blower not starting and in a mood of nostalgia I give you.........
A rare "midget" brook trout caught deep in the Montana wilderness.
Duluth packs and gear stowed and ready to go.
On the morning of our fourth day in the canoe, we had an easy two hour paddle, completing our long paddle up Steel Lake, to the first of several portages leading into Aster Lake. Aster Lake formed the apogee of our long circular route. We initially found the river to be smooth sailing . From that point we would turn south and begin thankfully to run the Steel River. We initially found the river to be smooth sailing with only a few minor rapids. If the water had been higher, with sweepers and log jams, it would have been dangerous or have required many more slogging portages. Lower and with rocks and boulders to be avoided, the river would have been too "technical," i.e. crashes into hidden boulders and wading and dragging the canoe would have been the order of the day. As Goldilocks once said it was just right and so was the steel River
At one of the first rapids, where we could see straight ahead to the very end, a duck appeared. I wasn’t into birding then, so I’m not sure what kind it was, possibly some kind of merganser. He would be at the head of the rapids and then dive underwater. His reappearance several hundred yards downstream amazed us at first. This little guy seemed to be leading the way as he repeated this performance several times. The idea was, if this little duck could make it ... so could we!
Ontario’s Steel River route makes a giant loop clockwise from Santoy Lake, north of Lake Superior, and back to the starting point. If all went well (including lots of fishing) the trip should take about ten days. We had been told by the "locals" that none of the portages were marked. In the days before GPS systems this would take some skill or a lot of luck. The next morning we began by heading north going up the west side of Santoy Lake. The Devils Portage was a long climb up a very steep bluff to Diablo Lake. This climb of what ultimately would be around five hundred feet gain in elevation and over a mile would make the circle route possible. From Diablo Lake we would head due north, along a long series of lakes and portages, through some of the most beautiful landscapes in all of Ontario. Then we would turn south into the Steel River drainage, facing rapids and cataracts, to return to our starting point.
Our first campsite on Diablo Lake with me frying up a trout dinner......
Part 1: LaBatt versus Molson (Mid 1970's)
It was one of famous author Cliff Jacobson’s books on wilderness canoeing that led one of my younger brothers and me to believe "we can do this." We were experienced canoe campers in the semi-wild Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northeastern Minnesota’s Arrowhead Country. "This" was a two man-expedition into the true wilderness of Ontario, north of Lake Superior. We were sure it was not beyond our abilities and experience. The deciding factor was that it was a "loop" route which we would be paddling. No roads, no people and no cell phones in those days in case of serious accident.... you were on your own. A loop route meant we would make a giant arc for more than a week, through a chain of lakes heading north, and then enter the Steel River drainage, completing the circle south to our starting point. Neat idea we thought.
The man in the bow is an ordinary seaman. On his knees leaning forward he takes the short view. With absolute concentration, looking only a few feet ahead he must spot the immediate dangers of rocks, hidden or not, that must be avoided. Seeing that danger, he yells "draw left or draw right," and using a draw stroke turns the front of the canoe away from disaster. It's a lonely job, fraught with tension, but as they say somebody has to do it. That was my job and I was damn good at it. Especially judging the water as it boiled over hidden rocks. I avoided them instantaneously.
As we came around the bend of the river there were about 100 yards of rapids before the river spilled into a nice fishy looking pool. I spotted the pool immediately having taken my eye off the rock bed ahead only long enough to notice there was a canoe in the pool and two fisherman busily going about their business. However, the woman in the front was clearly topless. Back to my job, we had covered about half the distance to the pool, when disaster struck. I had navigated between two large but only slightly exposed rocks when we hit a third rock HIDDEN in the flow with a loud bang. Capsizing is always a possibility but in this case we spun 180 degrees and found ourselves traveling the last measure of the rapids going backwards. We entered the the pool in less than elegant fashion. When we had hit the rock I thought I heard someone shout. I turned my head to see where we were headed. Straight towards the young couple who were looking somewhat dumbfounded at our unprofessional approach. The "au naturale" blonde in the bow of the boat was making a panic stricken effort to cover up.