Sunday, April 10, 2016

BOOKED! Killarney Provincial Park: September 10th - September 20th, 2016....Plus What Goes Into a Pack

Just got off the phone with Ontario Parks reservations today to book our backcountry canoe trip this year.  Once again we will be going to Killarney Provincial Park.  This will be our fourth trip to Killarney and it will be our longest at 11 nights.  Our route will cover more of the perimeter of the park minus the northeast section of Bell to Balsam Lake which we paddled back in 2012, as well as the Lake Panache area that is part of the Killarney Lakelands and Headwaters section. 

Even though this is our fourth trip to the park there are still some lakes we haven't explored yet including Kakakise Lake, Ruth Roy Lake, Walker/Little Bear Lake, Leech Lake and Baie Fine.  We also haven't explored "The Crack" which is a lookout along the La Cloche Silhouette Trail. 

Here is a run down of our planned trip:

Day #1: George Lake launch to Kakakise Lake
Day#2: Hike "The Crack" section of the La Cloche Silhouette trail, paddle to Ruth Roy Lake
Day #3: Ruth Roy Lake to David Lake
Day #4: Climb up to Silver Peak (weather permitting) along the La Cloche Silhouette trail and return to campsite at David Lake
Day #5: David Lake to Fish Lake
Day #6: Fish Lake to Walker/Little Bear Lake
Day #7: Walker/Little Bear Lake to Grace Lake
Day#8: Climb up hills along Grace Lake to search for the same rock that Group of Seven painter Franklin Carmichael sat on while painting in Killarney...and sit on it..and take a photo. :)
Day #9: Grace Lake to Low Lake
Day #10: Low Lake to McGregor Bay
Day #11: McGregor Bay to O.S.A Lake
Day #12: O.S.A Lake to George Lake Launch

Total Distance: 126 kilometres
Total Portages/ Total Length of Portages: Various results depending on water levels
Longest Portage: 2945 metres from David Lake to Great Mountain Lake

Being a longer trip, along with a few days of short paddles, lunch will be replaced by GORP on certain days to make our packs lighter.  We will also bring a mix of prepackaged freeze dried meals and raw ingredients to keep it interesting. 

So what do we pack for an almost 2 week long trip? Everything will be stuffed in 2 large back packs, 1 small nylon day pack for raw ingredients that will be depleted halfway through the trip, and another small pack for a camera. Basically we want to be able to carry everything once over while portaging, unless the portages themselves are grueling.  Being Killarney, there will definitely be some long steep portages as you hike up into the mountains.

Over the years we have tried different methods for packing our backpacks as minimally as possible while remaining comfortable in the outdoors. There are some things that we don't bring anymore because they take up too much space.  One of these items is a camping pillow.  Instead we use our clothes bag with some air left in as a pillow.

Minus what we pack in our clothes bag (which will vary depending on the season) and food, (which varies on the length of trip) here is what we pack on a typical backcountry canoe trip:

Back packs (2) + rain covers for packs (2)
Tent (1) Tent pegs (11) Ground sheet (1) * check ground sheet for holes prior to trip
Sleeping bags (2) + the cotton sleeping bag sheets rolled up in sleeping bags *check for mould
Self inflating sleeping pads (2) * check for leaks
Patch kit and valve kit for sleeping pads (1)
Tarp (1)
Cooking stove (1) (+1 for back up) *make sure both work
Pot gripper (1)
Fry pan (1)
Wind shield for stove (1)
Fuel (amount varies depending on length of trip)
Water filter (1) *check it to see if filter needs to be replaced
Maintenance kit for water filter (1)
Water tablets (6 per day minimum)
First Aid kit (2) * check it and personalize it for the trip
Spare shoelaces (2)
Head lamps (2) small flash light (1) (+8 AAA batteries) *check batteries
Water bladder (1 large 4L)
Water bottles 750ml (2)
Camp suds (1 small bottle)
PFDs (2)
Paddles (2)
Collapsible saw (1)
Multi tool (2)
Hunting knife (2)
Birth Control
Stool Softener
Compass (2)
Watch (1)
Thermometer (1)
Paddling gloves (2) for fall camping
Map of area (2) *try to get most updated map
Waterproof map case (1)
GPS (1) (2+2 lithium ion AA batteries) *update with detail topo of area and route
Dry bags (2 clothes, 2 sleeping bags, 1 for camera, 1 for toilet paper)
Pot with lid (1)
Pot scrubber (1)
Plastic bowls (2)
Forks (2)
Spoons (2)
Sunscreen (1) *check expiry date
Toothbrushes (2)
Toothpaste (1)
Mouthwash (1)
Mini binoculars
Rope (1 pack hanging rope and 1 thin nylon rope with a hook on it) (50feet)
Straps for sunglasses (2)
Hats (2)
Amphibious shoes (2)
Raingear (pants and jacket) (2)
Small camping towels (2)
Toilet paper (2 double rolls)
Camping log book plus 2 pens
Spice rack (cinnamon, pepper, salt, red pepper flakes, paprika and oregano) *check it
White sugar in small container
Oil in small container
Brown Sugar in a small ziplock
Parmesan cheese wrapped in foil
Garbage bags (heavy duty clear)
Hiking Boots (2 pairs)
Muskol (small bottle)
Bear repellant (2)
Bear bells (2)
Bug hat (2)
Bug jacket (2) if needed
Lighters (3)
Waterproof matches (2 small containers full)
Magnesium/steel flints (2)
Duct tape (4 small rolls split in the 2 first aid kits)
Sunglasses (2)
Windup solar powered radio with weatherband
Hard waterproof case for cellphones, back up maps, spare batteries etc.
Camera (1) with charged batteries (3)
SAS survival guide
Playing cards and UNO

Looks like a lot of stuff but many of the items are in mini sizes such as the spice rack, toothpaste, tooth brushes, mouthwash, and sunscreen to name a few.  The toilet paper has the cardboard roll removed to fit better in the dry bag as well.

Before we head out this fall I will take some photos of what goes into our packs by spreading it out on the floor to get a sense of how little there actually is.

The paddling season is almost here in Ontario, even though where I'm at in extreme southwestern Ontario it is snowing while I type on April 10th!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

FOOD: What we bring, what we now don't bring, and how we pack it

Preparing meals for a camping trip can be a lot of fun! Examples here include premade freeze dried meals, raw ingredients, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, and energy bars.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Let's face it, everything tastes better out in the bush.  Maybe because you can appreciate it more as it is not as convenient as opening a fridge or pantry.  An apple can be a boring addition to your lunchbox, but after three days in the backcountry with only prepackaged freeze dried meals, an apple can be the sweetest, most delicious delectable delight in the world!

When it comes to food while backcountry camping there are two main decisions we have to make:  What kind and how much to bring?

1. The Food

Prepackaged Freeze Dried Meals

When we first started camping back in 2007, we exclusively used these prepackaged meals for breakfast, lunch, and supper, while for dessert we had energy bars with most having chocolate as an ingredient.  There are a lot of different brands to chose from for prepackaged meals, energy bars, energy chews, and even gels.  After trying about 4 different brand names with their dozens of selections, we have narrowed down our favourite meals in the pre packaged department to be mainly from Mountain House, and Backpackers Pantry.  Here is a selection from our favourite four brands on a scale from 1 to 10.  For these meals you just add boiling water, stir well, reseal, and let stand for the stated time. You eat straight out of the package which is an added convenience.

Mountain House:
Pasta Primavera 8.5/10
Turkey Tetrazzini 9/10
Oriental Style Rice and Chicken 9/10
Vegetable Stew with Beef: 8/10
Vegetable Rice Pilaf: 8.5/10
Chicken Teriyaki: 8/10
Chicken and White Bean Chili: 8.5/10

Backpackers Pantry:
Cinnamon Muesli with Milk: 9/10
Vegetable Pasta Primavera: 9.5/10
Pasta Cold Salad: 7.5/10 (cold water)

Natural High:
Raspberry Granola with Milk: 8/10 (cold or hot water)
BBQ Chicken and Rice: 8.5/10

Alpine Air:
Kung Foo Chicken: 9/10

Most of these prepackaged meals can be purchased from any outdoor store.  We generally found that the cheapest price is from Mountain Equipment Co-op or Sail in Canada.  Another item of note is the serving size.  Many packages states that the serving size is two. This may be true if you are car camping, or sitting around all day snacking, though if you are paddling and portaging for most of the day, these meals easily serve one person.

Another note is the sodium content of these prepackaged meals.  For example, if you were to eat a whole bag of Mountain House Turkey Tetrazzini in one meal, you are looking at 64% of your daily intake of sodium, which sounds like a lot for just one meal, though if this isn't your daily lifestyle of eating you should have no worries.

Then there is the cost.  Most of these prepacked foods range between $7.00 and $10.00 per package.  If you were out on a 7 day trip with two people with three meals a day that would cost you around $294.00 - $350.00 before tax!  That is about how much we spend on groceries in a month!

One last note is how much room they take up in a pack. For a weekend or a week long trip we found they don't take up much room.  Going out for more than a week these packages will take up a lot of space!  This is where bringing some raw ingredients and making meals from them will take up less room in your pack.

Our Own Dehydrated Foods and Our Own Premade Meals

Prepackaged foods are a treat, but after a few days they can start tasting the same.  For longer trips they can take up quite a bit of room in your pack. We decided to purchase a dehydrator and vaccum sealer to create our own meals.  There are many food items that we have experimented with over the years with successes that we use every year, along with some failures we will never try again.  We have dehydrated fruits and vegetables, but never meats due to the risk of it going rancid. For a meat/protein substitute we use textured vegetable protein (TVP) which is essentially dehydrated tofu.  You can easily purchase this product at any well stocked grocery store in the health/organic section.  For a starch we add either powdered potatoes, instant rice, egg noodles or spaghettini because they cook fairly fast.  Sauces such as bbq sauce and tomato sauce can be made into leathers via a dehydrator for a sauce that rehydrates readily when added to boiling water. Other bases such as cheddar cheese powder, chicken soup base and beef soup base are also suggestions. Here are a few examples of our favourites that include their main ingredients.  All you have to do to make these meals is add the desired ingredients (base + starch + protein + veggies or fruit) in a Ziploc bag, seal them up and throw them in a pack.  When it comes time to prepare them you just dump the contents in your pot, add water, and bring to a boil.  A spice rack containing pepper, salt, oregano or hot pepper flakes is also recommended to stuff in your pack. Bringing a block of parmigiano reggiano to shred over top is also an added treat.

Mac and Cheese

Dehydrated Broccoli and Cauliflower
Cheddar cheese powder
Egg noodles

Zuchinni Tomato Egg Noodle

Dehydrated zuchinni
Dehydrated peppers
Tomato leathers (pre seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano)
Egg noodles
Dehydrated (store bought) onions

Tomato Spaghettini

Dehydrated mushrooms
Tomato leathers (pre seasonded with salt, pepper and oregano)
Spaghettini noodles
Dehydrated (store bought) onions


Dehydrated kidney beans
Dehydrated peppers
Chili powder
Dehydrated mushrooms
Tomato leathers (pre seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano)
Egg Noodles (optional or very few)
Dehydrated (store bought) onions

Chicken Rice Soup

Instant rice
Chicken noodle soup base
Dehydrated corn

Sheppards Pie

Powdered potatoes
Dehydrated corn
Dehydrated carrots
Dehydrated mushrooms

Premade meals can be a lot of fun to make and a medium Ziploc bag easily holds a dinner for 2 and takes up less space in your pack than store bought premade meals. They are also less expensive at $2.00- $3.00 per premade meal over the store bought brands that sometimes only serves just 1! There are flaws to these homemade meals including ours don't contain meat, Ziploc bags are not smell proof what so ever so you have to buy some smell proof bags, and having only homemade meals all week can leave you wanting something different.  We have learned to compromise by having both our favourite store bought freeze dried meals as well as our homemade meals in our packs.  If we are going on a 2 week trip we will bring a few pre made freeze dried meals and instead of making our own meals, we will just bring the raw ingredients and mix them together to our liking at camp.  This also takes much less space in the pack.


This is undoubtingly THE MOST important meal of the day!! Breakfast should be high in carbohydrates to keep you going until lunch.  Out of the prepackaged meals you can buy we have only liked Backbackers Pantry "cinnamon muesli with milk", as well as the Natural High "raspberry granola with milk". The rest of our breakfast menu includes instant oatmeal with a baggy of brown sugar, pancakes with maple syrup crystals from Harvest Foodworks, Bob's Red Mill Mighty Tasty Cereal, honey almond granola cereal with powdered milk that we buy from a bulk food store, and of course bannock that tastes great with those tiny single serve peanut butter and jams which you should never steal from a restaurant. 

Snackage, GORP and Morale!

Snacks are a treat and taste even more awesome in the backcountry! Most of our snacks are energy bars.  We have tried probably two-thirds of what is on the market.  Here is a list of our favourites:

Kind Bars: With around 10 differents varities, you cannot go wrong with this one. They are excellent!

Power Bars: Chocoalte Caramel Fusion, Triple Threat, Cookies and Cream, Berry Blast Smoothy, and Vanilla Yogurt are our favourite

Honey Stinger: Chocolate Coated Peanut Butta Pro (that is not a is Peanut Butta)

Sunripe Fruit Bars: When you get tired of just chocolate and nuts

ProMax: Nutty Butter Crisp,  and Cookies and Cream so far we have tried from this brand


Gorp stands for "Good ol' raisins and peanuts". GORP is fun because you can add whatever you feel like. For us it is usually peanuts, cashews, slivered almonds brazil nuts, M&MS, dried cranberries and dried apricots.  Many suggest to substitute handfulls of GORP throughout the day as a substitute for lunch. We did try this this fall on our Algonquin trip and we do recommend it as an alternative for lunch as it takes up less space in the pack over premade meals.Seeing so much food leftover from our last 11 day camping trip, we are seriously considering this method on future trips as well for our next trip.  A weeks' worth of GORP stuffed in a smell proof bag would take up less space than a week's worth of lunches.  In turn we would pack less fuel for our camping stove and would make fewer stops for lunch which usually last an hour.  With GORP we can just find a spot to get out and stretch our legs, or even eat in the canoe.


Morale is essential for bush survival. As well it is a much needed boost for our spirits!

For us the number one item for morale is tea in the morning, especially on a cold morning.  Currently we drink Twinnings Black Irish Tea.  Drinking this alongside your pancake breakfast is simply amazing!  It also serves as an added boost in morale on those days when we paddle until near dark and only have enough light for a supper consisting of energy bars and tea.

Beef Jerky: Let's face it, you need some meat in your diet.  For us it's gotta be beef jerky as it lasts well into a week long trip and a little piece goes a long way.

Parmigiano Reggiano:  This a hard cheese will last you for over a week and tastes good on it's own or added on top of our premade dehydrated meals.  We just keep it wrapped up in aluminum foil in a smell proof bag.

Fresh Fruit: Fresh fruit in the bush is heaven!  The problem is that it takes up a lot of room and often gets bruised.  Probably apples are the number one fruit that is small enough to withstand getting bashed around in a pack. 

Gatoraid crystals:  Adding this to your bottle of filtered chlorinated water is always a treat... especially if the lake water tastes funny

2. Stuffing food into your pack

For a 7+ day trip we now have a mix of bought prepackaged meals, homemade meals, raw ingredients, energy bars, GORP, cheese, fruit and beef jerky. Where the heck do you place it all!?

Originally we would gather a days worth of food, place it in a plastic bag and label it for the day of the week we would eat it. This worked out for a while, though we often found ourselves raiding the bag marked for the wrong day of the week match our cravings.  Today we have dropped the labelling system and split the store bought meals between us, while we split the raw ingredients that make up our homemade meals as well.  This saves a lot more room in our packs.  Like anything else in your pack you have to consider the "what ifs", in this case its the possibility of loosing a pack by some sort of unfortunate circumstance.  In this case one pack will still have half the store bought, half of the carbohydrates, half of the protein, half of the veggies/fruit, half of the bars, half of our GORP and half of the tea. As for the other items such as spices, beef jerky, cheese, oil for the fry pan, and brown sugar we split between us.

That is pretty much how we have evolved and conitue to evolve our food system today.  Bringing too much is always better than not bringing enough.  Just remember that Ontario Parks has a can and bottle ban and that all food that is not used should be brought out.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Algonquin Provincial Park: Attempted Big Trout Lake Loop. September 29th - September October 3rd, 2015

This fall we decided to spend a week in what we hoped to be the peak of fall colours in Algonquin Provincial Park. We booked our vacation back in April for the dates of September 29th to October 4th, and hoped for the best.  We were not disappointed in the spectacular fall colours, though we did have few hiccups this time around.

Overview of Algonquin Provincial Park with our route outlined in red off the highway 60 corridor

Detail of our route with the planned route outlined in red with the actual route outlined in green.

On our last two trips in Algonquin we started from the north, our first from Kiosk, while the other was from Brent.  This time we began our trip from what may be the most popular launch in the whole park, Canoe Lake located right off the highway 60 corridor.  From here we would paddle the popular "Big Trout Lake Loop" counter clockwise. It was no trouble booking lakes online even a month before our trip, probably because we were going in late September.

Planned Route
Total Days (backcountry only): 4 1/2
Total Kilometres: 150 km
Number of  Portages: 14
Portage Length: 7,120 m
Longest Portage Length: 2,370 m
Route: Canoe Lake, Joe Lake, Little Joe Lake, Baby Joe Lake, Burnt Island Lake, Little Otterslide Lake, Otterslide Lake, Big Trout Lake, White Trout Lake, Grassy Bay, McIntosh Creek, McIntosh Lake, Ink Lake, Tom Thomson Lake, Little Doe Lake, Tepee Lake, Joe Lake, Canoe Lake

Actual Route
Total Days (backcountry only): 4 1/2
Total Kilometres: 40 km
Number of Portages: 8 (4 twice)
Length of Portages: 2,060 m
Longest Portage: 430 m
Route: Canoe Lake, Joe Lake, Little Joe Lake, Baby Joe Lake, Burnt Island Lake, Baby Joe Lake , Little Joe Lake, Joe Lake, Canoe Lake

Average Daytime High: 12.75 Celsius
Average Nighttime Low: 5.8 Celsius

Day#1 Canoe Lake to Burnt Island Lake

Weather: Showers starting in the morning with clouds in the evening. High: 15 C Low: 11 C

On our first day we arrived at the Canoe Lake launch around 10:00 am.  After checking out the Portage Store, picking up our permits and unloading the canoe, it began to rain.  Even though we arrived on a Tuesday there were quite a few people launching today including a group of around 20 teenagers.  We also saw our first "leafers" being the Asian tourists that often arrive by the busloads to view fall colours in central Ontario.  Luckily for us, they don't really venture into the backcountry, so we would still be able to find some solitude.
As we paddled north we pass Canoe Lake's many cottages.  The fall colours surrounding them were maybe at 60% leaf change with glimpses of yellows, reds and vibrant oranges.

Besides hosting many cottages, Canoe Lake may be most famous as the location where famed painter Tom Thomson (Group of Seven) died.  His canoe, and later his body was found on this lake.  A cairn was erected on the lake along its eastern shoreline.  We went ashore and climbed up to catch a glimpse of the cairn, along with a totem that was erected.

Tom Thomson cairn and totem on Canoe Lake. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Back in the canoe, we continued to our first portage, a 290m around a dam into Joe Lake.  It was here we caught up to the rowdy teens and thankfully got ahead of them before they had a chance to enter Joe Lake.  Paddling northeast up the eastern arm of Joe Lake into Little Joe Lake we caught a glimpse of the Arowhon Pines Lodge.  Soon the lake began to narrow and after a small portage of 120 m we continued down the creek.  Here we met a group of Common Mergansers and got a few photos.

Continuing down the creek we had a lift over a beaver dam and reached our next portage of 430m. This portage was probably the fanciest portage we have ever seen with actual steps leading down to the lake!  Baby Joe Lake, as is expected, is smaller than the other lakes with the same name.  After a flat easy 190m portage we arrived on Burnt Island Lake by mid afternoon. The rain was now gone and it was time to look for a campsite.  We picked an island site that had the campsite at the top of the hill, along with a very large firepit.  Due to today's rain it was challenging to get a fire going but we managed.  After a supper of store bought dehydes, we snuggled in our sleeping bags for our first night in Algonquin.  In the calm of the night we could hear the light chip notes of migrating songbirds as they migrated over our tent.

Wildlife Sightings:
Canada Geese
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-throatd Sparrow
Common Loon
Blue Jay
Red Squirrel
Eastern Chipmunk
Common Merganser
American Crow
Common Raven
Hairy Woodpeck
Herring Gull

Remember to: No remember to today!

Day #2  Burnt Island Lake to Burnt Island Lake

Weather: Cloudy in the morning, clearing by evening. Strong NE winds. High 13 C  Low: 6 C

Over night the winds began to pick up, and by morning they were noticeably getting stronger.  We crawled out of the tent around 7:30am and had a store bought dehyde of granola with milk and raspberries, along with a couple of kind bars and tea.  Marianne wandered around the island and found an old turtle nest with only old shells remaining. (Snapping Turtle?)

After packing up the canoe there were already whitecaps beginning to form.  Today we were heading northeast to Otterslide Lake, which just so happened to be today's wind direction.  We were used to head winds from last year's trip in Quetico Provincial Park so we figured this would be just a minor set back.  It was a slow go for us at first and we even saw the rowdy group of teens from yesterday battling against the wind as well.  Lucky for them they were heading to Jay Lake so their ordeal would soon be over.  We continued to head northeast against the wind all the while we strategically went behind islands and close to shore staying out of the full force of the wind.  When we rounded a peninsula and got out onto the unavoidable open water we were hit straight on with winds gusting to 40 km per hour! There was no way we could go any further.  We turned around and headed to the closest campsite along Burnt Island's northern shore. We were only out for an hour and a half this morning and maybe paddled 2 kilometres.  The campsite, we had to admit was nicer than the one last night.  It was a small point on the mainland and was fairly large with a table and what looked like a vanity.  It was a really nice spot!

The wind blew through the site a little but luckily along the shoreline there were smooth rocks out of the wind were you could sit, or lie down and find refuge in the wam sun.  After setting up camp it was time to wander and gather firewood.  Walking far back we found not only firewood but also quite a lot of moose droppings.  After gathering wood for the evening we decided to sit back on the flat rocks at the lake out of the wind and listen to the Moose FM  (99.5 FM) on our windup weather radio, while eating GORP. Now this is vacation!

Wildlife Sightings
Common Loons
Common Raven
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
Blue Jay
American Crow
Dark-eyed Junco
Pine Siskins
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Remember to: Check the weather radio before bedtime. If there are strong winds in the forecast get out on the water early to avoid getting wind bound as winds pick up during the day

Day #3  Burnt Island Lake

Weather: Sunny with strong NE winds all day.  High: 12 C Low: 4C

The wind died down last evening when we went to bed, however through the night and early morning the wind picked up yet again  We set our alarm for 5:55 am but when it went off and we heard gusts of wind, we decided that we were not getting up early to get a head start after all.  After dawn we decided to stay at our campsite for yet another day as the winds were still strong out of the northeast which was the direction we were supposed to go all day today.  After a homemade pancake for breakfast we retreated to our sheltered flat rocks at the shoreline yet again, this time for tea with some added left over syrup from pancakes.  This morning it was quite cool, and a lot colder than what the forecast predicted before we left on our trip by around 10 degrees.  Marianne didn't pack her fleece this trip and though she never got too cold, it would have been nice to have. No big plans for today, though we did move the tent to a new spot as there was a slight incline the night before which made it uncomfortable for Marianne to sleep as she slid down the tent in her sleeping bag onto Aaron. We did see a few paddlers go by this morning and wondered how far they actually made it in the winds.  Relaxing on our rock after gathering more firewood we heard on our wind up weather radio that it may go down to 0C tonight.  Today we had a group of loons hang out in front of our site.  One even waved at us!

Wildlife Sightings:
Dark-eyed Junco
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Common Raven
American Robin
Pine Siskins
Common Loon
Red Squirrel
Yellow-rumped Wablers
Canada Geese

Remember to: Pack warm clothes, not just for what the weather calls for. You never know how the weather may change.

Day #4  Burnt Island Lake

Weather: Sunny and windy. High: 11C  Low: 3C

Yet another windy day out of the Northeast.  We pretty much knew in the morning that we were spending the rest of our trip at this campsite, making it one of the laziest camping trips we have ever been on!  The wind was actually stronger today and the only other canoeist we saw was a guy paddling with the wind and making great time!

Today was another day of just lounging around out of the wind in the sun at the shoreline while eating GORP and reading the park newspaper, and later playing UNO in our tent. 

Wildlife Sightings:
Pileated Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Red Squirrel
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-breasted Nuthatnh
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Canada Geese
Common Loons

Remember to: No remember to for today

Day #5 Burnt Island Lake to Canoe Lake

Weather: Sunny and windy in the morning.  5 C

If you have ever watched the Bill Murray movie called Ground Hog Day, that pretty much sums up our canoe trip so far in a nutshell as we had strong northeast winds yet again. Today however it was time for us to get back to the launch, load up the car and make our way to the Mew Lake campground along the highway 60 corridor for a hot shower.  Heading back with the winds at our back was a welcome change and we began to make great time! As we headed to the end of Burnt Island Lake we viewed more campers at the campsites than when we came in last Tuesday/Wednesday.  This was the calmer end of the lake so perhaps they couldn't go any further?  At the first portage for the day we met a gentleman who was on his way back to the Canoe Lake launch after 15 days which left us kind of jealous.  The fall colours now are in full swing with about 100% leaf change!  Continuing towards Canoe Lake we saw a lot of canoeists!  Being a Saturday I guess we shouldn't have been so surprised.

The posh portage from Baby Joe to Little Joe Lake. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Looking over the various paddlers we saw people heading out on at least a week's trip, some with enough gear for only a weekend, and others that looked like this was their first time in a canoe.  A few people asked us about the winds on Burnt Island Lake and we had to tell them that once you got near that peninsula where our campsite was it was REALLY windy!
Making our way back on Canoe Lake we docked and tried to find the remnants of the old Algonquin Hotel.  This hotel was built in 1908 on a hill so those staying there could view Joe Lake. Like other lodges in the park it was demolished for park rejuvenation. This one was taken down in 1957. We walked a little way down a path and after 10 minutes or so we gave up and returned to the canoe to make our way back to the launch.  Canoe Lake was full of canoeists!  We could easily see the sun glinting off of 15 canoes in the far distance.  There were a lot of people enjoying the outdoors along with the brilliant fall colours.  Once we got back to the launch and placed our canoe up on the car we entered the crowded restaurant and had a nice lunch.  For the remainder of the day we decided to hike a trail and go to our booked site at the Mew Lake campground.  Unfortunately the park was literally loaded with tourists!  The parking lots at the trails were spilling onto the road so we didn't have a chance to even hike a trail.  We decided to go to Mew Lake, take a shower, set up camp, and get up early the next day before anyone else to hike some trails.  When we got to Mew Lake there were as many people, and our campsite was pretty horrible as it wasn't very secluded with the wind blowing right in it off the lake, along with a tree that kept creeking.  We looked at each other and decided that maybe we were better off to go back to the cottage on Lake Muskoka (we were staying there the following week) and started heading west down the road. While on our way down highway 60 we saw a lot of break lights and came to a complete stop behind a huge line of cars.  It turned out there was a fatal accident involving an SUV and a tour bus and the road would be closed for maybe another 12 hours.  We had no choice but to turn around, go out the east gate and take the long way back to Gravenhurst via highway 118.  Not a real happy way to end out canoe trip.
In the end this was one of our most relaxing canoe trips ever.  We didn't have to paddle all day as we have in the past, and because it was a short loop we didn't feel like we necessarily had to try to battle the winds.  For sure we will have to do this loop again as we hear that Big Trout Lake is really pretty, and because this trip was so short, we have to make up for it with an epic trip next year!

Wildlife Sightings
Black capped Chickadee
Common Loon
Red Squirrel
Eastern Chipmunk
American Crow
Northern Raven

Remember to: In the future, the launch date and the return date of a canoe trip in Algonquin along the highway 60 corridor will NOT be on a weekend when it is busy

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Quetico Provincial Park: Hunter Island Loop September 7th - September 17th, 2014

After being owned by Quetico Provincial Park our last trip, we decided to return with better gear and more experience in a pretty big way, by attempting to paddle the Hunter Island Loop!

What makes this the ultimate paddling trip in Quetico? At over 300 kilometres in length it takes a while to do this route.  Most sources say at least 10-12 days to complete while others say a more conservative 14 days.  This of course depends on the weather as the route crosses some of the largest windiest lakes in the park, so you can count on being windbound for at least one day. The Hunter Island route also goes through many interesting cultural and natural features including native pictographs on rocks, relics from logging, expanses of land damaged by forest fire, along with river rapids that may or may not be negotiated.

Location of Quetico Provincial Park.  Next to the Minnesota border it makes this park a paddlers paradise for both Canadians and Americans
Once we decided that we wanted to do the Hunter Island loop, it was time to plan.  Due to the length of the trip, the fact that Quetico is a wilderness park with no portage or campsites marked on the map, plus the fact that we were not very experienced for our last attempt here, we did a lot of planning and research from various sources including literature, maps, online websites, and forums.

In the end, we found many helpful and essential items to make this trip practically void of pitfalls.  Here are a few tidbits that helped us and may help you too.

1. Chrismar Map

The Chrismar map is a single map depicting an overview of the whole park.  Portages are shown with most stating the length in metres, details of the access points (Ranger Stations), the Dawson Trail Campground, and the town of Atikokan (location of the park headquarters). A detailed insert of the Falls Chain, a series of waterfalls and rapids that is perhaps the most treacherous section of the entire park, is also a nice addition.  On the reverse side of the map, as with all Chrismar Maps is a description of the park including natural and human history, details of the ranger stations, and some suggested routes to name a few.  The only downsides are that the map isn't a topo map, isn't of appropriate scale for navigation and it doesn't show the locations of pictographs.

2. Fisher Maps

Fisher Maps has produced a series of maps depicting sections of both Quetico and the surrounding Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. The Quetico maps illustrate known campsites from a 1979 geological survey as well as portage lengths in rods. These maps are essential (as are the similar Mackenzie maps depending on your preference) in making navigating easier, as to just bringing the Chrismar Map that shows an area of 4,6oo km2 on only one map. The one downside, though not critical,  is that the Fisher Maps lack topograpchical features for Quetico Provincial Park (they do depict the boundary waters features however).  One thing to keep in mind is that these maps were produced in the late 1970s.  Not that much has changed since then but portages can and do change. Another nice feature on the map is that it illustrates where pictographs are located.


Paddle Planner has online maps that illustrate updated known campsites, that were reported by paddlers in the park.  Some of these "sites" looked like they were never a campsite as we passed some on our trip, however we did stay at one of these "sites" on Kawnipi Lake as we were beginning to get windbound, which was essentially a big rock in the middle of the lake with a flat spot at the top just big enough for a two man tent.  What is also neat about this site is that you can actually view Quetico topographically.  The downside is the site takes a really long time to load (it is a map with a lot of info which is understandable) and I often found it not responding, needing to reload the page quite frequently and slowly zoom in on the section of the park I was reviewing.


Quiet Journey is a great website that covers a lot of info about Quetico and the Boundary Waters. It has a database of almost every single portage in the park taken from park users including length, time, difficutly etc.   From this website we found out that a couple of portages on our Fisher maps were labelled incorrectily (or perhaps have changed since 1979).  The first "portage" labelled on our Fisher Map was actually a side route to see the top of Chatterton Falls, while another portage was labelled on the wrong side of the lake. 


So you plan your route months ahead and when you arrive you find out that there is a forest fire in a section of your what?  Luckily the Government of Ontario website has a map that illustrates current forest fires incase you have to reroute your trip.  Current fires in the province are illustrated an interactive map on this site.  There is also a link to a "Forest Fire Danger Map" from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  This map labels areas that are on a scale of low to extreme, with extreme meaning that open fires may not be permitted.  Remember Quetico is a wilderness park, and a park that encourages natural succession, so if there is infact a forest fire they let it burn.


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Information Resource has a community of people that are eager to share there experiences. From the sites message board we found out that there were some current updates to some portages around the series of rapids along the Malinge River including a new portage not marked on any map.  The new portage was put in place during the high and fast moving waters after the spring thaw making rapids more dangerous.  Lucky for us the water levels lowered before our trip, and we easily ran the water where the new portage was put in place during the spring


Calling the staff at Ontario Parks before a trip is always helpful for any last minute information whether it be water levels, problem bears, or closed campsites.  When we phoned before our trip we received updated maps via email of two potentially dangerous sections of our route including the Falls Chain and the Maligne River.  The maps detailed exactly where the portages were and what side of the lake to approach/depart from. 

I'm not sure if gathering so much information was overkill, but it sure made our trip easier and more relaxing. 

The Hunter Island Loop as seen on a map of Quetico Provincial Park

Total Days: 10 1/2
Total Kilometres:  Approx 320 kilometres
Total Portages: 36
Total Portage Length: approx. 11 kilometres
Longest Portage: 1.68 kilometres
Average Daytime High: 15.5 Celsius
Average Nightime Low: 8.7 Celsius
Route: Lac La Croix, Bottle Lake, Iron Lake, Crooked Lake, Basswood River , Basswood Lake, Birch Lake, Carp Lake, Melon Lake, Seed Lake, Knife Lake, Ottertrack Lake, Swamp Lake, Cache Bay, Saganaga Lake, Saganagons Lake, Sidney Lake, Kenny Lake, Atkins Bay, Kawnipi Lake, Shelley Lake, Keats Lake, Chatterton Lake, Russell Lake, Sturgeon Lake, Maligne River, Tanner Lake, Maligne River, Lac La Croix

Day #1  Lake La Croix to Iron Lake

Weather: Fog in the morning, with sunshine for the rest of the day.  High: 24 C Low: 10 C

After staying overnight in the lovely town of Atikokan at the Atikokan Hotel (which we highly recommend) we drove west and turned south onto the 76 kilometre gravel road (Road 901) that takes us to the Lac La Croix Ranger Station/launch on the Lac La Croix first nations reserve.  Here we filled out our self serve permit and removed the canoe and packs from our car all the while by being harassed by mosquitoes.  When we got to the launch we met a group that came in by boat, and before that were flown in that had to register here as well.  When we told them our route they were excited for us, and they were also surprised that we actually drove in to the ranger station.  We think they didn't know there was actually a road to Lac La Croix.
After we launched our canoe we soon found ourselves on the wide expanse of Lac La Croix.  There were motor boats on this lake used by the first nations people but it doesn't bother us at all.  The lake is nice and calm and the temperature of the air was almost too warm for us at a balmy 24C. 
Lunch break on Lac La Croix.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Paddling down Lac La Croix we tried to find the pictographs along the eastern shoreline.  We did see something red on a rock but it just looked like a big smudge to us.  Apparently, this is one of the largest concentrations of pictographs in the region, but we just couldn't locate them..  We also checked out Warrior Hill which was said to have been historically used by the indigenous people to display strength by running from the base up to its steep top.

Warrior Hill on Lac La Croix.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

It was at this point we realized our boat bailer that included rope, whistle and flashlight were left in the car.....Well there is our "remember to" for the day.
Our first portage of the trip was a 510 metre from the southern end of Lac La Croix into Bottle Lake, known as the "Bottle Portage".  From here we paddled into Iron Lake until we arrived at an island campsite where there were a lot less mosquitoes.  We took a quick jump in the lake for a bath and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.  A pair of really tame Red Squirrels were at this site.  Hopefully they stay out of our tent.

Wildlife Sightings:
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Spruce Grouse
Ruffed Grouse
Blue Jay
Common Raven
American Crow
Common Loon
Ring-billed Gull
Eastern Chipmunk
Red Squirrel
White-tailed Deer
Black-camped Chickadee

Remember to: Don't forget boat bailer in car

Day #2 Iron Lake to Crooked Lake (Friday Bay)

Weather: Sunny all day with 30 km west winds into the afternoon.  High: 24 C Low: 14 C

We woke up to the chattering of our Red Squirrels and began our day with some premade dehydrated breakfast of honey granola with raspberries along with Twinnings Irish Breakfast Tea which we call our "morale tea".  We were out on the water a little after 8:00 am.

Morning at Iron Lake on our island campsite.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Our first stop was to check out Rebecca Falls which we could just barely hear from our campsite the night before.  The water was moving really fast and was quite impressive.  Heading east on Iron Lake we navigated and ran a swift to our only portage for the day, a 700m that headed east from Iron Lake to Crooked Lake.  At the end of the portage was Curtain Falls that were very impressive as well!

Marianne standing at the head of Curtain Falls. Photo by Aaron Balkwill

Paddling southeast on Crooked Lake we viewed some very pale pictographs near the western shoreline of Sunday Bay. As the day wore on we were hit head on by wind and some waves.  After stopping for lunch on Sunday Bay we had a heck of a time trying to get back into the canoe as the waves banged the canoe against the rocks.  Paddling was pretty slow going but once we hit Friday Bay the waves turned into swells with the wind making the canoe uncontrollable.  Looking down at our Fisher Map we located a campsite and headed towards the north shore to an island.  After unloading the canoe and setting up the tent, we quickly bathed.  Before making supper, (which was a homemade chili dehyde along with bannock and premade black bean hummus) Aaron fixed the fire pit. 

Wildlife Sightings
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Bald Eagle
Ring-billed Gull
Red Squirrel
Turkey Vulture
Song Sparrow
Common Loon
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch

Remember to:  Bring a plastic bag for dirty clothes to keep them separated from clean clothes.

Day #3 Crooked Lake (Friday Bay) to Basswood Lake

Weather: Cloudy in the morning giving way to showers for the rest of the day High: 14 C Low: 10 C

This morning we woke up just after 6:00am (yes this is vacation).  The winds were calm again and we wanted to get a headstart on the day.  After a quick breakfast of oatmeal we were back on the water by 7:30 am.  It actually felt like we were on an entirely different lake as the waves of yesterday were gone and a calm lake took its place.  As we headed east into Thursday Bay and then south into Wednesday Bay, the lake narrowed.  There were a lot of canoeists out here with most sporting a fishing rod.  Most (maybe all?) appear to be American which was not a surprise as we are paddling right along the Ontario/Minnesota border.  What was surprising (at least to us) was the fact that most of the visitors to Quetico are indeed American.  It was along this narrower gap we began to see stakes in the ground (often in rocks) that are marking the U.S/ Canada border with each labelled stake placed in its respectful country.

Along here we did see some more distinctive pictographs on the south leg of Crooked Lake with images that included a moose, heron and a branch.  No photos were taken of pictogrpahs due to the fact that the natives deem them sacred and prefer you not to. You can see the pictographs online if you image search "Crooked Lake Pictographs"
As we continue along the day gets cloudier and colder and we began to put on more layers.  We had three small portages as we began to head east and a long 1680 metre portage for the last portage of the day that would bring us into Basswood Lake. This last portage is in fact the longest portage of the trip.  Hard to believe as our usual longest are over 2000 metres! It was along this portage we met a gentleman who was soloing it from Lake of the Woods to Lake Superior!  He was impressed by our route, but we were even more impressed by his!  He had three weeks for his route and he stated that he was ahead of schedule by using a sail when the wind was at his back.

A huge rock at the head of the Lower Basswood Falls.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Arriving on Basswood Lake we met the wind head on and it was misting on top of this.  We found the closest campsite which was an island.  Not wanting to attempt to make a fire in the rain, we had only Kind Bars and hot tea heated on our camp stove for supper.  The temperature meanwhile continued to fall and the forecast called for wind tomorrow as we listen to our wind up radio. We hope we don't get wind bound!

Wildlife Sightings:
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Beaver lodges
Common Merganser
Black-and-white Warbler
Broad-winged Hawk
Red Squirrel

Remember to:  Bring more fruit.  We brought apples as an after thought and they taste amazing while out in the bush!

Day #4 Basswood Lake

Weather: Rain and wind all day until the late evening.  High: 9 C  Low: 6 C

We are windbound!!  Last night the wind picked up and with our tent at the top of a somewhat exposed rock on a tiny island, the wind shaked the tent and even the canoe!  It later began to rain and Aaron heard it thunder a couple of times.  Around 5:00 am the canoe decided to flip over in the wind. Though the canoe was right beside our tent we were also at the top of the hill so there was the risk of the canoe rolling down the hill and into the lake!  Aaron sprung out of the tent to tie the canoe to some trees.  It was at this point we decided to have breakfast in the tent and try to get more sleep as it was a somewhat sleepless night.  Around 10:00am the winds were not so much gail force and we explored our little island campsite and gathered some wood in hopes of making a little fire later on.

Our tent at the top of our little wind bound island on Basswood Lake.  The canoe now tied to the neighbouring trees after rolling over in the early morning.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

One thing we discovered today is that our weather radio decided to stop working!!  Not cool!!  After lunch we had another little nap, organized our gear and played cards in the tent.  After trying the wind up the weather radio again and again it finally started to work and we quickly wrote down the extended forecast for the week which included a chance of frost the next few days....Yikes!
By late evening the wind finally calmed down and the sun made a brief appearance right before it settled below the horizon as we made a small fire.  It was a boost of moral to see the sun and feel its glow on our faces. Maybe we will sleep better tonight.

Wildlife Sightings:

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Loon
Red-breasted Nuthatch

Remember to: Bring some dental floss.  Buy a new wind up weather radio...that works..

Day #5 Basswood Lake to Carp Lake

Weather: Clouds with sunny periods, giving way to clouds in the evening.  High: 10 C Low: 6 C

Today we got up at 5 am as we have to make up time for being wind bound.

Sunrise at our island campsite on Basswood Lake revealed nice calm waters. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

As we finally made our way out onto Basswood Lake again we realized how big this lake actually is!  Besides Lake Erie, this is probably this biggest lake we have ever paddled. Thankfully for us, the wind was actually at our backs for the majority of the morning. As with everyday thus far we have seen other paddlers.  Today included a few fisherman in motorboats, people at campsites and others using the portages.  We arrived at the Prairie Portage Ranger Station by noon at the southern end of Inlet Bay and we checked out the Ontario Parks store.  It was here we we got to take a look at ourselves in the mirror.  Marianne had a heck of a sunburn on her lip and it was currently beginning to hurt and peel!  They had the internet here and we got the latest extended weather forecast along with additional maps that highlighted the Falls Chain and the Maligne River section of our trip. The woman maning the Parks Store told us that the Falls Chain section, a series of portages around sets of falls and rapids, was to be treated with the utmost caution and that we were "definitely better off to paddle it downstream rather than upstream where most fatalities happen"......After that for some reason Marianne started to feel a little worried.  Even with all the researching and reading accounts from other paddlers that the Falls Chain isn't that tough, here is someone that works for the park giving us a warning!  It made Marianne think that maybe that section of the park was out of our league!  No turning back now...
After a short 100 m portage known as the "Prairie Portage", which was also an access point into the park, we arrived on Birch Lake.  The water here is extremely high to the point that it actually felt kinda creepy.  After a flat but rocky 200m portage we reached Carp Lake and arrived at our campsite. This site was a large treed area next to the portage from Carp Lake to Melon Lake.  We were also next to a stream we can hear babbling.  It's nice to have this "white noise" next to you while sleeping in the backcountry and makes us less likely to hear things that go "bump" in the night. Aaron fixed up the fire pit (which seemed to be a common theme this trip) while Marianne collected firewood.  We ended the day by rewarding our nearly 10 hours of paddling and portaging with pancake for supper.  Tonight's forecast stated that it might actually drop down to 0 Celsius!!

Wildlife Sightings:

Lots of Bald Eagles
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers
Brown Creeper
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Lots of Common Loons
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Common Merganser
Red Squirrel

Remember to: Put sunscreen on lips, or better yet, buy lip balm with sunscreen

Day #6 Carp Lake to Saganaga Lake

Weather: Cloudy with sun and some clouds by evening.  High: 14 C Low: 6 C

Today we were on the water by 7:45 am.  Our first portage was right next to our campsite which was a short 125 m. On the Fisher Map there are two portages labelled next to our campsite, one on the north side and another on the south side. As far as we can tell the northern one no longer exists, so if you are going to paddle this stretch of the park, please take the southern portage. Continuing east on Seed Lake we did the Big Knife Portage at 360 m, which introduced us to the long lake fittingly named Knife Lake.  Knife Lake runs along the Southeast corner of the park boundary.  Our goal was to make sure we got to the end of this lake.  One of the reasons being that on our Fisher Map there were absolutely no Canadian campsites.  When we began paddling the lake it started to become clear why this may have been as past forest fires left barren sections on the north side of this lake.  Quetico is a Provincial Park that lets forest fires burn in order to study the natural succession.  It was on this lake that we saw a Black Bear that in turn saw us and ran in plain view up a hill and turned around to look at us.  Another interesting sighting was a Merlin chasing a songbird and almost caught it out of the sky!

The north shore of Knife Lake after a forest fire.  No places to camp here! Photo by Marianne Balkwill

The most intesting portage of the day was the "Monument Portage", a 420 m portage from Ottertrack Lake to Swamp Lake.  The portage included "stairs", a makeshift ramp at the Swamp Lake end, and three "monuments" that were way larger than the normal boundary markers we saw while paddling along the Canada/U.S border.  These larger markers were labeled "U.S.A" on one side and "Canada" on the other. 
After a short 25 metre portage we arrived at our campsite that was a peninsula on Saganaga Lake around 5:15pm. Tonight's supper is bannock with peanut butter and jam which we were looking forward to. Unfortunately the pan got too hot too fast and the bannock didn't cook all the way through and was pretty flowery tasting. Yuck!

The end of the monument portage is a nice dock to launch from.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Wildlife Sightings:
Least Chipmunk (a life mammal for both of us)
Black Bear
Bald Eagles
Herring and Ring-billed Gulls
American Pipits (migrating south)
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Merlin chasing a passerine
Lots of Loons
Red Squirrel

Remember to: The prefilter on the water pump only lasts for 5 days

Day #7 Saganaga Lake to Saganagons Lake

Weather: Cloudy with sunny breaks. Clouds in the evening. Breezy.  High: 14C  Low: 7 C

Today we slept in a bit and didn't get out onto the water until 8:45 am.  We had a more leisurly paddle as we had no large lakes to cross and for the most part the wind was at our backs.  As we paddled north on Cache Bay we docked at the the currently non operating ranger station. While we stretched our legs six more people arrived in canoes as well.  We introduced ourselves and discovered that they were a group of fisherman that were flown in. Included in their party was a gentleman from Alabama and his friend from New Mexico.  Quetico and the surrounding waters are well known as a premier fishing area in North America.  Coming to the northwest end of Cache Bay we arrived at the 700m portage known as the Silver Falls portage. The falls runs parallel to this well used portage that was the typical ascending and descending portage with rocks and mud inbetween.   The falls was the most impressive at the beginning of the portage where, with the water being high this year, was quite dramatic indeed! 

Looking down Silver Falls.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

After finishing this portage we had lunch at a lovely campsite up on a hill on Saganagons Lake. Paddling north we reached the "Dead Man's Portage" which was 290 m in length.  Paddling further north on Saganagons Lake it was time to find a campsite.  There were not many appealing island campsites and we settled on a medicore site that included a huge fallen tree from quite a while ago in the middle of where it looked liked people used to pitch their tents.  As the afternoon wore on the breeze began to pick up and we seeked shelter in the tent and went over our plan of action for the Falls Chain.  This may be the most challenging part of the trip.  We hope it doesn't rain tomorrow.

Wildlife Sightings:

2 Grey Jays
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Merganser
Common Loon
Red Squirrel

Remember to: Six water purifying tablets per day is only the minimum.  Repair hole in tent.  New stuff sacks for sleeping pads.  Fix stuff sack for sleeping bag after trip.

Day #8: Saganagons Lake to Kawnipi Lake (Atkins Bay)

Weather: Rain in the morning with rain and wind in the afternoon, followed by sun and wind in the evening.  High: 13 C Low: 7 C

We set the alarm early for 4:30 am but we didn't sleep very well.  It was raining and a little windy when we woke up so we fell back to sleep.  By 8:40 am we were out on the water and it looked like the skies were clearing though the breeze stayed.  These were not the ideal conditions to do the Falls Chain but we didn't have much of a choice.  The first portage along the chain was known as the Four Falls a 280m followed by a 100m. The second was the Bald Rock Falls at 40m.  Both these portages were pretty straightforward. After another easy 180m at Little Falls the portages became more complex.  Koko Falls at 560 m had a lot of rocks and mud while Canyon Falls at 480m had that plus more ascending and descending parts along its portage.  All put ins and take outs were fairly easy until we reached the put in at the last section called Kennebas Falls which was rocky and our canoe got more battle scars. It was also at Kennebas Falls at the takeout at the top of the falls that we saw a Kevlar canoe (most likely a rental) wedged underneath a tree in the water.  Not fun times for those individuals I'm sure. 

The final portage along the Falls Chain is the Kennebas Falls.  The take out is literally just next to the lower right corner of this photo.  You can see under the fallen trees a crushed Kevlar canoe.  The lower photo is a zoomed in image of the canoe.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

After Kennebas Falls we got to breath a sigh of relief as we completed the Falls Chain. We think we rocked it out in 5 hours.  Though easier than we thought after reading all the warnings in the literature, attempting this section heading upstream we can see it being a lot more challenging, while at ice out we had a funny feeling it could be terrifying going either direction.
Paddling our way northwest onto Kawnipi Lake we were sheltered for awhile until we hit some big winds out on Atkins Bay where we headed for an island.  This island supposedly has a campsite on it that Marianne found out about by reasearching online at At the top of the small island there was a flat spot just large enough for our small two person tent.  It was actually a pretty nice spot but no fire wood.  On our island there was quite a drop to the water next to our tent. Sitting out on the top of the island gazing around Kawnipi Lake we don't see another paddler for the rest of the day.  The forest here looks a little stunted which was the result of a forest fire some years ago.  Tomorrow we will be getting up early as we are just a little behind where we want to be. 

Wildlife Sightings:
Bald Eagle
Pine Siskin
Common Raven
Common Loon
Red Squirrel
Hooded Merganser
Black-capped Chickadee
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Remember to: No remember to today! Whoot!

Day #9 Kawnipi Lake to Russell  Lake

Weather: Partly sunny in the morning to partly cloudy and breezy in the afternoon   High: 17 C  Low: 10 C

After two days of not getting very far, and with the weather radio stating there were to be west winds (head winds) of only 5 to 10mph today, we set the alarm for 4:30 am.   We were back on the water by 7:10am and paddled the whole length of Kawnipi Lake in 4 hours in both fair and breezy conditions.  Though paddling the length of the lake in that time was quite a feat for us, we did miss a side trip to  a section of the lake to view some more pictographs. After lunch at a scary campsite full of widowmakers it was back in the water.  A short 20 m portage between Kawnipi and Kasshapiwi Creek was our first portage for the day that went around some rapids, while with the next "portage" we just ended up running through some swifts.  After another short portage around rapids we arrived at an easy 300m portage known as the "Have a Smoke" portage (neither of us smoke) and entered Keats Lake.  Please note that on the map there is also the alternate portage called "Snake Falls".  We were told by various sources that this portage was too dangerous to attempt. On Keats Lake we had a tricky takeout at the 420m "Split Rock Falls" and battled some more head wind yet again as we paddled our way west on Chatterton Lake heading towards Russell Lake.  Our last portage of the day was a 410m into Russell Lake and we paddled our way to a campsite on a peninsula.  We also had neighbours a fair distance away that were on a neighbouring peninsula.  In the distance we could just hear Chatterton Falls which was near our final portage. Today was the longest we have ever paddled at 11 hours and covered near 38 km.  The weather was finally getting warmer again, our canoe had some pretty good battle scars on the hull, and everyday we've seen solo canoeists and families enjoying Quetico!

Our canoe earning a well deserved rest on Russell Lake after getting beat up during the Falls Chain.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Wildlife Sightings:
River Otter
Bald Eegle
Mouse (Deer Mouse?)
Pine Siskin
American Pipits (migrating south)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Blue Jay
Common Raven
Common Loon

Day #10 Russell Lake to Sturgeon Lake

Weather: Partly sunny with wind in the morning to partly cloudy and breezy in the afternoon. Calm with a mix of sun and cloud in the evening.  High: 17 C Low: 10C

After rocking it out yesterday we had a good nights sleep and slept in a little bit.  We rolled out of the tent around 6:30am, had pancakes, and were back on the water by 8:30am.  We battled some west winds (yes more head winds yet again!) out of Russell Lake and arrived at our only portage for the day, a 540m portage known as the "stair case portage" into Sturgeon Lake.  Boy were they right in naming this portage!!  It was the most steep one for the trip thus far and we saw fresh bear scat along it.  After giving our legs a workout it was back to giving our arms a work out battling the headwinds on Sturgeon Lake.  It wasn't too bad for a while as we hid behind islands, but Sturgeon Lake is pretty long and fairly wide. Half way down its length and getting into the middle of it, the waves got larger and soon we had to wait it out for 2 hours at what was probably the most a beautiful campsite in the whole park which was on a giant sandbar!  This site felt like we were not even in Quetico Provincial Park anymore! The landing was all smooth sand and the campsite was flat and huge. Walking to the west side of the sandspit to look at the lake and what we were supposed to paddle into was all whitecaps!  NOPE!  It was time to take a break, have lunch and bath in the warm shallow water (we haven't properly bathed since day 2!) After lunch and while enjoying this sheltered beauty of a site we later noticed that the whitecaps died down and we, though reluctantly, loaded up the canoe again and continued west to the western end of Sturgeon Lake to a site before it met the Maligne River.  The campsite here was on a fair sized island and the site itself looked like it was set up for a film shoot!  There were large rocks and logs brought over and made into seats and tables. Unfortunately, some young trees were cut down to create a wind shelter which is not really allowed in a provincial park.  Clearly a lot of work was put into this camp site to make it what it is!

Listening to our weather radio we heard that northeast winds were predicted for tomorrow, while the following day called for thunderstorms and west winds. It was decision time.  Should we try to paddle the length of the Maligne River and head west returning to Lac La Croix and the car tomorrow, or extend the trip into a relaxing two days while paddling the large expanse of Lac La Croix in west winds and potential thunderstorms the following day?  Not wanting to deal with head winds anymore we decided to try for the long haul and paddle both the the Malinge River and the length of Lac La Croix back to the launch and the car tomorrow.  We ended up having a quick meal of Kind Bars and tea and went to bed early. 

Wildlife Sightings:
Red Squirrel
Pine Siskin
Common Loon
Pileated Woodpecker
Belted Kingfisher

Remember to: Pack less food and bars.  We packed too much!

Day #11 Sturgeon Lake to Lac La Croix

Weather: Light showers in the morning. Partly cloudy in the afternoon.  High 17 C  Low: 10 C

We were up by 4:30 am, had breakfast in the dark, and waited until it got light enough to see before heading out in the clouds and light rain around 7:00 am.  Before we knew it we were on the Malinge River.  The first portage at 261m at the mouth of the Maligne was an easy go as was the second at 322m.  There was a new portage placed in the spring for the third portage due to high water and rough rapids, however now the water level was lowered and we easily ran through.  After the fourth portage at 211m we entered Tanner Lake.  Maybe because it was our last day of our trip, but Tanner Lake felt like it took FOERVER to cross!  We went around and through some rapids which took some maneuvering but soon we found ourselves getting stuck on a flat rock in fairly fast moving water and we were worried we may tip over as we were turned somewhat sideways in the rapids.  We shimmied back in forth in the canoe on the rock and eventually freed ourselves and continued  on our way.  We took a much needed break at our very last portage at the Twin Falls. Here we were greeted by a couple of Grey Jays that came to investigate what were were eating for lunch (which was only left over beef jerky and cheese).  After our last 80m portage on the west side of Twin Falls, we were back on Lac La Croix. The wind was from the Northeast as was predicted as we paddled our way back to the launch.  Paddling the wide expanse of Lac La Croix, hearing the distant humming of a motor boat we reached that part of the trip, that part of mixed emotions. You really don't want to go home, but when you are this close to getting back to the launch, and your car, something inside of you starts to crave what you are now realizing you missed;  a hot shower, a soft pillow and bed, a glass of cold milk to name a few.  Perhaps we were not out long enough to supress those cravings? Even if there was a campsite right next to the launch, right next to our car we would still choose to go to a motel..a cold glass of milk...a hot shower. 
Arriving at the launch we were quite sore. Aaron was sore in the lower neck from the yoke of the canoe, and Marianne's right shoulder was sore and her finger tips were getting numb from the long paddle. Instead of mosquitoes this time greeting us at the car we were welcomed instead by a swarm of blackflies as we strapped the canoe on the car. After packing it all in we walked back to the dock at the launch for a victory hug and high 5.  We did it! We did the Hunter Island Loop and had our first real successful trip in Quetico Provincial Park!  Not only that, this is by far our best canoe trip yet!  We will be back Quetico, as you still have a lot of lakes and portages that we haven't yet explored :)

Wildlife Sightings:
Common Loon
Common Raven
Gray Jays
Pine Siskins
Ring-billed Gull
Bald Eagle
Red Squirrel
Eastern Chipmunk
Black-capped Chickadee
..also the fall colours were just starting to change as we noted on our way back on Lac La Croix and up the road back to the highway.

Remember to: Buy a new map case