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

Day 10 – Kawnipi Lake

Distance: 17.1 km
Portages: None

After the insanely long day we had on Day 9 paddling 32 kms and portaging 9 kms in 13 hours, I was happy to only paddle half that amount to the other end of Kawnipi Lake. Mind you it was drizzling the whole time and we were paddling against a headwind. When we finally reached our campsite on a little island close to the portage to Shelley Lake (that we would start off at on Day 11), I desperately needed the warmth of a fire. At this point in our trip we were at least a full day ahead of schedule and hadn’t used any of the extra 2 days we had off.

At the northwest end of Kawnipi Lake.

The tarp was set up so that we could have shelter, a fire and dry our clothes. We had it all! We even had a persistent little mouse who always got too close to our belongings and even tried several times to crawl into our food barrel. No amount of “shoo”-ing or yelling kept this little critter away.

Day 10 was also our 6-year wedding anniversary. To celebrate we had a few stiff drinks and when the rain let up we paddled around trying to catch pickerel. No luck.

Fireweed. My favourite wildflower.

 

A soggy and wet Day 10.

Day 11 – Kawnipi Lake to Russell Lake

Distance: 19.5 km
Portages: 80 m, 60 m, 290 m, 450 m, 390 m

It was still a bit drizzly when we got up in the morning and now that we were completely back up in the Quetico, the mosquitoes were out in full force. I could hardly get a bite of oatmeal in fast enough between the zipper of the hood and body of my bug jacket without eating a few mosquitoes along the way. There was no breeze, so they were awful.

We didn’t have far to paddle to get to our first portage of the day. We had the current take us and found the portage with this old blaze.

We paddled through Shelley Lake to Have a Smoke Portage around some unnamed falls. Keats Lake was a really cool lake. Lots of boulders sticking out of the water everywhere.

Have a Smoke Portage around some unnamed falls.
Put-in to Keats Lake from Have a Smoke Portage.

From Keats Lake we were unsure of portaging around Split Rock Falls. We had heard from Andy Baxter (Kevin Callan’s good pal) that the take-out is really close to the falls and there are some boulders you need to paddle around in the current.

Knowing me and my dislike of moving water, I opted to do a separate portage into McDougall Lake, but it would mean we would have to paddle a whole different lake. As we got closer to Split Rock Falls I surprised myself by suggesting we give it a shot! Where did this new sudden confidence come from?!

It certainly was dicey around the boulders in the water to the falls, but we managed just fine.

We paddled a bit of Chatterton Lake to our last portage of the day into Russell Lake. We could hear Chatterton Falls and paddled by on our way to an awesome campsite on Russell Lake.

Russell Lake has a lot of these neat boulders sticking out of the lake too.

We had talked about spending a night on Pickerel Lake for our last night to make our final day not as long, but somehow I knew that this night on Russell would be my last in the Quetico. I knew once we got close to the take-out on Stanton Bay of Pickerel Lake, we’d want to push. So I enjoyed as much of this day as I possibly could with a lot of mixed emotions.

When we arrived at the campsite we were pumped. It was all flat rock! Such an awesome site for our last night. And, by early afternoon the clouds started to break!

Clouds breaking after 3 days of rain.

I started doing laundry and we pulled everything out of our Frost River Tregurtha canoe pack and dried it all out once the clouds disappeared. Everything was just damp.

Hard to believe all of this fits into one pack!

I just loved spending time in the sun and drinking up the last of the liquor store we had brought with us. When the sun set the mosquitoes came out again so it was somewhat unbearable, but the sunset was gorgeous.

Sun falling into the Earth on Day 11.

Around this time we cast a few lines in from shore and caught a couple of pike until the mosquitoes drove us into the tent.

I had so many opportunities to do some night sky photography, but had a hard time getting out of the tent. I made sure I did this night. My lens kept fogging up and it was so dark out that I had a hard time focusing my lens. This is the best I could do.

Day 12 – Russell Lake to Stanton Bay of Pickerel Lake

Distance: 30 km
Portages: 80 m, 750 m, 560 m, and 4 beaver dam leftovers on Deux Rivière.

Our final day in the Quetico. Hard to believe the distance we covered in 12 days. I can’t believe how strong I became physically and mentally. What an amazing adventure! Some people ask why the hell would anyone want to work so hard on a vacation. Well it’s because I got to see 38 bald eagles, paddle and portage over some incredibly beautiful country, and build strength and confidence. So why not?

The book and person who inspired it all.

We would have never paddled the Quetico if we hadn’t discovered Sigurd F. Olson. His writings have become so personal and loved by us. It wasn’t hard to pick a chapter out of Singing Wilderness to read in the tent each night before falling asleep. The stories in this book are written about Quetico-Superior country with stories about campsite red squirrels, the loons of Lac la Croix, smell of the morning, the way of the canoe, farewell to Saganaga, campfires, silence, caribou moss and scrub oak.

When we paddled toward Sturgeon Narrows we knew there was somewhat of a swift or rapid that we had to portage around. People that we spoke with along the way said they were able to paddle upstream. So, with my newfound confidence I requested that we run it! It wasn’t that big of a deal, but it is for someone who is terrified of moving water. I remember so vividly how we skillfully paddled down the rapid navigating around rocks and following V patterns in the moving water.

The beginning of a hot day on Sturgeon Lake.

It was a long day for us in the hot sun, but we couldn’t wait to get back to Bo Bo Ska Dittle (our sube). The thought of cold alcoholic beverages, a shower and a pizza was too hard to forget about. So with those incentives, we pushed all day and got to our sube at around 3pm.

Paddling across Pickerel Lake was interesting. It was windy but we could handle it. If anything, it was draining our energy so it felt like it took forever to get to the mouth of Stanton Bay. When we finally reached the mouth, I saw another bald eagle perched on a snag.

My connection to this animal ran deep during this canoe trip.

This bird that followed me around the Quetico and made me believe in my own strength and power was too much to handle. Tears streamed down my face as I tried paddling with hardly any energy left. I was in Stanton Bay. I had made it. 320 kms of paddling and I made it.

I’m not sure I could have done it without the bald eagle. It meant so much to me. I’m definitely sure I couldn’t have done it without my husband. Now that we’re expecting our first babe in July 2018, I am so thankful that we got to spend that time together on an adventure that we will both remember for years to come. It was a trip and skill level that we had been working up to for years.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but I know I can’t wait to take our little babe there eventually and introduce her/him to a world of paddling and adventure.

Publishing Part One of my video series starting on January 8.

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5 comments

  1. What an awesome adventure! You are indeed very fortunate for these experiences in Quetico Provincial Park! Gorgeous photography of a trip to remember! Thank you for sharing your stories and photos! ❤️ Quetico!

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  2. Wow….such an tremendous adventure. Need to go back and re-read it all again. Great pictures, great report. Yup, going to be -35 again in a day or two. Think I’ll take some time; savour your trip one more time. It might help to keep the cold at bay. Looking forward to the video too!

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