by Ho Ho
When we climbed out of the tent about 7:15 at our Glacier Lake campsite, we were greeted by another warm cloudless day. The sun was already lighting up the opposite shore -
Only a slight shimmer disturbed the mirrored reflection of trees and rock in the water -
We were grateful to be on the eastern side of the lake this morning and have total shade for several hours. It seemed like a good day for pancakes, which take longer to make one at a time than other breakfasts. I was growing to love our new bear vaults. They double as excellent stools when cooking and eating. And nature had built a handy table for the stove this morning -
We pushed off from shore a little after 10:30, around the time some sunshine started to infiltrate the trees above us. Looking back at our campsite -
It was a short paddle up to the north end of Glacier -
We only had three portages today - two short ones along McEwen Creek just below Glacier Lake, and one long one from McEwen Lake to Kenny Lake. This picture looks back from the landing for the first portage, where the creek exits Glacier -
Between trips across this portage we paused to explore the creekside. Not that we actually posed for any pictures or something like that -
This short portage ends at a wide spot in the creek, with the next portage visible just ahead -
We paddled across and made quick work of the second portage. This is the downstream landing of that portage, where we began a longer uninterrupted stretch of paddling on McEwen Creek -
I remembered the creek between Glacier and McEwen Lakes as a wide, beautiful stream between high cliffy shores topped by large white pines. But while the creek is wide and beautiful, on the whole the shorelines were low-lying instead of cliffy, and the pines were of the jack not the white variety -
Grassy layers along the waterline -
We did come to some dramatic cliffs further downstream (though no white pines) -
After the cliffs, the creek wends through a somewhat more brushy boggy environment. It got a little shallow in places around here -
Before long we were approaching the mouth of the creek where it empties into big McEwen Lake -
We made a pit stop at the south end of the lake and decided to paddle about half way up it before stopping for lunch. For a couple days now, ever since we left Louisa Lake, the wind had been blowing from the north. But it had not really been a factor on the smaller lakes of the previous days. It was a different story on wide open McEwen. Still, we were thankful for the breeze on this warm sunny day, even if it did mean paddling into a moderate headwind -
We stopped for lunch in the narrows between the north and south halves of McEwen. There's a good-looking campsite on a small island there. But we wanted to stop at a different nearby site that we stayed at in 2001, when the island site was occupied.
From our lunch spot we could see across the bigger, unobstructed north basin of the lake. McEwen's northern reaches were burnt in 1995 by the vast Bird Lake Fire and are now a sea of 16-year-old jack pines. I think maybe because those trees are still relatively small, it creates the illusion that the north shore is further away than it really is (more evident in real life than this picture) -
We didn't have much memory of our 2001 campsite. I guess that's because it's nothing to write home about. Basically it's a small open grassy spot that's pretty heavily used, presumably because it's near the easiest access point to McEwen via Wet Lake (which was the way we came in 2001). We found a little shade where we ate lunch. Then I purified some water with the Steripen, which was last year's great addition to our kit -
By the time we got back on the lake after lunch it was almost 2:30. The wind had picked up some more, and we were fully exposed to it in the open north half of McEwen. After paddling across the entry of the large bay that extends toward Wet Lake, we followed the eastern shoreline of McEwen northward, arcing a bit east. Along the way, the headwind became more of a side wind. The cliffy and burnt shoreline of this part of McEwen was pretty cool, but the wind conditions prevented us from stopping for any photos.
After about a half hour of paddling, we ducked into the little bay where the portage to Kenny Lake begins. Looking back from the portage landing -
At 255 rods, this would be the longest portage of our trip (although not as long as the two Meadows Portages combined). We had decided to take this portage instead of the easier Wet Lake route mostly because we had never been on this portage before. And going this way would allow us to travel the entire Falls Chain tomorrow, whereas Wet Lake would have deposited us in the middle of the chain, so we would have missed the downstream groups of falls if we'd gone that way. Aside from the North Portage between Bayley Bay and Sunday Lake on our first day, this portage from McEwen to Kenny was the only part of this year's route we had never been on before.
The portage turned out to be pretty interesting, for two reasons. First, it's in or on the edge of the Bird Lake Fire zone. Second, it begins with a steep ascent up a ridge that you traverse for about half the portage before descending steeply back down into a moist valley that takes you the rest of the way to Kenny. But since that valley extends all the way through to McEwen Lake where the portage begins, it's not really clear why you go up on the ridge in the first place. Anyone know?
The picture below is a view back down to McEwen Lake after ascending part way up the ridge. Although there are miles and miles of young jack pines reforesting the Bird Lake Fire area, it looks like red pines are the pioneers here -
Maybe they were seeded by the survivors on the ridge across the valley -
There are also patches of young aspen and patches of young birch (like this one) on the burnt parts of the ridge -
The edges of fire zones can make for some scenic mixes of new growth, old snags, and venerable survivors -
As mentioned, about halfway through the portage it drops down to a moist valley that extends between McEwen and Kenny and was untouched by the fire. There's some really big birches down there. It looked like the trail might also get pretty wet in a rainier season, for example in this patchwork of roots -
Finally the portage ends at a long east-west arm of Kenny Lake -
The lake arm continues inland as a grassy marsh next to the end of portage -
As you can see in the pictures above, much of the shoreline of Kenny Lake was also burned in 1995. But there's a point where we stayed on our big loop trip in 2003 with a campsite shaded by tall red pines that escaped the fire, and we were hoping to camp there again tonight. We crossed our fingers hoping the site wasn't taken. We hadn't seen any other people since Agnes Lake on the first day of our trip. But we were now back to a busier route along the Falls Chain to Kawnipi.
As we paddled up Kenny, we could see and hear Canyon Falls, which we would portage around tomorrow. And when we got into the main part of the lake we could also hear the distant thunder of Kennebas Falls to the north, where Kenny Lake and the entire Falls Chain makes its final plunge into big Kawnipi Lake. Kennebas is the only falls in the chain we did not see this trip. In my recollection its also the least dramatic cataract in the series, because the water simply drops over a single low ledge of rock. But I think I've read or been told (maybe by ranger Jason at the start of our trip) that more accidents happen at Kennebas than any of the other falls. I wouldn't be surprised if people underestimate the force of the river cascading over that ledge.
With the sound of the falls echoing around us, we paused to admire Kenny Lake. I believe this picture looks back toward the McEwen portage we had just crossed -
Moments later, about 5:00, we arrived at our campsite and found it unoccupied. It looked like we would have another night of solitude on Kenny Lake. The site was a bit more beaten down than I recalled, but still really great. The local loons were being vocal, a pair of eagles perched in the charred pine snags across from us, some white-throated sparrows sang. I even thought I heard the song of a winter wren, a novelty for September.
After dinner we settled in with a little Maker's Mark. Canyon Falls roared just out of sight, while the nearly full moon rose above the opposite shore -
For some reason I had trouble sleeping that night. But I never really mind lying awake listening to the sounds and the silences of nighttime in Quetico.