Across Canada Expedition. Stage 3. The Lakes, the Portages.
After paddling about 2600kms from the Rocky Mountains to Kenora Alaine and Leonie arrived to paddle the next stage of the journey with me. After preparing all our gear, putting together all our food packs for 4 weeks we were ready to go.
Sunday 7th August
I woke up with a cold, it must have been the air conditioning in the hotel at Winnipeg that may have caused it. I certainly wasn’t feeling too well.
The previous night I sent Dan, who I met at Sunnyside campground an email asking if we could send our excess gear to him in Thunder Bay. It just happened that he and Cheryl was driving through Kenora about lunchtime on their way back from Winnipeg and were happy to pick it up in person. How lucky was that.
We slowly sorted out our gear, packed the kayak for the fourth time and now it seemed possible that we were going to get everything in. The day became hot as we carried all our gear over to the launching cove and we had our kayaks loaded by midday. I called Dan and Cheryl to see how far away they were and they were actually at our cabin 50 metres away. They walked over to us and I introduced them to the girls, had a short chat and gave them our excess gear. We were then ready to wave goodbye, leave and tackle the big task we had ahead of us.
At 12.30pm we finally pushed off from Perch Bay Resort with Nancy, who decided to show us the way to our first portage point where we have to cross over from the river lake where we were to the Lake of the Woods. It was only a 10-15 minute paddle and when we arrived there were a few boats wanting to use the boat ramp we landed on so we quickly lifted our gear onto the next jetty to get away from all the boats arriving and leaving. It was the Alaine’s and Leo’s first portage and with the temperature really hot it wasn’t the more pleasant start to their journey. We started carrying our gear across to another boat ramp 220 metres or so away and it was a bit of a struggle. Nancy helped and so did two men from one of the boats at the first boat ramp. Unfortunately their help turned into a disaster as they dropped the Epic kayak on the concrete and put a chip in the bow. It was always a risk to rush a portage or allow others to help.
Boats were using the Lake of the Woods boat ramp so we had to load our kayaks on the jetty. It was okay lifting the single kayak off the jetty but the double was near impossible and we just about broke our backs trying. Within 45 minutes Nancy was taking pictures of us leaving. We had just done a relatively short portage, but it was still pretty hard.
We left the ramp at 2.00pm and paddled down a narrow channel, under an arched bridge, into a cove and passed a mariner. Power boats started to slip slowly in and out of the mariner and one man in a boat asked us where we were going and when we said Montreal, we could see he didn’t believe us.
Keeping close to some marker buoys we paddled under a road bridge and into the first part of the Lake of the Woods. There were islands all over the lake and lots of power boats zipping around. Most of the islands had houses or posh cabins on them. It was amazing how many buildings and islands there were although not all the houses or cabins were lived in at that time. For most they were just holiday houses that were lived in only in summer.
Several float planes were taking off over to our left at Kenora. We soon left Kenora behind as we headed south. While in Kenora we had thoughts of taking a flight on a float plane but we just ran out of time. The sun was hot and there was little windand with it being Alaine and Leonie’s first days paddle I was wondering what they were thinking and what will they be thinking in a week’s time.
We weaved through the islands, our double Necky Nootka Plus tandem was going pretty good although the rudder pedals were pretty poor compared with the Epic rudder system. The Necky was very stable, however it was wide and I wasn’t so used to paddling such a wide kayak.
Being non-Canadian residents we were only allowed to camp on crown land which we had permits for. By the time we wanted to stop, which was after paddling about 23kms, we came into a section of crown land. The islands looked well vegetated and much more difficult to camp on than the other islands that were private. However we did manage to find a small rock island with a sloping rock shelf that we were able to land on. When we pulled up it was still hot and sunny with a slight breeze, just perfect for our first night.
We soon settled in and we weren’t annoyed by any power boats as the waters on each side of our island were shallow. Leo managed to get reception for her ipad so she was happy. The moon was at half full and looked stunning. A beaver kept swimming along our rocky shore and slapping its tail and after dark, when we were sleeping it slapped it even more and very close to our tents, which kept waking us up.
The worst thing about the day was that my cold was getting worse.
Monday 8th August
The wind picked up in the night and the water was lapping the rock shore when we woke. As we loaded our kayaks we could see 5 canoes crossing the bay, about a kilometre away. The wind was against them so they were struggling to make headway.
We loaded on the rock slab and when we pushed off we slid the kayaks down on sticks to avoid them being scratched too much. With Alaine hanging onto a rope attached to the bow and Leo and I holding onto the kayak they lowered perfectly.
We continued our trip through the islands and then through French Narrows where we met another group of canoeists heading north and into a strong wind. Many of them were struggling to keep the boats straight. We were lucky to have the wind behind us.
We had lunch on a rock slab. We left the Necky out in the water on a leash and every so often I would push it away from the rocks. We had tortillas, jam and cheese.
The wind increased even further as we were being pushed down the Shore Island Stretch, where at the end we started going through gaps of several small islands. The skies were black and as we turned by a bigger island in the Yellow Girl Bay we noticed a small beach in a tiny cove to have a quick rest.
Within a few minutes it was suggested that we camped there as it was in the shelter of the wind and it was a nice location. It was only 4.30pm a little early for stopping but we decided that it didn’t matter, the beach was like too good to pass by.
Several branches littered the sand so to erect our tents they had to be cleared away. It was still sunny and although I thought about going for a swim I walked in the water up to my waist and decided it was too cold. Of course I didn’t want to make my cold worse.
The weather soon changed. The sky turned black again and this time it decided to rain. The water in the channel was full of white caps. I took the opportunity to write in my diary but I soon nodded off and had a short nap. An hour later the storm had passed over and Alaine had dinner cooking. Lots of small yabbies started collecting into the shallow water to look to see what we were doing.
I retired soon after dinner and I slept very well.
Tuesday 9th August
It rained in the night and it was still stormy at 7.00am when we got up. We didn’t manage to get off until 10.00am and within minutes we started seeing several canoes coming through the gap in the islands. Again they were headed into the wind and we were going with it. Then three powerboats flew by.
We were helped down a fairly long straight by the wind to Rendezvous Point where we turned a sharp right and through another set of beautiful islands. The shoreline was equally as pretty. We started heading south again passing a few cabins with good beaches. We weaved through more islands with beautiful rock and being helped by the wind.
We crossed over a windy bay just before going through a narrow gap in some islands a few kilometres before Sioux Narrows. We stopped on a beach and debated if we should detour into Sioux Narrows or just keep going. I had planned to get camping permits from the Sports Shop but the incentive to keep going and not to have to paddle those extra kilometres was quite strong. We decided to go in and get the permits. The bays before the bridge were full of beautiful big houses and at a jetty of a cabin resort we stopped and I went in to ask them if they could issue a permit, which they couldn’t.
I was given directions to town and we took off and paddled a few hundred metres to a ramp just after the bridge. I thought it was the town ramp when in fact we should have gone one more bay over. We actually landed on the Houseboat Hire ramp. The man there didn’t mind though and he told us how to get to town.
We walked up a steep hill, passed some fancy chalets and a few hundred metres further saw some shops and the tourist office. The young girl inside wasn’t that helpful, not because she didn’t want to be but because she really didn’t seem to know much. At least we got the phone number of the Provincial camping ground. A couple who had passed us in their boat earlier started asking us questions and were amazed with what we were doing. Their family owned a cabin we had passed. They surely would have invited us in if they had seen us.
We found the sports store where we had to get our permits. The man inside seemed a little grumpy, but lightened up when he started to get to know us. As it was gone lunch time we went into the grocery store and sat down with a sandwich and a coffee.
The man who was at the houseboats came into the store. I asked him if we could camp on the lawn next to his boats, but he wasn’t keen, but later he came back with a few suggestions. His suggestion of trying Whitebirch Lodge proved a winner. The campground was 3kms away and out of our way so the lodge was more convenient and it was only $100.00 a night and the cabin sleeps four. We decided to take the cabin instead of paddling to the campground but first we had to walk back to the kayaks and paddle them a bay over which turned out being about 600 metres.
The lodge was in a pretty bay. Apparently it was a high class lodge a few years ago and only people who were rich stayed there. Now it is affordable, which we were happy about. The lodge itself was very beautiful in and outside.
We landed on a beach right under our room. A few lodge boats were returning from fishing trips. We soon had our night gear out and put into our spacious cabin. I jumped into the shower very quickly and refreshed and then started typing and writing my diary. We relaxed until 6.40pm and then went into the lodge for a very delicious dinner, which included soup, salad, and the main meal. A beer also went down extremely well. The service was brilliant, but it was a male waiter!
Deer, moose and fish were hung from the walls of the lodge. At a table nearby a family of Americans were having dinner. The grand mother seemed to be doing all of the talking.
As we were leaving two American men started talking to us. They thought we were from NZ after seeing our flag. They talked about the spring rains and the melting snow and how it had flooded the Missouri River. It was hard to think that the lakes on the Missouri would be full after how low they were when I paddled them in 2006.
We walked outside and three Americans had heard that we were paddling so they came over for a chat and were impressed with our trip.
We returned to the cabin to write and relax.
Wednesday 10th August
I had a nice sleep but I had two vivid dreams. People in the lodge were moving about early to go out fishing but we slept in a little and went to breakfast at 8.30am for pancakes, laden with syrup and coffee which they repeatedly fill up. The nights’ accommodation and breakfast was only $45.00 each which was very reasonable.
It was a sunny calm day and as we left most of our gear in the kayaks packing was easy. I rang Jenny before I left and she told me about the polar bear attack in Norway and the riots in England. Being away from newspapers and radio we were not getting to know much news.
We left a little later than we should, at 11.00am, took photos of the lodge and paddled out the bay. We passed two ladies further on paddling rental kayaks. We asked them if they wanted to join us but they were happy to spend an hour or so in the kayaks and go back to their lodge.
We moved out of the bay into the bigger lake passing more stunning houses with lovely beaches, the sort of beach we look for every night, but we seldom get them as perfect as these. The islands were dotted with cabins, some that had boat houses under the house so they drive their boat straight in, close the door and they are in their home, much like a car garage.
It was still calm as we headed through a cluster of smaller islands again with cabins sitting neatly on top. It was such stunning scenery and the water was exceptionally clear. We were in one of the most pristine parts of the lake.
A father and daughter stopped to talk and told us about some native paintings on one of the islands. They had a great looking dog wearing its own PFD. They were from Texas and had a cabin on one of the islands nearby. The rock was much nicer around this part of the lake. You could see why people wanted to live there.
We managed to find the paintings which were a few kilometres away. All of a sudden 5 or 6 boats arrived. They were First Nation Elders with several First Nation children in each boat. They started getting out on the rocks. I couldn’t quite understand what they were doing as each child jumped off the boats onto the rocks and back in the boat.
I took a photo of the activity and one of the elder women told me I couldn’t take photos. Oops. I felt rather embarrassed to be told off as I felt like a child and I couldn’t remember the last time I was told off. We waited a little away from the rock to let the boats in. Leo started talking to people in one of the boats and they suggested that she give an offering, so they gave her some tobacco.
So that’s what they were doing, giving an offering.
Leo paddled closer to the rock and we went over and steadied her kayak so she could get out on the rock. I held the tobacco offering in my hand but somehow as I was helping Leo to get out the tobacco fell onto the deck of our kayak and some in the water. I rescued as much as I could and gave it to Leo. The same woman elder who was in the boat and were also trying to make an offering told us they wanted to be where we were, so when Leo had given the tobacco offering we moved away.
All the boats moved off one by one. We moved off to a beach not too far away and had lunch. Unfortunately the tortillas were mouldy. Alaine didn’t eat any but we did.
We moved on through a narrow shallow channel and met more boats amongst the islands. One boat had a dog standing on the front. The couple came by again later and told us we were doing 4 1/2 miles an hour. There were boats in different bays fishing. As we left most of the islands behind it started to get windy from the SW so we were pushing into it. We passed another rock that had a lot of clothes, mainly underwear pushed into a crack in the rock. We found out later they were actually offerings!
We made for an island looking like a horseshoe hoping we could camp there. Luckily for us there was a beach in the bay. It was calm and sunny. I tried my hand at fishing but I really didn’t have the right tackle and spent a little time untangling my line. After my feeble attempt I went into the water for a swim. It was great. Alaine wouldn’t go in unless Leo did as she said it was too cold. Leo dived in, so did Alaine, but she got out straight away. The water was relatively warm, but Alaine said it was very cold.
We settled down in the sun with wine and oysters. Leo cooked potato added tinned fish and a mixture of dehydrated food that she had bought from home. The sun went down just before 9.00pm. The squirrels that had been active were still running through the forest.
Thursday 11th August
Although we were up by 7.10am we didn’t leave until 10.05am. The squirrels were still sprinting around. The wind was a concern as it was coming from the south west, just where we were going. Once we got going we paddled over to the narrow gap that was on my GPS but it turned out the gap was not a gap anymore. They had dammed it up and put a portage trolley system in its place. Apparently they used to have a lock there, but it let too much of the dirtier water from the west side of the lake through into the pristine waters of Whitefish Bay and around Sioux Narrows and beyond.
I started reeling the trolley from the other side. It was a little strain to get it to the top but when it went down the other side to the boats it was easy. I changed places with Alaine and Leonie and I paddled the kayaks onto the trolley. I held them in place whilst the girls hauled it up. They struggled but it was easier than portaging. Once the boats were at the top of the crest it was again easy on the way down.
Back in the water the first part had lilies and water a little stagnant but once out into Turtle Lake, the first small lake it was much clearer. As we entered the lake four cheeky otters were looking at us. When we got close they moved away and with heads above the water checked us out again.
We let them be and paddled across the small lake to another narrow point but this time it was clear to paddle through. We were soon through the narrow channel and into the bigger lake. A few boats were in all the different bays fishing. A few minutes later a boat came towards us and stopped. They wanted to know what we were doing. Within the conversation the man driving the boat told us we must drop in to see them when passing Rainy River. I will cook up some Walleye fish, he said. His wife was also very keen, so when they left to fish in the cleaner waters across the trolley portage, we were happy to have met them and couldn’t wait to get there. Our day was made.
We continued on through the islands soon realizing that the area wasn’t as pristine as the lake we had come, but it was still very pretty. We were now paddling against the wind which was a pain. Many of cabins had Canadian and US flags flying. Apparently there are a lot of Americans owning homes on the Lake of the Woods.
As we were paddling between one of these islands I noticed an eagle on a broken tree just ahead. It was eating something it had caught. We crept closer and closer but finally it noticed us and flew away with his catch firmly clasped between its claws.
We stopped for lunch on the end of Strawberry Island on a sand beach in the shade of the wind and looking at a tiny island with a sloping rock face and a posh cabin sitting between the trees.
Back around the next corner the wind was fairly forceful as we paddled along an island and crossed over to another one. There were several cabins and a few of the gardens were looking quite stunning with colourful flowers growing. After crossing one more channel, with a cabin resort near the end we were getting closer to the mainland which was on our left and brimming with houses in the small bays and on the cliff tops.
At last we entered another channel protected by an island and where paddling became easier and my GPS indicated there was a narrow channel between the mainland and an island. Although it looked doubtful, as we couldn’t see the gap, we thought we would give it a go. We passed a boat ramp and a small marina and paddled between some high reeds. It didn’t look too promising but the channel carried on. Leo was in front and when she saw some First Nation men cleaning fish she asked if we could carry on through the channel. Un-beknown to us we were entering First Nation Lands. The reeds were still high, the channel diverted and we could then see some houses on the left. Something big and dead was floating. It was a big animal of some sorts but too smelling to stop to find out what it was. A little further three boats were anchored next to a jetty. It looked as if the First Nation People did a lot of fishing. After the jetty we moved across a small bay that had several pelicans milling on the right and then entered into the big lake.
The wind at this point was howling and the lake was rough. Several huge houses line the shores on the left, all with nice beaches. We rounded the point to an even bigger sea and paddled along to some islands for some shelter and the chance to find a camping site. I could see a couple sitting at their home on top of the cliff looking down at us and wondering what the hell were we doing out there. We didn’t intend to be out there long though. We needed to make some kilometres but the Native Lands were ahead, which we couldn’t camp on, so we only had the chance to camp on the nearby islands or go 10kms further.
We checked one small beach and the water in the small bay was thick with green algae. We were desperate but not that desperate, although we may have to return to it if there wasn’t any other spots. It wasn’t sensible to go another 10kms in these conditions and so late in the day so we checked between the islands and found a beach, which was pretty good, but it still had algae in the bay but it wasn’t half as bad as the other so we stayed. We had only done 26kms but it was a little too rough to carry on. We stopped about 4.30pm.
A big rock slab was next to us and to climb to the top we got a pretty good view of the surrounding area. A thunderstorm threatened. We could see it over to where we had come. We expected it to rain before we went to bed, but it didn’t.
Once in our tents we all heard the sound of the forest floor crunching and a hissing snorting sound of which I thought must have been a deer. There was a pretty good sunset, the wind calmed and later the thunderstorm hit with a vengeance. There were severe lightning strikes and loud thunder rolls. It was a dream to be cosy in the tent.
Friday 12th August
With the calm weather the bay was now covered in green algae. Last night we strained the water using our hats/clothing and then used the purifier. We left at 9.10am crossing a lake covered with green algae. To think that everyone had been saying the Lake of the Woods is such a fresh water lake, one of the best. It certainly wasn’t so good at the moment. Apparently algae forms in this part of the lake this time a year. For how long I didn’t find out.
We crossed a bay, paddled between some islands with the First Nation Lands on our left and around Pork Point. There were bunches of islands over to our right which we were not going to visit, instead we crossed another bay towards a community at the bottom of Frenchman’ Rock Road.
It was very calm, so different from the previous day. The scenery however, wasn’t as good with very few islands along our route. When we passed a tiny island near Frenchmans we took the opportunity to have a pee and then moved across Oscars Bay to the Provincial Park which looked as if there was not a sole there. With the long beautiful beach it looked great.
We soon passed Elm and Snake islands. There were a few boats skimming across the water. We stopped for lunch on Snake Island sand spit, a narrow sand bar that went about 400 metres out from the island. When we finished lunch we were able to lift Leonies kayak across the bar to save her paddling around but our kayak was too heavy.
We paddled around Windy Point which was sandy and across Windy Bay where there were several houses. It was still calm and there was a power boat pulling a water skier.
We pushed on through Quick Island and then on to the inside of the Sable sand islands which stretch several kilometres along the coast and all the way to the entrance to Rainy River. We now knew we were sheltered from the wind and rough conditions.
The islands and the mainland were lined with reeds with a few sand beaches popping up now and then on Stable Islands. We stopped at one sand beach and checked the other side. The sand beach on that side was like an ocean beach, with shallows and marsh birds and with the beach full of timber.
It was much calmer on our side. The water at this point was very clear so we filled our water containers. There were small stints walking the shallows looking for food.
A thunderstorm was taking place over to our east. Close to the end of the islands and near the Rainy River entrance we started to see lots of boats enter the river entrance, sometimes 5 at a time. Luckily they were following the channel and we were cutting the corners.
I expected some resistance from the current once we got in the river but we didn’t feel any to talk about. We were not confident about finding a good campsite and then a beach appeared. It was full of drift wood and dried reeds with a few cow pads in-between. It didn’t look much but to us it was heaven.
An eagle was hovering, we heard a sound of a bird that reminded us of the northern sand crane which we had seen on the Mckenzie River. Stints were landing along our beach feeding and there were lots of small frogs amongst the sand.
The thunderstorm was still around and when the sun set it was quite an incredible sight. The sky went fiery red. Then the skies turned black and the colours of the clouds and the sunset mixed together was just amazing.
To top it off a thunderstorm came overhead and we were treated to some rain. What a sight. What a night.
Saturday 13th August
I heard the chuckle of the sand crane but was it one, I don’t think so. It was calm but the night had been damp so our tents were wet. By 7.00am boats started to motor out of the river but it soon became follow the leader as dozens, then what appeared to be hundreds started to flow out to the lake. It was just an amazing sight. You would never believe so many boats could take to the water at one time. We really didn’t know where they were all coming from but there were lots.
We were packed up by 9.15am inbetween looking and saying, look there are 10 more boats and a couple of little ones. We paddled away up the Rainy River and the good thing was that we couldn’t feel much current and we were making good progress. There were only a few stragglers motoring out to the lake by now. Then we saw it. Just hundreds of boat pens fastened to the US side of the river and lots of lodges and cabins. That’s where all the boats came from?
There were only reeds on the Canadian side and buildings on the US side, what a contrast. It was interesting to see the difference. With so many boats going into the lake there didn’t seem to be any movement on shore.
We were making 5-6kms an hour, we passed a RV campground on the Canadian side and there were still houses on the US side. The cabins and resorts steadily faded out, although there were still the odd house every few hundred metres.
Further where the road followed the river we saw this light truck towing a boat. It stopped and Vaughn jumped out and scrambled down the bank. You are early he said. I’ll get Mel to take some fish from the freezer and I will cook them tonight. He told us where he lived again and climbed the bank. He was not as fit as he used to be. He was going to a funeral and people were using his boat to go out on the water to scatter some ashes.
We started paddling pretty excited to know we had some where to camp. At last the rail bridge came in sight and it wasn’t long before we worked out which house it was. We landed on a small beach next to his jetty and Leonie went to find Vaughn’s wife Melanie. She was baby sitting Ryan, a 6 month old boy who was gorgeous. We erected our tents on the huge lawn, had a shower in the house, did our washing in Melonie’s washing machine and I did a bit of typing on my blog.
A dog that came from nowhere started running up and down. It was so excited we were hoping it wasn’t going to jump on our tents. When Vaughn returned from his days work he took us shopping. We found the bottle shop, shopped at the supermarket for a little more food, drove passed the community garden and Vaughn took a stroll in the garden to find some veges for the evening meal. It seems that several of the small towns have community vegetable gardens which are looked after by the community and the community then help themselves, well something like that.
Returning home we passed the town jetty and playground, which was neat and tidy. Then it was down the main street to view all the major shops before heading back home. It looked like a very nice town with a great community feel and Vaughn knew everyone we saw.
Back home Vaughn started cooking the Walleye fish. Mel had the salads etc ready. Mel’s friends, Doug and Beth arrived to share dinner with us. We ate out on the veranda overlooking the river and big lawn. Walleye fish, potatoes, that had a special taste, salads, beans, followed by two different cakes. Of course we had beer, wine and coffee.
Vaughn was really the story teller. He told lots of stories but he had too many stories to tell in one night. He brought out his Indian chief’s head piece and warriors beaded chest plate to show us. We took a photo of him and Leo who also tried it on. Vaughn has also won competitions for creating the most-ugliest face. He is a pretty handsome guy but when he creates an ugly face, he really does it well.
After our meal we returned to our tents and talked with Mel and Vaughn. We saw a light head up into the sky and for a while we were wondering what it was and then Vaughn realised it must have been a candle. He had taken some people who lived a little downstream to spread some ashes of a loved one into the river. Now he thought it must have been them who were letting off these candles as we saw several rising up into the night sky.
Sunday 14th August
About 5 trains crossed the bridge in the night and I think we all heard each one of them. They sound their horn when approaching the town and at every level crossing and it’s not just a normal horn, it’s so loud I think it wakes up people in the next community which could be kilometres away.
We were up about 7.15am which was a little later than usual. There was a heavy dew so our tents were pretty wet. I rang Jenny before launching. Melanie was there with Ryan to see us off and to take photos for an article in the local paper. Melanie was such a nice person who tried to help us so much. Some times I think to myself and wonder if I would be as nice as other people have been to me, or on this occasion to us. Melanie and Vaughn were genuinely exceptionally nice people, just like many of the other Canadians that I have met.
Our boats didn’t leave the shore until 10.00am. We waved our last goodbye to Mel and Ryan and padded under the rail and road bridges. A few hundred metres further several women were shouting at us. Are you the Australians? Good luck on your trip, bla bla. Apparently they were the ones who had the funeral and who were letting off the candles into the air the previous night. We felt good that they knew who we were.
Once beyond the towns well constructed wooden jetty our time in Rainy River was gone. Several kilometres further a house came into view. There was a small child riding on the small mower tractor. When he saw us he called out to his dad and pointed at us, just like a child in a cowboy movie telling his parents the Indians are coming. His father started walking down to the river and just as we were passing shouted out to us. We stopped and backed up and had a chat for a few minutes. He knew Vaughn as he used to work with him. He said he was a character.
All morning we had seen huge Sturgeon fish jumping clean out of the water. We played a game to see who could see the biggest jump. It was a hot day and a bunch of kids were in a power boat or being pulled by one. They seem to be having fun but one fell off the tube and he was crying out to get back on the tube as his other mate was still on it and going around in circles and having fun. Two other kids on shore were shouting when it was their turn. The kids on shore were good stone throwers, we found out when one landed close by us and we were a long way off.
The day was hot and although we were paddling against a slight current we had paddled about 39kms so we decided to stop at 5.30pm when we found a fairly good campsite. There were two people a hundred metres or so downstream who we thought may be the landowners so Leo paddled over to them to ask permission. They were only fisherman, who said we would be okay but they said, there was a campsite a few hundred metres upstream if we wanted to use it.
As Leo returned she brought with her a bloated cow that was floating down the river. She said it smelled and as it hadn’t got to us at that stage we took her word for it. We decided to go to the campground as it wasn’t far, just a few hundred metres off the main river up a small creek. There was no one at the boat ramp and when we checked the Morley Park camp there were no one there either, it was deserted, just mowed grass with a big shelter with several tables under it and a long drop toilet.
The downfall of having such a nice camp was that we had to carry our gear about one hundred metres and there were a few mosquitoes in the lush grass. Other than that it was perfect. By the time we set up it was quite late, I scrambled 150 metres to the river through the long grass to get water, Alaine cooked and Leo enjoyed her birthday with a bottle of good wine.
Only two cars came through the camp. One old couple stopped and sat on a bench overlooking the river cuddling each other.
Monday 15th August
There was a heavy dew so we had breakfast under the shelter on the dry tables. A small squirrel was having a good time scampering around our area while we were eating, I expect waiting for a few crumbs.
We departed at 9.40am, later than anticipated but we did have to walk a long way to get to the boats. It was a hot day but a head wind kept us cooler. An eagle resting on a tree trunk flew off when we neared.
The current had been easy but when we reached our first rapid that changed. The first rapids were fairly small and we were able to paddle up without too much trouble but the second one was a lot stronger. Alaine and I paddled up it first. We got near the top and although we were paddling hard we just sat there in the same place. I felt we were starting to go backwards so Alaine lifted the rudder and we zipped across to the edge in an eddy and sat there and watched Leo struggle to get up. Like us she got near the top but she was pushed back down and unable to conquer it.
Alaine walked back and helped Leo pull the kayak up the side of the rapid while I pulled our boat up above the rest of the rapid. Back in the kayaks Leo shouted; look 3 deer, which were on the bank grazing. The current was still fairly strong but we still managed to paddle against it. We eventually left the small rapids behind but the current was now stronger than it was and would slow our progress even further. At least the small rapids and pushing against the current kept us awake.
Every so often fairly large logs would be poking up out of the water and just stuck there. They were hazards for power boats especially the boats going upstream as they were pointing downstream because of the current.
A few kilometres before the small town of Barwick we noticed a fox type animal running along the bank. It just kept running and then disappeared. On the approach to Barwick it had a lighthouse tower and a chipboard mill. We pulled up to a boat pontoon and boat ramp to stretch our legs and if possible to get some drinking water. A man who was carting water from a river pump told us there was no shop in town but there was a cafe down the street that would be open. With that news we thought that lunch in a cafe would be so much more pleasant than stale bread, nuts and muesli bars.
We walked about 500 metres to the restaurant along roads that were lined with flower pots dangling from lamp posts. It was a tidy little town. We found the small restaurant cafe and I ordered a salad and French fries and the girls had burgers. My salad was amazingly tasty and the girls said their hamburgers were good as well. We had a cool drink to start with, had a coffee in between and an ice cream at the end of our meal. What a great lunch. Before leaving we thanked the elderly lady who had cooked our meal.
It was 3.00pm when we left with bloated stomachs paddling against a good current. We came to another narrow section of fast flowing water and we were very happy to get up it, but Leo struggled but she eventually made it. There was a small community over the left bank and we could see the houses of Emo at the end of the long straight. Huge Fish were jumping again but not as good as the previous days. There were also a few shallow sections and rock that we had to avoid.
The current was still troubling us as we arrived at Emo about 5.20pm. We first checked out a small picnic place before going on to the town centre a little further. A float plane was anchored near the jetty and a little further we found a track up to a park. It was a great little spot although we weren’t quite sure if we should be camping there. We erected our tents on some nice green freshly mowed grass next to a table and a shelter with tables and bbqs. There were even toilets with showers so I was the first to try them out. They were just brilliant.
At 7.00pm a man walked into the ladies toilet to lock them up and found Leo inside. He said he would leave the toilets open all night for us to use. After our shower it was time for dinner so we walked over to the local pub which was about a kilometre away. I had another salad and two beers. I rang T2 at the shop and Melanie. The girl who served us kept getting our bill wrong, but she was new at the job.
After the meal Alaine walked to the supermarket to get a few things for our lunches. We walked home through the tidy town pretty pleased that we had called in. It was calm and a hot night.
Tuesday 16th August
The sounds from the train horns were just amazing. There were about 5 that went through and talk about being noisy. I had another quick shower just because it was there. The man came round who looks after the park and toilets and we talked for a while.
We were slow getting away as Leonie was checking her iPad for emails which often happens in the morning so she is usually slower getting ready than we are.
The wind was strong and against us as we paddled off. It was hard work. Nothing much happened on the river so we just paddled. We had bread rolls, jam and cheese for lunch which was so nice to have. For a short while the wind was behind us, but it didn’t last long and apart from the fish jumping the day was pretty boring.
By the end of the day we stopped on sand stone beach surrounded by water and long grasses. We watched the moon rise through the clouds and what a sight it was. We even had iPad reception.
Wednesday 17th August.
There were two fairly ugly frogs under my tent when I took it down. It was pretty windy morning but it was in our favour. We passed a farm and further on we saw a house which had a float plane harnessed in their front garden. We soon passed several more big houses and a golf club and getting closer to the town of Fort Francis.
We turned south and the wind was truly behind us so it wasn’t long before we were in the city limit and coming up to a boat ramp near where the water treatment plant or water works were. The waves were quite big coming down that section but it was fun and we made good time. It was 1.00pm time when we stopped, a little earlier than we had anticipated but we didn’t mind that. We unloaded at the ramp after asking a guy if there was anywhere else further upstream before the dam to get out. There wasn’t.
Melanie had given us a person to contact to help with the portage around the dam so Alaine and I walked over to McDonalds to ring Richard to say that we were at the portage. My cell phone didn’t work so we had to use a public phone. Luckily we managed to get him and he said, I’ll be there in a few minutes.
We ordered a Big Mac and fries and by the time we had walked back to the kayaks, which were about 700 metres away, Richard and his friend Brian had just arrived. They both had ford trucks, but Richard’s had a longer tray so we tied the Necky double on his and the Epic on Brian’s. They were great guys with a good sense of humour and who didn’t mind the boats having to sit partially on the roof of their vehicles. They were both retired from the mill that was situated at the dam.
They drove us through the town passed the dam and to the lake campsite. We were expecting it to be full but there was hardly anyone there. We unloaded but as soon as we heard that there was a motel/cabins nearby called the Rendezvous, Alaine went with Richard to check it out. They returned with good news. A cabin was $90.00 between us and camping was going to cost $45.00 so we had no hesitation on deciding to go for a cabin. Electric, showers, room to sort our gear, a place that we could lock and leave our valuables inside. It was perfect and close to the Rendezvous restaurant and a public telephone.
Richard and Brian left us to start getting our gear ready for our next leg and said they would come in the morning to take us to the shops. How good was that! We had gear scattered everywhere. I attempted updating my blog but it hard to concentrate.
For dinner we went to the bar restaurant. I had chops, fries and veges and two pints of beer. Leonie had salad and salmon and wine and Alaine had Chicken salad and a pint of beer.
Thursday 18th August.
We visited the restaurant for breakfast and to show that we were still health conscious we ordered a fruit salad. The sad thing was it was tinned fruit.
Brian arrived at 9.00am to take us into town. We first visited the electronics shop to change my iPad carrier as I still couldn’t get any reception with the company I was dealing with. While in the shop I decided to buy another small camera so Alaine could use it and have it as a back-up.
Next stop was the tourist office. There were three students and the regular staff member all very friendly and then it was a walk across the road to the Canadian Customs to get some information about our route along the border. They couldn’t answer for the US so Brian drove us across the border into the US so we could get some information. The US customs officer first asked how we knew each other. When we told him what we were doing he said it was too complicated for him to answer so he referred us to another officer. “How do you know each other”, the female officer asked. It must be a standard question so I’m not sure what would they get from our answer?
She asked heaps of questions and we only wanted to know if we were allowed to cross the border as we paddled the border route to Lake Superior and what happened when we had to portage into the US at Grand Portage where there wasn’t a US border checkpoint. We were eventually referred to someone else inside the building. Another officer told us we had to go to the nearest US border checkpoint whenever we crossed the border. I don’t think they really understood that we were in the wilderness and paddling a canoe and to follow the border route we had to cross the border line on several occasions. We gave up and Brian drove us back into Canada and took us to Canadian Tyre store to get some materials so I could change the foot pedals on the kayak. Brian then dropped the girls off at the supermarket and took me back to the cabin so I could start work on the kayak. I used some aluminum I had bought from Australia to drop the pedals a few centimetres as at the moment they were too high and I only get my toes on them. I also put an alloy bar across the pedals of Alaine’s boat so she didn’t have to have her legs so wide.
Although Brian left me a drill, trying to drill on the grass with no vice wasn’t the best. It took me some time to do these jobs. Eventually the girls got back by taxi with the shopping and Brian later called in to get his drill and tools and we met his wife. We had a beer and talked.
It was cheap Chicken Wing night at Rendezvous Restaurant and an anniversary night so we were told the place would be packed and it was. We arrived there about 6.10pm and we managed to get a table but they were so busy we waited for 1 hour and thirty minutes to get our meal. When the chicken wings did arrive they were delicious.
Friday 19th August
Because of the Chicken Wing night there was a lot of shouting and drunk people in the parking lot nearby so it was pretty noisy when we first tried to sleep.
Brian was coming around at 9.00am to take us into town so we were tried to sort our gear which was all over the place. By the looks of our room we weren’t going to get off early today.
Brian whisked us away to Canadian Tyre to get some bolts and other bits and pieces for the rudder conversion. A big tall guy in Canadian Tyre was very helpful and helped me find the bolts and a square headed screwdriver to fit the bolts.
Brian then invited us to have coffee at McDonalds but we ended up having breakfast as well for free. I had pancakes and syrup. Brian’s wife Rhodan was the manager there. Brian’s son also worked there and they both came over and talked to us. Richard, who helped with our portage the previous day arrived later.
The restaurant was full of older people getting their morning coffee. I better not say too much about old people as I’m not that young myself.
From McDonalds Richard took the girls to do some last minute grocery shopping and I rode with Brian to get some Crown land camping permits. Back at the cabin Brian waited until the girls arrived from shopping and both he and Richard said farewell to us. We were very grateful for their assistance and we were sad to say goodbye.
We started packing up, Alaine getting the food together, I got the kayak and gear sorted. We were supposed to be out of the cabin by 2.00pm and we just made it. With all the food and other things we had to prepare, it was much better to have a cabin than to be camping.
All our gear was carried about 50 metres to a beach in front of the hotel. It took some doing but we managed to squeeze in all the gear and the extra food. We now carried 22 days of food. I expected to be averaging about 25kms a day mainly because we had a lot of portages to do especially nearer to the end of the border route. Most people use light canoes for this section because portaging is easier to do it with a light canoe. As we wanted to use kayaks on Lake Superior and the fact that I had kayaked to Kenora in a kayak we decided to use kayaks but they took a lot more time to pack.
After staying a day longer than expected we left at 3.35pm. With all the hospitality we were getting along the way and the more relaxed pace we were setting, we were getting behind schedule, but we decided to enjoy the trip and have less time paddling. Having three people to get going in the morning and get away also took a lot longer than when I was by myself. We also stopped a little earlier at night so that meant we didn’t have the same amount of hours on the water to paddle so there was no way we were going to paddle the same distance as I was paddling.
After passing a church, a house or two and several float planes anchored near shore Fort Francis was soon behind us. Within minutes and with the wind behind us we picked up speed and scooted east across Rainy Lake on the Canadian side. Very soon across to our left we were passing a railway bridge that was lifted up to allow boats to pass underneath. It looked quite unique.
The islands were flitting by at a fast pace; Last Island, Crane Island, Redpine Island and several others. The wind was really giving us a lift and once at the bottom of Angling Island we could see our destination, Sandpoint. After rounding another point we got a better view of Sandpoint and a beautiful sandy beach. We were excited to see it, but we were a little disappointed when on approach we saw a few house boats in the bay before it. It didn’t matter though as we ended up camping on a sand spit a bay over from the boats and with no one there.
The beach we landed on was one of the best beaches so far. We camped close to a high rock shore that sheltered us from the wind and next to a thin forest of pine trees. It was perfect. We were able to walk out on the sand spit and get photos of the camp and the setting sun. The cloud formations and lighting over to the east were amazing. Soon after the fiery sun was setting in the western sky and combined with the huge black clouds it was another amazing sun set. With every minute that passed the sky changed colours.
We sat on the sand watching the water, eating cheese, olives, tomatoes, crackers and drinking red wine. This was the life. Then the mosquitoes started to come out so by the time Alaine cooked dinner we were ready to retreat into our tents.
Looking on the map we had paddled 20kms in three hours which was good going. The kayak also performed much better and easier to steer after cutting off 100mm of the rudder blade in Fort Francis. I didn’t have to push so hard on the rudder pedals to change the rudder position.
The stars were bright when we retreated to our tents.
Saturday 20th August
It was a chilly night and when we stretched our bodies outside at 6.45am it was cloudy with a few sun patches shining through. The wind was slight but it soon started to pick up.
When we were away we were being helped along and passing several islands by a brisk breeze. There were a few boats flitting around and several houses on the distant mainland. The lake became rough with the waves lapping against us from the side and soon-after over our deck.
After reaching Bald Island we made our way across to the east end of Mackenzie Island and Hallelujah Point and into a channel called Canoe Channel. Once sheltered by islands the waters calmed which was a relief.
After Brule Island we searched for a lunch spot and found one along the coast on a point where two small rocky indents allowed us to park our boats. It was cold being in wet clothes so we changed before eating lunch of tomatoes, cucumber and bagels. Wild flowers grew between the cracks in the rocks and beside us was a beautiful cove with water lillies.
We left passing through a narrow shallow channel between an island and a rock bar. Later we passed the ochre coloured Manitou Rock which was on our right with the Anchor Islands sitting further over. We followed the shoreline for several kilometres before cutting across the bay by a couple of islands with cabins and into the Hole in the Wall Channel between Deerhorn Point and Green Island. It was very pretty through the islands and down Friendly Passage. On one island a beaver had felled several big trees and there were a few that had been half chewed and soon ready to fall. A little further a beaver had downed many smaller trees.
Beaver destroying the trees.
I put the fishing line out as we moved through Big and Big Dry Island but caught nothing. We started seeing a few more cabins and then we spotted a beach in the distance without a cabin on it. A beautiful camp spot so we were quite excited. We landed in the cove at 5.00pm after paddling 40kms. It was chilly and cloudy and the sun came out for a moment or two. There were pine trees behind us and rock on each side of the small cove.
A thunderstorm hit but Leo still cooked rice with tinned fish and a few other ingredients that I didn’t know what they were. After a quick but beautiful sunset the rain chased us into our tents earlier than usual. Alaine had some chaffing and a little arm /shoulder pain but she didn’t complain!
I wrote my diary lying down but it was hard to keep awake.
Sunday 21st August
It was a fairly clear day when we exited our tents at 6.40am. It turned out being fairly hot in the night after the storm went through. There was a kingfisher flying around the bay as the sun was trying to peep through the pine trees behind us. Hidden in the trees was a very shallow open air toilet, and when I opened the lid everyone else’s poo was there staring me in the eye. I decided going back into the bush was healthier.
Just before breakfast I climbed a rock ledge to take a picture of our camp and on the way down I slid several metres but luckily I landed on my feet.
We left our little cove at 9.20am and as we moved around the corner there was a stunning house perched on a small island with a multitude of solar panels on its roof. How good would it be to have the money to afford such a house.
We headed over to Breezy Island and then into Kettle Channel which was quite beautiful. We arrived at Kettle Falls, which is no longer a falls since they dammed it and found the portage point which was over a kilometre long. We pulled up to the boat ramp, next to a couple fishing, who told us there was a portage trailer that help people get to the next lake for the cost of $17.50. A man in a golf buggy arrived and after we ask to take the trailer he radioed his mate to come and pick us up.
The boat trailer arrived and we slid the kayaks on to it, jumped in the back of the ute and away we went heading to the next lake. The Necky double slid to the middle of the kayaks and I heard it crack. The kayaks shook as we bumped over the gravel road so I was a little concerned that they may get damaged, but it was better than carrying them over. The boat trailer backed into the water and the kayaks slid off it, as easy as that. We had ropes attached to the kayaks so we pulled them in and the guy was gone heading back to portage some power boats.
At the boat ramp on the downstream side a women came out to greet us. She was a volunteer who was working in the small store. Alaine visited the store and brought back an ice cream which was really appreciated.
There were rubbish bins at the portage so we were able to get rid of the rubbish we had been collecting. Being in a National Park most of our way, whatever rubbish we created we had to take out and if we had the opportunity to leave it in a bin, we took up the offer. We knew we were going to be on our route and probably not see a rubbish bin for at least 20 days.
The famous Kettle Falls was nearby but because we were on the US side and weren’t supposed to be there we didn’t bother going to look at this famous hotel with a floor that was supposed to be uneven.
From information –
The Kettle Falls Hotel is a hotel that was built beginning in 1910 in what is now Voyageurs National Park on the Kabetogama Peninsula, at the juncture of Namakan and Rainy Lakes. The hotel was built to replace temporary lodgings, accommodating dam workers, loggers and tourists, and was finally completed about 1913. The hotel is known for its uneven floors.
The site was first patented as a homestead in 1910 by Ida May Winslow. The property passed to Minneapolis surgeon Frederick A. Dunsmoor, who in turn sold the land to William E. “Big Ed” Rose, a timberman, in 1913. Rose is reputed to have built the north-south wing of the hotel in 1913. Rose sold his Kettle Falls holdings to Robert Sloan Williams in 1918 for $1000 and four barrels of whiskey. Williams operated a hotel and nightclub in Ranier, Minnesota, with the Kettle Falls Hotel as a sideline. Williams had a number of run-ins with the law, charged with selling illegal whiskey in Ranier and Kettle Falls, and later operated stills and a smuggling operation. The hotel was electrified by 1935. An annex, called the “big house,” was built behind the hotel in 1946. Bob Williams died in 1956; his widow Lil and children Charlie and Blanche continued to run the hotel. Lil Williams died in 1961. The National Park Service acquired the hotel from the Williams family, who continued to operate it, in 1976. The hotel was extensively renovated in 1986-87. The Kettle Falls Hotel is part of the Kettle Falls Historic District, which includes the surrounding neighborhood and the dam at the falls. The hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 11, 1976. The hotel is the only lodging in Voyageurs National Park, and is accessible only by water.
Kettle Falls looked a nice place and it was sad to leave it, however we couldn’t stop at every nice place along the way. We soon left the area and headed down a channel passing a grandmother and a child fishing from a pedal boat and a house boat or two.
We tried keeping away from the power boats by taking short cuts through the islands. We soon stopped to have lunch on a rock slab and tried fishing and got one bite but that was it. Once through the islands and back into the open lake there were several house boats floating around. They were well over on the American side of the lake. Most of the people using the lakes were from the US as the populated areas were closer by. There were no Canadian towns for miles and no roads into the area from the Canadian side so there were more people camping on the US side and virtually no one camping in Canada. All the published campsites on our maps were on the US side.
As we crossed the lake to Gull Island, which was quite stunning a thunderstorm was raging over to the north and following the coastline of the lake. It didn’t look good though and after Gull Island there wasn’t any shelter for 5kms so we had to make the decision to go on or not. The island had no suitable camping so we decided to go on hoping the storm wouldn’t change direction.
Just over 2kms across the bay the wind started to pick up and the lake started to get a little rough. Boats were still out on the lake with people fishing which gave us some confidence that the storm wasn’t headed our way.
Nevertheless the wind waves were making it harder to steer. Leonie in the Epic kayak was been thrown about somewhat but she seemed to be handling it fairly well. We kept behind and up wind of her so if anything happened it would be easy to get to her.
Even in the big double we were being thrown around and the wind coming from the rear side was making steering more difficult but both kayaks were handling the conditions extremely well.
Passing Paul Smith Island we saw a rock fire ring and I think a bear box. It was on US soil and as we were whisked passed it we just kept heading for the shelter of a cluster of islands ahead. As the water shallowed before Blind Pig Channel the waves started to build and although we were near to safety the bigger waves were making paddling a lot more difficult. Then as we passed between the high rock shores and into sheltered waters we were able to relax.
There were a couple of camps along the shore and a teenage girl was swimming in a bikini and it was so cold. To our left were the My and Your Islands. We kayaked through the gap of Your Island and Grey Pig Island and came across few house boats in a bay at one of the US campsites.
Within minutes we had entered another narrow channel where we met two house boats motoring slowly towards us. The channel was stunning with such beautiful rock. We soon moved into a wider section passing a few more US campsites but there were none on the Canadian side. We then found a beach but it too small to camp on. It was now getting late and the sun was occasionally being blocked out by the tall trees so a chill had set in. Rounding a bend we saw another bigger beach but it belonged to a cabin so our options were dashed again. Then in a corner, near a swamp we sighted another beach. It was small but it had to do as we couldn’t see anything else in our view of the terrain ahead.
As we started to land a couple of beavers were swimming behind us, then there were four of them, probably the whole family. They had a den about 80 metres away.
As we erected a washing line from a tree to two sticks hammered into the sand the sun started to seep through the trees. A red frog started hopping around and the girls started taking photos of it. Then there was the sound of a distant loon that echoed our way. We erected our tents between the lake and some reeds. Beyond the reeds was a gully full of water and the forest beyond.
Earlier we had hit a rock in one of the shallow rocky areas and had scraped a small section of gelcoat off the hull of the Necky double so before losing the light I patched it up.
It was a quiet night and then suddenly a gun shot went off, which in fact was a beaver slapping its tail and echoing. The tail slap continued throughout the night.
Monday 22nd August
The wind was straight in our faces making it hard paddling as we headed through a bunch of islands and closer to the Canadian customs outback station. At Sand Point there were cabins before and after and even a lodge with several canoes and kayaks.
Although we were paddling in Canada and didn’t really need to go through customs we thought we had better call in and check. The post, with a house and a cabin was manned by a lady with two children and a male officer who I assumed weren’t related. As we thought they didn’t need to see our documents, but we took the opportunity to have lunch and to see if there was email reception which there was. There was another building close by called the Trading Post but it had closed up and no longer trading.
Three boats came in whilst we were there, Americans coming from the nearby Crane Lake. There was also a float plane that landed and one of the Americans had left his passport at home so he was ringing home on a satellite phone trying to get it sent out. The plane was allowed to leave so I’m not sure what the outcome was.
It was quite chilly as the wind was strong and cold so we were happy when we got back on the water at midday to paddle. Crossing the short but exposed part of the lake was hard going but we soon gained the shelter of the cliffs and shoreline as we entered a narrow section of river which stood several cabins on the US side.
The customs officer then sped passed us in a power boat and stopped in a tiny cove next to a beautiful home and a smaller cabin which was nestled between two cliffs on the Canadian side. What a perfect place to live.
As we continued through a narrow gap and islands we saw something black swimming across the channel. We could see its ears and realized it was a small bear. We paddled faster but it landed before we caught up with it and it didn’t hang about on the river’s edge. For a moment we got all excited, but within a few moments it was gone.
A beach beckoned a kilometre further so we headed for it for lunch. Alaine produced fresh bread, cucumber and cheese. We were in heaven. It was still windy when we carried on down the lake so we crossed over to the US side to gain some shelter from the shore. A few kilometres later we moved into a narrow section of the Loon River. The river and scenery changed dramatically. The channel was now lined with reeds with reed beds in the middle of the channel as well and a beautiful cliff over on the left. Leo led the way following one channel that all of a sudden closed up around us. Instead of backtracking we paddled through the reeds and found another channel that turned out being the right one.
As we wind our way through the reeds the river narrowed further and beaver dens starting appearing and the scenery changed yet again. Because it seemed too shallow for power boats and the terrain looked like real Canadian wilderness we really did feel remote and in a true wilderness. There was still no current so we were a little concerned that we would run out of water before we got to the portage. Tall trees surrounded us, reeds and some shallow sand beaches lined the river and at a left curve in the river a creek on the right was full of lillies.
The river narrowed further and our feeling for being in a wilderness grew stronger, so strong we expected to see some wildlife like a bear. I put my fishing line out to get a feed of fish for dinner but all I caught was weed. Suddenly we heard the sound of motors and within seconds two powerboats were heading towards us. We couldn’t believe it, our wilderness feel soon disappeared.
They cruised by telling us there was a jet boat coming down behind them. Moments later an otter started trotting along the river bank under tree roots, through bushes and along the dirt bank. Eventually it headed into the forest. We never did see the jet boat.
Another boat with two males and a female came up the river behind us. The small of their cigarette smoke didn’t please us too much. Luckily the river became very shallow and narrowed to a little more than a boats width and they were concerned they wouldn’t get up without hitting the rock so they turned around to our delight.
Rocks were just beneath our hulls so it was a mystery how the power boats got down. Within minutes we reached the dry falls and the Loon Falls portage marine railroad with a telephone on the jetty to call the man operating the tram. Boats get onto the tram and once on an operator starts the winch and the tram is winch over the hill and down the other side to the water. I decided to walk up the foot track to check the other side and to contact the operator personally. It was quite rocky and steep in places and no good for a trolley. I found the couple painting their cabin. The lady came back with me and was telling me how she once lived in Armadale near Perth and she has been back a few times.
The lady helped us put the kayaks on the cart after tying them together. A conversation on the telephone to her partner at the other end got the trolley moving up the hill. It started off quite steep and I was a little worried they would slip off but they managed to get over the hill and into the next lake without them slipping. Once the trolley entered the water and the kayaks floated we tied them up to the jetty and visited their small store. It cost $17.50 to do the portage but it was well worth it. We bought cool drinks, had a chat, found out where the next campsite was and paddled off to an island a few kilometres away. We found the camp spot that had a big rock slab but it hadn’t been used for a long time but it was just perfect as it had enough grass to erect the tents and flat rock to walk around on and spread our gear.
I had a swim and it was just beautiful.
Alaine was still suffering with some chaffing on her back.
A loon kept calling throughout the evening.
Tuesday 23rd August
Once up and out of our tents our gear was spread all over the rock. The washing had dried in the night which was good. For some reason we were slow packing so it was 9.40am before we got going. Just before leaving we saw a canoe go by and we managed to catch them up just before Beatty Portage. We talked to Dan and Angela who had a dog in the canoe hitching a ride. They were doing a circuit paddle.
I walked up to the cabin to find the portage man, Craig. He lowered the rail trolley and we tied the kayaks together and he hoisted them up and over the ridge into Lac le Croix. As our kayaks were riding on the rail cart, Dan was carrying their canoe and a pack on his shoulders and Angela was carrying a pack. Having little gear made it look easy, they could portage in one go.
This is how Dan and Angela portage. All paddlers we met were in canoes. We didn’t meet anyone on the Border Route in kayaks and we were told when we reached Thunder Bay that we may have been the first. Most paddlers have lightweight canoes and are usually only out for a maximum of 3 to 10 Days so don’t carry much gear.
It was much easier to portage this way but it was the last marine railway we would come across so all other portages our gear was carried.
After the kayaks hit the water I returned to the cabin to pay Craig. We got talking and he asked if I would like a beer. It was early about 10.30am but for some reason I decided to take up his offer. He had one ready for Alaine and another for Leo but Leo had paddled away and Alaine said it was too early to drink beer. Craig talked about bears, wolves and a variety of other subjects. He said that some people at our last portage had witnessed two wolves bringing down a deer in the water near where they were. We were also joking with him. He had a good sense of humour and would get on well with people in Australia. As well as the three beers he had for us to drink, he gave us three more to take away which total value was more than our portage fee of $17.00.
Leo was waiting out on the water and when we caught up we passed by a stunning vertical cliff before making our way to a lodge called Krupps, which was situated on an island a few kilometres away. We landed on a floating jetty and a man showed us the way up to the lodge which was beautiful inside with big timbers forming the frame. They had a few groceries for sale so we bought bread, cheese, tomato, and drinks. We were served by a lady who had part ownership in the lodge but although she was friendly she wasn’t overly friendly.
Being close to lunch time we sat ourselves on a bench outside the lodge and ate lunch. The local golden retriever was very active wanting us to throw a stick. It would do anything for a stick, including jumping in the water off the jetty. Every time we threw the stick it would be back and drop the stick at our feet again. It had so much energy and it was so happy we were there to entertain him.
There were heaps of power boats and even more canoes sitting around doing nothing. I hadn’t seen so many canoes in one yard before, they were in different piles around the place. Seeing all this gear lying around meant that they get busy they must get busy. There were thousands of dollars of equipment sitting idle.
Leaving Krupps we headed for Campbell’s lodge a few kilometres further to see what other groceries we could buy. Dan and Angela were in the distance but we were unable to catch them up before they diverted around the bay which was off our track.
We found the Campbell’s Lodge in a small bay with a few cabins scattered along the shore. There were three float planes docked on the jetties, one being repaired. As soon as we landed Chris came down to greet us and gave us a run down on the place. When we asked for fresh water he was very happy to allow us to fill up.
The shop had a few groceries so we bought some corn flakes and maple biscuits, an ice cream and a drink. The shop was full of souvenirs but we were trying to shed our load so an extra T shirt was just too heavy.
Back on the beach the float plane mechanic and pilot started talking to us as we were preparing to leave. The lodge had a good feel about it but unfortunately we needed to get to the Ranger Station before it closed for the night. We didn’t quite know where it was so we headed for Lac le Croix to find out. Leo managed to stop a boat to get directions of the Ranger Station which was in a bay further along the lake.
The Ranger Station was in a beatiful location. I jumped out and walked to the office, which had a note on the door saying, ‘One Party Only’. I started talking to the lady ranger but the conversation wasn’t going real well. What’s your name she said in a tone that didn’t seem very friendly. I told her and she grumbled – your name is not on the list, you should have rung it in. Where are you going she said. Where are you going? You should have rung in. I tried showing her on a map she had, but unfortunately I didn’t have my glasses on so I really didn’t know where I was pointing. Where are you going? You should have rung in. By this time she had her back to me. Alaine then entered the room and heard her go on.
We’re going the border route I said. You don’t need a permit if you are doing that route, she said. She still had her back towards us and she repeated you should have rung in. Before leaving I paused and asked her if there was anything else we should know about Quetico Park. Still with her back to us she only said, you should have rung in.
Alaine and I left the office speechless. We just couldn’t believe what had happened. Even if we hadn’t done the right thing, which we hadn’t, she should have at least have been a bit friendlier, being a park officer. After meeting so many nice people it was a shock to have met a Ranger so rude. Maybe she was having a bad day or on drugs.
We just wanted to get well away from there. Knowing that we really did need a permit we had to leave without one and hope that the next ranger wouldn’t be so awful.
We paddled away to Indian Narrows as fast as we could finding a small beach on a corner to camp. It was sunny, but windy, but we were happy to camp.
Wednesday 24th August
The wind was gale force throughout the night and when I got up to take the washing off the line Alaine’s tent was about to collapse. The ground was made up of small stones so we had to put big rocks on the pegs to keep them in. We didn’t get much sleep and although I wanted more sleep it was good to see sunrise so we were able to take the tents down. We hurried our packing and were off by 9.10am.
The lake was really rough but at least the wind waves were heading partly our way. I held Leo’s kayak to prevent her from being washed up the rocks and she was off with us following. The lake was bounding, the wind was exceptional strong and it was difficult to head in a direct line to where we wanted to go so instead we headed across the lake and then turned when the wind was directly behind us. When we turned, the wind whisked us away and we were flying. It was only a 3km crossing so we were hiding behind an island in no time. I noticed Leo hadn’t fastened her front hatch but when she checked to see what water had got in, there was none. Just the seal had held it tight. I was impressed.
Leonie between the rough conditions.
The wind was still strong as we headed across several small bays between the islands. A stunning beach was over to our left. It was much bigger than any we had seen so far. The map indicated it was the site of an old ranger station.
One of the Krupps boats came flying by but slowed as it went through the narrows ahead that was lined with cliffs. When we reached the same point the wind waves were rebounding off the cliffs and making the water very uneven, bouncy and extra choppy. We moved across to the US side to get protection from the shore but we forgot about the native paintings that were supposed to be on the cliffs opposite. It was too rough to move across and check them out.
The wind increased further as we turned and headed with the wind through a few more islands. I could see people camped on an island on the US side. They must have been thinking we were mad being out there in such rough and windy conditions. We probably were, but we had to make progress.
There was a forest fire to our left, which was a concern, soon we had to do a portage, but luckily it seemed to be the tail end of the fire so it wasn’t spreading into our territory.
As the lake shallowed the water was making a frenzied attempt to overturn us. I could see Leo concentrating hard as the Epic kayak bounded and swung from one wave to another. We were a lot more stable in the big Necky tandem but even we had to take care. The wind increased and the waves got longer and our kayak started to surf even without us paddling. We were getting a ride of our lives as we picked up terrific speed. It was really rough but it was great.
We got closer to a small island and once in the lee, the water calmed and our wild ride was over. Our portage was only a few hundred metres away so we were safe. The Krupps boat was waiting near our portage point for a group of canoeists. They only had to paddle about 70 metres to get to the boat but they all struggled against the wind. We were pleased that we had the wind in our favour. We landed and the wind was howling and the temperature was extremely cold. I changed immediately and then ran the portage to see what was on the other side. The nearest part was swampy, full of reeds and mud but a 100 metres further it was rock which wasn’t ideal for loading our kayaks but better than the swamp.
I returned to the kayaks, unloaded and we started to carry our gear across. On my return a couple in a canoe had pulled up so I carried one of their packs back as I was returning to the kayaks without gear. They were very appreciative and later they carried one or two things of ours on their return trip. The next trip I carried the Epic kayak and a pack whilst the girls carried gear and then on the third trip we carried big Bertha the Necky Tandem Kayak.
We had lunch before heading off for our next portage at Curtain Falls. We crossed a bay and came to a load of rocks in a dry rapid with a small gap in the rocks that someone had created so canoes could pass through. The funny thing was it was so windy the water was trickling down it in the wrong direction. We had to get out and drag the kayaks over a ledge and into the narrow channel which led into deeper water.
It wasn’t long before we were paddling up a narrow river. A small rapid soon stopped us. I jumped out to check the scene and then pulled the kayak up it with Alaine still in it. I then pulled Leonie up the rapid. Alaine then paddled the kayak up the next set of small rapids and picked me up so we could paddle over to the portage.
This portage was a little longer than the last. I went for a jog to check it out and found an impressive waterfall at the end of it. We started carrying over and found some steps that led to the river only about 200 metres from the end of the portage. I thought these would be used by the paddlers going downstream, rather than the ones like us going upstream.
Alaine and I decided to paddle up the rapids to the steps instead of having to carry the big kayak all the way. We managed to paddle up the first small rapid, but as we approached the second rapid, which was a little more difficult, we could see it wasn’t possible to get up it without getting out.
We arrived at the steps after dragging and lifting the kayak over several metres of boulders. The steps were steep and it took the three of us struggled to get the kayak up. It was getting late so we decided to camp there. Unfortunately we had taken our gear about 200 metres away at the end of the portage so we had to fetch it all back.
We put up a washing line, then our tents and had a Mountain House meal for dinner. We camped under a canopy of pine trees.
Thursday 25th August
We broke camp early and walked our gear to the end of the portage but we still didn’t get going until 10.00am. An American couple pulled up just as we were leaving. They had heaps of trouble paddling in the strong wind yesterday and they came across other paddlers in a capsized canoe.
We were now in Crooked Lake a favourite of Dan and Angela’s who we had met previously at the Beaty Rail Portage. They said they loved Sunday Bay, Saturday Bay and Thursday and Friday Bay, which were all on Crooked Lake.
We paddled through a small gap and hit the hull on a rock. It sounded bad but it only scraped off a chunk of gelcoat. Further on we followed a set of small islands and saw two canoes with people fishing. Further still at the top of Thursday Bay we stopped for lunch and ate tomato and cheese sandwiches which might not sound much but when you eat a lot of dried foods they are quite delicious. The shallow water there was exceptionally clear and below in the sand we could see silver particles which looked pretty impressive.
We paddled east for several kilometres and then turned south following the border to Wednesday Bay. The rocky islands at this point were extremely pretty with several cliffs. I threw a fishing line out and when we stopped for a break I thought I had caught a fish but my lure had snagged the bottom of the river. The excitement soon dissipated.
Two canoes started approaching as we got closer to a high cliff which was supposed to have native rock art. The girls in the front of the canoes were in bikinis. They were looking at the rock art and it was difficult to know if to take a picture of the rock art or the girls. I managed to get both in the same shot. At least the girls were in focus!!
We reached our next portage which was muddy getting out. We don’t like mud. I walked the route to find Lower Brasswood Falls and a beach at the end. We portaged about 300 metres which was steep at times with tree roots and rocks. The waterfall on-route was spectacular and with a good campsite and another portage not too far away we decided that although early we just had to stay at the falls.
I had a quick swim, erected my tent and greeted several other people who were portaging. There was a group of men from Jackson, Mississippi. We got talking to Billy and Shaun who were really interested in our trip. Alaine mentioned that I wasn’t catching fish so Billy gave me an expensive lure and said I would certainly catch fish now.
Two other canoes approached. They were overweight and smoking. We were hoping they didn’t want to camp next to us. Luckily they paddled to the dry part of the waterfall and then decided to go away to another spot.
It was another great campsite and the falls were the best we had seen so far.
Friday 26th August
It was sunny day but cool. Leo was a bit behind in getting ready so I tried typing my diary while we waited. A 9.10am start had us at our first portage, Wheelbarrow Falls by 9.25am.
The portage path was on an island and most of the water was flowing down the rapid narrow channel that we were portaging next to. It was a little rocky getting out and even rockier on the other side where we had to get in. It was certainly not good a good place for loading kayaks.
The track was fairly flat after the first 50 metres but it was still tough carrying our heavy gear and kayaks. We used a rock slab to place our kayak on and when we finished loading we slid it off the rock. The sound of the scraping wasn’t nice to hear, but it was easier than trying to load it in the water or on the sharp rocks.
Happy to have completed that portage we still had a longer more difficult portage ahead to do around Brasswood Falls. We paddled up a narrow section until the first rapid. We could see people about 200 metres away so we thought that must be the portage. To get there though we had to pull our kayaks up one rapid and then up another smaller one before crossing over a pool to the portage point. Two guys in a canoe from Ohio were just about to take off down-stream. They said the portage was about a 30 minute walk.
The other people on shore were from Minneapolis. There were three handicapped people, with three leaders. They had canoed to the falls but walked across the portage just for a look. They were just on their way back so they offered to take a few of our things for us.
The track wasn’t too bad but a bit rocky at the end and instead of it taking 30 minutes it took us less than 20 minutes which we didn’t complain about. After the first portage we had lunch. A squirrel was having a good time exploring our surrounds. The other party left, two men were fishing below the falls and a couple past us carrying a canoe.
A cheeky squirrel.
On the way back to the start we saw the couple who had come by earlier so we had a chat. They were putting in their canoe about 200 metres below the falls and paddling from there. We thought if they can get down we should be able to pull our double kayak back up. That would save us carrying it all the portage. Our plan suddenly changed we decided to paddle upstream against the flow and the rapids. When we started we didn’t really know how many rapids there were or how difficult it would be. We could see two rapids but the river looped around so we couldn’t see what was around the bend.
The Epic kayak was a lot lighter than the double so it was easier for Leo to carry it across the portage. We paddled the first little rapid without a hitch but then we saw half a canoe sitting below the rapid on the bank. That wasn’t a good sign.
Around the next corner we came across a fairly nasty rapid with the other half of the canoe sitting on the bank. I got out to see if I could find the best and easy route but there wasn’t one although it would have been easy to lift it over the first section if our kayak was light but we didn’t take everything out so we still had a lot of weight in it. We just had to drag the kayak up the rapid. Although it was a lot lighter than it usually is the flow was swift and the drops were bigger than the others we had encountered. We scrambled along the left shore, pulling and pushing using a bow and stern rope. Alaine pulled on the long bow line that was fixed on the kayak for such an occasion. I was at the front cockpit trying to steer it but it wasn’t easy to walk in the rapid without falling over. I also used a stern line when it was necessary. We had to work together or the kayak would go sideways. It was pretty complicated as the rapids and channels were pretty complex. With scraped ankles and a few scratches we succeeded in getting the kayak over the first tricky rapid.
The next one looked even trickier as the flow was faster and the channel narrow with some big boulders and one huge one that we had to somehow get around. We continued with the same pattern of Alaine pulling from the front. When we got to the huge boulder Alaine had to throw the rope over the boulder, walk around it on shore and pick it up. On my word I pushed the kayak out and up the rapid and Alaine gave a big pull. It worked a treat. When we got back in we paddled in calmer waters then under a flying fox and towards the rapids that we seen from the bank.
The next rapid was a 45 degree angle rock slide with little water flowing over it. We just dragged it up the rapid, jumped back in and paddled across to the last rapid. With all the rapids and the pulling and pushing it was taking longer than we expected.
The next rapid wasn’t quite as swift so we were able to paddle up it to the rock slab. We unloaded what gear we had inside it and carried it to the end. Leo wasn’t there so we carried all the gear to a better loading site a little further. After Leo arrived we all picked up big Bertha and took it to the end. Again it was hard work, but at least it was a lot shorter distance to carry.
By this time it was 5.00pm. It had taken us 4.5 hours to do the portage. We decided to move on to get a few kilometres under our belt. The US side had lots of mark campsites but we couldn’t see any on the Canadian side only a beautiful beach which was not on our route. Eventually we found a small beach on an island, facing east in a small bay near King Point.
There was a loon in the bay which entertained us with its call. As the loon moved around the bay the sunset cast a pink hue on the water. It was so peaceful, so beautiful.
Saturday 27th August
It was a nice sunny day with no wind. Leo took a long time packing as she has cracked thumbs and its taking her time putting cream on and covering them.
The loon was still in the bay when we crossed it to go through a few islands and around US Point. We then headed for Canada Point, which was several kilometres away passing a couple of islands with campsites on, and they were in Canadian waters which were usually hard to find. We moved into the English Channel which was between Canada Point and Ottawa Island. I thought about swimming across the channel to say that I had swum the English Channel but I hesitated and passed it by. A group of 8 young ducks were lined up and following each other along the shore.
We moved through Rookery Island and entered the bigger lake where several power boats were running around. Power boats weren’t able to get in the lakes we had just been through but a road entered this one from the south. As we entered Inlet Bay further on we could see the Parks Office and our portage point. As we approached the stony beach the American’s had a road and boat ramp on their side, but the Canadians were not as modernised. At least the portage wasn’t that long, then again we could have used our trollies on the US side.
I walked up to the Parks office and was greeted warmly by a ranger, Cathy. I was greeted so differently from the last Parks Office. I was waiting for her to turn nasty, but she didn’t. She actually seemed happy to see us. The girls came into the office and she chatted and gave us a run down on Quetico Park.
We told her about our experience with the last Ranger on Lac le Croix and she was most disappointed and hoped it was an isolated incident, but unfortunately I think not.
We had lunch on a bench on the beach while we waited for the other ranger to come back from his lunch so we could get camping permits for the next few days. Cathy showed us what Poison Ivy looked like. There was always people talking about the sting of the ivy which was supposed to be all over the park. We might have brushed against it not knowing it was poison ivy. Cathy also gave us some cucumber and carrots that she grew in her garden and they were tasty.
Two American guys, Kyle and Will started chatting to us. They were only paddling for a few days. After our portage we talked to them again and we asked them to take our rubbish out so we didn’t have to carry it for the next two -three weeks. They were more than happy to do it. I think we inspired them. They were from Minneapolis and St Paul.
By the time we left 3 hours had gone by. The US side was pretty busy with boats leaving and arriving. Some of the boats brought canoeists into different spots to save them having to paddle all the way from the lodges and roads further inland. The small boats looked a little overloaded as some had 5 people, two canoes and all their gear. On these smaller lakes big boats weren’t allowed.
We moved off and turned left near an island that had a sign saying: No Boats Allowed Past This Point. I told the girls that it said, no disable parking and they believed me.
We paddled on and came to a portage which was only 250 metres long so that wasn’t so bad. A little further there was another one but it was getting late and there was no good camping either side of the portage but luckily there was a campsite 50 metres away on the Canadian side. We were hoping to find a camp at the portage so we didn’t have to load our boats again the following morning, but we were out of luck.
Nevertheless it was a good camp. Two guys came by after doing the portage and told us a bear had taken all their food, so they were going home as fast as they could. Lots of bears out there they said.
END OF STAGE THREE
more to come…………..