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

23 Man Chain to Saganagons

By TMcG Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:August 22-31, 2023
Entry Point:62 - Carp Lake (Quetico)
Lakes:Bell, Birch, Bit, Carp, Fran, Jasper, Knife, Lilypad, Little Knife, No Man, Other Man, Ottertrack, Saganagons, Sheridan, Slate, That Man, This Man

PP to Carp lake

We got up at 5 and gathered everything together to be at Piragis by 6 to make the 7:00 AM tow to PP. We planned to be the first at the ranger station door when they opened. Nope somebody beat us to it! Only one guy ahead and then we were on our way

The weather was heavy overcast with a forecast of rain and some wind. No sunshine was predicted. And none was seen. Took our departure photos and headed east on Birch lake into a stiff headwind. Wait a minute, I thought the prevailing wind was from the West! Of course there is the Murphy's law of canoe tripping. "you will always be paddling into the wind" No problem as our first target was Carp lake. We were planning on taking it easy on our first day, and most of the trip, so no hurry. The weather wasn't warm and sunny but the rain was holding off and the wind was manageable. We portaged into Carp and got an imediate facefull of wind. I t wust have been channeling down to that end because it stedialy decreased as we paddled North

We got to the wide part of Carp and saw that there were several sites available that would be acceptable. The wind had calmed down but was still threatening rain. But I wanted the island site that was highly rated and had no others nearby. The site referred to as 1L5 was open and ready for us to land there. We scoped it out and found it suitable for us. We needed one good tent pad and two nice hammock hangs. Which it had and more. Nice fire pit except for the widow maker near the pit leaning slightly towards it. We gave it a good push and it seemed pretty solid, so we didn't worry. Great view over the lake and good wind protection.

We set up camp and settled in. The wind abated some but the dark clouds remained. Rob and Mart set out to find some wood from the closest shoreline and I put my fishing rig together. I figured I would use the lure that I had good luck with last year. It caught a SM and a Pike from the shore at our camp on Iron. I went down to the shore where the wind was blowing around the point on the island. I immediately got some action and caught a few small fish, a SM and something else. Then BAM something hit hard and fought back! I worked it a while and got it to shore, keeping it away from trying to wrap around the boulders. It was a lake trout! Right from shore, in August! I wasn't expecting that. That makes it three of the Big Four that I've wanted to catch. Now I just need to get a Walleye.

So that's three species on one lure. I'm just going to bring a bunch of those next year. I carefully released it as we had plenty of fresh food and didn't need more. it was pretty easy with the barbs crushed flat on the hook. I was shocked that fishing was so easy.

While I was working the fish, the wood crew returned and got the fire going.

We hung the tarp and got dinner going. Hamburger night. Fresh meat out of the cooler pack and plenty of extras. Hung out for a while then off to bed as it got dark. We were up from 5 AM and didn't get much sleep the night before.

Night on Carp Lake. First lake Trout

People seen. 4 other canoes groups at PP maybe one group on the Carp portage.

Day 2.

Carp to Sheridan to That Man Lake, North Island camp.

We woke up nice and early and brewed some good coffee. More fresh food with scrambled eggs and sausage. Though no fresh orange juice.

We got all packed up and headed across the lake to the Sheridan Potage. We hit the water around 9:30. Saw one other canoe that had a solo guy fishing in the fog. It was still heavy overcast and not a sliver of Sun.

The portage to Sheridan is not too long, but ALL uphill. It was basically a staircase. We got all the gear over and loaded up again for the short paddle around the corner to the next portage. That was the longer one. It was a little tricky and wet. That made it a lot of work and we were triple portaging, so we were pretty beat by the time we finished. Did I mention that the Quetico portages are not the superhighways of the BWCA. They are more like well-used PMA portages. There was one canoe at the portage landing and we saw them coming as we were about halfway through our first trip. Then met up with another group with two canoes and two dogs. One of the guys made a comment on it being as busy as a super highway.

We were eager to get along so we just had a little snack and some water. then onto That Man. We still wanted to make some time to get to the other end of the lake.

It was getting early afternoon as we made our way up the lake so we thought it would be good to make camp. The weather was still looking threatening and still haven't seen the Sun but the clouds were thinning.

We enjoyed the island life the night before so headed to the island at the North end of the lake.

Success! the site was empty and we quickly landed and unloaded.

We got all set up and explored our second island campsite. I put my hammock up on the shoreline to be away from any bugs and have a lakeview. I was nice and luckily I have no sleepwalking issues

The clouds aren’t breaking up at all. As sunset approached we started to get dinner ready. Filet Mignon night, I could hardly wait!

Well I'm going to have to wait, the steaks were still quite frozen. So it was bratwurst night instead.

That's okay, everything tastes great out here and we were all satisfied. We were all ready for some more sleep. The clouds might have influenced our decision but we decided to spend a layover day there tomorrow. Off to the hammock with no particular plan the next day except maybe fishing.

People seen: one fishing on Carp and three parties of two on the Sheridan/That Man portage Plus two doggies.

Day 3 & 4

That Man.Another overcast morning and no hurry around camp. We had the tarp set up over a high rock point in the camp and had awesome views over the lake.

More good coffee and breakfast. We lazed around camp and fished from shore. Didn't catch anything and almost lost my Super lure. The one I caught three species with. I went and got a canoe to paddle around and free it. If you're casting from shore, cast to the west off the southern point. To the East here is shallow water and lots of snags to take your gear.

Around Noon a group of 4 in one canoe paddled by. They were looking at our site for a lunch stop but headed across the water when they saw it occupied. That is also when the clouds started to break up a little. About an hour later we decided to go for the first swim of the trip.

It felt great to see the Sun and lifted spirits around camp. We spread out and proceeded to dry our stuff out.

Decided to paddle out and try some fishing. There was a little cloud cover was coming and going. And a slight wind blowing me around so the fishing didn't work well.

At this point I had moved my hammock from the shore because the radio said it was going to be rainy and windy in the middle of the night. I set up in the trees on the low spot in the middle of the island. And good thing because the storm did come in about 2 AM and it dumped pretty good.

It was forecast for rain again so we decided it would be best to stay over another day. I remember my experience from last year when we tried to travel on a rain day and it was not good. In fact it was the worst 4 hours I’ve ever had in the BW.

We also used this opportunity to move the tarp. We had it set up over the high point for a good view. That created problems with wind protection. When we got showers during the day, we got wet from the wind blown rain. We moved down to the protected area next to the fire pit. Time for dinner, The fillets and smores for dessert

And then Finally! We got a sunset that was wilderness perfect. Though there were still clouds around

Time for bed.

Other People seen just that one canoe of 4.

Day 4

Got up to a wet camp. I had to get up during the storm to adjust my tarp. I had it set way to high and the wind was blowing the rain around it. I actually should have known that but I was plenty dry when I set up that way last year in a similar storm. I think I was a lot more protected from the wind last year. Part of the learning curve of hammock camping.

With no particular plans for the day, we lazed around. I decided to experiment with the new twig stove I’d just purchased. Last year we ran out of butane and I could only have one small cup of coffee on the last morning. I wasn’t going to let that happen again!

The clouds cleared up and it would have been a fine travel day. But we had already committed to staying. It did give the gear an opportunity to dry out from last night’s downpour. I really liked the laid back pace too. Tried some more fishing and didn’t even get a nibble. Then just sat around, read, and looked at maps. We were at decision time. Keep meandering around and guarantee an out’n’back route in the Man Lakes. OR make a push and complete the loop we had looked at in planning. The loop would be up through Bell, Slate, to Saganagons. Then back around down through Lilly Pad, Jasper and Ottertrack. We still had time to do that and Martin really wanted to complete the loop. We also thought it would be nice to see as much as possible. There might be a few long travel days but it was doable. We talked it over and decided we were well rested and would rather see more.

Cocktails and another beautiful sunset while we ate the New York steaks. They were bigger than we thought so we only cooked two. Then cut them in half for us four. That left us with another steak meal for tomorrow night. Looked at the maps and figured we’d get to Bell. Off to bed for an early wake up the next morning.

People seen: Zero

Day 5 . That Man to Bell

We woke up about 6:30 and broke camp. Thick clouds covered the sky but there was no rain forecast. Breakfast was cereal and milk with the required good coffee. We had been equipped with the large French Press and it made four cups in each batch. No need to use my smaller one.

We paddled the short distance to the end of the lake and checked it out. I had heard that the creek could be passable under the right conditions so I steered towards it to see. Mart and Liz went right to the portage for the sure thing! We proceeded up the creek and found it entirely passable. In fact, there were many cut off branches to make a clear path. This is one case where a LNT violation seems acceptable to me. It looks like it’s been standard practice for many years on that route. We kept on paddling, got out and pushed the canoe in some shallow spots, and felt we were going to get through and eliminate a triple portage. The only obstacle was the log pullover mentioned in other reports. It was there just before No Man Lake. But it wasn’t too hard and we paddled into No Man. Mart and Liz had made one trip and were on their second. Rob went back to help and I stayed with the food and gear. So we made much better time using the creek. A quick jaunt across No Man to an easy This Man portage and on to Other Man. The portage to Other Man was significantly harder. It wasn’t too hilly but was tight and rocky. We stopped at the Other Man End and ate lunch as it was just past noon. We hadn’t see anyone all day and there was no sign of anybody coming our way. So weren’t worried about blocking the portage. The clouds were still solid across the sky but the wind was light.

After chilling for a while, we launched and proceeded up the Lake. Just as we got out of the narrows, the clouds started to break. The wind died to nothing and it started looking more like a nice summer day. Had a very pleasant paddle and enjoyed the scenery.

The portage from Other Man to No-name was short but could be tough. A little up and then across a corduroy log path. This would be a sloppy mud bog if it was wetter. Then a choice of up over the rock or around to a short steep downhill. Across a Very shallow lake and the short and easy portage to Bit. Then onto Bell and find a campsite.

We found the one near the portage was available and settled in around 3. It is a large site with plenty of room and very open. Though most of it is on a slope, flat spots are kind of few. No problem for hammock campers. It’s on a high clearing overlooking the lake with a excellent western view.

I decided to fish the cove, just to the south, from the shore. BAM a nice little pike hits my spoon after half a dozen casts. Then I trip as I’m reeling it in and working my way down to the shore. Right onto some sharp rocks with my forearm (are there any other kind of rocks there?) Blood flows as I get the fish to shore. No problem, “ It’s just a flesh wound” . I make sure it’s clean then slather with Neosporin and cover it with gauze. I didn’t want blood all over my hammock and sleeping bag!

Another dinner with NY steaks and off to bed. It was like a 14 mile day and we were tired. Planning a early rising and get a good site on Saganagons.

People seen ZERO

Day 6 Bell to Saganagons

Wake up to heavy fog and no sunshine. We packed up and had some breakfast moving slowly. After the beautiful sunny afternoon yesterday, it felt damp and cold. A short jaunt to the portage and unload again. Not a long portage but pretty rough and slippery. Over to a No Name lake and the Sun came out again. Then a harder portage into Fran. Lots of up and down with slippery rocks. The next was from Fran to Slate. It was a flat easy one right next to the creek. And no where near the 75 rods shown on the map. More like 25 if that.

We launched into a lily pad choked inlet on Slate. Ahh, the newbies got to experience what we had a lot of last year. We started calling lily pads “brake pads”. They have a tendency to slow down your boat. Mart was ready with instructions to “just put your head down and paddle”. It wasn’t too long and we broke free to a leisurely cruise across the lake. I didn’t see them but there were a couple having lunch at the campsite. They passed our site on they way back that evening. I didn’t see them then either so I’m still counting as a no people day. Our final portage of the day was quite easy except for the “chickens” that were blocking the path. What are chickens doing way out here? How could they possibly survive the winter? Figured out later that they we probably grouse and know how to survive. We loaded up and went in search of camp. Mart headed out and continued South. I saw the campsite at the end of the cove and my map said to go North. The only thing south was the portage to Lilypad Lake and some unconfirmed campsites. Time to blow a whistle to get their attention. Mine was buried in my day pack so Rob got his out. Let ‘er rip I said and he gave it a good blow. You call that a whistle??? It sounded like something you’d get in a Happy Meal! I decided a good throaty yell would work and gave it a go. It worked, Rob turned around with a surprised look on his face at the decibel level. I yelled “come back” with the appropriate hand gestures.

We did a quick scoot North East and found the 5 star site available. Time for lunch and a quick swim. But first was a site clean up. This is the first and only site that we found trash(ed) on this trip. The people before we slobs. Half burned plastic bottles and wrappers in the fire pit. Pieces of trash around on the ground. Cigarette butts all around. Fish guts and skins in the shallow water to the west. And a dead pike in the rocks and shallow water in front. Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking.

Got all set up and relaxed for the afternoon. It’s a big site with lots of room. There’s the firepit/ kitchen area. Then another big clearing for tents. I set my hammock on the edge of the main clearing but it didn’t feel “right”. I ended up walking back in the trees and found plenty of spots.

I tried a little shore fishing but had no luck. Another killer dinner from out ample supplies. Homemade chili and cornbread in the Frybake pan. It was forecast to rain the next day so we decided to hang out for another day there. Off to bed with the moon getting fuller every day. Plenty of light to see by and you almost don’t need a flashlight.

People seen (by me) ZERO. Though one other canoe was spotted by others in the group.

Day 7 Saganagons.

We had another sleep-in day and leisurely breakfast. The forecasted rain turned out to be occasional sprinkles. There was no downpour from the large clouds blowing around. Plenty of intermittent Sunshine. We tried a little fishing but didn’t get much. Mart caught a couple of smallmouths and let them go. While we were fishing, we saw the camp on the far shore was occupied. It was probably the people we saw go by the afternoon before. We then heard some distant thunder and decided to return to camp. Spent the afternoon doing camp chores. Or mostly sat around and wasted time. I did a little more fishing in the cove south of camp but got nothing. We had an early dinner and organized for a quick exit in the morning. It was going to be a long day and we wanted to get a jump on it. Then dinner with a salmon pasta dish that Mart had figured out. There was some rain during the night but nothing like the night on That Man Lake. We were doing good on the relaxation goal of the trip. That was to end tomorrow!

People seen Zero but there was an occupied campsite observed across the lake. Too far to see anybody.

Day 8.Saganagons. Lillypad, Jasper, Ottertrack.

Woke up to another cloudy day. Out of the hammock and packed up quickly. We did a quick breakfast of cereal with milk. Yes, the cold pack is still quite cold and nothing has spoiled yet. We haven’t had real hot weather and that probably helped. Packed the canoes and were off before 8. We headed due south to the portage to Lillypad. The Sun came out and most of the clouds were disappearing fast. We got to the portage and had a lot of trouble finding the entry. We went in where it should have been and found a mucky marsh. Mart went around to the east and thought he found it. Until he tried stepping out of the canoe and sunk in mud up to his knees. Not good we thought and returned to our first choice. We maneuvered through the high grass and muck to get close. Then Rob thought it would be a good place to get out. He put one foot over and tried to step out. Then it sank into the mud so he quickly used his other foot to stop it. Which resulted in him stuck in the mud up to his mid-thighs. With a little panic in his voice, I hear “Tim, I think I’m going to lose my shoe!”. Using my best Indian Jones logic, I tell him that he’ll have to lay on his stomach (in the muddy weeds) to take the weight off his legs. Then slowly work your feet loose. He worked that out while I spied a rock or two on the surface. I stepped out onto those and managed to stay above to mud. Rob was out of the mud and able to walk around on the grassy area. We found the portage trail and began the first of the day. It was another tricky portage with a lot of up and down. We got to the tiny landing at Lillypad and stacked our stuff where ever we could. Then across to the Jasper portage. This one had a much larger landing for ease of unloading. But it was very rocky. It was like a cobblestone street that had every other stone removed. You had to step very carefully. Finally a quick paddle across Jasper. Eagle sighting in the tree. And the final portage to Ottertrack. It could be called two portages because there is a beaver pond in the middle of it. Mart and Liz launch first across the pond only to be confronted by the beaver! Apparently it was right in front of the canoe and Liz says “what should I do?” I don’t know. The only time I’ve seen a beaver, they were trying to get away from me. The beaver decided not to make it an issue and swam away. Liz was pretty lucky to get to see it up close. Another very short easy jaunt down the creek. Yes the path is part of the outflow from the pond.

Then we’re on Ottertrack and looking for a lunch spot. The overcast has moved back in and there’s a stiff breeze coming from the East. We paddle across to a campsite on the point and have lunch. It’s a very rocky landing and there’s a small fire pit behind a rock. I thought this was a highly rated site but it looked small and cramped. Until I walked back and found the main fire pit. It is a BIG site with lots of room. We chill out (literally) and have our cold cuts and cheese on pita bread. Back on the water we launch and get blown safely away from the shore rocks. It’s all paddling now. We have the wind coming from an angle behind us and the water only had a mild chop. The we turn more to the West as we get to the border and have the benefit of a full tailwind. That negates the first day’s headwind. We make good time to the other end of the lake and are at camp by 3. The wind dies down and the Sun comes out in full force as we approach.

It's a beautiful spot around the corner from the Knife portage and we settled in. A ton of room in the trees and many hammock hangs available. I’m wandering around hanging wet clothes and looking for photo opportunities. Then hear a splash and look down in the lake. It’s a HUGE turtle swimming in the clear water righ next to shore. I called the others to see it and get a picture. The shell was at least a foot wide and maybe 14”-16” long. I have never seen a turtle that size in fresh water. How big do those things get??

We haven’t seen anybody on the water or land yet today. Then one canoe going the other way to the Gijikiki portage. An hour or so later a party of four canoes coming down Ottertrack. That was the most real sign of people we saw since we left Prairie Portage. Rob is feeling a little sick, so he goes to their tent for a while. Then returns later partially refreshed. We chill out, have an early dinner and head to sleep. It was an 12 mile day with some hard portages. We were tired and knew we had the full length of Knife to paddle the next day.

People seen: a group of four canoes and one tandem group. Did not notice any occupied campsites

Day 9. Ottertrack, Knife, Crawford, Carp.

Another early rising and packing as I got out of my hammock. That way it goes much quicker. I am mostly packed before I finish my first cup of coffee. Same cereal breakfast and we’re off.

The portage into Knife is very short and easy. Then the long paddle down the lake. Hardly any wind and plenty of cloud cover. We see many sites occupied on the shore and can tell we are out of Quetico and into a busy area. We want to be close to exit/tow tomorrow so we head to Carp. On the way down, we stop at Thunder Point. One, because we camped right around the corner and never went there on our first trip. And two, because we wanted to try and call the outfitter to see if we can move the tow up to an earlier time. Yes there is the rumored cell signal and I give them a call. When I explain who I was and where I’m calling from, I get an “Oh really?” response. We wanted to move it from 2 to noon because we had to drive to Duluth that afternoon. Mart had a 6:30 AM flight to catch the next day. He called back to say that they could do 1. We’ll take it! And I’m glad we did. Unpacking the portage bags and repacking our luggage took some time.

Meanwhile Rob is still feeling like crap and just lays down on the shore to rest. He says he’ll look at the pictures. No reason to hike all the way up there. We do the hike and it is totally worth it. A little steep but not long. And it’s seems easy without a pack or canoe on your shoulders. The view was awesome. It was a clear blue sky with no wind. You could easily see all the way down the lake. We make our way back down to have some lunch and refill the water bottles.

We set off again and get to the bay with the portage to Carp on the Quetico side. From what we read, this was the best way to get back to Carp. About the same distance but one less portage so less unloading/loading. Seems to make sense but I’m not sure. The portage is a Quetico portage and it is a much tighter trail than the border ones. Rob was still feeling the same, so he grabbed a pack and went to collapse at the other end. We wanted to see it before we brought the canoes through so we grabbed some packs. I grabbed two with one on the front and one on the back. I figured I would carry two as far as I felt comfortable and drop one. Being stubborn I carried it quite a ways until I gave up.

Mart gave a name to the portage, The Hillary portage. As in Sir Edmund Hillary. It was a hilly one! There was one rock face that you could zig-zag your way up with a pack. It didn’t work with the canoes though. We had to work together on it. One at the top while the canoe carrier tilted the front up to set on top of the rock. Then hauling it up the face together. We got the canoes over and I noticed the pack I had dropped was gone. Rob felt better (or guilty) and decided to do one more portage trip. When he had gone a third of the way, he found the pack and grabbed it. He felt much better getting that pack to the end and went back with us on the third trip. It was a LOT of work and we were beat after the long paddle down the lake. A paddle across Crawford and the day’s final portage to Carp. Nice short easy one with a stupid fallen tree at the Crawford landing.

Mart took off to find a campsite other than the island one. It looked available but there were many others closer to the next morning’s portage. Then he had trouble finding one. He thought it was a one spot and paddled there. Nothing. Then paddled where he thought there would be the next one. Nothing! I think he was a little tired and missed some of the spots. I saw an empty site but they were already well past it and paddling away. I thought he had a place in mind so I followed. Then he stopped at one point and said “well the map shows a site here!”. We were almost at the end of the lake. Looked over the maps and I saw that there was one more shown on the East shore. I paddled over there and saw some rocks on the shore that looked out of place. Like they had been placed there by someone. And there was the campsite. Not great but we were so tired that it would work. We settled in for our last night. I went for a swim that helped me feel much better. It got rid of the grime from those last couple of portages. We had a simple dinner that was the easiest to prepare. I think it was trail mix and snacks. We had plenty of food left, we just didn’t feel it was worth the effort to prepare. The moon was becoming full and it was quite bright out.

14.5 mile day. To match milage for the longest day we had with the day from That Man to Bell

People seen. LOTS. More than we had seen in the total of the 8 previous days.

Day 10 Carp, Birch.

Up at a reasonable hour. I had a rotten hang and ended up with my butt on the ground when the little tree leaned in. We packed up and headed to the portage. We wanted to get to Birch and be ready for our pick up. We got to the portage to see a group of four canoes headed in the other direction. We portaged to the other end and saw another group of two with their dog. As we were finishing, another group of three canoes approached from Birch. And finally, after we launched, there was another group of two canoes approaching. Welcome to the wilderness highway!

We headed down Birch. Out the little arm where the portage was and into the main part of the lake. Guess what? HEADWIND! Not horrible but noticeable. We passed so many canoes going the other way that we loss count. It was the Thursday before the Labor Day weekend and the commute was on. There were many groups and one cargo crew. The cargo crew was three canoes. All aluminum tandems. Two of them with a crew a two with a huge pile of gear. The one guy in a tandem with a kayak paddle and completely loaded with more gear than I though possible.

We made good time and decided to stop at a campsite for some lunch. We found the perfect site at #1282 with a awesome grassy area to hang out. We pulled out the chairs and sat around to reminisce on the trip. Then over to Indian portage to meet our tow back. The van was waiting for us and we were back at the outfitters by around 2:30.

Strange being back in town after disconnecting for ten days. We repacked everything and squeezed it all into the SUV. A dirty mocha to go and we hit the road to Duluth.

According to mapping site; 66.5 Miles total. 48.4 miles paddling. 18.1 miles portaging.

Great time had by all. But I STILL did not get enough fishing done.

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