By Rick Touchette, Voyageur
When you are paddling from Atikokan, Ontario to Ely, MN on the Canoe Voyage – August 22 to September 1 – hopefully your socks will be dry when you wake up in the morning. Breakfast is hot — oatmeal and coffee — and maybe fish caught early and fried over a wood fire. Camp is struck, the huge Grey Whale canoe packs carefully packed and balanced. The food pack weighs 100 pounds. The gear packs are lighter, but just as hard to pack. Gear seems to expand a bit each day. The crew consists of a maximum of eight Voyageurs plus the Interpreter, three to a canoe. On a portage, one Voyageur carries the canoe, one Voyageur the gear, and one Voyageur the food or kettle pack.
When all is ready, a final look at the map and today’s route, and last policing of the campsite – Leave No Trace is the rule. Canoes are carefully loaded and checked for balance. Much of the day is on the water. The horizon is low, just a fringe of trees on the shore. The lowest point is usually a portage. A quick conference and study of the map: is that the right portage? Approach the shore carefully. Kevlar canoes are light, but easily swamped when one exits the canoe in too-deep water.
The shore is often rocky. Load and unload canoes in knee- deep water. Good wet boots are essential. The portage trail is measured in rods. One rod equals 16 ½ feet. Maybe the only contact you’ll have with another crew all day will be at a portage. The portage may be 50 rods, or 150. Some days there may be two portages, others 5. After a while, the crew develops an easy routine for portaging.
In the afternoon, paddle to shore to find a campsite. In the Quetico Park, the campsites are primitive. Set up camp and lay out clothes and boots to dry. Fish for walleye, northern pike, lake trout, and bass. Explore, swim, or hunt for eagles with binoculars. Cook a one-pot meal for dinner, clean up before dark. More time to explore or fish.
When night falls, stare at the stars, look out over the water…
The Quetico Park is truly wild. It’s changed little since the glaciers melted. You’ll see bald eagles, and maybe moose. You might hear loons, grouse, and if very lucky, a pack of timber wolves.
“Wilderness is more than lakes, rivers, and timber along the shores, more than fishing or just camping. It is the sense of the primeval, of space, solitude, silence and the eternal mystery.”
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