We watched the landscape as we flew over the lakes. Newton, Pipestone, Canadian Agnes, Kahshahpiwi, and Saganagons just to name a few. We were originally going to drop in at Clay Lake, but the water levels were so low that it was changed to Bitchu, just south of Clay.
After landing on the eastern edge of Bitchu and packing the canoe we made our way across to the western side. There were still some remnant’s of burned-out areas from the fires years ago. We encountered a few “liftovers” where we had to get out of the canoe and walk it over the low spots.
As we continued across Bitchu we saw an osprey circling the lake and another osprey sitting on a nest. We heard it screeching to its mate or maybe at some other creature.
The first night we camped on Saganagons. That dusk we had three otters come up to the shoreline and proceed to ‘cough’ at us and totally exasperate our dog, Kacey. She couldn’t figure out why they were so mad at her. A bald eagle spent about 20 minutes soaring above us. The next morning the dog followed John through the woods to the ‘bathroom’, and they kicked up at least six ruffed grouse!
We only saw a couple of people while in Saganaga. One was a solo guy with a 15 foot aluminum canoe coming across the same portage into Bell, and then two women passing by us heading north up the lake.
We took a side trip to the Silver Falls area. Sure is pretty. It is the largest set of falls in the Quetico Park.
The map shows a 55 rod portage into Slate, but we took the creek most of the way up and only had a short portage. The trail into Fran wasn’t too long or too bad either. Going from Fran to the ‘no name’ lake was all up hill as is the trail from the ‘no name’ to Bell Lake.
Bell is a real pretty, slender lake. Near the portage there is a enormous boulder which is shaped like a huge bell (hence the name of the lake!). The next two portages were short and just slightly uphill.
To get into Other Man Lake we had an all uphill trail with tough footings. We tried for a campsite on the island in Other Man, but it was taken. The three people on that site were the only people we saw on that lake. We went back up the lake and took the nice one, which was the first site we passed on the first point.
The next morning we left for This Man Lake. When we got to the first portage we realized that we had forgotten our fishing rods resting against a tree and had to paddle back down Other Man for them. The worst part of it was the wind that was in our face the whole way we paddled west, which meant we had to face it twice! The 40 rod portage from Other to This is not too difficult.
The wind continued to be in our face for the rest of the third day. We stopped at a campsite to take a break and eat lunch. While we were there, a couple in a Kevlar canoe paddling the opposite way we had been, stopped and asked which way we were headed. They said they had never paddled with the wind except this trip. I guessed that’s because we were paddling the opposite way and we always have the wind in our face and our bad luck outweighed theirs!
We crossed the rest of This Man, did the shorter of the two portages into No Man Lake. That trail is very tame. No Man is only about half a mile long. The path is about 100 rods, takes a slight incline, then does a slow meandering downward direction.
We camped on the first island site which was pretty nice, but the dry dust-like dirt was constantly being dragged into the tent by our feet. Would have been a mess in wet conditions, too.
Our fourth day was very hot. We took a day trip into beautiful Emerald Lake by first passing through another small no-name lake. The first portage went sharply uphill and the second into Emerald went sharply downhill. This meant we would need to go up and then down again on the way back.
Emerald is a lovely deep green lake. The first part is a long narrow channel with high cliff sides. As we traveled down the lake towards the main body, the clouds rolled in and thunder and lightning soon followed. The idea of catching some nice lakers in Emerald was a good one, but Mother Nature had her own ideas, so we headed back right away. By the time we got back to That Man it was beginning to clear. When we arrived back at camp, the sun came out and it was hot once again.
Days Five & Six
We spent two days on That Man and never saw anyone else there. The last day we camped on Carp was amazingly free of other campers as well. That really amazed us as it is an entry lake into the Quetico from the Prairie Portage direction. Our mid-September trips do seem to allow us to encounter fewer people.
While on Carp we trolled around hoping to catch some lake trout. Even though we didn’t get lakers, we did catch some nice northern pike and smallmouth bass. As we made our way back towards our campsite Lynn saw a fish jump and John quickly threw his lure there and was rewarded with a nice three pound smallie! As Lynn also tried her luck there we heard a large crashing noise going by the back of our campsite. Though we never saw it, the sounds gave it away as a large bull moose. Probably soon to be in rut or perhaps trying to rub the itchy velvet off his rack.
The final day was a short paddling day. A mile down Carp, then a few miles down Knife and we met the towboat driver at the Indianhead portage just south of Prairie Portage. It was good to be back in Ely, but as you all know, sort of a drag to be back in ‘civilization’!
Article and photographs © John and Lynn O’Kane. All rights reserved. Used by permission. For more information contact Voyageurs North Canoe Outfitters.