Tuesday, 9/27/2022. Day 10
My eyes blurry from a couple hours of sleep, the alarm goes off at 5:30AM. I want to get a time lapse of the sunrise, I think our campsite’s Eastern shore would look especially pretty in the new day sun. I’m out of the tent only long enough to set up my phone for the video then it’s back under the warm quilt for another hour of sleep.
Joe turned in about 12:30 last night after watching the aurora for a few hours. Me, well…. my journal suggests I may have been writing at 2AM. Either way, once I’m up for real I don’t feel the lack of sleep. We make good time packing up camp until the very end when everything just seems to grind to a halt. Maybe it’s just psychological, wanting to extend my time here as much as possible even though I know we’re leaving. I am feeling good and tell myself I could go for another 10 days if I were properly provisioned. Joe is ready to be out. His knee is bothering him and the last couple travel days the elevation plus weight has been hard on it.
Once we’re free floating it’s a straight shot across Oyster to the Oyster River. Had we been in a high water period like Spring, we could have taken the river all the way to where it empties into Nina Moose River. Sadly, I’ve read lots of horror stories and seen a few pictures of people doing it later in the season and I have no interest in possibly being in muck above my waist today.
On the Oyster River we exchange pleasantries with a pair headed the opposite direction. They were the first people we talked to after nearly 10 days. It was the sort of hi-bye chitchat you might imagine when you’re literally two ships passing.
The portage from Oyster River to Lake Agnes is upon us fairly quickly, and soon we’re on the trail. This is our longest portage of the day, seconded only by the slightly shorter portage from the river to the parking lot. This trail is clear, wide, and well trod as this trail is walked by groups daily from May into late September and beyond. There are some water features along the trail including a pretty little splashy trickle coming out of the hill. On the Agnes side, we come out onto the sandy beach and encounter a solo canoeist and his buddy on an inflatable SUP. They spent the night on the campsite we were considering, had we pushed to Agnes yesterday. We talk a little about using a SUP in what’s normally a canoe place, and I have to hand it to the guy for being very compact and faster than his canoeist friend. I spy a pump and hope he brought a patch kit too, as the granite of the Canadian Shield can be very sharp.
Underway again, we make a beeline for the Nina Moose River where it empties to Agnes. The opening is easy enough to find, its the channel lined with wild rice. We encounter additional parties headed the opposite direction. Some we talk to, others we wave at, but generally speaking people who are out here seem to be friendly folk. There’s the family and their station wagon canoe loaded with mom up front, dad in the back, and the kids riding on the packs in the middle. Then there’s the married and couples trip at the portage, who apparently are willing to sacrifice their kevlar rental canoes so the ladies can have dry feet – loading completely on shore and pushing off across the rocks. Livery boats live a hard life, no wonder some outfitters turn over a portion of their fleet annually!
Further down the Nina Moose River, we encounter a gentleman on the downriver side of a portage. He immediately picks up in conversation with Joe and I, and it is apparent by looking at him that he’s in his happy place. He offers to help us portage across, and we accept. On the opposite side the conversation continues and I help him finish his portage back to the downriver end. Joe comes along too, since we had to portage one more pack back. Its at that point when introductions finally happen and we discover that the mystery gentleman is Tanner Spicer, the new owner of Voyageur North Outfitters of Ely, Minnesota. He managed to get a few nights away from the business now that high season has past and while was hoping to get to Oyster he’s likely going to stop at Agnes for tonight – he got a late start from the office today. We chat a little about the business, identify us as current (like, going to go sleep in one of your bunkhouses current) customers, and then probe him for some local info… it’s 3PM, we still have some miles to go, and we want to get pizza in town! How late is the place open???? 8PM is the reply. We thank him for his help & wish him a good trip, and then part.
The paddle across Nina Moose is unremarkable, except for the fall color popping all around us. Once on the Portage River we have committed to exiting today, as there are no other campsites between us and the car. About 2 miles down the river there is a large rocky outcrop rising above the area. It’s a lovely view from the South to the North, and the now late afternoon sun is warm as I check it out. Joe opts to stay back at the canoe as his knee is bothering him. I make my side trip short, happy to have made it to the top after passing it by in 2020.
The paddle out the Portage River goes slowly – there has been beaver activity in places, causing the river to be shallow in spots. So shallow, in fact, that we end up with a couple bonus portages closer to the exit. The final portage before the walk out has the cause of the lower water – Mr. Beaver has been improving the dam on this side, flooding much of the previous shore under a foot or more of water.
At the portage trail to the parking lot we encounter an old Mad River canoe on its side. At the parking lot we discover it belongs to a woman and her husband who exited a little while before us – he had ridden a bike they stashed in the parking lot back to the Little Indian Sioux North entry point, about 6 miles West down the Echo Trail. We chat with the woman a little in between trips for our gear, and by 5:30PM we have completed the portage and have the car loaded.
On the trip back to town I put my phone on silent when I take it out of airplane mode. I know that around the time we hit the paved road section of the Echo Trail I’ll have signal again, and I want to savor that electronic silence a little longer.
We make it back to town in time to get pizza and mozzarella sticks from Sir G’s Italian Restaurant and Joe declares the pizza “pretty good.” To quote my friend David Koob, “It was the best damn pizza that we ever ate.” Anything that isn’t made by you, or doesn’t involve a drawn out multi step process including rehydration or a campfire usually is.
12.0 miles paddled today, 52.9 total; 9 portages today, 26 total; 660 rods portaged today, 2522 rods total (that’s 8 1/3 miles one way!); 3 additional beaver dams encountered today.
Oyster Lake > Oyster River > Lake Agnes > Nina Moose River > Nina Moose Lake > Portage River > Entry Point 16