Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Summer 2011 Quetico Solo
by OldGreyGoose

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/27/2011
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
Ate lunch in International Falls at Sandy’s Place. Busy! Took the open spot at the counter and had the “special” – turkey dinner/large portion (they offer small, medium and large). Good turkey, gravy, potatoes; tasteless green beans and stuffing with too much seasoning. Stopped at Border Bob’s and looked around a little, then drove over and paid my bridge toll and crossed. Had a longer than usual wait in the Canadian customs line, and arrived at Canoe Canada in Atikokan mid-afternoon. Jim Clark had gone on “holiday” to the air show in Fond du Lac, WI and was told that Shane would be back around 5:30 to talk to me. I got my overnight stuff from the Explorer and into my bunkhouse room and went for a walk around downtown. I found a small “mall” that I’d never noticed before and got some Quetico books, including Shan Walshe’s plants book, in one of them. Later I met with Shane. Graeme got the Souris River Tranquility solo off their rack and loaded it for me. I kidded him about the portable portage yoke, asking if he was sure it or the canoe wouldn’t come off between here and Beaverhouse. Shane filed my “trip plan” as to simply enter Quetico Lake through Beaverhouse, explore and fish, and that I might not visit any other lakes. (My intent being to slow down, paddle close to shore, and spend time on two lakes that I normally hurry through on the way to other destinations. In the process I hoped to fish a little, check out some campsites, and take a bunch of photographs.) I settled up my account, got my permit and garbage and was all set for tomorrow. Afterwards I went to the Outdoorsman Cafe for supper. They were almost “busy” having 8-10 customers! Later, back at the bunkhouse I talked with the Dad of a group of 6 (Mom and four kids) who had just finished their trip and were heading back to Iowa in the morning. (Honestly, I had seen their gear strewn about in the back room by the bunkhouse and was worried they’d be up until midnight packing, and keep me awake!) The Dad seemed interested in what it was like to go “solo” and I find it difficult to explain. I mentioned to him that I had a friend years ago who went once each summer as a Scout leader and then later each year by himself. I used to ask him what it was like; did he get lonely; was he worried about sickness or injury and so on. I never really “got it” until I tried it, and I don’t think most people really get it either. Went to take a shower and there were no towels. What, did Graeme forget to re-stock the cabinet? The Dad later told me you have to ask now, but since CC staff had left for the day, I used my own. (Jeremy told me after the trip they’d lost about half of their towels to some large groups recently.) I hit my bunk about 9 pm, and it was stuffy in the room and I slept poorly.
Part 1 of 3
Day 1: Got up early. It was raining, and from all signs, had been for some time. I wanted to get an early start so I skipped breakfast. I ate a small box of raisins and a granola bar washed down with Coke Zero on the drive over to Beaverhouse. On the way I listened to the CBC radio, from Dryden, the only station I can get here. There were about a dozen other vehicles at the BH parking lot, and a truck with Ontario plates was parked in the “unloading only” area. No one was around, or on the portage.

It took me a while to fill my water bottles with energy drink and store-bought water for the day and make some last minute adjustments with my packs but was on the water at 8 am. The barometer read 29.75/falling with an off and on drizzle as I paddled into a little southerly breeze noticing a Kingfisher by the creek and then my first loon as I entered Beaverhouse itself. As I paddled, the changing visibility was obvious, as the old fire tower on the distant ridge seemed to appear and disappear.

I saw no one as I paddled and before long reached the narrow vee leading to the Quetico Lake portage. The volume of water coming out of Quetico appeared greater than I had remembered and as I bore down to paddle up the little rapids before the take out, I was just thinking about having to tell my son-in-law Joe how hard I had to work to get up it, when I suddenly realized I wasn’t moving. So I applied all I had and made it into the calm pool below the take-out.

I made one carry over with my Granite Gear pack and the loose items, and then came back for my Guide pack and the canoe. When I eased the Tranquility into the “Quetico River” arm, I noticed several ducks swimming away on the opposite shore. It was easier paddling here and for a while I was lost in the surroundings and dreary gray solitude. I was rudely brought back to the task at hand when I almost ran aground on one of the many submerged boulders.

When I reached the main body of Quetico Lake, the breeze from the south was just what I needed as I turned north and headed for what I call the “northwest bay.” I knew there was one campsite there and that one of my old maps had “fish” scrawled across the entrance and the bay. After passing through the narrow entrance, it was now very calm and quiet with just a little mist.

I saw a campsite on my right, that is, on the beak-like point. I pulled in and landed, for a stretch, some trail mix and a drink, but I was also wanted to look at my map which was put away. (One of the things I wanted to accomplish on this trip was to check up on some campsites that seem to be lacking in information or might be misplaced.) Sure enough, I found that the PCD shows a site (#543) further north but not even a “legacy” un-rated site here.

I made some notes and decided that I would probably rate it a “2-star,” noting that it would certainly be okay for one night. Getting back on the water I paddled north to look for site #543 and found NOTHING. Not only that, but as I continued north I found that the Fisher map I was mistakenly shows this bay as having three navigable openings. Wrong. Rather than paddle back the way I’d come, I beached on the sandy shore of the middle “non-opening” and made about a three-rod portage over a sandy rise, back in the main body of Quetico.

I wanted to get up to the northern part of the lake and see if the highly regarded campsite at the narrows leading to the Cirrus portage was open before it got too late, so I headed northeast. The southerly wind was my first test of the Tranquility solo. It was tough going. The wind wanted to push me north. So I worked out a compromise by using some tacking -- going with it then against it - - careful not to get “troughed” and gradually making progress.

At least the rain had completely ceased now and the sky appeared to be brightening. I found the westernmost pictograph, which appeared to be a big ball or round spot, and several hand-prints. I did not take photographs. Continuing east, as I approached what I now call the “wind tunnel” after our 2010 trip, I would soon know if desired site was open. It was, and there was a whitetail doe drinking in the marshy shallows to the left of the landing. Sweet!

By 2:30 pm I had the tarp up, but not the tent. Having little appetite, I ate only a light late lunch. This site, PCD #48, has a very small usable fireplace area, good small fireplace, and decent (old) seating. The landing is topnotch. There are two tent pads 10-20 yards back in the woods and two other possible sites. (Judging from the two dry patches of ground I found, someone was here last night and earlier today while it rained.) I found lots of foil and other small litter and a big mess of brush someone drug up to the fireplace.

When I first arrived it was a little buggy, but given the weather that was normal. Later during my stay I only noticed a few mosquitoes and horse flies. One negative was finding more used toilet paper than firewood in the woods! Another was a fish carcass sunk offshore. Around 5 pm I had some Mountain House Pro-Pak Chili Mac that was very good. (I would be trying these 16-ounce single serving freeze-dried/vacuum packed – to save space – meals out for all suppers on this trip.) After supper, I noticed a pair of loons was fishing near camp.

After supper the sun tried to break out and the breeze came and went. I tried a little fishing from shore on the deeper side of camp, but soon got my frog- colored Pop-R surface lure hung up a few yards out on some wood. It could wait until morning to be retrieved. A resident gull hung around much of the afternoon and I later would discover a resident water turtle that cleaned up the fish carcass, I guess.

7:30 pm: back aching. This will continue for days but I will fight through it. Discovered I forgot or misplaced my toothpaste. Bar: 29.72/rising. Good. Went to the tent around 10 p.m. after seeing a few stars while sipping some “honey” and having a cigar. It was so warm in the tent I fell asleep in just my boxer shorts and woke up later and had to put on something warmer. I saw NO other paddlers or campers today. Slept well until around 3 a.m.

Day 2: Stayed in the tent until 7 a.m. and did not want to get out then. Slight breeze stirring, the sky is clear and it is getting warm already. Ate some Cheerios with dried cranberries and powdered milk, but wasn’t real hungry – happens all the time when it’s hot weather – then retrieved the lure hung up last night and collected a bag of lake water to purify. I saw two people in a canoe heading west towards Eden Island. Around nine, I took the Guide pack with 2/3 my food in it (for ballast) and paddled north to the in-flow from Cirrus Lake to fish.

I was using a light-colored fluke-type soft bait cast right into the moving flow and hooked up with something big. It dove deep right away and I figured “walleye” but then it came almost straight up and left the water by about ten inches -- looking every bit of 24 inches long -- went back down hard and broke off. I wondered if I had my drag set too tight? Later, replaying this in my mind, I wondered if this was a big bass, maybe a largemouth because it looked so light-colored. After this I only had one other hit and did not connect. I finally gave up, went ashore and had a snack and some water.

I wanted to take some pictures of the little rapids and the pool above it, and in walking around there, I could find no actual “trail.” (I wondered if people walk their canoes through the “lower” rapids, or what? There is a fairly long pool above the rapids and I am pretty sure that I could see the “upper” falls or rapids and what appeared to be a landing on the right (east) shore. (When I got back home, I could find no record of this portage in the database, and wished I had investigated further.)

I left the fishing hole and paddled east to where someone (online) mentioned an un-marked campsite with a large fireplace that the Natives used to dry fish. I found it and checked it out. The fireplace had not been used recently and had a burnt potato in it along with some other trash. There were a couple of rock seats/tables near the fireplace and at least two tent pads, one back in the shade and one out front and very exposed. It had a huge area of rock for stargazing or whatever, but very little usable space. It would be a fine sight for 2-4 people, and factoring in the good fishing hole nearby (and solitude), I’d probably rate it a 3-star.

Wanting to paddle the rest of this secluded area before it got too hot, I paddled east along the shore looking for the other connection to Cirrus. I could not locate it by eyeballing the shoreline so I continued to the east end and paddled the southern shore back towards the narrows. By now a northwest breeze was blowing so I had a pretty hard twenty-minute paddle to the narrows where I could “coast.” I fished a little on the way down the narrows but caught nothing.

By the time I got back to camp it was going on noon and getting very warm, but there was a nice breeze and lots of shade. (Later here, and at my other two camps, I would move from one shady spot to another during midday.) I had a good lunch of Spam on tortillas and some fresh veggies from home, then had a “bath” and lazed in the shade for a while. (I also put a heat patch on my sore lower back.) I also discovered a single blueberry bush near the fireplace and ate all the (tiny) ripe berries.

Sometime during midafternoon I heard some human noise from the narrows. Three aluminum canoes with 8 persons (Scouts, I think) had come through the narrows from the north and now could be seen consulting their map and talking. I’m pretty sure they were hoping my site was open. Eventually they headed on south. Not long after this a First Nation motorboat with 3-4 persons aboard came through from the west and then also headed south around the east side of Eden Island.

While I was fixing supper, I saw another tandem canoe heading west, just like this morning. In fact, I wondered if it was the same canoe. Supper was a chicken and rice meal that was good, but bland. I made a note to maybe add something to it next time. After supper I saw another tandem canoe possibly heading for the pictograph cliffs. I had figured it would be busy around this campsite, but I was surprised by today’s traffic.

There were few, if any, mosquitoes here today and the few flies were not bad. Around 7 pm it was almost calm in my little corner of Quetico and the resident water turtle and beaver were going about their businesses. I decided not to go out for an evening paddle or fishing because of my backache, and I saw no one else out either. The barometer had now risen to over 30 and the temperature was 22.3C. (72F.). I think the high for the day was about 81F. (I wore shorts and no shirt all afternoon.)

After watching the turtle for a while and being startled by the beaver’s “kerplunk” a couple times, I decided to make a little fire and have a drink and cigar before hitting the tent. About this time the dragonflies came out in full force and began their patrols. By the time I finished making my smoke and brushing my teeth, it was almost too dark to see back in the woods by the tent.

Day 3: I slept well until about 4 a.m. or so, and was out of the tent around 6:30a.m.. I ate a hot breakfast with tea, drank a five-hour energy drink, and paddled back north to the in-flow again. (A couple was camped at the un-marked campsite.) I began by getting hung up on some underwater snags a couple of times and catching nothing for a while, then BOOM! I boated a nice fat 17-inch walleye. Oh boy, I’m thinking, then no more bites for a while. Then in quick succession I caught a 13-inch smallmouth, then one a little bigger, and then one almost 18 inches long. Then it stopped.

It seemed I had to get the lure in a certain position in the boiling water below the rapids to get a bite, and it was hard to keep the canoe positioned, make a good cast, etc. to pull this off. Just after thinking “at least I’m not catching any stinking pike” I hooked something bigger that turned out to be a 24-inch pike. (I enjoyed catching THAT one.) After this I managed to boat another small smallmouth and called it quits at the in-flow. Not bad for a “fished out” Quetico park!

Heading back towards camp I tried to fish the west shore in a few spots, with no luck and several hang-ups besides. (The couple camped nearby had apparently left while I was fishing.) Back at the beginning of the narrows, I spotted two canoes heading upstream towards me. I pulled over to give them the right-of-way (there’s a little current you have to paddle against) and grabbed a bag of trail mix and a drink. The couple in the first canoe stopped near me and we talked for a bit. I think they said they were on the 8th day of their trip.

Back near camp there were another three canoes and six persons heading east. I paddled to deeper water and collected a big bag of water for purification and after landing, got about 3 quarts filtering. (The filter had slowed some yesterday and was barely dripping today.) I ate the rest of my trail mix snack and drank the last of my lemonade-flavored water from yesterday. By this time it was almost noon, the barometer was 29.99/rising and the temperature was 27C. (80F.)

Later, I tried adding more water to the filter bag, getting all the air out, and then tying a bandana around it to compress it some and it worked a lot better. My back is better today and I’m not wearing a heat patch. The breeze has picked up from the N/NW. For lunch today I had some cheese on tortillas with fresh green peppers and baby carrots. (A hummingbird made a brief appearance near the fireplace while I was lunching.) After lunch I did some beach (or shore)-combing with my camera.

Around midafternoon the small black flies came out from somewhere and started biting. As I was messing with my fishing tackle I spotted a tandem canoe come south out of the narrows – a couple with a dog – and the man asked me if I had a spare canoe patch! Sorry, I said, I did not. They headed on south. I lazed through the midday heat keeping hydrated and eating the rest of my carrots and some beef jerky. At one point the temperature was 82F. With the humidity it was pretty steamy.

I was heating some water for a cup of tea when I noticed a loon fishing very close to shore. I found the camera and tried to sneak closer for a picture and he spotted me and gave the alarm call. After my tea, I decided to saw up some beaver wood I had collected earlier into small pieces to leave for the next campers. After this exertion the flies started biting me again, so I headed down to the lake for a wash, to see if they would bite less if I were cleaner.

Then I remembered I brought along one of those neck things that you soak and wear to keep a little cooler, and found it and got it soaked. Much better! It was clouding up some now so that made it a little cooler too. I got out my supper meals stash and picked out one – beef stroganoff with noodles – and started heating up some water. Suddenly a pine squirrel came running by, startling me. About that time the twin-tailed plane I had seen a couple times earlier flew over again.

As I ate the stroganoff (very good) I began thinking about leaving here in the morning and which direction I might go. I wondered if I were going to do that, should I fish the in-flow one more time, or try somewhere else? Around 7 p.m. the flies were biting again and I decided to head out fishing, but not at the in-flow. Instead, I paddled over to the “wind tunnel” and fished there a little and then fished my way back to camp along the north shore.

The flies followed me out, and without socks on I was more fighting them than fishing for the first twenty minutes or so. Eventually I caught one fish – a 22” pike – and it was a strange battle. He grabbed my jig/grub and headed for the bottom and I could look down and see him, not moving, with the grub sticking out of his mouth. Then he fought some more before giving up and I brought him to the boat and did the “quick release” (trick I know) without actually boating him.

On the way back to camp I noticed two chipmunks busily scampering around on the rocky shoreline. At one time they came to together nose-to-nose and I wondered if they were sharing something from their cheek pouches? Noticing the local beaver near my landing, I coasted the canoe to within about fifty yards of it before getting the “kerplunk!” alarm. What a zoo! At sundown, the barometer was 29.99 and the temperature was 23.7C./75F.

I decided this day’s end deserved a little extra “honey” so I poured about ½-cup and lit up a Backwoods cigar and watched the dragonflies patrol. It was busy here at times today, but since late afternoon it was all mine. I enjoyed my cigar and drink thinking that this is the best time of day here in mid-summer, and enjoyed my last night at this great spot in northern Quetico Lake.[paragraph break]

Day 4: I slept so-so from 11 p.m.-4 a.m., and then dozed off/on until 6:30 a.m. I was cloudy and 16.8C./62F. when I got up. I had some hot tea and Cheerios before packing up, and was on the water about 8:30 a.m. It was very calm and the lake was almost glassy at first as I headed for the pictograph sites to the east. Being able to paddle as close as I wanted to the cliffs in the calm, I was able to easily spot them. The first ones on the large cliffs are very worn and indistinct and considering this, I wondered if there had originally been others that we don’t know about.

I knew that there was another site further east from the bigger cliffs and I decided to go at least that far since it was so calm. At first I didn’t think there could be another site for lack of rock “canvases,” but then I spotted the small bluff tucked away in a small bay. I paddled up to it and was very pleased to see such a sharp, clear image. I wasn’t going to take photographs of any of these, but this one made me change my mind. I left a tobacco tribute on the water before paddling on.

At this point, I paddled south to the shore of this arm of Quetico Lake and headed along shore to the west, towards the channel west of Eden Island. While it was still calm I took some photographs of the pictograph cliffs from a distance across the glassy lake. By the time I reached the channel and turned south, it had started getting breezy, and naturally, it was a south breeze.

The campsite on the second point heading south looked empty, so I decided to stop and check it out and have a snack break. I found the nice “beach” on the point’s south side, and just after landing, noticed some rusting relics on a rock nearby. I grabbed my water bottle and a snack bar and headed up to the fireplace area. Oh, my God! This is a huge site! (#4E) It’s been grossly worn with use, but very nice. I ate my snack bar, took some photos and looked at my map, which showed two more campsites on the left and one on the right, in my travel direction. Back on the water and heading south into the breeze, the next left site appeared occupied, so I turned for the right (west) shore – Eden Island – and paddled along it.

The breeze was picking up now, so I decided to look for a landing at the site (#3S) and check it out, giving me a little breather. The easiest landing was a small sandy shallow spot to the west about 75 yards from the camp fireplace. Landing here made some boulder hopping necessary to reach the main area, but once there, I could see this was a surprisingly nice site. It had several tent pads and the fireplace showed recent use. After taking some photos, I could see the sky was looking much grayer. The barometer was falling too.

Breezier now, I would have some harder paddling and decided to make the “sandy beach” on the southeast corner of Eden Island (campsite #3P) my destination for another breather and to ease my increasing back pain. The paddle wasn’t bad and soon I was approaching the beach/campsite. When I could see campsite opening, there was a shirt hanging in a pine tree, so I thought it was occupied. I beached the canoe for a look as it began to spit a few raindrops and realized that someone had left the shirt in the tree on purpose. (Maybe for someone to come by and claim?)

I considered the gray clouds and slight rain for bit, and then decided to put up the tent, since I could not see a tarp-hanging solution. I needed only about ten minutes to get the tent up and by the time I did, it had stopped spitting rain. I found my back medicine and took some with some water, cranberries and beef jerky. I thought if I could rest a little and get some pain relief I would take down the tent and paddle south; if not, I’d have a nice spot to relax this afternoon.

Shortly after arriving here, I saw one kayak and several canoes heading east down the main arm of the lake. After a little while the weather turned fairer, the back pain continued and around 1 pm I had a lunch of foil-packed salmon and tortillas and decided to stay here for the rest of the day and one night. The site was a little trashed with fire-making debris and the fireplace need an overhaul, but the beach and clear water was inviting and I knew I’d have plenty to occupy my time while here. (If the nuisance flies didn’t drive me crazy.)

After lunch I found a shady spot just off the beach and rested. I could look across the channel and see eight people and three canoes (the “scouts” from the other day?) at their campsite. (#3Y) What were they doing? It appeared as though two of them took one canoe out and swamped it -- on purpose -- then righted it. I decided they must be working on some “skills” or taking a test for a merit badge. (?)

I decided to have a wash and waded into the shallow in my boxers and sat down with the water up to chin. It felt really good but pretty chilly, so I got out and lay on a sloping rock face. After getting dry and much warmer, I returned to my shady spot and lay on my back almost dozing off for a bit. When it was shadier at the fireplace area I used a spare gallon-size Ziploc bag to remove ashes and then partially rebuilt the rock walls. After removing some of the fire-making debris I was happy with the overall results.