Serenity: Little Indian Sioux River North to Loon Lake, May 23, 2014

Our first family trip of the year over Memorial Day to Loon Lake seemed like the perfect adventure to kickoff what would become a wonderful summer of backwoods adventures. Loon provides access to the Canadian border, expansive Lac La Croix and Crooked Lake further southwest. It also provides fertile boundary lake fishing excursions on both sides of the international border. Loon has nestled bays and dotted islands that offer a deep serenity as the sun sets and waters calm for wildlife viewing, fishing and peacefulness reminding you must slow down and experience nature.

Canoe: Wenonah Champlain
Portages: 3 or 4 (longest 120 rods)
Total Miles: 12-16 miles round trip

Day 1: Trip to Lake Jeannette campground
We had a late start on Thursday evening from Minneapolis swinging by to pick up my wife Althea, finishing up her teaching day around 4:30PM. We rolled into Ely, MN about 4 ½ hours later as dusk was descending, picked up our permit at Voyageur North Outfitters and began climbing the Echo Trail. It was pitch black and near midnight as we found our site at quiet, secluded the USFS campground on Lake Jeannette. Our adventure was just beginning.

Ready to go to the put-in from Jennette

Ready to go to the put-in from Jennette

 

Lake Jennings campground boat ramp for a day's outing

Lake Jennings campground boat ramp for a day’s outing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2: Early Rise on Friday
Friday dawned bright and sunny with little to no winds. I hustled out of the tent to pull together a breakfast of oatmeal, pop-tarts, cereal, fruit, juice for our kids, Ethan and Leah and strong, steaming pot of black coffee for the adults. Packing and repacking our gear, we drove up to the LIS parking lot and began struggling all of our gear and the boat down the portage trail at the parking lot to the put-in at the base of the falls of Little Indian Sioux. High water greeted us as we shoved off and immediately stuck our boat fast on a submerged boulder that we would have otherwise seen if not for the turbid, brown rapids. Not a good start to the trip and it took some work to free ourselves and continue paddling down the river.

Neither Elm portage (35 rods) on the way to the twin Pauness lakes nor the 28 rod portage from Upper to Lower Pauness posed any particular difficulty. Both of our kids quickly shouldered their packs filled with sleeping bag, clothes and their day lunches over each trail noting wolf scat and fresh prints on the last portage into Lower Pauness. A quick snack then paddle and we landed at Devil’s Cascade portage (120 rods) for the climb to the top and steep descent to bypass the impress deep canyon and rapids below. We stopped at the summit on our last carry to admire the view and enjoy a picnic lunch before moving on.

Devil's cascade portage is done!

Devil’s cascade portage is done!

Several groups passed us on their way out. They were just completing an ambitious route from Loon looping back to the east and then south by southwest to the river after a successful walleye-fishing trip. We had high hopes for a 5-star campsite as we met another father-son tandem heading out. We circled the lake stopping at several sites with wide, flat grassy spaces for tents and well-developed fire rings but we couldn’t come to a consensus on which site to choose. On a good 4-star site situated on a peninsula looking south towards the river, we agreed to return to a high-cliff site across the bay. The sun was beginning to set. I hastily string up my rod and tied on a deep-diving Rapala as my wife and kids clambered into the canoe. My efforts were rewarded with two 20” northern pike for dinner that evening over our well-tended-fire.

Our campsite overlooking Loon from a high vantage point towards Canada

Our campsite overlooking Loon from a high vantage point towards Canada

Day 3: Ledge Top Paradise.
Isn’t it funny how a campsite can grow on you? This was not my first choice. This spot was situated on a high bluff overlooking Loon Lake and north into Canada. The evening before my son, Ethan was inexplicably drawn to it for some reason. Exhausted from our first day, we had all finally agreed to paddle back to it, eager to set up camp. The take-out was on a sandy beach now flooded with a steep 20 to 25-foot climb up a narrow path to excellent flat sites above with room for several tents. Towering pine and deciduous trees provided shade, great tie-off points for our tarp, bear-hanging rope and water. As I walked the site the next morning while my family slept, I began to appreciate its advantages while drinking in the beauty of the sunrise and the breathtaking view from our ledge-top paradise.

This was to be a leisurely day with no plans except to enjoy ourselves, the lake and maybe explore the area. After breakfast and camp chores we kicked around a couple of options for the day: Beatty portage to the north, an exploratory trip up the Loon River in the direction of Crane or East Loon Lake for fishing. We opted for East Loon with the winds picking up and driving 1-foot rollers across the lake.

East Loon is a quiet secluded lake that is separated from Loon by a shallow pinch of land. I trolled a line through here but by midday I was having little luck. Still hoping for lake trout, walleye or a bass, I kept the line in as we made a pass by several campsites to do our own mental inventory of each. The lunch spot for the day would be a campsite at the far north site at the top of the lake. What are remarkable about East Loon is its steep wooded, granite shorelines on its southern terminus that gradually give way to a northern end characterized shallow bays, swamp and reed grass. I am always amazed at how quickly the topography changes up here even on the same body of water.

Our lunch spot was one of the few dry places but its sloping grade to the waterline made it a less-than-desirable campsite. After a hearty lunch of cheese-and-crackers, sanwhiches, fruit and yoghurts, we had enough energy to fly!

Ethan Jump Loon Lake 53114

Ethan jumps for joy on East Loon, May 2015

It was however perfect if your goal was Slim Lake  the next day. The portage is a short distance down the eastern shoreline from this site.

Our paddle back to our basecamp was a bit more challenging. The wind had picked up, judging from the waves and was pushing 10 mph or so, according to the forecasts I had monitored the night before on my S.A.M.E weather radio.

East Loon campsite below narrows

East Loon campsite below narrows

 

Struggling our way back to the narrows we pulled over at a spacious, pine-needle covered site with a generous clearing and well-developed fire ring for a snack, some fishing and to let the winds abate. Finally agreeing to push on, we reloaded the canoe and shoved off into stiff headwinds. Crossing the bay to the southern shore to get some relief from the wind tunnel, I felt a tug on my line and reeled in a 12 inch pike which I released. Cruising back to our home base, I was rewarded for my persistence with one 22” northern. Disappointed with my lack of luck and skill, I was glad that we would enjoy one more fish dinner before packing up and heading home tomorrow.

That evening our kids played around the campsite, tempted back to the fire only by s’mores and hot chocolate. Watching the sun drop below the horizon we noted the lack of mosquitoes and insects. As the evening settled over us, fish were rising to snap up the meager hatching that were occurring. Tempted to grab my rod and head out, I opted for camp chores and tidying up for the next day’s pack-up. With protestations over teeth brushing and “last bathroom breaks”, my wife and I settled our little ones into the cozy Kelty Salida 4 tent to read stories we had brought along and slip off into a deep slumber.

Day 4: Sunny Day with a Small Surprise
A windless morning of glorious sunshine greeted us when we awoke. Our last breakfast in the backcountry was a feast of banana-cinnamon pancakes topped with maple syrup, scrambled eggs on the side. The last of the bacon was also devoured. No need to save it now. We would need the energy for the portages. A familiar whine startled us as tiny winged-insects fluttered up from the forest floor. Time to leave! After coffee and clean-up, we pushed off about 9:30 with still waters and building sunshine.

Our trip out was uneventful, greeting a few fellow paddlers also working their way towards the exit from Loon lake and the eventual portages. Two hours later after retracing our steps over the three portages we found ourselves at the falls and the last take-out. Happy exhaustion and one more punch of adrenaline carried us and our gear back to the parking lot and our car at midday. We spent an additional hour walking the trail back and forth from the lot to find an errant water bottle, missing glove, a nearly-forgotten paddle and tote bag.

Stowing the last of the camping detritus in our overhead Rocketbox, we clambered into our vehicle bound for cold drinks and hot sandwiches in Ely and back home to Minneapolis. Our summer has begun on a high note.

 

Lerome/Sue Falls-Cirrus Solo, Explore, Fish: September 14, 2013

Description of Trip

A solo trip to base camp, explore ‘upper Cirrus’ and fish that I had wanted to take since the beginning of the summer. I had also considered taking my family in through this route in July but opted for Beaverhouse-Cirrus (which was a better option!). It was a 5 ½ hour trek heading in as I searched about for portages and fought a bit of wind. Coming out I faired only a little better taking 5 hours from my campsite outside of Sue Falls to the take-out at the Lerome Lake access just off the Trans-Canadian.

Day 1 of 5

Started the day from the Twin Cities. Warm and a bit breezy but a delightful day and easy drive. Had a quick detour over to Ely to pick up a used Thermarest Guidelite series pad from an outfitter. Road work almost completed on 169 which was a blessing and I zipped in and zipped out of town quickly. Finally made it to International Falls by 9PM and stopped at the Voyageur Hotel. A great little place that is run by an older couple like a bed & breakfast. Felt as though I was walking into their living room when I entered the lobby. Good night sleep.

Heading North from the Twin Cities on I-35!

Day 2 of 5

Awoke at 5:30AM. Red sky morning sunrise and out the door at 6:30 to head for the border crossing. Made Atikokan by 8:30AM and self-registered. Stopped by Robins to pick up a blueberry muffin and fresh coffee since I didn’t have time for breakfast in International Falls (a great place!). Headed back west on the Trans Canadian for the 5 ½ miles to the Lerome Lake access/put-in. Windy! Winds blew from the SW at 12km/hr (7-10 mph or so) with gusts a bit higher. Was blown back into the first bay and had to fight my way through a small islet of reeds into next bay on the eastern coastline where I was promptly blown back into that bay!

Voyager Hotel IntlFalls   Dont Bumpadahead

Since I need to make time, I got out, moved from the bow (I was trying out paddling backwards) to the stern, readjusted my packs and hugged the shoreline down to where the portage was supposed to be. Had a bit of difficulty as I always seem to have with locating the first portage but finally there it was.

No Name lake put-in was very windy – sort of a natural wind funnel there I guess — but once away I was able to paddle down the Jackfish creek portage. Despite the stinking, loon-crap muck at the put-in Jackfish creek water levels were up high enough for me to float my boat without having to do the extra 114 or so rod “bog-trot” that Beymer describes. Beaver dam lift-over was not a big issue and found myself paddling easily across Bewag to next portage.

Portage Lerome NoName Lake        Jackfish Creek portage

Located a steep takeout on southwest shoreline as I aimed off where I thought the portage should be. Found a steep, rocky 10- or 15- rod goat-trail climb that levels out and gently drops down to Lark Lake. As a word of caution: Don’t take this portage! Continue southeast about another 200 to 300 yards along the south shoreline of Bewag and you will find a gentler, sandy/grassy takeout with a gentle rise and then level carry into Lark (found this out on the way out on Day 4!)

This was becoming an adventure on shore-hugging and portage –location. At the back of Lark I had read about “entering the marsh”. With a bit of trepidation, I paddled the 5 minutes or so across Lark to the south shore and entered a narrow marshy, lily-pad

SF portage take 2

strewn swamp-lined channel with red pitcher-plants. As I wound my way south, a beaver dam stretched in front of me west-to-east. I found the short white rock at the eastern edge of the dam that marked the take-out into another stinking, oozy mess that I thankfully only sunk about calf-deep into with my canoe-hat. Good thing that my Wellingtons stayed on my feet for the 20 rod carry into what I’m guessing is the upper part of Cole Lake.

Navigating the narrow, but pretty switchback into Cole Lake is actually a treat as an eagle or two soared above this secluded water, lined by largely pine and various conifers. Finding the entry to Cirrus Creek, I paddled south on the highly-flooded stream and swamp to the portage just east of the beaver dam across the creek and carried down to Sue Falls.

SoloCirrus 1st night camp     Campsite night one Cirrus

It was now 3 in the afternoon and rain was starting to threaten overhead. I took another half hour to set up my trolling rig, snack, rehydrate and consult my maps before pushing off into the little bay protecting Sue Falls. Paddling to the west, I trolled past a set of islands and picked up a smallmouth bass dinner. Perfect. Located my campsite (A2) on a well-sheltered point of land shortly after that and made quick work of cleaning the fish, setting up camp and starting the fire…..as rain started to patter down….one drop…at….a…time. Hate to say it, but good nutrition suffered that meal as fish was followed by s’mores to facilitate a quick cleanup before diving into my tent at 8:30. Fatigue was also setting in!

Fish in a pan 1st night Cirrus   Smore dinner night 1 Cirrus

Day 3 of 5

Next morning, startled another eagle that soared across Cirrus from the stand of trees at my site. Beautiful sun peeking out. Caught a small walleye about 6 inch from the point of the campsite and released. Had to move on as I wanted to get down to the lower “upper part” of this upper arm of Cirrus (just above the north-south channel that connects both parts of Cirrus Lake). Started moving out under light winds on the northern shore of lake. With wind picking up, made a stop at a nice 5 star site (94) across the lake from the “pinch” in the land where the eastern upper arm meets the “lower” eastern arm.

Quick mid-morning break. After my own internal debate, I opted for the more conservative route which is to make a wide “C” by hugging the northern bay from this site and exploring the great little islands and potential sites back there. Beautiful potential camp sites back there! Then shot a gap between two islands guarding the bay and hit the opposite, southern shoreline which guided me to the pinch and I easily dropped down into the lower upper arm of Cirrus. Winds abated. Beautiful paddling now under sunny skies.

Island Campsite on lower arm of Cirrus Lake – Night #2 of trip by Nandagikendan

Finally made my destination campsite on an island (34Y) above the north-south channel but it was already taken by the only other two souls that I’ve encountered on the lake. So, disappointed I begin picking my way down the north-south channel ruling out potential campsites that turn out not to exist until I find the island campsite (3F) at the end of the north-south channel. This is familiar ground as my family and I paddled past this site when visiting the other great campsite at the end of this channel this past July!

Setting up camp first, I then get to work fishing some jigs and a husky jerk and a spinner but no luck even as evening sets in. No fish today with dinner as I’m appropriately humbled. Crawl in early as I’m beat from a long day’s paddle and tonight is supposed to get down to freezing.

Day 4 of 5

Fog! Woke early this AM to find the rain stopped and FOG had rolled in! Couldn’t see past the trees on the top of the island campsite and definitely couldn’t see the water below. Unbelievable. Was supposed to have frost during the night (Atikokan saw -2 C temps) but no sign of it — just the lake evidently cooling off and the air above starting to rapidly warm. Quickly burned off though as the sun came up over the trees to form a truly spectacularly beautiful, sunny morning with no wind. Time to get going!

Island Fog Cirrus from island camp day 2  Fog lifting from island camp Cirrus AM day 3

I could not resist throwing in a floating rap for a couple of casts. A few nibbles but I had to get going to make Sue Falls by midday in case anyone else had similar plans.

EDITED

Heading north via channel connecting lower and middle arms of Cirrus Lake, by Nandagikendan

Set up trolling with a storm thunder stick and jigging rod in channel. Caught and released a walleye and SM while trolling shadows about 10 to 15 feet off shoreline. All told there were 5 small mouth and one pike of 24 inches that morning. Finally had to pull in the line so that I could finish paddling up to Sue Falls which I reached shortly after midday.  Chose my campsite (BD) on one of  peninsulas after a 4-hour paddle start-to-finish with two seat breaks and one to tie up fish on my stringer and dump them in my 50L dry bag doubling as my day tank. Dried out gear. Cleaned fish and ate a late shore lunch/early dinner.

24 in Pike Cirrus   SM 15 and 17 together

Checked out site and did my part by partially relocating and rebuilding the lower fire pit. Finally located the upper fire pit and campsite. Apparently 2 or 3 other tent pads have been covered by the large blow downs up there and the undergrowth – would need a bit of work with a swizzle stick, crossbow saw and maybe a chainsaw to hack out a tent pad or two in that area, as well as a bit more fire pit construction both upper and lower to turn this back into a 5-star. Unfortunately, one of last residents had tried to burn tin foil and drink mix wrappers in fire! Picked up what I could. Need to return at some point for camp maintenance and cleanup….and more fishing.

Day 5 of 5

The regret of any trip is when you realize that it’s moving day and time to head back out! Broke camp at 7:30 which is a bit of a record for me – as much as I love an early start, I have a hard time motivating myself to get out of my comfortable sleeping bag (and now pad!) before 6:30AM on any trip. Gorgeous sunny day with no wind so off I went for a trudge up the falls and into Cirrus Creek where the fish were jumping! Finally made No Name before being buffeted by winds for about 2 or 3 minutes and fought my way into the wind tunnel (think Venturi effect in fluid dynamics!) that is the 5-rod portage back into Lerome. Expectedly with winds coming again out of the south/southwest, the southern shore was calm once I exited the wind tunnel portage. Hugged the shoreline all the way home taking my back passage behind an island through a swamp that probably is impassable in low water levels until I made landfall back at the take-out. Five hours start to finish! Time for some Gatorade and a rest!

The only question that remains is when do I get to go back?!