Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Quetico June 2010 (Badwater Lake) Trip Report
by OldGreyGoose

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/22/2010
Entry Point: Quetico
Exit Point: Quetico  
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
My son-in-law Joe and I crossed the border into Canada at Fort Frances and were asked some questions not heard before, like “what do you do for a living?” I readily answered with “I’m retired.” That did not satisfy the border guard who then wanted to know what I retired from. After passing through customs and driving the 90 or so miles to Atikokan -- slowed by construction delays -- we arrived in Atikokan, Ontario and checked in with Canoe Canada. We were only renting a canoe and self-shuttling to Beaverhouse, so we simply had to settle up our account, get fishing licenses, pick out a canoe and grab a spare life jacket. (Jeremy surprisingly offered us a brand new canoe for our trip but we declined and picked a Souris River Le Tigre.) We had a room in CC’s “Eagle’s Nest” upper bunkhouse, so we stowed our gear and went to supper at the Outdoorsman Cafe. Then, since the cafe would not open until 8 in the morning we drove around looking for an earlier option and found Robin’s coffee shop/bakery would be open earlier. After loading the Le Tigre on my van, we killed time until dark, then hit the bunks.
Part 1 of 3

Day 1, Tuesday June 22 6:00 am: Went to Robin’s for coffee and muffins breakfast, getting some looks from the many locals in line there. At 6:30 Jim Clark arrived to get canoes together for a White Otter trip so we turned over our valuables for the CC safe to him, finished last minute stuff like putting fresh water in our quart bottles and got started for BH about 7:30.

After driving the 25 or so miles on Highway 11 in a gray, misty overcast, we turned down the gravel road that leads to Lac La Croix. After what seemed longer than expected we came to the turn to BH marked by a green Quetico Park sign. The last few miles before the BH parking lot are very “interesting” with curves, dips, washboard-like jarring sections, and empty woods and water on both sides. At the parking lot there was a group of four guys in two canoes getting their last load for the carry to the put-in. (There were about 10 or 11 vehicles in the parking lot.)

Our gear consisted of my Granite Gear Superior One pack, an old Lowe backpack that perfectly fits my blue food barrel, my new GG pack that is sold as a “food pack” with all the cooking stuff & miscellany, a small bag with (way too much) fishing tackle, four rods, three paddles, and the Le Tigre. After carrying our stuff past the usual put-in due to low water, and parking the van, we were finally paddling about 9:30 am. (We saw a momma spruce grouse and her chicks just off the trail while walking back for our second loads.)

We paddled leisurely out of the creek mouth and into the long narrow passage to the main body of BH, loosening our paddling muscles and anticipating a great time in Quetico. We used the map to navigate our way in a direct path towards the portage out of BH, counting points and ticking off islands and bays as we went, since it had been a couple years since we’d done this entry. The weather remained gray but it was fairly bright out and we could identify the old lookout tower on the ridge and the ranger station on the shore across the way. We arrived at the portage takeout at about 10:30, and saw no sign of the other party, who apparently had to stop at the ranger station.

At the takeout Joe noticed a crayfish in the shallows as we unloaded. By the time we took one load over the short carry and were coming back for the second, the other party appeared and we spoke briefly, learning they were headed for Wildgoose and would be going through Badwater like we were. BH had been calm and so was Quetico’s skinny channel leading away from the portage. It was pretty shallow in this channel just as it was the last time we’d been this way. In no hurry, we paddled out into the main lake body and headed to where we thought the short carry across a narrow sandy peninsula would take us into West Bay of Quetico.

At about the sandy beach, the other party caught us and Joe and I thought we’d step aside and let them portage over and be gone, but they were sitting eating a snack when we carried our stuff over, so we pushed off ahead of them again. I thought that since we’d never been this way before we should paddle slowly and let them catch us, which they did about a half-mile before the shallow bay leading to the Badwater portage. Joe and I paddled off to a rocky shore spot for some summer sausage and cheese and 5-hour energy drink while the other party got started portaging.

After thirty minutes of so we headed back into the bay and found the low water entry which was well out from the woods, and began to unload and carry gear up closer to the actual portage start. There was still one bag the other party had not carried over where we piled our gear.

So here it was, the Badwater portage, after months of thinking about it, we were going to do it! We set off on our first carry and were greeted by lots of mosquitoes and black stinking goo. We carried our first load to the rock outcropping “clearing” that my internet acquaintance “Old Hoosier” had told us about and dumped our stuff and had a long drink of water. (On this leg we saw where the other party had deposited a couple items of gear along the way.) We headed back for the second load getting an unburdened look at the several brutal lengthy mud holes, ancient slippery corduroy, and the stretches of “rock garden” boulders. This is one hell of a portage!

We got our second loads and on the way back to the “leapfrog” point passed one of the other party coming back for “leftovers.” After getting our second load to the drop point, resting, snacking and drinking, we headed on to the second leg. This section, toward Badwater, was much better going with only one nasty mud hole and with much of the trail following a hill contour with a pretty solid, easy to negotiate trail. However, on this stretch, I made a misstep and went down in the muck with a 40-pound pack on my back, winding up with my right leg up to my knee in mud while the other leg was buckled under me! I recovered, thankful I had kept the pack centered, as I could feel my right knee was on the verge of spraining. I was able to get up and carry on, just very muddy and pissed.

At the end of our second carry on the second leg, as we dumped our gear on the Badwater Lake end, the sun came out for the first time and we looked up and realized it had been clearing and blue skies were crowding out the clouds. Hallelujah! (We began the portage at 1:25 pm and were finished at 3:20 pm, so it took us about 2 hours, which is probably pretty good time.) Using the leapfrog and stopping at the high, dry and less buggy clearing was a great relief. After washing up a little in the shallows, we paddled down Badwater looking for a campsite. It’s a beautiful day now.

(Note: Even though the portage was brutal for me, Joe faired a little better and even made some neat observations in the process – some weird orange fungi and some partial wolf tracks -- that remained visible in spite of the twelve human feet that trod the trail that day.)

When we got to the point on the north side of the opening of the channel toward Omeme Lake, we stopped and looked at the site there. It looked well used but not recently used. (Two tea bags in the fireplace we thought to be a couple days old.) We agreed this would make a fine base and unloaded, went about setting up tent/fly and tarp, then went back out and collected water for the new Katadyn base camp filter. We were beat, but we soon felt better after a supper of grilled steaks, skillet potatoes, and chocolate pudding snack cups.

Later, Joe fished from the shore with no luck and later still, the local beavers began what would become a daily ritual nearby. Except for the beavers and loons, we had Badwater Lake all to ourselves. We went to bed weary and sore but well fed and hopeful the full moon visible through the trees now meant the wolves would howl tonight.

Day 2, Wednesday June 23 No wolves howled and I could not get comfortable – both shoulder joints hurt from the hard sleeping surface – so I had trouble sleeping much last night and daylight came VERY early. (4:45, I think) I tried to sleep “late” but finally gave up. Breakfast was a no-hurry one of fresh scrambled eggs with (pre-cooked) bacon. After eating we headed east from camp, taking just our tackle, fishing the south shore. We caught NOTHING(!) and wound up “exploring” all the way to the east end of Badwater, stopping once at a nice campsite midway down the lake for snacks and a leg stretch.

When we reached the island near the opening to Pelee Lake, we landed the canoe to check out the campsite there. It looked as if it had not been used for a long, long time! Heading back towards camp, we were pounded by a fast-moving rainstorm. We paddled into a stiff west wind and rolling waves (no whitecaps or lightening), pelted by the cold hard rain for perhaps twenty minutes. When the rain let up we paddled to the first decent shore and dumped the rainwater out of the Le Tigre, which had performed very well with no ballast.

Back at camp around 2:30, there was a group of 4 or 5 at the campsite east of us across the lake. (Up to then we had seen no one for 24 hours.) We had some wet stuff in the front of the tent because I had left the front door open before we left, but we soon had the puddles sponged up and wet stuff drying out. The afternoon was windy and cloudy with off and on spitting precipitation, and we decided to have an early dinner, which was something out of an old Backpacker magazine called “Old Mike’s Rice.” Along with some fresh cucumber, carrots and homegrown peppers, it hit the spot nicely!

Later Joe caught a couple pike (Finally!) from shore. We were able to receive the NOAA weather forecast on the old Radio Shack portable – first in French, then English – and it sounded like tomorrow would be good fair weather. The USA played Algeria (I think) today in the World Cup and I wondered how they did. I missed not being able to keep up with that a little. Near bedtime it was cooling off and the wind was slacking, so we figured it might be a chilly night.

Day 3, Thursday June 24 I slept a little better, but my shoulder joints still bothered me. I think it was light at 4 am. Day broke clear and after a quick breakfast we decided to head for Bee Lake. We paddled the short way across the lake to the narrows leading to Bee and fished our way along, catching nothing but an occasional underwater plant stalk. There was a beaver dam perhaps 18” high blocking the entrance to Bee that we easily pulled over. In the process, we noticed there was a lot of “glitter” in the sandy bottom near the dam. (Fool’s gold, mica, what?) Then we began fishing east along the south shore of Bee Lake.

We fished all the way to the east end with hardly a bite! Where were the fish? The lack of fish was somewhat softened by the sighting of a nice whitetail deer on the shore, but we were still disappointed. We paddled back to the Bee entrance and investigated another beaver dam, this one probably 5 feet high not far to the left (west) of the first one. This one appeared to be holding back a lot of water from entering Bee, but the area behind it did not look very big and was pretty choked with weeds and flooded timber. We decided to just take some pictures and not explore behind the dam.

We paddled back and pulled over the first dam, heading back toward camp, fishing along the way, again with no luck. Back at camp as we had a brunch of bacon and hash browns we noticed our neighbors were gone. (Good!) Sometime later, two more whitetail stepped out to the woods just across the lake from camp. I think they would have come to the shore to drink or cross, but saw or heard us and after a few minutes just stepped back into the trees where they had come from.

Later I collected some water for the solar shower and rested. (I was still recovering from day 1, I think.) Bee had been a nice but nothing-special scenery-wise lake that catching a few nice fish would certainly have improved! I wondered if we should try fishing there again, later in the evening, or what. We decided instead to fish and scout out the channel toward Omeme Lake later in the afternoon. The paddle in that direction from camp turned out to be very interesting.

It was “riverine” with grasses, lotuses and other flowering plants and we saw many ducks and a loon very close. (Estimated 24 feet.) We got to the BIG beaver dam that has to be negotiated to continue toward Omeme, looked it over and taking note of the time it took to that point, started back. On the way back we noticed more flowering plants and a different “view” of this really neat area. In the channel near camp we had at least one pike following lures, but otherwise we were again frustrated in our fishing attempts.

By late afternoon/early evening (where do you draw these lines when it stays light until after 10?) it got warm and a little windy and we seemed to have single loons here and there all around. I got cleaned up using the solar shower, then tried to nap while Joe fished from shore. All he caught was a bluegill about 5 inches long. (This bluegill, or another one about the same size, could later be seen almost anytime of day, chasing minnows away from a place it patrolled near our shore.)

We had some hot bouillon before our dinner of freeze-dried Kung Pao Chicken (not bad) and later a little Yukon Jack and cigars (excellent). Today was one of solitude – we saw or heard no other humans – and we were rewarded by frequent displays of Mother Nature at her best. Near dark this included three beavers VERY close by camp, cutting down there dinner in the nearby woods and dragging it to the shore to share. Three loons got together just west of camp and it sounded like they were celebrating something as their calls echoed all around. Another great day in the Q!

Badwater Lake campsite evaluation: The following information was entered in the Paddler's Campsite Database (PCD) for site 3K Badwater Lake: ONE VERY GOOD, FLAT TENT PAD, may be room for 1 or 2 other tents. Fair canoe access. Very good view, 180 degrees. One good tarp possibility. Fireplace needed some work when we were there, and is very exposed to wind and sun. "Usable" space is actually quite small. Fire/tent/tarp area is very worn down with exposed roots, etc. (This site showed more signs of use than others on the lake that we visited.) NO good food-hanging tree. Limited “sitting” rocks on shore. Amenities: wildflowers (daisies, yarrow, etc.), resident garter snake, beavers, loons, and whitetail deer nearby. Our rating was 3.7 out of 5.0.

Day 4, Friday June 25 I took 2 Benadryl last night and slept pretty well afterward. Today broke gray and cool at first light, but it was not raining. NOAA radio said it would be 80 degrees F. today. We had a cold breakfast I call “Grape Nuts Plus” and headed out for Omeme Lake. It started spitting rain as we paddled down the channel past one of our resident loons. Like yesterday we noticed the various water plants, with arrowhead and iris in addition to the others. We did not fish on the way to Omeme and soon reached the big beaver dam that we estimated 10-12 feet high. (Note: We had received information and pictures for the trek from Badwater to Omeme via email from “Old Hoosier.”)

Some water was escaping the dam and when I stepped out onto it I helped increase the flow, but the flow at the bottom was very shallow. I climbed down the dam and Joe pushed the canoe until it tilted and began to slide to me, then we eased it down and walked it a few canoe lengths over some rough rocky footing to where we could get in and paddle. We quickly paddled across the small pond to the fairly obvious take-out. Here we beached the canoe and took a walk in the direction we knew we needed to go, finding a faint trail – maybe human or maybe game – through the grassy clearing full of beautiful wildflowers heading for the “big pond.”

We only had our paddling gear, the fishing tackle, and the food pack but we still double-portaged, taking our time and investigating some of the “relics” (a concrete slab, some old rusty things from the logging days) and what looked to be an old passageway that might have been called a “road” at one time, but not today, between the little pond and the big pond. (Later, on the way back to camp we scared up a covey of spruce grouse in this area.) This “portage” – with no defined trail at all when we were there – went along the edge of the trees above the drainage from pond to pond and we stepped over a couple of “washes” we’d been told about along the way.

After the more obvious put-in to the second pond we again paddled a riverine stretch with moving water and bent over grasses, animal signs everywhere, and headed west towards to find the last take-out, at an obvious rock outcropping. We got out here and there was no sign of a trail, so I scouted ahead to the end of the old log flume. When I came back I took the food pack and let Joe follow me across, talking him through some tight spots along the way. After a second trip, which made a definite trail we could see on the way back, at last we put in below the little falls coming out of the flume on Omeme Lake.

It was now raining steadily and we had put on our rain gear. We decided to head across the lake to the northwest to a known campsite for some food. We found this site to be a nice one for visit at least, with gently rock slope shore, big pines to sit under and loads of wolf crap. While we snacked and drank some water, we decided to head over to a nearby “reef” area that Old Hoosier had told us about and fish it. Here we actually caught some fish! Well, at least Joe did. Actually, I think I caught one nice walleye and lost a better one (over 24” for sure). We tried this area for quite a while with no great results and decided to try a different spot.

After trying a couple other spots, we decided to have a “real” lunch and stopped on a rocky point and had our tuna salad on tortillas lunch (foil pouch tuna, chopped hard-boiled eggs and packages of mayonnaise mixed in a plastic bag). Joe peeled the eggs and found one that smelled a little “off” – the first problem we’d ever had with hard-boiled eggs – so he pitched it. (I hope the resident gull that waited patiently for us to leave did not get sick from it.)

We fished a few other areas that looked good and eventually found caught quite a few small walleye and pike. Most were caught in fairly shallow water on the edge of weed beds near deeper water. Most were caught on white or gray-colored flukes, by the way. Walleye divers, other crank baits, spinner baits, nothing else we tried seemed to work but the flukes.

After three or four hours we headed back to the in-flow of the log flume from the big pond. The gray skies were almost cleared now and it looked like the day would end the opposite of its start. Here we had a lot of fun! SMALL walleyes (and lots of them) apparently were schooled up here where the water ran in. We caught quite a few and had even more bite the tail of the flukes, hold on until we got them close to the canoe, then let go. Finally we decided we weren’t going to catch any big ones and we were getting so warm in the now unnecessary rain gear that we put the poles down, took off the rain gear and started back.

The return trip across the two ponds, negotiating the huge beaver dam, revisiting and lingering around the logging “relics” area, getting up a covey of grouse, and paddling amidst the water plants and wildlife was probably even more enjoyable than before. We knew where we were going and took full advantage of that and really stopped to “smell the roses” as they say. Pushing the canoe UP the huge beaver dam seemed like fun, not work! We enjoyed a leisurely paddle back, taking pictures and relishing the solitude we had now enjoyed for almost two full days.

When we got back to camp I think we both were tired; I know I was, but I was also very satisfied. I’d been rained on and had not caught a large fish, but it had been the most enjoyable day trip I could remember! We noticed we had neighbors again and we wondered if they were just passing through like the others we’d seen. Before dinner, I washed up again, using the solar shower and laid on the shore rocks to dry in the sun. (After removing two small leeches from my feet!) Dinner tonight was a spicy dish called “Mac ‘N Cheese Colorado,” another Backpacker magazine recipe, I think. Later it was “Jack” and cigars as two canoes from across the way tried fishing near our camp, without luck it seemed. At bedtime the full moon could be through the trees behind the tent again. Another great day in the Q!

Day 5, Saturday June 26 We forgot to (or put off and then never did) write notes for day five while we were on the trip, so I am recalling this after-the-fact . . . We had decided that unless the fishing was too great to leave, today we would leave Badwater and portage back to Quetico Lake. The weather was good this morning and we packed up and headed out while it was still calm and paddled very leisurely down to the take-out. (It only took us about 20 minutes.) Here we are again. I don’t think either of us were as psyched as we were the first day, AND we had no energy drink!

Joe decided to take the canoe (which is harder for him) over first, so I decide to take the heavier of the two packs I usually carry over first. (Seemed fair.) We both regret this. The heavier pack is too much of a “shock” to my muscles after getting virtually no workout the last few days. Joe had to stop and set the canoe down before reaching our designated “midway leapfrog point.” I’d never seen him have to stop and rest! We catch or breathe, snack and hydrate, then head back to Badwater for the other gear. We meet another group on the portage (again)!

Long story short: we got the rest of the gear to the midway without too much trouble, with me lagging far behind. In the process we had some very brief conservations with a couple of boys in the other group. They didn’t seem to be having fun either! We learned that they had no better luck than we did with the fishing, so that was some consolation. After a much-needed rest, we loaded up and negotiated the second leg of the portage and its three hellacious mud