While it was
over four months from our planned departure, we learned that this
was a late start in obtaining an entry point permit. Virtually all
of the Quetico entry permits were spoken for and what remained available
was a fly-in entry via Clay Lake in Quetico's Northeast.
We gladly reserved
this entry and began looking for information about the lakes and
routes possible from that point. We pored over Fisher and Mackenzie
maps estimating travel distances, and attempted to gauge portage
difficulty by looking at topographic maps.
As a part of
our research, we discovered the Boundary
Water Journal on the World Wide Web. We proceeded to order back
issues and read the articles and stories knowing that they would
be valuable for our upcoming adventure. We marked on our maps campsites
mentioned, fishing spots, portage difficulty and advice from other
travelers. To our disappointment however, we were unable to learn
much about the Clay Lake entry point and of the journey through
the Greenwood Creek to the Wawiag River to Kawnipi.
We arrived at
our outfitter on Moose Lake Minnesota the day prior to the fly-in
and made a quick boat trip to Prairie Portage to purchase a fishing
license and pay campsite fees. Later, the outfitter gave us a Duluth
pack with equipment for familiarization and an empty pack for our
personal gear. We had selected a full outfitting package and had
our outfitter select our food for a ten to thirteen day trip. All
that we brought with us was essential clothing, footgear, raingear,
first aide kit, and fishing gear.
In my minds
eye, I had an image of us starting out with three packs. One for
the tent, sleeping bags and other gear, another for our clothes,
boots, tackle, etc, and one pack for food. That evening as we hefted
the "gear" and "personal' packs, I began to become
concerned, as their weight was more than I had anticipated. Still,
I had my three pack "mental" portaging image, in which
I would carry the lightest pack and the canoe, Nathan would carry
one pack, and I would double portage the remaining pack.
The next morning,
we carried our two large Duluth packs to the dock where the floatplane
would pick us up. I was astonished to see two additional packs waiting
for us. These were our food packs and as the plane pulled up to
the dock, I realized that I underestimated the bulk and weight of
the food for our trip. I recall marveling at the thought that two
people could consume (and process) this much weight in such a short
The image I
held of whistling and casually admiring wildflowers as I strolled
across portages with my light pack and ultralight canoe was shattered.
It was replaced by a disheartening vision of three trips across
each portage or more if I did not carry both a pack and canoe on
one of those trips.
a late start and at noon the floatplane arrived and we began our
flight. We were admiring the scenery and as we neared Clay Lake,
the Wawiag River and Greenwood Creek became clearly visible from
the air. I excitedly pointed out to Nathan that we could do an aerial
scouting of the route that we were about to travel. This excitement
quickly turned to apprehension as we noted two enormous log jams
on the Wawiag River that clearly would require portaging in addition
to the one marked on our maps.
If my original
"mental image" of us carrying three light packs were still
intact, I would not have been too concerned by additional portages.
However, with now four, seemingly enormously heavy packs, the physical
conditioning program that we had been on seemed inadequate. My thoughts
gloomily turned to wondering if I had packed enough Motrin in the
First Aid kit.
We loaded the
gear into the canoe on a rocky point in Clay Lake where we were
left by the floatplane, and headed for the Greenwood Creek. The
creek with its mild current was narrow and shallow, with numerous
deadfalls. This obstacle course and the ducking, leaning, and counterbalancing
required to pass under these deadfalls was a great help in immediately
sharpening our canoeing skills.
As we moved
along the creek, I was startled when Nathan suddenly yelled as we
came around a bend, "Backwater... we are about to hit a big
boulder!" Complying, I began to backwater, and as I looked
around him in front of the canoe, I saw the enormous rump of a Moose,
with its head down under the water, feeding on bottom delicacies.