Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Quetico 2016, Adventures in Portaging
by ogarza

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/10/2016
Entry Point: Quetico
Exit Point: Quetico  
Number of Days: 9
Group Size: 3
Trip Introduction:
For our first trip into Quetico, we had an ambitious ~90 mile trip planned through Basswood, Sarah, Burt, Keefer, Shelley, Sturgeon, Jesse, Nym.
Hi all,

I'll post a link to the video, we took close to 60 hours of footage and had to condense into 5 min so we could share.

Click here to view the Quetico 2016 video.

I few months ago I asked for help here planning a 9 day trip through Quetico, starting with a Kings Point fly in and then pickup at Nym. We took the hard route, with the scenery, isolation and portaging.

Jeremy at Canoe Canada was right, all the adventures happen while portaging. And some of them were long, all were rough, most were muddy, and were what I would consider billy goat portages.

For the duration of the trip, we managed to find every campsite we wanted, we ran into 1 person camping in McIntyre while we paddled through, and 1 other person with a wooden canoe on Sturgeon, I think.

The first day into Sarah we were two and a half hours late, reached camp at 4:30pm instead of 2:00pm. We did not have breakfast or lunch, we just stopped mid way and ate some bagels that were in one of the packs. We were still innocent, so that night we snacked on some wine, ate some dry salami, and aged manchego cheese. For dinner, steaks, onions, and potatoes. We were glad to get the Basswood to Kett portages out of the way on the first day, it was all uphill and our packs were the heaviest they would be all trip. Lots of mud and downed trees, some places required all 3 of us to move the canoe and pass along packs, there was no 'walking through' in some places.

The second day was our 'easy day' we left camp at around 12:30pm. Little did we know distance and number of portages does not tell you how long or hard it will be. We learned the meaning of 'Billy Goat' portage, there is a really funny video of when we get to the portage into McIntyre and we all start laughing asking why is there a dry waterfall instead of a trail? Needless to say, we reached the campsite to the south of the island on Burt when it was almost dark, around 6:45. We decided to do a layover here, one of our considerations was that we would have one more day less of food. There was great fishing just from shore on this campsite, we may have caught close to 15 SMB and 2 pike in the span of minutes.

The fourth day we travelled to Sark, this was our "Hard Day" on our trip, 7 portages, we ended up doing 9 and we didn't make it to Sark, we reached a campsite on an island on Keefer at 7:25pm. I'll elaborate. From Marj, we had a couple of short ~250m portages through a small unnamed lake into Joyce, except where we had the exit marked on our map was not were we came out, so after being lost for a while in the unnamed lake, we finally found the portage. It looked like no one had used it in years, we had to bushwhack for about 400m, and the trail was hard to find. Eventually we reached the water and went back for our packs. Luckily, before we loaded the canoe, we noticed the striking similarity between the Marj landing and the Joyce landing only because there were the same place, we had somehow found an older version of the portage that branched out and used that to circle back. Crap. 5 portages today and we reached our third lake.

Joyce was beautiful, but the portage to an unnamed lake before Kahshahpiwi was a grueling, 700m uphill battle. Of course, the boardwalk claimed one of us 1m from the end, I managed to turn around and 'sit down' instead of falling on my face. There was a tiny section we had to paddle and then an 'easy' 800m portage to Kahshahpiwi. By this portage we had figured out how to do 1.5 portaging at our pace by counting half + 50% of half steps, 800m = 400+200 = 600 steps. Kahshahpiwi scenery made me forget all about the portages, until we got to a section we could not pass on the canoe and had to take everything out just to get over a rock.

The portage to Keefer was my favourite in all of Quetico, 10m long. It was raining and it was cold that night, ~32F.

The fifth day a.k.a "How hard could it be lake" we did Keefer to Shelley, still 1 lake behind. I was coming down with a sore throat, but no fever luckily. We couldn't find 2 portages, so we got out of the canoe to cover more ground and whoever found a trail, shouted. One of the portages we never found, so we took one marked on the offline version of paddle planner and it worked out. The next portage, we carried all our gear into cutty creek somehow, it was not where we wanted to go, plus it was almost dry and 99% waist deep mud. We walked through it and saw the lake, so we just went beast mode and carried all our gear through the creek, avoiding the mud by walking along the shore or on top of grass. Avoiding the mud until I missed the grass, went down and the canoe landed on top of me as I was half under ground. While carrying the last packs, one of my friends also got stuck in the mud, but thankfully we had a camera available the second time around. We were supposed to go through Heronshaw, but we didn't find the portage, so we went through kahshawpiwi creek. At least the maligne rapids portage was cool. We saw a mating sturgeon jump in front of our camp for about an hour and a half.

On the sixth day we travelled to Sturgeon, were supposed to do a layover here, but the weather was cloudy, so the next day we pushed to Jesse and finally caught up to our original plan. It helped that the packs were considerably lighter by now. The campsite here was very cool, with a little private beach in the landing and we didn't notice any rodents like the campsite at Burt.

Seventh day we reached Jesse, and because we were doing a layover, we took our time setting up camp, we did some fishing and spit-roasted walleye for dinner. It was time to enjoy some more of the Macallan 15 we had, we were out of wine by now. The next day the weather was really nice on the layover, we went on the canoe and caught several walleye and that was our dinner.

On the ninth and last day, we got up really early at 5am and had everything prepared from the day before, we wanted to do a sunrise paddle and we had a very long trip to Nym. We ended up doing some great time, and reached the pickup at around 1:30pm, we stopped for lunch somewhere between little batchewaung bay and batchewaung lake.

Jeremy picked us up with cold beers and we went back to the outfitter for a shower and then drive back to Thunder Bay where we spent the night at a hotel near the airport and had steak, putine, soup, beers, fish tacos, and pork chops for dinner.