afterward had blueberry (dried) pancakes and ham. We packed up and headed for the 200 rd portage to Thumb. After the moose trail we felt like we could handle just about anything and we did great on the mostly flat portage, timing ourselves with our packs at 16 minutes for 200 rds. Thumb was picturesque and straightforward. The small 8 rd portage to finger was easily accomplished and we paddled onto Finger where we hoped to camp and do a little more fishing than we had thus far. The wind kicked up again and the lake was a little choppy. Our first choice of campsites, on recommendation of the outfitter, was on the small island in the northwest portion of the lake. We docked and took a look around. It definitely had a fantastic fire pit high above the water with a great view. However, tent pads were sloped and rocky, and we saw a lot, and I mean a lot of skat. It was smaller and darker than the moose skat we had seen before so it was either many small moose or bear skat. We decided to move on and eventually settled at the south campsite on the larger island. We had the lake to ourselves. The wind was blowing steadily so there were no bugs and the tents were set to dry. I managed to catch a small mouth and another guy landed a 24” pike. We also saw one or two very large snapping turtles that looked like they knew the area had contained fish on stringers and were looking for an easy meal. Those were fended off and we settled in for a meal of capellini (the only spaghetti type pasta anyone should ever eat!) and oreo cake for desert. One fella said he knew how to fillet fish so off he went, but came back with…how does one put it delicately….medallions…yes medallions. Another guy and I decided to clean the fish before cooking and we started laughing. Couldn’t stop. And the more we tried the harder we laughed. It was the last bit of stress from the dump in the lake coming out. The comment, “I’ve gotten bigger fillets off a bluegill” was the break that caused the laughter flood. The hacker, er.. filletter was a little offended but got over it quickly as he knew we meant no harm. That night we were smart and didn’t leave any clothes to dry over night. Everything was undercover….yep, you guessed it…it did NOT rain!
Morning came and we were pleased that everything was dry. After Mass, we had a quick meal of oatmeal and headed out as we wanted to get all the way to Oyster. Paddled to the portage on the eastern end of Finger, this was a relatively easy portage of 90 rds, flat and with some mild rapids to the south. At the end of the portage we could tell there were a good amount of mosquitoes, but the permetherin spray was doing its magic and I didn’t even get bit. On Finger Creek we saw an otter and an Eagle. Pocket Lake was fairly calm, we almost looked for Pocket Creek in one bay too soon, but our GPS wizard, E, kept us going. The portage to Pocket Creek was hardly more than an up and over, but Pocket Creek was strewn with large boulders. Several canoes almost got stuck, but no one had too hard of a time, but it was slow and careful traveling. Don’t know if we would have missed it, but met a pair of solo paddlers coming out of Ge-be-on-e-quet creek so it was easy to find. They warned us of a large beaver dam that we’d have to pull over. So we came to it, and it was 1-2 feet higher on the south side. Slowed us down a bit, but wasn’t too bad. The portage on to Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake was very picturesque, and well worth taking extra time to explore the rapids/falls. Soon enough we were on Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake and our plan was to stop at a camp site for lunch. While we were headed for a site, a float plane landed on the water and looked like it dropped off someone at a site. Now that would be a cool way to arrive, but seems to be cheating a bit. We ended up at the southernmost campsite on the lake. Nice large rock with a great view of the lake. The landing site was just enough for one canoe, other areas were fairly steep and no one wanted to take a chance of an impromptu swim. Pepperoni, cheese, packets of mayo on pitas with craisins were on the menu for lunch. It was one of our favorite lunches, and would have rather had this more than once. We watched the float plane take off and it seemed like the sun might break out, but not yet. Back on the lake and the 120 rd portage to Green Lake was uneventful. At the end of the portage however, was this incredible bright light radiating from the sky…”It burns usss”, I said in my best Gollum voice. The other guys in the crew called it the sun, I think I remembered seeing it long ago, before my journey. It was short lived and soon were under the comfortable blanket of clouds. We paddled near (probably too near) to a 50’ tree that was leaning out over the lake at about a 45 degree angle. My canoe and the second canoe headed up into the portage. The last canoe said they paddled past the tree and were about 100 yards away when they heard an awful noise, looked back and saw the tree crashing into the water. That was a little too close, and another note to self….don’t paddle under leaning trees if possible. We made it to Rocky Lake after the 85 rd portage. On Rocky, the landing was, well….rocky, but not that bad. This would be the only part of the trip where we ran into a bit of black flies. They didn’t bite, but were a bit annoying. The time was getting close to 3 pm and we were anxious to find our campsite on Oyster so we didn’t seek out the pictograph on Rocky, but may have seen it from a distance. Met a crew of 3, two men and a woman at the portage, seemed nice enough, did like dropping the "f" bomb. We wanted to get the campsite on the middle of the peninsula on Oyster, but could see a tarp there and knew it was taken. At this time we had two canoes in the water and two canoes still on the portage. The decision had been made for the two front canoes to scout for a site. Looking back, I don’t think it was the wisest decision. The site closest to the end of the peninsula was also taken and we were getting a bit nervous that we might not find a site. We rounded the point and my canoe headed along the peninsula and the second canoe went across the lake to look at sites. The site on the south side of the peninsula was open and we grabbed it. We tried to signal the second canoe, but they didn’t see us, or didn’t look. Wish we would have had a walkie talkie. They made it all the way to the other side and we could see them looking for a site, but they continued to travel around the lake counterclockwise. It was hard to even see them as the last two canoes rounded the peninsula. We were able to wave them down and they pulled in and unpacked. The landing was great and dry. Several tent pads available and a great fire pit with a very nice view of the lake awaited us. We started to unpack, with me heading to the water’s edge to try and signal our separated canoe. They were continuing to make their way counterclockwise. And eventually we couldn’t see them anymore. Now, I am debating if we should go and look for them. The lake doesn’t seem too bad, but with our prior experience in the week, I was nervous. I walked down the shore a ways to be able to see them better. Not soon enough for my tastes, but soon enough, they were in site and made it to the camp. That night we feasted on Oriental Sesame Chicken and pan fried peanut butter cookies. We did some fishing from the shore, but without even a bite.
Morning came early with the sounds of loons. To the east of the camp, about 200 yards is a large rock where we had morning Mass, with 3 loons looking on from the water and calling occasionally. We were anxious to start early because we wanted a campsite on Nina Moose Lake in order to have an easy day to our exit point. We knew there were only 6 sites on Nina Moose and we had to get one or it would be two portages and 4 miles back to Agnes. We headed across Oyster and saw another canoe pass us and hit the portage to Oyster River as we were looking for it. Turns out this pair was heading all the way out, but we weren’t used to seeing others so early, and I was wondering how crowded could it get? The portage to the river was easy enough and we headed East then South. To this point we had not been on a portage in the middle of a river and I was wondering how hard it would be to find. It was an easy find, but a very muddy landing. The 160 rd portage to Agnes was initially steep but leveled off quickly and the landing on the other side was like none we had seen thus far…sandy, like a beach. We paddled past the point on Agnes under a thick blanket of clouds with threats of rain and wind, but nothing developing. As one rounded the point we could see where Nina Moose River should be, but all we could see was grass. Heading toward the grass and getting very close, one could finally see the river. Now we could also see 2 canoes behind us and as we hit the 96 rd portage we had to wait as a group was coming north. The 70 rd portage was even more crowded and I was hoping that we would find a site on Nina Moose and not have to head back this same way. Our group got split by the 2 canoe group that was behind us as they pushed through without asking or saying why. The two canoes in our group that were out on the river first decided to put their backs into it in order to secure a camp on Nina Moose. We were able to secure the camp on the point of the peninsula and the clouds started to clear as we set up camp. We were finally at camp early in the day and decided to do some fishing before and after dinner. None of us caught anything before dinner, which consisted of chicken flavored TVP, freeze dried vegetables, and brown minute rice seasoned with Tony’s Cajon seasoning. By far the easiest meal to cook and it was very light in weight. Strawberry cheesecake rounded out the meal and it was back to the water for some fishing. This time one guy, “D” had some nice success landing 3 pike. As it was later in the day and we were already satisfied with a filling meal, he decided to fillet the fish in the AM. In order to keep them fresh, D ran a long length of parachute cord through their jaws so they could escape any turtles. The night was clear and for the first time we were able to watch the stars and satellites stream overhead.
I was first up as I set an early alarm. This was to be our last day in the bwca and I was hoping to land at least one more fish. I woke up E, with “You can sleep in Ohio, you can only catch pike in MN!” He was soon coming toward the water’s edge after me. I decided to check D’s pike and pulling on the cord it felt very light. Soon I was presented with the jaw bones of 3 northerns, and nothing else. My ornery side swelled and a plot to capture the moment on film when D checked his line hatched. E would ask D to teach him how to fillet while I took a picture. Eventually D was getting out of his hammock and E asked him for a lesson. D, being a great and generous guy, said “Sure.” I offered the use of my fillet knife, as it was handy but D declined feeling more comfortable with his own. I almost pushed him too far with a comment of “Pansy”. He just looked at me quizzically and proceeded to make some coffee while I quickly made an exit to the latrine. Eventually, he headed to the water and, well a picture really is worth a thousand words, so see the attached photo.
That really was his first response. Then, being a great sport, he burst into laughter. The morning continued with pancakes and whatever else we could choke down with all of the extra food. The sun was out and we decided to leisurely break camp and have Mass just prior to lunch and then leave after lunch for our afternoon pick up. Too soon we were paddling down the Moose river to EP 16. We passed several groups coming in, some of whom were nice young ladies who had a pleasant aroma as they walked past. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself thinking that we were not likely returning the favor! Sadly coming to the last portage we brought all of our gear to the parking lot. There was a small scout troop who used the same outfitter we had. We were two hours early and the outfitter managed to get all of their gear, our gear and both crews into his van and trailer. Cool beverages hit the spot and we were headed back to showers at VNO. I don’t have to tell anyone on this site how good a hot shower feels after a trip. After cleaning up we ate dinner again at the Boathouse, many of us opting for the walleye that we weren’t able to catch on our own! After that it was goodbye to Ely.
Our first driver, E, was determined to stop at the first Dairy Queen on the way home. D was in the seat in front of me and when his bench partner decided to move up to watch “The Incredibles” playing on a laptop he got the whole bench to himself and stretched out with a Cheshire cat grin as I said, “That’s not fair!”, being more than a bit jealous. D fell asleep quickly and I was leaning over the back of his seat to watch the movie. So, I had a perfect view of D as he rocketed forward when E made a sudden turn as he almost passed the Dairy Queen. D, following the laws of inertia, stayed in motion as the van turned beneath him and expediently became wedged between his seat and the back of the seat in front of him. The shocked look on his face and flailing arms made me incapable of assisting him as I found myself once again in an uncontrollable fit of laughter. I hadn’t laughed that hard in years and now had two episodes in less than a week. This truly was a fantastic trip and we all felt greatly blessed.