Firstly – photos now uploaded to last post if you want to take a look…

We left Fort Francis well fed and rested, despite not actually having a full day off. Retracing our steps initially to avoid the lee shore on the south of the lake, we avoided passing into the US and looked for an easy day and a Canadian campsite. As the wind swung from northerly to an easterly headwind in the early evening we found an island big enough to squeeze a tent in, with a large resident pike in the bay which I soon pulled out on the end of a line. With this safely returned (we’ve gone off pike a bit since Lake Manitoba) we set about dinner, whilst watching a large and remarkably inquisitive snapper turtle eye us repeatedly from the lake. We think we were probably on its island. We continued the next day to the end of Rainy Lake, our last large lake until Superior, and headed onto Lake Namakan via Soldiers Portage. On the way we waved good bye to our long serving pee bottle, as it rolled off the boat post-use without the lid on and promptly filled with water, sinking beneath the waves before we could manoeuvre to grab it. It seemed a fitting end, and it was probably about time this bottle was retired anyway…

Namakan lake passed smoothly the next morning and saw us dodging rented house boats though the Namakan Narrows into Sand Point Lake. These monstrosities are hideous and barely faster than our canoe, there’s no way anyone would ever buy one themselves. On this basis we reasoned they were all driven by complete muppets, evidenced by us often seeing both sides of the boat several times as they steered a supposedly straight line past us. With this menace avoided we raced a building storm down the lake and came around a headland to find Sand Point Lodge advertising ice, minnows, gas and confectionary. Turns out they did pizza too, so lunch was sorted. With the storm passed we smugly paddled off an hour later, only to see another one approaching as we rounded the next headland. We dived for the dock of an apparently unoccupied cabin, waved at the occupants of the next one, who promptly waved back and invited us over to sit out the storm, informing us they owned our dock too… So an hour was spend with Chuck his lovely family from the Twin Cities as storm two broke. Looking at the sky again we paddled out, narrowly missed being in the landing zone of an incoming float plane, and got completely, totally and utterly soaked by storm three. Ok weather, you win.

We soon dried out in the evening sun and headed up the Loon River searching for a place to camp, passing the start of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as we went. On the map we’d found a nice looking lake with an island, but were dismayed to find it made completely of reed, with a bear doing widths in the sunshine as we approached. We carried on up to the next portage, hoping it wasn’t too taxing at the end of the day. Well, it wasn’t. In the early 1900’s walleye and ice was taken out by boat from Lac la Croix towards Winnipeg, through two portages at each end of Loon Lake. In 1916 the US companies decided to ease this process by putting in rails and an engine to transport the boats over the land. The engine (and operator, Charlie was keen to point out) having been slightly updated, but the rails remain the same, and made for the most pleasant portage thus far. After a delightful chat with Charlie, whose speech suggests he may have been too close to the engine for too many years, we headed to a campsite he’d pointed out and arrived just as the light faded. 

Charlie and his engine

The next morning saw us at Beatty Portage, the second set of rails, and paddling on to Lac la Croix where we were to collect our permit for Quetico Park. Around lunchtime we arrived at Campbell’s Cabins where we’d been told there was a little shop where we might get a few snacks, and discovered they would also fit us in for lunch. So two cooked lunches in two days…we could get to this “wilderness” experience. After discovering the ranger station closed at 3.30pm and we were not going to make it today we found another terrible private island campspot and dodged yet another storm.

How every portage should be!

The following morning we eventually found the well hidden Quetico ranger station, collected our permit allowing access to the park, and paddled on east looking forward to motorboat free waters.

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