Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Trip Report - Quetico - 17-day solo (Part 2 of 2)
by PineKnot

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/10/2011
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 17
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
Part 1 of 3
Day 8. Delahey to Suzanette via the Death March

Total Distance - 8.7 miles; 5 portages (2.3 miles)

View 2011 Day 8 in a larger map

A short summary of the Death March: It almost killed me!

More detailed version of the Death March: On the water from the Olive Jar campsite at 8:30 after a bacon and egg breakfast. I chug a couple liters of water, purify two more and arrive at the take-out near the NW corner of Delahey.

It’s a hazy sun, warm and humid already, with not even a hint of wind. Not good. I’d find out later the temp hit 90 degrees. In retrospect, I probably should have gone back and taken another layover on Delahey. The smile on my face as I begin the Death March won’t be there much longer.

I start leapfrogging the heavy pack/front pack followed by the canoe and kitchen pack. The first of four portages on the Death March starts up a gradual slope for about 50 yards, meanders through the forest for another 50 yards, and then continues into bog grass, mud and corduroy . The Bog Monster must have been asleep. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, although my boots are muddy and wet by the time I finish the ½ mile portage an hour later. And the horseflies are simply ubiquitous. I thoroughly DESPISE horseflies! A short 50 yard paddle across this pond leads to the take-out at a slab of rock on the right.

As I rest in the small pond and dip my hat into the water, my shirt and shorts are totally soaked with sweat. It’s so hot and with no wind it feels like a sauna. I paddle about 50 yards to the rock slab on the right for the start of the next 1.5 mile long portage. A couple of rock cairns early on are the sign to stay to the right on higher ground.

Then the portage just keeps winding back and forth, with gentle ups and downs for what seems to be well over ½ mile before it dead ends at another small pond. On the way, I drop the canoe twice which rarely happens. I was getting quite fatigued. The first drop happened when the bow hit dead-on a small birch sapling just left of the trail. It gave a few inches then snapped back, causing me to lose my balance as the canoe swung wildly off my shoulders and onto the trail. “What the heck was that?”, I cry out. Two horseflies start laughing at me. I wave my hands and arms like I’m having a seizure to get the dang horseflies to buzz somewhere else. I pick up the canoe and continue on. Near the end of the portage, the trail starts to rise up and wind over some car-sized boulders for about 20 yards and then down to the put in. When I get the canoe to the base of the boulders, sweat is pouring into my eyes and I’m breathing like I just ran a marathon. I need to drop the canoe and rest. But as I struggle to hoist the canoe over my head, the horseshoe-shaped yoke pad catches the side of my head, and next thing I know, the canoe is dropping fast to my right. With my head still in it. Luckily, my head pops out as the canoe ricochets off the first boulder and my body whiplashes the other way. I end up in the brush left of the path laying on my back, looking like a sweaty turtle. I’m too tired to yell or do anything. I just lay there, sweating. Finally, I roll over, struggle to my feet and inspect the canoe. It hit the rock pretty hard, but I don’t see any cracks. That was close to being a disaster.

I finally get the canoe to the pond. I feel just a hint of breeze and take my shirt off and sit on a boulder in the shade. The breeze feels good, but I get bit on my back by a dang horsefly. Oooooowwwww! I HATE horseflies! My heart is racing. I time it and it’s 120 beats a minute. I’m not dizzy or lightheaded, just feel really hot. So I just sit there, trying to cool off. After 10 minutes, my heart rate is still 120. Another 10 minutes. Still 120. I probably should have sat there longer, but I just wanted to get this darn portage over with. So I load up the canoe and paddle the short distance across the pond to the next leg. There’s no way I’m going to make it by carrying everything in two loads. It’s too hot. “Take it slow and take it easy”, I tell myself. “You’ve got plenty of time”. I triple portage this long leg. I take the canoe about 200 yards. Then the 2 light packs about 300 yards. Then the single heavy pack and the yak paddle 400 yards. Then I go back for the canoe and carry that past the heavy pack by 200 yards. Repeat a few more times. The only difficult part was several downfalls, two that required bushwhacking around into the woods (I’d find out later from the rangers at Prairie Portage that they did not schedule a portage cleanup crew for the Death March this season). Next thing I know, I’m at the creek leading to the large old beaver dam.

The water feels good on my head after I dip my hat into the water and place it on my hot head. I glide to the beaver dam. I cannot see any “trail” over the dam which stretches from shoreline to shoreline. I parallel the canoe at the midpoint and step up on the dam to look around. It drops a good 3 or 4 feet down to the water on the far side. I eye an “opening” on the south part of the dam, so I paddle over, unload the heavy pack and start dragging the canoe through the grass, timber and mud down the other side.

A short paddle leads to the third of the four Death March portages. It’s about 100 yards and on the left, bypassing a small set of rapids and timber. From here, the creek widens as I paddle the 200 yards or so to the fourth and last portage before Conmee.

It’s here I notice how tired my arms feel. This is so strange. Never felt this before. Try as I might, it was just plain hard to get any pull on the yak paddle. What’s going on? I can’t feel my arms! I haven’t even paddled much at all today. Really weird feeling. For the last portage, maybe 30 yards, I triple everything across. As I sit on a rock in the shade at the take-out before grabbing the canoe, I’m really hot. My pulse is still at 120. I rest about 5 minutes and then take the canoe over to Conmee where I wade into the water and stand there, waist deep for a while, dipping my head every now and then. The time is just before 3:00. Wow. I’ve been on the trail for 6 hours, with a couple short paddles in between. A loon about 40 yards away calls out its greeting as I paddle away from the put-in.

Copy and Paste

I find the this entire stretch of the Darky River to be teeming with smallmouth, along with a few northern pike. There’s also a couple of small, decent campsites just prior to hooking east and north into Burt Lake. Near one of the campsites was this very unique looking large rootball of a recent blowdown.

Near the entrance to Burt on the eastern shoreline of the channel is a cliff with some pictographs. I looked around for a bit, and wasn’t sure where the pictographs may be. I took this picture, but I’m not certain if these are actually pictographs.

Entering the SW corner of Burt, you can really see from this picture the haze on the far treeline.

I turn east and head to the southern tip of the large mid-lake island. The high cirrus cloud cover is starting to thicken, darken, and lower as the S/SW wind is getting brisker. I’m thinking rain may be coming later in the evening. If the campsite is taken, I’ll have to either backtrack to a smaller campsite near entrance to main Burt or continue south to Marj. It’s mid-afternoon when I find the campsite open. And it’s wonderful. It has a long narrow ledgerock that juts to the south into the water. To the west is a shallow, rocky cove. About 20 feet from the point, a giant erratic guards the entrance to the campsite, along with all kinds of smaller boulders and rocks of various sizes. Granite rises from the shoreline for about 50 feet to the edge of a large, fairly open area with a pine canopy. There’s one really nice tent pad with areas for 2 or 3 more tents. On the backside of the granite on the edge of the pines, it drops sharply and a nice firepit has been constructed out of the wind. The whole open tent area is well protected from the wind in any direction.

I get all the gear out of the canoe, secure the canoe on shore, and relax on the ledgerock near the water. The hazy air still has a sweet smell of some sort. As I relax on my chair, I notice I’ve got a rather sore throat. Hope I’m not coming down with something. I take some motrin, set up the tent, and fall asleep for an hour or so. When I wake up, my throat still hurts, but I’m hungry. Tonight for dinner, an Italian dish I’ve never made before. I prepare rotini noodles in hot water, mix up the tomato powder with Lawry’s spaghetti seasoning, a couple sliced pepperoni sticks, dehydrated vegi mix, and mozzarella cheese. Here’s a photo looking south with the ingredients before being mixed together, and the meal just before I devoured it. Really tasty and really filling.

After dinner, I relax on the ledgerock as the sun begins to descend. The water is absolutely clear, the clearest water I’ve seen in quite some time. And I notice there are no flying marauders anywhere. No horseflies, no anke-biters, no mosquitos. Absolutely fantastic. As I enjoy the serenity, clouds continue to thicken and it’s getting really dark just to the north. The south wind refuses to let up. So I hit the tent early, read for an hour and try to get a good night’s sleep.

I wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of thunder and some sprinkles on the rainfly. I left the rainfly on the door open, and I notice how bright it seemed in the sky. I stare through the screen and the tall pines at a very large, very bright waning half moon with what looks like a halo around it. Just to the south of the moon, I see the bright streaks of lightning and more thunder and within 5 minutes the moon is consumed by