Early Spring Solo in Quetico: Hard Portaging to Kahshahpiwi

Prologue

I was wrapping up some loose ends in my office Friday morning when I decided to just begin throwing stuff sacks and gear into the back of my car. When the canoe was finally loaded on the car, I drove north leaving Minneapolis just before noon. Stopping in Ely for a couple of errands I drove out to Moose Lake to bed down until my tow up Moose Lake the next morning.

Parks: Quetico & BWCA

Canoe: Souris River Quetico 17′

Route: Prairie Portage-North Bay-Isabella-Kahshahpiwi-Grey Loop

Time: Estimate 5-7 days (actual 5 days)

May 2nd (Day 1): Packed and Ready

Saturday dawned bright, clear and sunny. I’m cold, cramped and stiff from an unrestful night sleep but I’m packed and ready to go.

Packed up and ready to go

Packed up and ready to go

I meet Bob Latourell at 6:30 and by 7 we are speeding up the lake in his tow boat. In minutes, I’m deposited at the deserted Prairie Portage ranger station still slumbering from the winter sleep. A quick goodbye and the boat on my shoulders I start the first schlepp of my gear down to Inlet Bay put-in. I quickly complete my self-registration and push off for Bayley Bay and Quetico. Paddling hard, I am finding that my canoe glides effortlessly over the glassy smooth water. There is no wind. It’s still and eerie. I am making good time and after an hour and a half am soon unloading at the 85 rod, well-trodden dirt path. I later dubbed this the “garden walk”. Little did I know that this would the easiest portage of the entire trip.

Picturesque and calm, Burke Lake is a peaceful solitude with few wooded islands dotting its bays that unfold to the east and wooded hills that dive into the blue water’s edge on my left. Sun burning overhead, the lake offers little resistance as I paddle effortlessly to the first of two portages on the north side of the lake that parallel the stream that empties into North Bay. The second portage however is rocky and I am having trouble dragging my heavy gear out of the boat and now stumbling up the trail. I misread the trail and put in at a high-water put-in. I fish out my painter line from the bow and gingerly maneuver my canoe, grunting as I lift it over the last few boulders and jagged submerged rocks. Heat is building with direct sunlight overhead. Draining one of liter-water bottles, I begin paddling due north across North Bay, this last stretch of big water. Forty-five minutes later navigating by my compass and map, I’m stopping at a peninsula campsite for a lunch break and to filter water.

Lunch Break on North Bay

Lunch Break on North Bay

I’ve gone through 6 liters this morning and know that I will need an equal amount before the day is over to make my destination of Isabella by the evening. This is a beautiful peninsula site with a well-developed fire ring, pine needle floor and high Norway Pines towering above.

Lunch site on North Bay

Lunch site on North Bay

Old trapper metal spring traps lay around the camp site from a bygone era.

Some trapper abandoned them after snaring his or her share of the unsuspecting beaver who are now busy damming up the small tributary creek that I must enter next to continue paddling north.

It’s about 2PM now and I need to get going. I push off and start the couple of beaver dam lift-overs and the 65 rod portage off the tributary to a No Name lake, a couple more portages and finally Isabella Lake where I will spend the night.

Single trap on North Bay

Single trap on North Bay

Tired, thirsty and looking for one of two sites supposed to exist on this lake, I stop at a high-ledge camp site where the lake necks down to a pinch with 20 to 25 foot granite canyon walls on either side. The take-out is weedy and buggy, less-than-ideal with the tent platforms and fire ring a climb up but I’m too tired to care. I decide to the leave gear down below and only drag my tent and food up top to set up. Bedding down for the night, I flick the first tick of the season out the tent door after finding it making a valiant assault up my bandana crawling towards my head & neck region. The battle is joined!

May 3rd (Day 2): Hard to Move

Bright sunshine filters in through my tent fly. The achiness has settled into my muscles. I’m having an amazing run of luck though with the weather. I lounge a bit over breakfast coffee and oatmeal, planning my day of supposedly hard, steep portages into the Side Lake area, my gateway to Kahshahpiwi the ultimate goal for the day.

Breakfast view on Isabella Lake

Breakfast view on Isabella Lake

Finally I am ready to clamber back into my boat at 10:30AM, a late start that I will pay for later. Paddling down the lake I found the first portage hidden in a jumble of rocks next to a gentle, gurgling stream emptying from the No Name lake on the other side. The portage poses little problem and I have my loads across in no time to be greeted by a stiff wind coming directly at me from across the lake. Bummer. Setting my compass reading, I’m staring across the lake at what looks like a sheer granite face on a cliff wall. “This can’t be right”, I think to myself as I pull hard to cross this small lake. Searching a likely easier, wooded grade that heads up the same hillside, I am turned back from this moose path to search the shoreline again. The portage is about 30 yards southwest down the shoreline and indeed climbs the sheer cliff face on a razor-thin goat path.

This and the next portages seem identical in their steepness and level of effort – they go by in a blur of pain and sweat as I find myself purposefully, slowly ascending two steep slopes only to return two more times to reclaim my gear. I’ve had to go to triple-portages as I’ve found that my portage pack is greatly over-packed with gear and my food barrel is overloaded as well with several extra days of food, largely unneeded for this trip. Adding insult to injury, I get lost on the second portage where it is joined by a portage trail coming in from another lake to the south and west. Fatigue is setting in and my typical early season kitchen-sink packing is taking its toll.

The afternoon wanes bringing on clouds and an occasional light drizzle. I begin to worry as I can feel the slight chill return to the air. No one wants to be caught out on a lake with weather coming on and temperatures dropping. Hypothermia is always lurking. Finding Side Lake puts me only two portages away from my goal at about 4PM. Time is ticking by. The next to last portage is a short 20 or 25 rods by my guess but it’s a stream bed littered with ankle-busting basketball-size boulders. The path is not evident in this maze of stones. Carefully, I pick my path tiptoeing with each of my three loads to the boulder minefield and paying particular care with the canoe which can hang-up on the branches above if I’m not careful. I am congratulating myself now for reaching the last No Name Lake. All that separates me from Kahshahpiwi is a 185 rod portage (a little over a half mile) that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

I’m thinking I’m home free now. That’s a good thing. My muscles ache, my legs are getting rubbery and I can tell that my strength is waning. It’s time to stop soon. Anywhere, but soon. The portage into Kahshahpiwi Lake from the Side Lake direction is different from how it’s depicted on the McKenzie map. I’m confused. Where is it? I paddle past a campsite on my right and spy a trail going up into the woods. Goat path? Moose trail? I clamber out to inspect only to be disappointed. Realizing my error I climb back into my canoe seat and take up my paddle. Staring at my map, it dawns on me that the trail might be split into two. I paddle forward to find one very short portage on my right of 2 or 3 rods going up a dirt embankment. Unloading quickly, I climb the 10 to 15ft embankment to reach a granite bald-face outcropping only to discover that the trail stops — disappears actually— into the water of the swamp. Nothing even to my right to skirt the edge of the swamp. Forced to reload the boat, I hurry. Daylight is waning and my stomach is grumbling accompanied by a powerful thirst. Paddling carefully into the swamp, I face-off with a 50 foot granite cliff swinging into view on my left. Scanning in a circle around my boat I spot where the portage trail picks up — on my right hidden in a copse of trees with an embankment that descends into a bog. No choice.

Unloading quickly, I sling the army duffel with my food barrel and a couple of empty water bottles and set out to scout what I’m in for. Watching my footing and gauging my coordination, the forest trail descends to the bog and a dilapidated corduroy patchwork of logs. Thin ice is mixed with boggy, puddles. One wrong step sinks my leg in nearly to my hip. Struggling to regain my balance – and boot!—I make my way across the 25 or 30 rods of boggy mess.

The trail eventually rejoins the forest path. From there I find it to be a straight shot on solid ground to Kahshahpiwi. I plot my return trip but only manage to precariously struggle across with my canoe to the woods before setting it down on the forest floor. I’m completely knackered. What to do next? Continue on with boat or go back from the portage pack?

I make the difficult decision to abandon my canoe for now in favor of retrieving my portage pack. It contains the tent, water filter, sleeping bag and spare clothes. Food is already at the other end. Portage pack it is — so that I can begin filtering water and set up camp. I tell myself that this most likely means an emergency bivvy on the portage trail near the put-in. It’s a drastic step but I’m running out of both daylight and energy to safely continue. It’s my best and only option and I move with renewed vigor moving this last heavy load from take-out to the end of the trail and the lake.

Finding a cramped patch of the woods up-trail from the lake put-in, I put together a quick, dehydrated soup and sip several liters of newly-filtered water to rehydrate myself. I’ve slipped on a pile sweater, wool hat and I’m feeling better. The light is almost gone but I decide to trudge back to my boat in the woods in a last ditch effort to at least salvage my fishing gear and lighten the canoe for tomorrow’s first carry by stripping out the portable seat and paddles. As a stroll back through the woods, I’m feeling renewed and arrive back at my abandoned load quicker than anticipated. Throwing caution to the wind, I hoist the canoe onto my shoulders and I’m walking briskly back over up the trail. In what seems like a few short minutes, I’m triumphantly back at my makeshift camp just as darkness descends. Tucking away loose lends, I dive into my tent, broken, exhausted but happy to be reunited with all gear and canoe. I start rethinking my planned route pouring over my maps and listening to the changing weather on my radio. With triple-portages in my future as the only viable alternative and a day-short on my plan, I must cut the route short, forego Agnes on this trip and the Meadows portages in favor of a loop out McNiece, Walshe, Yum, and Grey back to North Bay, Burke and Bayley – all before the winds hit the forecasted 22mph gusts on Wednesday. Sleep finally overtakes me as temperatures drop into the 30s, the lake calms, and the loons call.

May 4th (Day 3): Rethinking possible.

Morning dawns early in canoe country. Under bright sun, I hasten through camp chores and a quick breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and coffee before packing up my makeshift camp. I’m back on the water at about 8:30AM, paddling past high granite cliffs on the western shores and heading north on Kahshahpiwi to scout out the McNiece portage. There is fire tower on the western shore about midway up the lake that catches my eye. I’m thinking that I’m imagining it but it’s a very distinct structure standing a lonely sentinel duty over this elongated gem of water. To the east about a half hour north of the put-in I find the little bay that guards my portage. Snow and ice melt water drains into the lake reminding me that winter has not been long gone from this country.

Ten steps up the portage, the canoe is already zapping the strength in my legs. I begin to wonder if I’ll have the stamina to get over these portages. The trail climbs then levels off in the woods before entering a rocky, exposed beaver pond with yellowed, dry grass that captures and intensifies the sun like a giant solar reflector. I’ve gone from shivering at the lake’s edge to squinting and sweating profusely. A 4-inch poplar is laying at exactly canoe-height across the trail and I wearily set the canoe down to pull it underneath, sliding it on the grass. The rest of the trail descends to the heat-bake of the swamp before rejoining a burned out forest that I must climb to reach. I have to set the boat down because I can’t continue. Instead, I stumble forward with my food barrel to scout the rest of the trail. I’m greeted by four 16 inch pines, laying across my path and must climb them or slide over them to keep going. The portage crews obviously have not been through this area yet and this will be a challenging carry. The trail, a total of 165 rods finally climbs then descends this tree-strewn hill with a winding path that snakes its way down to a boulder- strewn shoreline that meets McNiece lake. Struggling to return for my two remaining loads, this portage takes me three hours to complete. I check the time. It’s already noon. Eating a quick snack and guzzling water, I realize that the day is half gone and this is not going the way I want it to.

I hardly notice the beauty of the old growth pines on McNiece and Shaun Walshe lakes as I paddle and portage the next two trails which are short and fairly flat. What I remember is that on the last of these two, a stiff wind catches the canoe as I hoist it over head, taking us both over. I go down, banging my left knee hard. Ouch. Later I would discover that my knee has turned purple from upper shin to lower thigh but for now I’m just annoyed at my clumsiness.

Reaching Yum Yum in mid-afternoon, I opt for an extended lunch break, nap and filter a few more liters of water. I’m out of the wind now and the heat of the day is building again. I think it’s in the 70s but I’m too tired now to check. After about a one-hour break, I start out again with a new plan. Most would choose the 96 rod portage from Yum Yum to Grey, my final destination. Not able to even contemplate a carry that long, I opt for two shorter as the capstone to my day: a 20 rod trail to Amion Lake, then a 50 rod flat trail to Grey. This plan goes smoothly and by 5 I’m paddling Grey Lake and scouting potential campsites on this long finger lake dotted with islands and quiet small secluded bays.

Finding a seldom-used location with a flat, pine-needled floor and an abandoned fire ring on a granite-outcropping, I get a few camp chores out of the way, pitch the tent and settle in for the night. Tomorrow will be easier. I count off: 126, 60, 65, maybe 20-or-so rod portages, two beaver lift-overs, retracing my steps through North Bay, Burke, Bayley Bay, and Prairie Portage to meet my tow the next day. So far so good. Now sleep, rest & recovery is key. Tomorrow I could be out and I’m honestly looking forward to ending the ordeal.

May 5th (Day 4): Grey Morning

It’s Tuesday. I’m on Grey Lake with mist rising after a cold dawn. Beauty surrounds. I am enveloped in the stillness. Flat water. Bright sunshine reflects off the water. Making a quick breakfast, I forgo coffee and load the boat quickly Time to get moving. Early is the key word for the day.

The portages come and go with little to no difficulty as I laid them out for myself the night before. The first one out of Grey is a much gentler 125 rod portage with an entry well camouflaged behind the island in front of my makeshift campsite. It undulates gently terminating in a wooded, rocky put in that is not difficult to navigate. The next couple of portages are half this length with few blowdown trees, less rocks and little to no swamp or bog to navigate. I soon find myself on the No Name lake that led me to Isabella on the first day. My portage back out is now retracing my steps in the opposite direction: South.

Lunch break is again on the northernmost campsite on North Bay at the outlet from the Isabella Creek and I’m happy to be back. Winds are still light at this point and I rest, break out lunch sandwiches, fruit, nuts and chocolate while I filter enough water for the rest of the day’s journey and consider my progress. The trapper’s abandoned beaver traps are exactly where I first found them and I’m feeling good.

3 Traps at northern site on North Bay

3 Traps at northern site on North Bay

It feels like I’ve come home. An hour and half later, just after 1PM, I push southward on North Bay. The wind has picked up to 5 to 10mph judging by the size of the rollers and I have to work hard to get across the bay. An hour and a half later finds me pulling hard to enter the narrow inlet and the portages that will lead down to Burke. The shallow marshy stream that leads to Burke makes me work hard to vigorously pole the boat forward to arrive at windy Burke Lake. It’s late afternoon now. I could just curl up on this last portage and sleep for a couple of hours but I’ve come too far and I’m determined to at least reach Bayley before day’s end, even if it’s too windy to cross. Once out on the lake, I find the winds abating and the trip down the lake is mostly just a long paddle, not a fight against the wind.

Navigating by compass, I find myself landing on the sandy beach take-out that is my gateway to Bayley Bay of expansive, picturesque Basswood. I had forgotten how flat and unobstructed this portage was and I delight in how quickly I’m able to move my loads across to the other side. I’ve made it! But wait – where’s the wind on the Bayley-side? No wind! I take a quick break, load the boat and push off not wanting to waste the opportunity as Bayley as a nasty reputation for whipping up some “rock-and-rollers”. It’s 7PM. Plenty of light. I move out and push hard. Two hours of paddling by compass I make the top of Inlet Bay. Round the peninsula and heading south I can just make out what looks like a distant light in the ranger cabin on the Quetico park side of Prairie Portage. This beacon seems to call me home. “The maintenance crew must be in early this year”, I note and I pull harder on my double-blade paddle.

As I approach Prairie Portage, darkness is descending. It must be close to 9PM. I find one maintenance worker on the dock loading a boat. He’s startled to see a paddler out there in the late evening as I push hard to meet him. He ignores me and goes back up to cabin. As I land finally around 10PM, tired, thirsty and exhausted, I decide that a bivvy on this beach is out of the question and wearily drag my boat and gear “up top” to the drop off. Looking around quickly I remember that at least two flat tent sites exist near this take out to catch the odd, weary traveler. I set up tent, tie off my canoe in the trees and crawl in exhausted again, but happy. I’ve made it! Tomorrow will be tow-time.

May 6th (Day 5): Fly-outs and Chance Meetings

Morning light filters into the tent.

Prairie Portage looking to the US-side

Prairie Portage looking to the US-side

Prairie Portage looking east

Prairie Portage looking east

Crawling out and strolling back down to the ranger cabins I am treated to the site of the maintenance crew twin otter taxiing and taking off to ferry the crew to another cabin in the direction of Cache. I’m out a day or two early and there is no rush. I lazily pack up and send a message to the outfitter to get a tow out. No answer. Weighing my options of whether to begin a long paddle out to Moose Lake, I stroll around the site and find a green tow boat across from me on the American side. My ride out has arrived! Loading up, I chat with Bob who tells me that he’s up here to tow another group of USFS wardens. I found out that he never received any of my messages. I’m lucky once again on this trip. The ride home is uneventful until we hit the predicted winds on Moose. The boat bucks as it hits the rollers but has little difficulty landing at the docks and its designed berth. I’m home. A feeling of relief rolls over me as a light rain begins to fall.

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!

 

Quetico : Nym – Jessie – Sturgeon Loop, May 31, 2013

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. nym put-inI 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 mainJessieFullsite island campsites were worth a stop-over, drying out, and fishing a bit. boats evening twighlight JessieExcellent 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.
Jessie Twilight

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.

Sunrise over Pine Portage

Sunrise over Pine Portage

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.