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Quetico 2019 Part I

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Quetico 2019 can be summarized in a few words: mud, mosquitos, storms, and fishing. Dan and I talked a few times about why we keep a journal. For me, it is way to remind myself of the details which are tagged with emotional experiences so that I can recall those feelings in the future. In general each day was get up, pack up camp, paddle, fish, portage, make camp. It is the minor details and events within the daily routine which I want to recall.

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Day 1

Scheduled a Lyft to drive me from home to the Megabus stop @3:05am. Lyft driver arrived early so I had to wait an hour for the bus to arrive. When it finally arrived, a few ppl including the driver got off the bus to take a break. We did not pull out until close to 3:30. First stop was Buffalo for another 30 min break, then a shorter stop at the airporr, then another in Buffalo to switch drivers. At Niagara Falls all passengers needed to exit bus with their luggage to go through customs. All of these breaks had us arriving in Toronto just as rush hour started. The scheduled arrival time was 7:30 the actual arrival time was a little after 9am. My flight from Toronto would not leave until 2:30 so I still had plenty of time. I took another Lyft to the airport. The ride and flight was uneventful. I was able to get a little sleep in.

Texted Dan when we landed, he picked me up and drove to Steve's in Thunder Bay. Had some dinner, hung out, walked to the lake for a music festival. The headliner was excellent. 10-piece band complete w/horn section. The style was a mix between R&B, funk and rap. Mostly original tunes with one cover of Chicago's 25 or 6 to 4. Great band.

Day 2

We packed up and drove the few hours to Quetico. Checked in at the ranger station and filled out paperwork. As the ranger entered our route into the system she commented on the portages in that section and how few people go there. We had heard the carries were wet (and long). Today we would have a few short ones, longest being 400m. The real long ones would be in the next few days. We set out @11am and turned up the French River. This meandered for miles. It reminded me of the Oswegatchie. The first portage was only a couple hundred meters; which we needed to double carry. The first portage always allows us to test out the load and rebalance the packs. In typical fashion, we would need to adjust the food weight into different packs. Even with the short carry I could tell I was out of shape. We had lunch before we set out again. We had a total of four portages today. During the 1st leg of the 400m portage my boot sunk into the mud and got stuck. Really stuck. It took me almost 10 minutes to get it out. I used a paddle to allow air within the mud to release the suction. By the time I finished the next 200m, I was exhausted, and I still needed to go back and get my second l8ad. At the top of the hill with only 100m to go, I had to take a break to catch my breath. I am really out of shape, and these were the easy portages. We have a few more short ones in succession. At one of the rapids, we walked up the canoe. I am not sure this was the answer. We eventually made it to Baptism Lake.

Fishing gear was readied. I spotted an old beaver lodge so we stopped to get firewood. Dan caught the first fish. A small 12 inch pike. He called it a "hammer handle". We paddled around a few islands looking for the campsite. We stopped at one a source had ranked a "3", with the others being worse. We unloaded our gear and paddled a bit more jyst in case one of the other sites was better. The wind was picking up out in the open so went back and set up camp. Took a swim and mae dinner. The first day on the water and already we deviated from our menu plan. As we ate our bean&cheese burritos the first raindrops fell. We closed up the dry bags and finished eating. As the rain seems to have disipated and it was only 7:30, we figured we could paddle and fish for an hour. We were out for maybe 15 minuted beforethe sky opened up and tbe winds began gusting. We made a bee-line back to camp. I had zero visibility with wind and rain in my face and on my glasses. Even with raingear on, my face/head was soaked and my waist was damp.Since we had already hung the food, we secured the boat and headed to our tents (hammock for me). The rain would come and go with a few thunderclaps. The echoing thunder would roll for what seemed like a full minute. It was quite a neat sound experience. After today and with this weather, I was sure to sleep well tonight.

Day 3

As predicted I slept soundly. A few more rains and light rolling thunder throughout the night. Both Dan and I were awake early, though Dan was first to emerge. We made the "mexican breakfast" burritos using some chanterelles we found fruiting near the campsite. It was quite filling. These OvaEasy eggs are great. We took the canoe around the lake, poking up an inlet stream to see if it was navigable to its lake source. A beaver dam soon impeded our progress. We had much more to explore, so we turned back. Caught a few pike during the morning. None were huge.The next stream was navigable and provided access to a different lake. Quite pretty, but sub-par fishing. Headed back to camp for lunch. We still had moose steaks which were still frozen last night. We made a vegetable stir fry with peanut sauce and rice noodles to go with the moose. Good teamwork prepping and cooking. Made a ton. We put the leftovers in the pot to save for dinner.

With camp all packed up we set out for another stream and an 80m portage to Trousers Lake. Once on Trousers we located a beaver lodge for firewood including 3 staves for a tripod. The wind and clouds hinted at changing weather. We headed towards the islands with the campsites. The plan was for me to set up my tarp as a dry base of operations. The site was large and open. Remnants of downed trees were scattered about. I located a spot with a nice windbreak of younger growth evergreens and hastily set up the tarp. By now Dan had brought up the gear from the canoe to stow under the tarp. Then the storm rolled in, not before chanuing the wind direction 180 degrees making the tarp set up in the wrong direction.

The storm was intense. Rain pummeled the area, the winds ripped up some guylines and blew rain under the tarp. Dan and I held onto the guylines as buckets of rain fell leaving pools of water all around the site. Thunder boomed and lightning struck nearby. Then came the hail. We were now mostly holding the tarp above us by hand with Dan's head also propping it up. At least his standing position would give him a view to find a tent spot in the campsite which was not pooling water. That is assuming the storm ever let u and we survived.

There was a small break in the storm so I used the moment to retie a guyline. The sky looked like the majority of the storm has passed which it did. I found a new spot to rig the tarp after I bailed out the canoe. It was almost laughable how much water was in the canoe. We probably recieved 4 inches of rain in that hour. Dan put up the bear bag lines and ate our leftovers for lunch. I wasn't hungry. At bedtime the mosquitos were horrendous. It was crazy how many there were buzzing around the netting. A little more rain would fall overnight.

Day 4

The air was damp in the morning and the bugs were still out. I restarted the fire for morning coffee. Today would have a big 3.5km portage with a river crossing at 1km to break it up. We were able to adjust the pack's loads to 1.5x carry instead of the usual double. Even with the heavier loads I felt much better than the first day. Thinking back, it was more likely dehydration which caused my struggle. The mud on this portage was intense. A wrong step and it would be over the top of our knee boots. I had a few wrong steps. By the time we reached Cache Lake my boots were full of mud and water.

We hoped for better fishing at Cache having heard it has excellent lake trout. The only fish to be seen were very small perch. We paddled to the end of a bay where a nice beach campsite was supposed to be. We found it half washed out into the lake. The firepit stones were hanging precipitously over the washed out sand. We left that bay to find another. The next site was "ok" but we paddled on to find a super one. Neat rocks and a point to watch sunsets. We set up camp, went swimming, washed clothes and some more no-luck fishing. We ate dinner on the point followed by a decent sunset and then to bed before the swarm of mosquitos attacked. Tomorrow would have another long portage over 3km. Sources refer to middle section as "The African Queen". Not looking forward to that! We looked at the map to see if we could do a loop instead of our planned out-and-back route. We would have to up our mileage, but so far the fishing in this area has been terrible. We will need to decide tomorrow.

Day 5

Woke up close to 7am. Looked to be a beautiful day. Fished a little; no luck. We headed to the portage to Lindsay (and Mackenzie) Lakes. The carry began at a nice sandy spot. Just a tease as we knew a bit of what was to come. Dan decided to break up the long carry with canoe by bringing it first halfway. I followed with my pack, and the food pack strapped together along with the spare paddle, pfd and fishing net. The trail was generally pretty good until it wasn't. We hit an open area through a wetland. The forest trees gave way to a forest of reeds over 8 ft tall. If the path through was not already trampled down into the swamp below, I do not know if we would have been able to follow it. Basically it was a wet slog through the reeds. With careful footing on the major root hummocks we could avoid the water going over the top of our boots. The route wound its way through intil we reached the far side and re-entered the forest. We had successfully traversed the african queen section, or so I thought. A few minutes later the trail gave way to a flooded section of alders with deep boot sucking mud. For much, Dan would stand in the canoe and shuffle it forward. I avoided the center as the paddle would not reach the bottom of the muck. I picked my way through, testing each step with the paddle. At the end of the true African Queen section Dan dropped the canoe and went back for his pack. With my recommendation he took one of the paddles with him.

I pressed on. So far the portage had taken 38 minutes. A sharp uphill and then nice trail for another 28 minutes. As I headed back to the African Queen to relieve Dan of his pack, I cleared debris and some blowdown from the trail. Dan had gone a little further with his pack so I didn't have to do the uphill section. As Dan and I neared I commented I am in no hurry to do that again, and you already did the sucky part 3 times. As I neared the end of the portage two other canoeists were heading in. They had come through this way earlier so knew what to expect.

Lindsay was a smaller lake connected to Mackenzie by a small cascade which had a 50 meter carry. As a reward for the sucky portage, we decided to have a snack of brownies with milk. As I got out our reward, Dan asked me 3 times to pass him his powdered milk. I heard him, but in my exhaustion what he was asking did not register and I made him a cup of the NIDO milk. Thus began (and ended) the powdered milk fiasco. We would joke about this later. At yhe short portage, we carried the packs and then doubled the canoe together. The path was short but very steep. In the small bay of Mackenzie I immediately landed a smallish pike right next to the portage. Like many of the lakes, Mackenzie had a lot of bays and islands all of various sizes. The wind was quite strong in this bay, so we paddled across a channel to get to a more protected side. A rock point jutted out. This was not uncommon, but the rock here just looked a little different. We fished just beyond the end of the point and started to land pike. We decided to keep a few since the walleye, trout and bass were apparently not to be found. We explored more of the lake, catching more pike along the way.

After the sucky portages and no reward fishing in the previous lakes there was no reason to go back the way we came. So the decision was made to do a loop and exit via Pickerel Lake. We stopped at a nice island campsite for a late lunch (pasta salad). Except for breakfast when we left Steve's the first day, this was the first meal that coincided with our planned menu. It was a lot, and almost 4pm so I knew I would not need dinner. The milk fiasco came up again when Dan went back to the canoe to get his spoon for lunch. It was in the canoe because he took it out to make his powdered milk. I was still confused at this point about the whole situation. We joked about it. I said someone will ask me "why don't you camp with Dan anymore? Well it all started with the powdered milk and went south from there." We both laughed.

We continued down Mackenzie and found a terrific site to set up camp. Of course we had collected wood from the local beaver lodge and we now had a grill liberated from the lunch island. After camp was set, a quick swim to get rid of the grime and sweat. A snack on the point and into the tents before the skeeter hordes.

Day 6

The first thing I noticed when I awoke was the absence of mosquitos. This was not to last. By the time I got to the firepit to get the fire going the blood suckers were upon us. Dan donned a head-net to clean the fish. I got the fire going so the smoke would provide a minimal respite. Having our coffee on the point we realized we needed a chemical solution. The deet was applied. Without it, I would likely be either institutionalized for craziness of dead from loss of blood. It was without a doubt the worst mosquito infestation I have ever experienced. The WMDs (weapons of mosquito destruction) did the trick and we were able to cook breakfast without another drop of blood loss. Dan cooked the fish while I toasted the tortillas and sliced the avocado. Strange to be day 6 and this would be our first fish meal.

After breaking camp we fished a bit before heading to the portage. We had two more pike for lunch (or dinner). The 650m portage to Kawnipi Lake was the nicest and driest we have seen so far. 12 minutes end to end slightly awkward portage carrying two fish. I told Dan I was happy to carry them, but would not be portaging the rock (anchor). A reference to our 2016 Quetico adventure. As we entered the mackenzie bay of Kawnipi Lake, a new anchor rock was selected so we pushed out aways anchored and fished the sandy/weedy bay. Dan hooked the first bass, a huge one. Probably 4 pounds. We added it to the pike. He soon landed another, not quite as large. Pondered whether to keep or release it. The next one was not as lucky. I then hauled in a monster, close to 5 pounds. We both landed a few more, all in the 3-4 pound range. They fought well. Amazing how strong these bass can be.

We drew up the anchor but continued to fish as we made our way to the main lake. The bay itself was large enough to be a lake on its own. The wind and rain kept teasing us; this would continue all day. At the channel entering the main lake there was a slight current so of course we fished it. Immediately I got a hit, and just as quickly it was gone. Line severed. We put on leaders and fished for pike. We landed a few trying to find the one with my lure; no such luck. Then my jig got snagged in the bottom in not so deep water. I stripped off my clothes to dive for it. I could barely get below the surface, not for lack of trying. I commented that my recent weight gain has made me too buoyant as I now was my own pfd. I tried a few more times to Dan's amusement. Then he told me to get dressed and he went in for the lure.

We ate lunch (more fish tacos) at a very nice campsite. The rain and wind had picked up as I was lighting the fire so I paused to do another crappy tarp set up. We didn't really need it, but it did block the wind at least. From here we still had a few miles to go on the main lake and it was already 5pm. Amazing how quickly the hours get away from us. We made camp at another gorgeous spot. It was quite windy, hopefully will keep the mosquitos down. I set up my tarp (well this time) and we prepared dinner, sweet and sour fish using one of the bass. It was 8:30 before we were really eating and again the sky teased us with rain. Twice we moved under the tarp to eat. As the sun set, we got a little color. There war still some wind when we retired. I anticipate we will not be so fortunate in the morning.

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