Baptism Creek: Quetico, ON.....        

Our first (but hopefully not last) canoe trip into Quetico's interior was quite a trip. It started out innocently enough with the decision to take the route less traveled. Why share the massive Pickerel Lake with 5 other September canoeists when we could have an entire lake all to ourselves? Despite numerous strange looks from park staff, off we went to Trouser Lake. Not only were we going to have a lake all to ourselves but it was also a lake with a very cool name. Getting to Trouser Lake required that we had to paddle up Baptism Creek which according to our map had four small portages. How hard could that be after having spent the summer getting in great shape paddling great rivers with big water and even bigger 1.5 km portages? A creek - no problem - this was going to be great!

Let me say now that I know why they call a creek a creek and not a river. By the time we were half-way up this creek there wasn't enough water to float a popsicle stick let alone a loaded 16' tripping boat and the portages were stacked one after the other so close you could throw stones to the next one. Baptism Creek was a devious creek that lead us along, progressively sucking us in and getting harder and harder until we were past the point of no return.

The first hour or so was quite nice, meandering along through tall grasses and marsh. We didn't mind the constant turning and were enjoying the pleasant paddle. After a bit, the water started to become shallow and we had to alternately charge over and pull over the various beaver damns and places with 2 inches of water. We soon found ourselves quietly swearing under our breath as we twisted, turned, got-out, pulled-over, got-in, twisted, turned, etc., etc. and we started to figure that we must have made a wrong turn. We pulled out our map, our compass, our GPS, had a look at the sun, argued a bit and determined that yup - we were in the right place. We continued on... twisting, turning, getting-out, pulling-over, getting-in, twisting, turning, etc., etc.

We soon came to the first portage thus confirming that we were in fact on the correct track - happiness was. To make matters better, this portage was lined with big beautiful specimens of jack pine, red pine and white pine and the portage trail was covered with a soft beautiful carpet of orange needles. Before we knew it, we were at the other end and back in the water again. The water on the other side of this portage was much deeper due to a large beaver damn so we were once again actually paddling. Another period of pleasant paddling ensued and our memories of grunting through the shallows faded. Our mood improved.

Before long portage #2 appeared. This one was not so nice but that was O.K. - not every portage can be great. After squishing through a swamp muck landing the ground rose slightly only to have the trail run into several tree falls. Stepping over these required some precise foot work due to the 75lb canoe on my head but we made it without twisting anything. No sooner had we got on good ground and crested a small hill then we saw the trail abruptly disappear into dark murky water on the other side of the hill. It was gone... just like that! Closer inspection into the disappearing trail found the culprit to be a huge palatial two-tiered beaver damn (in the beaver world this guy must have been considered a pretty top-notch beaver). The portage was listed as the longest on the route but thanks to the ambitious-over-achieving-bigger-builder beaver the portage had been greatly shortened (or so we thought). Despite the looming of the deep, dark, dank and dead flooded-forest we were reasonably content as we picked and floated our way through it. This mood of contentment quickly faded though as there was no colour, nothing was alive and if not for the trail-blaze tape that someone had thankfully stuck to a few trees we would soon have been if not lost, at least disoriented. It was here that the devious nature of Baptism Creek first revealed itself. After canoeing through the dead-forest with our mouth agape for approximately 2 minutes we found ourselves facing a trail of mud that magically rose from the dark depths below. The ambitious-over-achieving-bigger-builder beaver had not shortened our portage - he had cut it in half! But, and this is the key part, we told ourselves "Well, we are not going back through that again" and so we carried on having passed the point of no return! We tried our best to get our boat near something resembling solid ground so we could unload and begin our third portage (which was actually just a continuation of the second). Unfortunately, this portion of the dead-forest didn't really have a shore so we had to carry our gear through swamp muck. We were beginning to tire and our mood was definitely off its peak of the day. We were sure we could hear the ambitious-over-achieving-bigger-builder beaver quietly chuckling to himself.

Except the first 30 feet of swamp muck, the flooded-forest portage went smoothly enough. But as soon as we were back in the boat with all of our gear, we quickly realized that we were are only crossing another pond (at least this one was not so gloomy) to start your forth portage of the day. It was literally a stones throw from the end of the flooded forest portage to the start of the next. We crossed the pond and for the forth time that day unload the boat and hoisted it up on our shoulders. We were swearing now but we weren't going back through the scary flooded-forest.

This forth portage hurt. It was steep in places and had a gnarly rock ledge which required delicate foot work in order that my 75 lb canoe and I didn't land on the forest floor 6 inches to the right and 4 feet down. We were tired and not entirely sure how many times our gear and ourselves had been in and out of the boat of the course of the day. The boat was a mess - full of mud, leaves, twigs and as yet undiscovered, species of spiders and swamp things. We were now praying that this was the last portage.

We began to paddle and after rounding a couple of corners hope began to rise anew. This of course was just what Baptist Creek was excepting and in response portage #5 rolled into view. There was nothing terribly hard about this last one (and it really was the last one) except that we were exhausted. We were not swearing or praying - we were too tired.

As a parting shot, just before we entered the lake, Baptism Creek threw in one last pull-over. We crawled out of the boat, holding on to the gunnels for support and pulled it over the rocky shallows. We were now in Baptism Lake - an honest to goodness lake, a lake with water in it! We were only 5 km from where we started and it had taken 5 hours (that is 1 km/hr for the mathematically challenged) to cover the distance and its five portages (three of which occurred within 0.8 km). The plan was to get to Trouser Lake (one lake further) but at this point its cool name was not as appealing so we camped on a nearby campsite on Baptism Lake called a day.

Now, all this is not to say don't do it - this was an excellent trip and our little adventure turned out to be well worth the effort. We had a great afternoon and evening on Baptism Lake (and yes, we had it all to ourselves) and when we headed back the next morning we knew fully what to expect. It also helped that the harder portages were first when going out making the trip progressively easier as the day worn on and they fell away smoothly. The sun and the gentle breeze made for a great day and by the time we got home we had seen:

  • a bald eagle (up close)
  • two muskrats
  • a beaver (presumably not the ambitious-over-achieving-bigger-builder beaver)
  • a BIG moose (right in the middle of the creek - there was only 3' of water in front of his nose and 3' behind him so we are glad he moved)
  • a turtle (sunning himself on a log)
  • two more moose (a cow and her calf up really close)
  • For those interested in this short but longish trip here are the upstream co-ordinates (ie. the start of each of the portage if coming out of Quetico back to the main campsite). Only the Pine Tree Portage has a downstream (ie. the start of the portage if going into Quetico from the main campsite) location given.

    Portage NameNorth (dd mm.mmm)West (dd mm.mmm)
    Pine Tree Portage (downstream)48 38.30191 09.103
    Pine Tree Portage (upstream)48 38.23091 09.086
    Log Fallen-over Portage (upstream)48 37.87691 08.660
    Flooded Forest Portage (upstream)48 37.81391 08.507
    Knarly Rock Portage (upstream)48 37.77791 08.302
    You Are Tired Portage (upstream)48 37.63691 08.110
    Baptism Creek entrance on Baptism Lake48 37.26291 07.926

    Weave, wind and...

    ...hop rocks

    The flooded-forest

    More fun


    The route less travelled

    Stuck again

    Mrs. Moose with...

    ...little moose


    Keep lugging...

    Yuck... the flooded-
    forest portage

    A beaver's

    Ahhhhhh... so
    worth it!

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