Little Indian Sioux North Loop Solo
After a half day of work on Thursday Sept. 20th, I hit the road from Suburban Chicago. I’m solo again and it’s always hard saying goodbye to Mia, my wife. We both will worry. She about me on the trip, and me about my truck on the drives.
The trip up through Wisconsin is uneventful with some rain. I go through Duluth at 12:15 AM and stop for gas. I’m tired now and pull in at the first rest area on Hwy 53 to get some sleep. I’m able to stretch out in the bed of the pick up inside my bag and I need to hang clothes over the side windows to block the parking lot lights. No one else is here tonight but I’m too tired to be afraid and fall fast asleep.
I’m up at 6:30 and after some hygiene maintenance I’m back on the road looking for coffee. Soon I roll into Ely and stop at Canoe Country Outfitters to get my permit, fishing license, and a few misc. items. I don’t rush, but am focused on getting to the trailhead. I just want to get there before any bad luck with the truck finds me.
I gas up one more time and get a piece of pound cake and a juice for the ride to the Echo trail. It’s about an hour down this two lane mostly winding road. The leaves are turning and some sections are amazing with bright colors on either side.
I find the sign for my entry point at the Little Indian Sioux River North. There’s a nice lot there and the first spot is open so I take it. It’s about 10:00 AM now. I need to sort through my gear so I lay it out and then change into my tripping clothes. Soon there’s people buzzing around. A van with six women pulls up and they begin to sort and unload. Another solo paddler pulls in next to me. A nice guy from Two Harbors and we chat while we do our business. We compare tackle boxes and talk about where we are headed. He's only up for the weekend. It must be nice.
A group of four disheveled guys portage gear to the lot and find that mice have broken into their truck while they were gone for the week. Their truck is torn up and full of poop. The driver is not happy at all. I wonder what the mice have in store for me while I'm gone?
Here’s an overview of the route I took.
At 11:15 I lock the truck and throw on the small pack and lift up the canoe. Ah yes, now I remember. It always takes a little while for the routine to come back to me. The portage is an easy 40 rodder and I pass more women and two guys on their way out. It’s Friday and congested on the trail now but everyone is friendly and respectful of others. At the landing it’s breezy, mostly cloudy, and about 50 degrees. I’m heading northwest today and the wind will be in my face.
Here’s my route for today.
The Little Indian Sioux River is very scenic and soon will widen. There’s a portage where I meet the 6 women from the van again. They get ahead of me on the water as I return for my second load on the trail. Soon I catch up to them and realize that two of the canoes are having steering problems and lag way behind their lead canoe. I chat as I pass these boats and suggest it’s better not to rudder against the wind but to keep paddling.
My goal for today is Slim Lake so I keep a steady pace with the kayak paddle. I’ve grown to really love using this double blade on trips. It’s really helpful against a wind like today. I soon reach the twin Pauness Lakes and make another short portage and then a 110 rod to exit. The food pack is full and I feel it’s weight on this carry.
The river widens here and the wind picks up as well. Looks like rain to the west.
Lifting over this beaver dam was fairly easy. Soon the river opens up into big Loon Lake. Motors are allowed on a section of this lake and I can hear one to my left. I’m getting tired now from battling the steady breeze so decide I’ve had enough and look for a site. I think being on the north shore would be sheltered the best so I cross the lake. I soon spot a nice campsite with trees to hang my hammock. It’s drizzling and the wind picks up as I pull in to a nice landing. The weather is getting worse so I quickly set my tarp between two trees and rig my hammock. I put the packs underneath and now it’s full on raining.
The temperature is dropping so I huddle under the tarp and pull out my dinner of a turkey sub sandwich and trail mix. I have cold orange Gatorade to wash it down. Everything DOES taste better when on a trip.
It’s 5:00 and the rain seems done. I sit out front and watch as two beavers swim back and forth in front of me. They only tail slap once then are content to have me so close. They are sitting in shallow water and eating small branches with leaves. They make soft “coo-ing” noises. Back and forth they go, not more than 10 yards in front. I was entertained to say the least and talk to them. As darkness comes they are joined by a third one. Soon I turn in for the night. It’s getting cold and the wind is in the trees. It’s great to be back out here again.
Day 2 Saturday Sept. 22, 2012
Last night got down in the low 30’s and I was chilled as I lay in the hammock. This morning my weather radio gave the forcast for mid 20’s tonight. Yikes, I need a new plan for sleeping or I will freeze. In a perfect world I would use a down filled under quilt that fits underneath the hammock in cold weather. I don’t have one yet so use my 1/8 inch closed cell foam pad under me. I am now regretting not bringing the large 2 inch air pad I could have used for insulation under me. Well, I’m gonna have to improvise.
I eat and pack and am on the water at 9:00. The first portage is 165 rods and need to stop for a break on the trail. Anything over 80 rods is a long one in my book.
Once on Slim Lake I look for an unofficial “shortcut” portage that would save me some time going to Gun Lake which is my destination today. It’s raining now and I will periodically experience these short windy “squalls” for the rest of the day.
I locate the landing and then decide to carry a pack first to see if this is something I can do. I’ve heard stories of this portage as being pretty tough. It's not a trail that is maintained by the forest service and sure enough, after 30 yards I’m not sure which way to go. The trail gets faint and there’s trees laying in the way. I quickly decide not to go through with it being solo and all. If something would happen to me in here I would never be found. I’m quickly back on Slim heading north.
After the next two portages of 71 and 120 rods into Steep Lake I feel tired. The 2nd day of a trip is probably the worst physically for me as my body gets used to all the work I have to put in. The wind in my face and the rain haven’t helped my mood much. On South and Steep Lakes I finally catch a break and have the wind behind me. Ah, it’s nice to relax a little while cruising over to the Eugene Lake porage.
After this 45 rodder I go up to find the landing to Gun Lake. Once on Gun the scenery dramatically changes from low shorelines to big rocky bluffs. Gun is a gorgeous lake and I am happy to see the one site is open for me.
The site sits very high in the narrows between the two lake sections. Unfortunately it’s very open and the stiff breeze is blasting the place. The fireplace is out front and a real nice stack of cut wood is left from the previous tenant. *I find out later that it was BWCA.com member Tuscarora Borealis with his wife and young daughter who were here the previous two days. It was he who generously left the wood.
The first order of business is to get my bed set up and rig the tarp in case it rains again.
In the evening I find a nice ledge to sit on above the water and write in my journal. “Wildlife - I saw a bald eagle on day one. Had a very brave chipmunk with me at breakfast today. Three beavers last night and two more bald eagles flying together today. And something left a small pile of very wet poop on a trail today. My guess is a grouse. I also saw a very large fish surface in the Little Indian Sioux River yesterday. I would guess a large northern pike by the size of the wake.”
My journal also mentions my new plan for sleeping. “Well, I’m dressed for the cold tonight. I have on 2 pair of (wool) socks, 1 pair of liners. 2 pr. of long johns, 2 long sleeve thermal shirts, my reg. long sleeve shirt, my down vest, and my good fleece jacket over this. 2 fleece hats and my leather gloves. I’ll put on my pants when they finish drying. I’ve doubled my 1/8th inch pad in half and placed it under my torso and will use my Crazy Creek canoe chair as a pad under my legs.”
I also write “I have 2 pee bottles so I won’t have to get up in the night. Bring it!”
The plan is to lay over for a day here and fish tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have a fish dinner and a big fire tomorrow.
Day 3 Sunday Sept. 23,2012
IT GOT COLD! The wind blew all night and it felt like it got into the twenties. My weather radio is all static this morning so don’t know for sure. I finally crawled out at 8:00. It’s still windy and overcast so I quickly make the decision to pack and head for a more sheltered site on Finger Lake to the south. I can’t fish in this kind of wind and sure don’t like this open campsite right now. I pull out the stove and make coffee, oatmeal with dried cranberries with a clif bar on the side. I packed and was on the water at 11:00.
The hammock makes for a great place to sit before I tear it down.
I looked for the other site on this lake supposedly in the bay across from my site but never could find it. Gun sure is pretty though. I’d love to come back in June sometime and seriously fish it. It looks very Smallie friendly along the shore here in the bay. Crystal clear water too.
The first portage south out of Gun reminded me of the Quetico. It’s a little used trail and there were rocks, boulders, and tree roots covering the first 1/3rd. It was brutal here but it soon flattened out. After the two Beartrack Lakes I made the 200 rodder to Thumb Lake.
I made this carry both trips without a rest stop and I’m sure that’s the longest carry I ever did without a break. My legs feel strong again. This one is flat and very scenic. I just love a good moss covered floor of a mature forest anyday.
The landing on Finger was very shallow so I went up to my knees in boot sucking loon crap trying to get the boat to deeper water. I had a tough time extracting one foot. At least it didn’t stink.
I tried the 4 star site on the island in the narrows but saw a person walking around so quickly detoured left to two other sites on the west shore. Both of these didn’t have the trees needed to hang the hammock so now all I could do was check the other site on the lake side of the big island. It was rated only two stars so I wasn’t optimistic. It was the last remaining site on the lake so I crossed my fingers as I crossed over.
Well at least it was open. It’s a little tight for more than 3 people but it’s actually very …..um, quaint. I love it! And there’s two trees right by the fire grate that I can make work.
Yeah, this place isn’t bad at all. There’s 2 or 3 level tent pads here too. It’s about 10 feet off the water with nice sitting rocks on shore. The canoe parking is decent and the thunder box is real nice too. This place is the perfect site for a solo traveler like myself.
The wind has calmed down now and the sky is clear. After cleaning the dishes from dinner I break out my Jack Daniels First Barrel flask. I find a real nice place to sit on shore and write in my journal while sipping whiskey. I see my first loons of the trip as an adult with a juvenile fish out in front of me. I watch them together with the binoculars. Beautiful birds.
Tonight I sit on the rock and just take in the sunset down the lake. Jet contrails and low clouds add to the spectacular show of bright oranges, yellows, and blues.
It’s quiet now only the way the northwoods can be. The silence is broken by faint honking sounds. Down the lake to the east I can see a long line of geese coming my way. They’re right over the lake and flying into the sunset. I decide to count them as they fly past making a huge racket now. It’s strange because they are flying single file and not in a “V” pattern. There’s 4 geese on one side then I count 128 more behind in single file almost directly over me. Wow, that was cool.
Day three ended spectacularly. A perfect evening in canoe country.
Day 4 Monday Sept.23, 2012
It was cold and got real windy again last night. The gusts came in long waves then it would get calm. You could hear the wind building in the trees as it got nearer. Luckily I had a ridge right behind me and I never felt it.
My back is a little sore when I first get up but today I am laying over. After my usual breakfast of coffee, oatmeal, and a clif bar I decide to read my book instead of fishing as the wind is up on the lake. Fishing solo can be hard in a wind so I decide to wait on that.
At noon I decide to go out and explore Finger Lake. I pack a lunch and take the food pack for counterweight in the boat. I rig up my two fishing rods and head out. I drift east with the wind and troll a crank bait. I’ve brought the depth finder and manage to not snag any lures as I round the point of the island and head back into the narrows.
I lost a nice smallmouth bass when it jumped and threw the lure. Then I got the crap scared out of me. I reeled the crank bait up to the boat when, out of nowhere a very large walleye follows it right up next to me. If I had to guess I would say it was between 26 and 28 inches long. Wow, that was something. After that I lost another nice smallie right at the boat when he jumped. I’d guess it went around 16 inches. Real nice markings on it in this clear lake.
I make my way over to the now empty 4 star site. It’s real nice and sits up high over the water and has lots of room for tents in the open area with large boulders and trees.
I found out later that it was BWCA.com member Nctry or “Ben” here last night with his dog Bernice on a month long tour of the Boundary Waters. I knew he was going to be in the general area around this time and if I would have seen Bernice yesterday I surely would have stopped for a chat.
I walked the island and explored a little. I found the faint handprint pictographs that are here on the side of a huge boulder. My outfitter Mike from Canoe Country Outfitters clued me into these. I also ate my lunch at the nice fireplace then headed out for more fishing in the west end of the lake. I did manage to catch two small northerns and a bass but released them.
It’s sunny but windy so head back to camp around 5:00. The wind doesn’t let up in the evening so I head to bed early because I know I’m moving tomorrow.
Day 5 Tuesday Sept.
From my journal - “The alarm went off at 6:15. It’s very calm but COLD! No way I’m getting out of bed. I doze off and have a very strange dream. I awake and it’s 7:10 so I get out of my bunk.The sun is just coming up but it’s blocked from my view by the island I’m on. I get breakfast ready and as the water boils I go down to the shore and take a series of pictures. It’s incredibly beautiful here.
I return to fix coffee and oatmeal. While eating I notice a squirrel cutting off pine cones in a tree that hangs over the water. The nuts plop down in the water. He’s amazingly efficient as he scurries from cone to cone. Before doing the dishes I go back down to the shore again for more pics. It’s very still and I see the loon pair out on the lake.
After clean up and packing I’m ready to hit the trail again. It’s 10:07. The weather has changed. It’s warming up nicely with little wind but overcast now. Just the way I like it!
I head down Finger Creek.
I enter Pocket Lake then it’s a short 18 rodder to Pocket creek where I find some beaver dams to climb over.
I find the right hand turn off that is Ge-be-on-e-quet Creek. It’s very narrow through here but the water level is good.
The creek ends at a 35 rod portage to Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake. I’ll call this lake Gebe from now on. This little portage is very deceiving. It is only 35 rods but it’s all uphill. Wow, that was tough and I’m pooped as I reach the lake. At this landing I meet a group of four going the same way.
They are a Father (maybe 65 yr’s old), two sons and daughter from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.. We chat while loading our gear. They tell me about meeting another solo canoeist with a dog on a 40 day long trip. I tell them I've heard of him (Nctry Ben) on a message board.
I’m planning on staying on Gebe but they are traveling further today. We paddle next to each other and I mention that there is a site here that has large stone chairs lined up overlooking the lake. They never heard of these but are curious so I point out the site on the map. They want to see them.
I know the first site on the right is a good one from doing a little research so when I see it’s open I say my goodbyes and wish them well.
The site sits about 7 feet off the water and is protected by a nice cedar grove with a few large white pines scattered in there. I find 2 nice trees for my bed and quickly set up camp. I’m gonna lay over again tomorrow so I’ll call this home for a while.
After setting up I eat my lunch. This is pretty much what I had for lunch every day. Today it’s calm and about mid 50’s for a temp.
Because of the lack of good tie out points I have a sloppy tarp set up. It’ll do though.
This boulder is right behind my tent. I wanted to climb it but forgot to.
This big white pine was near my tarp off to the side. It reminds me of the old cartoon Snow White where the trees talked. The root system is amazing on this one.
It was early still so I jumped in the boat and went fishing. I landed a 12 inch smallie and lost a couple others. Fishing is slow and I think it could be the weather.
When I got back I made myself a Mountain House Beef and Potatoes dinner. I’m eating a lot of freeze dried on this trip mainly because they are light and not bulky. No mess too as all you do is pour boiling water in the foil package and let it sit for 8 minutes then eat right out of the bag. I washed it down with hot chocolate then dipped in to the Jack Daniels as night fell.
Continued on Part 2.