Only in today's world could an adventure to a remote wilderness area be planned on the internet. BWCA.com provided the conduit that brought together Jan (kanoes), Kyle (whiteH2O), and Dan (kiporby). Using our high speed internet connections we spent many a hour chatting online about our beloved Boundary Waters. Somewhere in cyberspace amongst the electrons carrying stories about canoes, gear, tents, and past trips came the idea of tripping together.
We decided to meet last fall to discuss trip ideas over some dinner at a restaraunt near Jan's place. Admittedly it was a little odd meeting complete strangers that you only really knew by their cyber names. Would these people be what I envisioned? Would Kanoes walk in, take one look at me and decide he'd be better off turning around and going home? Well, with all the joking and ribbing that occurred it became pretty obvious that we would have a good time together. We began to formulate a plan and decided on a 8 day trip to the Man Chain in Quetico.
This would be a trip of many firsts. A first canoe trip to Quetico for Jan and Kyle, a first canoe trip in a solo canoe for Dan, and a first trip together. We decided to enter the Man Chain from Cache Bay (EP 72) and use Seagull Outfitters on the Gunflint Trail for our bunk, tows and one solo canoe rental. We agreed on a "Group Solo" format meaning that each of us would use a solo canoe and supply all of our own gear and food. Aside from a few meals no food or gear would be shared. The idea being that we could stick together as a group or separate into solo side trips if we choose to do so.
A May trip was agreed upon to try out luck at Spring lake trout fishing and to experience the Quetico just after ice-out. We would actually enter the park the day before it officially opens, so obtaining an EP permit wouldn't be neccesary as the Canadian ranger stations have self-issue permit kiosks during the off season.
We booked the trip with Seagull Outfitters in January and began working to obtain our RABC's, passports and Ontario Fishing Licenses. The next few months would be spent planning, packing and repacking, and of course chatting! May could not come soon enough.
Day 1 of 9
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Jan, Kyle and I met at 9am for breakfast at Betty's Pies in Two Harbors. It was a typical May day along the North Shore: cold, rainy and foggy. As we were eager to make our way to the end of the Gunflint Trail, we made only a few stops. We checked out the camp store at Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte and gassed up the cars at Buck's Hardware in Grand Marais. We ran into Dave from Seagull Outfitters there. He joked with us about the weather forecast for the next few days saying he heard something about 30 mph winds. (We would find out soon enough that he was not really joking.) The rain stopped as we made our way up the trail and the sun peaked out from time to time. It was sure windy along the trail and it turned out that this would be an ominous forewarning to one of the themes of our trip.
Halfway up the trail, we stopped in to see Mike and Lynn at Rockwood Outfitters on Poplar Lake. Jan had used them in the past and wanted to check in. Mike was working to get his cabins ready for the season and he gave us a tour of the Rockwood Lodge. The lodge was built in the late 1920s out of native Norway red pine. What a neat place!
We continued up the trail and arrived at Seagull Outfitters around 2pm. By this time it had warmed to almost 70 degrees as the sun was more persistent, but so was the wind. White caps were clearly visible out past the bay that the outfitting buildings reside on. We met up with the owner, Debbie Mark to go over the route and pick out a solo canoe for me. She kindly marked up our maps with information on campsites, portages and "secrets". Sorry, the secrets will remain secret! It is always interesting to hear stories from the long time residents of the Gunflint Trail. She grew up on Round Lake and has spent almost her entire life on the Trail.
After a quick paddle, I decided to rent the Wenonah Prism over the Old Town Penobscot 15. The Prism is about 12 pounds lighter and faster in the water than the P-15. The choice was an easy one. We then got settled in the bunk house, got the canoes loaded on the truck for our morning shuttle and made final arrangements with Debbie regarding our tow. We decided to book a Saganaga Entry Permit, so we could camp on the American side of the border along our route if we needed to.
We heard that prime rib was the special at Trail Center, so for dinner we headed there. Sue was our waitress and boy is she a hoot. She is hilarious and those of you have met her you understand what a treasure she is to the Trail Center experience. The prime rib was excellent as was the service.
We headed back to the Seagull and relaxed on the dock talking to some of the staffers and casting a few. I caught a couple nice bass on a blue and silver Wiggle Wart. It would turn out this lure's work had just begun.
Jan, Kyle and I took one final look at the route maps before we retired for the night and drifted off to sleep.
Day 2 of 9
Thursday, May 14, 2009
We woke up early for our 8am tow. It was 38 degrees, windy and snowing. We did some final packing, had a quick breakfast, and loaded our packs into the Seagull truck for the short shuttle ride to the Saganaga Lake landing. Dave looked at us with a smile and said, "What? Did you think I was joking?" The stiff north wind solidified the decision for the tow to drop us off at American Point rather than Hook Island. Hook Island is across the Canadian Border on Saganaga Lake and is right in the middle of the lake. The tow drops you there for Quetico trips since it is within the Quetico boundary and so you don't need a BWCA permit. Dropping off at American Point technically requires a BWCA permit even if you are entering Canada. But in the spirit of safety the outfitters have an agreement with the BWCA and Quetico that American Point drop-off's for Quetico trips are allowed should the weather warrant it.
Another group was being towed to American Point at the same time as us, so one of our canoes rode with them. As the tow began through the Sag Corridor, we became cautiously optimistic that the wind would not be so bad. However, any hopes of reaching Canada today were quickly dashed when we caught site of the big part of Saganaga and realized just how angry she was. The north wind brought rain, sleet, and snow with it. The driver recommended that we turn around as face backwards. It was probably best that we didn't see what was coming. The tow boat constantly slammed against three foot roller as we slowly made our way across. By the time we reached American Point we were cold and wet. We were relieved to be on dry land and felt sorry for the tow drivers that now had to motor back through the torrent.
We gathered our gear and our thoughts as we determined our next step. The other group seemed content to stay put, so we knew we should move on. Getting across Sag and Cache Bay wasn't going to be an option, so we decided to head for the campsites around the corner from Rocky Point. Rocky Point is a small point that is part of the larger American Point. We could either hump our gear through the woods or brave the water and paddle. We scouted the land route first and decided that we'd prefer to give the water a shot. We carried our gear to the other side of Rocky Point and made our run. Once we got around the next point we were fine as we were able to tuck behind an island and keep out the wind. We picked the western campsite on that island.
The campsite had a nice view to the west of Cache Point and good wind cover for the tent pads. It was a huge site with pine needle carpeting and a nice quiet bay behind it for fishing. We set-up Kyle's CCS lean shelter and got a fire going. After some lunch we pitched our tents and teamed up with our three Sven Saws and hatchets for an impressive wood pile. It remained windy and cold well into the afternoon. Around 4pm the wind started to die down so Jan and I headed out to fish. I caught a pike for dinner and Jan and I spotted a moose along the bay behind camp.
We shared pike on the half shell for dinner. What a great way to cook fish. You fillet the fish and leave the skin on. Cook it skin side down on the fire grate, season, and eat it right off the grate. No mess, no clean-up. The meat flakes right off the Y-bone and skin. Burn the skin when done. I also had a ribeye while Jan and Kyle had brats. It turned out to be a great evening as the wind died off completely and it even warmed to around 50 degrees. We enjoyed a nice conversation around the campfire and agreed to head out early tomorrow (5am). We didn't intend for a layover on the first day, so we would try to make up for it tomorrow and cover some ground.
Day 3 of 9
Friday, May 15, 2009
We woke to a beautiful still morning on Saganaga and tore down camp as the sun rose. We ate breakfast on the water (breakfast bars) and had an easy paddle to the ranger station in Cache Bay. It was quite peaceful paddling so early in the morning with the sun rising behind us. Arriving at the ranger station, we tied our canoes to the dock and obtained our permit at the self-issue kiosk.
Continuing on we headed towards the river channel that leads to Silver Falls. The easy paddle continued and I even caught a nice lake trout trolling that blue and silver Wiggle Wart just north of the ranger's island. I was just about to comment to Jan and Kyle that I had never seen Cache Bay so calm when (you guessed it) the wind picked up and so did the waves. A strong wind out of the southeast quickly got Cache Bay rolling. Luckily, we were close to the channel and took solace that we reached it safely.
The river channel above Silver Falls is a neat area. A rock wall flanks you on the north side and you can almost hear the sounds of the famous battle that occurred there years ago. Soon enough the roar of Silver Falls took over and it was time for our first portage.
The portage starts with a rocky climb with the falls on your left. A few short trails at the start provide some great views of the falls. Silver Falls is always impressive and at high water it is just awe inspiring. The last remains of winter remind us just hold cold the water is that is thundering by. After carefully stepping down a steep rock ledge, the remainder of the portage is mostly downhill and rocky. Some recent dead falls make the portage a little more challenging than usual. The gentle glisten of the sun on the calm waters of Saganagons Lake greets us at the end of the portage.
We made our way across the current below Silvers Falls and headed north into Saganagons. Instead of taking the pullover short cut directly towards the portage to Slate Lake, we decided to paddle and fish our way around the peninsula and take the long way. We didn't catch any fish, but it was a great morning for a paddle. These smaller bays and lakes really do protect you from the big waves and wind that can be occurring at the same time on a larger lake. We stopped at the "Kitchen Site" on Saganagons for a break. It has a great fire pit with large counter top type stones and a great sitting bench. A nice tent area is in the back down a short trail to a grassy meadow. When I stayed at this site in 2003, Kerry Leeds, the previous owner of Tuscarora Outfitters remarked, "Oh, you stayed at tick meadow!" I don't remember having any issues with ticks back then, but it still remains a humorous comment to this day.
We pressed on towards Slate Lake and after a short up and over 5 rod portage we were there. Slate like southern Saganagons had rock cliffs on both sides making for stunning scenery. Aside from forgetting my fishing rods at the portage and having to back track a little, we pretty much paddled through Slate Lake towards the creek leading to Fran Lake.
We were able to paddle the creek almost the whole way to Fran Lake. Right at Fran were a few low beaver damns that we pulled over and lined our way past. We stopped for lunch at the campsite on the far end of Fran Lake. We discussed our game plan for the day and decided it would be best to take advantage of the nice weather and make a push for Other Man Lake. Being 5 portages and 4 small lakes away, we figured we could be there by dinner time.
The 74 rod portage out of Fran Lake to a small unnamed lake was a difficult uphill climb. After a quick paddle we were on the 18 rod portage into Bell Lake. This one was much easier and through a swampy pine and cedar forest. A soft pine and moss carpet is always nice change after a rocky portage. It should be noted though that this portage is on the south side of the creek rather than the north side as both Fisher and McKenzie Maps indicate.
Bell Lake was an enjoyable paddle down a long narrow lake. The sun was still shining brightly and it was starting to get breezy again. In fact, the wind seemed to be swirling and switching directions every few minutes. On the horizon to the north was the explanation. Dark clouds were off in the distance coming from the north. The 21 rod portage out of Bell to another unnamed lake was similar to the portage at the other end of Bell. It also followed a small creek. After a another short paddle we found ourselves on one of the toughest little 4 rod portages you may ever find. Straight up hill. Our effort was rewarded with a view of several small waterfalls alongside.
Next was another unnamed lake and the last one before Other Man Lake. Strangely, this lake is very shallow at first with a greenish tint and once you pass through the narrows the last little bit of the lake is very deep and a jet black color.
The 39 rod portage into Other Man Lake can be a bugger. It starts with a steep uphill climb that leads to a huge rock face that you must traverse the crest of. Going down the other side of this rock face leads to a deep thigh sucking bog. There are several logs that have been laid across it, but balancing on these can be tricky. Jan and Kyle were able to make it across unscathed, but I managed to sink up to my knees a couple times. Good times!
As we launched onto Other Man Lake the wind picked up (again) and it started to rain. We made our way to the 5 star island campsite and arrived around 6pm. We set up camp in the rain and had dinner under the rain tarp. It rained all night and got windier and colder as the night progressed. The weather front from the north had arrived. Too wet for a camp fire tonight. Going to bed wet and cold makes for a miserable night. Good thing for spare clothes.
Day 4 of 9
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Morning brought with it the sound of more rain and wind. It was very cold and we were all reluctant to leave the warmth of our sleeping bags. The call of nature eventually forced me out of the tent only to discovered it was not rain I was hearing. It was snow. A nice dusting of snow had covered the camp and it was still snowing sideways! Jan and Kyle seemed content to stay in their tents for a while, so I took the time to capture some video and pictures of the moment. Definitely a first for me being snowed on during a canoe trip!
It continued to be very windy that morning so we set up an additional tarp as a wind shield to our eating area. It worked to a degree, but when the wind is swirling that much no tarp set up is perfect. We spent most of the morning huddled in our tents or under the tarp drinking coffee in an attempt to stay warm. The official temperature according to Jan's thermometer was 32 degrees. The wind chill certainly made it feel colder. I think we all had every layer of clothing on possible.
The snow finally stopped around lunch time and the sun started peaking out. After some lunch we hung up all our wet stuff. With camp in order I headed out to fish while Jan and Kyle stayed in camp enjoying the improved weather. Fishing in a solo canoe on a gusty day can be difficult. I managed to catch a pike before retreating back to camp for a break from being blown around on the lake.
The weather continued to improve and by mid-afternoon the snow was completely gone. We managed to gather some wood for the evening fire and take some photos. The island camp on Other Man Lake is truly a 5 star site. It sits high above the water on a point with a commanding 270 degree view of the area. A large cliff and deep water in front of camp would make this a great place for some cliff jumping on hot mid-summer days. The tent pads are small, but we managed to fit in 3 tents easily and have room to set up our tarp near the fire pit. The sitting area around the fire pit is also very nice.
One of the nice features of a group solo trip is that you can pretty much do you own thing without impacting the rest of the group. While Jan and Kyle seemed content to hang around camp I was getting a little antsy. I guess being confined to one spot by the weather all morning got to me more than I realized. The wind had pretty much died down, so I decided to head out for a little exploration trip. I had been on Other Man Lake previously in 2003 and attempted to bushwhack my way to nearby Bock Lake. Not making it then was always a big regret for me, so I was eager to make another attempt this time. Bock Lake is connected to Other Man by a shallow boggy creek that runs between a pair of cedar and pine lined ridges. High water enabled me to paddle about a 1/3 of the way before a series of beaver dams and waterfalls forced me to walk the rest of the way. The trek was a combination wading through knee deep muck and balancing on floating bogs, but after about an hour I made it to Bock. Finally! Mission complete! By now the day had really warmed up and the sun shone brightly. I enjoyed a cold one from "Bock" Lake taking my relief on a nearby rock while enjoying the view of the sun sparking on Bock's crystal clear water. I was pretty proud of myself for finally making it especially after such a challenging start to the day. Someday I'll have to return to Bock Lake with a canoe, wet my line and see what I can pull from the depths.
I returned to Other Man Lake the way I came and being near dinner time I decided to troll my way back to camp. With my trusty blue and silver Wiggle Wart I caught 5 pike on the way with one being a nice size and losing another alongside the canoe. The barbless hook ban in Quetico is really no big deal and being able to land several pike in a row is a testament to that. The one I lost was not even hooked as the fish was just holding the lure in its mouth. I met up with Jan and Kyle at camp just in time for dinner. It turned out to be a clear still night with a nice sunset. What a contrast to the start of this day! The remaining daylight passed away as we enjoyed a nice fire and told stories.
Day 5 of 9
Sunday, May 17, 2009
What a difference a day makes! We awoke to a beautiful still morning and even heard the birds chirping. I am sure even they appreciated not hearing the wind for a change. It was nice getting dressed without having to wear long underwear and a stocking cap. Jan made us eggs, sausage and hash browns for breakfast. Another advantage to a group solo is the abundance of stoves. We each pitched in a stove and a frying pan and had all three cooking at once. After a hearty breakfast we packed up camp and made our way. Today's destination would be Emerald Lake which is about 10 miles, four portages and five lakes away. We would see the rest of the Man Chain today: This Man, No Man, That Man and High Man before getting to Emerald.
The 49 rod portage to This Man Lake was flat and easy. It followed a small stream through the woods. This Man Lake is very long and narrow. Impressive granite ridges flank the northern shore. We took our time paddling across This Man and fished along the way.
I caught a decent sized pike and then Jan and I both caught nice lake trout in a northern bay about halfway across. The Wiggle Wart worked again for me and Jan caught his on a blue and silver Shap Rad. Something about that color scheme the lakers like! We would have shared pictures with you of our monster trout, but I lost mine as I reached to grab it next to the canoe and Jan lost his as I was about to snap a picture. Trust me. They were huge! ;)
While we fished Kyle scouted ahead making notes of the campsites we passed. There are two great camps on the northern shore of This Man and the island site about halfway across also appeared to be nice. We stopped for a break on the western most site along the north shore. It had a nice granite front porch with a nice drop off. Perfect jigging spot for walleyes and deep lake trout. Someday we will have to return and camp there.
After crossing the remainder of This Man Lake we were at the portage to No Man Lake. Apparently, there are two portages leading to No Man. We took the 32 rod portage and saw no sign of the 60 rod portage just to north. Anyway, the portage was a fairly easy climb up before descending down to No Man. Some lakes just have a look about them and No Man Lake certainly looked bassy. It is much shallower than the other Man Chain lakes and had many fallen tress along the shores.
Soon, we were at the stream leading to That Man Lake. There is a 101 rod portage to the north of the it, but there is no need to take it as the stream is navigable. The current flows over a sandy bottom towards That Man and twists and turns around many fallen trees and corners. It was a very pretty area and a lot of fun. Jan and Kyle had an easier time navigating with their Wenonah Wildernesses being about a foot shorter than my Wenonah Prism. It became tricky at times as you had to duck under tree branches while turning.
Soon enough we were on That Man Lake. The bay where the stream enters has a sandy bottom. You could see the lily pads sprouting on the bottom. Past this area the lake deepens and looks very much like Other Man and This Man Lakes. We headed for the first camp on the north shore for lunch. We found some old rusted pipes in the woods behind the camp that were mostly likely from mining operations years ago. We had heard rumors of a possible message jar at this site, but none were to be found. After lunch Jan and I fished a bit from shore. Jan had a really nice lake trout follow his lure up to shore a few times, but we weren't able to coax the fish to bite. This camp was another nice site that would be worth a longer stay.
We headed over to the portage up to High Man Lake. The portage is not very long, but it is uphill and steep the whole way which explains why the lake above is called High Man Lake. The portage followed a stream with a neat little waterfall near the landing on High Man. The landing was a little difficult with many trees in the way, so we had to launch one canoe at a time. High Man Lake has a sandy bottom and is long and narrow. Neat rock formations stick up through the sand underwater. No camp sites exist there.
The portage into Emerald is a tad longer than the previous one and starts off going through a swampy forest. Then at the very end it drops sharply down to Emerald Lake. We took our time at this spot and had to haul the canoes down by themselves. Emerald Lake is very pretty with high cliffs along the north shore and evidence of a recent burn along the south shore. Our destination is the campsite on the far side of the lake in the northeast corner. We heard stories of huge cedars and pines behind this camp and looked forward to camping amongst them.
The campsite on Emerald is open. In fact, every campsite we've seen since this trip started has been open. We haven't seen another soul since we were dropped off on day one. Ah! A great day in the Quetico in May and we have it all to ourselves. Actually, we did not seen any evidence of people being at any of the camps or any of the portages yet this year. No foot prints, no recently burned fires, nothing. It is a nice feeling being the first ones there.
The site on Emerald is another excellent one. It has a great fire pit with a view sitting above the water, a large rock shelf for fishing, and decent tent pads back in the trees. Even a stack of courtesy fire wood has been left for us from last fall.
We set up camp and have a nice dinner enjoying the still water and watching a great sunset. We witness a pair of loons in love making all sorts of racket and chasing each other across the lake. Not a better way to end a great day than to stay up late by the camp fire reminiscing about the our experiences thus far.
Day 6 of 9
Monday, May 18, 2009
We spent today on Emerald Lake. It was sunny and warm, but very windy out of the southwest. Being wind bound, we decided to explore the woods behind the camp. Huge red and white pines and cedars dominated the area creating a forest with little undergrowth.
It was nice being able to walk around and explore. Signs of spring were everywhere with various plants and samplings pushing their way through the ground.
We poked around camp the rest of the morning. Kyle relaxed in his tent reading and writing. Jan explored the woods some more taking pictures. I headed out in the canoe for a bit attempting to fish. I'll say it again. Fishing out of a solo canoe in the wind is difficult. I did manage to find a sheltered bay near camp, but nothing was biting, so I head back for lunch with the boys.
The wind kept blowing after lunch, so we decided to explore the woods some more. I noted a small pond about a half mile to the north of camp. It looked doable so I grabbed my map, compass and camera and starting walking. The woods became a lot more dense the further I got and climbing up and over a couple ridges was necessary. The final ridge was high above the pond below. The pond was very shallow and did not look to have any fish in it as it probably freezes solid in the winter.
Heading back to camp I followed a small stream through a narrow gorge to Emerald Lake. I discovered a neat waterfall along the way. It looked like something from the Shire. I also observed some bacon rock formations along the shore of Emerald Lake. When I got back to camp Kyle and Jan were still off exploring on their own, so I decided to relax a little myself. Apparently, I fell asleep and Kyle caught me.
It was another nice evening and we fished from shore. With my trusty Wiggle Wart attached I had a lake trout follow the lure up to shore. On the very next cast the trout bit and I was able to land a nice size fish. Soon after, a crisis almost occurred. While continuing to fish my favorite lure hit a snag. Upon trying to free it the line busted. Could it be that the only lure to catch any fish for me on this trip was gone? Just as I was about to give up, Jan noticed the lure had floated to the surface several feet out. Using his net and some rope we were able to retrieve the lure. It would fight on another day.
We enjoyed a nice campfire and sunset again. It sprinkled on and off a little as some clouds started to roll it. We would head for the border lakes tomorrow and wondered if we might see other people for the first time. The "Plough Portage" was on the agenda for tomorrow. We wondered if we should dread a portage with a reputation. We'd find out soon enough if it lives up to the hype.
Day 7 of 9
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
We got up early today and tore down camp. Our goal was to reach the far end of Ottertrack Lake today. Given the wind conditions so far, we wanted to have an easy out with 2 days to go. It was a quick paddle to the portage into Plough Lake. The portage was flat, but very muddy with many logs to balance on. It was another Shire-like forest. Plough Lake is long and very narrow. We enjoyed paddling without the wind for a change. Plough looks like it contains bass.
The infamous Plough Portage was ahead. The portage was a little tricky to find. It was not at the end of the lake as drawn on the map and the landing was hidden by several tree limbs hanging over the shore. "Grueling" and "felt like pulling a plough" were some of the descriptions we had heard about this 160 rod portage.
The portage started with a slight uphill to the first boggy area. Detours and balancing rocks and logs got you past this part. After a long rocky section the portage merges with a creek. The portage and creek are one in the same the rest of the way to Ottertrack Lake. Hundreds of tree roots make little waterfalls along the way. Aside from the ankle deep mud and water, this part of the portage is not hard being a gradual downhill to the lake. The portage was not as bad as advertised in our opinion, but I can imagine it being a real treat in the heat of summer and with the bugs in full force.
We ate lunch at a campsite on the American side of Ottertrack Lake. There is a cluster of about 4 campsites on the western end of the lake. Ottertrack Lake is lined with cliffs on either side up ahead which explains the abundance of sites at this spot. During lunch the sun hid behind some clouds as a storm loomed on the horizon. We saw another group for the first in 6 days here.
The paddle across Ottertrack was uneventful except for the rain. At least the wind was not blowing. We saw the plaque for Benny Ambrose on the Canadian side and noted the location of his former homestead on the American side across the way. Kyle has read many books on the life residents of this area. It was interesting to hear his stories as we passed by Benny's place.
As we neared the end of Ottertrack Lake we starting scouting out the campsites for a place to stay for the night. An island site on the Canadian side was supposed to be nice, but unfortunately it looked abused and lacked good tent pads. Further down the we stopped at a site on the American side. At first it looked like a winner as it was very spacious with several good tent pads tucked in the woods. We were pretty angry over what we saw next. Someone had recently cut down live trees and hung the limbs between some other trees making a frame for their tarp. These geniuses also cut up the sitting logs next to the fire pit leaving a large stock pile of wood. The final straw was the mound of spaghetti sitting on the bottom of the lake near the landing. What pigs! Disgusted, we pressed on. We ended up finding a cozy little site on a point on the Canadian side very close to Monument Portage. It had two fire pits on either side of the point, plenty of space for fishing from shore, and plenty of tent pads. We settled here for the night.
Along our travels today we checked out a couple of secret lakes that Debbie had marked for us on our maps. I am always ready for a good adventure. They were difficult to get to and will remain secret. We enjoyed the feeling of seeing places that few have seen.
On the way to one of these lakes was long narrow gorge with a cool waterfall. It was at least 100 feet high and fell down the gorge at a steep angle. Another hidden treasure in the Quetico!
We had another nice night at camp. A good fire and good company in God's country make these moments special. Nights like this are one of the many reasons we go through all the effort getting here.
Jan and I fished some more from shore when it finally happened. As soon as the I felt the tug and set the hook one thought crossed my mind, "Walleye?". It felt like a walleye and sure enough it was. I had never accomplished the "Grand Slam" before on a trip. I have been close before. The most amazing part was that one single lure had caught them all. The blue and silver Wiggle Wart had done it. Chipped paint, scratches and all. Even one of the hooks on one of the trebles had been cut off from a bad snag last year.
I guess I should have retired the lure right then and there. After all, I had almost lost it the night before. But greed and visions of more big eyes took over and I cast it a few more times. As destiny would have it the lure was snagged and this time for good. A brief moment of silence ensued and perhaps even a tear was shed before I cut it loose. Sigh.
Day 8 of 9
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
We left camp today around 9am and took our time paddling over to Monument Portage. The portage was a little harder than we expected with a pretty good climb at the start. On the other end is Swamp Lake and as you guessed it, the landing is swampy. Thus, the dock at the landing since this is a heavily used portage. The portage follows the International Border with monolithic type markers found along the way.
Swamp Lake was a quick paddle. The 5 rod portage into Saganaga Lake was not necessary due to the high water, so we just paddled on through. This part of Saganaga is very pretty. It is smaller water and consists of several small bays connected by a channel of water.
We planned to paddle on into Cache Bay to stop and see Janice at the Ranger Station. Since Janice has a radio, we wanted to confirm our tow pick time and place with Seagull Outfitters for the next day.
It was very windy (as usual for this trip) and Saganaga was starting to get angry. We hugged the shore and took our time. As we rounded the corner into Cache Bay we saw a Beaver out of Atikokan land and head for the ranger's dock.
We arrived at the dock ourselves shortly thereafter. It turns out that the plane was dropping supplies and a young lady to work with Janice for the summer. We read through some of the "Camper Journals" that Janice had as we waited. Over the years many of the paddlers that have entered through Cache Bay have written down well wishes and stories of their travels. We watched the plane take off. The power of those planes is amazing. It took off directly into the wind and was probably up in the air in less than 100 yards.
From past experience I know that Janice is quite the talker and this time was no different. We heard stories of rescuing paddlers from overturned canoes, raising her kids on the island, and how she is the longest serving active ranger in the park. She has seen a lot over the years. She laughs that being isolated on that island and listening to the wind day after day hasn't driven her crazy, yet. She makes sure all of her guests understand and appreciate the dangers of the big waters around her. Janice took care of our tow arrangements for the next day over the radio and we were on our way. It was an enjoyable visit. She is a neat lady. You can tell she loves her job.
The wind was getting worse and so were the waves. Once we got out of Cache Bay we headed for the American shoreline and then hugged it closely on the way to American Point. We took the western most site on the point this time. The site is very open and huge. You could literally set up a carnival tent around the fire pit. A large beach area is on the west side of the point. With summer water levels it would be a fantastic swimming spot. Since it was around lunchtime, so we took our time setting up camp and relaxing. We all took naps. Kyle must have found the rocks too uncomfortable since he eventually set up his hammock and slept there. Jan rested in this tent. I found a warm rock in the sun to lie on.
The lake remained windy all afternoon. No one would be getting into Cache Bay today with a strong northwest wind and those white caps. The point in the distance (one mile away) is Cache Point with Cache Bay behind it.
By evening the wind had stopped and Saganaga seemed ready to rest. It was another evening of sporadic rain and a nice sunset. Jan and I fished a little with no luck. Can you believe he asked me to help him finish off the last of his Everclear tonight? Sadly, it merely a sign the trip was ending tomorrow.
Day 9 of 9
Thursday, May 21, 2009
With less than a mile to paddle and our tow pickup at noon we took our time leaving camp today. Figures Saganaga would be calmer on the last day. We arrived at the pick up spot on Rocky Point early. A few parties were dropped off on their way in and they were eager to hear about the fishing conditions and news of our travels.
Our tow arrived right on time. It was certainly a more relaxing trip back to civilization this time. Sunny and warm! Saganaga seemed so peaceful today. I guess she was glad to see us go or maybe it was just dumb luck. Who knows. [I personally think Kanoes must have done something to anger her. Probably one of his controversial posts :)] But that is how it goes on trips to the Boundary Waters. You can fight it and be bitter. Or you can take it in stride and consider yourself fortunate to have had the opportunity.
We arrived back at Seagull Outfitters and shared the stories of our travels with Debbie and Dave. It sounded like other paddlers had similar experiences with the weather as we did. We unloaded our gear, had a quick shower, and said our goodbyes.
It was a wonderful trip. As always, Debbie, Dave and staff did a fantastic job. They have a beautiful place up there and the service is always excellent.
A May trip is all whole different animal than a summer trip. The weather is more volatile and the conditions can be more challenging. The reward can be more solitude and a whole new perspective of the wild. Despite all the wind and all the waves and even the snow, I would do this trip again in a heartbeat. The Man Chain is a fantastic route. Beautiful, rugged, and primitive.
Of wind, waves and men AND warts. That pretty much sums it up.
A final word to my trip mates and new found friends, Jan and Kyle. It was my pleasure to cross paths with you on a muddy portages and share stories around warm campfires on cold May nights. I had a great time. I look forward to our next adventure. Til next time.