From Tinder Box to Please Pass the Napalm
by caribouluvr

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/18/2013
Entry & Exit Point: Little Indian Sioux River (north) (EP 14)
Number of Days: 3
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
You never know what you’ll get in a May canoe trip, but the two of us at least were prepared for the worst. The ice has just gone out, and typically after the first dry warm spell that was this past week, the fire danger is high because there is no green understory yet. We worry that there will be a fire ban, but make it to permit-pick-up without a ban being declared and rejoice. We know some rain is in the forecast for the next several days, and have our rain gear and new tarp ready to take action. We hope that this will be a typical weather pattern, however, where you at least get some breaks in the clouds here and there. My hope is to get a nice sunrise at least one night. Some periods of glassy calm water and loon calls are also in my dreams.
After a layover night near our entry point listening to loons call on glassy water below some northern lights, we wake up early on beautiful Lake Jeanette to bone-dry conditions before heading to our entry point, Little Indian Sioux North, with plans to base camp on Shell or Lynx Lake. After a tiny glimpse of light from the sunrise, it quickly turns completely overcast. We soon launch at the entry point to high water on the “Sioux” and the rain starts when we reach Upper Paulness Lake. We put on our rain gear and press forward. We make the trip across the Shell portage and find the beaver pond halfway across has washed out the boardwalk and have to paddle across about 50 yards. The water is very high! The wind is forecast to be out of the Southeast all trip. At Shell, we realize that we need a campsite out of the wind and rain, and choose the site on the north end of Con Island. This is a great site in a beautiful stand of red pine with rocky ledges. We hope to see it all here – the Northern Lights that we saw a glimpse of on Lake Jeanette the night before, a sunset, and even a sunrise if we walk the shore in the morning. This, of course, is only if we get breaks in the clouds and rain that we are getting.

We get the new Kelty Noah’s Tarp 12’ set up nicely in the pine stand, and hold off on the tent pitch until we get a break in the rain.

We head out on Shell to fish, and my buddy lands a very big Northern. We didn’t measure it, but it looks like about a 3 footer. It's the biggest fish I've ever had in a canoe. We take a couple of quick pictures and release him.

We spend some time drifting and trolling and I hook a large fish myself. I thought it was a pike because of the fight it puts up, but it turns out to be a mid-20's inch walleye - a personal best. It bounces off the landing net and gets away. Bummer. No fish dinner tonight, but we have ribeyes waiting.

We can hardly start a fire, now that we have a break in the rain for dinner. Everything is soaked. We get just enough flame to barely cook and soot-cover the steaks. The wood just would not catch it was so saturated. After dinner, we sit by the lake and glassy water and have a couple of drinks before bed.

After a mostly dry night (we think), we wake up to distant thunder just after first light, and know we are in trouble. A few minutes later, the dousing ensues, so we stay in the tent to sleep in. Wave after wave of heavy rain, medium rain, drizzle, heavy rain, more rain – you get the idea. We won't be day tripping to Oyster for lake trout now, and will be lucky to get much fishing in on Shell today.

I finally can't take it in the tent anymore and make some coffee under the loud tarp. As it pours, I slowly begin to feel nature's call and try to wait it out until a lull in the rain. Just when I think I'm safe, I get doused. Hilarious.

Eventually, things quiet down enough to venture out, and we get soaked. Our raingear holds up okay, but eventually we get clammy. No bites this time, but we stop to check out many great campsites because things are so deserted here this weekend.

We head back to the campsite and hang out under the tarp some more for a freeze- dried meal and get visited by a pair of loons for a while.

We do get another short reprieve of mostly no rain and quickly paddle up to Heritage Lake to check it out. After another talk at the campsite lakefront, the rain picks up again and we turn in. The rain continues all night, non-stop.

We sleep in again because of the rain, and have a quick breakfast under the tarp before packing up our completely saturated gear. Thank goodness for Cliff Jacobson’s plastic tent floor idea, which saved our butts once again, as we had standing water under the tent. Our gear inside the tent is mostly dry because of it, but still a little damp because of the super high humidity. My buddy, a Marine, jokes that the forest is so completely soaked, that you couldn’t start a fire no matter how hard you tried now, even with a load of napalm. It’s funny how the forest can go from such a tinder box to a literal all-over bog within a day or two. I couldn't imagine relying on fire to cook all of your food and not bring a stove, we would've starved. The irony of almost going in with a fire ban was not lost on us, since nature decided we couldn't have a fire anyways.

We get a lot more wind and rain on the paddle back towards the exit point on the river. The portages are now raging rivers and completely washed out in places after the several inches of rain that has fallen.

The several rapids and small waterfalls along the way are incredible with all of the runoff flowing.

I love the way the air smells in the BWCA while it's wet and that is a big silver lining to the time spent on this trip. We also battled rain instead of bugs, which was a different challenge.

We were finally out of the rain and exhausted when we reached the car, and reflect on the trip mostly fondly, but figure we had to have earned several nice days of camping later this summer because we had a summer’s worth of rain in one 3 day trip! It was disappointing to not view the beautiful sky all trip, though. I have to admit that there were a few moments that I did think to myself, "Why am I out here?" which is very much not the norm for me. The weather was just THAT brutal.

Lessons learned? Not really anything. We had the proper gear and attitude for the vast majority of the time, and couldn’t really do anything better with the weather we were given. But, maybe I will have to invest in a waterproof camera to avoid so much fog up due to all of the moisture!