Day 1 of 8
Friday, September 17, 2021[paragraph break] Day 0 ‘No Fire Ban’– Arrived in Ely midday and found out that the fire ban had been lifted while we were driving! I thought there was no way they would lift it so of course… I left my Sven Saw and hatchet at home! The cost to rent a saw was more than half the cost of the ‘Pocket Boy’ saw by Silky so I scooped one up. I am really happy with it after its first trip. The only other items we needed to pick up were the canoe and a ‘spot x’ satellite texting device. We grabbed a couple of beers and some dinner at Boathouse Brewpub and headed for our bunkhouse at Fenske Lake Resort.
Day 2 of 8
Saturday, September 18, 2021[paragraph break] Day 1 ‘Socks are Useful’ – Too excited to sleep well so we were up early. The coffee maker in the bunkhouse didn’t have any filters so I improvised a filter from an old (but clean) sock. It was in the upper 30’s that morning so it was nice to have a hot cup of coffee to start the day. The only radio station we could pick up that morning played nothing but Polka… it was perfect! I knew we would have some cold mornings, but I still didn’t think to bring some lightweight gloves! My hands were so cold getting our gear ready at the entry point, so I sacrificed another pair of socks and made some fingerless mittens. [paragraph break] Our goal for the day was Slim Lake and we were on the water by 8:00 so I felt good about our chances. The morning started out calm and foggy but quickly gave way to clear blue skies. We were a little worried about water levels because of how dry it was that summer but we never had to get out and walk the canoe. The first portage is fantastic! You can hear the rapids as you walk through the woods. It smells amazing and there are some old-growth trees that are pretty impressive. [paragraph break] After 4 miles of river paddling, the Pauness Lakes were a welcome sight. The sun was warming things up and I was able to shed my ‘sock-mittens’ as we took in the Devil’s Cascade campsite. The sound of the rapids below was pretty loud even with such low water levels. I can’t imagine staying there when the water is up! After a short break for a snack at the falls, we were back on the river. We met our first group at a beaver dam. 4 paddles all in their own solo canoes. We let them know the fire ban was lifted and could hear them talk excitedly about an evening fire as they paddled around the corner. [paragraph break] As we paddled into the southern arm of Loon Lake a south wind had picked up. We took the opportunity to rest our paddling muscles and wet our lines. No luck yet but we enjoyed the break and the chance to take in the beauty. Loon Lake was pretty choppy to the northwest as the wind continued to strengthen. We hugged the south shoreline before making a crossing north towards Little Loon Lake. The portage into Slim Lake is legit. You definitely notice the 120’ climb in your legs, shoulders and lungs. At this point we as sticking to our single portage plan but my resolve is breaking. We met a few more small groups that were also happy to hear the fire ban was lifted. They also confirmed that our goal campsite was available. [paragraph break] We picked the northern most site on Slim Lake based on reviews and the view did not disappoint. It’s perched high up on a rock with great views to the east and southeast. The view is enjoyable and in buggy months the breeze would be a welcome guest. The put-in is a little dicey with heavy gear and the climb from water to fire grate gets old quickly. I wouldn’t want to make this my basecamp but it’s worth a stop on a pass-through route. [paragraph break] Poured a little whiskey and set up our chairs to relax a bit. This is only my second trip with a chair and I will never go without one again. This is also my first trip with a Hammock and I’m really looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I have the ENO jungle nest and house fly rain tarp. My top quilt is the lightweight option from ENO but I upgraded my under quilt and went with the Zeppelin from UGQ. The forecast for the evening was mid 60’s and clear skies so I left off the fly so I could see the stars. Dinner that night was home-cooked penne pasta that I froze so it would keep. [paragraph break] ~Lakes Visited: Upper Pauness Lake, Lower Pauness Lake, Loon Lake, Little Loon Lake, Slim Lake
Day 3 of 8
Sunday, September 19, 2021[paragraph break] Day 2 – ‘Doomsday from the Weather Radio’ – The forecast for the day called for wind and rain in the late afternoon with storms overnight. Our original plan was to bushwhack over to Fat Lake and end the day on Beartrack Lake. We changed our plan to take the ‘longer’ route because it was a known quantity. We were afraid the bushwhack would take longer than expected and we would get stranded in bad weather. [paragraph break] We forgot the Eggs! Our first breakfast was going to be eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and coffee but we forgot to pick up eggs in Ely. Whoops! We were up by 7:00 and on the water by 9:00. It was unusual for me to know the time. When my dad introduced me to the boundary waters, his tradition was ‘no watches’. In fairness… I didn’t have a watch, so I kept his tradition. But I also decided to use my phone for pictures and video and it’s pretty much impossible to get the camera open and not notice the time. It was something new for me, but I didn’t mind it. Especially on a day where we had to race the weather. [paragraph break] We headed north towards three-section pond and found a tree that looked like it was levitating over the water! The portage to three section pond was much longer than the 35 rods posted because of the water level. Once we found a put-in, we still had 15min of paddling and dragging our canoe through the small channel. The portage to North Lake was hard to find because it was much farther north than what our Fischer map indicated. Here we met a 6-person group of three couples who were also happy to know they could have a fire that night. The put-in on North Lake was super muddy. I took my first step, and my Chaco sandal came off! We ended up barefooting it out until the canoe would float. [paragraph break] A couple of park rangers got a kick out of watching navigate the muddy put-in. They didn’t ask for our permit but asked when we came in to make sure that we knew the fire ban had been lifted. They saw us head south towards the Steep Lake portage and warned us that the portage is… well… steep. They weren’t lying! That portage was one of the most exhausting I’ve ever encountered. By this time we were 1 ½ portaging so that made the load a little lighter. It’s only 112 rods but I was damn proud I didn’t have to put down our heavy bag! If I ever want to do this loop again, I will probably go in the opposite direction so I can walk this one downhill. [paragraph break] Took a short fishing break on Steep lake to rest after the portage but didn’t have any luck. We still had clear skies and the sun was cooking. It felt like it was almost 80 and despite the wind, it was humid. We could tell the next day would be a rainout (as the forecast predicted). The put-ins to Little Beartrack and Beartrack were all really rocky. You could see water lines almost 2 feet higher than the current water level so maybe they wouldn’t be as bad in a normal year. Took a short swim break on Little Beartrack to cool down. [paragraph break] By the time we put in on Beartrack, the wind was really starting to pick up. We should have scouted the campsites online because we would have known that the easternmost site was the best option and paddle straight there with the wind at our back. Instead, we paddled north to check the other sites and ended up fighting some serious crosswind from the SE to make it from the northernmost site over to the eastern site. By the time we got ashore the wind was blowing hard and gusting harder. The good news was the sky was clear (for now). [paragraph break] This was the first time my new CCS Tarp & Ridgeline stuff sack was put to a true test. As I got the ridgeline tight, the tarp was flapping like crazy. My buddy told me “There’s no way this tarp will stay in place or hold up to this much wind”. It was definitely a challenge getting everything tied down, but once we did, the tarp performed like a champ. I am glad I did some research on this tarp and got everything set up in advance. I watched this video and set up everything just like he did: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqlFP8C_z10. [paragraph break] We also found some bones in our site that I wasn't sure about. I'm interested in hearing opinions on what animal they are from. To me, it almost looks like a shoulder blade... let me know what you think. [paragraph break] That night we got our weather radio out and picked up an eyebrow-raising weather alert. “Strong to severe thunderstorms. Capable of erratic and gusty winds up to 70 mph. Large hail up to half dollar size and frequent cloud to ground lightning and heavy rainfall with flash flooding. Prepare to protect yourself from large hail using sleeping bags or other padded items.” Needless to say, we battened down the hatches and prepared for a wild night. [paragraph break] ~ Lakes Visited: Section Pond, South Lake, Steep Lake, Eugene Lake, Little Beartrack Lake, Beartrack Lake
Day 4 of 8
Monday, September 20, 2021[paragraph break] Day 3 – ‘Rain & Whiskey Rations’ – It was one of the worst storms I’ve gone through for sure, but thankfully I never felt like my life was in danger. Lots of wind, rain, thunder, and lightning but no hail or 70mph winds. I actually slept pretty great and stayed dry in my hammock! Another morning of bacon hashbrowns and coffee followed by 10 hours of watching the rain. The CCS tarp paid for itself 10x over that day. There were only a few short breaks in the rain the entire day. I can’t imagine being in a tent for that long. [paragraph break] I could not believe how much it rained that day! Our estimate was 3 to 5 inches. So much water was running off of the tarp and pooling around my buddy's tent site that we had to catch it in pots and throw it down the hill! We also used rainwater to fill our gravity filter. I was not interested in paddling out to get some freshwater. [paragraph break] One of the highlights of the trip was when a family of loons came swimming by our site. They were calling the entire time and their calls would echo as if another family was answering back. We also had a tree frog perch on a tent pole and hang out with us for much of the day. [paragraph break] The weather report for the next day was a frost warning in the morning with scattered showers in the morning, clearing up in the afternoon.
Day 5 of 8
[paragraph break]Tuesday, September 21, 2021[paragraph break] Day 4 – ‘Raingear Goes on TOP’ – The next morning was definitely cold but we were happy to be up and moving again. All the bacon was gone so we moved on to our oatmeal and backpackers breakfast. Our goal for the day was to make it to Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake and find a nice site. It felt good to paddle again after a day of sitting under the tarp. [paragraph break] Our first portage to Thumb lake was a nice gentle downhill portage. With all of the rain we got, it was like walking down a tiny rapids at some points along the trail. Thumb to Finger was shorter than what was marked. Basically we hopped from one rock to the next until we could put back in. The portage to Finger Creek was pretty as they get. I garden stroll with views of the babbling creek along the way. The put in was a challenge and I ended up going knee deep and soaking one of my boots. Hate that… I have wet shoes and dry shoes and I like to keep them that way. [paragraph break] As we paddled across Pocket Lake we could see a rain shower heading our way. No problem I thought… I put my raingear on top. Turns out… I buried my raingear on the bottom! I was about to get soaked and it wasn’t very warm. I learned my lesson. Double-check where you put the rain gear if there’s rain in the forecast. It rained on us pretty steady all the way from the entrance to Pocket Creek until the portage into Ge-be-on-e-quet. The rain let up as we paddled to find a campsite. The northernmost site wasn’t what we were looking for and the site to the southwest was taken. We ended up in the easternmost site and it was beautiful. HUGE Red pine trees throughout this elevated site. The largest was near the latrine and it was so big that two of us couldn’t touch hands from opposite sides. [paragraph break] We set up camp including the CCS tarp so we could get things dried out. Once camp was set up we set out for some fishing. I couldn’t bring one in but my buddy caught two eater size smallies. Fish for Dinner! The evening was calm with a nice sunset, but the weather radio had another frost warning for the morning. [paragraph break] Another new item in my gear list was an arborist’s throw weight and line kit. This is a game-changer. My previous method was the ‘tie-rock-to-rope-toss-and-hope’ method. If you’ve used that method, you know how tedious and potentially painful it can be. I highly recommend picking up an arborist’s throw weight and line. Our new method was to throw the light line over our branch with the weight. Then we would tie that line to our heavier duty bear pack line, pull it over, and tie it off. My bear pack rope has a pulley system on it so all we had to do was repeat that process on the opposite end and tie the pulley off at the right spot. Bear pack duty went from stressful to fun![paragraph break] ~ Lakes Visited: Thumb Lake, Finger Lake, Pocket Lake, Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake
Day 6 of 8
Day 7 of 8
Thursday, September 23, 2021[paragraph break] Day 6 – ‘Two Big Portages’ – The plan for this day was to make it to Lynx Lake so our final day out would not be too long. We faced two portages that were basically a mile each. We started 1 ½ portaging on day two but decided to go back to single portaging for this trip. We had lightened our food/whiskey bag considerably so the Food Pack + Canoe wasn’t as bad. We also figured that it would be faster to just put the canoe down and take a couple-minute break rather than walk an extra mile. [paragraph break] We made pretty good time that day. The only thing that slowed us down was the shoe changes. I like to portage with my boots for ankle support and comfort but I hate it when they’re wet. So we would often take a moment to change shoes at each end of a portage. Yeah, it adds time to your trip, but I think it’s worth it. The surprise of the day was on Ruby Lake. I kept noticing what looked like Jelly Fish as we paddled across this very small lake. I slowed down to take a look and I couldn’t believe that they were actually jelly fish! I had never heard of such a thing. Super Cool! [paragraph break] We met a young couple heading in the opposite direction as we put in on Lynx Lake. By that point in our trip, we were a well-oiled machine with put-ins and take-outs. We were off and paddling before they could get their gear organized. I remember thinking “that’s how you do it, young pups”. [paragraph break] Lynx Lake is beautiful! I would definitely consider a base camp trip here especially if I could get the site we ended up in. We checked out the site straight east of the portage on the opposite shore. I would only stay there if I were part mountain goat! The hike up to the fire grate was ridiculous. Next, we paddled to the site to the south, back in a small bay. It was a decent site but we were considering pushing a bit closer to our entry point and camping on little shell or shell, so we kept going. Next, we stopped at the site closest to the portage to Little Shell. We were sold! [paragraph break] This site is fantastic! A slight climb to the kitchen area with amazing views of the lake and sunset. Plenty of options to hang a hammock and multiple tent sites. It has a 10-foot cliff pretty close to the fire grate so I might be nervous if I had small kids along. You can also hike to the top of the hill for some great views of the lake. Nice trees for hanging the food pack too. Definitely worth another stay if I’m ever in the area again. [paragraph break] We did a quick camp set up and then headed out to fill our gravity filter and do some fishing. The wind was perfect for some drifting fishing. We could paddle just off-shore from the portage and the wind brought us northeast. We made 4 or 5 passes with no luck! I’m not a super accomplished fisherman but I thought we were making all the right moves. In hindsight, we should have cast off the cliff from our site with some slip bobbers. Oh well, no fish on our last night. The sunset was perfect that night. [paragraph break] That night around the fire I kept hearing a noise over my shoulder. It sounded like something rustling around down by our canoe. I would turn my headlight on and look in that direction and it would stop. Then, a minute later it came back. Eventually, I caught movement when I looked over… only it was a lot closer to us than the canoe. It was a couple of mice rummaging through our food pack!! Sneaky little guys probably were living in the logs around the fire. They managed to get into one ziplock bag of food but I can’t remember what it was. We took our last bites of late-night snacks and hung the pack right away. [paragraph break] ~Lakes Visited: Hustler Lake, Ruby Lake, Lynx Lake
Day 8 of 8
Friday, September 24, 2021[paragraph break] Day 7 – ‘A Rainy Exit’ – It started to rain the next morning right after breakfast. We could tell it was coming and managed to gather our gear under my hammock rain-fly before it cut loose. We took our time packing the bags in hopes that the rain would break. Eventually, we realized it would probably rain the entire way out. Rain gear on and off we go. [paragraph break] We scouted the portage to Little Shell the day before and knew we could skip it by paddling through. The portage into Shell Lake was short and easy and paddle across Shell was smooth. Thankfully it wasn’t a windy day. Just cold and rainy but we had good gear so it was no big deal. The portage into Pauness was another long one but it was broken up by a large beaver dam in the middle. At first, we thought we could drag the canoe across but quickly realized it was a lot deeper than it looked. A short 20-yard paddle and we were back to portaging. [paragraph break] We decided to take the southern route through the Pauness Lakes. There was a beaver dam we had to pull over and the portage had an interesting/technical climb over rain-soaked rocks. I managed to not fall, but it was interesting. In hindsight, I would opt for the northern route. The portage is a little longer, but much easier. [paragraph break] It was bittersweet to be back on the Little Indian Sioux river heading to our exit. It was cold and rainy so I was ready for a hot shower and a cold beer, but I hate leaving such a peaceful place. With a cooler of beer on ice in my truck, my paddling mantra became “Coooold Beer…. Coooold Beer”. Somehow that always manages to add a little oomph to my paddling. We also kept looking for a beaver dam we remembered pulling over on the way in. The only probable was… we miss-remembered and the beaver dam were thinking of was actually north of the Devils Cascade. So, before we knew it, we were back at the entry point! [paragraph break] ~Lakes Visited: Little Shell Lake, Shell Lake, Lower Pauness Lake, Upper Pauness Lake[paragraph break]
If you enjoyed my trip report you can watch the videos I took here: https://youtu.be/b8pGD40_taQ [paragraph break]
Closing Thoughts: [paragraph break] * Plan for a rainout day and bring more whiskey! If you’re stuck under a tarp all day, you might exceed your daily whiskey rations. [paragraph break] * Hammock camping is the ticket for me. I’ve never spent this many days camping without a sore back.[paragraph break] * One-and-a-half portaging is a good way to avoid getting too exhausted on difficult portages. Plus, on the way back to get the other bag, it’s nice to look around the forest a bit.[paragraph break] * Buy an arborist's throw weight, some light line, and thank me later.
Little Shell Lake,
Lower Pauness Lake,
Upper Pauness Lake,