(or Dinner in the Dark)

by Julie Schoen

Feature a holiday with beautiful weather, no bugs, wonderful food, good companionship and adventure in the Canadian wilderness. That sums up the eight-day canoe trip I enjoyed in the first week of September, 1997 with MNS members Donna K, Ray N, Julie G and Lorne K. Other than a couple of short trips, my canoeing experience until then had been limited to the Mantario outings where "home" was waiting for us at the other end, so I felt extremely fortunate that such favourable conditions accompanied my first long wilderness trip where "home" changed on a daily basis.

The group left Winnipeg at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 30 and reached Quetico Park, south of Atikokan in Ontario, in the late afternoon where we put in at Beaverhouse Lake. A general highway and route map is provided in the Quetico Park Canoe Trip Planning page. (more photos).

Beaverhouse Lake Sunset Photo Beaverhouse Lake

(Julie G)

We set up camp at 6:00 p.m. on Red Pine Island at the east end of Beaverhouse Lake, the first of many beautiful campsites we were to find. By the time we had put up tents and organized dinner, it was dark.

Being the novice in the group, I felt concern over how we would manage dishes and clean-up in the inky blackness which had dropped suddenly upon us. However, this group was to show me many aspects of camping as the week progressed and we became experts in all the details around dining fashionably late.

Quetico Pictographs Photo

Pictographs on rock wall under overhang.
One of the best pictographs in Quetico,
located on the North arm of Quetico Lake.
(Donna K)

After a good night's sleep and an enjoyable breakfast, we moved onto Quetico Lake to find a number of pictographs.

The day was sunny and the colors glorious - blue sky, blue lake and three white canoes sailing smoothly through the calm waters Donna's Bluewater Prospector, Julie's Swift Kipawa and Ray's solo canoe. We joked about the three ghosts, a description which became particularly apt on those early mornings where clouds of vapour enshrouded the beached canoes.

Around 2:00 p.m., we pulled in to enjoy the first of a series of excellent lunches organized by Donna and Ray, our trip leaders. These lunches followed a set pattern - celery, carrots, cucumbers, bread with meat, cheese, peanut butter, almond butter, honey and jam and a treat for dessert - and we always looked forward to them after a good morning's paddle. A short portage took us into Cirrus Lake. As we worked our way down the long narrow stretch of this lake, the wind was behind us and Donna suggested rafting up and taking it easy for a while. I was excited at this prospect, having previously experienced it only through MNS slide presentations. We lay back, legs locking onto adjoining canoes, and floated lazily along on the wind, drinking in the sky's downy aspect for at least twenty minutes. Fabulously relaxing was how I remembered this. And the sequel to our restful interlude was every bit as delightful, if not more so, because it was so unexpected. As we sat up and our line of vision shifted from vertical to horizontal, our eyes met quite a sight. Out of nowhere, it seemed, had appeared a vivid double rainbow arcing the lake in front of us. Spectacular! An omen, I couldn't help feeling, of the good things yet to come in this trip.

Cirrus Lake Camp Photo Camp at Cirrus Lake.

(Julie G)

Indeed, by the end of the week, I had come to think of my time in the wilderness as the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. We were in high spirits as we resumed paddling. A loon called and this set off a series of loud loon imitations within the group. The consensus was that Ray was the best loon! After a paddle of 29 km, we found an appropriate site about 6:30. We juggled a refreshing swim and meal preparation in the fading light, but eating and dishes were done under the stars.

Jewelweed Photo Jewel Weed (orange)
Smooth Aster (blue)
in abundance
in portage bog
and many wet places
on our canoe route.

(Julie G)

The next day, we found even more pictographs along the north central shore of Cirrus before going into the next lake.

The portage into Kasakakwog Lake was a tiring hilly path over a kilometre long and we decided to make a shorter day of it after traveling just 15 km.

We set up camp on Kasakakwog around four o'clock and each of us relaxed in our own way - reading, journaling, sketching, photographing etc. The upshot of this was that, somehow, even with the earlier start, supper was served in the dark. But who could complain? Myriads of stars sprinkled their light upon us from the vast dark expanse above and after we had cleaned up, reluctant to leave the beauty of this night, the five of us lay on a rock attempting to locate the constellations that Lorne pointed out to us. This late-night viewing, along with our contemplation of the clouds the day before, had left me feeling very much in the moment and, while the whole journey was truly a "being" experience, these particular events had left me feeling closely connected to the universe. How could this trip possibly get any better, I wondered.

McAlpine Lake Photo
Julie Gold paddling Ray's solo canoe
on McAlpine Lake. (Donna)

We had had a leisurely day but the next would be a push because we were traveling through an area where there were known bear problems and decided it would be best to put at least five lakes behind us before settling in for the night. Our first portage brought us onto McAlpine Lake and into a Tom Thompson gallery. This was the first lake with noticeable autumn color changes along the forested shoreline and the sun, throwing its gold upon the trees and shimmering water, presented a magnificent spectacle.

Batchewaung Lake Narrows Photo Julie S and Ray N
paddling through the
narrows north of Mosquitoe Point
on Batchewaung Lake.

(Julie Gold)

We moved through a few no-name lakes and onto Batchewaung Lake where the parks people had advised us against camping because of bear problems. We continued over Maria Lake and onto Jesse where we concluded the day's voyage of 26 km and six portages around seven - a long day. Each of these lakes was similar and yet different - some long and narrow, some wide and open, all lovely - but Jesse had a unique character, a jewel dotted with islands of all sizes. We pulled into a seemingly perfect campsite on one of these islands and fell ravenously upon our food when it was ready in the dimness of the twilight hour. We discussed the possibility of making this gorgeous spot our layover day but Donna, experienced woodswoman, had an uneasy feeling about the area and proposed leaving early in the morning. The prevailing winds also favoured a decision to leave early, so this was the plan we took to bed with us.

We had no trouble falling asleep that night... and no trouble waking up either! At 5:00 a.m., we heard a thump near the trees where we had hung our packs. Suddenly the place was alive with the sound of whistles blowing shrilly from both sides of the campground. We heard a quick clumping and when we looked out, we saw a dark figure galloping by, not ten feet from our doorway. Luckily, the commotion prompted our furry caller to make a hasty exit. This was the first encounter with a bear in camp for most of us and, while a certain amount of excitement attached to the event, it left us somewhat unnerved as well. To settle us, we opted to have a hearty breakfast, "Mexican Fiesta", one of the many creative meals that Julie G. had prepared. Our plan was to leave as quickly as possible after that. However, our bear wasn't through visiting us yet. While Julie worked in the kitchen and the rest of us were busy filtering water or loading gear into the canoes, the bear, attracted by the aroma of fine cuisine, lumbered back onto the premises. Lorne was the first to notice that he had made an appearance only thirty feet or so away from our site. We quickly grouped up to chase him away, shouting, blowing whistles and very much shattering the peace of the place. We succeeded in driving him off and hurried to complete breakfast.

Jessie Lake Photo Foggy sunrise at
Jessie Lake.

(Julie G)

However, our leave-taking was to be further delayed. Adventure comes in quiet ways as well and now we found it in the breath-taking photographic opportunities presented by the mysterious and enchanting dawn of mist and shadows - pictures of the neighbouring islands emerging from the soft haze, of the ghostly canoes at the water's edge and even more spectacular, a short while later, of sunbeams streaming through the forest foliage behind the camp area. It seemed to me that this trip was, indeed, becoming better!

We left without further encounters of the "exciting" kind and headed toward Oriana Lake. The adventure awaiting us here was the swamp-walks - one at the portage at the entrance to the lake and two on the other side of it on the way back into Quetico. We were able to propel ourselves, with difficulty, through much of it, but several times we had to walk the canoes through the especially shallow portions. Eventually, we wound up on Quetico and it was clear-sailing all the way to the desired site which we reached in the late afternoon. After that footbath in the bog, we all felt the need for a swim and a wash and by the time we had finished....you guessed it... dinner happened in the dark again!

Quetico Lake Sunrise Photo Quetico Lake

(Julie G)

We stopped at one more site on Quetico where we spent a good part of the day relaxing. Donna prepared the first supper of the week to be finished and cleaned up before dark closed in on us - a leisurely pace has its advantages. Our plan the following day was to return to Beaverhouse so that we would have only a three-kilometre paddle left to do before reaching the take-out and portage to our cars on the last day. We accomplished this by camping on Eagle Island on what had to be the most dramatic site yet. High up and overlooking a lake with waves crashing against the rocky shore, our last campground was framed by soft evergreen branches and bathed in sensational sunset hues of pink, violet and amber. And yes, supper was late again!

Saturday found us back at the cars shortly after the noon hour. We drove the rest of the day, stopping around eight o'clock for supper at the Sandilands forestry reserve. We still had one of Julie G's culinary creations left and were reluctant to let it go untasted. As we pulled out the gear and food barrels for the final time, I felt that this dinner in the dark was a highly fitting conclusion to the amazing week we had spent together. All the familiar elements were in place - the efficient operation of the kitchen under the beautiful star-dusted canopy and fine fare by candlelight with good friends. Routine reality would begin again in twelve hours but we had been given the opportunity to share our farewell meal under the same charming conditions as we had experienced on our magical journey to Quetico.

Quetico Park Canoe Trip Planning Page
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Copyright © 1998 Julie Schoen & Julie Gold & Donna Kurt