Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario

Paddling and portaging through 13 lakes to reach our destination, Kahshahpiwi Lake, in Quetico (Canada's extension of the BWCA) was no easy task. Even in Bob Beymer's book "A Paddling Guide To Quetico Provincial Park" he describes this route as challenging. If you single portage this trip (carrying all your gear and canoes across rocky, hilly paths through the forest that connects lakes) you are looking at 13 in and 13 out. That's hard to do with photography equipment. If you double portage, that's 26 in and 26 out. If you triple portage, plan for an exhausting 39 portages in and 39 portages out. Yes, that's correct, it would be 78 portages. Yikes!

I won't say which count we fell into but I'm pretty sure I'm 2 inches shorter today than I was two weeks ago.

This lake has always been a personal destination for me. Its long narrow stretch running
North-South with steep topographical lines adjacent to the shore present a real beauty on the map. The real Kahshahpiwi doesn't disappoint.

Campsites were tough to find due to the steepness of the shore's pink granite walls and only a few gentle slopes allowed good camp spots. Recent fires had burned the eastern cliffs down to bare stone and one odd, clump of green trees caught our eye. We got lucky. This clump was a five star campsite elevated about 20 feet up from the lake but with flat tent spots and ample tree cover. Even the fire pit was a piece of art. I think this spot is visited frequently and kept up to higher standards by serious canoeists.

Working so hard to get to such beautiful places quickly brings to the surface those simple things that really bring pleasure. One, after a long day of stepping in and out of mucky water and having wet feet for 6-8 hours, dry socks plant a smile on one's face when finally at camp. Also, drinking clear, cold water from the lakes quenches the thirst. We did filter all our water with MSR's wonderful pump filter, and drinking this cold water and feeling secure no micro organisms would take us down added to the intake and smiles. And, before I forget, the simplest of all pleasures on the portage was that site of a bright light beaming through the forest providing that glimpse of the lake you were carrying your canoe towards. You realized you were only a few steps away from putting the beast down.

Out of 11 days we only ate dinner three times during daylight hours. We were either finding our camps late, out fishing or photographing. One thing was constant. We always ended each day around the campfire. I must say I enjoyed the discussions. I learned new details about each paddler and invariably with these conversations past memories located deep in your own mind
rose back to the surface and funny stories would be exchanged. It really builds a unified camp to know each other had unique wilderness experiences.

Putting the physical and mechanical portions of the trip aside, the real joy spending time deep in the wild is what wilderness brings. Twice we heard wolf packs howling in the dark hours. We enjoyed a full moon rising over our campfire early in the trip only to see darkness slowly arrive a little later each night allowing the stars a chance to speak too. The iconic calls of the loons heard day and night, and the tiny northern pike swimming in the shallows that look a lot like alligators without legs all made their own impressions. The hundreds of mushroom species
lighting up the portage trails with their unique color and forms, the emerald green color of the lake water. One highlight was the black bear. Whenever you mention black bear to someone who camps in the BWCA/Quetico thoughts immediately dance inside a campsite. Well, I'm pleased to say that this sighting was just that. A black bear wandered the burned hillside adjacent to our camp on Kahshahpiwi. The bear walked along grabbing berry bushes and pulling them towards his face with his paws. He'd go up, then down and at a slow pace. All this time he never noticed that four men were watching his every move with great excitement. finally, he spotted us. He slowly climbed to the top of the ridge, stopped, turned around and plopped down like a hound dog on the porch waiting for his master to come home. He watched us for almost an hour before either hunger or watching us break camp bored him. It was such a treat to not have an encounter but to enjoy such a wonderful wildlife observation. All these simple moments combined were the perfect ingredients for a damn good canoe trip.

When shooting on trips like this I use my Lowe Nature Trekker II camera pack because I can carry it on my back and its nearly waterproof. An important asset on these water based trips. Its so easy to carry lots of gear and using it as a small backpack I was able to carry both canoe and cameras on each portage. I tried to jump on the portages first with hopes of catching wildlife on the trail or at the end of the portages. Its not uncommon to see moose or bear on portage trails.

The Quetico portion of this coverage for the canoeing book writer Greg Breining and I are working on will be published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press is about complete from my end. I may squeeze in one more trip to the Lac La Croix area but its touch and go at this point. I still have other areas in the BWCA to photograph and will continue to shoot until the first ice closes off the lakes.

Here's a few images from the last two weeks in beautiful Quetico Provincial Park. More images and thoughts later. I need to repack for another morning departure.

1 comment:

  1. That picture of you guys around the campfire on that ledge makes me want to join in the fun. Great stuff.