|I’m excited about completing the 179-mile Hunters Island canoe route which follows a continuous water flow southwest and northwest in the Boundary Waters.
Learn more about the Indianapolis area.
In 1986 I paddled 80% of the loop on a commercial canoe trip from Canada’s Agnes Lake and west. In 2000 my group traveled the section from Prairie Portage east to Otter Track Lake. A 35 mile long stretch from Otter Track to Rose Island on Kawnipi was all that remained.
My son Zack, 14, and I began the journey on Aug. 26, 2006, and completed the famous route on Aug 30, 2006.
Aug. 26, 2016
1. Zach and I leave Osprey Adventures at 6 am. We arrive at LaTourell’s Boat Towing Service on Moose Lake at 6:30 and load our canoe and two packs into the boat.
2. We cover 7-8 miles of water on the Moose Chain in 20 minutes and get out at the Quetico Park Service Prairie Portage Station. We were early so we reviewed the day’s maps, and relaxed.
3. A computer glitch delayed our departure until 9 am. Oh, well. We started paddling and portaging east and ate lunch at Robbins Island on Knife Lake. High winds from the east slowed our travel to about 1.5 miles per hour according to the GPS. We saw one Forest Service canoe, and three other boats to this point.
4. After lunch, Zach wanted to fish. We pulled into a beautiful bay, and he made a few casts and caught a northern pike in this emerald lake trout water. Our next heading was for Highpoint Hiking Trail on Knife. We saw a family camping with two canoes. Recent forest fire signs.
5. Our goal was to reach Otter Track by nightfall. We bucked a due east wind and caught some bass trolling on the fly. I overshot the narrows and cost us extra paddling.(*^$#@). By 7 pm we were at the end of the North Arm of Knife. We portaged our gear over a “lift over” portage to Otter Track including a bundle of dry wood and a northern pike.
6. Zach set up our tiny 3.5 lb. Tent while I filleted the fish, and made a fire. We quickly ate fresh fish and washed dishes just before it was dark.
Aug. 27, 2016
7. Broke camp at 8:30 am. Zach said, “On to Rose Island!” We paddled to Monument Portage where several posts are mounted to the International Border. The three riveted markers look like they were made in the days of blacksmithing.
8. On the way to Cache Bay, we saw five canoes as we neared the Gunflint Trail. The canoe barely fit through a rock passage in Cache Bay. About the time we paddled by the Cache Bay Quetico Park Station, Zach noticed on the GPS that the canoe was traveling at 4.5mph! We had reached the headwaters of Hunter’s Island and were now traveling west with the current.
9. Parts of the area from Cache Bay and halfway to Rose Island is made up mostly of 6-8 foot tall evergreen trees, some aspen/poplar. The area must have burned some time ago. The landscape felt and looked like pre-Tundra or Taiga.
10. At the portage around beautiful Silver Falls from Cache Bay of Saganaga, we saw five canoes outfitted by Gunflint Outfitters. Silver Falls portage was steep and rocky. We saw the lucky osprey fly over with a fish in its talons.
11. We headed northwest over Saganagons. To save time we portaged from Saganagons to Saganagons. The short storm appears I drop the camera in the shallow water. We eat a snack under the canoe. Sun comes out. Zach says, “Can we make Rose Island tonight?”
12. It was calm and sunny as we paddled all alone across the second half of Saganagons. Now we could hear the distant roar of the Maligne River. Zach wanted to start down, the river so we portaged around rapids and ended on an island above two enormous waterfalls. Zach set up the tent, and I noticed my wind pants and wallet had rattled out of the pack – gone. As we ate freeze-dried food in the dusk, five beaver climbed up on the rock 35 feet away and ate theirs. Zach caught eating-sized bass as fast as he could cast. The mist from the waterfalls dampened everything we owned.
Aug. 28, 2016
13. We woke up late the next morning and felt about as remote as we have ever experienced. This part of the trip was difficult and possibly dangerous due to waterfalls, rapids, treacherous portages. We rested and left by 11 am, ready to scout rapids. On to Rose Island!
14. First, falls out of the campsite was Twin Falls. Easy. Surrounded by big pines and bare rock, the image is still in my head, especially after getting the camera wet.
15. 3rd, 4th, 5th Rapids and falls were all challenging. Portages were hard to locate, and care must be taken not to over paddle downstream. Koko Falls most painful. Zach asked, “Why is the foam brownish?”. Maybe that is how it got the name.
16. I read in a paddler’s guide written by a friend, Bob Beemer, to take the center portage of Little Falls to save time. At first glance, it looked like a giant rock in the middle. The rapids to the left are tiny, and the rapids to the right are enormous. We went up and over a stone cliff and saved a lot of time. The trail had been recently reopened.
17. We made the last four-rod portage into Kawnipi. Finally, Rose Island was in shooting range, albeit a long shot. It took five hours to go six miles through the falls chain.
18. As we paddled into the active rollers made by the west wind, Zach and I felt like tiny bugs. The small evergreens were still on either side of Kawnipi, and the water was big. The GPS was used to maintain nearly perfect headings so we wouldn’t paddle out of our way. That could add a day to the trip.
19. Suddenly around 6 pm, as we looked for a campsite at the beginning of Kawnipi, the wind just stopped, and the lake calmed for miles around. I said, “Zach, watch the GPS and paddle hard, we’re eating dinner at Rose Island.” We had an average 3.5 – 4.5 miles per hour paddle all the way to Rose Island. We arrived at a good sized island east of Rose at 7:30 pm. The campsite had rarely been used by humans and was extraordinary. We finally saw one distant canoe after nearly 2.5 days. 12-mile day.
Aug. 29, 2016
20. In the morning we heard something big like a moose crashing over on Rose Island. As everything was packed, Zach walked up with an excellent bass and asked if we could have fish for breakfast. We unpacked and had a delicious brunch, anything to delay leaving nirvana.
21. Mad River Lamoille and began paddling south. As we intersected my 1986 canoe trip route, two otters swam in front of the dugout and started barking at us! They cried and played and quickly swam off. Hunter’s Island was done for me. I couldn’t plan the next trip though because we were still nearly two days from home. The blue desert is about to begin.
22. On the rock garden trails south to Agnes we saw fresh moose tracks. When we began paddling Agnes, we waved at two distant canoes. If Kawnipi made us feel like bugs, Agnes was humbling. We set a course for an island, and it took hours to reach it. We only saw a few distance canoes. We needed the narrows to the southeast finger, and I was afraid to miss it, so we started turning through rough water 1.5 miles in advance. Each time we thought the end was near, Agnes seemed to get even bigger. Finally, we reached a giant heavily used campsite at the southern end which I had used on the first night of our trip 20 years before. Boy Scouts or someone cut piles of firewood. Thanks. The Agnes shoreline has high rock cliffs with rock slides. Zach said it felt like the Rocky Mountains.
Aug. 30, 2016
23. In the morning we paddled past Louisa Falls and noticed many campsites in that area.
24. We take the Singing Brook Portage to Burke Lake and portage over to a Caribbean style beach on Basswood Lake. A husband and wife tell us this is their 365th day in Quetico over the last 18 years. We’re now in our home territory once more. Two otters hide under a log while we canoe into Inlet Bay. We catch some fish and stop at the Quetico Park Ranger Station at Prairie Portage a couple of days early. The ranger says someone has found my wallet and it would be brought to Ely by floatplane next week!
25. We eat fish for dinner and wait for our 7:15 pm towboat back to Moose Lake. I call my dad on the next lake, and he takes us home. We only brought out a tiny Jackpine branch and pine cone from our camp on Kawnipi. 10 Photos survive dropping in the lake.