The wind finally died at sunset and the mosquitoes came out with a vengeance. We quickly retreated to our tents. I’d pulled the tarp off the top of my bivy tent, allowing only the netting to protect me from the hoards of bugs. The buzzing of their wings, as they searched for blood, was deafening. I’ve heard this sound: on Isle Royale, along the barrier islands of North Carolina, deep in the Sierras, next to the Connecticut River on the Appalachian Trail and far north in northern Ontario. To be outside in such conditions, without netting, would be misery, as I found out along the Connecticut when I was sleeping under a tarp. Things were so bad that at 4 AM, I packed up and started hiking in the dark. Here, after killing half dozen mosquitoes who’d gotten inside the netting, I’m safe from being eaten alive. I fall asleep to the buzz of mosquitoes and awake a few times in the night. The moon is full; when the wind rustles the leaves of the birch under which I’m camping it sound like rain. But the sky, on our last night on the river, remains clear. The threat of rain that had threatened us when a front moved through that morning was gone.
We’d left our campsite on Darky Lake early that morning. Paddling across the lake once more, we headed to the northwest corner, where we found its outlet, the Darky River. This river was a treat, with a gentle flow that aided our paddling. There were three portages along the river, but only one, which had been so filled with logs, did we have to portage. In the others, we walked the canoes through the rock gardens. Places along the river, where the water slowed, were filled with water lilies. Other sections were filled with flowing grass that waved in the current. This should be prime moose country, but we see none. There are also many beavers along here. We don’t see them, but do see many huts. In one place they’re so populated and the hardwoods near the water so scarce, that they’ve taken up to chewing on pine trees. It’s an interesting mix of trees here. Every so often there is a white pine that stands a good 10 or 20 feet taller than the other evergreens—jack pine, fir and spruce. Their tops, exposed to the wind and weather, have been deformed over the years.
After lunch, I fish a few minutes in the rapids at the bottom of the last portage trail and catch a couple of smallmouths. They’re small and I release them. We finish paddling down the river and run a small rapid at the mouth, where the river spills into the northwest side of Minn Lake. Once on the lake, we find ourselves paddling into a strong wind with whitecaps that occasional break over the bow of the boat. We dig our paddles in and make for some islands on the other side. The paddling was both tough, exciting and tough going and when we finally make it to the lee side of the island, we’re all exhausted. Hugging the south shore, we work our way westward to a campsite that located on a bluff that sticks out into the lake.
That evening, TM and I go out fishing. We catch a few smallmouths. I quit using jigs and begin to fish with a weighed rubber worm, casting toward shore and pulling it slowly along the bottom toward the boat sitting some twenty or thirty feet from land. I get a strike and set the hook. The fish doesn’t seem to be much of a fighter and I’m surprised of his size when he gets to where I can see him. But he can also see me, and he turns and runs and the fight is on. A few minutes later, I’ve got him into the net, a 26 inch northern pike. He’s not as big as we’d hope to find, but is only one of two northerns caught on the trip.
I wake up early on our last morning on the lake. There is no wind and the mosquitoes are no longer swarming. In the distance, I can hear the falls on the Milnge River, several miles north of us. I walk over to the water’s edge and watch moon drop below the western horizon as the sun rises in the east. The peninsula, which juts out into the lake, provides a great view to the east and west. Afterwards, we eat the remaining oatmeal and enjoy a cup of coffee, and then pack up for our final paddle. We’re to meet the outfitter at Black Robe Portage, five or six miles away, at 10 AM. As we paddle up to the portage, we see our last bald eagle, standing guard in the top of a red pine. We’re at the portage at 9:30. He takes us back to Zups, where we settle up and are then hauled by boat back to Crane Lake where we clear customs. By 12:30, we’re in the lodge there, drinking beers and enjoying lunch, while catching up with the news of the past week and relax watching the rowing events of the Olympics.
Our trip home was uneventful, except for the argument that ensured in Duluth, over whether we should go south through Chicago or take the scenic route across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, missing out on the construction… JM and I lost and we headed south through Chicago, stopping for dinner at a Supper Club in Rice Lake and spending the night near the Dells.
For my other posts on this trip, see:
Click here for my post on packing for the trip
Click here for my post on getting to the Quetico
Click here for my post on Day 2: fishing at Curtain Falls.
Click here for my post on the long haul from Rebecca Falls to Darky Lake
Click here for our two full days on Darky Lake