Quetico Provincial Park - The Man Chain, May 2018; Part 2
Day 3 - 26 May, 2018
Our goal on the third day was Jasper Lake, so we knew we had a good deal of paddling ahead of us.
The day started off hot, bright, and windless. The lake was incredibly still and the bugs were already out to pester us as we attempted to dry our stuff before heading off. I burn easily so I was dreading what the day may bring, but shortly after portaging into Emerald Lake a thin layer of clouds rolled in, which certainly made me happy.
In between Emerald and Plough Lakes we had to cross a small, unnamed lake. Near the east end of the lake we passed an area where the rocks came up to just a couple of inches below the waterline. Dan floated the idea that we alternate getting out of the canoe to take photos as we each stood in the shallows. I wanted to try to get a photo of both of us on the rock by tying off the canoe and setting my camera on a remote timer, but we decided that maybe that wasn't the best idea.
I had read negative reports about Plough Lake - that it was stagnant, smelly, full of bugs, and not very scenic. Our experience was quite different. We decided to drop a line in, and instantly brought up a small perch. The second cast made it two. The third cast yielded a third fish. For roughly an hour we paddled through the shallow waters of the western end of Plough Lake and caught a couple of dozen fish. At one point my friend dropped a handline with a lure and pulled up a fish. I had never seen such aggressive fish before!
After a difficult portage to leave Plough Lake we lowered our canoe into Ottertrack Lake. Ottertrack is a long, narrow lake that straddles the border between the US and Canada. Shortly after beginning our long paddle northeast in Ottertrack Lake it began to lightly rain and we noticed two bald eagles watching us from an island nearby. Dan slowly paddled towards the eagles as I took pictures. Turns out, it's really difficult to focus well while using a 200mm manual focus lens while you're in a moving canoe and trying to photograph a moving target. I just barely missed on a few shots of the eagles flying that would've been amazing. Those first few minutes on Ottertrack Lake fit my romantic notion of paddling in the north perfectly - the misty rain, surrounded by rugged cliffs and evergreens, bald eagles watching from high atop their perches - it was the highlight of the trip for me.
After a couple more hours of paddling, in which I recited the movie Con Air to the best of my ability and Dan described Moana to me (which really helped to pass the time) we finally made it to Jasper Lake and the fantastic campsite on the island in the center of the lake. We both took turns washing off in the cool lake before settling in after an absolutely perfect day in Quetico.
Total Distance: 13.6 miles
Lakes Conquered by Me: Too many to count
Day 4: 27 May, 2018
Our goal on our final full day of paddling was to retrace the start of our loop and to camp on an island site near the pictographs in a western arm of Cache Bay. We would revisit the site of Dan's near-death capsizing, and it would be my turn to portage by Silver Falls.
The portages on this day were by far the nastiest of the entire trip. Getting into and out of Lilypad Lake was a nightmare if you wanted to avoid knee-deep mud, which Dan was not able to do at one point. While I was searching for a decent place to put the canoe back into the water on the north end of Lilypad Lake I saw a set of bear tracks in the mud along the dry creek bed. This was the only sign of bears that we noticed, but we saw several sets of moose prints and had half a dozen bald eagle sightings.
Beyond Lilypad Lake we found ourselves in a pool in between two sets of rapids downstream from Silver Falls. We paddled upstream a short way towards the upper rapids and smartly decided to turn around before we got too close to the strong current which was only on one side of the river. We paddled back into the pool, narrowly missed recreating the Titanic's final hours on some rocks, and tried to figure out where to go next.
Our map indicated there was a portage to the left of the smaller, lower rapids, which lead back to where Dan capsized on our first day. Dan was slowly paddling us towards where we thought the portage was while I was reading the map. Suddenly, I could feel that we weren't moving quite so slowly anymore - the current had grabbed the canoe and was pulling us into the rapids. I grabbed my paddle, and, according to Dan, "with the strength of a mother lifting a car from her baby" I paddled as hard as I could. Although it sure felt longer, it was probably no more than 10 or 15 seconds before we were back into the safety of the calm pool above the rapids. It was about that time when we saw the portage, sitting quite obviously well to the side of the rapids.
We portaged around the rapids, yet another disgustingly muddy one, and made it to the pool where the smaller rapids empty into. We pulled out at the north end of the Silver Falls portage and unloaded the canoe. We shouldered our packs and I hoisted the canoe onto my head to begin the final real portage of the trip. I quickly understood why Dan was so sweaty after doing it himself - the portage is very rugged with lots of ups and downs, and although it wasn't muddy, it certainly wasn't easy.
We rested for a while at the falls, explored the area, took some pictures, and then set out on the last leg of the day's route.
In general, I didn't find navigation to be too challenging. Most of the lakes were paddled were long and narrow, with few places to get lost in. Cache Bay was the exception. It is very wide with many islands and peninsulas that sure do look like islands. The only two times we even used our compass were both while paddling through Cache Bay.
A narrow isthmus separated us in the main body of Cache Bay from the western arm, where we planned on viewing pictographs and camping for the night. The last portage of the trip was simple - in about 30 seconds we were across it and back in the water on the other side.
The pictographs were incredible. Dan and I were fascinated by the thought that at some point, hundreds of years ago, a person sat in a canoe in the exact same spot and painted the image that we were looking at. We spent about 10 minutes there before we decided to find a campsite. It had been a rough day of portages and we were both pretty tired.
Upon arriving at the landing for our night's campsite we found a very territorial loon with a nest. As we approached the island it raised up and let us know that we were not welcome. We circled the island, but couldn't find any other way to easily get up, so we elected to move on to a site at the mouth of Cache Bay.
A short while later we arrived - exhausted and hungry, but pleased after a day of excitement and good weather. The site was the smallest yet, but it fit us two just fine. A dinner of ramen and a packet of tuna, along with Dan's excellent freeze dried Crème brûlée set the stage for a peaceful night's sleep.
Total Distance: 8.6 miles
Canoes Destroyed: 0
Day 5: 28 May, 2018
The last day of our trip. We had arranged to be picked up at 10:00 AM on Hook Island.
We broke camp and paddled the 2 or so miles easily and reached Hook Island about an hour early. A group of paddlers and their energetic dog were dropped off. As they were getting prepared for their own trip we chatted with them for a while and learned that they setting out on a two-week-long trip west towards Ely, Minnesota.
Although the trip was wonderful, and is something I would absolutely love to do again, it was nice to see the boat pulling into the harbor. The thought of a shower, real food, and getting into clean clothes was a powerful motivator at the time.
Our boat arrived and in no time we were heading back towards the outfitters, back towards my car, and back towards typical days of work. Our backs, shoulders, and arms could finally rest now. Over the previous days we had paddled over 40 miles, which was about 40 miles more than our combined canoeing distance thus far in our lives.
Compared to hiking Isle Royale's Minong Ridge I consider this trip to have been slightly less physically demanding. Portaging through mud, over downed trees, and up and down the very Isle Royale-like ridges was extremely difficult at times, but none of our portages were more than about half a mile long. The bugs, much as last year, were so minimal as to barely be noticeable. We both sprayed ourselves with bug repellent, but most of the time it hardly seemed necessary. With the exception of the very strong storm on our second night, the weather cooperated with our plans. We never once even considered pulling onto shore due to weather.
Two 5 day trips to Isle Royale and Quetico and two trips with perfect weather, no bugs, and lifelong memories. Not too bad, if you ask me.