Day 4 – Maligne River to Rebecca Falls (McAree Lake)
Distance: 19.9 km
Portages: 141 m (total of various portages making up the section between the Maligne River and Minn Lake: a few beaver ponds), 460 m, 80 m
We woke up to white horses dancing across the river. Not only that, but the horrifying sound of millions of mosquitoes thirsty for blood.
We waited around camp for a bit until the fog burned off the river. Well not actually waiting but swatting, swearing and cursing. I never knew such profanity could come out of my mouth.
The first few days had been relatively warm and we even slept with the fly off of our tent. But this meant the mosquitoes were terrible as I’ve begun to tell you. They were so bad that I dreaded getting back out of the tent because the buzzing was almost deafening. Even worse is when you know you have to do your morning business in a cat hole and will be attacked with no mercy. This happened almost daily. For me, there is a panic that sets in the moment I drop my britches until I can yank them back up again. It’s the reality of being in the wilderness. You’re completely exposed to the elements and that means potentially hundreds of mosquitoes (okay, maybe not that many) attached to your ass while you’re trying to do your business. Ugh… It’s okay though, because I know you’ve been in this situation too.
The section between the Maligne River and Minn Lake was challenging because the portages were short (taking gear in and out constantly) and they were muddy and hard to find. A couple of our maps didn’t match up with portage locations or with one being marked at all. We knew the general direction we needed to go, so in some sections we just had to bushwhack because we couldn’t see a clear path. I fell a few times in mud up to my thighs. In addition to all of that, there was no breeze and the bugs were awful! It was somewhat of a shit storm.
We decided not to paddle into Lac La Croix because of the size of the lake and its almost persistent windy conditions. But technically we can say that we did paddle Lac La Croix because after the beaver ponds, we actually paddled down a narrow section of the lake called Martin Bay. At the end of Martin Bay we had to portage around rapids to get to Minn Lake. When we dropped our packs at the put-in to Minn Lake, we saw a black bear cross the rapids up ahead. It had no idea we were there. It was a healthy looking large bear. It’s fur looked so silky and shiny in the daylight. It was so beautiful and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have seen it in such a wild space.
After Minn Lake, we portaged into McAree where we’d spend the night at the other end across from Rebecca Falls. We knew the solar eclipse was happening this day but it started to cloud over. We did notice that the daylight became more dusk-like and the temperature cooled off. It was an eerie feeling for mid afternoon.
We made camp on a neat site, set up the tarp because it started to rain for the rest of the afternoon and fished from shore. We both caught some pike. After this day my body was finally feeling somewhat conditioned to the 20+ kms we had been paddling and portaging each day. Aches and pains were starting to fade away. I have never done anything this physically challenging before.
Day 5 – Rebecca Falls to Crooked Lake
Distance: 23.9 km
Portages: 250 m, 805 m
Day 5 was an exciting one. We finally reached the boundary waters! The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is a 1,090,000-acre wilderness area within the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. We’d spend the next few days paddling along the border of Ontario and Minnesota.
We had a short paddle to our portage which would take us to our first boundary water, Iron Lake.
Paddling over Ontario and Minnesota at the same time didn’t feel any different, and the scenery didn’t look different. Well that’s not true, Quetico (Ontario) was more beautiful (totally biased).
When we reached our first portage it was really cool because it was on the Minnesota side.
We portaged around Curtain Falls which I had watched in many-a Quetico/BWCAW video on YouTube.
We (I) really needed to be on my game paddling through Crooked Lake. It’s super easy to get lost because of all the islands and the size of the water. I don’t think I had ever paddled a lake as big as this. The bays on the lake are named after the days of the week. According to Michael Furtman, it’s because he “heard that the weekday bays of Crooked Lake are so named for good reason. After spending Monday and Tuesday reaching this lake many have spent one day lost in each bay until finally, on Sunday, they reached Sunday Bay, where the roar of Curtain Falls leads them to the exit.” (1991, Furtman, A Season for Wilderness).
Not only was the lake ginormous, but also easy to get windbound on. Luckily for us, we had a tailwind! We both had a map to consult with and constantly agreed upon landmarks to keep our situational awareness on point. I’m super proud to say that we didn’t get lost and my map reading skills are amazing. I felt so confident after paddling this section.
We camped on one of my favourite campsites of the whole trip on Wednesday Bay. There was a point and the campsite was higher up giving an amazing view of the lake on either side. We also had a boundary marker at the end of our site so that was cool too!
The logistics of camping along the boundary is interesting. Because we are Canadian, we decided to only camp on the Canadian side. So when looking for a campsite, we had to make sure it was on the north side of the boundary marker. If we wanted to camp on the other side of the lake (Minnesota/BWCAW side) we would have had to purchase separate permits. The same goes for an American paddling and camping the boundary waters. They can either camp on the Minnesota/BWCAW side, or buy a special permit to camp on the other side of the lake (Ontario/Quetico side).
I can tell you that there were way more campsites on the Minnesota side and we didn’t run into any Canadians while paddling through the boundary waters. On average, Quetico receives about 4,000 overnight visitors/year and the BWCAW receives about 250,000. We also found out that the campsites on the Minnesota side have thunderboxes and the sites are identified, whereas on the Ontario/Quetico side, it’s a wilderness park so no campsites are marked and there are no thunderboxes. But in both parks, no portages are marked.
We spent the rest of the afternoon drying our stuff out between scattered showers. By day 5 I couldn’t believe how far we had paddled and portaged!
Day 6 – Crooked Lake to Basswood Lake
Distance: 29.5 km
Portages: 211 m, 251 m, 290 m, 1961 m
What a long day! We were up early because we knew we had somewhat of a long day, but didn’t realize just how long it would actually be.
In typical Sharpe style, we broke camp at “crow piss” and first paddled by Table Rock. It literally is a flat rock sitting on 4 legs (which are actually rocks). The significance of this site is that it was a “camping site of voyageurs – often mentioned in 18th century fur trade journals – with a history,… older than any edifice of man within hundreds of miles. A perfect camping spot – doubtless significance among the Ojibwe, Sioux and Cree – goes back much further.” (2004, Girard, Table Rock).
We also paddled by some of the most awesome pictographs I’ve ever seen!
We saw 6 tundra swans on our way to the portage at Lower Basswood Falls.
Nothing to report on the portage at Lower Basswood Falls, other than there were a few people camping on the Minnesota side. And that it is really beautiful around there! Huge old growth trees.
From this point to the next portage, I was super nervous. We were cautioned to use the portage on the north side of the river and not the south. So this meant we had to sneak between Wheelbarrow Falls and a set of rapids. We were paddling upstream so had 2 currents to contend with. We paddled really hard against the current of Wheelbarrow Falls to get to the portage, all the while paddling against the current from the rapids. But we did it! I did it. Slowly I was getting more comfortable paddling in moving water.
After this section we had to paddle upstream to another small portage around rapids. The portage was really close to the base of the rapids, but we managed to land the canoe and jump out. There’s no way I would have been able to paddle the Hunter Island Loop if I hadn’t received my Level 1 in moving water for canoeing, AND practice my skills.
We basically got back in the canoe to paddle around a little peninsula and got back out again to slam a mile long portage. It was actually 3 miles because we double carried for the whole trip. It was long I’m not going to lie, but it was also pretty flat. Once we blew through 3 miles of portaging we had lunch at the put-in at Basswood Lake. Another ginormous lake!
Concerned about the wind again, we planned to camp at a site close to the portage and then get up super early the next morning to paddle as much of the lake as possible before the wind kicked up. But, the sky spirits were with us once again. There was hardly any wind. We took advantage of this and ended up paddling an extra 11.2 kms.
Our plan for completing the Hunter Island Loop was to do it in 14 days with 2 extra days should we need them in the event that we were windbound, for a total of 16 days. We paddled some crazy big water and so far we didn’t have to use any of our extra days.
I almost didn’t make it to our campsite. With there being hardly any wind, blue sky (because almost every day had blue skies), and the sun beaming down on us and reflecting off the lake, I was getting overheated and maybe close to heat exhaustion. I kept dipping my hat in the lake and drinking water constantly, but it wasn’t helping. I was pretty much useless when we reached camp, so I thank my husband for doing all camp chores and making us an awesome dinner of vegetarian sloppy joe and spelt bannock.
Once I was feeling better, we decided to go fishing for pickerel. One of the top things on my list was to catch a pickerel in the Quetico and have a fish fry.
I have 4 videos of over 1 hour of footage to publish on my YouTube channel, and will be publishing those in January 2018.