Mark's 2006 Quetico Park Canoe Trip
By: Mark Beaumont
I hadn't thought a lot about the details, just I wanted to go into the west side of Quetico and this would be a good time. I could have CBO opened up and Carl, Brian, Lori, Melissa and Janelle could handle things while I was gone. Lynn wouldn't be here for a few more weeks, too early to need a Quetico permit, my RABC was good and I had picked up my 2006 Canadian Fishing License while in Atikokan a week earlier. Frank was eager to go so I would have a powerful paddle and strong back to accompany me. We would leave on Tuesday May 9th, my birthday. It was set, 7 days, part of my 2006 20 days in the woods plan. Most often you will hear me refer to my trips to woods as “Field Research”. My job requires that I keep up to date with current trends in the woods and on the water.
The route was straight forward. Take a tow to Back Bay, portage to Pipestone up and out the narrows to the Basswood River. Paddle through Crooked to Argo. Catch a few Lakers in Argo and Darky, hit a couple of cool places I know on Brent, drop down through McIntyre, fish a few cool places there, Sarah, out Isabella and fish The North Bay area for a couple of days. Not a tough trip, no exotic side trips just some pictographs, Lake Trout and Walleye. The ice had gone out on Moose Lake on April 17th and guessed the water temp was going to be in the upper 40's lower 50's.
So far it had been a beautiful spring. We had all kinds of wolves around CBO which for me always elevates my energy level. The facility was opening up well. Brian and Melissa were ahead of schedule with the maintenance, Lori was well into double checking gear and we had moved the office from the house to the store. Let's go. FIELD RESEARCH
The morning of the 9th it was misty rainy cool, one of those mornings where staying in bed warm and cozy tests the “call of the wild.” Frank had pulled the rest of our gear together and Sandy had our Food Pack ready. No Fresh food. For me fresh food takes too much time. I like to boil water; I guess you could say I am a 2 pot guy, one for boiling water and another for boiling water. I do like a frying pan for fish. Now, if Lynn is with me the food thing is a different matter all together, fry breads, fresh foods, wild berries and a French press are all part of those trips. But with Frank, all I had to do was bring 4 person meals and half a food pack of power bars and gorp. He was carrying the food pack so the extra weight was OK with me, he could handle it.
For those of you that haven't met Frank, he is a 21 year old staff member. A fishing fool, the nephew of Canadian Border Outfitter's founder Bob Carey. Frank has fished these waters since he was a small boy and authored the CBO Blue Ribbon Book “Fishing With Frank.” This is however, Frank's first trip to Quetico.
We loaded up and away we went. Both Carl and Brian went with us, more” field research”. The tow to Back Bay makes a big first day difference on this route; still we didn't get across the Basswood Falls portage until just after noon. We ate power bars at the portages and again in front of the pictographs past Lower Basswood Falls. The picto's were extra special viewing today. We had mist mixed with sleet in the morning and in the evening but the middle of the day was bright and sunny. All the way up to “fast current” between Wednesday and Thursday bays the sun was out and the water was glassy calm. Great start and I am pumped up.
We set camp late afternoon. I did the details; tent, tarp, boiling water and fire while Frank went out and acquired dinner. It wasn't long before we were fed, sitting under the tarp, poking coals and listening to the sizzle of sleet on the water. Life is good on May 9th 2006....... my birthday.
Up and at it on the 10th. We were setting camp on Argo by 2 pm. The Lake Trout were calling. Big enough wind, more sleet and rain made the fishing on Argo interesting to say the least. The rock slide produced, but the open water was tough. We saw two other canoes that evening crossing Argo towards Friday bay. As it turned out those were the last two canoes we would see the whole trip. This island camp site is not marked on maps and is a doozy. If you are going to spend the night on Argo let me know.
It is now Thursday morning and there is still wind and moisture in the air. I know some places on Brent where we can fish and get out of the wind so we make the decision to bolt from Argo and head to Brent. We can fish a few spots on Darky as we pass.
By late morning we are at the Darky river portage to Brent. We want to get set up on Brent and fish so no time is wasted, out of the water and onto the portage. It is sleeting, we will stop and eat a power bars on the other side. Under normal conditions this portage is interesting to say the least. Rock gardens, narrow hillside trail and flooded areas abound. Frank was out front with the canoe and food pack I had the other two packs. The footing was noticeably poor with ice accumulating and my new chota boots were not sticking to the rocks very well. I made the decision to put the front pack down and come back and get it. Perched, one foot on two adjacent rocks I twisted just enough to drop the shoulder strap off my left shoulder, here it comes and along with it my left foot slips off its rock perch hurling the pack on my back around to the left and tossing my head towards one of those beautiful jagged boulders. Here comes the boulder, out goes my left hand. The next thing I know I am looking at my left wrist through blood coated glasses. What just happened? Can I think? After a moment of wits gathering I determined that my arm was very broken and that I had cracked my head. I could see the damage to my arm but couldn't asses the damage to my head. Can I think? Do my thoughts make sense?
I gathered my senses, Frank backed tracked and saw the mess I was in and turned white as a sheet. This portage is as far away from Moose Lake as we are going to get on this trip. It is sleeting the wind is blowing, my arm is for sure broken, Frank can't tell me how big the gash is above eye, I am not sure Frank knows where we are or how to get out, this is going to be an adventure.
I make the decision to move on. I take one pack Frank will have to back track and get the other. We make it to Brent and while I wait for Frank to return with the 3rd pack I do some assessment. I can tell I have stopped the bleeding from my forehead. This is a good thing. I struggle to remove my arm from layers of clothing so I can see what it looks like. This was hard. My arm looked like a “Z” it was very broken. This was a bad thing. I looked around and found a couple of balsam sticks that fit almost perfectly along my disfigured arm. I found a little tape in my first aide kit and parachute cord. The plan was to splint the arm and paddle out. I didn't think I was in shock and if I could keep warm I would be alright. I had paddled many miles solo before, so Frank should have no problem paddling us out. I would navigate, he would paddle. It might take two days or more but that would be alright. Doctors can fix anything these days. Even if they have to re-break my arm they will be able to put it back together just like new, or slightly used, no problem. Keep my wits, I won't die.
Oh yeah! I have a satellite phone. I remembered that I took along one of our satellite phones so I could call back and check at CBO to make certain everything was ok there. I never really thought about what I was going to be able to do if something at CBO needed my attention but at least I would know. Never did I think of the satellite phone as a safety tool for me. OK, now I have this phone I can call anywhere. Where do I call? I don't call Atikokan to come and get the owner of Canadian Border Outfitters. No, that would not be good publicity, the USFS can't help, I am in Canada. I don't want to call Lynn what would she do? Worry! I guess I should do what I tell our customers to do, call CBO. So I did.
I can't tell you how settling it was to at least talk to someone about the situation. Now at least someone new that I had issues and if it got serious help could be on the way. I do believe deeply in the way of the wilderness but at this point a compromise was acceptable and welcomed. I asked Janelle to call Atekokan and see if we could get permission to send a tow boat up to North Bay to pick me up. North Bay, that is still more than a day away. If we could get permission to motor up to Louisa that would save another night out, this would be a big help.
When Frank returned with the rest of our gear he needed several more power bars. Boy, he can eat. I told him about my plan and that the further around Brent we could get before setting up tonight the better. We paddled all the way around to where Brent turns south towards McIntire. There is a huge island campsite there and we pulled in. The wind was blowing and the sleet and rain were still coming down. We had made pretty good time considering the wind and my one armed paddling. I was certain that we could be at Isabella Creek by 3 the next day. The biggest obstacle could be the wind on McIntyre, it can be almost impassible if a strong wind is from the Southwest.
Frank put the tent up and I fumbled around preparing something hot to eat and drink. It was still blowing sleet and rain off the lake. For the first time I started to get chilled. This concerned me so I doubled up on the soup and stew portions, got the 2nd pot of water going for hot chocolate. We ate well, especially Frank, I have forgotten how much a young dude like that can put away. There wasn't much pot cleaning to do, Frank pretty much licked them clean.
My arm was doing ok but I was still getting chilled so a little fire poking and then to the tent and my sleeping bag. It rained and sleeted hard most of the night, I didn't sleep much, trying to stay warm. I had a little internal warmer along, imported from Scotland, it seemed to help. Still no sleep.
By the time daylight began creeping in, I had to go, not just number one, but the big number 2, the one in which you take the U-Dig-It along. The wind was blowing more sleet and rain. I didn't want to get out of my bag but I had to. I won't make this too graphic because of the mixed audience but this trip behind the bushes was an “adventure”. Consider the layers of clothes I had on, 3 all over and a 4th in some places. Lots of zippers, basically this cold wet weather gear was not made to take off or pull down quickly or easily. Two handed this would take a great deal of effort and forethought. I wasn't sure if it could be done with one hand but there was no way I was going to ask Frank for help. There was a lot of me that was going to get cold and wet. That, I knew in advance. That's probably enough about this particular episode but I can't leave it without telling you that that was one cold “_ _ _” log and that nothing unpleasant got left in any of my clothes. That was probably the most stressful part of the whole adventure.
By the time Frank was up I had returned from the bushes and had coffee going. We had a couple of cups, a few breakfast bars, hot oatmeal, broke camp and started paddling. It wasn't long before we were over the portage and into McIntyre. The Wind Gods were with us, 10-15 from the Northwest. This helped all the way through Sarah to Side. We were feeling good now! The rendezvous with Carl and Brian at 3 pm was going to be made easily. I was happy and hoping that the power bars would last just a few more hours. The food pack was now finding its way to the stern of the Bell which by itself was not unusual but it was now being left open and with each “hut” and subsequent side change Frank's hand would make a stop in the pack. I was fine with this, under the circumstances like I said I hoped we didn't run out of “Frank fuel”. The other interesting thing about the “hut” is that only Frank could switch sides, which he did quite frequently. I am not sure to this day whether Frank was switching sides so often because he was hungry or that his “J” Stroke needed work. I do know that if I stopped digging with my one good arm Frank would hit the food pack again resulting in little forward movement.
Many of you know about all the little portages from Sarah to North Bay. Nothing too challenging, just a lot of in and out of the canoe. It seemed to me to take longer than usual. It was kind like Thanksgiving, I could smell it long before it was time for gratification. Over each portage, around each point was putting the lid back on the pot, almost but not yet. Finally, far off, a canoe paddling down Isabella towards us. Carl and Brian had paddled in to meet us and help us over the last portage. I was glad to see them that's for sure. When we came gunnel to gunnel Brian mentioned sandwiches that Melissa had sent along, Frank immediately jumped on that and I knew I was going to make to the doctor tonight.
Carl and Brian had come in on Isabella creek and said it was too ruff in my condition, so we had to take the two portages the last of which was buried by dead fall. Just another obstacle, no problem, I've just been paddling for nearly 2 days with a compound facture of my arm, pooped in the woods in the snow and sleet, a couple more portages is nothing for a one armed woodsman such as me. I put the lid back on Thanksgiving Dinner.
During the ride back across Basswood I got the coldest I had been the whole trip. It was sleeting and snowing, the wind was 20 to 25 mph. It was a nasty afternoon to be on Basswood. This was a day on Basswood that canoe tripping would be confined to the campsite and without the permission of our Canadian friends would have meant another night out and for sure we would have run out of power bars.
The rest of the story is not near as much fun. A hot shower, a trip to Duluth, surgery and most of the summer with two bars bolted to my radius. Oh yeah, Lynn was very mad at me for not calling her sooner so she could worry more. I don't know the answer to this problem, all the other obstacles I have over come, but this one “not calling home” in an effort to save grief and worry has me in a condition previously avoided, “in deep poop”.
Gratefully, Lynn arrived at CBO for the summer several days earlier than planned.