Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Isabella, Sarah, and McIntyre Up and Back
by veggykurt

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/08/2016
Entry Point: Quetico
Exit Point: Quetico  
Number of Days: 10
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
I came short of my original goals, but had a very enjoyable trip with adjustments
DAY 1. Slept overnight in my car on Wednesday the 7th of September, to get an early start for my first day of an intended 12--the 8th, 2016. I and all of my gear got a lift out to Prairie Portage at 7am. I used my own Old Town Pack 12 foot canoe with a removable clamp style portage yoke (37lbs), a food pack(30lbs to start) and my #4 canoe pack (65lbs). I had a collapsable spare paddle, a small weather radio that I used a lot. A personal locator beacon, and a decent PFD. I had practiced packing, fitting into the canoe and actually canoeing with a mock portage to help work out the kinks in some of my planning The plan was to double portage, which worked out well as I was more than able to handle the weight. Mostly cloudy on Moose Lake, some wind apparent, but you couldn't really tell with the boat moving so fast. At the Prairie Portage Ranger cabin I procured the correct Chrismar map for Quetico--a lucky break. I had ordered one before online, but got the one that included the BWCA on it. I really liked having that Chrismar map to augment my Fisher maps--later I would very much regret not actually double checking with the Chrismar map to find the accurate location of a particular portage. More on that later. (STARTING OUT PICS HERE)

The ranger warned me of westerly winds on Bayley Bay. I set out and soon ran into those winds. I struggled with keeping the Pack on track, making headway, and watching out for swells coming in sideways. The Pack rode up and over those swells pretty well, actually, but the headwinds tired me so much that I had to land unceremoniously on Sunday Island to recuperate mentally and physically and to adjust my approach. (VIDEO) There were a couple of guys on shore, camped at the other end of the island who commiserated with me and suggested I go around the island to the calmer side, which I should have figured out for myself. I restarted after an hour and some snacks and finally made it to the incredibly civilized portage into Burke Lake. I decided to camp on the first island campsite coming out of that portage only a few hundred yards out. It was only about 1pm, but I was too tired to get to North Bay, which was my original goal for the first day. I took it as an opportunity to be flexible in my planning and also to get my routines down in setting up camp. That first set up was rather disorganized compared to the almost machine-like precision which emerged later. The campsite was rather "mediocre" in comparison to some others, but it was just fine for my first night out. Good view from the heights of the island with the nice binoculars I had. First night-uneventful--just acclimating to the feel of the solo, remembering some of the feelings from my first solo a few years before. As for preparations for bears for this trip, I put my food pack in yet another pack liner, sealed it up with one of those reusable heavy duty twist ties and set it out away from camp a bit, but with stuff on top that I would hopefully hear if it got knocked off. Then, theoretically I would exit my tent and scare the bear off. Never had a problem. I did feed a red squirrel once a peanut MM. Mistake--it started wanting to chew threw everything. Sometime during the night, I decided to let go of my original plan, which was a loop involving Sarah, Brent Lake, Argo, Ted back to Sarah and just see how things developed. I realized that I wasn't as physically durable as I used to be, that I would not force myself into proving to myself I could do my original plan, and that I would simply focus on doing that which brought the most enjoyment, adjusting the plan as I went.

DAY 2 Got to North Bay. cloudy weather, not raining. No real wind. Had to deal with the beaverdam before the main portage into North Bay. Just pulled the canoe and cargo over. The portage into North Bay is a boulderfest, with muck plus boulders where you enter North Bay--not nice, not surprising. Travel across North Bay uneventful and then I decided to camp at campsite 13A, northeaster North Bay. Once I got there and saw how much I liked the elevated, west facing rocky outcroppings, I recognized it as one I had stayed at before with another family member. So, this was another short travel day--only a few hours--but I was happy to get properly set up and kick back in my camping chair on the rock shelves. There were 2 other sites very close by, but they remained unoccupied. Nice sunset that night. I noticed I actually got a cell phone signal from there! As I always did, I went to be directly after sunset at about 7:30. There were several nights of 10- 12 hours of sleep or rest--most welcome. I didn't build a fire on this trip. Also I got my tarp set up and came to realize how important a tarp is for a variety of reasons. Now I am a tarp man all the way!

DAY 3 My goal today was Isabella Lake and, hopefully, the good campsite there. I knew it could be challenging. Got up ate breakfast, drank coffee (instant), and broke camp in reasonable order and time. Ran into weeds and a couple of beaver dams turning the corner to the right by the entrance to Lost Bay. Those beavers! Impressive animals. Then over the short, shoreline portage to get around the bigger beaver dam. It went okay, but I was struggling with my portage yoke coming unclamped in the middle of carrying the canoe. It sucks when your neck is about to get broke! BUT, on the next portage, I figured out that I needed to be more careful how I clamped it and then clamp it tighter than I had been. No problems after that--I just needed to take my time and be more careful. After portaging from the North Bay arm into the unnamed lake I was headed for the portage into Isabella. On the Fisher map there is a southern one as well as a northern one going from the unnamed lake into Isabella. I decided on the southern one and it sure didn't look too promising when I got there--muck and weeds and bog for as far as I could see, but there WAS sign of others having gone there so I concluded there must be a portage. I took one pack, the heavy one, and set out to scout out the portage, but for a couple hundred yards of searching there was only mud, and that up to calves and knees and thighs. I figured that my body would be found in a few thousand years like they find prehistoric animals in the La Brea tar pits in California. But I DID get back to the canoe after a worrisome, exhausting trek across the bog with 65lbs on my back. I gathered myself together, wondering how I will survive such poor judgement in the days to come, repacked the canoe and went to the cairn that marked the real portage trail. After looking at the Chrismar map, it shows that there is a portage on the south wing going into Isabella, but from a creek that comes from North Bay. I should have cross checked first or simply moved on to the other portage. The other portage into Isabella was no picnic either---pretty long, boulder strewn, a stream running down amongst it, etc. Actually not that bad considering the muck place I had been to. I got onto Isabella and was lucky enough to snag the campground rated a 4(XP). What a blessing it was! I was TIRED, too. I thought the campground was so nice I stayed there 2 nights. member Granite Cliffs came across me there. I never actually thought I would connect with a member while out there! But he asked if I was veggykurt after a few questions and that confirmed it. He said he had never been able to find my campsite empty before so he had never stayed in it. On the first nite there I saw a big ole moose swimming across the lake. Another great sunset. Day 4 was spent in camp. Didn't get bored, just relaxed, went for an explorational canoe paddle to my next portage to check it out. Nice day. I brought a book: "The Brothers K" along for reading in case I didn't want to be in my own head for some reason. It was nice to read it a little every night and provided some sort of balance to only my thought processes.

DAY 5 The next day I did the portages and lakes leading into Sarah. As many of you know from south to north they get longer and tougher. One heck of a workout, but exhilarating. The portage going into Side Lake had substantial up and down, rocky ridges, lengthy steep downhill boulder strewn pathway. Had to be very careful there. I found Side Lake, cloudy and misty as the day was, rather attractive and mysterious. My energy about ran out on the portage to Sarah Lake. On the downhill section toward Sarah there was a dead fall that, with my short Pack 12 I was able to actually go around it without putting the canoe down. Got onto Sarah and headed for campground RC rated 4 at the north end of the channel on the eastern side of the lake. Nice campsite. Fire pit all prepared for fire, with kindling all set to light on fire. Being in this channel, it was protected from the winds of the larger lake--actually a pretty intimate environment--quiet, waters calm, nice rocky area to set a chair out on. That night at exactly 3am I was awaken by a huge splash in the lake right next to my tent. Then came low pitched animal grunting of some sort. First thought: has to be a bear! big one! Next thought: could be a moose too! this is definitely a moosey kind of area. Conclusion: must have been a moose. I did not get out to verify, however. I was imagining a moose dragging me off, the tent all caught up in his/her long legs. Anyway--it went away shortly and never did come onto the campsite. My heart was thumpin away in there!

DAY 6 I stayed an extra day here too. No further sign of moose, Sasquatch, or whatever it was.

DAY 7 Saddled up and went to McIntyre the next day, taking the northernmost portage into it from Sarah in that little bay. Steep uphill, but then only a short, easier portage. Some people with whom I crossed paths with here helped me out carrying a pack--nice. Got to campsite MM on northern McIntyre on an island. Probably the best campsite of all I stayed at. The weather was sunny and warm as well with just the right breeze. This was a far into Quetico as I got. From here on, I just returned the way I came, staying at different campsites. I was sort of disappointed at not having done more, but I actually did enjoy the pace of travel I was at. During all of these travels, I listened to my little Midland weather radio and it helped me make decisions. When at McIntyre, which was on a Wednesday, the radio said Friday would be rainy, so that helped me determine to get as far as I can on Thursday without working too hard, which is what I did.

DAY 8 Got an early start. Winds were supposed to be a 10mph out of the South, so I started early when it was calm and got through the big water of McIntyre. I did, however, make a navigational error. Reading the lay of the land incorrectly, I headed for the wrong part of the lake by quite a bit. I thought for sure I had it right and I always have my map right in front of me to check. I finally got my bearings and got right with my map, but I spent more time right in the middle of the big water than I really needed or wanted. How confusing it can be! Got back into Sarah, lots of paddling--and with the short canoe and crappy tracking I had the routine of paddling 2 or 3 strokes on each side before switching. I got used to it and it wasn't bad. Next time--Kayak paddle maybe. When I got to the portage to go into Side Lake from Sarah, another navigational error occurred. From Sarah, there are 2 portages to Side. One a short one that goes to a stream, which I didn't take coming in---and I don't even think I knew of it. And then the sandy beach one that I had used coming into Sarah. Well I landed at the wrong portage and, with canoe on shoulders started going inland and noticed that nothing was familiar, that it had to be the wrong portaged. I was perplexed, checked the map, which showed 2 portages forking off to 2 different places from a single location on Sarah. This wasn't the case, so I put everything down and went on a scouting expedition and found the portage that I was looking for. The Fisher map was not precise enough there. Plus, again, I needed to do my homework better. Anyway, got back to Side Lake in good shape and decided to get as far as I could toward Isabella Lake, so that on Friday I would have a short jaunt into North Bay. At this point, my body was wearing out, however much rest I got. Oddly, my appetite wasn't what I thought it would be either, given the amount of work I was doing. Plus, my thoughts were starting to turn a bit negative on a number of wide ranging subjects. This just reinforces how much you learn about yourself on a solo. Anyway, I decided to "bear down" and get through the tougher portages on the way to Isabella, which I did in good order, paying very strict attention to foot placement as fatigue made it's presence felt. I finally got to campsite WJ on the unnamed lake just before Isabella. I really needed it. I set up camp and got ready for a wet take down the next morning, Friday when it was supposed to rain. Now I was thinking about getting back to the world again a bit and wondering if I might shorten up my trip by a day or two, as I was well positioned to do that.

DAY 9 It actually didn't rain on Friday and turned out to be a nice day with even a little sunshine at the end of it. I got through all of the portages to that arm of North Bay, got over the beaver dams and settled on the campsite ZS on the immediate left after exiting the grassy beaver dam area. My bodily energies were waning like a cell phone battery. Nice campsite. 3 way vantage point. I watched people with my binoculars making their way over those beaver dams from my campsite. My Binoculars: REI brand waterproof 10 X 32. They were expensive and they are a little heavy, but they are outstanding as to clarity and just how far out there they can see. Great piece of equipment. I used a Steri-pen to sterilize water during the trip. I just made sure I had clear water, scooped up lake water into my Platypus 2 liter container, transferred it carefully to a water bottle and sterilized it in there. So when I started camp I had about 3 liters of water to work with. I minimized dishwashing by eating out of the food packets for dinner. lunches were really just heavy snacking on trail mix. Breakfast was either instant oatmeal or granola and fruit in those camping food packages. I had instant coffee every morning and a double dose of hot cocoa every night as I watched the sun set. I certainly did get tired of the food routine and began fantasizing about where and what I would eat in Ely on the day I got out.

DAY 10 I decided in the night of Day 9 to just go for it the next day and get out to Prairie Portage that day. I broke camp extra early in good weather and was on the water by 7am. I wanted to get through the big waters of North Bay in the morning calm, which I did. I re-discovered the nastiness of that first portage into Burke Lake. It seemed like forever to paddle the length of that lake--I was pretty tired. My mental and physical endurance, though diminished, was pretty good overall--I could just keep going, even when pretty tired. That last portage back into Bayley Bay from Burke was SO nice--like a walk in the park. Once back on Bayley Bay, I was a driven man. I would get back to Prairie Portage two days ahead of my arranged pick up day with the outfitter and I wondered how I would manage that. There was some wind on the Bay there, but nothing like my first day. Once I turned the corner and could see the buildings and landing at Prairie Portage, my eyes were fixed on it, my canoe tracking was extra good and my paddle strokes increased in tempo. What a relief when I finally got there. I went in and the Ranger there was good enough to make a few radio calls and my pick up from the outfitters occurred only an hour later. The pick-up and return to civilization went well, but, as usual, I felt out of sync with life there for awhile. My driving skills were degraded for sure for the first few hours. Sort of a very low level "shell shocked" mental absentmindedness was there too, as I was not used to dealing with so much variability of color and activity and interaction with other people. In Ely, I ended up at the restaurant at Piragis's and ate BIG. Big veggie burger and fries. Chocolate moose for desert. Diet Coke--chemical poison, but it was yummy to me.

CONCLUSION: Overall it went well. The equipment end of it was very good. Next time-God willing-I will make it 7 days with a smaller loop in mind. Mentally and physically, upon reflection since my return, I thought I met or exceeded expectations given my age. It was very helpful to have this message board to help me prepare, to see the experiences of other soloists and to simply share in this relatively rare type of activity. THANK YOU ALL!

NOTE: I am trying to get the hang of posting pictures properly. I will add them as soon as I can. I have them all on Facebook.