Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

6 day Quetico solo
by marsonite

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/02/2012
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
Background: I originally wanted to take a trip like this on my 50th birthday, but circumstances got in the way. Now almost three years later, I find the perfect time. Yes, it’s early June and the blackflies are liable to be out, but the fish should be biting, the flowers will be blooming, and the birds will be singing. This is my first real solo in 25 years. My plan is to enter the Quetico at Prairie Portage, go north on Agnes to Kawnipi, east on the poet chain, south through Camel to Delahay, Conmee, Macintyre, Robinson, Kett, Basswood, Wind, Moose. Using Google Earth, I calculate the loop to be about 91 miles. At a 15-mile-a-day average I’ll do it in 6 days, though I can take a 7th if I need to. This might seem long to a lot of people, but I have always been a restless canoeist. I love seeing what’s across the next portage or around the next point. I also like physical challenge. I have no problem if people want to come to the canoe country to lay in a hammock, it’s just not my thing. I actually took part of this route (Kawnipi to Agnes) last summer. While I don’t like repeating what I have already paddled, my intent is to speed up the big water to get me into the interior of the Quetico. My gear consists of a Souris River Q17 canoe in Kevlar and a single pack which weighs about 32 pounds at the start of the trip. I pack backpacker-light. I’ve got a small tent, a Littlebug junior ultralight woodstove for cooking, no water filter (I’ll dip out of the middle of lakes). All my food is dry (no luxury of bagged chicken or pre-cooked bacon) and I’ll either eat fish for several meals, go hungry, or come out early. I even considered cutting the handle off of my toothbrush.
Day 1 of 6
Saturday, June 02, 2012

Prairie Portage to Agnes. 11 miles. My clothes are soaked in permethin, I’m stocked up on DEET, and I’m off. After an uneventful drive from Duluth, and an uneventful tow to Prairie Portage, my adventure begins. The ranger at Prairie Portage does a double-take when I tell her I’m going through Poacher on my way to Agnes. “Interesting” is her comment. She also tells me no one has been through there yet this year. Sounds like my kind of route!

I arrive at the Poacher portage at about ten o’clock. Some nice smallmouth bass scatter from the shallows as I pull up to the beach landing. The Poacher Lake portage is long at 330 rods, but flat as a pancake and a bit boggy in spots, though nothing more than ankle deep. Yes, as expected, there are blowdowns. Surprisingly, there are also boot tracks on the portage. I single-portage until I cross my 4th blowdown, then carry the pack ahead to the next one. This does the trick. The trail is clear from here on.

There is a nice little beach campsite at the Poacher Lake end of the portage. It’s hemmed in by conifers, so bugs might be a problem, but otherwise it’s a pleasant spot. I don’t see any other campsites on Poacher, though I keep to the west shore, trying to catch what lee I can in the northwest wind. Poacher is quite a scenic little lake with some wild-looking hills to the north. I remember last August being forced to wait out the wind on Sunday Lake; this route definitely would have been preferable. I’m surprised that it doesn’t get more use, but I guess people are put off by the length of the portage.[paragraph break] The next obstacle is Poacher Creek. I am able to paddle through the first “portage” marked on my map, but also have to drop over several beaver dams. The last portage, around a small set of rapids, is a pleasant walk down to Sunday Lake.

Next are the notorious Meadows portages, which are actually uneventful. The beauty of starting out with a 330 is that everything seems short afterwards. Someone has left a 5-gallon water container in the middle of the landing. I guess they never looked back. I leave it for someone else to claim. I can see when I get to Agnes that the northwest wind is going to be problematic. I hope to catch a bit of shelter because Agnes runs slightly northeast, but the wind is blowing hard enough to follow the lake. I deal with this by weighting down the front of the canoe, which makes it easier to control, but also heavier. It’s like having a bow paddler who doesn’t paddle! Louisa Falls is a large white gash on the shoreline, I don’t stop. I have supper on the beach campsite north of Louisa Falls, intending to wait out the wind and get another hour or two of paddling in before camping. I’m hoping to make the Silence portage, the fifteen-mile mark by my reckoning. The wind never really dies, so I stay in a hidden campsite on an island in the narrows instead. On the way, I pass one occupied camp on a small, brushy island. I’m always surprised when people choose such small islands to camp on. Do they think bears won’t swim?