Friday, September 05, 2008

Day 3 in the Quetico: A Long Haul

This is my third post on a canoe/fishing trip to the Quetico, in Western Ontario. Quetico Provincial Park is a large wilderness area just north of the Minnesota boundary waters. The land was given to Ontario in the 1930s, after it having been logged by the Quebec Timber Company (from which it gets its name). Today, it’s a peaceful refuge, where one must explore on their own power, without the distractions of outboard motors. Click here for my post on getting to the Quetico and here for my post on Day 2.

I felt the first drop when I started to take down the tarp. By the time it was folded and packed away, it was a steady drizzle and a band of heavy rain could be seen approaching across the lake. We had a long day of paddling with six portages and we were going to be wet. Everyone pulled on rain gear and we finish packing up and loading the boats. By the time we were ready to head out, the rain is steady. Without wind and with moderate temperatures, I decide that I might as well get wet without my rain suit than to sweat inside it. I stowed it away and pushed off.

I’d hoped things were going to clear. The sky was gray when I woke up early in the morning, but it was dry. I went out on a rock overlooking the westward falls, where I was treated to a light breeze, enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I caught up my journal and did some ready before heading back to camp where everyone else was getting up. I put on water for coffee and oatmeal and began to pack up my gear.

Our first stop of the morning was back at Curtain Falls, where we’d had such good luck the day before fishing. This time, instead of heading to the northshore, we go to the south, the Minnesota side, where there is a much better trail to the top of the falls. It’s a 139 rod portage, or roughly a 1/3 of a mile and with two steep climbs that’s slippery in the rain. I carry the boat over and then go back for the canoe. At the top of the falls, we load back up and paddle northeast, across Crooked Lake. The wind has picked up and is coming out of the northwest. For the first time, I put on my life jacket, more for warmth than floatation. It’s a long paddle across open water, with waves slapping against the side of the boat. We maintain a steady rythym, digging our paddles deep into the water. These canoes track well and in probably 20 minutes, we’ve crossed the lake and begin the scout for our portage.

Our next portage is shorter, just 62 rods, taking us from Crooked to Roland Lake. Waiting for the other two boats to get into the water, I begin to photograph lotus water lilies that are wet with drops of rain. Roland Lake is long with several bottlenecks, some of which contains falls and requires portaging. We stop for lunch after the third short portage. The rain has finally stopped. I break out my cheese, crackers, peanut butter, some nuts and a package of lemonade to add to a bottle of treated water. While snacking, we meet a couple heading south, doing the same trip we’re doing but from a different direction. They suggest a campsite for us in Darky Lake and give us some tips for catching fish there. They’d caught a couple nice lake trout and had one the evening before for dinner, but they also have a small depth finder with them. Unfortunately, we learn that no one has been catching walleyes. We share with them our fishing experience at Curtain and Rebecca Falls.

Early in the afternoon, after another portage, we arrive in the Siobam River. The sun has broken through. In the bright light, we can see the bottom of the river, filled with rocks and logs. This is supposed to be a fine smallmouth bass fishing spot and I’m anxious to fish, but most are wanting to forgo fishing and move on to make sure we get to the campsite on Darky Lake before someone else. We paddle down the river and onto Argo Lake, hugging the north shore. Argo is beautiful and we pass two nice campsites, one at the top of the 120 rod portage into Darky Lake. The trail to Darky is wide, yet steep as it drops several hundred feet. TM and I get to Darky first and we head on ahead, passing ancient pictographs on the large rock cliffs on the east side.

We reach camp, set up our bivy tents and then get ready for a swim and bath (with biodegradable soap) in the lake. The water right off shore is deep and pleasant. Before going in, I notice a bloodsucker has attached itself on the main blood vein going into my big toe. He’d hit pay dirt, for when I pull him off, blood flows freely and it takes me a minute to stop the bleeding. I’d probably picked him up in the mud at the bottom of the portage into Darky Lake.

After the swim, we enjoy a shot of brandy and a nice meal of chicken and stuffing, rice pilaf and pudding. We hadn’t done any fishing, so there was no fish to add to the meal. Afterwards, as the sun dropped behind the clouds on the western horizon, TM and I go out and catch a couple of smallmouths. We head in before dark and soon everyone is hitting the sack.

Darky Lake in the evening.


  1. I've been following your trip on Google Earth. This episode was hard to follow. I could find Curtain Falls on Crooked Lake but couldn't find anything until Darky Lake. But knowing the beginning and the end is good enough because I'm guessing I can pick out the Siobam River and other points.

  2. That leech would have sent me home pronto!!

  3. Looks COLD!!!

    That was disgusting about the bloodsucker - yuck! Sometimes I'm such a girl about that stuff O:)

    Love the lotus waterlily photo: gorgeous.

  4. Ok, that bloodsucker would have had me squealing, jumping up and down, and screaming "get it off, get it off"

  5. Hmmm, this is the kind of trip that I like.

    Hold a second, how do you manage to eat so well (chicken, stuffing, rice, pudding)? The dried packs? Or did you have the whole kitchen sink with you? ha :)

    I've to confess, I absolutely hate carrying food that requires much cooking with me in any camping trip. I rather eat leaves. But I'll sure have a bottle of good brandy or whiskey with me.

  6. Ed, I may have to try that Google Earth. We headed nw across Crooked to the portage into Roland, Argo is the large lake just south of Darky.

    Kenju, this wasn't the type of leech I'm more familar with (I got one of those the next day!) This little guy was sucking blood and the vein!

    TC, actually it wasn't bad, most of the time it was in the 60s... if it had been in the 50s with wind, I'd keep my rainsuit on as that's prime hypothermia weather

    Diane, I have a mental picture of you jumping up and down :)

    Mother Hen, you can now get chicken and tuna in vacuum packs, stuffing is easy to make, so is rice (this was ricearoni). Pudding is also easy. Take a gallon ziplock and put your pudding in it and powder milk (we doubled it as their were six of us). normally, a smal pkt of instant pudding and about 1/2 cup of powder milk. When ready to make, mix 1 1/2 cups of cold water into the bag, using your fingers to get the clumps out. Seal the bag and place in a cool spot or in water and let sit for an hour. Works great, you just got to carry out a messy bag in your trash. The guys on the trip thought I was a genius for thinking of this, but it's an old backpacker trick

  7. I've used that pudding trick many times myself. Cheesecake is another desert that I like to make on camping trips but the hard part is finding a place to anchor the pan and not get it too deep in the cool water.

  8. Ok I've to go camping with you & ed abbey and be fed well :) Gee he said cheesecake didn't he?! Cheesecake! Oh, goodness gracious me, that is really something.

    I'll have to stick with instant noodles and leaves when I'm out and about for now! Sigh! :)

  9. Mother Hen - It's pretty easy. Just buy one of those instant cheesecake mixes where you just add milk to the filling. I take powdered milk and use filtered water. Mix and pour into crust which I make with a little oil and their crust mix that comes with it. Set the pan in cold water and let chill. Very similar to Sage's pudding technique.

    My parents always said that camping was no excuse to eat poorly. :)

  10. Ed, I've done the cheese cake many times--I generally carry with me a liquid margaine that works well as oil to use with the crust. Although it says to keep refrigrated, I've never had problems with it. Sounds like your parents were wise and taught you well--I can credit my father for teaching me how to roast fish on the shore.

    Mother Hen, wait till I write about the fourth day and roasting fish on shore for lunch and having baked lake trout for dinner! And then there were another day that for lunch I had an Indian spiced curry chickpea dish (it's a bit heavy but okay for this trip) with pita bread (I haven't hauled Naan out into the wilds, yet) and hot tea.

  11. Oh my oh my! Can you please come here and camp? :)

    Ed had me craving for cheesecake the whole afternoon. Oh man, I gotta run to the store and bake some tomorrow. Now you have me going on baked fish. Baked fish is really my favorite. Now I'm homesick (baked fish is a common Southeast Asian dish, we grilled them over banana leaf and the fragrance could kill, really)!

  12. Fantastic photos! I love water lilies and the peaceful view of the lake at the end. Your adventures always take me away. Thanks for sharing.

    PS - I hope your big toe is better! :)

  13. Very cool.

    What's the best resource for planning a trip up there?


  14. What a terrific trip - sans the rain and the bloodsuckers. That's a beautiful pic of the water lily. ...and Mother Hen is right, it must be quite a treat to eat so well in the wild.

  15. Great shots! Love the rock. Where do you find time for all your adventures?!?!

  16. Do you know the origin of the name Darky Lake?

    Now when people tell you that you are all wet, in some cases it's literal.

  17. Mother Hen, I've had baked fish (in a crockery pot) in a Vietnamese restaurant--it's good

    Scarlet, I seem to have a thing for waterlilies--I've posted lots of photos of them over the past year or two

    Sherman, I didn't plan this one (Doc did most of the planning and he's been into that area many times (but never to Darky Lake/River). Also, another guy with us had lived in Ely with the Forest Service, so he was knowledgable... I would contact any outfitter (Zups was good for the area we went into). The maps are good and they can tell you about fishing (and are partly right, for we never caught any walleye in 3 of the lakes where they're suppose to be). If you think you might want to go, shoot me an email.

    Epiphany, the rest of the trip was without rain! We only had two days with rain and even then it didn't rain all the time.

    Kontan, I get 4 weeks vacation and generally use at least 1 for a wilderness trip. Besides, I often work close to 60 hours a week, so I don't feel bad about taking off an extra day or two...

    Murf, that name wouldn't fly in some parts! I'm assuming it has to do with the water being so deep you can't see the water (the lake has some 100+ foot holes)

  18. Those are some pretty amazing photos, especially the last one with the reflections..seems like such an amazing place to go. For some reason reminded me of the lake in 'Lolita', probably just because of some image in my head!

  19. The leeeh did not stop you, now did it? Amazing photographs and loved your narration...

  20. When I got to the part of the bloodsucker on your big toe I thought I'd pass out.

  21. Great photos! Your words took me right along with you!

  22. Sage, I love reading the stories of your trips and I really enjoy the photos, too.