Cross Quetico, Crane Lake to Moose Lake


By Chris Hoepker Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (1)
Dates:August 22, 2008 - September 3, 2008
Entry Point:41 - Threemile Lake (Quetico)
Type:Canoeing
Lakes:Agnes, Basswood, Batchewaung, Beaverhouse, Chatterton, Cirrus, Crane, Doré, Kasakokwog, Kawnipi, Keats, Keewatin, Lac La Croix, Little Vermilion, Loon, McAlpine, Meadows, Moose, Newfound, Pickerel, Quetico, Russell, Sand Point, Shelley, Sucker, Sunday, Threemile, Twin Lakes

During the winter of ’07 – ’08, my wife, Val, and I started working on a neighboring couple and good friends, Freddy and Regina, to join us on a 2-week canoe trek in Quetico. To our great joy, they agreed to join us and we commenced planning. Val and I had a bunch of Delta frequent flyer miles so we were able to get a free flight: Zurich – Atlanta – Minneapolis. Freddy and Regina found the cheapest way on Continental: Zurich – Newark – Minneapolis. After connecting up in Minneapolis, we picked up our rental minivan and headed for Ely.

Our first stop in Ely was at Canoe Country Outfitters to arrange for our gear and last minute purchases. Afterwards, we took our rooms at the Grand Ely Lodge and had a fine dinner on the porch overlooking Shagawa Lake.

Our gearThe last supper at the Grand Ely Lodge

I have a 30 minute video of the trip posted on Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/91866933

ay 1, 22. August

Our route would lead us across Quetico, from Crane Lake to Moose Lake, hence we needed to be ferried to the put-in and picked up at our take-out. The CCO van got us to Crane Lake by mid-morning and we headed north to clear Canadian Immigration and Customs on Sand Point Lake.

Overview of routePut in at Crane Lake

We camped early at Site 1976 on Little Vermillion Lake. It was for Val and I, something of a homecoming because Val and I had last camped there with our sons in 1997.

Little Vermilion, Campsite 1976Little Vermilion, Campsite 1976

Day 2, 23. August

Heading south on Little Vermillion Lake, one transitions to the Loon River without a portage. As we neared the Loon Falls portage, a motor boat with two local guides came up behind us slowly. Seeing that they were carefully negotiating their way among the rocks, we gave them lots of room. At the dock where they were putting their craft on the railroad portage, they kindly offered to take our luggage across. We didn’t turn down the offer.

After Loon Lake, we took the Beatty Portage and entered mighty Lac La Croix. Straddling the Minnesota-Ontario border, we headed north and decided to try for a campsite in Snow Bay. We ended up taking No. 11 where we enjoyed the luxury of a picknick table complete with benches.

On the Loon RiverSnow Bay, Campsite 11

Day 3, 24. August

Rising early on a cool and clear morning, we were all in sweaters, coats and knit hats at breakfast. The day turned out to be one of those brilliant Quetico days on which you can’t put the camera down. Looking to beat the wind, we got an early start and after getting out of Snow Bay, we headed east in the main channel towards the Lac La Croix ranger station to officially enter Quetico.

Heading west out of Snow Bay, Lac La CroixFreddy and Regina on Lac La Croix

After getting our permits, we headed back west and entered the Namakan River at Lac La Croix village. A couple km’s past the village, it is necessary to portage past Snake Falls. After the portage, we took the Ivy Channel (right fork) of the Namakan to Ivy Falls. At the end of the Ivy Falls portage, there were two channels, both with fast water. The left one looked less intimidating so we took it and entered Threemile Lake. It turned out that one canoe had a hairline crack and was taking on water so we stopped to do a patch job. Thank God for duck tape!

Lac La Croix VillageAt the lower end of Snake Falls portage, Namakan  RiverNamakan RiverRapids at the end of the Ivy Falls portage, Namakan RiverThreemile LakeThank God for Duck Tape

Near Bear Island, we found a good campsite – complete with foam seats, table, food preparation table, fire pit, etc.

Camp near Bear Island, Threemile LakeCamp near Bear Island, Threemile LakeCamp near Bear Island, Threemile Lake

Day 4, 25. August

We woke to a cool and clear morning with fog on the water. After breakfasting at our sit-down dining table, we took off in high spirits anticipating a fun run down the Namakan and up the Quetico River to Beaverhouse Lake.

Breakfast, Camp near Bear Island, Threemile LakeFoggy morning on Threemile LakeMorning on Threemile LakeInto the fog, Threemile Lake

The high spirits got dampened a little after I missed the proper (east) mouth of the Quetico River and bought us some real portaging agony.

Portaging, Quetico RiverLining, Quetico RiverCarrying, Quetico River

Fortunately, the gem of a campsite (1A) and good swimming on Beaverhouse saved me from having to do a heavy penance.

At last, Beaverhouse LakeEvening, Beaverhouse Lake

Day 5, 26. August

Another brilliant Quetico day. Shortly after we got underway on Beaverhouse, we saw two heads moving in the water. Hoping for a good shot of a couple beavers, we inched in closer and saw that the two animals had rounded ears - a couple of teenage bears out for a morning swim. They got scared and swam frantically. Once on shore, they scrambled up into the forest. Hearing their heavy breathing from well out on the water, I felt bad about getting so close and scaring them - after all it's their park more than mine. Unfortunately, we were too slow with the camera and didn’t get a shot off.

Sparkling morning, Beaverhouse Lake

At the end of the portage into Quetico Lake, we met a National Geographic photographer on a solo trip.

Beaverhouse-Quetico Portage east end, National Geographic Photographer on solo tripBeaverhouse-Quetico portage, east end

The day was going well so we decided to push on to Cirrus Lake to camp. Approaching the Cirrus portage, we had to get out and tow the canoes.

Approaching portage to Cirrus

The Quetico-Cirrus portage (5113) is muddy on the south (Quetico) end but decent on the north (Cirrus) end. As on so many trips before, one of us went in deep.

Muddy pants, Quetico-Cirrus portage

It was a brilliant day on Cirrus and on its south shore, somewhere within a few km of the Kasakokwog portage, we found a fine campsite that had only one drawback – no big white pines on which to hang the food pack.

Magnificent day on CirrusCampsite on south shore of CirrusLoading, campsite on south shore of Cirrus

If someone can locate this campsite on the map, I’d really be in their debt.

Day 6, 27. August

Red sky at morning. We took warning but had to suffer nothing more than some overcast.

Sunrise from campsite on south shore of Cirrus

After a short paddle, we were at the Kasakokwog portage (5089). After some 5km easterly on Kasakokwog, we entered McAlpine Creek.

Unloading, Cirrus-Kasakakwog portageFinding our way, McAlpine Creek"Portaging", McAlpine CreekGood Stuff, McAlpine Creek

The level of McAlpine Lake appeared to have been raised by beaver damming - years ago.

McAlpine Lake (beaver dammed)

By early afternoon, we had an excellent campsite (KY) near the McAlpine Portage.

McAlpine, Campsite KYMcAlpine, Campsite KYMcalpine, Campsite KY

Day 7, 28. August

East on McAlpine and then three carries to Batchewaung Bay and Pickerel Lake. I’d intended that we make it to Russell but our late start and my navigation mistake in Pickerel Narrows ruled that out so we decided to try and find something on Dorè. We did. 17T turned out to be a real honey.

Clouds over BatchewaungDoré Lake Campsite 17TDoré Lake Campsite 17TDoré Lake Campsite 17T

Day 8, 29. August

Across Dorè, portage to Twin Lakes and down the Deux Rivières to Sturgeon.

In the Deux RivièresIn the Deux RivièresIn the Deux Rivières

We camped at an old standby, 13M on Russell.

Russell, Campsite 13MRussell, Campsite 13M

Day 9, 30. August

A glorious sunrise on Russell and a real reflections day.

Russell, Campsite 13MReflections on Russell Lake

Shortly after entering Kawnipi, we surprised( or rather got surprised by) a big bull moose and didn’t get a good shot off.

Wanting to make a little reconnaissance up Cache Creek the next day, we needed a campsite near Kasie Island. We ended up with 1LG. It turned out to be the worst campsite of the whole trip (and of a lot of others as well). Stayed two nights but only because we got back so late from our recon up Cache Creek.

Day 10, 31. August

Val and I left camp in a nearly empty canoe for our reconnaissance of the Cache River. After paddling north up the long bay leading to the mouth of the river, we did the first portage and came upon some really disgusting looking black water. In fact it was so disgusting that we had no stomach for more so we turned around and portaged back to the bay. The closer we got to the mouth of the bay, the stronger the wind became. Reaching the main channel of Kawnipi, we began encountering some rather intimidating wave action so we went into shore hoping to wait it out. After an hour or so with no letup, we decided it was going to be a question of bivouacking without tent and sleeping bags or fighting the wind and waves. Not wanting to risk getting tossed against a rocky windward shore, we headed straight into the SSW wind and out into the main channel of Kawnipi. As soon as we had gained enough headway and there was a decent gap between the waves, we made the 180° turn and ran downwind along the east side of Kasie Island.

After this day’s fiasco and having not succeeded in finding the portage from Ferguson Lake to the Cache River in 2003, we’ve decided that we’ll let someone else write the trip report covering the journey up or down the Cache River.

Day 11, 1. September

Awoke to a strong south wind. We picked our way south and went to Agnes by way of Keewatin. The waves on Agnes were a little intimidating but we needed a camp. We did some sweating and some island hopping and ended up at 1JA and it was perfectly satisfactory.

Agnes, Campsite 1JAAgnes, Campsite 1JAAgnes, Campsite 1JAAgnes, Campsite 1JA

Day 12, 2. September

Wind still strong out of the south. Island hopped and shore hugged our way south to 1FD (over the years I’ve gotten to call it the lawn camp because of the short grass). Got banged about quite a bit and drizzled on as well. Got some rain after camping and had to set up a tarp to cook under. 1FD is fine in good weather but there aren't proper trees for setting up a cooking tarp so I had to apologize to Freddy and Regina.

Agnes Campsite 1FDAgnes Campsite 1FD

Day 13, 3. September

Clearing weather. Headed south and portaged to Meadows and on to Sunday where we camped at 192. Fortunately I had to get up and pee that night and just happened to see the northern lights. Woke everybody else. Unfortunately, this campsite has a lousy landing so we couldn’t get a canoe out and really get a good look and some photos. TIP: If you end up camping on Sunday, try for campsite 184.

Sunday, Campsite 192Sunday, Campsite 192

Day 14, 4. September

Out of respect for the notorious west winds of Basswood Lake, I coerced the party to an early start. Took the North Portage (P640) to Sunday Bay and then shot across a smooth (surprise) Bailey Bay to Inlet Bay and Prairie Portage. After getting over the shock of returning to civilization, we paddled down Sucker and Newfound to Moose where we took out at the CCO base.

A couple hundred meters away from the CCO dock, a loon dropped in close and tooted 'goodbye'. (This has happened on several previous trips when we got near the CCO dock. Could it be that the Olsons have a trained loon?)

The U.S. side of Prairie PortageThe Canadian. side of Prairie PortageLoon came to say "Goodbye"Takeout at the CCO Moose Lake base