Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Alpha Crew A to E
by deckle

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/01/2019
Entry Point: Quetico
Exit Point: Moose Lake (EP 25)  
Number of Days: 10
Group Size: 9
Trip Introduction:
This trip was from Nym Lake to Moose Lake. We spent ten days on the water catching fish, doing difficult portages, and chilling under waterfalls.
We started our trip in Atikokan, where we met our guide Greg, and bought all of the wrong maps. The next day we set off from Nym, although we were delayed by a thunderstorm. We went to Pickerel via Black bay and then the Racers, 200-800-800 meter portages cut out secretly in 2015. The team that used them in the race across the Quetico won by 20 minutes. They are boggy and overgrown, but cut off a lot of mileage. We camped that night barely in Pickerel, in a small cove. From Pickerel we advanced upward through the Pickerel river, and eating on the beaches of French lake (They've got latrines!). Next we started up Baptism river... and then a kilometer up French river too, until we checked the maps contour lines. Lazy rivered down the French until we found the turn we missed, then continued on, finally getting to camp in Baptism lake at 9, and putting up bear bags at 11:30. We then headed south again, making it into Trousers, and then getting to the "trail head" of the 3.4 kilometer portage. Although very muddy, there were some logs that you could walk on about 1/3 of the time. There were many trees across the trail, and Matt and Hannes both fell... and then took a nap under the tree they were trying to pass. The crossing at the Cache river was chest deep, thigh deep mud under the deceiving water. Greg just threw the canoe in and jumped, floating right past me as i tried not to sink. There is lots of elevation change, something like +20-10+10-20-10+20 (meters). And one rock outcrop toward the last 1/3 where you go straight up, and then straight down a 70 degree rock face. The end is not particularly obvious until you can see the water, but when I was there, there was a lighter, loamy section of mud within 100 meters of Cache lake. Once finished, the landing is fairly muddy, but you can wade out and cool down with the water-seals, it doesn't get very deep too quick. We spent the night on the Cache at a great campsite. It was on the west side, on a rocky peninsula, to the right when viewed from the portage trail. The next day was down the Cache river, the beginning of the river has many water seals and lily pads, some sections are noticeably slower because of them. We saw a moose a little ways in, cooling off in the shallows. The end canoe was talking to much, and scared them off. We camped on a bend in the river, northeast of Tario lake. Big mistake. The river was wide and slow at this section, and there was bog behind us. The bugs were the worst we had, and the worst Greg had seen from his time in Canoe country. They came out early, around 8, and caught us by surprise. We still managed to fill a nalgene with blueberries for a pie, but as soon as that was eaten we threw up the bear bags and got into the tents. Our tent positioning was a second mistake; on the side of a hill and on rock/grey colored spiky moss that burns great. We all woke up scrunched together, with the tent sideways. I got out of the tent in underwear to get dressed so I'd have bit of space, which was mistake 3. The skeeters were still out for some reason, and I yelled so much the guys in the tent thought I was dying (not that the got out to help or anything). We got out of their by 7, and began to exit the isolated wilderness we had occupied for a few days. We had seen one other person in Nym lake on day 1, and that was it. The end of the Cache is very beautiful, with some sections of rapids, beaver dams, as well as a magnificent waterfall into Kawnipi. We stopped there and played in the pool under one of the four interconnected falls. Once in Kawnipi we saw other people again, and we tried to find a pictograph in the Kawa bay. It was supposed to be by an island we called Eagle Talon island, but we couldn't find it. What we did find was a perfect campsite, with great wind, good tent pads, the tallest hill we had seen in days, and 3 fire pits in close proximity! After a night there we began to move southeast, toward the falls chain. The falls chain was quite picturesque, but we could not swim in and around them as much as the falls at the mouth of the Cache river. Canyon falls is very nice, and the island the falls goes around had lots of blueberries and cherries. You can access the island by leaving the boats at the southeastern end of the portage trail and walking across a beaver dam. Once out of the falls chain we got lost in Saganagons lake, eventually making our way to a small island with a campsite atop west facing cliffs. We had a very clear view of the sunrise, but our bear bag was more of a bear pinata. We woke up and made our way to dead mans portage, once again getting lost in the foggy morning. Dead mans is not that bad, but a slick rock outcropping made good footing essential. Back in the water, we headed south for lily pad lake. Once again we made the wrong choice, and instead of avoiding one long portage and doing two short ones, we did one short one, and one chest deep bog. Finally in lily pad, we continued to paddle south, going through Jasper to Ottertrack lake. Ottertrack had soaring rust stained cliffs, and we elected to visit monument portage, which brought us our first steps on back on American soil. We turned around and went back to Ottertrack, finding a very beautiful campsite. It was accessed by a very small and steep path off to the side, but we found it by paddling along side the cliffs and climbing 15 feet up the 45 degree rock face. It was completely flat, and Hannes and I relied on friction to ascend for reconnaissance. The fire pit was completely abandoned, and a small tree like bush was growing. The only burned firewood we found had plants growing in it. I climbed to the top of the inland ridge, to a high point northwest of the campsite, finding rock outcroppings and a good view. The bear bag spot was perfect, and I made the throw on the first attempt. Before the bags were attached, the hanging rope was a great rope swing that sent you out over the edge of a small cliff. Continuing the trend of cliffs, we found a safe spot to jump into the water, with a depth of 8 ft immediately, and 24 feet a yard out. The next day we started out against the wind, and the wind was almost constantly against us for the rest of the trip. We went from Ottertrack to Plough, a lake that funneled the wind straight at us. We employed tactical laziness, and stuck to the shores. We then Portaged into Emerald, were we found a very large Cedar tree, about 14 ft in circumference. From Emerald we went to Carp, camping on a site that was barely not an island, a small land bridge saved us from having to poop shuttle. We built a bench there, out of fallen red pine. The next morning we headed off, hoping to make it to Bailey bay (with a stop for shirts at prairie portage). From Carp we went to Birch lake, and then into Basswood, the second to last lake of the trip. The wind in Basswood was really kicking, and the lady at the gift shop said crossing Bailey like we planned would be very challenging. We decided to stop early, about 12, and found a great site with massive red pines. We cooked our dinner for lunch, and I made a cake and some muffins. ASM Echols caught an 18 inch Northern Pike, so we fried him up for a snack. The early stop let us dry out our clothes and boots on the rocks, and some curious snakes came out to investigate. The next morning we set off, looking to add about a mile to the planned route so we would get the 125 mile patch. We decided to go to the English channel and Cabin 16, both of which were OK. the cabin was probably a little cooler, but the channel did block the wind well. We then headed south one last time, into Wind bay, Wind lake, and Moose Lake. The so called "demoralizers" were gravel paths, not a challenge at all to us seasoned explorers. The scouts coming towards us from Ely probably thought a little differently about that. We reached Ely at 12:40, and had to wait awhile before we were allowed to get out of the water. That first shower was glorious, as was the Lasagna we had for dinner. We met up with another crew from our troop, who had also gone A-E. Beta crew had also had a great time, although they had started drinking unfiltered lake water... In the morning we were picked up by the bus that would bring us to Minneapolis, which had the other two crews, the Out and Back Quetico crew, and the Out and Back Crownlands crew. We stopped at Gordy's Hi-Hat, which was a very good decision. The double cheese burger was divine. The trip was very fulfilling, and I hope to return to the Quetico eventually.