Shell Lake Base Camp
Although we tried to prepare better, we still brought along too much gear. And instead of my heavy aluminum canoe, we tried Peter’s heavy fiberglass one. It did have a more comfortable yoke. After a night in Orr at Norman’s Motel, we headed over to LaCroix Outfitters in Buyck, where we probably should have stayed, to get our permit. The owner was very nice and gave us some good tips.
We were lucky that the weather was warm and sunny since winter had just released its grip, and ice had just left the lakes days before. We finally arrived to EP #14 around 9:30am. After much repacking and organizing (and leaving un-needed stuff behind) we still triple portaged down the 40 rods to the Little Indian Sioux River. This portage is down some huge smooth boulders or rock face that could be very treacherous if wet. Putting in here is a little tricky too, with the current a bit stronger due to the recent snow melt.
Paddling up river was easy but there are a lot of bends to navigate in the first mile. I am not sure if this would be too easy if the water level was low. At the midway point to Upper Pauness Lake, there is an interesting 60 rod portage. There is a tunnel like canopy and the moss and ferns gave a jungle feel to it. The trail follows along rushing rapids and at the half way point there is a small scenic water fall.
The next portage from Upper to Lower Pauness is 8 rods and is a real pain. There is a wet rocky low area to get your boots wet. Then you have to go up and over a large rock hill. It was rather steep up and then back down to the water. We doubled up on the canoe and had a tough time. The camp on the north side of the portage was occupied and they were catching walleyes at the inlet. There is a 40 rod alternative that might be easier than our route.
The next portage into shell is 216 rods. We doubled up on the canoe again and I held up the back end. The first 75 rods of the trail is rocky. Not being able to see the ground well, I turned my ankle and dropped to the ground in pain. My high rising hiking boots probably prevented a serious injury and the end to our trip. Triple portaging didn't help but I was able to “walk it off.”
About ¾ across this portage there is a low area and a wood “balance beam” to cross the swamp. There was also a spectacular beaver dam, the longest I have ever seen. When we set off on Shell, the wind was definitely a factor and there was a good chop. Well behind schedule at this time, and after being passed on our last portage, we felt some pressure to find a good camp site. The group who passed us was also headed to Lynx. Because of these factors, we took the direct route across the middle. We were unable to get in front of the other canoes, but at least we didn't swamp our canoe in the process.
Because we were wind-washed and unsure if any sites would be open on Lynx, we decided to find one on Shell. The only island sites that were open were #54 and #51. #54 was exposed to the wind which was becoming colder. #51 was is rough shape and looked to be abused by previous campers. We took site #48 which was average at best. The best part of this site was the close proximity to a calm bay where we caught a couple of walleyes and northerns.