View topic - Another Quetico Report - Sturgeon Lake Loop

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PostPosted: September 2nd, 2017, 12:26 pm 
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Joined: February 17th, 2014, 11:51 am
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This was our first time paddling Quetico. We loved the diversity of route possibilities and the trip had a great mix of streams and lakes of different sizes. Fishing was very good but not quite the same as Wabakimi or Woodland Caribou, but I think our talent (or lack of) in angling shows up that much more where the fishing gets a bit more technical. That said, we ate fish every time we went fishing save for Sturgeon Lake where we were skunked both night and morning. But we rarely have much luck in the larger lakes.

Technical details. This route is a popular one and well described elsewhere including in Kevin Callan’s 50 Top Canoe Routes of Ontario.
Put-in at Nym, Batchewaung Lake, Pickerel Lake/Mosquito Pt., Maria Lake, Jesse Lake, Orianna Lake, Quetico Lake, Conk Lake, Jean Lake, Burntside Lake, Rouge Lake, Jean Creek, Sturgeon Lake, Lonely Lake, Walter Lake, Elizabeth Lake, Jesse and back track route from Jesse.
Distance: 105 km; our trip odometer 158 km (included multiple portage carries and fishing forrays)
Duration: 10 days with a rest day (can be done in 7-8 days or shorter for high distance folks; we generally stuck to 10-12 km/d)
Portages: 22 + ~4 beaver dam liftovers
Longest Port: 770 m

The Trip: (Aug 18-27th, 2017)
Weather was mixed, about half were sunny and the other mixed rain. Some strong wind days but fortunately it seemed to occur at times where we were not crossing big water (e.g. Sturgeon Lake).

Day 1
The 150 m or so trail between Access Parking Lot and Nym was a little harder than expected (steeper) for what is usual at an access point and was of course more the challenge on the take out when we were quite tired but not that bad. Cottages are present on Nym lake as this is not part of the park. We used the Jump Pond portage to Batchewaung Lake which includes a 320 m trail, small pond paddle and 190 m portage to Nym as an alternative to the single 830 m portage Nym-Batchewaung further along the lake. The 320 m portion was well laid out, but muddy. Part way through the trail splits, with the left section taped off as closed which I'll return to on the last day as that is how we made our way out (accidentally). Note to self, when trail enters beaver pond wetland, best to mark it on the GPS, which I forgot to do and paid later for it.

We paddled through Batchewaung Lake, sticking to the west in order to access Batchewaung Bay without need for portage. The narrows into Little Batchewaung bay are very pretty and the Little Bay has many unique rock formations, very scenic. There are plenty of campsites situated on the lake, little bay and the larger bay itself and they are easy to spot even if not marked. This lake was pretty busy with campers and canoeists, not unexpected for a close lake to a main access point. We camped our first night in Batchewaung Bay on one of the islands for a distance of about 11 km. We had to hunt around before finding an unoccupied site. That night we did some fishing and brought home a pike, smallmouth bass and walleye having fun comparing the taste of three different sport fish species. Our ranking was: walleye > pike > smallie for flavor but I like cleaning smallmouth better then pike so its a toss up on our preference and hey, we're not such great anglers that we discriminate anyhow.


Day 2. Batchewaung Bay - Pickeral Lake - Maria Lake - Jesse Lake. Easy paddling and pretty views. Maria Lake is a very nice lake and would be a great place to camp. We were supposed to camp there on our way out but ended up passing through owing to poor weather on our trip out. The 310 m port to Maria is very easy and flat. The 770 m port to Jesse is the longest in our route. It had a lot of mud areas but the park staff have also been good at putting in logs and wood to step on at strategic places. Overall, despite its length we found this one easy although Becky did slip in the mud onto her knees with a 60L barrel on her back. We camped about midway through Jesse on the main shore. This is where I discovered Quetico's very frequent camp pest - the mouse. It seems that mainland campsites are invested with mice, perhaps due to sloppy food practice by campers. Anyhow, these little dudes know their way around packs and barrels. I watched one run right up the harness of my barrel and circle around the barrel lid trying to figure his way in. Needless to say, keep your food well packed as these guys are tenacious and determined.

Day 3. Jesse - Oriana - Quetico Lake. Much of this section is small stream. We had an unanticipated lift over around a beaver dam at the end of Jesse before arriving at the 680 m port. The 680m was pretty simple and well groomed. The stream into Orianna at the end of the 680m was low water/mud bottom. We were able to pole our way through to Orianna but it was more of a struggle. I kept debating as to whether I should get out and pull in places or just pole through it. We just polled through it. The clarity of the water in some of these sections is unbelievable. There were a couple of small portages between Orianna and Quetico. Quetico was very windy as we entered it and we paddled to the first available campsite situated just upstream of the portage trail. Once again, the mice were plentiful. One worked its way into our tent at night (we have a floorless tent) under the ground cloth and ran across my legs under my quilt. I found this much less pleasant than my wife’s caress! I had to stealthily get rid of that thing without letting my wife know about it, as she hates mice and would be up all night fretting about it. After that, I started locking down the ground cloth over the snow skirts of the tent with stones to keep them out.

Day 4. Quetico - Conk Lake - Jean Lake. Day 4, Aug 21 was the eclipse day. We met a canoe family from the U.S. at the Quetico/Conk portage (120m) amidst the small rapids found there. One of them was a science teacher and he brought around some viewing glasses for the eclipse and we were able to see about 1/4 pass of the moon over the sun through the viewers. That was really cool! They told us they do their route, entering and exiting through the US Boundary Waters every year and let is on a nice tip about the Conk-Jean 170 m portage. Instead of using the portage you can line your canoe upstream of the connecting stream. That was a lot of fun and nice to not have to unload the canoe again so soon after entering the small Conk Lake. The paddle through Jean was easy and event free, but there was something about the way the eclipse reflected off the clouds that just got the hairs on your neck to stand on end. We camped out at the southwest portion of the lake just after the basin transition. Didn't see any mice at this spot. The weather was at that stage getting a bit iffy and we hunkered in for the night.

Day 5. Jean - Burntside - Rouge - Jean Creek - Sturgeon. Our original plan was to camp at Rouge but having made better progress on Jean the day before then anticipated we pushed our way to Sturgeon. Also the weather was still looking a bit ugly and we thought it best to camp out at the end of Sturgeon so that we could get a very early start the next day and take advantage of the calm waters crossing our biggest lake over its long axis. The 420 m into Burntside was straightforward but extremely muddy from the nights rain. The three small portages, all less than 100 m, at the start of Jean Creek were very straight forward. After that, the trip along Jean Creek was of a meandering stream type full of lilies but with the bends easy enough to turn the canoe through. We had to lift over 2 beaver dams through the creek before entering Sturgeon. On the second dam, half formed and not quite underwater enough for us to ram over (but we tried are best to do so) we had to switch places with Becky taking back and me taking front. This was good because Becky doesn't get enough back experience (I need to work on that) but also a challenge given the meandering side of things in the stream work. I did my best to help her in the front with some of the complex turns. We switched back to our regular seats after entering Sturgeon. On Sturgeon we set up camp on the first site we encountered. Again, lots of mice at this site. We tried fishing that night and were treated to a gorgeous sunset but no luck on fishing.

Day 6. Sturgeon - Lonely Lake. It was about 11-12 km paddling through Sturgeon. We were packed and in the canoe at 8:00 am. A solo female canoeist greeted us just as we left camp. She was kicking ass and must have been up and packed really early that morning. The weather was great and the waters dead calm. Owing to this we decided to do some fishing en-route trolling for about an hour without any luck. After that we put the rods away and picked up the paddling pace. There are many gorgeous smooth rock features along northern shoreline of Sturgeon. About half way through the lake we stopped at one of the smooth rock areas for a rest and an early shore lunch of rehydrated homemade chilli cooked over the twig stove. The sun was out and we were in paradise. We finished the rest of the paddle through Sturgeon and then did some more stream work through to Lonely Lake. There were two portages and one beaver dam lift over taking us into the southern arm of Lonely lake. We met a couple of canoeists from Calgary heading the same way as us and on the second port we let them pass along ahead of us. The little blonde lady looked to be close to our age turned out to have massive climbing muscles. Her partner, loaded up a pack ¾ length of her body and looking to weigh as much of her. She literally ran up the trail stating ‘I’m on a mission’ with the monster pack on her body. We ended up camping out at the first campsite as we entered the main lake. Yes, a couple of mice here, but less infested then other places. The campsite had a stunning view of the sunsets over a smooth rock ledge. At night we saw a campfire on the other side of the lake from another canoe party and presumed them to be our Calgary friends.

Day 7/8. Lonely Lake - Walter Lake. This was a pretty short day and our intention was to get to Walter early and take a rest day for Day 8. We trolled Lonely lake and on the way out Becky caught a nice sized bass which I later cleaned and made into late breakfast at an unoccupied campsite on the way out of Lonely. There are two short portages, 110 m and 70m between Lonely and the south arm of Walter. They were relatively easy but have that annoying character where you complete the 110 m to find yourself at a tiny pond and you can see your next Port right over the other side of the pond. In these cases it would much lot easier to do a single 180 m port then having to load and unload the canoe again at the second port. But oh well, they were short and easy. Walter Lake was a perfect rest day lake and we found a perfect site on its largish island near the south end of the main basin. It had a completely flat tent pad that I had to use anchor rocks since I couldn't peg in but otherwise was great with enough pine needles to make it soft. Great swimming area and also great fishing lake. We trolled for lake trout, but had more luck with walleye. That first night we ate a pike and walleye. The next morning we bagged 4 walleye, releasing 2 and keeping 2 for breakfast. It reached a chilly 9oC that night. Both mornings of Day 8 and Day 9 had that magical mist and we had the pleasure of slow paddling through the mist on Day 8 during our morning fishing. What a great lake and campsite! Paradise again and complete solitude.

Day 9. Walter - Elizabeth - Jesse - Maria - Pickerel - Batchewaung Bay. Started as a grey blah day that foreshadowed bad weather to come. Our original plan had us camping at Maria but the weather kept getting windier and uglier so we pushed all the way to Batchewaung bay. This was our most challenging day for portages starting with a shortish 230 m to Elizabeth and then longer 750 m and 770 m ports between Elizabeth-Jesse and Jesse-Maria, the latter being the same one we did at the beginning then ending with the easier 310m out of Maria. Both ports were much easier thanks to having eaten 8 days worth of food weight plus a small bit of toughening ourselves up over the trip duration. I think the full rest day also had a lot to do with our vigor on this most demanding day of our trip. We camped out at another Island site on Batchewaung Bay and it began raining just at the point of getting our tent set up. The wind was kicked up really badly as well and foiled my attempts to set up a tarp over the fire pit/eating area. I cooked dinner in the rain over a trangia stove and brought the hot food to eat in the tent. I know thats a no-no, but we were miserable and cold and took care to not spill anything in the tent itself. The great thing about our pyramid tent is the ability to sit in our Helinox chairs in the tent. After eating, and knowing we were leaving the next day, we stowed our dirty dishes and pots in a garbage back in the food barrel. I read a few more chapters of our novel that we took along - Dune Chapterhouse - and we decided it was a good opportunity to unload the rest of our trip alcohol (into our bodies). Okay...so we might have gotten a little bit tipsy then and that made the salacious sexual details of the Honour Matres (from the novel) even that more fun and for me a little less uninhibited in reading out loud. Can’t do that on an all boys trip!

Day 10 - exit. We backtracked the same trip from Day 1. It was full-on rain as we left our campsite and that rain stayed on/off with use throughout the trip back. Fortunately, the wind stayed manageable. On the jump pond trail I took the wrong access from the pond back to Nym. This led us through a small beaver channel just the width of the canoe for which I ended up having to drag about 150 m through the marsh and ended connecting to that section of the trail that I noted was taped off on Day 1. There was good reason for that as that marsh was very tough slogging and probably much worse then had we just taken the 830m portage instead of the jump pond route. The last leg of that trail was incredibly mucky and I was sinking to my shins. Thank god for scuba booties - these are still my choice for canoe trips and they shine in this kind of stuff. The paddle though Nym was unremarkable although longer than I remembered from Day 1 and I was just beat by that last little haul from the put-in dock to the truck.

After tying down the canoe we drove back to Atikokan and had an early dinner at the White Otter Inn. I had a cabbage role soup (delicious) and the Burger Royal which despite my grumbling stomach I could only partly finish...Maybe it had something to do with the 2 beers I scoffed down beforehand. We were planning on driving back to Thunder Bay (about 2.5 h) and getting a hotel there but both of us were so completely beat that we decided to stay at White Otter Inn. They only had 2 rooms left at the time we decided so it was fortunate we got one. The next morning we drove to Wawa and stayed at the White Fang which has a really nice recently refinished king bedroom that is super nice and is across the road from Kiniwabi Pines Restaurant. If you've never been there and find yourself in Wawa it is a must go place. Gourmet food that beats the best restaurants we have in our home town of Windsor and great prices.

Thoughts about Quetico. Loved the trip and route. Weather could have been a bit better but that can't be controlled. The park was busier than I expected it to be but again this is a peak time of year and in some respects it is great to have one of our parks of this caliber obviously getting a lot of use which ensures sustainability. The park staff at Atikokan were really excellent to deal with and I had a great talk with the Park Biologist who wanted to talk shop after he overheard that I'm a biologist as well. We will definitely go back there again after rotating through Woodland Caribou (2018) and Wabakimi again (no date in mind yet but perhaps 2019 if Polar Bear Provincial Park can't get arranged).

Pictures - Apologies but having tried to embed them I came across the 800 pixel width limit and got a too tired out to resize my photos. Here is the link to my flicker album where they are uploaded: https://flic.kr/s/aHsm3LTrT1

Youtube Trip Video (4 parts) can be found here:

https://youtu.be/nFBDuxbSmmk
https://youtu.be/MxcZhpGIn-I
https://youtu.be/hAexcx4Npwo
https://youtu.be/0YGfIvX7KZw


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