August 2012 Man Chain Trip -- Part 2
Lakes: That Man, Sheridan, Carp
Out of the tent at 6:30, it was very dewy and we were completely fogged in. You could not see shorelines in any direction. The barometer had leveled off and the temperature by the fireplace was 57 F. while I had my coffee. (That’s more like it!) The fog soon cleared and by the time we were underway around 9:15 it was the most beautiful day you could imagine. A few clouds blemished the blue sky but the air was calm and the lake was smooth as glass as we headed down That Man for the Sheridan portage.
We did a slow paddle-pause-glide on the glassy water while enjoying the beautiful morning and ideal conditions. We were very near the shore of an island when something splashed into the water and Joe almost jumped out of his seat. I didn’t see it, but he said it must have been a beaver from the glimpse he got before the splash. We sat there laughing and recovering from the shock and looked around but never saw whatever it was again. About halfway down the lake we got VERY close to a loon that seemed not to notice or care about us. Finally it dove and must have swum a long ways under water because we never saw it again either.
At about quarter-mile from the portage take-out we got the wilderness treat of a lifetime. Two loons – presumably two young males – went berserk and one chased the other nonstop for about ten minutes. Neither took off and flew. The one being chased was looking back often as they both beat their wings and paddled the water with their feet. At one point they were on a collision course with the canoe, then veered off to the side. They actually made a complete circle around us one time. Finally, I guess one or both of them grew tired and the show stopped. Joe and I were sitting there with our jaws dropped during all of this and I tried to get some pictures but they don’t do it justice.
We were taking a snack break at the portage landing when a man and woman came over with their canoe and one pack. (They were the first people we’d seen in two days.) We talked enough to learn they were doing a loop up the Man and back down the border (as was our “original” plan) and they were from the Milwaukee area. When they went back for their second load the man carried our paddles over.
We leisurely finished our snacks and drink and then portaged our first load. On the Sheridan end we wished the couple a good trip then let them get started with their second load and took our time on the empty walk back, taking a bunch of pictures of “Lovely Portage.” One of the things I tried to photograph was some portage crew work on this trail that looked pretty fresh, but they weren't good. (Thank you portage crews for the work you do!)
Back on Sheridan at about 11:30, we stopped at the campsite a short distance to the left of the portage. We noticed some waste in the fireplace and removed it. (I’d rather not say what it was.) Our lunch was one of our favorites – Spam on tortillas. After eating we walked the long steep climb to an upper tent area and a high view of the lake. We both agreed that this site deserves a better rating than the 2-star one in the PCD!
Leaving here we paddled over to the short carry from Sheridan into Carp. Again we took a bunch of pictures and Joe discovered what appeared to be a tent pad and old fire ring near the Carp landing. While trying to walk out into the shallows at the top of the falls to get a better camera view, I must have lost one of my paddling gloves in the water. We looked around and never found it so I guess it was the price I paid for the pictures.
We looked at the map showing campsites in the upper reaches of Carp before heading up there to find a good site for the rest of today and a layover tomorrow. We paddled slowly, enjoying a narrows between the west shore and a large island and Joe noticed several good-sized fish in the clear water. It was getting warmer so we tried to paddle close to the island for the shade, but by the time we made it to the 3-star rated site “1MK” it was pretty warm and we were cooking.
Joe got out first and looked around while I secured the canoe. (We had noticed a bigger-looking, very open site on a point to the south, which was open, and which we assumed was the 4-star rated site on my map.) It didn’t take long for us to agree that this would be a good spot for us without looking further. We unloaded our gear at about 2 PM and started getting things set up. We put our tent in what we thought was the best spot (most level and least rocky/rooty) and it was a tight squeeze.
I really needed a “soak” so I found a spot not far from the canoe landing where I could ease my way into a sitting position in water deep enough to cover my shoulders. Boy, did that feel good. The water was warmer than any other I had tried to get very much of my body in and so I sat mostly submerged for a while, then went under a couple times to rinse my head. Then I got out and sun dried on the sloping rocks nearby. While I was cooling off and enjoying the brief break from the heat, Joe rigged up his fishing rod and caught a small smallmouth.
We soon found that this site was buggier than any of the others – not that the bugs were that bad – with biting flies and occasional mosquitoes around the fireplace. Since the fireplace was pretty exposed during the middle of the afternoon, we just avoided it. A couple of gulls flew in for a visit, and of course there were the usual loons and also a couple of ground and pine squirrels here. While I was checking out the shore for firewood, I found an old and faded minor league baseball hat with a snake logo. (At home I found out it was the Tucson Sidewinders who have since moved to Reno, Nevada and become the “Aces.”)
Before suppertime we looked at our meal options and Joe wanted to have the freeze-dried (MH Pro-pak) Beef Stroganoff. I told him it wouldn’t fill us both up, so he suggested we also cook up some Idahoan “baby red” instant potatoes. Once the beef was set aside to sit for 8-9 minutes we made the potatoes and each of us had our bowl. After eating a little of his potatoes Joe said. “Let’s pour the Beef Stroganoff over the potatoes.” So we did. It was great – unanimously the trip’s best meal!
After supper I cleaned the dishes at a great little clearing in our woods and was not bothered by mosquitoes. Then I went for another “wash” in the lake, but not “all in” this time. We didn’t have a late paddle today and instead had a small fire while we smoked and sipped. There were some mosquitoes around near dark, but not really an issue. In the tent we checked the clock and found it was only 8:45 – a little earlier than usual. I didn’t doze off for quite some time – I lay watching the almost full moon glow and cast shadows on the tent. After getting up to pee around 2:30, I slept soundly even though the moon was still up.
Day 7, Wednesday August 29:
I didn’t get up until 8:05, and felt very good when I did. Temperature was 63 F.; not so cool or dewy as the night before. Coffee! And tea for Joe when he got up. I had noticed birch leaves had fallen on the tent fly during the night, but Joe said he saw something else (moth?) the size of his palm. He fished from shore while I hunted for my notebook – too many pockets – then made notes I’d forgotten to yesterday and started today’s log.
One thing I noted was what appeared to be some kind of (squirrel?) nest in a pine that was about 24” in diameter and looked stuffed with leaves of something. I also noted that this site really has a small amount of “usable” space, which is fine with me. The 180-degree access to the water is a real plus. Also I noted we had seen more birds – nuthatch, chickadee, and “unknown” – at this site on Carp.
The morning was beautiful – again (this is getting old!) – the sky was very clear with just a little breeze stirring after nine o’clock. Joe called out when he saw an eagle swoop down and snag a fish, but all I was able to see was the eagle landing in a tree across the way. By now we had run out of water in the Katadyn camp filter bag so we decided to paddle out for some water and “discovery.” (We think we averaged filtering two gallons per day. On travel days we usually had filtered water to start, then drank water treated with iodine when necessary.)
We paddled to the big-looking site south of ours and checked it out. It is a true “big group site.” It looked over-used and very exposed, but you could put many tents on it. It had a nice canoe landing area with a small alternate fire ring nearby. We agreed that we liked our site better. Further south on a small island is another site that we looked at. We liked it a lot – better than the bigger site – and decided it was a toss-up between it and our site. (It appeared to offer more shade than ours, but might be claustrophobic after awhile and ours was better for sanitation purposes.
Leaving there we paddled back up to the point north of our site that is where the one dot on the PCD map shows a site. (It does not show the site we had.) I really liked the small fireplace. It was the only one we saw on the trip that you could sit on the log seating and actually reach the fireplace (or stove, if placed there). After leaving here and grabbing some lake water we went back to our site and Joe made notes for a PCD entry. By 11 AM it was very warm but a breeze made it seem comfortable
Joe fished a little more – his watch had shown “4 fish” earlier but now only “2 fish” – while I loafed around. Sitting in the shade watching Joe fish, I was also treated to a show of two ants trying to drag an inchworm along. Later, I was sitting on the logs near the fireplace re-taping my big toe (toenail problem) when I noticed a decent-sized garter snake by the fireplace. I guess I scared it -- it slithered into a hole under the fireplace.
Lunch today was the last of our summer sausage and the cooler bag we bring (with first night food and things like cheese, sausage, bacon, fresh veggies) now only held a few cheese sticks, so we could now collapse it to save pack space. After lunch I had a quick “dip” in the lake and wash-up using Wet Wipes. Joe went to the tent to try for a nap, so I got out the first aid kit to look for some antibiotic ointment for my several leg scrapes from the last few days. None could be found, so I used an iodine prep swab instead.
By now it was very warm and only the breeze made it not TOO bad. I didn’t dare try to nap because it probably would have messed up my nighttime sleeplessness even more, so I sat in my Alite butterfly chair in the shade. Periodically I moved to a new spot to avoid the few bugs and blazing sun. A little after 3 PM I hollered up to Joe, “Are you awake?” He was now! He got out of the tent and said it was pretty warm in there anyway. I checked the watch temperature around 4 PM and it read 88 F. (Really, really hot for Quetico the last of August.)
Our last supper of the trip was a Knorr fettuccini side with re-hydrated tomato, corn, mushrooms and foil-packed Salmon. It was “okay.” (Okay, it was arguably the worst supper of the trip.) I had gastric issues afterward, probably from the mushrooms, or maybe lunch. After doing the dishes we loafed around before I suggested we do some pre-packing to make for a quicker getaway in the morning. (We had scheduled a 1 PM pickup at Indian Portage and were camped abou eight miles away, so we had decided to shoot for an 8 AM getaway.)
It was clear with a heat haze all day today and we saw no other people. (Unbelievable!) Before sundown the breeze backed off and my watch barometer was falling and showing the “rain” symbol. The kitchen pack was ready for travel and what we needed for a quick breakfast and snacks for the morning paddle were moved to the Garcia bear vault and the food barrel was locked up. All we would have to pack in the morning was the tent stuff, then take down the tarp and we would be good to go.
Joe fished until almost dark, and I almost broke something when I fell trying to get a good picture of him fishing. (With only my pride injured, we had a good laugh as I used the flashlight to find my glasses.) We sipped the last of our “honey” – about 6 ounces – and a smoked a last cigar with the moon shining brightly and nearly full. (It rose earlier and got brighter every doggone night!) I’m not sure what time we finally hit the tent.
Day 8, Thursday August 30:
Lakes: (Paddle) Carp, Birch; (Tow) Sucker, Newfound, Moose
We were up a little after six o’clock. Looking at the sky over coffee and tea, we would have bet we’d get rained on, if not in camp then later. We packed everything up dry and watched as two obvious rain squalls slid by north and south of us. We were almost ready to carry the gear down to the shore – with raingear on, expecting the worst – when a brief gust of very warm air blew through the campsite. It was weird. Down at the shore wind gusts were really churning things up as we loaded, but quieted down a little before we shoved off.
We left camp at 7:45 and bucked a little crosswind getting started but then were able to get out of it as we paddled upper Carp. We didn’t hurry but set a pace that would move us along without tiring us out. Passing an area with some well-rated campsites about a mile south of ours, we got close enough to a couple to see that they would be “OK.” All were unoccupied and we saw no one paddling.
After about 3 miles -- an hour of paddling -- with only a quick drink of G2 or water here and there, we decided to stop at a campsite (PCD 1J2) for a stretch and some snacks. The sky was starting to clear some by now and things looked much less threatening, so we took off our rain gear. (It was like stepping out of a sauna.) After about a 15-minute break we headed out again. Paddling more leisurely now that the weather looked better, we reached the Carp-Birch portage about 9:45.
Here, for the first time in two days, we met people. While we were getting our gear across, a group of six in three canoes landed at the take-out. (After seven days of seeing almost no one, I wanted no part of a portage crowd.) We got our second carry across and almost made our departure, when one of their men carried his canoe into the water right beside us and almost took Joe’s head off with it! We left and tried to put as much distance as possible between them and us. Heading down Birch we passed another couple of canoes heading in.
Paddling now was into a steady breeze and some work, so I told Joe I needed a break and we stopped in some calm water just before the “jog” into the main body of Birch. After getting a drink and a breather, we continued through the jog. At the small island just past the jog (U.S. side) was a family of eagles (one adult and two juveniles, I think) sitting in a tall pine that we were going to paddle almost right under. I tried to pictures but got too much sun glare. I thought they would fly when we got very close and a juvenile began making strange noises, but they just sat there.
Now we only had about three miles to go against only a little breeze, so we just settled into an easy, deliberate pace. We began to see more gulls and eagles and some small dead fish in the water (it even smelled fishy) but we still saw no one at camps. About a mile after the eagles in the tree, we saw an immature eagle make three attempts at snagging a fish out of the water, finally succeeding. An adult was circling nearby and followed the young one to its landing place in a tree on the Canadian shore. (Was this a training session?)
Now looking for another break – I needed to uncoil my legs and take a leak – we spotted two U.S. campsites very close to each other the first one open and the second one obviously in use, judging from the aluminum folding chair we could see. We paddled to the open site and used it for a stretch and another snack. The site had a huge pine not far from the fireplace that had about six rocks and ropes hanging in it. (Funny.)
Moving on again, we passed the occupied site – the first we’d seen in seven days – and saw no one there and no canoes tied up. It only took us another half hour or so to reach the little bay for Indian Portage and after taking a “looking back” picture and one of the top of the little falls, we landed. As we were pulling up a towboat driver walked over from the other side looking to see if we were for him. We weren’t. It was 11:45 and we were very early.
Since the towboat was parked at one of two possible landings on the Sucker Lake side, we carried our stuff to the other one where it looked like there was a little more shade and we would be out of the way. I’m glad we did this. Before long the three canoes we’d seen two hours before at the portage arrived. Soon there were six or seven people going back and forth and talking constantly, but we were out of their way and out of earshot of most of it.
I guess one of the ladies had to pee really bad, because she dropped her pants just off the trail and within sight of Joe, then saw him and did an “oops” and went on the other side of the trail. (My view was blocked, so I’m taking his word for this account.) They loaded two of the three canoes and four people and took off, leaving the other canoe and people to wait.
While killing the hour or so for our towboat to arrive, we watched numerous towboats come and go from PP, which is out of sight about a mile and a half west. The weather was now turning gray and more menacing again. By the time the other party’s boat arrived for the second trip, it had gotten pretty rough on Sucker and some of the boats were pounding the waves. (Their driver asked us who we were waiting for and said he would contact them to see if they forgot us.) Then we had peace and quiet again.
Shortly before we were picked up we enjoyed watching a large canoe battling its way to the landing on the Birch side. It was a man and three boys, presumably heading in for a long weekend in the BWCA before school started. Our pickup guy from CCO arrived about 1:10 and we talked a bit as we loaded up. Soon we were winding our way down Sucker, Newfound and Moose. There were a few boats and campers here and there, but not a lot. As we headed southwest, we could see rain to the west, heading northeast. Finally we began to see all the “civilization” of lower Moose Lake with its lodges, boats, radio towers and hubbub.
After getting the towboat unloaded our guy gave me a ride up the steep hill in an old van that must have made that trip thousands of times. I got my keys, drove down to the landing and we were soon heading back to Ely and U.S. customs where we got our passports stamped. Joe called home to say we were out. Back at CCO, we went straight to the showers! Afterwards we talked a little with the staff, settled up our account and headed to Sir G’s for pasta. Great meal – highly recommended! After that we hit the highway and drove down to Spooner, WI, and its Best Western Heritage Inn, to sleep in a real bed.