Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

Larch Creek to Gneiss Lake 7/29-8/1

By Phillip Santillan Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:July 29, 2019 - August 1, 2019
Entry Point:80 - Larch Creek (BWCA)
Lakes:Clove, Devils Elbow, Gneiss, Granite, Granite Bay, Larch, Maraboeuf, Rainy River, Saganaga

Day 1 of 5
Sunday, July 28, 2019: Two years ago, we went from Gunflint Lake to Larch, and this year, the goal was to go up to Gneiss Lake. This is our trip report :) ------ Around 8 pm, we arrive at Gunflint Pines resort, where we will spend the night, then leave right in that morning to Gunflint Outfitters so we can get on the water as soon as possible. We do this because we come from the west twin cities (Plymouth and Brooklyn Park) and can only leave at 2 pm.

We quickly set up camp under a light rain and made sandwiches for the "possible lunch" we would have during our trip the next day.

By 9 pm, it started raining and rained consistently throughout the night. By 9:30, most of us were in our tents...though two people in our group decided to sleep in their van because they didn't want to bother setting up stuff.

Side note: We all planned to hammock camp, and only another person and I brought a tent for Sunday night so that we wouldn't have to pull everything out of our pack and then tear it back down in the morning. My tent was one of Walmart's cheap "quick setup" tents. It took 60 seconds to set up.

Day 2 of 5
On Monday, July 29, 2019, I woke up at around 5:30 am to make the group bacon and eggs while another person made coffee.

After cleaning up, we left around 7:10 am and headed to gunflint outfitters. New this year is a shorter video that they show. Yeah! However, I miss the "fake bear" in the old video that used to come out and chase people.

After the video, Mandy quizzed us on what we saw, and then we signed our life away and headed outside to get our paddles and PFDs. After throwing those and our gear into the canoe trailer, we headed to the Larch Creek Entry point.

Once we jumped in, we went through the creek, which was literally the canoe's width at points. After passing over seven beaver dams - 2 which we could plow through and five which we had to jump out of the canoe into about waist to chest high water (I'm 5'9"), we found ourselves at the mouth of Larch Creek into Larch Lake (This is where my trip two years ago landed us for the week after starting from Gunflint Lake 2 years ago).

The portage from Larch to Clove was easy. It was an overcast day with moderate wind, but fortunately, most of the wind was a tailwind.

The second portage - known as "Muddy Portage," lived up to its name. The guy who dropped us off told us the mud was up to the knees in some places. It wasn't. Even after a whole night of rain, it wasn't "too bad." It was, in some areas, definitely up and over your calf. I didn't get pictures from that day, but here are photos from Thursday on our way out. It was worse than this on Monday.

After this, we proceeded to our 3rd portage, a 72-rod portage where 1/3 is muddy, 1/3 has 6-8' wide wood planks over mud, and 1/3 (on the north side) is typical terrain.

At portage #4, we decided to be daring, and 2 of the 3 of us decided to take our chance and run the rapids. DUMB CHOICE. My canoe made it through the first half, but then the rapids made us make a sharp left and turn our canoe in a way that it got pinned on a rock, and for about 4 5 minutes, it took three of us to try to get the canoe out from in between the rushing rapids and the rock that it was stuck on -- all the while the canoe was rapidly filling with water. Shortly behind us, the next group didn't even enter the rapids before they flipped their canoe. Luckily for them (and us), we made sure we had fastened all our gear to the canoe, so the only thing that was "lost" was one paddle. We ended up finding that paddle downriver.

After that portage, two sections of "fast-moving water" had no portage, so we were a little nervous, having just come out of the previous fiasco. To our surprise, it was pretty easy to navigate. There are rocks on both sides, so you need to shoot right down the middle, and when you get out of the first section, don't try to turn into the next right away because the current could flip you...just allow the current to take you to where the water stops moving so fast then readjust for the next set of fast-moving water.

Once through that section, we had a good amount of paddling before our last portage into Gneiss Lake. As many other people here have pointed out, the landing on the north side of that portage is muddy - particularly on the right side, and it's that smelly muddy stuff!

We were hoping to land a spot on the island to camp, but it was already taken, so we pushed on to try to get the campsite right at the entrance of Devil's Elbow, which I had read was decent. Because of my experience, I told one of our group members to stay at the campsite just north of the island campsite just in case the one in Devil's Elbow was taken. Based on "group moral," I could tell that they didn't want to be traveling anymore. Also, the weather was starting to turn, and most of us were anxious to set up camp.

My canoe went to Devil's Elbow alone to stake out the campsite, but the wind was whipping through that section so hard that we could not move forward. As we would find out the next day, Devil's Elbow empties into Gneiss Lake, so with that current plus the wind, we would never make it through.

We turned around and made camp at the one where we left some of our party. We all wanted to hammock camp; unfortunately, this was a TERRIBLE site for six hammocks. There were about 2-3 perfect spots, but the other 4-5 spots were ones we had to get creative to make work. Needless to say, finding the right place for our hammocks was the least of our worries.

Before I go into the bad news, here's a great picture of the sunset from our site that night.

Our first night was brutally cold. But I'll save that info for the next few days since most of the suffering was that morning...

~Larch Lake, Clove Lake, Gneiss Lake

Day 3 of 5
Tuesday, July 30, 2019: After a long night of rain and heavy wind, everything calmed down at about 4 am. I was okay temperature-wise...I had a 30-degree sleeping bag. Two other guys said they were also okay because they had sleeping bags, but the other two had a miserable night. Looking back at reports, it had dropped to about 36 degrees, and none of us had under quilts. So both these guys FROZE!

On a side note, two years ago, I went. It was so hot that I couldn't take off enough layers, so I didn't realize how cold it could get - but I did purchase a portable sleeping pad, which I ended up not being able to use because I was trying to help the two guys who only had light blankets. Actually...they were the blankets you get when flying Delta!

So, after a brutal morning, we made breakfast, and then I went fishing. I caught a good-sized northern pike and a smallmouth bass while the other guys I was with caught a pike. Those three were enough to feed the six of us for our late lunch/early dinner. All those fish were caught in the small section emptying into Devil's Elbow. We caught NO FISH the whole trip on Gneiss Lake, but it should be said that we only tried shore fishing on Gniess Lake. ~Gneiss Lake

Day 4 of 5

Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Again, everyone was cold, and even I was miserable. We would figure out how to use our rain tarps to "burrito" ourselves to try to create an insulative barrier from the cold - which worked - but it was a brutal night.

Most of us were tired from being up all night, so most everyone chilled on the campsite or literally slept. I went fishing, but that's because that's one of the main reasons I go up to the BWCA :)
~Gneiss Lake

Day 5 of 5

Thursday, August 01, 2019
I forgot to mention it took us about 6 hours to go from Larch Creek to Gneiss on Monday, and that was with us trying NOT to take multiple trips. When we left this morning the weather was already turning bad and we were tired so we made the decision that we were going to take two trips even if it potentially meant a longer trip back.

It only took us 4 hours! Lesson: take multiple trips because you move faster with lighter weight than lugging with lots of weight slowly.

Once we got back to our entry point, we were told that the ranger station would be open and we could use the phone there. There was no one there. This is the only reason I would not go in on Larch Creek in the future. Fortunately, I was able to hitch a ride about an hour later from someone who stopped to use the bathroom at that station.

Overall it was a really great trip and I'll definitely be back again.

~Larch Lake, Clove Lake, Gneiss Lake

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