Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

LLC Interior Tour
by JD

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/29/2023
Entry & Exit Point: Little Indian Sioux River (north) (EP 14)
Number of Days: 9
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
This trip was hopefully not the last, but one of the last hurrahs of my typical tripping group. We are all getting older, getting married, and I'm not sure who's gonna have kids soon, but we figure we probably won't be able to keep doing yearly 8-10 day trips, so this was a bucket list route. Entering at Little Indian Sioux North, the plan was to head up to Lac La Croix and head clockwise through all the little interior lakes and back out LISN, over 10 days. We planned to stay 2 nights at every campsite except the first, giving us some downtime to explore, fish, and relax. We'll see just how much of that we were able to stick to... This was also the latest trip we've ever done, in an effort to hit peak fall colors in the BWCA which I always seem to miss by a week or two. The colors came early this year unfortunately so we hit the tail end of peak, and the second half of our trip was slightly more drab due to rain but also due to the leaves falling. We knew the weather could be unpredictable so we planned for everything. It went mostly OK...! Read on but grab a snack 'cuz there are a few words in this report.
Part 1 of 10
Day one! Friday morning, September 29, we slept in at our Voyageur North bunkhouse, as we learned the night before that they had switched to fall hours, opening at 7am instead of 5am during their summer hours. So, we entered the B-dub about 2 hours later than planned... can’t complain though. The extra sleep was appreciated and in the end we made it to a site just in time to get shelter set up before dark. We shoved off just after 10am, given 30 minutes of loading and permit handling at the outfitter, and almost an hour drive to the entry point, then portaging things down to the river from the parking lot. Normally we try to be on the water by 7-7:30am. Given the relatively little daylight on this trip, starting earlier would’ve had its benefits, but it wasn’t gonna happen for us.

The first few days of the trip were supposed to be warm, around 80F and humid. Day one was no exception. It was in the mid 60s as we shoved off. We were also expecting a lot of rain on the trip, with a pretty much guaranteed all day bout for our entry day – yikes.

Our first hour and a half or so was relatively uneventful. There was no fog on the water because the air temps were so warm, which meant we didn’t quite get that calm morning ambiance we love, but no matter. We paddled along happily, handling the beautiful Elm portage with ease. Good landings on that one – some of the only good ones on the whole route. Not too long after Elm, the rain started. We had our rain gear accessible, but in the time it took to hastily put on the pants and jacket in the canoe, we got relatively soaked. First time I’ve put rain pants on in a canoe!

After taking the advised 40rd portage into Lower Pauness (as the short one is reported to be pretty muddy), we handled the portage to Devil’s Cascade. The landing on the Pauness side was pretty nice, and the plants were changing colors at different rates, so despite the gloom from the rain clouds, there was a colorful, dark, moody atmosphere at that landing, which I had to photograph even if it meant getting my camera a bit wet. I’m glad I took the photos as they really capture the feeling of that moment for me.

We did the portage which was somewhat challenging on the north end, but overall not too technical, just steep. We checked out the campsite at the top and looked cautiously down at the rapids, not wanting to get too close on the slippery rocks and fall to an untimely demise. You couldn’t even hear any water moving… I’ve seen photos of Devil’s Cascade and this was like 10 percent of the flow I see in most pictures.

After a quick lunch in the rain under a tree at the end of the portage, we paddled off onto Loon. Here we saw our first canoe that wasn’t the other party we entered with. We also saw a small boat with probably a 25hp motor fishing, but otherwise it was pretty tranquil and quiet. No wind at all despite the tailwind we hoped to get.

We pushed through the Beatty portage which was cool to see. Despite its ties to civilization (and wanting to get away from such ties on these trips), it was interesting and an easy portage with good landings, so I couldn’t complain.

Lac La Croix was absolutely serene. No wind or waves. Colors reflecting off both Canada and USA. Flat moody light from the clouds made dark rocks pure black. Despite being tired from the travel, and sick of being wet, we couldn’t deny that it was pretty awesome to paddle LLC like this. We looked for the pictographs on the southeast wall and weren’t sure if we saw them or not. Given our desire to beat the sunset, we didn’t linger long. We pushed up to Sandbar Island and found, after seeing pretty much no one and no occupied campsites all day, that both nice sites on the island were taken, one with a gigantic tarp and tent (like 8-10 person tent). No one was visible in camp at these times; it was drizzly but it was also around 5:30pm, a solid dinner time, and it wasn’t a great day to be out fishing, so I’m not sure where these groups were. Maybe still just hanging out in their tents, but it was frustrating to see.

We finally pushed up to the NW corner of LLC and found the 5star bay site open, much to our relief. We quickly went about unloading on the sharp super slippery rocks, not realizing the bay landing was available at the time, and got our shelters set up with about 30 minutes from landing to sunset. I seemed to struggle significantly with getting my hammock straps at the right angle, and almost touching the ground with the hammock, several times on this trip. I got better but I think it was just from having some far apart hangs and some very close together hangs, and constantly needing to figure out how high or low to put my straps on the tree. Still, I somewhat longed for the simplicity of a tent.

There were a lot of boats in the Snow Bay area. We got passed by 2 when we had almost reached our campsite, and saw another 5 before the night was over. The next morning, we saw 3 before 10am. Maybe it’s not that many boats, but it was relatively constant and not something I like hearing in the BWCA. As an aside, I did hear 2 boats on Gun, very distant though.

After a quick dinner in the dark with the boys, we retired early. The sun set around 6:45pm so we were ready for bed by 9pm most nights, though we stayed up later some nights when we had the energy or firewood. When it’s dark for so long, though, you better have something to do (like a fire or games), otherwise you’re gonna do a lot of sleeping. I can’t complain about 9-10 hours of sleep in canoe country but it was a definite change of pace compared to our usual June trips where the sun is up around 5am and down around 9pm. Daylight logistics were actually a bit of a theme for this trip, as were weather/travel day logistics – more to come on that.

~Upper Pauness Lake, Lower Pauness Lake, Loon Lake, Lac La Croix