Quetico 2013, Part 2
24 July, Day 8: Up to sunny skies with some increasing clouds, we ate breakfast, packed up, and were soon on the water, heading south. The broad sweep of Agnes Lake east of the Silence Lake portage and north of the narrows contains plenty of deep water, and I scoped water as deep as 204 feet, but my sample was small, and there are almost certainly deeper spots. We trolled up two or three lake trout through here, and Everett caught a three pound smallmouth in the narrows. The narrows are very scenic, a watery gash in the high, granite terrain of central Quetico that seems to follow an ancient, geologic fault. There are cliffs, lofty overlooks, old pines, burned-over forest, and a few nice campsites. Water depths in the main channel range from over 100 feet down to just eight feet at the narrowest point at the north end of the lake’s south basin. Thunderstorms were building to the west as we traversed the south basin enroute to Louisa Falls. We scoped the deepest known water in Quetico (284 feet) before viewing some added pictographs along the west shore. These included what appeared to be a human figure, as well as a couple of abstract forms. At Louisa Falls we found the usual crowd of people, including a boy scout group. Normally, we would take a dip in the “bathtub” midway down the falls, but rain was moving in from the west, and I didn’t want any issues occurring between Wilson and the others—so we made the very steep, 100m portage to the pond below Louisa Lake, then portaged another 100m or so, to Louisa Lake. As it was now raining, I wedged the canoe between two trees in a cedar grove, which we stood under while eating cheese and sausage bagels for lunch. The rain ended, and we headed out onto Louisa Lake. The sky was again partly cloudy, but rain showers could still be seen in several directions. After we passed through a narrows, the lake opened up before us, bringing into view the high, steep, rocky rim—similar to the southern part of Agnes, but feeling far more remote. Paddling northeast we scoped water of increasing depth—80, 114, 130 feet—and then found a well-used, but great, campsite on an island midway down the lake. It had an extensive bedrock point, and was backed by a high, burned-over ridge that offered a fantastic view of the lake and millions of blueberries, ripe and waiting to be picked. I know I camped on Louisa while guiding a 33-day trip back in 1984, but don’t remember exactly where—even though that site is exactly the type I would have chosen back in the day. I pondered who might have camped there over the decades and centuries, as great sites seldom lose their attraction through time. With the sky now overcast, we set up the tent and rain fly, and then headed up behind camp to collect blueberries. There seemed to be two species—one the typical blueberry of the North Woods—and the other almost black. Both were delicious, and we easily collected two quarts. Afterwards, we went out fishing and caught a couple of eating-sized lake trout. We kept one for the pan. We also hiked around a nearby island in search of a couple of campsites shown on the Quetico Campsite Database. One site didn’t exist, while the other seemed more like a lunch spot, although it could have been used as a site in the past. We did find some decades-old cuttings on the island’s interior, as well as deep moss. Back in camp we cooked and ate supper, and then made pudding, mixed with a massive amount of blueberries. Excellent. Not long after, we retired to the tent in the fading light, as some light rain showers started to fall.
25 July, Day 9: There was no rain falling when we got up, but the sky was laden with clouds, and looked like they could open up at any time, so we quickly packed up the tent and prepared breakfast. The remaining, obscene amount of blueberries were added to our oatmeal and really were fantastic. Once on the water, we headed northeast up the vacant lake toward the intricate canoe route leading toward McEwen Lake and the Falls Chain. The portage leaves Louisa Lake from a small sand beach where there is a small campsite, and heads 520m to tiny, Arp Lake. From there we portaged 60m to Star Lake, and then after negotiating a narrow, bog-lined channel where Wilson jumped out and hopped along on the floating bog, portaged 270m to Fauquier Lake. The lake has at least a couple of campsites, one of which (along the NE arm) was occupied by a couple of paddlers. We portaged 360m along a tumbling stream to Dumas Lake. On Dumas, Wilson heard a moose crashing though the bush along the north shore of the lake, and was totally homed-in on it. When we actually saw the same moose, a bull, in the NE bay of the lake, the dog jumped out of the canoe and started swimming toward it, but the moose disappeared into the woods, and Wilson had ended up swimming a couple hundred yards before he exited and shook off on shore. We portaged 40m , then continued down the flat waters of McEwen Creek to Rod Lake, p. 80m to Edge Lake, p. 40m to an unnamed lake, thence p. 70m to Turn Lake. Turn Lake is, no doubt, named after the fact that the canoe route suddenly turns to the SE toward Glacier Lake after the persistent NE travel since Louisa. We had seen at least three groups since leaving Louisa, and this seemed very busy to us after not seeing anyone for long stretches earlier in the trip. After portaging 30m to a pond-like section of the creek, and then another 50m to Glacier Lake, we ate lunch on a cool site on the east shore, just east of an island. The site was next to a great stand of red pines and had a wonderful fireplace. Our original plan was to head down to the south end of Glacier and check out the campsite known as one of Sigurd Olson’s favorites, but the sky looked ready to rain, so we continued down McEwen Creek. We portaged 125m along the river left side of the rapids where McEwen Creek exits Glacier Lake, and a short distance downstream, portaged 40m through cedars around another short, unnavigable section. At the beginning of the portage Everett slipped into the water while unloading a pack and got one of his legs wet to the knee. He also saw a moose when he arrived at the end of the carry, but it was gone a few seconds later when I arrived. Continuing on flat water, we met a group of guys headed toward Glacier Lake as we approached McEwen Lake. Once on McEwen we fought a stiff headwind up the lake as we kept our eye on thunderstorm skirting to the southwest. We stopped to check out a well-used campsite at the south end of the red pine covered island a mile north of the inlet of McEwen Creek. The entire site was on a slope, and tent pads had been cut into the slope. Well-used, it did not appeal to us. We passed a small, island site that would be great in clear weather, and then stopped at a site on a tiny peninsula at the east side of the narrows that offered great wind protection and a flat tent site. The site had a flat area along the calm water of a tiny bay, and was backed by a five-foot cliff. I set up the rain fly with one end on the edge of the cliff and the other tied to a tree, so we had excellent rain and wind protection. The tent was set up on the flat, grassy area above the cliff. The fireplace was near the tarp, also fairly protected. On the west side of the peninsula were the narrows of McEwen Lake. After a period of rain showers the sun came out for a while, but the winds were too strong to head out onto the lake to fish, so we collected firewood to stash under the tarp and prepare for the wet weather that seemed imminent. The evening produced an odd but beautiful array of colors, ranging from the dark greens and grays of pine and granite, to the pinks and violets of clouds partially illuminated by a sinking sun. Surreal.
26 July, Day 10: It rained on and off all night, and when we emerged in the mid-morning during a lull, the temp was in the 40s and a strong north and northeast wind was pushing whitecaps down the lake. I built a fire and cooked up a giant scone/pancake, which filled the entire fry pan, and then soaked it with melted butter and brown sugar—the perfect breakfast for a cold, wet day. When the rain started up again we returned to the tent. Neither one of us brought a book to help pass the time, so we talked of past Quetico trips, and made plans for future ones, and read park literature. Wilson slept at our feet, tucked between the sleeping bags. By evening a patch of blue to the northwest gave us some hope that the next day would be sunny, allowing us to make a quick trip to Cache Bay, set up cap, and fish. We ate supper, hiked around a bit, and retired to the tent in the fading light.
27 July, Day 11: Our optimistic outlook of the night before did not pan out. It was cool and wet when we awoke, and a strong wind continued from the northeast. Today was my 52nd birthday. I consulted the map and measured the distance to the end of the Gunflint Trail to be 25 miles, a distance I have paddled in a day on many occasions. Instead of just paddling to Cache Bay and hanging out in the wind and rain, we would paddle out to the car today. After eating a good breakfast and packing up during a lull in the rain, we headed out onto the water, hugging the shoreline to avoid the wind as long as possible. Along the eastern bay of McEwen we passed new forest growing after a fire that burned back in the mid-90s, and then portaged 125m through open, red pine forest to Wet Lake. I don’t know how this lake got it’s name, but it suited this day. We paddled through a channel to Sidney Lake on the Falls Chain. Evidently, a short portage is only required during periods of very low water. We portaged an easy 40m on open bedrock around the north (r.r.) side of Bald Rock Falls, a wonderful place. Then, we portaged 100m (r.l.) around another falls, followed quickly by another portage of 280m (r.l.) around Four Falls to Saganagons Lake. This last portage had some storm damaged trees, likely from the same storm that hit us on day two. The rain stopped as we cruised along the protected waters of Saganagons, and we made good time to the Dead Man’s Portage, a heavily used, 290m carry across a long peninsula that shaves a good five miles of paddling off the distance between Cache Bay and the Falls Chain. With the wind now at our backs we made even better time getting to Silver Falls, and after putting the 700m of rocky, uphill portaging around Silver Falls behind us, we were soon on Cache Bay. A light rain started up again, along with some fog, as we cruised along the irregular northeast shore of Cache Bay to avoid a crosswind while enroute to the ranger station. Once there, I tied down the canoe on the dock with the packs underneath , and we went up to chat with Janice a bit and then eat lunch. A youth group was just starting out on their trip, so the station was a busy place. Once we passed around Cache Point, the full sweep of Saganaga was exposed to the northeast, and the waves blowing down from that direction were impressive. During periods of cold water I would never dare a crossing to the American shore in those conditions, but the water was 69 F, and we were well trimmed, so we set to it, and crossed without incident, avoiding the bigger rogue waves along the way. Then we hugged the shoreline, snuck briefly behind an island, and then rounded American Point. Once we were farther into American waters, strings of islands provided more protection from the wind. We found ourselves a bit shocked by the amount of wear and tear that was visible on the campsites we passed. By 5:30p we were at the end of the Gunflint Trail, a bit chilled and wet, but loading the car and soon to be home, another great Quetico trip in the bag.