Quetico August 2007, Beaverhouse to French
Joe and I arrived at Canoe Canada in Atikokan. We had our map talk with Jeremy, then got our permits and licenses from Lauren. (We were renting a canoe and self-outfitting the rest.) We spent the night in the CC outside bunkhouse and since it was windy and noisy, we did not get much sleep.
DAY 1, Monday, August 27, 2007:
The CC van took us and another party to Beaverhouse and we arrived at about nine. Water levels were very low, and in addition to the normal short walk there was a “path” through trampled weeds to the mud flat and then a walk to floatable water. The weather was threatening with sun in and out as we got started. We paddled to the short [24r.] portage into Quetico’s namesake lake and took pictures of the derelict vehicle there. I really like entering the park this way!
We paddled out of the “river” section, then turned north and paddled up around the top of Eden Island to see the pictographs. We stopped at an alleged campsite [PCD site “3W”] and had a snack/lunch and saw no sign of it really being a campsite. After checking out the pictographs [or what we could find, which were not impressive] we headed back south to the main east-west arm of the lake. After we got down there and headed east, a thunderstorm and what looked like a “wall” of rain could be seen to the west. When Joe said he could hear the rainfall [I did not wear hearing aids while paddling.], we pulled over to the shore as it hit us. What a soaking we got! Then it was gone. We had to bail water out of the canoe before moving on.
At about 4 pm we stopped at a site on the south [right] shore that Jeremy had suggested. He said he remembered it from when he was growing up. [PCD site “AM.“] Site is elevated somewhat, with good views, large pines and a good fireplace with decent seating. There is room enough for a couple of tents. It was raining a little again when we set up the tarp and tent, but we did a good job and soon had supper cooking as the rain let up again. We spent a wet evening here, recalling the day’s wildlife sightings that included a big beaver, a bald eagle and many loons. We saw no one else today after the put-in. It rained more during the night and some water got into the tent due to the sloped site.
DAY 2, Tuesday, August 28, 2007:
Day dawned looking like more rain, and very cool/cloudy as we had breakfast. We packed up everything wet and got going about 9 am. After considering the weather we’d had so far and what might be ahead, we decided to go east for Jesse Lake and avoid the Yeh-Lonely route. We saw another bald eagle and the sun now and then at the east end of Quetico. The low water level caused us some problems at the first little [32r.] portage out, then some beaver engineering actually helped us at the portage [20r.] into Oriana Lake. [Fisher map shows a stream between Oriana/Jesse, but we found a small lake.]
As we approached the take-out for Cedar Portage to Jesse Lake, we saw a bunch of people and four canoes on the shore, apparently headed the same direction we were. We sat off shore and waited for them to clear, and waited, AND WAITED, and then finally pulled in and unloaded our stuff. On our first carry over and the walk back, we passed several teenagers who seemed kind of “down” or tired, or just not “happy campers.”
The portage [133r.] seemed longer, going up, up more, flat, up again, then down to a terrible [low water] put-in at Jesse. The waiting and trail traffic only made it worse. When we finally got going on Jesse, we caught up with and passed a man paddling solo [Canadian-style or “heeled over” as I later learned] who was part of the group. Joe had a little conversation with him as we passed, which I did not understand. Later, Joe told me the man was a teacher leading a high school group and that he had faked a diabetic attack for them to deal with on the portage! [Good grief!]
We paddled on and passed a pair of friendly loons and came to an island site that I had used in 1997 and called it quits for the day at about 3 pm. [PCD site “M9”] It had a LARGE resident garter snake while we were there and since then we refer to it as Snake Island. This is not a great site, but I really like the access, views, rocks to sit on and the nice pines and balsams. [It probably helped that I caught some nice walleye nearby in ’97.]
DAY 3, Wednesday, August 29, 2007:
At 5:30 am it was very cool, with dense low fog, but we could see the full moon above the fog and assumed it was going to be clear this morning. We had a quick cold breakfast of hard-boiled eggs with hot tea and got headed out around 8 am. As we paddled east up Jesse it cleared and the sky was cloudless and a beautiful blue. We passed a canoe with a couple fishing and saw a beaver do the “tail slap” very close by on our way to the portage to Elizabeth Lake. This 740 meter portage “path” was an assortment rocks that varied from softball to volleyball to basketball size [and some bigger] strewn throughout and making it a tough walk, especially on Joe carrying the canoe. Fortunately it was not steep or muddy or buggy!
We shot across the lower end of lovely Elizabeth Lake and as we did I looked up the long easterly arm and wished we had time to explore. The short portage to Walter Lake was an easy up and down and as we put in and paddled Joe remarked how clear the water was -- the clearest we’d seen so far. [Personally I thought Walter was a pretty lake but lacked interesting shorelines or islands that give a lake “character.”]
We had seen no one on Elizabeth and it appeared that Walter was deserted too. We faced a brisk headwind for the first time, going south, and stopped at a Fisher map red dot on the left in lower Walter for lunch and determined it was NOT a campsite. [Site “PW”] A solo paddler heading opposite us passed here, so maybe Walter or Elizabeth would not be empty later. I cooked the much-anticipated Knorr leek soup mix-based clam chowder, and it really hit the spot! [As I type this later, the foil pouch clams I used are no longer available.]
The very short [7r.] portage from Walter to the “pond” to the south was easy except for the drop of about 4’ of solid rock at the end! We made the short paddle across this pond and then I realized I had no map case, so I paddled back across and retrieved it. Then we attacked the terrible take-out. I needed to squat down, get each pack and pass it up to Joe and then we had to 2-man lift the canoe up about 6’ up to a semi-level, solid rocky spot for him to shoulder it for the portage [whew!]. This second [24r.] portage was unremarkable compared to the take-out. [As someone else has remarked online, we saw no sign of a single portage skirting around the pond.]
Once we paddled out onto Lonely Lake, we headed for the first [right] point to check out a campsite that was rated 3-star online, since there are only a few options here. We decided to take this site [PCD site “PU”] even though it was still early. It had great rocks to lie on or fish from and the first thing I did was claim one, wash off and stretch out to dry and relax, enjoying the 270-degree views of the lake. A south breeze blew big fleecy white clouds across the sky and I enjoyed simply lying on the warm rock and soaking up some vitamin D in this sweet spot.
The tent area was fine except that a tall dead pine leaned into the top of a nearby live one. [I’d seen this online before.] We gambled that it would not fall overnight and, if it did, it would miss the tent anyway. After putting up the tent, we decided not to set up the kitchen tarp and actually never put it up as the weather stayed beautiful all afternoon and evening. Later a busy pine squirrel and a beaver that swam back and forth nearby entertained us. There was much firewood around this site, and while gathering some I found a little cliff where I could suspend the food over some deep water and avoid the tree-hanging hassle. [The more I go, the less I like hanging the food in a tree.] After supper, Joe caught some smallmouth from shore and I watched the setting sun put a glow on the far shore. We sat by the fire after dark awhile and then turned in. Great day!
DAY 4, Thursday, August 30, 2007:
We were up before six, the sun was already hitting our east-facing shore and it was clear as a bell. The resident beaver was busy and we saw a kingfisher nearby. I fixed a slow-cooking hash browns breakfast; we ate, broke camp and got underway about nine. We had calm water paddling down Lonely Lake towards the southern portage, and enjoyed our last looks at this real jewel of a lake. The portage is secreted and tucked away in a narrows that might hold wildlife, so we paddled quietly. Instead of wildlife we saw our first people since Wednesday afternoon as a couple coming off the portage passed by.
The portage [24r.] from the lake to Lonely Creek could have been nasty after wet weather, with its mud holes and old logs but it was relatively dry and easy this day. There were distinct wolf tracks in the mud at the creek end! The creek was very clear, and it snaked along through a pretty marshy area with grasses and lily pads. The water was low and we had to get out once or twice, but the bottom was hard and sandy, which was good. At the creek’s end, the 20-rod portage was easy over a good trail, and we arrived on Sturgeon Lake. Finally! [I had wanted to come down here from Jean Lake in 1997, but the winds made paddling my Osprey solo rental very dicey so I changed the plan, but that’s another story.]
It was pretty windy on Sturgeon as we made our way out of the portage cove and turned southeast towards the gap above Scripture Island, but at least it was not a headwind. We got some wind relief from the big island, then saw a nice level rock shore on the left, and put in there for lunch just before noon. Across the way on the island we saw a tent, the first we’d seen other than ours since Tuesday on Jesse. We made quick work of some cheese and summer sausage then navigated point-to-point towards the Sturgeon Narrows opening. We turned up the narrows where a tailwind pushed us along and we soon made the opening to “upper” Sturgeon. Here the wind was starting to make waves and after consulting the outfitter’ map notes we headed for a suggested campsite. We landed on a great sandy beach at about 2 pm and planted our flag!
This site was not marked on my Fisher map and not in the PCD, and it had it all: it was huge, with tall old pines, sandy beach, nice fireplace and seating, and it was very open and airy. After unloading here, the first thing I did was sprawl out on the soft warm sand. Later, we set up the tent, but again, not the kitchen tarp. It got very warm and very, very windy and we wiled away the afternoon exploring, resting and (Joe) playing solitaire behind the tent, out of the wind. The wind blew all afternoon and into the evening, so we did not venture out and Joe did not even attempt to fish from shore. While I cooked our supper [a multi-course banquet], Joe discovered a message jar hidden in the fireplace seating! He read some of the messages and added one for us. Another glorious day in the Q!
DAY 5, Friday, August 31, 2007:
We were up around 5 am, guessing we needed to get going earlier than we had up to now. It was calm and cloudy, almost eerie after yesterday’s sun and wind. We ate a cold breakfast and were paddling north a little after seven, into a little headwind breeze. The sky cleared briefly as we reached the cove where the Olifaunt portage starts and I took a photo with some interesting contrasts between shadowed pine, water, clouds, and waning full moon. It’s still one of my favorite Quetico images.
The portage to Olifaunt Lake was flat, but muddy. Once on Olifaunt, we had to paddle into a headwind and crossing was a workout. The lake seemed deserted. At the “pinch” point in eastern Olifaunt, Jeremy had drawn a short portage and also written “paddle up?” on our map. When we reached that point, we were a little taken by surprise, as the water was so swift that we could not “paddle up” and had to jump out just before losing control, and do a short pullover.
Next up was the portage [320r/1 mile] from Olifaunt to Fern Lake. I had heard a lot about it from online forums and it lived up to its reputation. It is LONG, and we were going UPHILL, so I had to stop a few times and catch my breath. What I hadn’t expected was how scenic it was. The various views of the gorge, rapids, rocks, and water we were bypassing were worth the work and kept my mind off my aching back. By the time we had finished double portaging [3 miles] and taking some pictures, I felt tired, but it was that “good” tired feeling.
The sky had almost cleared as we paddled leisurely – deservedly so – through the pretty west narrows of Fern. Once in the wider section of the lake we saw greened-up old burns as we curved around to the northeast toward the Bud Lake portage. The water was very low here and but with our light load and shallow draft we were able to scrap by and take-out at a place where water was normally knee-deep. From there, the portage [40r.?] into Bud was easy. Bud was a pretty lake with some islands sprinkled about and Jeremy had marked several places with “w” for walleye, but we had no time to fish. We navigated through the islands passed through a narrows area and headed for the Beg Lake portage.
We carried our gear over this short portage and piled it on the huge treeless rocky point and had a snack that would be our lunch for the day. It was completely clear now with scattered fleecy white clouds here and there and Bud’s surface rippled a little in a soft breeze. This was a nice spot with great views all around and two campsites nearby and it would have been nice to linger or stop here, but after our snack we loaded up and paddled on.
We paddled NE into a little breeze and soon found the opening to the narrow channel leading to the portage into Bisk Lake. At the narrows, a mature bald eagle in a treetop watched as we paddled by. Awesome! The channel soon widened and we could begin to see the falls pouring out of Bisk and someone on the shore. This was the first person we had seen today and the only one since Thursday on Lonely. We approached the falls very carefully, taking some pictures as we neared it and scoped out the “landing.” It was a dicey take-out over deep water with no footing except on the huge granite rocks. We carefully got out and I was able to pass the packs to Joe. Then we manhandled the canoe up to where it could be shouldered.
This is as neat a spot as many of the better-known ones in Quetico, where the water drops about 10-12 feet from Bisk into Beg. After making the short [35r.] portage, we could see that the person we saw was part of a group of four men in two canoes that were loaded to the gunwales. The paddle around the corner in Bisk Lake to the next portage took only a few minutes and as we approached, it looked like they had a ton of gear including a two-burner camp stove(!) and big fishing rod cases, so we figured they’d been base camping somewhere. While sitting off shore waiting, we saw another canoe, this one with a couple fishing below the outlet from Pickerel. [Later, at home I saw a trip report that must have been this couple’s.] So today we saw a total of six people – more than we’d seen in five previous days.
The take-out here was great compared to the last one, and the 90-rod portage, uphill, was very rocky and I was pretty tired after the first leg so we looked around a little at the grassy Pickerel end and walked to where we could see the remains of the old dam before our second carry. On the walk back for the second load we took our time to appreciate the great views of the rapids, the rocky chasm, and an old busted-up canoe.
By the time we got the second carry over, I was really feeling beat. [I found out later I was coming down with a cold.] We checked the map here and paddled out into Pickerel, trying to map-watch and match up islands and coves. About 3 pm we reached a marked campsite on the west end of a small island, checked it out and decided it would be a decent place for our last night. We had paddled and portaged since around seven in the morning, making this an eight-hour day, which is pretty long for us.
The site [PCD site “1GU”] had good canoe access and a small west-facing fireplace area with limited seating. We hauled the canoe up to the fireplace and used it as a table. The small tent area barely fit our Eureka Timberline 4 and was well back in the woods. Again, we did not set up a kitchen tarp since it had cleared and looked to stay clear. We tried to rehydrate by drinking lots of fluids and even made some hot bouillon cube soup before cooking supper. [First year I’d tried these; they are a “must” item now.] We had great views of Pickerel here and good rocks to sit on or fish off of. Joe caught some smallmouth from off the south shore. I spent a lot of time before finding a half-suitable hanging tree, and then we had a small fire and watched the sunset. A few bugs bothered us just before bedtime – the first of the trip, I think. Another glorious (AND LONG) day in the Q!
DAY 6, Saturday, September 1, 2007:
Our last morning dawned clear and calm and we had breakfast and packed up our gear. Paddling northeasterly along huge Pickerel's southern shore, we dodged a little south breeze throughout the morning. We stopped for a snack break at a nice rocky point that some maps show as a campsite, but we did not see any signs of use. (PCD site “1NK” I think.) We were in no hurry, but I figured the wind would be picking up soon, so we headed on toward the narrows before the “Pines.” We arrived at the Pines sandy beach a little before noon.
We explored a little here, took some pictures of the blown down trees and then had our last lunch in the shade at the edge of the beach. There were several other canoes here and some folks who were either just visiting the area from French Lake or passing by like we were. By the time we had eaten and were ready to head on, the wind was really piling the waves up off the beach. We walked the canoe out into the “surf” a little and actually had to paddle out into the bay some to avoid paddling crosswise to the wind/waves and carefully negotiated the small entrance to the Pickerel River. (It was pretty freaky for a bit.)
From here, it was a leisurely paddle up the meandering river where numerous others were paddling or fishing. [Between here and the French Lake take-out I think we saw more people than I had ever seen in Quetico in one day!] Once on French Lake, the wind was more helpful than not and we soon were near our take-out. We were confused by what we saw on the ground and what the outfitter had told us, so we actually took out at the wrong place and later had to carry our gear up the road some. We were early, so we killed time by looking around – there were huge replica voyager canoes here -- and talking with some campers and with a couple of Quetico park staff.
Back in Atikokan, we had our post-trip meal at the Outdoorsman Restaurant, and received a call from my daughter – Joe’s wife – with a high school football report and other news that we had missed during the past week. Then we hit the road for the US and home.
If I did this route again, one thing I’d change would be to allow at least seven days and preferably eight. Doing it in six, we had no time for layovers or side trips, and we fished very little. It would have been nice to explore Elizabeth or the B-lakes, or to take a side trip to Draper or Rawn. Nevertheless, this was a great trip. After day one the weather was excellent. In addition, I was surprised by how nice an area the B-chain is, since little has been written about it.
It turned out we were smart to avoid the Yeh-Lonely portage, as we later heard about a “false portage” there that can cause confusion. Joe had a good introduction to Quetico since this trip covered a variety of large and small lakes and had a mix of easy and hard portages. We did not see any big game but saw various smaller wildlife, and some wolf tracks. Winds were mostly favorable, camps were comfortable, and the bugs few, as were people except for the Pickerel-French area. I’m still shaking my head thinking about the fake diabetic attack at Cedar portage!
Picasaweb photo album: http://picasaweb.google.com/molonlabe44/2007AugustQueticoBeaverhouseToFrench#