Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quetico: The final two days

This is my final post of our week trip into the Quetico Wilderness this August.
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


  1. I so like your observations. Along with the photographs.

    I so hate those buzzing mosquitoes. Here the malaria season seems to be on right now....

  2. On my first night in the Boundary Waters, I decided to sleep outside. It was cool so I had a wind jacket and a mosquito net for my head. Everything sealed up nicely and I never once got bitten. However their buzzing near my ear sounded like airplanes at takeoff and once or twice, I felt them beginning to drag me off into the dense brush. After that, I slept in the tent at night to keep a little more buffer space between them and me.

  3. I can imagine the skeeters in Ontario. The worst I have ever experienced were in Alaska. It had to be pure Deet: anything less wasn't enough, and even that didn't get rid of all of 'em. It just cut down a few.

    I can't believe your friends chose to drive back through Chi-town! When you had another route available, I'd have taken it. But then, I try to avoid Chicago :)

  4. The ecological balance has to be taken care too. So, God sent mosquitoes:). Intact. Possible to get some of those pictures taken there, buddy?

  5. Gautami: The sound of one buzzing mosquito can drive is annoying, 100s of them can drive you crazy

    Ed: Their pitch does sound a bit like an airplane engine

    TC, my motto, when it doubt, take the two lane, I love the drive though the UP

    Cyclopseven, do you know what pic you would like--like me know and an email for it, I created these "post cards" in powerpoint, which allowed me to double up the photos

    Diane, thanks (but it's a sunrise!)

  6. The sound of their wings as they searched for blood--perfect. Evokes everything

    Incredible sunset picture--I have never seen such a brilliant red one and still I dream.....

  7. Hhmm, what did you do to the 26" northern pike? That was your last day, so you released it?

  8. You've really had some fun adventures, haven't you? Thanks for sharing them with us.

  9. Pia, we had a number of sunrise/sunsets that were brilliant (as I've shown). They seemed even more intense than normal and about a week after we got back I heard that there had been a volcano erruption that had created the more intense sunrises/sets..

    Mother Hen, he went back. He was big enough to keep but it was after dinner. Actually, a 26 inch northern isn't that big. Our "pool" for pike started at 30" and no one won! The same was true for walleyes, we'd set the minimun at 18" inches.

    Kenju, it was fun. I'm glad you enjoyed the stories and photos.

  10. "Skeeters" and "No-See-Ums" can really destroy a trip. Too many people think all they need is a quick spritz of "Off." They learn a lesson in a hurry.


  11. I would love to see a wide variety of trees and some of that Darky River vegetation up close. Great pics!!

  12. Once again, Sage, you give me respite from a busy time. I just relaxed and lost myself in this entry. Thankful to have found your blog!

  13. Your descriptions and pictures of your adventures are captivating. I am addicted to your word picture. But your description of the mosquitoes remind me why I gave up backpacking -- I never want mosquitoes to eat me alive again! It's day hikes or horse trekking for me.

  14. That's kind of sad about the white pines being damaged over the years. I'm glad you releaded the pike. :)

    What an amazing trip you had. Replete with relaxation and good company.

  15. Sherman, I wear longer sleeves more often in bug country to cut down on them biting. I didn't use any 100% deet, even though I carried some with me, mostly I used a cream that's 38% deet

    Scarlet, you should take such a trip--I would love to do such a trip through the Everglades in January

    Susie, good to see you back!

    Kiva, I love backpacking and the Sierras are a wonderful place to do it, but if you don't like bugs, hike in the desert :)

    Epiphany, I don't really see it as sad. Because the white pines were so much taller than the other trees by the water's edge, they stick up over them which allows their tops were deformed by the wind--but it's also kind of neat to think about how they look over the others. It was a good trip!

  16. Now that's my kind of vacation: water, canoes, and bugs... PERFECT! :o)

  17. What a lovely description; sounds like fun! Except for the mosquito part. I can't stand mosquitoes. They keep me up at night, and they always bite me in the strangest, most irritating places, like right under my chin, or on my fingers.

  18. I love the way you have some kind of adventure going or in the works all the time. You really get out there and LIVE. Great post and great pictures! Love the color in that sunset.