Phantom Lake Bushwack
The area lies between Burntside and Vermilion Lake. David Backes in "Canoe Country: An Embattled Wilderness" describes this section of the BWCA, "...the Little Indian Sioux Wilderness Area was too small to satisfy ardent canoeists. It also was too demanding for casual users, requiring several one-mile-or-longer portages to reach its beautiful Lakes."
I have traveled these waters by canoe many times and plan another trip this summer. However, the area contains the remnants of old logging roads dating from the 1940's through 1970's. Logging ceased in this "Portal Zone" in 1978.
My brother and I made this trip
We followed trails/old roads not officially designated for hiking. Therefore they are not particularly scenic nor challenging in change of elevation as other BWCA hiking trails might be. Finding designated campsites (a condition for entering this wilderness) requires some difficult bushwhacking.
In addition, realize that bugs would be awful during the summer months. I recommend hiking the BWCA only in early May or September. However, this is a personal preference.
We had 5 goals for undertaking this trip.
1. Enjoy early spring in the Great North Woods. 2. Discover the condition of the old logging roads in the area between Burntside and Vermilion Lakes. 3. Learn to use our GPS units to navigate in the wilderness. 4. Determine if these trails/old roads continued to be used. 5. See Western Lake.
We accomplished all but the last. In the summer we will bring our two sons back into the "Little Indian Sioux Wilderness". We'll make a day trip to Western to renew our friendship with this lake after 30 years.
We obtained an entry permit for Crab Lake from the Forest Service. We also designed this first day to avoid private property at the Tamarack Lake end of the Wolf Lake Road which has a gate. We bushwhacked 1.3 mile from a logging area just outside the gate to meet the old road.
This initial mile and the Phantom Lake campsite were the most beautiful part of the trip.
For some time I have wondered if the old logging roads would provide trail for hiking. Aerial photograph show the roads/trails clearly. This trip verified my suspicions. The old roads can be used (and evidently people have done so over the past 30 years and continue to the present.)
We experienced cold night temperatures (high 20's to low 30's) and day temperatures in the 4o's and 50's. The late spring left many patches of snow in shaded places.
Initially we had great trouble finding our way in and out of the campsite to the trail through the tangle of windfalls and swamp. Finally, I put away the GPS hiked directly to the lake which I could see from 'Old Red' a very large, very visible pine. The route to the lake was clear. We then walked along the shore crossing a muskeg swamp on fallen logs. Old Red a tall red pine provided the marker to this 'easy' path in.