The Sharpe’s Take on the Quetico (Hunter Island Loop) – Part Two

First of all, we would like to sincerely thank Andy Baxter for all the advice he gave us for our canoe trip in Quetico. He met up with us for lunch and even loaned us his maps and library of books on the park. Thank you so much, Andy! It was all really helpful. What was really awesome was running into a good friend of his from Nipigon (was a biologist for MNR) on the Portage des Morts on our way out! Small world. And just from that experience, I can see how connected Andy is with that park and its land 🙂

I also wanted to give a shout-out to Kevin Callan. I discovered his videos in 2013 and he inspired me to start this blog in 2014 and really explore wilderness camping. I can’t believe that 4 years later I did the Hunter Island Loop in Quetico park. His writing on this particular loop was very helpful as well. Thanks, Kevin!

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Day 1 – Stanton Bay to Sturgeon Lake

Distance: 24.3 km
Portages: 560 m, 750 m, 4 beaver dam liftovers

Day 1 – 24.3 km

We packed up and loaded all of our belongings from the awesome cabin we stayed in at Dawson Trail Campground in Quetico Provincial Park crazy early in the morning.

We were already on the dirt road leading to our access point on Stanton Bay of Pickerel Lake before the sun even started rising. The road was 15 kms long and took us almost an hour to drive.

Up at “Crow Piss” as my husband would say.

I have to be honest, pushing off from shore was quite daunting. To think that we were only on day 1 of 16 was unsettling. We both had a few nerves as we paddled down Stanton Bay to the large open water of Pickerel Lake. Fortunately, the wind wasn’t too bad on Pickerel and we were able to paddle down to Emerald Island which would shield us from the main fetch of the lake until we hit Pine Portage Bay.

We weren’t paddling that long before we got turned around. I’m always the navigator and it was my first time using maps other than what I have used of Jeff’s Map for canoe tripping which is always quite detailed. I was looking at the Quetico Provincial Park map which is a 1:125,000 scale and didn’t give me the level of detail I needed. We realized where we were and that was the only time we got lost on our trip. I hadn’t seen the Fisher maps my husband put in my map case, so once I had those, it was much easier to identify landmarks and maintain my situational awareness.

We reached our first portage which was also quite daunting. First of many with a trip just beginning and a lot of land to cover in 16 days. Portage des Morts is historical, just like so many portages in the park. There is a man buried there who died by the total weight of his canoe when it fell on him.

© Frances Anne Hopkins (1838-1919)

We paddled through Doré Lake, portaged into Twin Lakes and then paddled down the Deux Rivière. This section was the worst! We lifted over 4 beaver dams and then had to paddle through a choked out “river” with grass and wild rice. It was painful. I was actually dreading this on the way back. After meandering down the “river” at a snail’s pace with the sun just beaming down on us with no breeze we finally found the opening of Sturgeon Lake. It was late afternoon by this point and I didn’t have nearly enough water as I should have and was super dehydrated. I was lethargic for the rest of the day and had a massive headache. I’m glad my body put me through this at the beginning of the trip, because we both drank SO MUCH WATER everyday after my experience. Being dehydrated sucks big time.

Finally reached a campsite on Sturgeon Lake.

Always making the fire pit better.
Feeling absolutely horrible in this photo. Not a very good start to our trip. Mosquitoes were jerks.

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Day Two – Sturgeon Lake

Distance: 24.1 km
Portages: None!

Day 2 – 24.1 km

For this canoe trip, I was just along for the ride. My husband did all the planning and tried to show me the route and maps several times over the months prior, but to be honest, I was just too busy this summer to give it any time. So, I had no idea of where we were going each day and the distances we’d be covering. When I was woken up super early on Day 2, I didn’t realize we’d spend the whole day paddling 24 kms on one lake! And no portages! We got an early start because the wind on this lake can be brutal.

Sun rising over Sturgeon Lake.

Luckily for us there was hardly any wind. There were a couple of areas where we had a bit of a head wind, but it could have been much worse. We were lucky and I couldn’t help but think about the Ojibwe Prayer I kept close to my heart.

These words meant so much to me while we were paddling through the wilds of Quetico.
Paddling down to Sturgeon Narrows.

I did watch several videos on YouTube about Quetico and the Hunter Island Loop. The one place I was excited to see was a sand beach on Sturgeon Lake. When paddling down the lake, it’s hard to miss. What a neat spot and cool campsite! Day 2 and I already found a much anticipated place in the Quetico!

The sand beach I was eager to explore and see with my own eyes!

We stopped here for a quick lunch because we had more paddling to do and wanted to strike while the iron was hot (or paddle with good wind conditions).

Lunch break at the Sand Beach!
Maybe next time I’m in the Quetico, I’ll get to camp here.. although I’m not a fan of setting up camp in sandy conditions (just like Sigurd F. Olson).

Our paddle further down Sturgeon Lake was great. Wind conditions remained favourable.

We set up camp on an island and relaxed for the rest of the evening. We made wood-fired, stone-baked pizzas and someone even left an onion for us to use!

Gear scattered everywhere!
View of Sturgeon Lake from our island.

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Day 3 – Sturgeon Lake to Maligne River

Distance: 22.2 km
Portages: 250 m, 310 m, 100 m, 240 m, 20 m

Day 3 – 22.2 km

Day 3, my least favourite day of the whole trip. I’m not sure why I was so nervous. Maybe it was because I could hear the rapids at the start of the Maligne River from our campsite on the island on Sturgeon Lake, or maybe it was because the Park Warden told us water levels were up because of the amount of rainfall received in the spring. I kept telling myself it wasn’t a big deal, and my husband and I went over the maps, satellite images and the very important Ontario Parks map (obtained from Quetico Provincial Park) of this particular section  the day before. We also looked at our maps after each portage to see what was next. I think the amount of water Ontario received during spring and summer had me quite worried. We had 4 portages to do around rapids and a couple of swifts and rapids to paddle through. There were sections of this river that was very wide and moving fast (feeling of paddling in molasses), but we had a terrible head wind. It didn’t feel like we were moving fast at all.

I noticed a bald eagle when we completed our first portage and I got a little nervous. Was it a bad omen? After the second portage I saw another bald eagle. And then another after the third one. You get the idea. I realized that the bald eagle wasn’t a bad omen at all, but a sign of luck or that everything was going to be okay. I totally believe in animal speak, so I felt a lot of comfort and solace in this.

My connection to this animal ran deep as I pushed my mental and physical capabilities on this canoe trip.

I lost my sh*t composure at Tanner Rapids. I was feeling really down, spirits were low. My husband couldn’t understand why. We had paddled and portaged around most of the rapids at the upper section of the river. But we paddled a harsh head wind across Tanner Lake and I had had enough. I was mentally and emotionally drained from paddling in moving water. I just don’t like moving water. We did some training before this trip and I paddled down the Muskoka River which was actually worse than what we paddled this day. Didn’t matter though. I still didn’t like it.

Another issue was looming over me. If I’m having a hard time on Day 3 paddling down the Maligne River, how can I do the rest of this trip? We had rivers, rapids and falls to paddle through and portage around for the remainder of the trip, and I’ve never done anything this challenging before, 320kms in 16 days. Not to mention the Falls Chain which is an area that people have died at each of the 8 falls that make up the chain.

In the short span of only 4 airline miles between Saganagons Lake and Kawnipi Lake are 8 lovely waterfalls that, together, plunge nearly 100 feet. Aptly called the Falls Chain, these turbulent waters constitute the upper flowage of the Maligne River, which eventually flows all of the way to Lac La Croix on the west edge of Quetico Park. (Robert Beymer, A Paddler’s Guide to Quetico Provincial Park, 1997).

A section of Tanner Rapids.

My husband couldn’t get me out of the mood I was in and I had to explain to him that I just wanted to get off the river and that I had had enough for the day. We still had a large section of river to paddle, but when we found our campsite at the end of it all, I was so relieved. Stiff drinks were in order.

The first of many this particular evening.
The sun starting to set over the Quetico.
View of the Maligne River from our campsite.

To top it all off, there was a bald eagle’s nest near our campsite. What is the deal with me and bald eagles?

What a surprise, another bald eagle.

I have 4 videos of over 1 hour of footage to publish on my YouTube channel, and will be publishing those videos in January 2018.

to be continued…

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