John and I had been talking about a return to Canada for some years. I had to cancel out on a 2006 club trip to the Missinaibi Headwaters due to an 11th hour back injury. But, after several successful Boundary Waters trips and some backpacking trips over the past 6 years, I was finally ready again to tackle some really wild and remote location. We did not want to make this a club trip, but foresaw the possibility that we could pick a route that might qualify for a club trip at a later date – thus the idea of a scouting trip.
After investigating several provincial parks, routes and outfitters, we settled on the Pines Loop in Quetico. This very large park is similar in size to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, but only receives one-tenth the annual visitors. Because of the proximity to Ely, MN we were able to rent from an American outfitter and started our journey at Moose Lake. After a 2 hour paddle and check-in at the border we were underway.
It did not take long for the reality of the remoteness to set in. Shortly after we left the border area we saw fewer and fewer canoes and were in the wilds of Canada. There was a little bit of rain off and on that day, but not enough to matter, at least not until evening when we were blessed with a double rainbow – full arches and soooooo awesome.
Each night we would have a fire; Ken assumed the role of getting that going. Dan was our water pumper, and John and I coordinated the cooking and kitchen duties. Because of the remoteness and the uncertainty of easily finding portages and campsites we were up early each morning. A quick breakfast of instant oatmeal and coffee and we were on our way. For the next three days we only saw one other occupied camp.
Our McKenzie maps were mostly accurate, but certainly not 100 percent. Some of the portages were easy to find and some were not. One took us over 90 minutes to locate because it was marked incorrectly on the map – just adding to the adventure. Once we got on the portage trail, well, that was another adventure. There were rocks, downed trees, swamps and, in some cases, the trails were hardly recognizable. You never knew what might be up ahead or how long it would take to finish a portage. Then, there was a portage trail that ended at a beaver dam. Since Kevin Callan had paddled, written and described the route four years earlier, beavers had come in and done their thing. The trail was gone, but in its place has a huge beaver pond that had been created by the likes of a dam we had never seen. So, up and over the dam we went and paddled for perhaps a half mile. Then, another dam for which was a simple lift over. We paddled some more – another dam and another lift over. Finally at the end of the third pond we found the trail out to the next lake.
One of our objectives was to find and photograph as many ancient First Nation paintings as we could. These are called pictographs and are generally found on flat cliff walls facing the east and just up a few feet from the water’s edge. There were either shone on the map or reference was made in our guidebook. We were very successful in locating these.
Although the trip was very remote and extremely rugged it was worth every stumble, fall and scrape as we carried through those portages. At times were we challenged paddling into the wind, which seemed to be the case each time we hit a larger lake. We took it all in stride and stroke. The camaraderie amongst the crew members was great, the meals were good and the weather was the most perfect I’ve ever had for a paddle trip. I’d go back to Quetico in a heartbeat but, then again, maybe the next opportunity will be in Woodland Caribou, Algonquin or up to the French River.