A Promise Kept
Quetico Provincial Park
Entry Date: August 6, 2010
Up the "S" Chain, Down Agnes, Have a Whirlpool, and home via the Yellow Brick Road
Entry Date: August 6, 2010
Up the "S" Chain, Down Agnes, Have a Whirlpool, and home via the Yellow Brick Road
We push off at 8:30 and begin our paddle into the “S” Chain. Our goal is to get to Shade Lake today. With just me, a broken down old Dad, and Sean, my 12 year old son, we don’t expect to be making any 20 mile days, but we’ll do OK. We paddle up to Burke Lake. Holy Cow! Why didn’t we take this route 2 years ago?? We took the North Portage in and out of Sunday Lake in 2008. This Burke Lake portage is like a stroll in the park. I see now why some folks call this the Yellow Brick Road. I found a torn seam on our food pack as we were loading the canoe at Prairie Portage. The young intern there was very helpful and gave me a needle and a spool of thread. I took about 45 minutes and double sewed the seam up down several inches. My eyes aren’t what they used to be so it took me longer than I anticipated to make sure it is good and strong.
While I was finishing up the seam we met a group of guys from Alabama who were going on a similar route as Sean and I, but they are going much further north. Found a water bottle of one of the Alabama guys and called ahead. He came back and retrieved it. Burke is very pretty in the mid-morning, and calm. That makes for some nice paddling and a good introduction to canoeing for Sean. We trolled a little in Burke, but didn’t catch anything. That same water bottle was waiting for us at the beginning of the portage out of Burke. I guess that little guy just wanted to be free. We picked it up and brought it along with us.
After we went through the little no name lake we got into North Bay. The wind was blowing from the southwest and Sean got his first taste of some “big water.” It wasn’t too bad and we stuck close to shore, so there were no scary moments (more on those later.) We went up the wrong inlet looking for South Lake. Almost got stuck in the swampy dead end where a little creek comes in. Oh well, so we are about an hour later than we thought. No sweat. After we got out of there, we went around the next point and found the narrow inlet with all the lily pads. DL was right on. The channel was easy to spot, and we paddled all the way up to the South Lake portage. The lily pads make for a slow go, but it sure is easier than slogging through mud! (I was worried about the water level, but DL assured me it was wet all the way in.)
Time for a little lunch. Granola with dried fruit and cool, clear lake water. Sean was a bit skeptical about the granola, but we hadn’t really eaten breakfast, so he was pretty hungry and discovered that the granola was actually quite tasty.
Into South Lake and no more people. The quiet of the wilderness lets us hear the ringing in our ears caused by all that city noise we live with 24/7. It’s pretty hot now and there are no clouds to be seen. South Lake is calm and there is just about no wind. We take our time and look around a bit.
Next, Sean does his first canoe portage into West Lake. He holds up like a real trouper, even though the canoe is more than half his weight. We are going slower now as the heat of the day is working hard on these city boys! As we enter the little lake between West and Shade, we realize that the sun is really quite far to the west now. We have been double portaging, so even the short portages have been taking some time. It is great fun to do the pull over into Shade! The water is cool and rushing a bit, and it is very refreshing.
I thought we would get into Shade earlier, but we still have plenty of daylight left. Boy, it sure is hot when we get back into the canoe. We are both pretty well fatigued and are disappointed to find several campsites full. We paddle around a bit and find a site on the east side of the lake about half way up. The sun is really sliding down in the sky. I didn’t realize how late it was. (As always, I left all time keeping devices out of the park.) We set up camp, and started a little fire to grill our steaks on. We also have corn on the cob with margarine, salt and pepper. A good solid meal raises our spirits. Sean’s muscles get a little stiff as we relax. Even though he can swim 2 or 3 miles at practice, he is using different muscles now! It is quite warm as we get to bed. No rain fly tonight and I hope Sean will see all the stars. No such luck. Sean is asleep almost before his head hits the sleeping bag. I feel great!
DAY 2 – We slept late on Saturday. We have nowhere to go, really. We are going to stay in Shade tonight, so we can play all day! We have eggs and toast for breakfast. Sean decides to have some herbal tea. I didn’t know he liked tea, but I brought plenty and he enjoys the different flavors. The sun was well up in the sky by the time we finished breakfast, and boy, was it hot! We decided to go for a swim. Sean forgot his swimsuit, so he went skinny-dipping for the first time in his life. He didn’t like it too much.
After swimming, we just laid around for a while on the rocks. We then paddled to some other campsites and looked around a bit. It sure was hot. We went back to our camp and had a little lunch and decided to try fishing. I got the canoe ready and got in. I didn’t get it all the way off the rock, and before you can say Jack Robinson, I had flipped and swamped the canoe! Sean wasn’t sure what to say, but it was pretty funny, so I laughed it off. Well, I was soaked, so I hung those clothes up to dry, which didn’t take very long in the hot sun, except for the cotton tee, which took longer than I expected. By the time I had regrouped, Sean was already casting from the shore, so we walked up and down the shore casting by overhanging trees and other features. I guess it was siesta time for the fish because we got nary a nibble.
We then paddled over and fished up and down the east bank of the lake for a couple hours. Several strikes, but nothing hooked. Oh well. It started to sprinkle a bit so we headed back in.
We decided to go off the menu plan and have the spaghetti and pesto sauce tonight. The old Svea 123 really works well, and this year, I bought an old Optimus 88 pot stand and wind screen. One problem, the stove, when on high flame, is little too hot for the aluminum and melted a section of the top rim of the 88 set. The damage wasn’t too bad, and from now on we’ll keep the flame lower. I think I’ll look for a good used Sigg Tourister set. The Svea is just a little unstable with a big pot on top of its included windscreen.
After dinner, we had a little bit of a campfire, but it was just too hot to really enjoy it. We stayed up a few minutes after sunset, but the skeeters came out pretty heavy, so we retired to the safety of the tent. We fell asleep pretty quickly just lying on top of our bags.
DAY 4 – Monday – This will be another layover day so we sleep late and take our time getting the day started. After a long breakfast, we set everything out to dry. Turns out there was water under Sean’s sleeping pad. Then I try to fix my rod. Duct tape will keep it together, but I don’t think I can cast. I can probably troll, but if I catch anything of any significant size I think I’ll probably lose half the rod.
Sean woke up several times last night and looks really tired today. The heat is back with a vengeance. We try a little fishing off the rocks, but our heart really is not in it. We play cards for an hour or two. I wash my clothes (no soap, of course) and go swimming five or six times during the day while Sean putters around camp, whittling and whatnot. I ask if he wants to nap.
I set up the hammock and he sleeps like a rock. He forgot his sunglasses in the car and I worry that his eyes might be suffering from the constant sun. But he looks better after a good long nap. I set up a spare tarp by the tent so that if need be, we can quickly cover up. That seems to ease Sean’s mind some, and I know I feel better in the knowledge that we’ll stay dry the next time it rains. Doesn’t look like there’ll be rain anytime soon though. The sky has been cloudless all day.
After a really tasty Mac&Cheese dinner, we decide to forego a campfire because it’s too darn hot. The skeeters get bad early so we retire to the tent. We both sleep a few hours and wake in the middle of the night. Stars! Finally, I get to show Sean what a real night sky looks like. He has never seen a wilderness starry sky.
We sit and stargaze for at least an hour. It is really nice just sitting and talking quietly with my youngest. We see Shooting stars, satellites, a planet or two, the Milky Way, and one object just over the northwest horizon that blinks red, blue, orange. At first I thought it was an airliner, but it wasn’t moving, just twinkling. It could be some kind of quasar or pulsar or something; I’m no astronomer, so I can’t really say for sure. Whatever, it is pretty cool and after a while it sets. We finally decide to turn in because we are going down Agnes Lake tomorrow.
DAY 6 – Wednesday - It rained hard for a couple hours in the morning. We just lay in the tent and dozed. Warm, dry, and cozy. As soon as the rain let up, I went and set up our rain fly over the center of the campsite. We cooked oatmeal and scrambled eggs for breakfast and sat around enjoying our tea. It was cooler this morning, which was a relief. The sky threatened more rain, so we puttered around camp and read until early afternoon.
The clouds finally broke up, so we packed lunch and headed for the falls. We had the falls all to ourselves! It was GREAT! Cool, refreshing, exciting, bubbly, frothy...just all around fun! It sprinkled a little on us while we were at the top, but we didn’t care.
We explored the pond above the falls, climbed up and down a bit next to the falls, and finally ate lunch at the base. Our spirits were much better today as we skipped stones for over an hour. Eventually, some other people came and we headed back to camp.
We played some cards and looked over the map to see how tomorrow would be. I already knew because I had come out this way 2 years ago. Two fairly long portages would start our day. We decided to try for the North portage on the way out because it looked like it might save us a chunk of time.
We had grilled cheese and sausage for dinner. And then decided to pack up everything, including the kitchen and stove, have a cold breakfast of granola and fruit punch, and get on the water as early as possible. We went to bed early and were asleep before the sun had fully set.
DAY 7 – Thursday – The clouds cleared out overnight and we woke to a cloudless dawn. We got up, broke camp, had breakfast, loaded the canoe and were on the water just as the sun was starting to peek over the trees. Paddling on that early morning water was very serene. We were the only people stirring and we reached the portage into Meadows Lake in just a few minutes.
It was still cool as we carried everything over. The rocks were wet still from the rain and it was bit slippery. Sean left a few items so he did a third trip back and forth while I swatted mosquitoes on the shore of Meadows.
Around the corner and we arrived at our longest portage of the trip, 193 rods into Sunday Lake. I guess it was about 9 a.m. when we started over with the first load. Sean had never carried a full pack anywhere near that far. He was pretty sore by the time he finished that first leg. He wasn’t going to do three trips on this portage! I slipped while carrying the canoe and twisted my knee. (I think I tore that same left knee meniscus as I did two years ago on the North portage. It ain’t no fun gettin’ old!) I could see Sean was really beat down by that portage.
We met a party just coming in and they told me it was 9:45 when we were just about shoving off into Sunday. There was a headwind picking up, so I told Sean, “Why beat ourselves up? Let’s take Burke Lake and go easy on the portaging.” He whole-heartedly agreed. We paddled to the Singing Brook Portage and watched as a canoe ahead of us just pulled up and over. We decided to try it, and VOILA, it only took 20 seconds or so.
The guys who had pulled over ahead of us??? Well, it was a couple of the Alabama guys doing a day trip and fishing at the mouth of Singing Brook (and catching lots of nice looking fish, I might say!) Sean’s spirits were quite high as we paddled down Burke Lake. I reminded him that the next portage was very easy and we had lots of time, so we took it easy.
At the Burke Lake portage, we met a young family from Madison going in for two weeks. They were very kind and helped us complete the portage. I went back and took the last few items for our last trip over. When we had the canoe packed Sean noticed that he could not find the GPS tracker we had rented from VNO (he had been pressing the OK button at each portage all week.) I went back to Burke while he started searching the packs. It was hot again and I really did not enjoy scratching around in the grass and under logs looking for that little thing. I looked for about a half hour and found nothing. I knew it must be in one of the packs and, sure enough, as I was walking back the Bayley Bay beach, Sean called out that he had found it.
We had a little granola and water before we pushed off into Bayley Bay and paddled into Prairie Portage. The rangers called VNO to tell them we were out early and arrange a tow back into Vossberg’s. We sat around at Prairie Portage and waited for our tow. A little granola and some punch went down nicely. As soon as we got the boat onto the car, there was a single thunderhead that poured down on us for ten minutes or so. We got back to VNO around 3, took a room, showered and went over to the steakhouse for a big dinner. There we talked with a mother, father and son who lived just outside Ely. The son had mushed across northern Greenland with a descendant of Matthew Henson. He (the son) had gone there with National Geographic to give a posthumous award to the Henson family. It was quite a story! When we got back to the room, Sean and I were beat down tired, but feeling grand.
Closing Thoughts. – In 2008, I had promised Sean that I would take him canoeing as soon as he was big enough to carry a canoe. In 2010 Sean showed me he could carry a canoe, so I kept my promise. We originally had planned a trip of six, including two 12 year olds. But through various issues, including changes in family vacations, Boy Scout camp schedule changes, and my good buddy, Pete, having a heart attack early in the summer, we ended up with just the two of us. (Pete is OK and doing fine.) But I was not going to cancel if there was any way to honor my promise. I think if we had had a larger group we probably would have followed our original schedule and stayed through Friday night. As it was, I must say that having a week and a half alone with my youngest son was a real treat. I have not had anywhere near that much time alone with the older two. They are both away at college and now that this trip is done, I wish I had spent a week or so alone with each of them at some point. I got to know what makes Sean tick, how he thinks, and a lot of what he thinks about. I also found out that Sean is very good with a map and that he makes some very good decisions based on sound, clear, rational thinking. It makes me feel good to see that in him. I am going to try to plan another trip together again before he goes off to college in just a few short years.