Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Some people (maybe most people) think I am crazy, but I love to push myself in the canoe and cover as much ground as I can. One of my goals is to see how fast I can complete Hunter’s Island, a 144 (or so) mile loop through some of the nicest parts of Quetico. It takes you through Birch, Carp, Knife, Ottertrack, Saganaga, Saganagons, the Falls Chain, Kawnipi, the Poet’s Chain, Sturgeon, the Maligne River, Lac La Croix, Iron, Crooked, the Basswood River, Basswood, and back to Birch Lake. I pack light, travel long days, and push myself. Unlike most Boundary Waters and Quetico trips, this type of trip is more for exercise than fishing, relaxing, and sightseeing. (In fact, it is extremely difficult to just zip through these amazing places without taking a moment to soak them in.) That said, I can’t think of a better place than the Quetico or Boundary Waters to get in a good workout!
It came up on short notice, but I was able to get a few days off in a row this June to give the loop a shot. I have a few paddling buddies (including Tim and Joe from outfitting) who would be willing to go with, but they were working, which meant I was going solo since I didn’t have time to line anyone else up. There are some points to bail out along the way. I could head south through Agnes, Kahshahpiwi Creek, or exit at Moose River (or another Boundary Waters access point) if I needed too. A quick call to a couple friends and I had drivers set up to pick me up if I needed to bail. I was excited and ready to go!
I woke up early, finished packing, and made my way to Moose Lake. I hit the water in a Wenonah Voyager canoe at 6am in a cool, steady rain, but no wind. Day one was pretty easy as far as conditions go. I got to Birch Lake around 7:30… the official start time of my loop. There was basically no wind all day, which really allowed me to get a nice start. The rain stopped by mid-morning. I paddled past Thunder Point on Knife. Kept working through Ottertrack and continued east to Cache Bay where I picked up my permit from Janice. Janice was really fun to talk to. She has been a Quetico Ranger for 34 years—the longest tenured ranger in park history. I took a few moments to chat with her about some of her canoeing adventures and some of the interesting trippers she has met over the years. She gave me some info on passing through the Falls Chain and sent me on my way. I spent about 30 minutes chatting with her and hit the water again around 3:30 in the afternoon. I worked my way through the Falls Chain to Kawnipi with about an hour of daylight left. I found a spot to camp just north and a little west of McVicar Bay. Day one was done at about 11:30pm with a total of 51 miles covered.
The alarm went off at 4:41am on day two. I promptly hit the snooze button. In my groggy state, I determined that another 45 minutes of sleep would be more productive than a super early start. Finally, I woke up and was on the water at 6am. I finished out the rest of Kawnipi and entered the Poet’s Chain, one of my favorite stretches. I was a little protected through the Poet’s Chain, but I could tell the wind was picking up. I worked from Shelley, to Keats, to Chatterton, to Russell. When I emerged from the portage onto Russell Lake at about 11:30am, the wind was howling in my face. There were some small white caps and the wind was directly in my face. I snugged up my PFD (a quick reminder to wear your PFD), and started my 7-hour fight with the wind through Russell and Sturgeon. It wasn’t the most pleasant day I’ve had in the canoe. I worked hard, cursing the wind, and got to the start of the Maligne river around 6:30pm. By now, the wind had slowed some and I was protected on the river. It was nice having the current push me along a little bit too. I zipped through the river. It was starting to get dark when I got to Tanner Lake, but figured I had another hour or so of twilight, so I decided to push a bit further. I made it to Twin Falls at dark, and found a spot to camp just before the falls right around 10pm. There was a bunch of dead and down fire wood at the campsite so I started a small fire to smoke the bugs out while I set up my tent. I put out the fire and went to bed. Day two covered about 42 miles.
From the forecast I saw before my trip, I knew I would be dealing with more wind (mostly from the south) on day three. I did not want to get stuck on La Croix with a south wind, so I got up a bit earlier and hit the water by 5:30am, hoping to beat the wind. La Croix was flat! I worked through it and made it to Bottle Portage around 10:30, just as the wind was picking up. The rest of the day would be a struggle. The wind pushed against me on Iron, and ALL the way across Crooked. It felt like paddling through cement all day. I stopped on a few islands as I crossed Crooked for short breaks and to get out of the wind for a minute. It was a slog, but I made it through the Basswood River and to Basswood Lake just as it was getting dark. Basswood was rocking, and I could see/hear a storm rolling in from the south. I camped near Basswood Falls and hunkered down for the storm. Day three covered about 41 miles.
I could hear it raining on and off all night, but the heavy rain hit around 4am. It rained and thundered and lightninged for hours. I waited it out in my tent, listening to the ominous howl of the wind. It was going to be another fight. Around 9am, the thunder and lightning had passed and the rain slowed. I got up and got moving. I was on the water by 10am, with a strong wind pushing from the south. Getting around US Point was going to be a real challenge. I dug in and slowly started making progress, bobbing through the waves. There was a little relief on the north side of US Point, but it was right back into the wind on the east side of the point, heading south. I pushed forward. Once I got to the “English Channel” I was protected. I took a short, much needed break on Ottawa Island. That paddle around US Point against the wind the whole way drained me. Thankfully, the wind subsided, and I was able to make the push back to Birch Lake without much trouble, completing the Hunter’s Island loop! But, I wasn’t done yet. I still had the 6 or so miles on the Moose Chain to get back to my truck. This was a long hard paddle… harder than it should have been, but I was exhausted. I was very thankful the wind subsided. Fighting the wind on that stretch would have been a real bear. I finally made it back to the truck and completed my trip! Day four covered 22 miles.
It was a great trip, and I was happy to be able to complete the loop, especially with the tough winds for much of the trip. I can’t wait to get back out there and do it again!
Sorry I don’t have any pictures to attach—spent all my time paddling!