Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

August 2012 Man Chain Trip
by OldGreyGoose

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/23/2012
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
I originally planned a loop trip but we decided to just go up and back. By doing this we avoided having a long paddling day on the border and were able to have two layovers. We arrived in Ely a little after noon the day before, ate lunch at Rockwood -- very pricey, but good. Checked in at CCO and got settled into our room. Killed the rest of the day visiting Piragis and a couple other shops and had steak and beer at the Boathouse -- excellent. In the evening we walked across the street to the great park and had a cigar before turning in for the night.
Day 1, Thursday August 23, 2012:

Lakes: (Tow) Moose, Newfound, Sucker; (Paddle) Birch, Carp, Sheridan, That Man

Up at 5:15 and went to Britton’s for breakfast. (I could not eat all of mine.) Headed out the Fernberg Road and saw a big wolf cross the road near Madden Creek. It looked very dark with a fine coat and bushy tail. Arrived at CCO’s Moose Lake base early for our 7 AM tow to Prairie Portage (PP) and were soon underway.

Hit the PP at the “beach” about 7:35, unloaded our gear and said goodbye to our driver who pointed out the trail to the Ranger Station and the one to the toilet. Followed the trail across to the other side and were the only ones there when the door was opened at 7:45.

Ranger Jason was very cordial and business-like and wasn’t too hard on me for not bringing my reservation confirmation. (If the computer was down he said he could have issued the permit by hand using the confirmation printout.) He mentioned that usage was down and we probably would probably see fewer people and smaller groups. He also mentioned we were supposed to pack out our used toilet paper. (!)

We walked back over, loaded our gear and got started before 8:15. As we were paddling away, several other towboats were approaching. Joe did the navigating from his bow position as we made our way up Birch Lake under skies partly cloudy with just a little breeze stirring the surface. The Bell Northwind seemed to track a little differently that other canoes we have paddled, but we soon settled down into an easy rhythm and enjoyed the morning, the many eagles – adults, immature, some “playing,” sitting in trees with crows – and lots of loons.

It took us about two hours to make it to the Carp portage and we saw no others on the way. After the easy portage into Carp we began navigating towards the portage to Sheridan and the start of the Man Chain. (I first heard “Man Chain” about 40 years ago and was finally going to get there!) At the second “narrows” area we stopped at PCD site 1KE on the West shore for “lunch.” After that we paddled “around the corner” to try to get a look at site 1KH (called “overused” by HoHo in 2009) but we could not tell much about it from the water.

Heading for the portage to Sheridan we passed a group of four men who appeared to be taking a break or having lunch on a rock point. We exchanged greetings and headed on. Landed at the portage to Sheridan four hours after leaving PP. What an impressive spot this was! A noisy gushing stream bounces down from Sheridan to Carp creating some “spa-looking” pools that might have been nice to try, but we just took some pictures and carried our gear over the easy up/down and headed on.

Sheridan was also inviting-looking and I mentioned to Joe it supposedly held largemouth bass as we made short paddle to the portage out. This 136-rod (Fisher) carry has been called “lovely” and it did not fail to deliver. Of course it was loveliest to me when I was walking back empty for my second carry. By now the sky was mostly cloudy and we got a little sprinkle on the second trip but then it stopped as we paddled away on That Man. Our time from PP to That Man was 5 ½ hours. (By this time, Joe decided the Northwind is the easiest portaging canoe he’s ever carried.)

(Portage Note: approaching and looking for the takeout on Sheridan we saw a canoe on the shore up ahead and then people walking back in the woods to our right, which was confusing. It turned out that they landed at the farther of two takeouts and found out the trail from there was very muddy. There is another takeout before that and one of the group told us it was longer but dry, so we paddled back to it. The portage starts in a spooky-looking area of mostly cedars and has a number of ups/downs, slick rock areas, grabby shrubbery, and steep drop-offs but it’s not really a difficult portage. It was very dry, fortunately. On the East end there is a nice waterfall that we would investigate more on the return.)

We took our time up That Man and stopped at a couple of “Legacy” camp sites to check them out, but eventually we wanted to reach the Northeast end and some well-rated sites. Once up there we paddled to PCD site 1MX – on the West shore – which had one 3-star PCD rating and 4-star BWJ rating. We could see something red and “unnatural” at the island site 1NE (4/4.5-star) to the Northeast, so we claimed 1MX at about 2:30 PM, which made today about a 6½ hour trip. (Much later – around 6 PM – we finally saw human life over at 1NE.)

There were two pads that looked about equal (neither was “great” and both would be wet if it rained). Joe picked the lower one and I agreed, so we pitched the tent there and stuck sleeping pad/bags and other night stuff inside. About this time I discovered I had no “camp shoes” (Crocs) in the bag! Therefore I spent a lot of time at camps either barefoot or wet-footed. This site would turn out to be home to a variety of wildlife – pine squirrel, ground squirrel, frogs, some kind of huge beetle – and a small bluegill that grabbed Joe’s big lure.

Supper was Johnsonville andouille sausage with rice and some home-dehydrated vegetables added. Joe accidently re-hydrated our whole week’s supply of kidney beans, so it was VERY filling. (Sorry, Joe.) Cleanup afterwards was a little worse than I like. Joe discovered some “relics” – a big diameter pipe and some glass – in the woods behind the tent.

It was mostly cloudy at 7 PM and had been pretty breezy for several hours and was getting cooler so we rigged a tarp in case of rain. After our usual nightly ritual at just about dark – cigar and some smooth liquor – we hit the tent because we were pretty beat and happily not because of bugs, which were very few.

Day 2, Friday August 24:

Lakes: That Man, This Man, No Man, Other Man

I was up at 6:30 and Joe followed at 7:00 AM. We had coffee and tea before downing a good hot bowl of oats fortified with powdered milk, raisins, pineapple bits and oat bran. After a quick cleanup I packed up the kitchen stuff, tarp and food while Joe worked in the tent with the bags, pads and clothes. (This is our usual moving day routine.)

It was mostly clear and calm when we left our site about 9:45 and paddled over to the now empty island site to check it out. We found it to be pretty nice except for the cigarette butts, empty Marlboro box and whole (cooked) Bratwurst in the fireplace. We added this stuff to our trash and were soon on our way to the 119-rod portage to No Man Lake. (Today’s portages were all easy but the water entry at No Man was crazy for the canoe-carrier, with a high sawed off tree and a steep drop to fairly deep put-in.)

After the short paddle across No Man we noticed that I had a note on my MacKenzie map about paddling the stream rather than portaging to This Man (more on this later) and looking for an old “camp” but we did neither. After the short but steep portage we began the long paddle up This Man, which has a lot of character which we would enjoy both coming and going. One spot in particular – a ridge like a spine of rock with sparsely scattered pines – we both agreed was pretty unique. As we made our way it continued to get warmer (hot) and we drank iodine-treated water to keep hydrated.

Along the way we collected some “intel” for future reference at several campsites, such as the one on the West side of This Man nearly across from the mouth of Cheatan Bay. Our lunch (salami/cheese/carrot sticks/peppers) site was another Legacy site that looked never used, with no tent pad. We saw only one small spot for a solo tent or bivy sack.

After portaging to “Other” we decided to check out the small island site (1U2) not far away and maybe stop for the day. The site was open and although we’d only come about six miles or so, it was 2:30 PM and we needed to get more hydrated and rested, so we took it. For a very small island (and the usual toilet issues) it was pretty nice for a one-night stay for two persons. With our tent and tarp up, there would have been room for one more medium-sized tent. (Except for the tent pad in a shady grove of trees, the site is very exposed.)

The rest of the afternoon we rested, fished and cooled off in the water or shade. Our only “discoveries” on this site were an eagle feather by the fireplace and some TP left showing under Caribou moss by some previous camper. We saw no other people while we were camped here. The only people we saw today were four guys from Ohio that we talked to for a while at one portage (I wrote “No Man” but I think it was “That Man”).

It clouded up throughout the day but was less breezy in the afternoon than Day 1. After supper (a Knorr alfredo side with tuna & re-hydrated peas) there were a few mosquitoes. After our drink and cigars near dark we noticed a fairly large turtle “eyeballing” us from off shore. It gradually came pretty close and I got a couple of pictures before it disappeared. (It’s a wonder one of didn’t wake up during the night screaming “snapper!”) In the tent at 9 PM the temperature was 76 F. (And I brought the Marmot down bag!)

Day 3, Saturday August 25:

Lakes: Other Man, no name, Bit, Bell

At 6:30 it was still 70 degrees in the tent. I got up to see a calm lake with the usual loons (everywhere we went – often with immature offspring) and started fixing tea/coffee/oats “plus.” After we ate and were packing up, the sunny/hazy sky started clouding up. Underway at 9 AM it was already getting breezy -- a sign that we should probably not dawdle.

After the two-mile or so paddle on Other Man we did the “vertical” or “divide” (water on each side flows different directions) portage to the no-name lake. (I counted my steps up from Other Man and got 100.) I think the lake deserves a name because it is a real gem. The next little portage could have been the site for a botany lesson and had a nice waterfall. A VERY NEAT SPOT. The next water – which in my opinion should be considered part of “Bit” – had some real ugly light brown “muck” shallows not seen anywhere else on the trip.

After a short paddle on Bit, no name, Little Bit, or whatever you want to call it we came to the portage to Bell, which has a grove of big cedars. (Here we looked over on the left side of the flowage logjam and wondered there had been a takeout over there at one time.) At the Bell end we let a group of three guys from Baltimore/DC take out (“dry footing” it) while we took a snack break. I wish their outfitter could have seen what they did to his canoe to keep their feet dry! Note: They told us about paddling “THE CREEK” we had not looked for on the way up. (We’ll find out about this later.)

By now it was getting very windy and it aided us in heading up Bell Lake. Lower Bell seemed to have water up to the trees and very little usable shoreline but as we paddled further and reached the upper end it was rockier and very pretty. We landed at the “4-star” site near the portage(s) to the “Lost in the Wild” pond and landed there. We talked about going on to Blackstone and the pros and cons of that versus staying here, but the wind and a 2-minute sprinkle of rain convinced us to camp stay on Bell.

After looking the site over and noticing the smoking fireplace (the guys from DC left?) we put up the tent and threw the night gear inside. (Only one FLAT tent pad – just right for our 3-man tent. A skinny 30’ dead tree stood nearby, but leaned away from the tent.) Joe fished a little from shore and I was feeling the effects of the heat, lack of hydration and old age, while it got warmer (84 degrees) and windier. I tried to wash up but the only viable lakeshore spot I could find was tricky business. Later, Joe caught a pike of about 30” right by our canoe landing.

Somewhere during the day we had had a salami/cheese lunch and later a banana chips snack but by 4:30 we were starving so we rehydrated ½ pound of very lean ground beef and cooked a Knorr rice fajita side with meat and veggies added. I had to make a windscreen for the stove now as the wind was making whitecaps on the far shore and whipping around the site at will. (Note: 40’ tall dead pine stood about 6’ from the fireplace.) Cleanup from the supper was a little rough, but the meal was worth it and only a few mosquitoes bugged me while I did dishes.

We loafed around after supper. I was very tired and needing some “recovery time” from the past couple days work. We had ½ gallon of water left after supper and had used about 1½ gallon since midday, so we paddled out for water and noticed what looked like a landing and portage trail very close (south of camp). Joe investigated it and walked part way up the very steep trail which we assume went to the “pond” shown on our map before Fran Lake.

After getting water we figured out a way to rig a tarp in case of rain and battened down the hatches. A few mosquitoes joined us on the high rocks overlooking Bell and the evening western sky as we enjoyed the day’s end with some Evan Williams Honey and Backwoods Wild ‘n Mild cigars. Since we could see what we thought was the Blackstone portage opening from our camp, we said “maybe tomorrow” before we hit the tent. (Note: we saw loons – usually in pairs -- constantly today, and one Kingfisher.)

It was about 76 degrees in the tent and I had trouble getting to sleep. Then after awhile it began to rain hard. (Quick, close down the vestibule zippers!) It only lasted a few minutes though and in the morning we only found about 1/16th inch in a cup.

Day 4, Sunday August 26:

Lakes: Bell, “Lost in the Wild” pond

I lay awake in the tent wondering how wet it was outside and what the day’s weather would be. About 7:30 I could tell there was some sun and I unzipped the vestibule and peaked out and could see it through the pines. It was 70 degrees in the tent, but only 65 outside by the fire pit.

I had my coffee (Via!) and when Joe got up I heated up some pre-cooked bacon and we ate it while pan-frying some three-cheese biscuit mix which hit the spot but was pretty dry. A pair of gray jays and a pine squirrel visited us briefly while we ate. About 9:30 we did a quick cleanup, changed clothes and took the food pack with us for a “discovery” paddle.

We decided to check out the “Lost in the Wild” portage to the pond and that Blackstone would have to wait. It was starting to get breezy early again as we made the short paddle to the obvious put-in/take-out North of camp where we found an easy short portage with only a few root and rock obstructions. It was damp but without puddles after the rain last night.

At the “pond” end we saw the infamous Cedar that masks the entrance view if coming from the other direction but we still couldn’t really “get” how someone would not “see past it.” (We should have portaged the canoe over and paddled out for a look, I guess.) We took some pictures at both ends of the portage and noticed the water was running INTO the pond. Up to here, all water had been running towards us as we progressed “upstream.”

Back on the Bell Lake side, we noticed an open area in the cedars (I’ve never seen so many cedars as on the Man Chain lakes) which we thought might have been used for a tent. Joe also followed a trail parallel to shore for 75 yards or so to where we guessed might have been a previous or “alternate” landing. (?) We got back into the canoe and were going to head across the upper end of the lake and find the Blackstone portage, but the now strong wind changed our minds.

Back at camp around 11:30 we still had the lake to ourselves as Joe went to lie down in the tent and I lay out in a cool shady spot. I got restless though and started thinking ahead to tomorrow (it’s a curse) and wound up taking some pictures from my “spot” and then strolling around our beautiful site (with not a cloud in the sky) and marveling at how isolated we were from “the world” and it’s hubbub. Then I made some campsite evaluation notes, found the paddling glove I’d misplaced, and put my solar charger in the sun.

I’m not sure what we had for lunch this day or where much of the afternoon went to, but I remember it got so windy I had to shut my eyes at times to protect them from airborne particles. I relaxed and recharged MY batteries in the afternoon. I enjoyed bare-footing around on the solid rock and compacted soil with lots of duff.

Joe fished and caught another little Bluegill – what’s up with that? We found a small second fireplace that we wondered if some “purist” would dismantle later. Even though this was a layover/rest day, we were essentially wind bound. Supper was voted on, I think, and the winner was a new bacon-flavored alfredo Knorr side to which we added re-hydrated mushrooms, tomatoes and peas(?). Yummy.

Miscellaneous note: We noticed Arrowhead plants in the water for the first time on Bell. (We may been missing them all along.) The quote of the day was my saying “I hope I live to see a barefoot portager.” The breeze slacked some by sundown but was enough to keep any mosquitoes from spoiling our teeth-brushing/liquor/cigars nightly ritual. Before getting into the tent we noticed how bigger the moon had gotten and as it waxed towards full. (I need total darkness to sleep well.)

Day 5, Monday August 27:

Lakes: Bell, two small bodies of water, Other Man, This Man, That Man

Up a little after six to a clear sky and a very nice 63 degrees. A woodpecker made a very loud tapping across the lake. We decided to head back down the “chain” with an early start today, so we had breakfast bars instead of oatmeal/etc. We were more efficient packing this morning and were ready to paddle about 7:30. Underway, we saw another Kingfisher, a hawk and some mergansers while we paddled down Bell. Joe noticed a tree frog hitching a ride in the bow and I got a picture of it at the first portage. Quote of the day (Joe, in reference to a bunch of furry scat): “You could make a fur coat out of that.”

It was calm water at the start and we made great time down and out of Bell and across the two small lakes, reaching our day two campsite on Other Man for a snack at 9:45. By then we had the “walleye chop” going and some clouds were appearing in the southwest. The temperature was now 72 degrees. After portaging we passed two people in an aluminum canoe – the first people we had seen for two days – near the first This Man pinch point.

We’d made great time so far today but I wanted to check some This Man campsites not rated in the PCD so we stopped at a couple. (Note: The BWJ magazine did a campsite evaluation article on This Man, but no map was included, so it’s hard to tell which site is which.) The first one, site 1SA, is on the West shore almost across from the mouth of Cheatan Bay; we checked it out, made some notes and ate our lunch there.

After lunch we stopped at site 1S2, a little further west. We landed in the little canoe “garage,” walked up to the fireplace and found someone’s “WELCOME” spelled out with fresh firewood. We made more observations and notes at this VERY NICE site. If you want to learn more about these two sites you will have to check the PCD.

Note: my notes include the following remarks that I’m not going to try to work into the narrative: “loons-loons-loons,” “MUSHROOMS!,” “some late summer flowers but very few nice ones,” and “Smartweed.” (I don’t remember ever seeing it in Quetico before.)

When we got to the lower end of This Man (where I have a note saying “creek may be paddle in high water” we looked, and did not see it. We wondered aloud whether the guys had been “jerking us around.” (Just as they said that they had wondered.) We did get out at what looked like an alternate portage on the right of the outflow and found the “old camp” noted on my map. The display of rusty relics was certainly worth the stop and photographs.

We did the short/steep portage to No Man Lake and I told Joe we should check out the “3.5-star” site not far to the right. We found it easily, but it was a disaster! Since I was pretty tired now and the 119-rod portage was coming up after a short paddle, I said Joe might have to resort to some cheerleading tactics to get me over it. He agreed he would. So as we paddled near the takeout, I’m psyching myself up, drinking some fluids and wondering if I need a slug of 5-hour energy drink, Joe says “This is it; let’s paddle up in there.” (I’m skeptical, but say “okay.”)

As we started into the fairly wide, sandy-bottomed mouth, Joe, could see ahead better and he started recalling that the guys we met had said if it looked impassable keep going because you CAN get through. When I saw the 3-foot diameter log ahead I said, “I thought they said a couple of ‘pullovers?’ That looks like an ‘unload.’ “ We had to take two packs out and set them aside while we lifted and slid the canoe over, but it was easy and that was the only “pullover” we did. (We floated through one poor beaver dam.) Long story short: it WAS the creek that can be paddled. I had it marked in the wrong place!

We paddled it, took pictures and a short video and it made for one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in the Q. The flowage was crystal clear and only a foot or so deep with a solid sand bottom. There were lots of very old-looking sawed trees and limbs all along the course and we wondered if paddlers or the park had cut them. There were lots of tight turns and branches to duck under, but it was a lot of fun. If you ever get the chance, don’t pass up the paddle for the portage!

We came out in a sandy-bottomed marshy area and headed for the nice island campsite that had been occupied by the “Marlboro/Brat guys” on our night one. We claimed it about 2:45 and I said to Joe it probably would have been 3:30 or so if we’d portaged. Collected a bag of water, got the tent and clothesline up, then cooked up a package of Ramen noodle soup to tide us over to supper. Joe got some pure water going, and then fished from shore while I tried to cool off and wash off in the lake.

The weather today was the typical summer afternoon cloud buildup we had NOT expected for late August and it was mostly cloudy by 6 PM. The barometer rose steadily all day today and forunately it was not as hot or humid today. (73 F. at 6 PM). For supper we had a freeze-dried lasagna meal with ½ pound of rehydrated hamburger added. (Easy cleanup!) After doing the dishes I cleaned out the messy fireplace.

As the sun went down behind our western hills we paddled out for a brief look for some legacy campsites. We didn’t see any fireplaces or log seating from the canoe in the area east of our camp where the PCD shows site 1NH. After that we paddled back up to the creek mouth and went upstream seventy-five yards or so before deciding if we went further we’d have trouble turning around and might have to back out. By the time we got back to our island camp we had to do a quick tarp rig and by the time we did our nightly rituals and were ready to hit the tent we needed to use our lights. A great day in the Q!

(I was not able to get to sleep until around 10:30 or so because the moon was so bright, I guess. After sleeping until 4:15 AM I got up to pee and the moon had set and I got to see the stars for the first time on this trip.)

to be continued in "Part 2" . . .