Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

2013 Quetico Solo: French/Rawn/Buckingham
by OldGreyGoose

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/14/2013
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 9
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
This trip was my second solo of 2013 and was intended as a "leisurely" visit to French Lake (which I had only paddled coming out on 2 previous trips) and to "scout out" Rawn/Art/Buckingham for a possibly future trip with my son-in-law, Joe, who was not able to go this year. Fishing was low priority. Exploration and photography were higher. I paddled a rental canoe from the great folks at Canoe Canada Outfitters. Weather was great, but hot. Bugs were bad for August. Water levels were high for August.
Day 1

Slept good until 3 AM, got up at 4, and left CCO at 5 for the drive to French Lake with Wenonah Encounter canoe with adjustable tractor-style seat. (Temps were between 42-48F.) On the water at 6:30, then “oops” – I paddled a little ways up Baptism Creek by mistake. Back on track, I scared two moose on the Pickerel River, and was able to get a photo of the young one. Stopped at the first campsite on Pickerel Lake(1SH) for a snack, and took some photos of a weathered moose shed and some kayakers who passed by. (This campsite has a Forest Service-type fire grate.)

So windy by ten I changed my plans of paddling the north side. After a half hour of fighting the wind I stopped at the so-called “3-star” camp (1NK, which I rate lower) and stayed there for about two hours. (SPAM on tortilla with spicy brown mustard for lunch.) When the wind seemed to slack, I paddled on. I arrived at the opening near campsite 1KD around 2PM (just ahead of a tandem couple) and very tired. After hydrating and eating, I put up the tent and “crashed” for about an hour (5PM). (Found some good tent stakes and bag left hung on a pine tree branch, here.)

Dinner today was MH Chill/Mac around six. Bugs bad! (Skeeters and flies.) Put up my silnylon tarp (just for some shade) and enjoyed a beautiful evening. By now it was almost clear after being partly cloudy most of the day. Temperatures only reached 70F today. After supper I noticed there was someone at site 1K2 just to my SW. (I think it was the couple I had seen earlier.) In the last hour before sundown I paddled around the neighboring coves and shore with my camera. (Note: 3rd photo below is an unrated "Legacy" campsite.)

Returning to camp, the bugs got bad again (kamikazes!) so I had a drink of Evan Williams Honey and hit the tent before nine. Later, in the dark, I woke up and could see a million stars, unfortunately obscured by my tent mesh and the big pines.

Day 2

Got out of the tent about 730AM with a temperature of 50F, clear skies and calm water. (I could like every morning like that!) I considered calling a “forced layover” day, but after some Starbucks Via coffee and loaded oatmeal, I decided to move, and was underway by 1030. The “neighbor” kids waved at me from 1K2 as I went by. Not long gone, I bumped a bald eagle from his perch and then again on down the line.

I passed one of Pickerel’s many sandy beach sites and saw two tents set up close to the water. As I paddled, the breezier it got (again) and it was becoming a tailwind. I stopped at another (buggy) beach site, stretched, and had some snacks, and moved the Encounter’s seat to compensate for the wind. Near the start of the Rawn Narrows, I saw canoes to my left coming towards me and thought that was the way to go.

We exchanged hellos as we passed and I continued on for a while until I realized my mistake. Another “oops.” Instead of turning around I continued on up this pretty, boggy area until I could go no further, then took some photos and headed back out. It became less windy in the narrows and I paddled and snacked until I finally came to the first island on Rawn Lake.

Site 1NC on the east end of this island was open, and it was about one o’clock, so I went no farther. This site was very appealing with 180-degree views, lots of rocky shoreline, and very few bugs. After unloading, walking around and settling in, I got the tent up about 3PM and tried to take a nap but it had gotten very warm, even in the shade. I guess I dozed a little and then got out and put the fly three-quarters up in hopes of some star-gazing later.

After a supper of MH chicken and rice I figured a way to rig a tarp over the log seating for some shade. (Fireplace area is very exposed until around 5PM. Downed logs indicate the site had more shade some years back.) I decided my aching back would benefit from not paddling this evening, so I worked on the fireplace and fished from shore a little, catching only some small pike. Later I made a small fire for no good reason, and had my evening drink. I only traveled about six miles today, but saw no one after entering the narrows.

Whiling away the evening I noticed that there are quite a few birches on Rawn, after not seeing many on Pickerel. When I killed the fire about nine, there was one lone star directly overhead. Later, from in the tent, I couldn’t make out any constellations I knew, with the tent door facing east. Went to sleep and slept so-so.

Day 3

Up at 730AM it was clear, calm and dewy, and the foot of my sleeping bag was clammy from condensation. After my usual breakfast – and not feeling too peppy – I decided to take it easy and just fish and explore around near camp. About nine I headed over to the “5-star” (1NZ) camp island. Near there I caught a 13” SMB on a pumpkinseed colored Gitzit, but I also had lots of snags, and when it started to get breezy (get the pattern?) I came back to camp.

On the way I had a little mishap (Or was it two? Ha.) in getting a bucket of water to treat, almost tipping the canoe over. After getting the Katadyn camp filter going, I fixed a tuna and hardboiled egg salad on a tortilla and ate some cheese sticks for lunch. Now it was VERY hot, except on the north side of my point in the west breeze. (It was sauna-like under the tarp at the fireplace.) Around now it got buggy too, which was kind of hard to figure.

At 2PM it was shady at the tent and I was in it. It had clouded up some and my watch temperature showed about 82F but it felt hotter. Later, when the fireplace was in the shade I fixed a beef stew supper and ate it on the east rock face, in the shade. (The barometer today had risen steadily then fallen steadily.) I fished some more from shore until just before sundown, had a washup and a drink and hit the tent a little early to rest my aching back. I hoped to get an early start and daytrip tomorrow. (72.8F in the tent at 8:30PM)

Day 4

Slept well until around 4AM and was up at six, with the sun just edging into view. (It only cooled to 65F in the tent overnight and was probably 55-60 outside.) After breakfast and taking some Aleve I headed for Art/Buckingham with just my fishing gear and something to eat and drink. Discovered there is a decent-looking campsite on a rock point a couple hundred yards east of the portage, that is not in the PCD. Also noticed the inflow from Art is pretty neat and might be worth fishing, but I passed it by.

The Rawn-Art portage is an easy “up and over” nuisance thing. Portaging from Art to the pond is mostly “level” and a good path with some roots, but no big deal. The pond itself is very cool and I tried to take my time on it in both directions and took some photos of an old beaver lodge, etc. Then there’s the pond to Buckingham portage.(!) First, there appears to be two takeouts. I took out at a slanting rock face on the left that was not much fun, then noticed a takeout on the right further up the mouth on the inflow which I could have used with the high water.

The portage is supposed to be about 270 meters, and except for some rooty, rocky, potential muddles, the first 200 meters is okay. The last 70 meters or so, was a wet rock garden with basketball size boulders and could be an ankle-buster. I walked the portage in five minutes with no load but it took me fifteen minutes with the canoe, largely because of the wet, rocky end. The last twenty feet or so was ankle deep (and could have been worse) from high water and beaver activity. This portage has a lot of pretty big cedars and is really enjoyable except for the end.

You don’t spend much time on Art when going on through, so I can’t say much about it, but Buckingham is a jewel! I paddled from the portage along the north side, passing One point with what looked like and old fire ring before landing at site 1NN and looking around there about 8AM and having a snack. This is a great site and I hope to return and camp there one day. After my snack I headed out to look for site 34L but the wind started kicking up and I paddled back to some shelter and fished a little without finding it. With the wind getting gustier, I finally decided to start heading back.

Retracing my path I was okay into the wind on Buckingham, and got a rest on the pond. Back at Art, it was a different story. The wind was rocking and rolling and foaming in the narrow cove put-in. I had to paddle for all I was worth into it, to get up to the first point, where you need to make a hairpin turn back to the right. Knowing I should paddle well past the point before making my turn, I did that, but could not get the Encounter to actually “turn.” After a bit I just gave up and jammed my paddle down alongside and braced hard, letting the wind have its way. Around 20 yards from the takeout I finally regained some control and got straightened out. (Phew!)

Back on Rawn, since the wind was from the south paddling was easy and I poked around along one shore I hadn’t paddled yet on the way back to camp. I was disappointed not to have visited more of Buckingham, especially the southern campsite once pictured on a BWJ cover, but I apparently had the lake to myself and it was one of the most enjoyable half-day trips I’ve made.

Back at camp around 1PM, I had lunch and then rested and straightened up the rest of the afternoon. About four, a tandem aluminum canoe came by (checking my site out) then went on to the other island site. (So I had solitude for over 48 hours here, which I thought was pretty good.) Supper today was my favorite MH entrée -- sweet and sour pork -- washed down with lemonade. I ended the day with a wash-off in the lake, a small fire and a nightcap. Looking back on the day, during which I had to take Aleve, Tylenol and prescription medicine to keep my backache at bay, it was a still great day! (And not so hot as yesterday, but very breezy!)

Day 5

Sometime during the night I woke up and realized it was cloudy. Slept good until 3:30AM, then dozed off and on until getting out of the tent at 7:30, feeling very lethargic. The sky was what photographers call “cloudy-bright” and my watch predicted sun and clouds. Coffee! Dark roast!! Now I felt better as I ate my loaded oatmeal, and decided today would be one of R & R.

Around mid morning it got very breezy from the W//SW. Two brothers-in-law from Thunder Bay and their two Labradors paddled up and we talked for a half-hour or so. I told them what I knew about Rawn and Buckingham and we looked at the map together, then they headed off. (I gave them one of my extra pens, since they had none.) I never was sure if they headed on to Buckingham or stayed at the unmarked campsite near the portage. (Which is out of sight from my site.) It was good to have a conversation after four days of silence.

Lunch today was salmon and hardboiled egg salad on a tortilla. Then it got HOT, so around two I got halfway into the lake to get cooled off. (The water temperatures were surprisingly cool/cold in spite of the hot air temperatures,) I tried to nap in the tent, but it was over 75F, which didn’t help. At mid-afternoon I heard some distant thunder, but there were no sign storms anywhere I could see.

The breezes calmed around the time I ate an early supper of beef stroganoff and had some wild raspberries off the handy bush. (The bush was home to a bid spider and a nest of tiny babies.) After eating I took some photos all around the campsite. By 7PM it was very breezy again. I had a small fire and my daily dose of “honey” wondering if it would eventyally rain. I got in the tent early tonight and it was 69F – not too bad – feeling pretty rested and without a backache. Good day.

Day 6

During the night I woke up twice and saw a cloud-shrouded “glowing” moon (becoming full) and no stars. When I got of the tent at seven, it was totally cloudy and gray. I mulled over “stay or move” while eating and drinking my jump-start breakfast and decided it was a good time to move. Without particularly hurrying, I was on the water headed back towards the narrows a little after eight. (I saw no sign of anyone camped at the unmarked site.) It was almost calm (!) as I leisurely paddled, staying close to shores and peering back in to coves looking for moose or anything else of interest.

I bumped another eagle in the narrows, before getting to the opening leading to Howard Lakes. Jim at CCO had said if I tried to get to the lakes, I would surely have to get wet because of low water or beavers, so I was hesitant to go far. Long story short, as they say, I paddled all the way to the first “pinch point” on my map, which is a good distance. It was very marshy and as the opening narrows, paddling becomes river-like with many grasses and water plants. This area looks like perfect moose/beaver/pike/duck habitat. I only saw ducks and beaver, but it is a very worthwhile sidetrack even without spotting moose.

After turning around at the pinch, I retraced my path and when I got down almost to the narrows, stopped on a point where Jim had indicated a campsite. As the photos show, there is no campsite (anymore). Like many of the PCD “legacy” sites, a half-dozen rocks may have been a fireplace years ago, but there was no access to the interior, no place for a tent, and a couple of long-downed trees crisscrossed the site. I had a big snack and something to drink here, and thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Back in the narrows, I saw what probably was my Rawn “neighbors’” canoe ahead of me also heading out of the narrows. It got breezy now (big surprise) as I steadily progress along the Pickerel dam side of this area, opposite of where I paddled several days ago. Using the dam as my reference, I turned towards the somewhat confusing looking area to the north where I knew there are several nice campsites.

My “neighbors” were out of sight now and I didn’t see any other canoes or campers in the area, which was good but seemed a little strange. When I reached the (“4-star”) site with the sandy beach and camp area that’s 25’ or so above the lake, (34G) I stopped for the day. By three o’clock I was set up, had a SPAM wrap lunch and the last hard-boiled egg for lunch. (Note: egg still good on day 7.) With plenty of water filtered, I got well hydrated, rinsed off in the lake, changed clothes and walked the beautiful beach with the camera.

I enjoyed the awesome views from the camp area until began feeling a little dopey from my back meds, so I crashed in the tent with my crossword puzzle book for a while, and felt better. For supper I had the MH pasta primavera, with a little home-dried ground beef added. (It was okay, but not great.) I had some of the late local (dwarf) blueberries for dessert. They were growing all around here. (I found a lot more, larger ones after I took this photo.)

After another cool-off in the lake, and my evening libation, I decided not to “portage” down the steep rock face to brush my teeth as usual and did it up in the “penthouse.” I got to see my first real sunset of the trip tonight, with my western exposure. Direct quote from journal: “It’s too f-ing hot!” was written at 8PM when I saw it was 84F in the tent. (I should have chosen the little pad back in the cedars where it was shady most of the time.) No fire tonight and no fly on the tent, since the sky is clear now and the moon is completely full.

Day 7

72F in the tent at 6:30AM! Today would be hot again with a south breeze starting early. After my usual breakfast I went out and fished northeast of camp until almost eleven. I could only fish where the wind let me, and most of these were “pikey-looking” coves and shores, which was reflected in my catch of three northerns and one smallmouth. While I was out I noticed only one other canoe and one occupied camp – the beach site southeast of mine.

Later I saw two guys in an aluminum canoe fishing nearby in spite of a wind that was now pounding surf and foaming up my beach. With my backache pounding me, I took some meds and lay in the tent for a while even thought it was 78F. (By now I had decided to spend the hot part of the day lazing and hydrating.) While loafing in the shade I swatted at something buzzing me and got stung behind the ear by a bald-faced hornet. Ouch, that will leave a mark! (My fault for swatting without knowing what it was.)

Lunch today was summer sausage and cheese along with lots of water flavored with powdered additives. By 3PM it was VERY HOT, but not as breezy, when a breeze would have been welcome. Supper was another MH chicken and rice meal, one which I need to remember not to buy two of! (Some of the rice always seems to be a little hard.)

After supper I ventured out to fish again and caught two more pike, while paddling carefully so as not to aggravate my back. A bald eagle was sitting low on a stump in the water on one side of a cove I fished, and when I got a little too close he left for what I guess is one of his favorite nearby lookout posts, a tall dead tree. He looked quite regal from that vantage point.

Back at camp later I had a small fire to piss off the few bugs, and a big drink. At sunset – about 8PM – I watched (with my small binoculars) as a fully loaded canoe slowly paddled a far shore as though they were lost, or comparing the shoreline with their map, or looking for a campsite. (Kind of late for that, I thought.) At 8:30 it was 79F in the tent, so I took the fly off before retiring.

Day 8

At 1:15AM I awake to distant thunder. I get out of the tent and put the fly on. (Thank God for no bugs and quick-buckle straps.) A little after 2AM it rains some, and an hour or so later it gets windy. I look out of the tent a little after six and see an ugly gray sky and wind. I shut the tent up and lay down for almost another hour, and by then it’s beginning to clear.

Eating my breakfast, another hornet buzzes me. Getting the kitchen gear packed up, there’s the hornet. I get into the tent to pack up that stuff and the hornet joins me. WTF? By this time, I’m getting pissed. Finally I get everything packed up and am under way around 9AM.

For some reason – I think because I want to paddle “new” water – I decide to head north and then east around the huge island that my camp was on the southwest corner of. (Instead of the more sheltered way I had come on day 2.) Right off I have to fight a cross-headwind that about wears me out. Then turning east, I get a cross-tailwind that tries to swamp me. After some hairy moments, I get the hang of it, relax and make good progress. (Some prayers help, too.)

My intention today is to make it all the way to “The Pines” area in eastern Pickerel where I can camp on the sand, maybe swim, and sleep in tomorrow and easily paddle out by say, noon tomorrow. Well, by noon today I am miles from there and pretty beat, when I land at an open campsite for lunch. (PCD site 1LY) I eat my lunch and rest, in hopes the winds will ease like they did on day one. I explore the small island; take some photos and hope, as the hours go by. Fortunately this site has lots of shade, very few bugs and NO hornets.

Around 5PM I eat supper, still hoping for calming. Instead, the winds increase and at 6PM it is all white caps and rollers on Pickerel and the surf is pounding my shore. Across from where I sit and write these notes after supper, the waves hit shore boulders and throw up a 3’ spray.

I finally put up the tent on an excellent pad with the door facing the west wind, but screened by shrubbery. Taking only what I absolutely need into the tent, and packing up the smaller guide pack before bedtime, I am ready to go quickly in the morning. (IF the wind lets up.)

At 7PM it seems less wind overall, but still gusts now and then. I am now ready for my last drink of the trip! I’m in the tent at eight, and it’s clear with only a light breeze now. I have the fly on tonight to hopefully block some of the full moonlight. Temperature in the tent is 73F. Getting to sleep is difficult.

Day 9

After 2:30AM I didn’t sleep much and kept looking out and seeing signs of a breeze blowing and worrying. At 5AM I got out of the tent and decided to bug out ASAP. I ate a couple of granola-type bars while packing up the sleeping gear and taking down the tent and fly and was ready to paddle at six.

I felt a great relief to be on the water and away from my island prison and happy to be paddling and not stuck weather watching. I decided to go out into the main lake body and head for the big island northeast of me, thinking if the winds cranked up I’d rather try the middle than the south shoreline like yesterday.

Long story short: It was a piece of cake paddling east on my last morning, as there was only a gentle breeze from behind, and my only problem was finding my paddling rhythm. At 8AM I reached The Pines sandy beach and landed at the far left end. (Someone was camped at the far right.) After stretching and looking around – I had only been here once before – I brought the guide pack up to a fireplace and make my usual breakfast and a cup of coffee. (Best breakfast of the trip!)

After taking some photos and making a short video, I pushed off into a lightly ripple of the west breeze, and prepared to really enjoy the last paddling of the trip. The closer I got to the Pickerel River, the slower I paddled, soaking up every bit of this last beautiful morning. I purposely paddled into a little dead end cove near the river mouth, where I scared up some Blue-winged Teal. It occurred to me then that teal season would open back home in about 10 days.

The river itself was just as pleasant and peaceful as it was eight days ago and I saw many ducks, loon, turtles, etc. Today, however, I met two canoes heading out, and saw no moose. When the river ended and I entered French Lake, wouldn’t you know it, I got a headwind to paddle into the last half mile, but soon I was back at the landing.

Taking my time unloading and hauling gear up to the parking lot I talked to some young folks doing trail maintenance and eventually got the canoe and gear loaded up. After changing into some cleaner clothes I had in the car, I headed back to Atikokan and arrived at CCO about noon.

After taking a long, hot shower, buying a souvenir CCO shirt, and talking to Jim and Jeremy, I headed over to the Outdoorsman Café for some real food, and was soon on the road headed home with memories of another great trip in Quetico.