Sawbill To Cherokee and Back Again, July 4, 2014

Family Canoe Adventure: Sawbill to Cherokee and Back Again
Dates: July 2nd – 5th, 2014
Portages: 5
Length: 4 days
Canoe/Gear: Wenonah Champlain
Lakes: Sawbill, Ada, Skoop, Cherokee

 

Trip Introduction:

Midsummer is a typical time of fireworks, family picnics, outdoor barbecues and parties to celebrate the holiday of independence but also to mark midsummer. Our trips due to my wife and my work schedules seem to lead us northwards to the woods and a new adventure. This time around we opted for a southern entry to the BWCA because we had largely ignored the southern region of BWCA perhaps due to my own personal preference for boundary lakes. Sawbill would be our perfect introduction despite its heavy day and overnight use. The lake itself is a gorgeous venue surrounded by deeply forest ridges and deep blue waters. If you can ignore the floating coolers and out-paddle the hordes to the northern end, your first set of portages will land you in more serene settings with fewer paddlers and reward with the beauty and stillness you seek (if you paddle ‘n carry far enough!). We did. And this is our story: Cherokee lake.

Day 1, July 2nd:  In the Dark

Turning up Rt. 2 heading north on the dirt road to Sawbill campground as the sun was setting in the western sky. A magnificent orange glow bathed the hillsides and forests as we rolled along. Arriving at Sawbill Lake and the USFS campground we noticed two things. The bugs were out and darkness had fallen. In a bit of confusion, we looked for a campsite map to find our site which turned out to be back up the road with a couple of other access sites. We didn’t climb into our tent until about 11PM but we all quickly fell asleep.

Day 2, July 3rd: Bright and Early

Breakfast at camp was a slow affair. I made coffee and rifled through the food packs to find our breakfast offerings. Everyone else in my group was very slow to wake and climb out of the tent. It was becoming clear that this would be the pace of the day.

I had loaded most of our gear in separate dry bags and kits. The back of our car was littered with disorganized bits and pieces of canoeing gear from various packs which slowed us down getting breakfast together.  We ate and packed slowly, eventually rolling down to the Sawbill Outfitter general store to pick up our permits around 9:45AM and watch the BWCA training film. The sun blazed overhead by the time we made the dock at 10:30AM dodging a group or two coming out and putting in. This is a busy entry.

At high noon and full sunshine we were finally ready to shove off. Only later did we discover that our 56-in. gold-and-green metal plastic paddle and one of our water bottles was left on the dock never to be seen again. We paddled north searching for the portage, quizzing a group of three young guys doing a selfie at the last campsite. They confessed that they were lost and looking for the portage as well. With a bit of map consultation, we paddled around the wooded peninsula to our immediate left and landed at our first carry.

The portages up to Cherokee are generally short except for your last carry of 180 rods over the Laurentian Divide. The first carry of 85 rods has a rocky takeout but quickly becomes a flat, well trodden path to Alder Creek. After a short paddle upstream, the second is a 75 rod that undulates up and down first over rocky granite outcropping and then climbing through the forest to Ada Lake. These were very congested portages with groups of tandems

Fairy Houses on Cherokee: Something to look forward to

Fairy Houses on Cherokee: Something to look forward to

descending upon us and landing right behind us so we queued up, letting some put-in and others to exit and move on to clear our paths. The third portage that day involved confronting the boggy section of creek that led to Skoop. We paddled about ½ way and my wife and I got out, sunk knee deep in the grassy ooze and lined the canoe up to an impassable set of boulders in the middle of the stream. Abandoning this tactic, we unloaded and carried the rest of the way to the original landing at the stream cascade. We didn’t know that there were only 10 rods or so left to carry because everyone flopped down, wet, muddy tired and hungry.

Premonitions on Cherokee

Premonitions on Cherokee

There are no campsites between Sawbill and Cherokee and this fact did not cheer up the rest of my group. It was about 5PM and everyone’s energy levels were low. The last, longest carry was still ahead to Cherokee Creek. I coaxed my party back onward. The Cherokee creek portage rises gently through the woods from this side and then snakes its way down into an eventual muddy slog before terminating at a wide, sandy put-in on the creek. Our kids, exhausted and hungry made the first trip and my wife and I went back to shuttle the rest of our gear across.

View west from our Cherokee camp

View west from our Cherokee camp

Site on Cherokee

Site on Cherokee

Finally shoving off we vowed to take the first, best site we could find once we hit the lake at the southern end.

Day 3, July 4th: Then the Rains Came.

There is a children’s book about the rains on Kapiti Plains in East Africa and a young herder who waits for these rains to grow the Savannah grasses so that his herd can eat. Listening to the pitter-patter on the tent the next morning reminded me of this favorite short story that we used to read to our kids when they were young.

Indispensable Tarp on Rainy Cherokee

Indispensable Tarp on Rainy Cherokee

The rains came and went during the morning, setting the tone for the day. We crawled out to set up breakfast and plan our day but not much could be accomplished. I set up a trolling line and launched out into our little bay to the north of us but had no luck.

Southwestern bay, Cherokee Lake

Southwestern bay, Cherokee Lake

I also tried my luck with a few Rapalas off of the fantastic granite promontory that accentuated our site. We duck in and out of the tent all day, playing games, grabbing a bit to eat, the kids playing around the site which had endless trails and paths back up behind us and down to the water. Finally my wife and I decide to try and make it up the lake a ways to explore better fishing spots. Our hope is a fish dinner for the evening.

Island southern end, Cherokee Lake

Island southern end, Cherokee Lake

As we launch from our site, thunder and lightning in the distance. It’s 2PM and we will be weather-bound for the rest of the day.

Huddling in our tent, the UNO cards came out. We read to each other. I jotted down trip notes in my journal and we played many rounds of hearts and talked about other trips we’d done to the Numbered Chain, Saganaga, Loon and Agnes.

The Rare Moment Out of the Tent, Cherokee

The Rare Moment Out of the Tent, Cherokee

Dinner that night was a hearty meal of rice, sauce and sautéed vegetables with hot cocoa and tea during a break in the weather. Camp chores led to a bit of an early bed, listening to the pair of loons calling to each other out on southern Cherokee.

Day 4, July 5th: Time to Go.

It’s time to pack and leave and this family is ready to go. Quick breakfast leads to a motivated pack-up and off

Paddlers heading for Cherokee Creek

Paddlers heading for Cherokee Creek

down Cherokee. The portages went fairly quick although there was another mini-mutiny from our kids about double-portaging. Even the marshy, muddy line-the-canoe portage from Skoop to Ada went well. Our final portage brought the final challenge from the wilderness. We paddled south on Sawbill, relieved that the portages were done and all that remained between us and our campsite, showers and raiding the Sawbill store back at the campground was an hour or two of paddling. The rainstorm that had been threatening all morning had other ideas as a torrential downpour forced us onto an island. We watched a flotilla of 5 other canoes head for shelter further south. As the deluge passed, bright sunshine parted the clouds. We loaded and made our way south landing on the docks of Sawbill Campground a little before noon.

A happy exhaustion takes over as we unload, find our camp, dry out and head for showers. Treats, cold drinks and snacks in the store were our rewards for surviving our trip.

 

Serenity: Little Indian Sioux River North to Loon Lake, May 23, 2014

Our first family trip of the year over Memorial Day to Loon Lake seemed like the perfect adventure to kickoff what would become a wonderful summer of backwoods adventures. Loon provides access to the Canadian border, expansive Lac La Croix and Crooked Lake further southwest. It also provides fertile boundary lake fishing excursions on both sides of the international border. Loon has nestled bays and dotted islands that offer a deep serenity as the sun sets and waters calm for wildlife viewing, fishing and peacefulness reminding you must slow down and experience nature.

Canoe: Wenonah Champlain
Portages: 3 or 4 (longest 120 rods)
Total Miles: 12-16 miles round trip

Day 1: Trip to Lake Jeannette campground
We had a late start on Thursday evening from Minneapolis swinging by to pick up my wife Althea, finishing up her teaching day around 4:30PM. We rolled into Ely, MN about 4 ½ hours later as dusk was descending, picked up our permit at Voyageur North Outfitters and began climbing the Echo Trail. It was pitch black and near midnight as we found our site at quiet, secluded the USFS campground on Lake Jeannette. Our adventure was just beginning.

Ready to go to the put-in from Jennette

Ready to go to the put-in from Jennette

 

Lake Jennings campground boat ramp for a day's outing

Lake Jennings campground boat ramp for a day’s outing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2: Early Rise on Friday
Friday dawned bright and sunny with little to no winds. I hustled out of the tent to pull together a breakfast of oatmeal, pop-tarts, cereal, fruit, juice for our kids, Ethan and Leah and strong, steaming pot of black coffee for the adults. Packing and repacking our gear, we drove up to the LIS parking lot and began struggling all of our gear and the boat down the portage trail at the parking lot to the put-in at the base of the falls of Little Indian Sioux. High water greeted us as we shoved off and immediately stuck our boat fast on a submerged boulder that we would have otherwise seen if not for the turbid, brown rapids. Not a good start to the trip and it took some work to free ourselves and continue paddling down the river.

Neither Elm portage (35 rods) on the way to the twin Pauness lakes nor the 28 rod portage from Upper to Lower Pauness posed any particular difficulty. Both of our kids quickly shouldered their packs filled with sleeping bag, clothes and their day lunches over each trail noting wolf scat and fresh prints on the last portage into Lower Pauness. A quick snack then paddle and we landed at Devil’s Cascade portage (120 rods) for the climb to the top and steep descent to bypass the impress deep canyon and rapids below. We stopped at the summit on our last carry to admire the view and enjoy a picnic lunch before moving on.

Devil's cascade portage is done!

Devil’s cascade portage is done!

Several groups passed us on their way out. They were just completing an ambitious route from Loon looping back to the east and then south by southwest to the river after a successful walleye-fishing trip. We had high hopes for a 5-star campsite as we met another father-son tandem heading out. We circled the lake stopping at several sites with wide, flat grassy spaces for tents and well-developed fire rings but we couldn’t come to a consensus on which site to choose. On a good 4-star site situated on a peninsula looking south towards the river, we agreed to return to a high-cliff site across the bay. The sun was beginning to set. I hastily string up my rod and tied on a deep-diving Rapala as my wife and kids clambered into the canoe. My efforts were rewarded with two 20” northern pike for dinner that evening over our well-tended-fire.

Our campsite overlooking Loon from a high vantage point towards Canada

Our campsite overlooking Loon from a high vantage point towards Canada

Day 3: Ledge Top Paradise.
Isn’t it funny how a campsite can grow on you? This was not my first choice. This spot was situated on a high bluff overlooking Loon Lake and north into Canada. The evening before my son, Ethan was inexplicably drawn to it for some reason. Exhausted from our first day, we had all finally agreed to paddle back to it, eager to set up camp. The take-out was on a sandy beach now flooded with a steep 20 to 25-foot climb up a narrow path to excellent flat sites above with room for several tents. Towering pine and deciduous trees provided shade, great tie-off points for our tarp, bear-hanging rope and water. As I walked the site the next morning while my family slept, I began to appreciate its advantages while drinking in the beauty of the sunrise and the breathtaking view from our ledge-top paradise.

This was to be a leisurely day with no plans except to enjoy ourselves, the lake and maybe explore the area. After breakfast and camp chores we kicked around a couple of options for the day: Beatty portage to the north, an exploratory trip up the Loon River in the direction of Crane or East Loon Lake for fishing. We opted for East Loon with the winds picking up and driving 1-foot rollers across the lake.

East Loon is a quiet secluded lake that is separated from Loon by a shallow pinch of land. I trolled a line through here but by midday I was having little luck. Still hoping for lake trout, walleye or a bass, I kept the line in as we made a pass by several campsites to do our own mental inventory of each. The lunch spot for the day would be a campsite at the far north site at the top of the lake. What are remarkable about East Loon is its steep wooded, granite shorelines on its southern terminus that gradually give way to a northern end characterized shallow bays, swamp and reed grass. I am always amazed at how quickly the topography changes up here even on the same body of water.

Our lunch spot was one of the few dry places but its sloping grade to the waterline made it a less-than-desirable campsite. After a hearty lunch of cheese-and-crackers, sanwhiches, fruit and yoghurts, we had enough energy to fly!

Ethan Jump Loon Lake 53114

Ethan jumps for joy on East Loon, May 2015

It was however perfect if your goal was Slim Lake  the next day. The portage is a short distance down the eastern shoreline from this site.

Our paddle back to our basecamp was a bit more challenging. The wind had picked up, judging from the waves and was pushing 10 mph or so, according to the forecasts I had monitored the night before on my S.A.M.E weather radio.

East Loon campsite below narrows

East Loon campsite below narrows

 

Struggling our way back to the narrows we pulled over at a spacious, pine-needle covered site with a generous clearing and well-developed fire ring for a snack, some fishing and to let the winds abate. Finally agreeing to push on, we reloaded the canoe and shoved off into stiff headwinds. Crossing the bay to the southern shore to get some relief from the wind tunnel, I felt a tug on my line and reeled in a 12 inch pike which I released. Cruising back to our home base, I was rewarded for my persistence with one 22” northern. Disappointed with my lack of luck and skill, I was glad that we would enjoy one more fish dinner before packing up and heading home tomorrow.

That evening our kids played around the campsite, tempted back to the fire only by s’mores and hot chocolate. Watching the sun drop below the horizon we noted the lack of mosquitoes and insects. As the evening settled over us, fish were rising to snap up the meager hatching that were occurring. Tempted to grab my rod and head out, I opted for camp chores and tidying up for the next day’s pack-up. With protestations over teeth brushing and “last bathroom breaks”, my wife and I settled our little ones into the cozy Kelty Salida 4 tent to read stories we had brought along and slip off into a deep slumber.

Day 4: Sunny Day with a Small Surprise
A windless morning of glorious sunshine greeted us when we awoke. Our last breakfast in the backcountry was a feast of banana-cinnamon pancakes topped with maple syrup, scrambled eggs on the side. The last of the bacon was also devoured. No need to save it now. We would need the energy for the portages. A familiar whine startled us as tiny winged-insects fluttered up from the forest floor. Time to leave! After coffee and clean-up, we pushed off about 9:30 with still waters and building sunshine.

Our trip out was uneventful, greeting a few fellow paddlers also working their way towards the exit from Loon lake and the eventual portages. Two hours later after retracing our steps over the three portages we found ourselves at the falls and the last take-out. Happy exhaustion and one more punch of adrenaline carried us and our gear back to the parking lot and our car at midday. We spent an additional hour walking the trail back and forth from the lot to find an errant water bottle, missing glove, a nearly-forgotten paddle and tote bag.

Stowing the last of the camping detritus in our overhead Rocketbox, we clambered into our vehicle bound for cold drinks and hot sandwiches in Ely and back home to Minneapolis. Our summer has begun on a high note.

 

The Unexpected: Ice-Out on Knife, May 10, 2014

Knife Ice-Out Solo Trip
Entry: Moose Lake to Quetico Park
Canoe: Wenonah Champlain
Dates: May 10- 14, 2014

Trip Introduction: A first solo trip up Moose and through Knife Lake into the Man Chain of lakes in Quetico can be a wonderful trip to begin a summer paddling season. Moose lake chain leading north up to Newfound and Sucker are beautiful lakes to experience early in the season as well as Knife. I had never seen the Man Chain of lakes in Quetico. Fellow paddlers’ tales of fishing exploits and 5-star camp sites had enticed me all winter. Tales of inviting, peaceful lakes with wonderful campsites and solitude seemed perfect.

Day 1, May 10th: Heading North
My decision to visit these lovely lakes in the BWCA and Quetico led me to contact Bob at LaTourell’s to book a tow up to Prairie Portage for May 11th. With the optimism that can only be borne from enduring a lengthy winter in anticipation of that first open-water paddle, I packed and headed north, ready for adventure.

Day 2, May 11th: Watching the Ice Melt – Moose Lake
There is a cascading flood of emotion after a long winter where doing activities associated with warmer climes and being outdoors becomes overwhelming. I arrived with those thoughts and feelings at the outfitter just before supper on Saturday with the anticipation on going in, by tow the next morning, early if possible.

Sunset over Moose Lake ice. By TMI. All rights.

Sunset over Moose Lake ice. By TMI. All rights.

The ice was pooling up and connecting into larger puddles when I arrived. Late Spring sun was providing scenic sunsets over the lake and retired to my cabin to sort my gear, study maps, and hope for the best in the morning.

Bunkhouse at LaTourell's: Waiting for Ice Out. TMI. All rights reserved.

Bunkhouse at LaTourell’s: Waiting for Ice Out. TMI. All rights reserved.

 

 

Day 3, May 12th: Punching Through to Knife Portages

My next morning dawned bright and sunny with clear water in the southern end of the lake but ice flows still visible further north. I checked with Bob and realized we would all need some patience to see if today was the day. Finally a little before noon, he started shifting boats and people around and gave me the sign to load my gear at the dock along with my boat. We were finally going up lake! Bob’s crew consisted of a husband-and-wife team (his daughter and son-in-law) who piled into the tow boat in gumboots and heavy jackets after loading my beastly portage pack (I over-packed as usual for my first trip) and carefully strapped my canoe onto the rails above.

We set out for what would be quite the adventure. The plan was to tow me up through Moose through the lovely chain of connecting lakes Newfound and Sucker all the way to Prairie Portage. They were opening up their cabins and operations at the portage on the US-side which gave me the chance to register for what I had hoped would be several nights on the Man Chains in Quetico as part of my shake-out trip.

What we knew was that several strata of popcorn ice sheets lay across Moose Lake, running east-to-west and that we could navigate around and through them to open water clear up to Prairie Portage. Forest Service had flown over the lakes early that morning and relayed the intel so off we went.Punch through ice on moose

What we didn’t know was that 2 large strata of this deteriorating ice had drifted south and were completely blocking our way! My team swung our towboat around the back side of the island (pictured above in middle photo) and we proceeded to punch our way through to the next width of open water. I breathed a sigh of relief but not for long. Blocked by yet another ice flow, our pilot swung the boat around behind an island on the western shore of Moose, hoping to find a passage north. I was beginning to feel like Henry Hudson searching for the great Northwest passage in the services of what would eventually become the Dutch West Indies Company.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to bail out and camp on Moose. We eventually picked, punched, poked and ran our boat through to open water at the northern end of Moose and were soon speeding up the lake to Sucker. As we dodged the pineBW Falls PP-studded islands of Sucker I knew I was on my way to Prairie Portage.

We carefully landed my boat and gear on the Canadian side of Basswood Falls which was roaring from melting Spring flows. I explored the rangers’ station which was still closed, self-registered and soon was off, paddling up narrow channels to Birch lake. More ice thwarted me at a couple of turns and I had to beach on one campsite to get a late breakfast and figure out a strategy but I was soon paddling again in the beautiful warm sunshine, wind-free to my first of 4 portages up the Knife river.

Ice on Birch

Ice on Birch

Finishing my last exhausting carry towards late afternoon, The Knife Portage, I shoved off against a strong current threatening to sweep me back over the rock-strewn rapids and riffle. As I paddled out into Knife Lake, I knew I needed a campsite and water soon to rehydrate. What I saw took my breath away. Out on the horizon a cluster of islands lay ahead surrounded by what appeared to be floating shelves of steely, dark-blue water. But something was wrong as the water did not undulate or stir and then I realized I was gazing out over a completely frozen Knife Lake. Yikes! Fortunately for me, a channel was opened to the one and only island with campsites through a torturous path of white and dark ice flows, studded with popcorn-like shards. Carefully navigating the frigid waters, I landed on Robbins, exhausted, thirsty, and famished. Making camp, I finished camp chores and took some photos before flopping in my tent for an early bed.

I was all alone in the BWCA and I had an entire lake to myself. At least for one night.

Day 4, May 13th: Icebound on Robbins
A gusting wind and blowing rain all night and a pitter-patter on the tent told me to stay inside my sleeping bag for a while. A rainy day and I was trapped by ice surrounding my island camp. I snoozed for an extra hour or two, woke, read, snooze more and tried to let my body recover from the first day. By mid-afternoon I finally braved the elements by climbing out of my tent.

The wind had partially blown the ice from in front of my site and I could begin to make out a path back down river to the portage. Making a quick pot of coffee, I sipped the hot elixir and nibbled some breakfast at 3 in the afternoon while monitoring ice movements out on the lake. Around 5 or so, another group of two tandems paddled up from the portage and grabbed the other site on the island. I could hear their laboring and clanking of paddles as the rain had picked up again.

I strung up a line and cast a few times off the island to test my luck but the dark water was too frigid for any fish to be active. Gathering my maps and checking my canoe and gear, I dove back into my tent for an early bedtime. Tomorrow might be better.

Day 5, May 14th: Windbound in Quetico
Too restless to remain, I packed up after breakfast this morning. Paddling away I was determined to make at least Crawford so that I could loop out through Quetico on my way home to Moose and my tow. I had given up on the Man Chain and Knife as I had lost any time advantage that I had gained. Noting the small patches of ice and snow in the bays, I found and tackled the portage to Crawford but checking my gear I realized that I was missing my MSR water filter bladder! I made this discovery after I landed, unpacked my boat and was ready to start loading up.

Forty-five hard-fought minutes later I was again back at my campsite to pick up the water bladder right where I had left it when I loaded my canoe. Now the rain had begun and I was getting cold. I launched but was quickly driven to the rocky shoreline on the island, only a few hundred yards up from where I had just departed. Cold driving rain and a bit of sleet.

Finally regaining the portage, I lugged first boat and then gear over the un-cleared portage which scales a 15ft rock face about 10 rods in and then descends down a muddy slope with plenty of bent poplars to hang up your canoe and grab at your pack. Arriving at Crawford around 11AM, the wind was now cranking in full force and piling up at my end of the lake. Putting in was a challenge and I soon found myself grabbing branches, hand over hand pulling myself and the boat forward through 15 – 20 mph winds with 25 – 30 mph gusts. I found the one and maybe only campsite and was able to spread out quite nicely on the pine-needle covered forest floor with towering pines swaying overhead. While I dried out gear, I cast a few times but my efforts yielded little. Sunset was a gorgeous array of reds and pinks and magically at 8PM exactly, the wind machine switched off and the winds skidded to a stop except for the occasional whisper.

Day 6, May 15th: Cold Rain, Snow, Hail, Sleet and Paddle Home
The next morning I rose around 5:30, fixed a cold breakfast and immediately packed and loaded to launch by 7AM. The winds had started to chug to life around 4:30AM that morning but I couldn’t climb out until later. Now I need to make a bit of effort to get down this condensed, scenic lake to the portage into Carp for my journey home. Winds posed a bit of problem for my Champlain and I had to trim it with a 50-gal. dry bag of water however I made the portage at the lip of the beaver dam and carried easily over to Carp on a well-used, mostly flat trail into a secluded bay.

Paddling south down Carp was scenic in its own right and the weather seemed to hold as I watched the pewter-grey skies. But my luck ran out as weather broke about mid-morning when I was halfway down the lake. Rain, then sleet, then snow and maybe a bit of hail changeover pelted me. After another hour or so of paddling I made the International Border and the body of water with a portage that wBirch putin next lakeould take me into Birch, heading further west to Indian Portage and the pathway into Moose. Wind was picking up out of the west but not as strong as yesterday. Bucking these headwinds I pushed into Birch staying to the southern shore. Finally close to noon, I spotted the little bay that shelters Indian Portage and I pushed hard to reach it. More paddlers, groups of as many as 8 were heading east into Knife, and it was time to leave.

My tow from LaTourell’s showed up a bit early with another crew to drop off. By 2PM I was loaded and heading south to Moose Lake, a shower, clean clothes and something hot to drink!

BWCA EP23: Mudro-Horse-Fourtown Loop, October 11-14th, 2013

EP23 MUDRO HORSE FOURTOWN loop

Overview: This trip was a last gasp of the summer canoe tripping through an entry point that I had never done.  Mudro (EP23) was enticing for the opportunity to get into both Horse and Fourtown for late season/early fall fishing, pilot a “parallel solo” opportunity with a fellow paddler, as well as a chance to experience a couple of lakes without mosquitoes and hordes of other canoeists!

Image

Day 1: Left Twin Cities at 4AM to meet up with another BWCA forum solo who was looking for one more trip into the same lakes before the season closed out. I arrived in Ely around 8:30 Friday morning and picked up a Le Tigre SR17 from the good folks at Voyageur North outfitters and headed up to the EP at Mudro. Rolling into the parking lot I unloaded and trucked everything down the grassy banks passed a very low-flowing Picket Creek. John, my parallel solo partner arrived shortly after me and we were soon floating down the creek, rock-dodging.

Image

Image

Image

As the sunshine built over us, an eagle or two soared over us on the portage from Mudro to Sandpit. A good omen. With little wind we pushed on with easy paddling to find the well-disguised portage into Tin Can Mike, another short paddle and the quick, easy portage (stepping over the wolf scat) into Horse.

Image

Now the wind was coming up. We set our strategy for campsites and pushed up the west shoreline of Horse passed the river entry to Fourtown portage. Although not thrilled with our options for campsites, we stayed at campsite 1117 on the west shore because the winds had picked up and crossing Horse to the two sites on the opposite shore next to the Horse River was now, not an option.

The camp itself is okay with a  lot of space at the top of gently sloping rock face. The take out is a bit clumsy but if you paddle around to the backside of the site, the protected bay offers a couple of better options. Two tent pads are easily identifiable with a lower one on a grassy surface to the left of the fire pit and a second upper one situated on a half-dirt pack, half rock ledge but definitely pitch-able.

Image

Image

I nestled my solo into the trees behind the upper tent pad in a stand of trees an grass in between a root or two but very comfortable. Tarp pitched in there as well although a bit awkward and tight.

Day 2: Early morning dawned grey and a stiff breeze. Fished the point to the west of the campsite and brought in a couple of 15 to 16 inch pike but nothing much else before breakfast. After a hot breakfast, we triaged our options with winds gusting 10 to 15mph by early morning and whitecaps building out on Horse.  We set out north from our camp for a windy island saddle up the west shore and then a series of back bays for our fishing. Not having much luck initially, the second bay up the west shore from our camp gave us a couple pike, a SM and a small walleye. Not much else seemed to  biting. John however brought in a decent sized pike (probably in the 18-20in range) which was the largest that either of us caught and a respectable SM which kept us entertained and enthusiastic to keep casting for a few more hours.  Rap 11cm brown/gold Husky Jerk, silver #5 Colorado-blade-spinners with black 1/4oz jigs, plastic leeches and fire tiger crank baits seemed to be the preference (although I had a sneaking suspicion that the pike I caught were just desperately hungry and sensed a long winter setting in!). About midafternoon, our own hunger was building and we decided to head back to camp for own hors d’oeuvres and dinners.  Just for fun I set up a deep tail dancer/inline sinker and trolled home for one last chance to reel in dinner.  As we rounded the last point on our way south, the southwesterly winds brought up a bit of squall and we fought our way back to our campsite in strong gusts and foot to foot-and-a-half breakers to make us earn dinner. When we finally landed, I reeled in a 13 or 14 inch pike from the troll that I was too busy to land with the frantic-wind-fighting tandem paddle that we needed to reach land! Setting in for the evening, we made dinner as misty rain moved up the lake from the south. We were in for a wet evening as we crawled into our respective solo (dry) tents.

Day 3: Next morning the winds had subsided, temps were slowly rising and the sun was rising bright orange over the ridge to the east. We set out for Fourtown portages just down the shoreline to the south and west. We had to extend the first portage an extra 30 rods or so as the beavers had been at work building up an 8 to 10 foot wall of mud, sticks & logs! Dropping in on somewhat steep rock face, we paddled out. But then we didn’t have to worry because we had to hop back out of our boats, albeit one-at-a-time at the next rocky, single-exit portage.

Image

Curious here why the portage was not cut on the reedy other bank which is flat and wooded but looks to be an easier passage. The put-in on the other side of this portage is an even steeper, sheer rock face which just makes dropping one’s canoe back in an isometric endurance test! Paddling onward we were out of our canoes in less than 30 seconds for the final 10 rod portage as the boulder field was impassable, even for attempting to line-a-canoe. By now, the rocky, steep put-in was expected.

Image

Dodging submerged rocks as we each shoved off in our turn, we paddled out again for a short arm-stretcher until we reached the final 5 rod-portage-through-your campsite before reaching Fourtown. There was sandy beach at the other end of this short portage which made this transition easier. Had a good chat with a fellow paddler from one of the 5-stars at the mouth of this entry to Fourtown who reported “not being able to buy a bite” the day before as they were fishing on Fourtown. I guess we were lucky.

Image

Saying goodbye to John, my parallel solo partner who was heading into Boot for a solo night, I turned south to troll my way down to the triple-portage into Mudro where I was spending my last night in.

There is not much to say that hasn’t probably already been said (or written) about the Fourtown portages.  They are rocky portages that I didn’t find particularly difficult – except for that first “10 rod” portage which is actually more like a 40 rod portage that is a sheer rock face to climb!

ImageImage

However, I found the actual take-out from the north side and paddled back to it to portage my canoe (thankfully) and made it into the small unnamed beaver pond without a problem. Even dodged “Mr. Aggressive Beaver” cruising silently down to my end of the pond like a guided missile to check me out!

ImageImage

My mantra on these portages was “keep your feet” because an ankle-turn on one of these would mean dropping your load with a  crash and crawling out! The next 140 rod portage was actually a lot easier than I was anticipating: a short “up” and the trail levels off pretty quickly — and then it was just a carry through the autumn leaves with the creek rushing down below me to my left. I had to break up the impromptu beaver damn of a few fresh logs that the industrious rodents has started at the end of this portage — so that I could line my canoe a few rods into a deeper, “floatable” part of the stream before paddling the ½ minute or so to the final 30 rod portage. More rocks. Rocks. Rocks. Rocks. Basketball sized. Broken. Uneven. Pulling out my gear, I hoisted my rented boat as carefully as I could over my head and threaded my way through the labyrinth of the boulder field for 30 rods to Mudro.

Image

Image

Getting my gear loaded, I paddled the final 2 or 3 minutes to the one-and-only campsite on Mudro just to my left and around the bend from the put-in. Pretty site, fairly spacious with room for at least 2 and perhaps 3 tents and fairly well developed fire pit with a couple log seats. Nice bear hanging tree or two. With a cold night coming on, I quickly set up camp and made dinner. Being too tired to fish (is it possible?), I doused my abbreviated fire, hung my depleted food bag and dove into my bag as the temps dropped into the 30s.

Day 4: Beautiful sunny morning. Eschewing coffee and hot breakfast for a quick departure, I loaded and left thinking “ I bet the fishing this AM would be good after watching them rise late last night in the moonlight….” Oh well. A reason to return next Spring.

Image

Image

Image

A quick paddle found that the recent rains had risen Picket creek enough to effectively dodge submerged boulders and travel the length of the creek to the sandy beach takeout, shortening my final portage by about 20 or so rods.  A nice present for the end of the trip ( I hope the young couple heading in to Wheelbarrow portage with the wonderful, energetic husky had a great week on the water— I wanted to turn around and head right back in with them!).

Image

Image

Lerome/Sue Falls-Cirrus Solo, Explore, Fish: September 14, 2013

Description of Trip

A solo trip to base camp, explore ‘upper Cirrus’ and fish that I had wanted to take since the beginning of the summer. I had also considered taking my family in through this route in July but opted for Beaverhouse-Cirrus (which was a better option!). It was a 5 ½ hour trek heading in as I searched about for portages and fought a bit of wind. Coming out I faired only a little better taking 5 hours from my campsite outside of Sue Falls to the take-out at the Lerome Lake access just off the Trans-Canadian.

Day 1 of 5

Started the day from the Twin Cities. Warm and a bit breezy but a delightful day and easy drive. Had a quick detour over to Ely to pick up a used Thermarest Guidelite series pad from an outfitter. Road work almost completed on 169 which was a blessing and I zipped in and zipped out of town quickly. Finally made it to International Falls by 9PM and stopped at the Voyageur Hotel. A great little place that is run by an older couple like a bed & breakfast. Felt as though I was walking into their living room when I entered the lobby. Good night sleep.

Heading North from the Twin Cities on I-35!

Day 2 of 5

Awoke at 5:30AM. Red sky morning sunrise and out the door at 6:30 to head for the border crossing. Made Atikokan by 8:30AM and self-registered. Stopped by Robins to pick up a blueberry muffin and fresh coffee since I didn’t have time for breakfast in International Falls (a great place!). Headed back west on the Trans Canadian for the 5 ½ miles to the Lerome Lake access/put-in. Windy! Winds blew from the SW at 12km/hr (7-10 mph or so) with gusts a bit higher. Was blown back into the first bay and had to fight my way through a small islet of reeds into next bay on the eastern coastline where I was promptly blown back into that bay!

Voyager Hotel IntlFalls   Dont Bumpadahead

Since I need to make time, I got out, moved from the bow (I was trying out paddling backwards) to the stern, readjusted my packs and hugged the shoreline down to where the portage was supposed to be. Had a bit of difficulty as I always seem to have with locating the first portage but finally there it was.

No Name lake put-in was very windy – sort of a natural wind funnel there I guess — but once away I was able to paddle down the Jackfish creek portage. Despite the stinking, loon-crap muck at the put-in Jackfish creek water levels were up high enough for me to float my boat without having to do the extra 114 or so rod “bog-trot” that Beymer describes. Beaver dam lift-over was not a big issue and found myself paddling easily across Bewag to next portage.

Portage Lerome NoName Lake        Jackfish Creek portage

Located a steep takeout on southwest shoreline as I aimed off where I thought the portage should be. Found a steep, rocky 10- or 15- rod goat-trail climb that levels out and gently drops down to Lark Lake. As a word of caution: Don’t take this portage! Continue southeast about another 200 to 300 yards along the south shoreline of Bewag and you will find a gentler, sandy/grassy takeout with a gentle rise and then level carry into Lark (found this out on the way out on Day 4!)

This was becoming an adventure on shore-hugging and portage –location. At the back of Lark I had read about “entering the marsh”. With a bit of trepidation, I paddled the 5 minutes or so across Lark to the south shore and entered a narrow marshy, lily-pad

SF portage take 2

strewn swamp-lined channel with red pitcher-plants. As I wound my way south, a beaver dam stretched in front of me west-to-east. I found the short white rock at the eastern edge of the dam that marked the take-out into another stinking, oozy mess that I thankfully only sunk about calf-deep into with my canoe-hat. Good thing that my Wellingtons stayed on my feet for the 20 rod carry into what I’m guessing is the upper part of Cole Lake.

Navigating the narrow, but pretty switchback into Cole Lake is actually a treat as an eagle or two soared above this secluded water, lined by largely pine and various conifers. Finding the entry to Cirrus Creek, I paddled south on the highly-flooded stream and swamp to the portage just east of the beaver dam across the creek and carried down to Sue Falls.

SoloCirrus 1st night camp     Campsite night one Cirrus

It was now 3 in the afternoon and rain was starting to threaten overhead. I took another half hour to set up my trolling rig, snack, rehydrate and consult my maps before pushing off into the little bay protecting Sue Falls. Paddling to the west, I trolled past a set of islands and picked up a smallmouth bass dinner. Perfect. Located my campsite (A2) on a well-sheltered point of land shortly after that and made quick work of cleaning the fish, setting up camp and starting the fire…..as rain started to patter down….one drop…at….a…time. Hate to say it, but good nutrition suffered that meal as fish was followed by s’mores to facilitate a quick cleanup before diving into my tent at 8:30. Fatigue was also setting in!

Fish in a pan 1st night Cirrus   Smore dinner night 1 Cirrus

Day 3 of 5

Next morning, startled another eagle that soared across Cirrus from the stand of trees at my site. Beautiful sun peeking out. Caught a small walleye about 6 inch from the point of the campsite and released. Had to move on as I wanted to get down to the lower “upper part” of this upper arm of Cirrus (just above the north-south channel that connects both parts of Cirrus Lake). Started moving out under light winds on the northern shore of lake. With wind picking up, made a stop at a nice 5 star site (94) across the lake from the “pinch” in the land where the eastern upper arm meets the “lower” eastern arm.

Quick mid-morning break. After my own internal debate, I opted for the more conservative route which is to make a wide “C” by hugging the northern bay from this site and exploring the great little islands and potential sites back there. Beautiful potential camp sites back there! Then shot a gap between two islands guarding the bay and hit the opposite, southern shoreline which guided me to the pinch and I easily dropped down into the lower upper arm of Cirrus. Winds abated. Beautiful paddling now under sunny skies.

Island Campsite on lower arm of Cirrus Lake – Night #2 of trip by Nandagikendan

Finally made my destination campsite on an island (34Y) above the north-south channel but it was already taken by the only other two souls that I’ve encountered on the lake. So, disappointed I begin picking my way down the north-south channel ruling out potential campsites that turn out not to exist until I find the island campsite (3F) at the end of the north-south channel. This is familiar ground as my family and I paddled past this site when visiting the other great campsite at the end of this channel this past July!

Setting up camp first, I then get to work fishing some jigs and a husky jerk and a spinner but no luck even as evening sets in. No fish today with dinner as I’m appropriately humbled. Crawl in early as I’m beat from a long day’s paddle and tonight is supposed to get down to freezing.

Day 4 of 5

Fog! Woke early this AM to find the rain stopped and FOG had rolled in! Couldn’t see past the trees on the top of the island campsite and definitely couldn’t see the water below. Unbelievable. Was supposed to have frost during the night (Atikokan saw -2 C temps) but no sign of it — just the lake evidently cooling off and the air above starting to rapidly warm. Quickly burned off though as the sun came up over the trees to form a truly spectacularly beautiful, sunny morning with no wind. Time to get going!

Island Fog Cirrus from island camp day 2  Fog lifting from island camp Cirrus AM day 3

I could not resist throwing in a floating rap for a couple of casts. A few nibbles but I had to get going to make Sue Falls by midday in case anyone else had similar plans.

EDITED

Heading north via channel connecting lower and middle arms of Cirrus Lake, by Nandagikendan

Set up trolling with a storm thunder stick and jigging rod in channel. Caught and released a walleye and SM while trolling shadows about 10 to 15 feet off shoreline. All told there were 5 small mouth and one pike of 24 inches that morning. Finally had to pull in the line so that I could finish paddling up to Sue Falls which I reached shortly after midday.  Chose my campsite (BD) on one of  peninsulas after a 4-hour paddle start-to-finish with two seat breaks and one to tie up fish on my stringer and dump them in my 50L dry bag doubling as my day tank. Dried out gear. Cleaned fish and ate a late shore lunch/early dinner.

24 in Pike Cirrus   SM 15 and 17 together

Checked out site and did my part by partially relocating and rebuilding the lower fire pit. Finally located the upper fire pit and campsite. Apparently 2 or 3 other tent pads have been covered by the large blow downs up there and the undergrowth – would need a bit of work with a swizzle stick, crossbow saw and maybe a chainsaw to hack out a tent pad or two in that area, as well as a bit more fire pit construction both upper and lower to turn this back into a 5-star. Unfortunately, one of last residents had tried to burn tin foil and drink mix wrappers in fire! Picked up what I could. Need to return at some point for camp maintenance and cleanup….and more fishing.

Day 5 of 5

The regret of any trip is when you realize that it’s moving day and time to head back out! Broke camp at 7:30 which is a bit of a record for me – as much as I love an early start, I have a hard time motivating myself to get out of my comfortable sleeping bag (and now pad!) before 6:30AM on any trip. Gorgeous sunny day with no wind so off I went for a trudge up the falls and into Cirrus Creek where the fish were jumping! Finally made No Name before being buffeted by winds for about 2 or 3 minutes and fought my way into the wind tunnel (think Venturi effect in fluid dynamics!) that is the 5-rod portage back into Lerome. Expectedly with winds coming again out of the south/southwest, the southern shore was calm once I exited the wind tunnel portage. Hugged the shoreline all the way home taking my back passage behind an island through a swamp that probably is impassable in low water levels until I made landfall back at the take-out. Five hours start to finish! Time for some Gatorade and a rest!

The only question that remains is when do I get to go back?!

BWCA EP 16: Nina Moose to Agnes: A Family Excursion, August 30-Sept. 2, 2013

By Nandagikendan

Friday, August 30, 2013

Night before, we stopped at Kawishiwi Ranger station to pick up permit from the nice folks there. Beautiful late summer afternoon drive up the Echo Trail. Arrived at Jeanette USFS campground about 35 miles north of Ely on Echo Trail. Peaceful, bucolic, small campsite nestled at base of a very pretty lake. Lots of longer-term residents there enjoying the last of summer fishing and camp community. Probably 11 or so total sites? Beautiful cool evening with lots of stars. We all slept well. Crawled under my Matrix to retie a banging heat shield from driving through the construction on 169 and the Trail. Bail fail off one of my 3 reels in transit so the Gladding Southbend 725A reel had to stay in the car. Oh well, that leads to LESSON #1 of the trip: ALWAYS pack a back-up reel!
Jeanette, Lake

IMG00600-20130831-1030 sand bar moose river4

Saturday, August 31, 2013
— The PUT-IN.

Day dawned beautiful, cool, clear with only a few clouds and little to no wind at all. Great to take off. Up at 5:30 to make coffee. Quick breakfast and rousting of our two kids out of the tent. Finally packed and ready to go at 8:30AM (an early start for us!), reached trailhead at Moose River EP16 at 9. Unloaded and …disaster struck. After trucking the canoe down to the put-in and the family was in-process of staging the rest of the gear, I popped the watch pins out of my sport watch while struggling one of my packs (Lesson 2: Always put the watch in a pocket). Then the spine ripped out of my beloved, 25-year-old “recently repaired” Lowe Alpine internal-frame pack as I was gingerly struggling that one onto my back ( Lesson #3: ALWAYS bring a spare backpack. Luckily we had another large daypack and lots of 55L dry bags to shift gear around in.

Around 10:15AM, we finally shoved off down the river. Beautiful day! Immediately after the first 25 rod portage we found the impromptu sandbar portage of 3 rods which we “lifted over” and then walked the shallow rapids down about 20 yards. Then we came to what would be one of the 6 portages we did this day, another impromptu portage of about 10 rods around a set of half-submerged boulders in a 25 – 30 yard stretch of the stream (on the way back we artfully navigated through these – the hell with portaging that again!
96rod portage north take out nina moose river 45 rod portage north side falls take out nina moose river2 IMG00601-20130831-1048
Rest of the trip upriver was uneventfully beautiful. We lunched on “the beach” at the north end to the left of the Nina Moose river inlet. A thunderstorm was building to our south/southeast that my son was nervously tracking for us and he rightfully suggested that we take cover! So, we landed, ate, were rained on briefly and then reloaded to paddle on with sun already beating down on us again.

Couple of notes: Nina Moose and Moose Rivers were both a bit high due to recent rains making beaver dams easier to glide over. Also managed to turn my ankle over on the 45 rod portage. Not to worry as I have a habit of packing neoprene ankle braces for just such occasions (still smarted though!). Also want to TIP MY HAT to the young guide from Ely Outfitters and his companion for grabbing our last 3 bags on the 95-rod portage and giving us great advice on campsites and fishing on Agnes! I owe those gentlemen a beer or tow!

So we made it to campsite #1804 per BWCA map by 3:30PM (about a 5 ½ hr. journey with our half hour lunch break and rather lazy double portaging). This is a lovely 5-star on the east shoreline of upper Agnes. It’s located on a peninsula that juts out into the lake. Approaching from the south, the camp is the 3rd in a line going east along that peninsula shoreline.
IMG00609-20130901-1928 IMG00608-20130901-1928 IMG00606-20130831-1557 IMG00605-20130831-1557
Storm from Hell: We set up camp, stowed gear and began making dinner while lightning, clouds and thunder built up in the west/southwest. There is no apt way to describe what hit us while we were under our cook tarp prepping dinner. Rain, wind gusts (25? 30? Mph), lightning bursts, ear-splitting thunder and zero visibility across the lake. When the winds picked up our canoe (stowed about 25 yds. on shore) and tossed it into the water, it was time to 1) frantically dash to grab and lash it to anything on shore with the errant mooring line flagging behind, 2) dash for the tent (God bless our Kelty Salida 4!) and 3) comfort our poor kids who were very brave but more than just a bit unnerved.
IMG00613-20130902-0728
A lesson or two I learned: ALWAYS tie down your boat, even on shore (came through with only a minor pin-prick puncture). Check your weather radio with “stuff” rolling in. NOAA wasn’t kidding about the “violent thunderstorm” that we heard after-the-fact”. We did however congratulate ourselves as a family on competently tying down our tent, tarp and stowing our gear (nothing was lost!) as well as planning on the correct foul weather clothing to pack and wear.
Tie down the Boat!

Sunday, September 01, 2013
– Dry out and Recover.

The rest of our trip in comparison is rather anti-climactic given what happened on the first day! We spent the morning hitting the reset button in camp. ). I started the day at 5:30 by doing a bit of jigging from shore, trying out the TGO, and flinging the husky-jerker into the saddle between us and the island across from the site. But no luck (think I caught a clam on the TGO-method!). Making coffee and exploring our camp, I found my socks on opposite sides of the site: one had been left on the line and remarkably had only blown around camp (and not out into the lake) and the other was near the fire pit. With a bit of misty rain and overcast in late afternoon, my wife suggested we catch some fish for dinner so we paddled out into the lake, scooped water for our gravity filter and then I plied the small bays with jigs, Mepps (little too mid-summer still for that) and the jerker. Having no luck, we skirted the rocky points with a #11 blue/silver deep shad rap. Bingo. Pulled up a 14” walleye that we released. Paddled north around other points into the north bays, crossed the lake to the west and came back the way we came. Rounding the final point in front of camp site 2 (1803), we picked up an 18 in pike. Not a stellar fishing outing by most standards but then again, we only fish for that “one fish” we need for our meal. So it’s usually a once-and-done adventure which is fine for us.

IMG00610-20130902-0727 North beach nina moose paddlers on lake IMG00611-20130902-0727

Monday, September 02, 2013

Labor Day — Pancakes a plenty. Bacon. Fruit. Rivers of dark coffee (adults only ?). Packed up by 10:30AM which was also quick for our family. Sun peeking through this morning with water smooth as glass. An eagle on the rock across from our site where we left the pike carcass the day before. We can see the way out of the lake to the south peeking through the mist. A slow graceful paddle with lots of memories. The storm-of-the-century taking its place in our family’s shared legacy and dominating the conversations. Sun’s out, rivers are up. Break again at “the beach” on Nina Moose where we met a group of 3 canoes heading out after a long trip (in #14, LLC, out #16).
IMG00617-20130902-1059 IMG00616-20130902-1059   sand bar moose river
Finding Nina Moose (river entry for Moose actually) by sight navigation a bit of a trick. Pushing a bit harder upstream to glide over beaver dams, we find the portages easier and quicker to navigate. Finally, we land at the 160-rod trailhead take out that I silently nickname the “160 rod Zen Walker Canoe Portage”. It’s 4:15PM. I find this portage easier to stroll up than it was to put-in. Happily fatigued and weary, we load up and drive down the Echo Trail to Ely for Chinese takeout in Ely is in order before the 4 ½ hr. drive back to the cities. Arriving home in SW Minneapolis at 11PM, everyone is toes-to-the-ceiling shortly thereafter.

EPILOGUE: In hindsight, it was a fantastic trip. Expectations were adjusted based on the energy level of the group, particularly the shorter ones. We knew going in that we would “get as far as we could get” and that “it would be beautiful” wherever we landed.

Quetico: Beaverhouse to Cirrus and Quetico – Family Basecamp & Fishing, July 27-31, 2013

Family Canoe Adventure
Entry Date:07/27/2013
Number of Days:4
Group Size:4

Trip Introduction:
This was an introduction for my family as a whole to Quetico. This trip would be a base-camping excursion with a chance to do some exploring, a bit of fishing, and a more laid-back family adventure.

Day 1 of 4: Ugh! July 27th

Rain. Wind. Cold. A trifecta of weather greeted us as we woke up in the Atikokan Hotel — this is a great place to stay by the way.

Atikokan Hotel. Photo by Nandagikendan, Sept. 2013

Atikokan Hotel. Photo by Nandagikendan, Sept. 2013

We packed up our gear and headed down en masse to the dining area as we watched the slanting rain and listened to it pelt the windows. Breakfast was enormous though. Word of advice: It’s worth not rushing over this as the food here is excellent. A local couple was in the dining area and proclaimed this little restaurant the “best in town”.

Atikokan Hotel located in Atikokan, Ontario, photo by Nandagikendan, Sept 2013

Atikokan Hotel located in Atikokan, Ontario, photo by Nandagikendan, Sept 2013

Finally around 11AM we pushed off from the QP ranger station in Atikokan after my son (10 yrs.) and my daughter (8 yrs.) passed their orientation quiz with the ranger. Driving in to Beaverhouse via the turnoff dirt road was fairly straightforward. Soon we found ourselves on the narrow one-way logging road to the parking area and with a bit of coaxing, had everyone packed into the canoe and shoved off around 2:30PM — when the rain came again this time with a bit of wind.

Portage from BH into Cirrus (160r): Finding that first portage into Unnamed Lake is relatively easy and quick. We were there in less than 10 minutes or so even with the wind from the put-in. We hung up though on a submerged rotted pylon from the old bridge which was bit of bummer. Unloading, we trudged the 115 rod portage but is really closer to 160 rods – oh well — the maps can’t always be dead on! Arrived at the Unnamed lake fairly wet now and needing to coax everyone back in the boat and shove off just to stay warm. After some wondering around the northern shore, we paddled south on this condensed oval lake. My son found the portage trail which is tucked back to the left (east shore) only about a 5-minute from the put-in. Unloading quickly, we trudged the short path to Cirrus and shoved off into the little inlet, paddling somewhat sheltered from the weather until we found a fantastic campsite at #32. Here’s the proof: Cirrus evening west again

Cirrus Camp 32Cirrus Camp 32

 

 

Day 2 of 4: Here is where things started to improve! July 28th

It stopped raining during the night and began clearing on Sunday morning. Winds were fresh but actually calmed a bit as the sun rose. Taking our time over breakfast, exploring and camp chores, our little intrepid group of my wife, myself and our two little ones headed out with fishing rod and picnic lunches for campsite #3J at the southern end of the channel out of the upper part of the lake. My plan was to troll a deep tail dancer and experiment with an inline 1 ½ oz sinker rig — which I had never done before. Everyone else’s plan was to let me fish a bit, not fall out of the boat, get some exercise and fight back the boredom (from our kids’ perspective).

We found the campsite in excellent condition after reading some reports of a toilet-paper strewn environment. This had thankfully been cleaned up by others before us and the site was impeccably tidy and clean. Camp 3J cleanedWe found a perfectly gentle sloping rock face to spread out on and lunched on cheese/crackers/salami, pb&js, trail mix, and lots of water. I had no luck fishing either the little bay in front of our lunch spot or from the point in front of the site, but mid-afternoon in bright sunlight is probably a fairly lousy time to fish. I made up for it after the paddle home as we crossed Cirrus heading to our site. I jigged just off of our the campsite and landed a healthy 18in-smallmouth bass. Is there anything like the taste of fresh fish?

Here are a few pics of the campsite 3J and the meal:

Fish fry second round first LTDay 3 of 4: Early Riser, July 29, 2013

Rain during the night pelted our tent as we slept. I awoke early this AM to find the rain stopped and pulled out a Lucky Heddon 13 to try my luck in the little cove to the west of our site. I hit pay dirt with a few casts and another 18-20 in smallmouth which we released. With optimism and moods greatly improving amongst our group of intrepid canoeists, camp breakfast was extensive. Fresh blueberries were gathered from the hillside, pots of coffee to go with the pancakes, eggs & bacon and oatmeal seemed to hold over our kids for the moment so we decided to head-out about mid-morning into the brilliant sunshine and windless day. Cirrus eveningOur destination were the pictographs on Quetico. The portage from Cirrus into Quetico that seemed easiest to reach was directly across the lake from campsite #3J that we had visited the day before.

This is a beautiful rock channel bounded by about 50 foot cliffs on the east side and steep sloping conifer forest on the west. The water was high which meant using the first of two paths to the east of the channel. The initial 20 or so rods pass under part of the rock cliffs and wind through the forest to end at a small cascade to the right and a small pond. The rest of the trail to the left was blocked by at least three, 12-inch blowdown trees and a lot of low-hanging branches. Scouting out the trail, we put in before these, ferried our canoe across the shallow pool below the cascades and lined our boat down the shallow rapids. Cirrus to Q Portage StreamAll of this to the delight of our kids who loved the fact that everyone could get their feet wet — and off we went into Quetico lake.

We didn’t photograph the three pictographs that we saw probably because we couldn’t get our phone/cameras out of their hiding places in our dry bags and because the Anishinaabeg ask you not to. No matter as they were impressive to find & see.

On the way home, I kept us to the southern shore of Cirrus and crossed in front of 2Z to our campsite, hooking a niceMen and LT#1cirrus713 LT of about 21 or so inches for our dinner that evening. My son greatly enjoyed the filleting part while my daughter stayed at our campsite, mourning the loss of this wonderful fish – the dichotomy of emotion was very much in the spirit of the place. Cirrus evening west againAfter dinner, chores were quickly executed to give us a bit of free time before bed. Evening blanketed us in a peaceful twilight and early bed.

 

Day 4 of 4: Rain and a bit of wind moving back in. Kids were very excited to pack up although they were sad to be leaving “their Ethan on Beach Cirrus 713campsite” and were practically begging my wife and I for reassurances that we would return next year here to “our spot”. We acquiesced. As we paddled away, I trolled another deep tail dancer, a neon-tiger striped deep diver rap as we pulled into the middle of the lake passing campsite 2Z on the southern shore. The rod tip dipped precipitously towards the water surface meant “LT” or another humongous snag on the bottom. I had a devil-of-a-time reeling in with my 6’6” rod (next time I’m bringing the Shakespeare Ugly Stick 7 footer). My wife paddled us to the southern shore as I clambered out, still thinking it was a snag — the fish had bottomed just a couple of yards offshore and I couldn’t bring it up — I opened the bail to release the snag and then starting to reel in again and the 26 in lake trout emerged on the surface.

We paddled out of Cirrus to the first portage where we found a rock ledge on a peninsula guarding the cove for the put-in. Eating ripening blueberries on the point, we got down to work filleting our catch.

The rest of the paddle home was uneventful although the last portage created a mini-mutiny amongst the 4.5 foot-and-smaller crowd. Reaching the take-out we found, unhappily, that we had left a light on inside my car and now had a dead battery! Fortunately for us, some wonderful folks from Sudbury who had driven 16 hours arrived. They managed to double-up jumper-cables and we were off to Dawson to camp, clean up and rub our aching muscles…..What a trip! I can’t wait to do it again!