1997 Trip Report. The wind did blow on Quetico . . .
After staying overnight at a motel in Eveleth, MN ($31!), I was driving towards the border when a heater hose on my Dodge Dakota truck blew just south of Cook, MN. What might have been the very next car to come along stopped and gave me a ride to the Cook Chevrolet dealer where I got a tow to their shop. (If this had happened the day before, when I was exploring the back roads of northern Wisconsin, I would have been in a jam.)
On the road again after a surprisingly quick fix, I crossed the border at International Falls/Fort Frances and arrived at Atikokan around 5 pm. Got settled into the indoor bunkhouse – I was the only one there – and went over maps with Jim. This would be my first trip in Quetico and my first to paddle a solo canoe. Jim's "map talk" and notes he made were well worth the cost.
We agreed that I would choose my take-out point later in the trip and call from a PAY PHONE at either Nym or French Lake for my pickup after nine days. (This call needed to be before 5 pm.) I was shown my ride – a pretty white Swift Osprey – and picked up a canoe paddle and a kayak paddle at the suggestion of one of CC’s staff - Garth, I think. I had all the other necessary equipment and food.
Day 1, Tuesday, June 24
Jim’s son Nate drove me to Beaverhouse Lake for a rainy put-in. The drive down the road was an adventure in itself, and I was glad I was not driving my truck down there. (Back then there was hardly any parking space at the end of the road, either.) It was an ugly drizzling morning and some of my gear got wet due to poor packing. I portaged out of Beaverhouse past the old rusted car body, into Quetico Lake. I experimented a little with the kayak paddle, getting wet hands and sleeves in the process, and stuck to the canoe paddle.
I stopped for lunch on narrow sandy beach along the south side of western Quetico Lake. It was not so rainy afterward and I stopped for the night at a site on the north shore. (PCD Site 59) This site was clean and seemingly little used, with a good landing and nice view, but it was not a particularly great site. Soon after arriving, I jumped two grouse right behind the main camp area.
Day 2, Wednesday, June 25
This morning broke clear and I got started about 10 am after getting everything dried out and more carefully packed. I tried the kayak paddle again, but did not like it. It soon got windy. I paddled east for a while and stopped on a nice rock slope for a snack. On the move again, a strong tailwind blew me enough off course that I had to jump out in a cove full of bushel basket-sized rocks, or else get the Osprey all banged up. I was able to get back on track only after “bush-whacking” over a rugged point to get on the main lake. After this I started using big rocks front and rear as ballast!
Day 3, Thursday, June 26
It was a beautiful morning for traveling, but I was determined to rest here after yesterday. I was sore, achy, with little sore throat. (Later I decided this was an allergy.) I paddled around south of camp and caught a nice smallmouth on a black twister tail. Then I lost an even nicer one.
Later, I rested, napped, cleaned the fireplace, and drank lots of fluids. It got windy again today, and I was windbound from about noon until sundown. At this point, I decided I would NOT go down to Sturgeon Lake and paddle that big water in the Osprey. I also decided to stay here again tomorrow, but get up a lot earlier for some more serious fishing.
Day 4, Friday, June 27
I was up at 5 am and had great fishing until about 11 am when it got windy again. At one place along the northwest shore of Ivy Island, south of camp, I was catching nice smallmouth but then suddenly stopped catching them. I decided to check my black jig with black plastic twister tail grub (a popular large- mouth rig back home) by pulling it out of the water alongside the canoe. A HUGE northern came out of the water after the jig, missed it, scaring the “crap” out of me. It took a few minutes for the goose bumps and adrenaline rush to go away.
After this, I saw an old blaze on a tree on the shoreline east of Ivy Island and decided to take my rod/reel and some lures and see if I could get to the (unnamed?) lake to the east. The old trail was faint and I would not have wanted to portage it with a canoe or packs. At the far side was the north end of the lake.
The shore was field of large boulders. I could stand on the boulders and cast far enough to try my luck. I was just about to give up, when I caught a smallmouth that measured 19 inches. After releasing it and I cast a little more with no luck before returning on the overgrown trail back to Jean. It was definitely worth the walk!
Back at camp, I found that my Coleman Peak 1 stove needed overhauling and that the Sweetwater filter cartridge was clogged. Fortunately I had brought a stove repair kit and something to scrub my filter with. It got hot. I rested in the afternoon and did not fish the rest of day.
I saw the only canoe since day 3, far across on the east side of Jean, apparently trolling back and forth. A quick-moving storm hit just before suppertime, then it cleared and I got a picture of a neat rainbow. It stormed again around 11 pm, and I think most of the night, with strong winds but little rain. I thought I heard a strange noise like a canoe scraping on rock sometime during the night.(!)
Day 5, Friday, June 28
The strange night noise was my canoe being moved. I had pulled it up on the rocky shore and turned it upside down, but had forgotten to tie it to something before going to bed! The wind had picked it up off the ground, turned it over, and blown it into the water where it lodged right side-up against some overhanging tree branches several yards away. I was very lucky that the canoe wasn’t a mile or two away. (By now, I was not too fond of the Osprey, but I couldn’t get far without it!)
TRAVEL DAY – time to leave beautiful Jean Lake. I was able to walk the canoe down the run-out from Jean to Conk. (I don’t know why I didn’t walk up it on the way in.) I had decided to head east towards a Nym Lake pickup, via Jesse Lake. The so-called “Cedar Portage” was awful, but paddling conditions were almost ideal.
I paddled and portaged from 7 am to 2 pm. On my way in to Oriana Lake, I met some guys from Iowa who had been fishing Oriana and had caught and released a northern over 40 inches. (I had not seen anyone close enough to talk to for five days.) I thought about exploring Oriana and maybe staying there, but continued on to Jesse.
I picked a small island site near the west end of Jesse Lake, close to Jim’s walleye spot on my map. The weather was cloudy with a sun peeking out now and then all day, with some drizzle around suppertime. I caught three nice walleye and 3 or 4 smaller ones at Jim’s suggested spot (after I’d already eaten a freeze-dried dinner) and vowed to try again early the next morning.
Day 6, Saturday, June 29
I got up early and went back to Jim’s spot in the narrows east of where the drainage comes in from the pond after Oriana and caught several nice walleyes, all on a blue Wally Diver crankbait. I kept a couple and when the bites slowed down I went to nearby rocky shore and filleted them out, paddled back to camp and had walleye breakfast (or brunch). Thanks Jim!
Back at camp, I straightened things up, rested, and puttered away a hot and windy afternoon. After an early supper I went back to Jim’s spot and caught nothing. (So it goes.) At 7 pm the wind had died and the lake was calm. As I put out the fire and was getting ready for bed, I was treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. What a great day in Quetico!
Day 7, Sunday, June 30
I decided to stay on Jesse today and tonight, so this morning I paddled and portaged into an unnamed lake SW of Jesse that Jim had suggested fishing. I did not get a very early start and after fishing about two hours, catching a small perch and a few small pike, I gave up and returned to Jesse. I paddled up into the part of Jesse where you can turn right and head for Elizabeth or go straight toward Maria, and had lunch at an empty campsite. This multi-level site was the best campsite I had ever seen up to that time. (PCD site PN.)
After eating, I paddled leisurely back to my camp and loafed and rested away the hot (again) afternoon. I was really enjoying all the solitude I had found on this trip, but I also got to thinking about how long – too long? – the days can be when heat or wind keeps a solo paddler from getting out. Two can paddle and fish, each one expending less energy than a solo paddler, and time seems to pass faster. I made a mental note to try a solo trip either much earlier or much later in the year, when the days are shorter.
Day 8, Sunday, July 1
TRAVEL DAY – After breakfast I broke camp and headed up Jesse towards the Maria portage. It was a beautiful morning and I had the place to myself. At the portage I met a group coming the other way that said they had camped on Maria the night before. I paddled across Maria and found the portage out, noticing on the map and making a mental note that there is a big arm that probably few folks go into. (Like there is in Oriana!)
Here I noticed for the first time today how calm it was, as the water was smooth as glass – something I’d seldom encountered on other trips. I stopped for a cold lunch on a skinny point straight across from the portage. At this campsite (probably VG) I noticed quite a bit of garbage, tin foil, sunflower seed hulls, etc. and was glad I was not camping there. (I was getting closer to “civilization.”)
After my lunch break I paddled on and turned westward through the tiny opening into Batchewaung Bay. I was debating how far to go on this next-to-last day and began thinking about campsites. I stopped at the east end of the first large island and checked out a campsite(U9), deciding not to stay. At the west end of the same island, I found a very nice though overused site (TC) that I decided to take for my last night. I would regret that decision later!
I pitched the tent, cleaned up, made supper, hung the food and loafed away the evening thinking about tomorrow’s paddle to my Nym pickup until bedtime. Sometime after midnight, I awoke, sat up and the hair was standing up on the back of my neck. Without looking, I KNEW there was a bear in camp. Shining my flashlight up the tree where the 5-gallon bucket was hung, I saw a big bear “working” the rope. It seemed to know what it was doing.
Nothing I did – hollering, throwing rocks – had any effect, so I started getting dressed. When I went outside the tent again, the bear had the bucket down by the water and was tearing into it. More hollering and pot banging had no effect, so I tied the tent flaps open and went the opposite direction, to the canoe, and propped it so I could lie down under it out of the rain that had began to fall. I finished the night there.
Day 9, Monday, July 2 (I was a little too preoccupied to take photos today.)
To make a long story (and night) short, at daylight the rain had stopped, but it was very windy, and there was no sign of the bear. I retrieved the bucket, picked up some of the litter and brought it up to the fireplace. While I was packing up, the bear reappeared, boldly came up to the fireplace, reclaimed the bucket and made off with it! I finished packing up and got the gear down to the shore by the canoe.
The wind was kicking waves up pretty good, so I puttered around waiting to see if it would calm down, not wanting to stay on the bear island, but not wanting to risk paddling the Osprey in rough waters. About 11 am I decided I could handle the situation and made my way cautiously towards Little Batchewaung Bay. I hugged the shore as I went and actually made decent time up the narrows between LBB and Batchewaung Lake.
There were whitecaps on Batchewaung, and I saw a few tents but no canoes out. I hugged the shore along the west and north to get to the portage to Nym. Here, I beached the canoe and felt pretty beat but still had to do the portage and Nym. I talked to a couple from Georgia, I think, on this last portage. They were just starting their trip. Nym was pretty rough, but at least I was paddling almost straight into it and could use some islands to break it up.
It was all I could do to keep a straight line and I probably said every prayer I could think of crossing Nym. I saw a Canadian flag ahead at one point and paddled almost up to a dock before I realized it was a summer cottage and not the takeout. That was a letdown, but I was committed to make my takeout befrore 5. I arrived at the Nym boat launch about 4 or 4:30 pm and called Canoe Canada for my pickup from the pay phone. In a little while Nate arrived with some ice-cold Coke and a Snickers bar in his cooler. I had it made!
Nate was very interested in the bear-moose encounter as we talked on the way back to town. Back at CC, when Jim learned about my bear experience, he told me that he’d said not to camp in that area. Maybe he did, but I didn’t think so. (What I still see on my map is his circle around the area, with the word “bear.” So I WAS, or should have been, "warned.") Fortunately the bear visit was on my last night, not earlier in the trip. I hope it enjoyed the little peanut butter and other stuff that was left. Sadly, that event made me a little spooky on my next solo trip. (On my last night on Clearwater Lake in the BW, I woke up after “something” brushed up against the tent in the night – or so I thought.)
After a hot shower and a real meal, I headed for the border, reflecting on what had been a great trip. I had solitude, great fishing, mostly good weather, some real "adventure," AND there were few bugs for late June. I learned a few things about solo paddling, about myself, and about Quetico, that I would never forget. I also saw lots of wildlife.
Driving home I made up a little verse that went something like, “Oh, the wind did blow on Quetico, and the Batchewaung bear was bad, but the fishing on Jean and Jesse was the best I ever had . . .” (The melody is like a sea chanty.)
I was pretty sure I'd be coming back.
Trip pictures can also be viewed here: http://picasaweb.google.com/molonlabe44/1997QueticoSoloTrip#5436041442382789410