Trip Intro: This is a relatively early-season trip report because it falls
at the end of May into first week of June in Quetico. It’s
essentially a solo paddle to meet up with a group of 4 doing
there separate trip for a couple of days before solo looping
back to EP (Nym)
Part 1: The Adventure in the Rain
Friday May 31: The good part of this portion of the trip was the lack of bugs and the beauty of both Nym and Batch in the light misty rain. I set out Fri. AM from Nym and shoreline hugged to the east all the way down to the portage because I was a bit apprehensive in a new 18 footer Champlain (it was new, used boat) and didn’t want to get blown around. I loaded down the bow and stern with about 70 pounds of ballast in water jugs in addition to my own gear. It seemed to work pretty well although it took my 3 or 4 times longer to reach the portage! Not a recommended approach unless safety (yours) is required.The portage itself was in very good shape and well maintained at this point however the sky unleashed a torrent of rain and lightning so I joined a father/son group and paddled west to the point where two campsites are located and bedded down until the next day. Not a very productive first day out but given the cold water temperatures, better than dumping in the cold, chop of Batch.
Part 2: The Adventure Continues — Rain Rain Blown Away.
Saturday June 1st
Day opened calm and glassy but soon changed. I paddled away from my bucolic point campsite back towards the portage on the Batch side because the sky was grey and potentially threatening. I had a weather radio but the forecast was simply predicting on/off again rain showers, cool temps and winds 10-15km/hr (6.2-9mi/hr) or so….so I paddled on. About equal with the w7 five-star campsite on the eastern shore (where the peninsula juts out) I was slammed with driving rain and short 1ft rollers. Nothing terribly tricky but I had to fight it pretty hard to keep the bow pointing down wind. Cutting to the chase — I realized I was cold and tired — I bivvied at the necked down landing campsite halfway down this coast line as I was getting a bit hypothermic and needed to dry out — I pitched my tent, slept and waited for the members of the group that were to meet up with me — which they did about 3 hours later. Setting out again in lighter mist and after wondering about for a bit, I finally made it to their campsite, across Batch Bay on the island just outside of the rapids that enter Pickerel.
Part 3: Stopover on Jesse
Sunday June 2nd
We paddled out late this day around 10:30 AM after a leisurely breakfast and made the Maria portage (not too muddy) and then the Jessie portage ( a longer slog with a bloated dead beaver at the take-out). Sunny, light breeze. After reaching Jessie, the group decided that the main island campsites were worth a stop-over, drying out, and fishing a bit. Excellent fishing luck for most — 4 pike, 2 walleye (a third walleye caught by one of our group measured 30 inches and was landed late in the evening well-after darkness had descended. Not a bad day! We all settled into our tents on a perfect evening.
Part 4: Long Paddle Day with the Fight Upstream
Monday June 3rd
Began our day under sunny skies a bit earlier around 9ish. Not an early rising but timing was improving. We found the portage and off we went to Elizabeth after viewing the dead, decaying moose carcass in the bay by portage. The trail itself had 3 or 4 mud holes with corduroy. The whole trail looked as though it was building towards its usual full summer muck status. This was a longish trail compared to what was coming. Walter is a pretty lake with the sun now shinning brightly reflecting off the blue water. It was a long paddle to next portage but winds were light and in the narrows leading to the take-out, we lunched on a rock face and soaked up the sun just 50 or so rods from the double portage. A couple of us, including me slipped into the water as we hauled our gear and boats over the rock face takeout. It’s a short portage onto a shallow, sandy creek to next portage with lower rock portage before the cascade and riffle that flushes Walther out into Lonely. Pretty day, sunny, no wind to speak of and a longish paddle down to the portage into Sturgeon. Beaver dam or remnants thereof after second portage below falls and then into nor’eastern end of Sturgeon. Here began the really long paddle. I fell a good 15 to 20 minutes behind the rest of the group of tandem paddlers. I watched them disappear as they turned north around the point and ascended the Sturgeon Narrows. I reached the far eastern end of Scripture and kept paddling, alternatively shoveling granola into my mouth, paddling with one hand, and swilling water. Thankfully, Sturgeon was still calm as glass, there were few if any bugs, and ample daylight left as the sun still road high in the western sky.
“I’m still here”, I’m thinking. Paddling very slowly with the fatigue that comes with regular canoe tripping, paddling and portaging. Slowing making my way up Sturgeon Narrows, I finally reach the narrows that leads to Russell around 6:30PM. No one else in sight. Current is flowing steadily and strongly down this stream, banked by steep wooded hillsides. I try unsuccessfully twice to paddle up the strong current but fail and must float back out into the little bay and back to Sturgeon Narrows. Locating a makeshift campsite on the southern shore, I attempt an impromptu bushwhack to a little cove I spy on the other side. Maybe if I can get through, I can paddle the calm waters and then bushwhack the next hill. Perhaps I can leapfrog that way to the short portage trail that is just out of site up this raging stream? But it’s a no-go. The thickets are too dense and I’m tired, thirsty and hungry. Finally forced retreat, I paddle a short distance east and then north to a rocky peninsula to camp. It’s a steep rock ledge takeout but I’m rewarded with a fantastic view of southern Sturgeon lake. The campsite’s not bad with an upper pad that could accommodate a 2-4 person tent. A lower site and fire ring is just perfect for my 1-person backpacker tent. I snuggle in after a quick dinner of soup and a few crackers.
Part 5: Tuesday & Wednesday June 4-5th
Climbing out of my tent, I’m greeted by blue skies and sunshine. I vow to check out the far bay to the southeast in case I’ve missed a portage or entrance somehow to Russel. No luck. It’s now 11AM and I turn my canoe northward, paddling slowly but deliberately up the lake. My muscles ache from yesterday but I’m making good progress.
I lunch at a perfect campsite in the upper Sturgeon area with an easy sloping rock embankment, sturdy camp “furniture” and evidently plenty of tent pad space, all nestled in the trees. Loading up again, I find the entrance to Deux Rivieres and happy to find enough water to easily float the paddle upstream. Entering Twin Lake, I finally locate the flooded portage to Dore.
My packing comes back to haunt me on this portage as my system breaks down into triple-portages. Making Dore, the afternoon is slipping away. I lose myself in the wrong bay but finally locate this flooded portage as well and am soon into Pine Portage. Wind is picking up and I’m a little nervous as a first-timer in my 18′ Champlain. I pull over at what appears to be an abandoned camp on a peninsula. Nothing but a fish livepool and a some fire rocks remain but I take it as wind kicks up whitecaps on Pine. I wouldn’t discover until the next morning that the campsite, a 4-star that I was looking for was mere meters across the inlet separating my bivvy site from it. No matter. I’m tired and it’s been a full day.
The next day, I am lucky again to have excellent weather.
There’s a very short portage into Pickerel Lake which I quickly located that morning. A gentle breeze at my back, made the paddle up the picturesque Pickerel Narrows a relaxing paddle up the Narrows back to Batch. I even cross paths with the father-son duo that I met in the way in. Wind was now picking up (doesn’t it always?) on Batch and I had 1 to 1 1/2 ft rollers/chop along western shore of Batch all the way up to the takeout. One last long portage over a familiar friend-of-a-trail. I took a long break and ate, watching the winds across Nym and betting that by 5PM or so, they would calm down enough for me to attempt a very hard, fast, solo paddle. As my luck continued to hold, winds died and I was chased by a threatening sky at my back across Nym all the way to the takeout where one last 10 minute wind blast tried to blow me out of the inlet — but I was home! Exhausted. Gratified. Heading home.