Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Quetico 2009: Of Good Food and Good Weather
by Mad Birdman

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/13/2009
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 6
Trip Introduction:
Each year, my group takes a trip to the Q in June, and planning the route, looking at maps, and researching places takes up a good chunk of the long winter months. Our group size varies between 4 and 6 usually, and in this year's group we were glad to have Pete along. Pete has been serving in the Army in Iraq and Germany, and has now been stationed back in the US (at Walter Reed hospital in Washington, DC). He had been to the BWCA and Sylvania before, but of course was unable to go to canoe country during his overseas deployment. Now that he was back, he could go with our group and not have to reply on only reading the trip reports to follow our progress. Another friend Brett was along this year, who had gone with our group back in 2006. He used to be a guide for a camp in Quetico, and has extensive canoe tripping experience, including whitewater paddling and even paddling through a previously un-navigated river in the Arctic. During Brett's first trip with our group, he kept fairly quiet during the trip, but afterwards his wife let us know that "he nearly starved out there" and that we didn't pack enough food. We are single-portagers who don't usually bring in any fresh food at all and reply on the usual staples of camping fare, but we think that we do OK. We started bringing in steaks for the first night a couple of years ago, and we have enjoyed that. So, when Brett wanted to come along this year, he volunteered to plan the menu, do the shopping, and generally oversee meals, that was just fine by me. We had planned an entry through Stanton Bay of Pickeral Lake, and were planning on working our way down through Dore, Twin, Dieux Riviers, and Upper Sturgeon, before getting to our "target" lakes of Russell and Antoine. We would exit via the main body of Sturgeon, and then go out the Maligne River. Mother Nature changed our plan about 10 days before the trip and the road to Stanton was no longer accessible. The park did offer to honor our entry permits at French Lake, which would have added some miles both on the road and paddling. I was reluctant to do so, because that would mean paddling west to east across the main body of Pickeral, which didn't sound too appealing. The other option that made some sense to me was both entering and exiting the Maligne River. Noone likes to paddle upcurrent, especially during the spring, but I thought at least it would save us time on the road (we were going to be getting shuttled by Anderson's) and with my luck with the wind, avoiding big water also made sense. This proved to be a very good decision as Day 1 of the trip unfolded. So, we switched our permit to Bell Island, and I was just hopeing that the Maligne would be kind. It's funny how all of the planning and research just can change that fast, but that's part of the adventure I guess. So, four of us met up with Greg and Pete (who had flown in to Duluth) at Gander Mountain in Hermantown, MN and the group of six was complete after introductions. A stop at the Sawmill in Virginia for dinner is mandatory for us when heading this way, and we drove though some heavy rain to make it to Crane Lake by 9pm. I should point out that our last two trips have been marked by cold, windy and generally nasty weather, and I had packed a bit heavier this year due to this fact.
Day 1 of 8
Saturday, June 13, 2009

We were up early for our last showers and hot breakfast, and were on our tow boat heading up through LLC, customs, and the two mechanized portages. We posed for a group shot at the Loon Falls portage, and I was happy to see that the falls were not nearly as full as last year. I love that feeling on the first day of a trip, when you are ready for anything.

What was also encouraging was that it was turning out to be a heck of a nice day. We stopped at the Canadian Ranger station to get our fishing licenses (which featured some interesting music choices), and were dropped off at the floating dock at Bell Island. It was as we were loading our boats there, that a terrible thought came to me: "Where were my maps?" I had a set of four MacKenzie maps all marked up with campsites and even some fishing spots, but I had managed to leave them in my car when driving it back to the outfitter's after dropping the guys and the gear off. We had the Quetico official park map that we always carry as a backup, as well as a few copied sheets of some old Fisher maps that I had brought for the other boats. So, it was not like we were without maps at all, but now I was going to have to rely on my memory for the recommended campsites. It appeared that my whole winter planning sessions were being left for naught. On the water by 10am, we got through the swift current upriver of Twin Falls OK, and were treated to some really glassy water.

We did the short liftover at Tanner Rapids, and we realized that we had been lucky to be wind-sheltered thus far. Sure enough, a strong west wind was kicking up as we crossed Tanner, and it was stiff enough that we were able to get the boats together and get our tarps up for some sailing. Steve and Greg held the "jib" in the front of the floatilla, while Brett and I held that large blue tarp as a "mainsail" while Brian and Pete steered. I snapped a picture of our bowmen: 

We sailed upriver from Tanner, all the way until past where the cutoff for Poohbah Creek is, and we were thinking that we were glad that we weren't heading east into that wind across Pickeral, as our other trip route would have had it. We stopped for lunch at a campsite just below Flat Rapids, knowing that some of our tougher paddling through current was still ahead of us. We pressed on through the three sets of rapids with portages around them. At the second set, we were unable to get out as there was a large group of people waiting on the portage entrance. Out of the woods came three huge voyageur-style canoes, each one holding six guys. They all were bright yellow and and the logo for Atikokan High School on the bow, and all of the group had matching yellow life jackets. It was a high school group with 14 students and two chaperones, but one of the kids had his arm in a sling, and none of them seemed in a good mood. I had never bumped into that big of a group in the park before. I was getting a bit nervous about what type of waves Sturgeon would have on it since paddling upcurrent was getting to our shoulders a bit, and I couldn't remember the locations of many of the Sturgeon campsites other than the sandy beach on the south shore. It was about 5pm when our paddles dipped into Sturgeon, and what I didn't want to have to deal with was a tired and hungry group searching around a huge lake for a campsite. As we turned the corner westward though, luck was in our favor and the wind was a nice tailwind, but not so strong that a lot of rollers were created. Also, we had already seen more sunshine on day 1 than we had all of last year's trip. We moved up to the 5-star sandy beach campsite by 7pm, and settled in at that awesome spot. Group morale was high as Brett pulled out some fresh mozarella and basil for our first-ever camp "caprese" salad.

The New York strips hit the grill next, and we enjoyed them with a box of Cabernet that we had brought in.

The food was awesome and we even managed to get out the fishing rods and throw a few casts in around the point. A smallish bass bit a topwater bait, and we figured that was another good omen.  We were treated to a calm sunset and, as expected, sleep came easy to us that night.