Trip Report--Chuck & Tia's 2018 Quetico Adventure

Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 4:38 pm #1

On the water Saturday, August 25. Off the water September 3.
10 days, 110 miles, 60 portages, 10 beaver dams


I was lucky enough to get an introduction to BWCAW and Quetico 40 years ago when I was asked to be an adult advisor for a Boy Scout crew from western North Carolina. The 1978 trip was through the BSA's Charles L Sommers Canoe Base on Moose Lake. In 1979 I returned with my wife, Tia, and while we couldn't make annual trips, we've tried to return every few years.


Every visit to Canoe Country is preceded by a long drive—we live in the mountains of western North Carolina, so we spend a couple days on the road to cover the 1250 mile commute. By the time we reach Ely, we're ready to paddle, so we've never taken advantage of tow services—we drive to Moose Lake's public landing and work our way into Quetico.


On our first trip we used an aluminum canoe that weighed in at 70+ pounds. Later trips had lighter gear, with a couple Old Town Columbias in the 60 pound range, then a Mad River in the 50 pound range, and more recently Wenonah and Northstar boats in the 42 pound category. It's not just the boat—paddles, stoves, tents, etc, are all on a steady weight reduction diet. It's really nice that gear manufacturers are accommodating our aging process! And for the first time, we're carrying an InReach satellite communication device—our routes have some 'off the beaten path' segments, so it's a bit of insurance.


Paddlers visit Canoe Country for many reasons. Tia and I go for personal challenge, solitude, and to cover distance—we'd planned to cover ~120 miles trip, and to revisit a couple places that intimidated us a few years back. Our entry lake was Kahshahpiwi, and we hoped to find the pictographs off Montgomery Lake, then move through the poets' chain and on to Delahey to see if we still had what it takes for the Death March portages...
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Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 4:45 pm #2

Day one: Saturday, August 25. Moose, Newfound, Sucker, Inlet Bay, Bailey Bay, Burke, North Bay. 17.5 miles, 4 portages, and 1 beaver dam


In addition to the lightweight Northwind 17, we're using carbon fiber paddles, and by Newfound Lake we were already hooked—suspect they'll be on the Christmas list. Every Quetico first day starts with a big breakfast at Britton's Cafe, then the drive to Moose Lake. The sky was full of low clouds when we unloaded gear from the Outback and moved to the lake. We were on the water at 8:30 in a very comfortable 68 degrees, with no other canoes in sight. Checked in at Prairie Portage just over two hours later—the lighter paddles don't make us faster, but our shoulders sure feel the difference. The outfitter had told us to expect to enter Quetico under a fire ban, but at PP we also learned that parts of our proposed route were closed to paddlers, and that the poets chain was open for passage, but not for camping, so we revised our route.


We stopped for lunch on Sunday Island, and were surprised by the level of storm damage there. Also surprised a couple bald eagles arguing over a fish carcass. From Bailey Bay we portaged into Burke via Boulevard Portage, then hit the two portages (and a beaver dam) into North Bay. We single-walk all portages, and passed a couple other groups by the time we made North Bay. We were pleased to find North Bay's surface almost glass—we've hit the bay when it was white-capping. We found a nice campsite on an island near tomorrow's portage. Didn't realize how tired we were until after dinner when we hit the tent for reading, and both fell asleep. Not sore, though, which I credit to the lighter paddles.

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Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 4:49 pm #3

Day Two: Sunday, August 26, North Bay, two No-Names, Dell, NN, Grey, Yum Yum, Kahshahpiwi
6.75 miles, 7 portages, 2 beaver dams


Our morning camp routine is coffee, breakfast, then more coffee as we load gear, drop the bear bags, and load the canoe. It's typically two hours from the sleeping bags to the canoe, as we're on our own time here. Leaving North Bay toward Dell allows paddlers to practice their beaver dam crossing strategies, as for years the drainage from Dell & Isabella has been dammed on its way into North Bay. So, right out of camp, we lifted over a dam, then proceeded to a couple No-Names and into Dell. I'd remembered Grey as a muck-fest, but obviously have it confused with somewhere else—it's a beautiful lake with some nice cliffs. I had correctly remembered the portage between Yum Yum and Kahshahpiwi as tough in either direction, and was not disappointed—wish someone would cut some steps into that rock slab climb about 1/3 way in! The four trees across the portage, two at knee height and two at shoulder height, were additional challenges. Tia's journal reports my saying derogatory things about Yum Yum Portage. As Kahshahpiwi came into view at the end (finally) of the portage, the thunder began. We had hoped to move on through Kahshahpiwi, but elected to settle in a campsite just before hitting the main body of the lake. We set up the tent and dining fly in light rain. When the rain later stopped, we had hot drinks, then baths, followed by a dinner of shrimp in mango couscous, hummus with zucchini chips, and chocolate pudding. Later the wind picked up and we were happy to have the sheltered site. Read a couple Patrick McManus stories in the tent, and called it a day.

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Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 4:52 pm #4

Day Three: Monday, August 27, Kahshahpiwi, Keefer, Sark, Cairn 14.25 miles, 3 portages


A storm moved through around 4:00 this morning, making us happy that we'd upgraded our tent for 2018. A similar storm last year informed us that our aging Sierra Designs tent no longer shed water, but the Big Agnes kept us dry and toasty. We battled wind all day, but no rain—the sky ranged from full clouds to full sun. We had hoped to use a site we visited last year on Sark, but when we got there we had no wind protection and decided to move into Cairn, where we found a cozy and well-protected site. We dried some gear that had to be loaded wet this morning. Couldn't find decent bear bag trees, so stashed food in dry bag under the canoe and put pots on top as an alarm system—we're considering the blue barrel or bear canister approach for next year.

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Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 4:58 pm #5

Day Four: Tuesday, August 28, Cairn, Heronshaw, Metacryst, NN, Baird, Cub, Eag, Camel 12.25 miles, 8 portages, 2 beaver dams


We had two showers overnight and cooler temps than previous nights—both wearing fleece today. Between Heronshaw and Metacryst we got sucked into a fading portage by pink trail tape hanging on the Heronshaw side—while the “portage” trail was initially distinct, it faded into a cross-country walk shortly before we could see Metacryst We paddled around the Metacryst shore and found the proper portage--won't trust any more pink trail tape! Had lunch on Cub, and saw evidence of another party having stayed in the site last night—dry outline of tent. Haven't seen anyone since Sunday morning. Found nice campsite on Camel, and settled in for the evening.
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Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 5:04 pm #6

Day Five: Wednesday, August 29, Camel, NN creek, Veron, Delahey 12 miles, 5 portages


Woke to sun! Nice! On our way down Camel we saw a party of two—first people we've seen in three days. Long portage between Camel and creek/no-name lake, then short portage into Delahey. We seemed to be the only party on Delahey, and claimed the Olive Jar Island campsite near the Death March portages. We had stayed in that campsite 30 years ago, and as we dug into the Olive Jar's history, we found a plastic bag of notes that had been left in the '80s. Our note from July of 1988—30 years ago—was among the collection! Had fun reading our note and others, but the jar contains too much to review in an evening. We left a note to review in a few years, we hope. Watched a colorful sunset from the back side of the island, then retired to rest up for the Death March...

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Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 5:08 pm #7

Day Six: Thursday, August 30. Delahey, Conmee, Brent 7.5 miles, 6 portages, 1 beaver dam


Our memories of the Death March portages from '88 are not good—we started with a search for the portage trail on the Delahey end, remembered pushing our canoe through an evergreen deadfall then crawling under the tree, being lost in a bog and using map & compass to figure our way out, etc. This year we hit the Delahey end of the Death March portages at 9:00 and had our loaded canoe in Conmee just before 11:30! Very distinct trail, great footing no deep bog segments, etc. Several piles of bear scat, including the dessicated example shown below beside a size 12 portage boot.  (In Ely after our trip we learned that the portages were relocated to higher ground several years ago.) Conmee was windy, and the wind increased when we hit Brent, with whitecaps visible down the lake. We found a nice campsite—one we'd visited last year--near the top of Brent and called it a day. Day Six.jpg IMG_1724.JPG IMG_1727.JPG
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Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 5:11 pm #8

Day Seven: Friday, August 31. Brent, 2 NN, J Hook, 2 NN, McIntyre 9.25 miles, 7 portages


Wind continued through the night, but the whitecaps disappeared. We were on the water before 8:00, hoping to get down the lake before winds picked up. Today's winds are from the south, which is our general direction of travel today. Wind wasn't too bad on the smaller no-name lakes, but several portages were hard to find, and one of those had two 'false starts' that had been recently blocked with brush by portage crews. The portage into McIntyre is something else—down a steep bluff! We first found it several years ago and for an hour were certain it wasn't a portage. Our newer maps show 17 meters elevation difference between these lake surfaces, and the trail down the bluff doesn't seem too much longer than that! We found a nice campsite near tomorrow's portage toward Cecil. Had a great dinner of shrimp with garlic shells and cheesecake after appetizers of zucchini chips and humus. After dinner the mist rolled in and the lake slowly disappeared.

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Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 5:14 pm #9

Day Eight: Saturday, September 1. McIntyre, Cecil, NN, Tuck, Sarah, Side, 2 NNs 11 miles, 8 official portages, 2 portages we shouldn't have taken, and 3 beaver dams


Another gray morning over a misty lake, but nice paddling temperature. We had considered a route through Tuck and Kett to Ranger Bay, but decided the long portages at the end of the day plus the time on the bigger water (with more people) would not be as fun as the route we took. The portage into Tuck is as beautiful as any in the Park, we think, and Tia dubbed it “Tumbling Waters Portage”. By the time we reached Sarah, the sky was bright blue and the wind was quite manageable. We lunched on Sarah, then portaged into Side. Actually, we first portaged into a beaver bog north of the 'real' portage, then portaged back to Sarah and regrouped to find the correct path. Between Sarah and Side we met our second party in six days—a party of six in three canoes on a fishing adventure. Because we had walked the leg and right arm of the T-shaped portage at the bottom of Side Lake last year, we decided to explore a bit and walk both arms of the T into a no-name puddle, then into a no-name northwest of Isabella. The left arm of the T-shaped portage is really nice—flatter than the leg, and with a nice sandy put-in at the puddle end. Looking for the portage out of the tiny lake, Tia spotted a moose cow and calf in a boggy area, netting us the best moose photos we've taken. We were careful not to spook them, then as we paddled away, a check of the map showed that we were supposed to go through the bog to access the next portage! Tia started singing as we slowly paddled back to the bog area, and when we could again see the bog, the moose were gone. The portage into the next no-name countered the flat, easy walk across the arms of the T portage—the portage was simple enough, but dumped us into a beaver-dammed stream. The dams had failed, and the remaining water would not float the canoe with us in it, so we walked the muskeg beside the stream and worked our way to open water. At 4:00 pm we found a campsite near the portage into Isabella and set up camp, rinsed the beaver muck from our clothes, and took baths before a nice dinner of chicken & rice. Day Eight.jpg IMG_1766.JPG IMG_1749.JPG IMG_1754.JPG
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Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:40 am

September 12th, 2018, 5:18 pm #10

Day Nine: Sunday, September 2—our 46th anniversary. NoName, Isabella, Point, Nest, NoName, North Bay, NoName, Burke, Bailey Bay. 11.5 miles, 8 portages, 1 beaver dam, 1 lift-over.


First really clear night of the trip—nice stargazing. Exited the tent to promising western skies, but had a short warning shower during breakfast. By the time we got on the water, we could hear distant thunder and it started to rain during our portage into Isabella, putting us both in rain gear. Our short time on Isabella found us marveling at the huge bubbles generated by the rain drops—the canoe was surrounded by ping pong ball sized bubbles on the lake surface! As we portaged into Point thunder seemed to be directly overhead, and we waited for the storm to pass before getting paddling Point. We crossed Point and portaged into Nest, where the rain started again. From 9:00 until 11:00 it rained, and when thunder was part of the mix we huddled on land. When we reached North Bay it was pouring, so we simply waited at the end of the portage. After 20 minutes or so the rain stopped and North Bay was almost glassy. We paddled the north side of Neil Island, and had to lift the boat over a rocky passage to the main body of North Bay. On the portage out of North Bay toward Burke, we met a couple with a dog—until then we'd seen two parties/8 people in seven days, exactly the solitude we seek in Quetico. Stopped for lunch in Burke, then took the Boulevard Trail into Bailey and found the water there also calm—last year we fought wind across Bailey and Inlet. Stopped on Sunday Island and looked through a journal there, but decided to paddle a bit further today in case winds tomorrow are high. Found a nice campsite just before entering Inlet Bay, so we should have minimal 'big water' if winds are strong on tomorrow's exit day. Set up camp, took batch, and had afternoon drinks for our anniversary (redneck mocha for Chuck, bourbon & tea for Tia). Glad we stopped when/where we did, as wind picked up on Bailey shortly after we set up camp. Anniversary dinner of ham & barley casserole. Tia updated her journal, and we read a couple stories from Patrick McManus' “They Shoot Canoes, Don't They?” Day Nine.jpg IMG_1772.JPG
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Anniversary Drinks
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