First Solo -Quetico Beaverhouse
Day 2 Sept 3, 2010 I slept really poorly last night, and just couldn’t stay asleep. I was anxious, nervous, and excited all at once. Nothing new for a trip, but frustrating as I still had to drive up to Atikokan today. I woke up at 7:30 andI got the canoe from Dave and it was VERY windy. I will be paddling a Wenonah Encounter, which I figure is a fitting name for my first solo canoe trip. He suggested I take both a regular paddle and a double sided paddle and helped pick one out for me. I add this plus a life jacket into the Suburban and start tying down the canoe. I was offered help and I stubbornly refuse it, looking back I’m not sure why, it would have really made my life easier. I never did eat breakfast, oh well. I leave at 9 to get gas, a quick stop for whiskey and it is still very windy, but I’m on the road. The canoe is blowing around more than I’m comfortable with and I stop to retie. This helps and eventually the wind dies down. It is a long drive to International Falls and I stop several times to secure the canoe better. I’m realizing I’m unprepared in this regard, but try to put it out of my mind and press on. I reach the border at noon and have McD’s for lunch. I spent a long time with Customs, who selected my vehicle for an extra throurough search. They opened up all my packs, unrolled my tarp, all my clothes in plastic bags, even my first aid kit. I was questioned why I had a syringe (but no needles) in the kit and explained the uses for wilderness injuries. Eventually I was let go and had to pay $12 because I was over my limit on booze by .5 liters. I’m finally in Canada! The road quickly becomes a typical Canadian road/highway of 2 lanes and then shoulder. West of Atikokan there was heavy road construction that slowed me down significantly. Despite the delays, I make it to the Quetico headquarters at 4 and met a very nice ranger who issued my permit for the next day, issue my fishing license, and sold me a shirt that says My Canoe Runs on Water. After leaving the headquarters I head into downtown (HA!) Atikokan and bought a digital watch for $10, stop at the grocery store and pick up cooking oil, syrup and a few last minute items. From there its off to Flanders road and the Beaverhouse parking lot. While driving down the road a very large and very fast moving logging truck whips around a corner. After a while (and one wrong turn) I make it to the Beaverhouse parking lot and see that I have a flat tire. I decide to ignore the tire for now and get set for tomorrow morning’s put in, going to sleep in the truck at 9pm. Its getting cold, but I can see soo many stars!
Day 3 Sept 4, 2010 I woke up at 7 after a very very poor nights sleep from being both cold and uncomfortable in the back of the suburban. I’m moving my first load down the portage to the put in at 7:45 and its cold, very cold. There is frost on everything and skim ice on puddles. I ate my breakfast of granola bars as I portaged. By 9am I was on the water and on my way to adventure! Clear skies and low wind made me happy as I got used to paddling the canoe. I had to stop once or twice to shift the load to balance the boat better and on one such stop got out and fished and caught a small mouth. On one of the stops I had to check my bearings for a minute because I was unsure as to where I was because the maps I had didn’t have the put in to the lake marked. With the load adjusted I was able to control the boat better and was starting to feel more confident. Since I went to Quetico headquarters the day before I didn’t have to paddle over to the Beaverhouse ranger station and was able to head right to the portage to Quetico Lake. At the portage I met a father and son who were part of a larger group that was behind them. I snapped some pictures of the old car in the woods and quickly carried my gear across, definitely no single portaging for me! I ate lunch once I go to the end of the portage and into my boat. Lunch consisted of a Cliff bar, a granola bar, and some water. I paddled up a narrow bay with wind out of the North Northwest. I stopped at a point, ate a little bit more, and watched the wind and waves for a bit. This was going to be a big test. Before I left the point I did some more fishing and caught another smallmouth on a jig and grub combo. I had about a mile to get to Eden Island and dealt with 1 ft waves that were white capping, and had wind on my back left , which was blowing the bow into the wind and causing my some problems. I decided with the wind picking up I’d just stay at the campsite on Eden Island. It had a nice fire pit, but no bear bag branches near camp. I fight the wind as I set up my tent, but got everything squared away and then take some pictures and video from camp. As I explore I find a grate from a grill and commandeer it for my dinner of venison chops. When dinner time rolls around I go to start my stove and it won’t hold pressure. I’m not happy and try replacing the o-rings on the pump, but this doesn’t do anything. I tighten the nuts on the pump assembly and still nothing. I had tested the stove the day before I left and it was fine, what happened?! I’m sore and tired, very very tired, but I want to see the stars. I saw some through a late sunset but give in and go to sleep at 8:45.
Day 4 September 5, 2010 I woke up at 7:45 after another cold night, but despite the cold I slept pretty well from being so tired from the previous 2 days. I packed up and was on the water just before 9am. My plan is to make it to Jean lake or just before it today. I paddled 9 miles in 3 hours which I think is pretty decent considering I stopped to fish along the way, catching 3 bass and a hammer handle pike. At noon I stopped for lunch on a big rock. I had peanut butter and crackers. For breakfast I had a power bar and a granola bar. As I paddled I saw two men in a very fully loaded canoe, that included a cooler. They were drinking beer and boy did that look good, it was HOT outside! I’m close to my goal of the narrows to Jean Lake, but I’m getting tired so I find a campsite. It has a massive rock face going into the water with broken boulders and long sloping rocks. The canoe landing site is a small beach that has tall rocks on either side. The wind is pretty mild today and setting up camp is a breeze. I fish from shore and catch an 18” smallmouth on an orange jig and 4” yellow grub. I put the fish on the stringer for dinner and continue fishing, catching two more smallmouth, these fish each about 15” long on the same set up. Then I decide I’m going to try for trout. I rig up with a rapala tail dancer and start to troll. I miss two strikes and that was all the action I got. I was back in camp at 4:30 and started to prepare for dinner. I fillet the fish away from camp and put it in Cajun fish batter (dry) and sip a scotch and smoke a cigar as I cook. I was able to arrange the fire pit that I could balance the frying pan quite well on the rocks and cooking wasn’t an issue despite my stove being out of action. As I ate my dinner of fried fish I saw an eagle soar low over camp and grab the remains of the bass I left out on the rocks. I could hear the air moving through its feathers as it flew overhead and it was absolutely amazing. I turned my hand pitch black when I washed my dishes and had to use some sand from the beach at the canoe landing to clean my hand. I settled in to watch the stars and sit by the fire for a while. It was really good day. I felt like my confidence in the canoe has increased. As the sunset I noticed a big storm front on the horizon. This gave me some concerns as a big rain storm would severely test my ability to make cooking fires since my stove was broken. It was a long ways off and seemed to be slow moving so maybe it will miss me. As I wrote in my journal a deer mouse hopped around on the log and rocks next to me. I tried to get a picture of him but he was too quick. Lots of stars out tonight, really awe inspiring views from camp.
Day 5 Sept 6, 2010 Another cold night, but I slept well. So well in fact that I didn’t wake up until 10:45, I guess I was really needing that sleep! When I popped my head out of the tent I saw something I was hoping I wouldn’t. Wind. This time the wind was blowing out of the east and there were white caps on the lake. I would be fighting the wind every inch of the way today, with a big storm coming in behind me. I sat and thought long and hard for a while about what I was going to do. My stove was out of action and I would be facing a head wind if I went further. I didn’t want to, especially so early in my trip, but I was going to turn around. I’m sure I could fight to get a fire going every day, but that didn’t sound like fun and getting into trouble really didn’t rank high on my list of things I wanted to accomplish on my trip. I paddled back West on Quetico lake and stopped at Eden island again. I trolled on the way back, had one strike that I missed and that was it. The wind was really picking up, and even though it was at my back, it was getting hard to keep the canoe straight. I got to the campsite around 3 and set up the tent and could see the storm was getting closer. I got a fire going and gathered lots of firewood for the next day or so. I boiled some water and made a mountain house meal of chicken with mashed potatoes and stuffing. It was….ok. Not a lot of flavor and and everything was just sort of mush. I went into the tent early because of the approaching storm, and also because I feel very tired. I did a lot of thinking today. All in all it wasn’t a bad day, but it was bittersweet. The wind increased as I went to bed around 8, though I read the book I purchased for a while.
Day 6 September 7 I awoke at 6am to rain and wind. Lovely. I immediately decided this would be a layover day and promptly went back to sleep. I woke up again a few hours later and found it was stilly windy and raining. My tent is dry and everything in it is dry, so that’s a plus! I grabbed some trail mix and water and went back into the tent. I read more of my book “Sleeping Island” and found that I could relate to it in certain ways. Around 2pm the rain stopped but the wind continued out of the North/Northwest. The wind sounds like a freight train in the trees. I don’t think I’ll be making a fire today, but that’s not a problem really since I have my choice from lots of dry food that I brought. The temperature has dropped significantly since the day before and it feels like its in the 50s. There are large waves on the lake and I hear them crashing onto shore. The down time gives me a lot of time to think. I’m having a good time alone, but I miss my friends and family and wish they were here with me experiencing the north woods. Amazingly at 4:30 the sun came out! I got out of the tent and check on things around camp. I found everything to be in order and refilled a water bottle. Soon though, the rain was back and the wind never left. I am really hoping the wind dies down tomorrow when I plan on leaving. At 7pm the sun came out again, but I can see more dark clouds on the horizon. My dinner tonight is trail mix, a granola bar, a clif bar, some fruit punch and whiskey. The sun gives everything a golden glow and the rain drops on everything sparkle like diamonds. The wind is still blowing strong. A rabbit that lives on the island comes out on the edge of camp. The pine squirrels aren’t as nice and angrily chatter away, occasionally dropping pine cones at me. The temperature is quite cool and I go into my pack and get out the long underwear. I’m glad I brought them and I am now comfortable sitting outside. I go back into the tent and at 8:15 it is still windy. I saw something last night I forgot to mention. It looked like a brown chicken, and I knew this couldn’t be. It was a grouse right in my camp. That was a first for me! At 9pm I poked my head out of the tent again and see something great, stars! I have a clear sky, with only a few clouds going past. I think the storm has finally blown over. I thank the local spirits for the weather and good luck for tomorrow. The air feels dry too, which feels so nice after so long in the damp. I feel happy with the trip even though it is almost over. I have proved some things to myself and had a lot of time to reflect on other things in my life. The fresh air really helps clean the soul.
Day 7 September 8, 2010 I wake up around 7:30 and have breakfast of granola bars. I pack up camp and everything is pretty dry since the wind kept blowing but the rain had stopped. The wind has died down significantly and paddling isn’t an issue at all. I make my way to the portage into Beaverhouse and take some pictures and videos of the water going through the old logging sluice. When I get to the end of the portage I load the canoe and then make a few casts into the stream that empties into the lake. A jointed shad rap is just what the smallmouth want and I catch 4 or 5 fish, each about a pound. As I paddle up Beaverhouse lake towards the put in, I troll in hopes of catching a walleye, but no strikes. Oh well. I get to the portage, carry my gear up to the vehicle and my trip is officially over. The drive back to Ely is long and at night, but I’m looking forward to getting to the outfitters. They’re not expecting me for another week though and its late so I stay at a motel in town that still has their open sign on. After checking in I took a nice long hot shower, put on fresh clothes, watched a little of the ‘Red Green Show’ and then pass out. I plan on buying a used canoe to have as my own for future trips. I look at their inventory and find a MN2 that seems like it will be serviceable and not in bad shape. I load it up on the truck and get the title from their office. I own my own canoe! The drive home is a blur and I’m already looking forward to going on trips with my own canoe.