BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

June 24 2017

Entry Point 25 - Moose Lake

Moose Lake entry point allows overnight paddle or motor (25 HP max). This entry point is supported by Kawishiwi Ranger Station near the city of Ely, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 21 miles. Access is an boat landing or canoe launch at Moose Lake. Many trip options for paddlers with additional portages. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 27
Elevation: 1356 feet
Latitude: 47.9877
Longitude: -91.4997
Moose Lake - 25

Quetico Solo with/Dog through Louisa, McEwen, Falls Chain, and Emerald

by TomT
Trip Report

Entry Date: August 28, 2013
Entry Point: Moose Lake
Number of Days: 11
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
A solo with my dog Luna doing a nine night loop in the southeast corner of Quetico Park in Ontario Canada. I would soon learn that this would be no ordinary solo trip. The parts of this that are in quotes are taken directly from my trip journal.

Day 1 of 11


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“My adrenaline wouldn’t let me sleep and I kept waking up in the night so at 1:45 AM I decided it was time to go. I did all the things like eat, make coffee, shower, and wake my wife Mia. The truck was previously loaded and my preparation was good this time but there’s so many details that go into a trip like this I was still unsure if I wasn’t forgetting something.”

I am taking my two year old Border Collie “Luna” with me and it is a first for both of us. She has experience riding in the canoe on local lakes but has never canoe camped. This is my 14th overall trip to the Boundary Waters and I’ve never had a dog with before.

The clock reads 2:58 as I pull out of the driveway after our goodbyes with Mia. Luna hopped in clueless and we took off in the dark.

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I love traveling at this time of the morning. The anticipation is high and there’s no traffic to frustrate us as I sail through the one lane construction zone up to the Wisconsin border. Our goal is the small ex mining town of Ely Minnesota. Outside the window it‘s black and the air is warm and humid. The radio is playing oldies from the 60‘s and ‘70‘s. “At one point I catch Luna studying my face for clues, as if trying to find out what this is all about.” She’s a little restless in the truck but after I walk her at the first stop for gas we both settle in and make good time arriving in Ely at 1:15.

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It’s hot out, around 85 and sunny. I shop in Piragis (local canoe outfitter with awesome store), pick up my SPOT locator from Voyageur North Outfitters, then get a fantastic double cheeseburger and chocolate shake from DQ. Being a border collie of two years Luna needs to run after our long drive, so I grab the frisbee and throw to her in the downtown park. She loves it but the heat takes it toll on us and we soon rest under a shade tree. We sit and watch the tourists and trucks roll by with canoes strapped to their tops. Luna, we’re not in Illinois anymore!

Soon we are off down the Fernberg road and pull in to William and Hall Outfitters on moose Lake where we will spend our first night in their bunkhouse - basically a room with bunks and a shared restroom in the hall.

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Luna seems relaxed and I let her off leash as we meet fellow trippers on the back deck. She greet them all and loves the attention. We talk about our upcoming canoe trips and everyone is in good spirits. We turn in at dusk and I’m glad the room had a large window fan as it’s still warm and humid. Around 9:00 a serious thunderstorm with wind blows in and shakes the place. Luna is not a fan of thunder and she cowers under the bed. We find out the next day that some trees are down with lots of debris scattered about. It was quite a scary storm there for a bit and I wonder how my tent would manage something like that.

 



Day 2 of 11


Thursday, August 29, 2013

I’m up at 5:30 and bring the canoe and gear out to the dock where it will be loaded into a tow boat. At 7:00 I head to the dining room where I’m the only one eating. The waitress is also my cook and she couldn’t be nicer. Everything is great and soon I am down at the boat where our driver has everything loaded and ready.

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I always take the 20 minute tow boat ride to the Quetico Park entrance as it saves me about 2 hours of paddling time through three connected lakes. Soon I unload the gear and take the short portage over to the Prairie portage Ranger Station where I will need to check in prior to my trip.

The ranger falls in love with Luna and has her daughter and their own dogs in the office. We chat about my route and I show the necessary documents to enter the country. I’m now in Canada and it feels great on a beautiful sunny morning.

The route I take looks like this with Prairie Portage at the bottom. I will be paddling a clockwise route.

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Prairie Portage beach landing, the gateway to Quetico Park from the southern side.

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Our first day route looks like this. I have my sights on an island camp in the middle of Louisa Lake.

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We soon shove off the beach with Luna taking her place in the bow. I wonder if I’ll see the Inlet Bay bald eagle here as on past trips. Sure enough as I enter big Bayley Bay there he is up in a snag, the great overseer. I absolutely love these big birds.

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My focus so far has been on Luna. I watch her and assess how she’s taking it all in. She doesn’t seem very impressed by the situation and it’s not long before she just lays down as I paddle across the bay. About 75 yards to my left, another solo boater with a dog heads in the opposite direction most likely finishing up his trip. He also is using a kayak paddle in his canoe but he has his dog riding in the back. I wish we were closer to have a chat but all we can do at this distance is give a wave.

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We take a right into Sunday Bay where I unload and get ready to portage. The packs and canoe are heavy and I double portage - which means, it takes me two trips to haul all my gear across the rocky trail to Sunday Lake. Luna is very happy to finally be able to stretch her legs a little but she stays close as we make our way along the easy trail.

Working out an efficient portage routine doesn’t take long now. I keep Luna’s PFD on her the whole time we travel. I bought her a vest for this trip from D-fa Dogs and love everything about it and she seems comfortable with it.

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We paddle with a slight tailwind up big Sunday Lake and soon see four women in two canoes coming our way. We exchange hellos and I find out they are ending an eight night trip and had great weather and a good time. We pull in to the next portage landing and start the first of two moderately difficult portages in and out of Meadows Lake.

Their lengths of 193 and 140 rods alone make them respectable but what makes them doubly tough is the rocky path very typical up here.

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Luna getting down and dirty. If only she could help with a pack or two…

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We hop through Meadows Lake to start the next one which is even rockier.

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Before the trip I worried about these rocks. I did these portages in 1992 and my memory of them was that I would be lucky if I didn’t twist an ankle. I worry about Luna now but she has no trouble at all and just skirts around all the rocks like doing an agility course. No, this girl is doing just great.

During the second Meadows Lake portage it starts to lightly sprinkle. By the time I am loading for the second carry it’s a steady rain. At the Agnes Lake landing I put on my rain jacket and decide to hang under a pine tree and wait it out with some lunch. Luna wolfs down her food so I give her scraps from my fresh turkey sub.

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The rain slows a little so we press on over to the fantastic Louisa falls on the portage from Agnes to Louisa Lake.

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In ‘92 it was a hot sunny day here with my younger brother and we spent time lounging in the awesome “bathtub”, a five foot deep pool right under the falls. Today I don’t even entertain the thought. My concern now is how we’re going to make it up this rooty goat path of a portage next to the falls. It’s not long at 17 rods but it’s about as steep as they come with lots of slick granite and tree roots for hand holds.

This picture doesn’t do it justice. It’s not a trail but more of a rock and root wall on a 35 degree slope. The rain is coming down steady now and the roar of the falls amplifies our situation.

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“I decide to triple portage and we both have a very tough time. Luna needs help getting up some of the slick walls as she can’t pull herself along like I can. Going back down (with no gear) is worse. I would never attempt going down this with a load if it was wet like this. No sir, that’s a broken leg or fractured hip waiting to happen.”

Despite her trouble, Luna figures it out. I am totally wiped out after this. We take a needed break and wait out the rain under some cedars at the top of the falls.

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Louisa is a big clear water lake and it’s where I plan to set up camp for the night. Thankfully the rain all but stops as we cross. I know of a good island site here in the middle of the lake so make a beeline hoping it’s vacant. Thar she blows! My aching back and shoulders thank the vacancy god of Louisa Lake.

The site is a good one perched about ten feet off the water. Lots of level space for tents and nice trees for the tarp. “I’m really wiped out now and struggle to bring the packs up a hill to the eating area. I first rig the tarp in case of rain. Then the tent, clothes line, filter water, and feed Luna but she doesn’t eat. The wind is up now and it will help to dry things. Both packs got soaked along with all the clothes I was wearing. Not a great day weather wise but we got through it. At least it was warm, around 75-80 degrees so I wasn‘t cold despite being wet.

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Ever patient Luna lays down with her Frisbee while I make camp.

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After setting up I explore the island with Luna. We follow some trails in back and investigate pretty good. Everything is soaked but the water drains very efficiently back into the lake so there’s few puddles and no mud to speak of.

I’m not hungry so we pass the evening lounging out front with hot chocolate on some nice sitting rocks. “I want to listen to the weather radio and check out a book I brought called “Quetico Adventures” by Tim Mead. There are loons on the lake. Luna is hearing their call for the first time and she perks up her ears and cocks her head. It’s great to be back here in canoe country. It’s not long and we’re in the tent for a well earned sleep.”

 



Day 3 of 11


Friday, August 30, 2013

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“We experienced a rain like I can’t remember last night. An extremely hard downpour for maybe 1 and 1/2 hours with thunder and lightning. The tent did ok and we were sheltered from the wind. I woke up in the night with a bad headache. Most likely dehydration.”

I’m sore and slow moving today. It takes a long time to eat, do all the chores and then pack up. I’m just trying to get used to everything again. Find out the best way to pack everything in the packs. I use a small pack (BWJ Guide) which I carry with the canoe. In here I try to keep it as light as possible. My gear pack (CCS Pioneer) is comfortable with a heavy load and it’s packed up to the max. Carrying Luna’s food takes up some weight and space so I left my chair and depth finder (for fishing) at home to compensate.

Today started gray but has now cleared off to be warm and sunny with very little breeze.

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I’m in no hurry and go for a swim to clean off yesterday’s grime. I dry off on the porch rocks and bask in the sun. I’m going easy on myself as I am feeling the effects of yesterdays exertion . The map shows Glacier Lake to be ten portages to the northeast and we will shoot for it.

My route this year is inspired by a trip report I read a couple of years ago by a friend who goes by the name “Ho Ho” on BWCA.com. I use notes from his report and others for referencing the campsites and portages I’ll encounter. This area of Quetico is one I haven’t been to before and my route has three sections comprising a loop. This first leg runs northeast from Louisa Lake to the “Falls Chain”. We’re taking the rugged and scenic McEwen River chain of mostly small lakes and streams to get there. It’s off the main routes but it’s just how I like it!

We’re packed and ready to hit the road at 10:15. “The first portage is a doozy at 96 rods (a rod is a measurement for portage lengths and is approximately 16 feet long). It’s got bugs, a nice trail, and is overgrown in parts. It’s very narrow and to make it worse is very wet from all the rain last night. The tree roots are very slick and I avoid them. There’s also a boggy section that has a lot of water but no mud.”

I’m using a wet foot boot which has built in drain holes. I wear thick wool socks and even though my feet are wet I hardly notice. To me it’s better than trying to keep your feet dry and tippy toeing around at the landings. I used to trip that way and it was frustrating. Now I just go with it and so does Luna. She’s become a pro at hopping in and out of the canoe on command.

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We then enter small Arp Lake then a short 25 rod portage into Star Lake. The landing out of here is difficult to find but my notes from Ho Ho’s trip report help me find the right channel that leads to the portage. We go 52 rods into Fauquier Lake. I now have to make a decision. Do I continue on to Glacier or just call it a day? There’s very few sites to choose from between here and there. I’m feeling sluggish today and my body could use a rest so I decide to take the last site across from the exit portage.

That’s one of the benefits of going solo - I can do whatever it is I decide to do. The site is decent if not small. Lots of grass and certainly doesn’t get a whole lot of visitors.

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On past trips I had converted to sleeping in a hammock which I really love. Because of Luna coming with this time Mia gave me the ultimatum - “She sleeps in a tent with you or she doesn’t go”. I wasn’t about to argue much because I had doubts about her sleeping outside by herself too. So I found a great deal on a discontinued tent from Sierra Designs called the Lightning Strike 2. It weighs three pounds and is made for two people. For me and a dog it is perfect!

“The eating area is exposed to the sun and Luna has taken to laying in the bushes. It must be cool in there.”

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I get to play a little Frisbee here with her. She loves it and would play forever if I let her. “I put her PFD on and get her to swim with me for about 15 seconds. She’s not very comfortable in the water so I don’t force things and help her out. I take a good dip and a breeze helps with the bugs as I dry off in the sun.”

“I eat lunch of salami, cheese, cookies, Atkins bar, gorp, and ice tea. I couldn’t get Luna to eat. Hopefully no rain is in the forecast and I can get an early start tomorrow.”

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Day 4 of 11


Saturday, August 31, 2013

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I wake up with a headache again. Need to drink more water. After eating breakfast of oatmeal and a power bar I feel pretty good. I’m not so sore this morning. The light easy day yesterday was just what I needed. The weather stayed nice and sunny around 80 degrees and we have a slight tailwind which is always appreciated. We get an early start as we need to make nine portages today to reach McEwen Lake if we are to stay on schedule.

“Saw some scenic portages especially the one out of Fauquier (72 rods) to Dumas Lake and also the one coming out of Glacier Lake.

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Soon we were on the long and winding McEwen River. You get a very remote feeling on here and I was hoping for a moose sighting. It seems we’re in the middle of no where and now I notice the quiet. In the suburbs there is the constant buzz of distant traffic and jet noise. Here on the slow moving River we wind our way in silence except for the natural sounds of birds and fish swirls. I’m finally starting to slow myself down and adjust to the new rhythm of my surroundings.

Luna seems to want to crash. And crash she did! This shot of her curled up in the bottom of the canoe is my favorite pic from the trip. She slept like this for most of the river and I took the shot as we entered big McEwen Lake. I think all the stress of our new adventure finally caught up to her.

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On McEwen I pass on the four star, so called “Hilton” site and circle some islands to the north hoping for a not so used camp. I try to find a good 3 star site on the next island. I never see it from the water and it appears to be all closed in. I then swing over to the south shore to check on a 4 star in a bay. We land and get out to investigate. I don’t like it and it gives me the creeps. Trees are down and it’s too closed in. The deal breaker is that the tent area is a long walk back in the woods. Nope! We’ll take the “Hilton” after all.

And, it’s fantastic! A great place to layover. I rig the tarp over the sitting area, pitch the tent on a little peninsula in a grove of trees, wash my clothes and hang to dry then take Luna swimming off the beach. I get her out there but after actually swimming she heads out and shakes off. She then saunters up under a big bush to sleep.”

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The water and beach are really nice here. A great view from the island of the big western end of the lake. Me and Luna walk the trails and explore the island before I try to feed her. She wants no part of her food. I make myself chicken enchiladas by Nature High and they are pretty tasty as far as freeze dried food goes.

After stashing my food (from bears) under some bushes in the woods, we follow a beach trail that leads to a nice sitting rock jutting out into the water. A good place to dive and swim I think.

The forecast calls for heavy storms with dangerous winds tonight. Right now it’s the calm before the storm and the clouds are still and eerie looking. Some big thunderheads are off to the north. On trips like this the weather can really affect everything you do. I don’t know how much my new tent can handle as it seems a little on the fragile side. Thankfully I’m pitched in a grove of pines that should help keep the wind off.

Notes from the day: “I should have packed a bone for Luna. She seems to get depressed and will lay under bushes. She took her Frisbee and laid with it. I forgot her toy too. Well, the bugs are coming out now, time for the tent.”

Tomorrow is a play day as we plan to spend two nights here.

Tour of McEwen Lake site.

Quetico 2013 McEwen Site Tour 0001 from Tom Basso on Vimeo.

 



Day 5 of 11


Sunday, September 01, 2013

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Well, now I know what my tent can handle. Last night as we lay in the tent just before dark, a nasty thunderstorm rolled in. We could hear the thunder crashes getting closer and Luna practically laid on top of me. She started panting and that signals anxiety.

Strong wind gusts bent in the walls of the tent to the extent that I had to brace the left side with my body as I was afraid the stakes were going to pull out of the ground. The rain and frequency of the lightning was intense but luckily it was over in about 15 minutes. The tent did just fine and the stakes held in the ground. When it was done thundering Luna relaxed and we both had a good night sleep.

We awoke to a very dark gray day. I made coffee and prepared a Hawk Vittles “Breakfast casserole after setting Luna’s food out for her.

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Luna didn’t eat at all yesterday and initially didn’t want her food this morning. I helped her out by mixing in some of my food with hers and that did the trick. The Hawk Vittles was very bland and I don’t like how you can’t seal the pouch after you fill with boiling water. Later in the trip I solved this by using wooden clothespins to clamp the bag shut so the hot water wouldn’t leak out.

Today I will finally break out the fishing gear and hope to have a fish dinner tonight. Light rain and mist come and go and the wind is up a little. With a packed lunch and the fishing gear we shove off around 9:00. My plan is to fish while circling the islands and see if I can locate a couple more campsites along the way. I tie on an X-Rap crank bait and troll as I paddle. I’m using my single blade canoe paddle as it’s much easier when fishing. Real quick I get a nice hit and land a chunky 16 inch smallmouth bass. I’m near a flat spit of rock on shore so I pull over and filet the fish.

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“Off trolling again and while bumping the bottom I feel a weight. I wasn’t snagged and could reel in but there was something on the line. Suddenly I felt some movement and knew I had a fish on. Not much fight at all until it was near the boat. Whoa, then it really came to life and dove strong to the bottom. My drag was singing and I kept the rod tip high and let it run. After 10 minutes or so of this back and forth I finally got a look. Sure enough it was a large northern pike."

I didn’t bring a net so relied on a pair of “fish grips” to secure the lower jaw. On the first try to lift it in the boat all the thrashing made me set it back in the water. This is one strong fish, and hefty too. I gathered myself and in a swift motion hauled it up and into the boat. Quickly I removed the treble hooks with my pliers and I’m so glad Quetico requires barbless hooks. Next I got out my tape measure and from the end of the lower jaw to the tip of the tail it was 40 inches on the button. The girth on this fish was impressive and it’s obviously very healthy.

During this whole time Luna is calm and just watching me from the bow. I never like to eat trophy fish and this would be way too much food anyway so I clamp the jaw and lift it over the side. Working it back and forth to force water into it’s gills I try to revive it. It’s not rolling over which is a good sign but it doesn’t want to swim. I keep working it for a good 10 minutes before having to let it go as a rain squall moves in. It swam along the surface and hopefully survived.

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Now it’s really coming down and I blast over to the near shore where we hide out under some trees as the squall passes. A half our later we’re back on the water and it wasn’t long before I caught the twin smallmouth to the first. I was near an exposed rock peninsula so pulled over to clean the fish and eat the lunch I brought with.

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We then launched to follow the islands around the other side. Squalls of low foggy clouds with mist came and went. We trolled and picked up two more smallies which were released before pulling back onto our beach.

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Now I needed to gather dry wood for a fire so me and Luna went down the trails on a mission. It was really tough as everything was soaked from all the rain. After much trying and using fire starters I brought with (dryer lint and commercial fire sticks) I finally had a smoky pile going. I waited to get some nice coals before putting two foil packets with the filets in oil and seasonings right on top.

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I mixed some chunks into Luna’s food and we both got full. A delicious bass dinner. Name the movie reference for bonus points.

After cleanup I tried to get Luna to fetch the Frisbee in the shallow water with the goal to get her to swim for it. Well, she wasn’t falling for it and refused. So I found an open area and basically rolled the Frisbee for her and she had a ball chasing it all over our campsite. She’s just not into water as much as our first border collie who loved to swim.

“I’ve been hearing both a mature and a juvenile eagle from over on the north shore of the mainland but have yet to spot them. It’s in the back of my mind that a big eagle might want to go after Luna. Their talons would easily kill her before I could help. I’m always looking into our trees and also keeping her close. I like that she hides out in bushes when laying down.”

The forecast calls for the high 30’s tonight. I spread a sleeping pad and a fleece blanket next to me so Luna won’t have to sleep on the cold tent floor. After fishing off a point we hit the tent at dusk and I read for a while using my headlamp. The computer man on the weather radio promises us sunny weather for awhile. That cheers me up.

 



Day 6 of 11


Monday, September 02, 2013

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Wearing a hat along with my long underwear kept me warm during the night. We wake to a chilly and breezy gray day. The wind is in the trees. I make breakfast of oatmeal with dried strawberries. A power bar and strong coffee round it out. Good stuff from the French press. As I clean up a mature bald eagle flies into our camp and perches high in a tree. It sits there the whole time I pack up and leaves when I load the canoe. Hmmm, I wonder if it was curious about Luna or maybe it knows there might be food scraps around.

We’re packed and on the water at 9:30. There’s no goal for today and we will take what comes our way. We’re going to travel and portage along a series of waterfalls called “The Falls Chain”. It’s been on my bucket list of places to travel in Quetico for awhile now and I’m excited to go.

We bid adieu to “The Hilton” on McEwen Lake.

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It’s a long paddle on McEwen against the wind to the portage landing that goes to Kenny Lake. I’ve decided to take the longer more scenic route. I passed up an earlier short cut portage to the Falls Chain but would have missed two of the waterfalls. I feel good so we start the little used 253 rodder to Kenny. This would be the longest portage of the trip and yes, it’s as tough as advertised. Luna loves the trail no matter how tough and scampers up, over, and around with no problem. She’s having a good time.

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The landing at the end of the trail is messed up with a large deadfall blocking the way. To load the canoe we both have to wade in black mucky water up to my butt. On top of that it stinks. We paddle through Kenny where I notice the west shore showing the effects of a large forest fire back around 1995. There’s new growth trees among larger burned out trunks.

Soon I hear the rumble of Kenny Falls. With all the recent rain the falls are roaring as we get close for the next portage.

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By now the sun’s out and we take portages passing Koko and Little Falls.The trail is much more open now as the Falls Chain gets a lot of visitors. We haven’t seen anybody since early on our first day but as I pull up to the portage for Koko Falls I see a large green object coming out of the forest. The older man unloads his canoe in the water and we exchange hellows. Soon another older gent follows up with a pack. Luna starts to growl as we sit offshore in our canoe. They are curious about her and I assure them she’s ok it’s just that it’s been awhile since we’ve seen any people.

Luna quickly makes friends with both of them. We talk and see each other as we cross back and forth along the portage. Nice guys from Michigan who have been coming up here together for years.

It’s smooth sailing now and the day is warm and beautiful as we launch into Wet Lake. I pull in to an empty campsite and we eat lunch. I’m getting pooped now and it’s 3:00 so I decide to look for a site soon. After 45 minutes of more paddling we come upon a nice falls with an open campsite right next to it. This is it, we’re done. The camp is on one side and the portage is on the other so we will get some privacy. It’s a real nice site right near the roaring falls.

I set the tent up not bothering with the tarp this time. I go for a cleanup swim with Luna as we are both muddy. I had to coax her in and she gets out rather quickly but at least she got clean. There is a real nice flat rocky area with good sitting rocks out in front of the falls so I take time to dry off in the sun. There’s not a cloud in the sky and there will be no moon tonight. I’m hoping to come out to this point after dark and check out the stars.

I play a fun game of Frisbee with Luna then see that the batteries on my Steripen water filter have died. Big mistake not bringing back up batteries. Now I have to be real careful where I collect my water. I take the empty canoe with Luna out to deep water and fill our bottles. Drinking right out of the lake tastes so fine. It’s pretty much like drinking bottled water up here.

I cook up the Hawk Vittles “Bison Stew” tonight and it’s real tasty. It will be interesting to see how I sleep with this roar of the falls nonstop.

Bald Rock Falls.

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Video of the falls and camp.

Quetico 2013 Bald Rock Falls Comp 0001 from Tom Basso on Vimeo.

 



Day 7 of 11


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

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Last night was the coldest yet. I went out of the tent for a bathroom break and the sky was amazing. The Milky Way was brilliant. I was tempted to just lay out on the rocks and watch for awhile but the chill drove me back inside.

“I got up at 5:30 to a solid wall of fog on the lake. I had let Luna out as usual before I got dressed and now she was nowhere in sight. I got nervous and yelled her name. No response. It wasn’t until walking the path to the top of the falls did I finally see her trotting along the trail toward me. She was probably just being curious and didn’t hear me calling her above all the noise. Whew, scared me there for a bit.”

The view up the falls.

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Top of the falls.

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The front porch.

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The harbor.

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The weatherman promised a bluebird day of 80 degrees. The fog burned off as I ate my oatmeal and then struck the camp. I change into shorts for the first time on the trip. We shove off at 8:15. The first portage is right on the other side of the falls and it’s basically a giant open flat rock shelf of 11 rods. Hence the name Bald Rock Falls I guess.

Two more portages and with one of them having a perfect rock at the landing to rest the big pack on. This could be my favorite landing of all time!

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Here I catch Luna patiently waiting for me to unload before leading me on the portage. Her routine now is to scout a few yards up the trail first then come back and watch me prep the canoe to portage. This is a dog who doesn’t know the command to sit so she was never “posed” by me. If I say “sit” she will lay down. She knows “come” and “stay” and is very good at those and that’s good enough for me. We got her at a year old and the breeder did a fantastic job of training her. Bearfoot Border Collies on the Illinois/Iowa border. Bearfootbordercollies.com

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Our goal for today is somewhere on The Man Chain. The Man Chain lakes are a string of east west running, very scenic narrow lakes. They have names like Other Man, This Man, and That Man. Somebody had a good time naming these.

Exiting the Falls Chain we come out onto huge, island studded Saganagons Lake. Gotta pay attention to the map here as it’s very easy to get confused among the islands and sure enough, I get confused. I figure it out and then make the right turn which signals that I’m on the last leg and on my way home heading back west.

Now I feel the wind pick up to a stiff breeze right in my face. I need to do some island hopping and try to stay in the islands wind shadow. I’m on the long west arm of “Gons” and fighting the wind badly. I zig and zag my way until finally pulling into a protected bay where the portage to Slate Lake lies. It feels good to stretch our legs here and we stop to eat lunch.

We shove off with renewed energy. The wind still slaps me in the face but I pull hard on the kayak paddle. Once through Fran Lake we come to a 74 rod portage that leads to Bell Lake. I tell myself that I’ll go for a site on Bell as I’m pretty beat right now. This portage is where I do something completely stupid.

From my notes. “Well, we were returning from dropping the first load on a long portage and I wondered why an obvious detour was built in the path. On the way back I saw why. At the detour there was a steep sheer slap of rock that was on the former path. Well, Luna thought it to be no problem and just walked down. I saw this and thought "I can do that!" Lets just say I'm very lucky to not have broken my hip and elbow. Very foolish to think I can do what dogs can do!”

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I got very lucky here and my hip and arm were hurting. My hand went numb for awhile and my elbow was very sore to the touch. What a goof and definitely thankful but sorry I had to learn the hard way.

Once on Bell Lake I headed for a 4 star site that I had marked on the map. It’s open and looks nice from the water. It sits way up on a bluff with the landing around the corner. The entry is a narrow slot in mucky water and immediately I don’t like it. The site is very overused but is large. After hauling the packs up the hill to the sitting area I scope out tent pads. Not too good and I settle on one without roots but it’s not level and will have me sliding in my bag during the night.

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We’re both exhausted and Luna finds a nice bush to hide from eagles in.

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There’s no good shore here for swimming and when I wade out by the landing my feet kick up lots of silt. No swimming tonight. I wash off my arm then do some first aid on it.

I cook up a dinner from Hawk Vittles called “Chicken Pilaf” which turns out to be good. I mix some chicken chunks in Luna’s food which she appreciates. After dishes are done back in the forest I see Luna wading out by the landing to drink water. I’m on the high bluff rocks overlooking the lake with a commanding view. I use my new Crazy Creek canoe seat for a chair and it works great. I’m really wiped out this evening from all the paddling against the wind.

“Here comes Luna now and ugh! Her legs are covered in dirty silt water. I immediately downgrade this site to a two and ½ star. The sitting area here is good but the place lacks charm and is completely overused with terrible tent pads.”

I read my book (which is excellent) out on the rocks until turning in for the night. There’s a loon on the lake and he calls but no one answers. The forecast is for no rain and a cold night. Good sleeping weather.

 



Day 8 of 11


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

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I set the alarm for 5:30 for a fast getaway. I woke up and let Luna out but crawled back in the bag for awhile because of the chill. I dozed off and woke at 6:15 startled that Luna was gone. I quickly got dressed and called her name. She came trotting up right away.

Breakfast was oatmeal with dried apples, a powerbar, and coffee. I really like this breakfast as it’s fast and there’s little mess. It’s 8:15 when we launch and another beautiful sunny day ahead.

Getting ready to load the packs. This is all my gear.

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The obligatory selfie. Nope, I don’t shave during my canoe trips.

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Luna basks in the sun on Bell Lake.

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The wind gods took pity on my sore back by giving us a nice tailwind today. Thank you Mr. Wind god. We had a long paddle with the target being Emerald Lake. First we had the Man Chain to deal with. The lakes here are narrow with bluffs on either side.

3 portages get us into Other Man Lake and as I round the corner from the landing I see a man having his coffee on his bluff campsite. We wave hello and I continue on. A 49 rodder puts me on This Man. It’s then a long haul past beautiful islands and sheer rock walls. After a short 19 rodder brings me into No Man Lake we stop for lunch.

My lunches are basically the same everyday. You got yer salami, prevalone cheese, gorp, chocolate chip cookies, beef jerky if I feel like it and sometimes an Atkins bar or a Clif bar. I sometimes mix up crystal light lemonade or iced tea ahead of time. Hey, everything tastes good out here.

At the portage for That Man lake we run into a couple of younger guys going the same way. We chit chat a little and I find out they are brother in laws. One from Houston and the other from Knoxville. Luna has really taken a liking to them to the point where I have to tell her to leave them alone. She can bug people - even strangers, by pushing up their arm with her muzzle in the hope they will pet her. At the landing they decide to stop for their lunch and I take their picture and say I will email it to them. Neither of them brought a camera this time.

We continue and veer left where two short portages get me into Emerald Lake. Now, I’ve heard people rave about this lake for years. Apparently the water is a very green color hence the name. Supposedly there’s a fantastic site way in the back of the lake among some giant - and very old cedar trees.

We paddle down a narrow channel after the portage before entering the main lake body. Yes, I have to say the water here is different. I’ve seen green water before but it was usually a farm pond with a lot of algae. This almost feels tropical. The water is very clear and you can see white limestone reefs down in 15 feet of water and along the shores of islands. Definitely a different vibe here than any other lake I’ve been on.

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We paddle down to the eastern end where I’m hoping the good site is open. I get close to where it’s supposed to be but don’t see much in the way of a campsite. Then, as I get closer I see a narrow opening. The landing is small and I pull in.

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I’m amazed at this fantastic site all but hidden from view from the water. It opens up into a multi terraced old growth forest with a clear pine duff floor. A great fireplace set against a huge rock and up above this is a real nice penthouse tent pad with a great view.

I choose a real nice sheltered spot down a level from the eating area for the tent. Out in front of the fireplace it opens onto a granite porch with nice sitting rocks just above the lake. Off the left side of this is a nice swimming hole which you see pictured here.

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This is the eating area which has two nice benches for seating. In this pic I’m brewing coffee in the green French press and that shiny foil looking thing to the left is a food pouch cozy which you put your freeze dried food pouch in to keep warm as it cooks and re-hydrates.

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On solo trips I try to go as light as I can so there’s very little fresh food beyond the first day. It’s usually instant oatmeal or freeze dried entrees. All my food fits into a waterproof pet food vault. It’s the white plastic box in the pic to the left of my shoes drying against the log.

Luna found a nice place to nap down by the landing while I set up camp.

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I eat then go for a swim before reading and writing in my journal by the water. It appears that I have the lake to myself. I will be laying over here for another day so tomorrow I’ll do some fishing and exploring.

 



Day 9 of 11


Thursday, September 05, 2013

I slept warm in my hat, long johns, and socks despite it getting fairly cold in the high 30’s last night. Luna has started to chew her sleeping pad and rip out the insulation. I regret not bringing any rawhide bones for her. She has a lot of downtime when I’m doing chores.

I made breakfast and packed a lunch for our day trip today. Another spectacular sunny morning with a mist on the lake.

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The plan is to go around the corner down a bay to the east end and take the portage into Plough Lake which is said to have good smallmouth bass fishing. There’s also rumours of a large stand of old cedars on the portage. I rig up the rods and we’re off.

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At the Plough landing I see the trees. Some of these could be 300 years old. It’s a beautiful trail with boardwalks in places over the mud. Luna is very happy to be on the trail again.

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The put in at Plough is mucky but I had fun fishing the lake and while I caught 11-12 fish only 2 were decent size. I lost a nice one when it jumped and spit out the single hook on the spinner bait. At the end of the narrow lake I retraced my way and went back to camp for lunch at 12:30.

We headed back out to fish on Emerald making a clockwise loop around the lake going around islands and into bays. I meet another solo canoeist and as we chat I realize it’s the guy who I saw at his site having coffee on Other Man. He’s only passing through on his way to the Gunflint Trail.

The fishing is slow but I do keep 2 decent smallmouth for supper. I filet them on a bare rock sticking out of the water. Luna does not like when I hit the fish with rocks to kill them and gets visibly upset. This time she hid in some thick bushes and wouldn't come out. I had to pull her by the collar. Border Collies can be extremely sensitive dogs. I think she got scared by the violence of it. It's not something I particularly enjoy doing either.

Back in camp it’s easy making a fire as previous campers left a pile of cut wood for me. I'm thankful for this.

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The fish turns out great and Luna gets some too mixed in her food. I go for another swim after cleaning up. What a great place to swim and I dive off a little 3 foot platform rock. A group of 3 canoes with 6 middle aged women cruise past my site around 6:00 and I overhear their disappointment when they notice that this one is taken. They continue on up a ways and grab a nice 3 star on the south shore. I can hear their voices as they set up camp maybe a quarter of a mile away.

There’s a few loons here and they call to each other at dusk. It’s a beautiful sunset from the porch as I read my book.

 



Day 10 of 11


Friday, September 06, 2013

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“In the early Am (5:30?) Luna was awake so I let her out. I woke around 6:30 and lay in till 7:15. No hurry today as I’m only making 2 portages to Birch lake. When I come out of the tent Luna is nowhere to be found.I called and called again. No Luna. Oh boy…

I called louder and from the back I heard the faint jingling of her collar.She came trotting back down the trail and was happy to see me. I smelled something bad by her mouth and she must have been into something back there. I hope she wasn’t digging up someones poop or old food scraps.”

Down the back trail there’s a big clearing where I think a lot of campers go to do their business. I try to stay away from the obvious spots when I go to wash the dishes. Luna always comes with and sits and watches. I love the smell of the earth up here. It’s the best dirt on the planet. This is called a “cathole” and used for dishwater, food scraps - which I never have with a dog around, and human waste.

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It’s cloudy and still this morning. The skeeters are bothering me during breakfast. It’s gonna be warm around 83 degrees with a 20% chance of rain. It’s my last full day up here so I thought I’d do a beard check selfie.

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I’m still rigged for fishing so on the way out decide to hit some sunken reefs I could see in the middle of the lake just north of the big island. I thought for sure I could catch walleyes here but I had no luck.

I have trouble finding the portage out of emerald at the west end and it turns out my map has it marked in a different bay. The one marked is a very old un maintained portage. While looking for it I accidentally startled Luna when I bopped her on the head with my fishing rod. She just jumped out of the canoe. Boom! She was in the water. Luckily we were in a narrow bay so she could swim to shore. She found a nice flat rock by the shore to wait on as I swung the canoe around to pick her up. I had a good laugh at this one.

I did the 73 rod portage into Carp Lake and then it was a very long paddle down this twisting lake. I passed some sites with campers. Lots of activity around here. I’m getting closer to civilization for sure. At the east end of Carp I took a 45 rodder to Birch Lake where I planned to make my last camp. I met a couple here and the older man said it was his first time in Quetico. He really got on well with Luna. She just loves everybody.

At the Birch end of the portage I met two young guys taking a break. They had a Grumman Eagle canoe. This was the exact canoe that I got for my 23rd birthday back in 1983. One said he got it on Craigslist for $450. My girlfriend bought mine new for $650.

They were both newbies to canoe camping and they carried LOTS of stuff. Mounds of gear including full size giant tackle boxes. They’ll learn soon enough that they won’t use most of it.

I had an island site down near the far end of Birch marked at 3 stars. These are campsite evaluations made by other people who have used the site and usually found in trip reports on canoe camping websites. A little research goes a long way so I target this site and hope it’s unoccupied. Luna settles in for the ride.

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Island site dead ahead. No tents or tarps are seen. I’m happy as a pig in …

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The landing is around the right side and it’s not the best and I need to drag the boat up on land.

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The small island has a path running the length of it. Unfortunately there’s old toilet paper exposed in spots where campers didn’t bother to bury it. I think this place gets a fair amount of use but I like it. There’s lots of places for tents and I take one right out front. There’s a real nice bluff about 15 feet off the water to sit.

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The fireplace is not the best but with some decent log benches it could be just fine. I get set up and we go exploring. There’s a nice area to play Frisbee so we have a go at it. Here’s a compilation video of the times we played Frisbee on the trip. Luna is not a swimmer but she sure loves a good catch.

Quetico 2013 Luna Frisbee 0001 from Tom Basso on Vimeo.

The evening is perfectly still. There’s two loons out front that do some kind of dance together. They circle each other real close bobbing their heads then dive under together. It’s quite a show. At one point they flap their wings facing each other and then one of them storms off beating the water with its wings. I catch some of the aftermath of this on the video.

Quetico 2013 Birch Lake Tour 0001 from Tom Basso on Vimeo.

Later I sit and watch the water from the bluff sitting directly over the water. Soon I see 3 beavers in single file come swimming around from the side. They pass right under us and peer up to look. There’s no tail slaps as these guys must be very familiar with campers here.

The last one is the largest and he actually stops in front and floats while looking up at us. It’s hilarious as Luna is looking down on this chap probably wondering what on earth it could be. It finally ambles on to wherever they are going around the island.

This turns out to be a very magical night for us. A little while later as the sun sets we hear a rustling in the forest over on the near shore of the mainland. There’s a pause then we hear it again. Large branches breaking and crunching. Something big was walking through there near the shoreline. We went over closer but couldn't see it but it was there alright.

Luna, started to growl. Soon she let out one single loud bark. "RUFF!!" It echoed around the lake. Now, this is a dog who rarely barks but she was obviously concerned here. Well, it made its way away from the shore after that. I never saw whatever it was but did hear a high pitched bleating noise. My best guess is that it was a cow moose with a young calf.

In this pic you see the shore and Luna intently focusing on the sound.

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Now you’d think I would be hearing and seeing all this stuff deep in the interior of the park right? Well on this trip I didn’t see much wildlife. Lots of eagles and loons but not much else until our very last night and we were only a 2 ½ hour paddle from the outfitter. Go figure. Birch Lake is beautiful this night and now I remember why I come back up here year after year.

 



Day 11 of 11


Saturday, September 07, 2013

I set the alarm for 5:30 and woke up before it went off. It’s very calm and warm and the sunrise is beautiful.

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I make a strong pot of coffee and only eat a powerbar and a couple of cookies. All the food I have left is 3 freeze dried dinners. I did well with my packing this trip.

As I load up a bald eagle flies into our site and sits in a tree maybe 25 feet from me. This is the 2nd time this has happened on this trip. On the McEwen island site an eagle did the same thing. I’m wondering if they are checking out Luna. Luckily she’s tucked under her bush.

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The skeeters are out and make me hurry while packing. We’re out of there at 7:35 and it’s one portage into sucker Lake then a 2 hour paddle down Newfound and Moose and back to Williams and Hall outfitters. I take my time and savor this last day on the water. I see the tow boats whizzing by with campers just starting out. It’s a gorgeous day to be in Quetico.

I settle up with the guys at the outfitter and get a shower before leaving for Ely. I check in with Mia on the phone then, with Luna I walk the main street of downtown. As is my custom I stop in for ice cream at a local shop. No one is there and I wait with Luna by the door to be served. I go for a big chocolate shake this time and the girls in the shop are all over Luna who eats up the attention. Ely is bustling pretty good this Saturday. 

It’s been a different kind of trip this time for me. I went solo but with Luna there it felt like anything but. It was a good trip and she did just great. We hopped in the truck and drove home into all kinds of traffic. Welcome back, rat race.

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