Trip Report - Quetico - 17-day solo (Part 2 of 2)
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.
I purify 2 liters of water and chug one while munching trail mix, jerky and M&Ms. I make my way to the SE bay of Conmee leading to the Suzanette portage. It’s still hot and muggy. To the west and north, I see dark clouds forming. Ahhh. Rain, maybe. That would feel so nice right about now. The portage is about 400 yards, and starts up a slight rise on a soft narrow path before it descends to Suzanette. In a few places, the path is hard to see as nature tries to absorb it back into the forest. On the way back, I stop to pick up what I thought was a dropped hockey puck or canister of Skoal, only to find it was a Crown Land survey marker. Neat.
On Suzanette, clouds are starting to darken and block the sun and the temp drops a bit. “That’s better”, I say. The water and snacks I consumed earlier have given me some much needed energy as I paddle down, then across, then down some more as I check out several campsites. It sprinkles lightly on and off on northern Suzanette, and the few that hit me feel nice and cool. I’m wanting a really nice campsite for 2 or 3 nights and finally decide to stay at the 5th one I visit, on a small island surrounded by “fishy” looking spots. After parking the canoe on the nice flat ledgerock, I slowly make my way up the slight rise. I note the good firepit, 2 or 3 decent tentpads, open red pine canopy, and blueberries! I unload the gear and then sit in the water for a bit before taking a quick swim and rinsing my clothes, boots and socks. Then I grab my chair and sit down in the shade for about 75 minutes, just cooling off and soaking in the scenery, not thinking of anything in particular. I have to almost force myself to eat a PBJ with gatorade, but it hits the spot and I start to feel the energy returning. Finally, I set up the tent and wait for dark. I’m not hot anymore, but really tired. Just before heading into the tent for the night, I record on my digital voice recorder: "Today was a bitch. Hardest damn day I've ever had canoeing. Easily. I'm 2/3 thirds of the way done with this tough physical trip...not sure I'm enjoying it that much. I'm very achy, shoulders and back. Not sure I'll ever do that Death March again without the boys or a partner." I try to stretch out my arms, shoulders and back for a bit. Surprisingly, my knee feels just fine. Go figure. I have trouble falling asleep, and roll around throughout the night.
Day 9. Layover on Suzanette
Out of the tent at 6:00 to a mostly clear sky and perfectly calm waters. This is more like it! I lounge around with 3 cups of coffee and pick a bowlful of blueberries to add to my Special K with strawberries. It’s such a relaxing morning, I try to get some good pictures with my little Nikon point and shoot camera.
I get my fishing gear into the canoe. I’m planning at least 1 layover day, maybe two, and can fish my butt of now. Prior to the trip, I’ve marked several bass, trout and walleye holes on my map. I cruise to the still-shaded steep northern shoreline near my campsite and start throwing my trusty spinnerbait. Pretty slow. Strange. I expect to get some action on the top near the shoreline structure. But I can only trick a couple of smaller bass. After an hour or so, I start trolling my deep diving rapala along the shoreline drop-offs and through a couple of the trout spots. A couple smallish pike and another bass or two. But I was expecting more. I continue gliding quietly along to the east, about 30 feet from the shore. As I bend down to grab my nalgene, I look left and see a dark object in the shoreline brush. “That’s different, I say to myself. Then I realize the dark object is a full-grown black bear. I quietly grab my camera and as I glide past, I turn around and snap a photo. The bear must have heard the click because he looks up and take a couple steps out of the brush. I click another photo. We just sit there, staring at each other for about 10 seconds. Then the bear looks down, then up, turns, and meanders up the slope and into the newer forest growth. Wow. That was so neat. I haven’t seen a bear since 1973. Too bad my boys aren’t with me this trip.
I continue to troll for another 30 minutes or so, then switch over to a simple hook, 4-inch power worm and small split shot and fish a couple of the reefs I’ve found here and there. This leads to some nicer smallmouth, the largest about 17 inches, and some medium-sized thick pike. The coolest thing about this timeframe was watching under the boat in the crystal clear water as the smallie or pike struggled to free itself from the hook. Invariably I’d see several other bass or northern right there with the struggling one. I clean a couple of the smallmouth on the shoreline, put the fillets in a ziplock, and the ziplock inside wet canvas. Dinner tonight will be Cache Bay Fish Chowder, one of my favorites.
On the way back to my island campsite, I pick up a bunch of seasoned red pine blowdowns to split for the evening fire. Early afternoon at the campsite and I decide to be real lazy, doing nothing in particular except washing all my smelly clothes. I smoke a cigar as I sit next to the firepit and watch the insect wars going on at my feet. One of the bigger black ants has found a little green worm and the ant struggles mightily to drag it to the colony under the firepit rocks. The ant is like a WWF wrestler. He grabs the worm, bites and pulls at it for about 5 seconds, then releases his grip and saunters around the worm. I imagine the ant angrily taunting his victim and the hecklers in the audience before grabbing his opponent again for a couple of elbow smashes and a pile-driver. This match goes on for 10 minutes, but the ant hasn’t moved the worm more than an inch.
Finally, the ant’s tag-team partner jumps into the ring. Together, they drag the worm 3 feet to the hole. Poor worm. It had no chance.
What a relaxing afternoon. And no horseflies! The fish chowder is excellent, but I couldn’t eat it all. Very rich and filling. High cirrostratus clouds are moving in and giving the sun a halo-like appearance. And the wind has picked up from the N/NW. It’s almost like a haze. If it were morning, I’d think it was a mist. Smoke maybe? It has a really different smell though, almost sweet. Sniff, sniff. What is that smell? So strange.
About 8:00, I hit the water to fish the shorelines for some trophy topwater bass. But like this morning, very little is hitting on the surface. Good thing I didn’t bet on it, cause I would have lost big-time. I was sure I’d see more topwater action tonight. The fishing remains slow as I pull into the campsite at 9:30. That was disappointing. But a 2-hour evening campfire on a quiet evening with only a few mosquitos and the disappointment quickly fades into peaceful tranquility.
Day 10,11. Suzanette to Burt via the Darky River, Layover on Burt.
Total Distance – 6.3 miles; 2 portages (180 yards).
View 2011 Day 10 in a larger map
Given the relatively slow fishing so far, I decide to head to Burt Lake instead of hanging out on Suzanette for another day or two. I’ve got to find those trophies. Only two portages today, so I sleep in a bit longer than usual. Along with my coffee and blueberries, I fry up some potato pancakes, but put a little too much oil and they turn out a little greasy. But I eat them anyway. Wish I had remembered to bring some ketchup though. Kind of bland without ketchup.
It’s another sunny hazy day. Must be a fire somewhere. Maybe way north of Quetico. The wind is light and seems to be out of the SW. Into the wind again. I troll all the way down Suzanette without a bite to the portage leading to the Darky River.
About 30 yards from the outflow, I hook into a nice thick 16-inch smallie.
As I approach closer to the outflow, I cast my spinnerbait to the base of the rapids. A few feet and bang! Under the canoe is a nice 18-in smallie, with 3 others giving chase. Unfortunately, these smallies learn fast and I can’t trick any of the others into biting. The second portage from Suzanette has one of the nicest trails in the Quetico. Soft, wide, and meandering through the pines with background music of quiet gurgling water from the river.
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