Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

First Quetico Trip

By Chris Hoepker Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (1)
Dates:July 25, 1995 - August 8, 1995
Entry Point:12 - Pickerel Lake (Quetico)
Lakes:Agnes, Basswood, Batchewaung, Beg, Bisk, Bud, Burke, Cairn, Chatterton, Doré, Fern, Heronshaw, Isabella, Kahshahpiwi, Kawnipi, Keats, Keefer, McDougall, Meadows, Murdoch, Nym, Olifaunt, Pickerel, Russell, Sark, Shelley, Side, Sturgeon, Sunday, Twin Lakes

The first we ever heard of Quetico was from some other canoeists in Killarney in 1994. All that I can remember is that they said that Quetico is really the mecca for canoeing, but it’s just too far from Toronto. That winter we looked into it, ordered maps and made reservations. We (my wife Val and I and sons Niki and Alex) flew into Minneapolis, rented a car and drove to Atikokan. Canoe Canada Outfitters drove us to Stanton Bay and we were off on our first Quetico trip.

Our route included a loop south of Russell to North Bay: Pickerel, Russell, Kahshahpiwi, North Bay, Agnes, Kawnipi, Russell, Olifaunt, Pickerel and Nym for the take-out.

Route Overview

Day 1 (7/25)

Due to a late start and the need to get our gear better organized, we camped early on Pickerel not very far out from the Stanton Bay put-in.

Stanton Bay, July 1995

Day 2 (7/26)

Went to Russell via Pine Portage Bay and Deux Rivères. Camped on a small island at the mouth of Russell. (We weren’t so aware of the issue at the time, but this island is one that is really to small to be used as a campsite.) Lots of wildlife: Bull moose, deer and otters that came to pick up fish remains left by previous occupants.

In the Deux RivièresMaking the campfire

Day 3 (7/27)

On the Russell – Chatterton portage, we met a party of teen age girls/young women who really impressed us with the way they portaged 80 pound aluminum DC-3’s and massive Duluth packs – all things I’d sworn never again to attempt. A day later on Sark, we shared an island campsite with them, but never got their names or where they came from. I know only one thing about these girls, now women in their 30’s, they’ve never had trouble with abusive husbands - at least not for long.

All girl groupAl girl groupCooling the feet

Camped on a small island near the east end of Shelley.

Day 4 (7/28)

We tried the portages along Kahshahpiwi Creek and thereby skip Heronshaw. This didn't work so we went back and looked for the portage to Heronshaw. I'm still not sure we found the right one, but after paddling in/through mud – yes dipping our paddles in pure mud and pushing the canoe forward - we did get to a portage that led to Heronshaw. In the years since then, we've gone through there several times and each time it seems different so I'm still not sure if I've ever done this portage correctly. Maybe some day, I’ll get it right.

Portaging along Kahshahpiwi CreekOn Heronshaw Lake

Camped on Sark where we shared an big island site with the party of tough young women that we had so much respect for.

Camp on Kiefer Lake

Day 5(7/29)

Heading for North Bay, we were too slow and got stuck camping on Isabella – lousy buggy site on the south shore and some noisy idiots a few hundred meters away hollering all night.

Day 6 & 7(7/30 & 31)

Enjoyed the creek east of Isabella. Reached a beautiful campsite on North Bay and decided to stay two days to make up for the crummy night on Isabella.

Swampy Creek east of IsabellaNorth Bay, Campsite ZSNorth Bay, Campsite ZS

Day 8 & 9(8/1 & 2)

Went to Agnes via Burke, Sunday and Meadows. At Louisa Falls, we saw the last people that we would see for the next three days. Camped on Agnes at what we refer to as the “Lawn Camp” – because the grass looked like it had been mowed. The boys did some free diving and came up with all sorts of antique cans, pots, etc.

Singing BrookAgnes, Campsite 1FDAgnes, Campsite 1FDAgnes, Campsite 1FD

Day 10 (8/3)

Moved up Agnes and found a nice partially wooded island campsite. The next morning looking east we saw a giant puffy cloud and had to remind ourselves that the cold war was over. Then assuming it wasn’t, what kind of strategic target is east of Quetico? Thunder Bay? The big puffy cloud turned out to be the Falls Chain Fire, which burned over 25,000 hectares of Quetico Park.

Smoke from Falls Chain Fire

Day 11 (8/4)

Went to Kawnipi.

Day 12 (8/5)

At the end of Kawnipi, some rapids dump into Kahshahpiwi Creek. One branch was just too tempting to resist. In the years since then, we've gone by here a number of times but the water levels were always too high or too low for safe running.

Lining up for fast water, Kawnipi outflowKawnipi outflowKawnipi outflowKawnipi outflowKawnipi outflowKawnipi outflowKawnipi outflowKawnipi outflow

After portaging into Russell, Niki and Alex took time to make some sand castles on the beach at the Russell end.

Sand castles, Russell Lake

Camped at our small island site at the outlet of Russell.

Day 13 (8/6)

Not wanting to retrace the Deux Rivières route, we turned off to Olifaunt and went to Pickerel via Fern, Bud, Beg and Bisk. It was possible to paddle up the fast water between Beg and Bisk.

Bull moose, OlifauntBud-Beg, fast water

Camped in Pickerel Narrows. Finished most of our food and started looking forward to burgers in Atikokan.

Day 14 (8/7)

As we approached the last bay at the west end of Pickerel, a strong west wind picked up and trapped us on a small island for several hours. Finally it let up enough for us to cross Batchewaung Bay, but on Little Batchewaung, it came back with renewed fury and drove us crashing into the isthmus (near Portage 5082) that separates Little Batchewaung from the main body of Batchewaung.

The froth on Batchewaung made us face an uncomfortable reality – there would be no hamburgers for us in Atikokan that night - instead a hungry bivouac on the isthmus. I set my compass on a bearing to hit a few degrees left of the Batchewaung – Nym portage.

Mossy bivouac, BatchewaungBatchewaung evening

Day 15(8/8)

Up well before daybreak, we loaded in the dark and set out following my compass bearing. Our early start paid off. We got most of the way across Batchewaung before the wind picked up and began driving us hard for the last few hundred meters. Our crash landing at the south end of the Batchewaung Portage (# 5063) woke up several parties of windbound canoeists, some of whom had just spent their second night there.

Worried about the wind on Nym, we rushed through and were pleasantly surprised to find Nym no challenge whatsoever.

Morning on NymNym Lake, August 1995

Never did get hamburgers in Atikokan - we were out in time for breakfast! Eggs, hash browns, bacon, ham, English muffins! Alex was so hungry, he ordered a second complete breakfast – this time with pancakes on the side.

On the drive back to Minneapolis, we were already planning next year's trip to Quetico.

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