7:00 a.m. Sunday.
The day began with a clear, sunny sky with no
wind but with our coolest temperature yet of 40
degrees F. Walt and I remarked about how
beautiful Amber Lake was when looking to the
A quick breakfast
and a better organized striking of camp saw us on
the water at 9:00 a.m.. After a quick look at our
maps to locate the next portage, we were on our
way. I told Walt that we should go toward the bay
on the right, but he said that we should go into
the bay on the left. I had my way and five
minutes later, we were lost. With a quick check
of the maps we headed to Walts bay and soon
found the portage.
Our landing was at
a large, upturned tree which Jim Hegyi had
mentioned in his journal. We were on the trail in
short order and were
grateful that we
didnt have any floating corduroy to
negotiate. At the other end of the 600 meter
portage, we met four young men from Minnesota and
New York. They had just negotiated the area of
muck that showed on our maps as Nutria Lake. They
told us that we would most definitely need our
bowline. After a few minutes of exchanging items
of interest to both parties, Walt and I were off
to perhaps the biggest challenge of our trip.
Passing a large
beaver lodge on our left, we paddled through some
whips and were soon at the first of three pull
throughs in close succession.
We were able to get back in the canoe
and pull our way along for perhaps 50 meters
before the situation called for more drastic
action. The information
about the bowline
was correct, but Walt and I quickly learned that
a stern line was also a necessity if we were to
get to the end of this muck. Forget about trying
to stay dry. Forget about trying to not step in
muck above your kneecap. In order to get the
canoe to Mexican Hat Lake, sacrifices had to be
We were very grateful that there were no
biting insects, and the temperature was only
about 60 degrees F. The passage at times was only
as wide as the canoe. Trying to propel the canoe
forward by grabbing it and pushing soon became
undoable while being knee-deep in muck. The bow
and stern lines became valuable allies in this
most miserable mile of our journey.
About an hour of
manuvering brought us within sight of Mexican Hat
Lake. We were able to reenter the canoe and
regain our dignity. After a short distance of
pushing our way through the marshy swamp, we were
out onto Mexican Hat Lake. While Walt and I took
a smoke, I couldnt help but think about
Humphrey Bogart pulling his craft through marshes
in the movie, African Queen.
Paddling to the
falls on the other end of Mexican Hat seemed to
take very little effort compared to what we had
just accomplished. As we neared the campsite at
the falls, we were hoping that no one had already
occupied the site. But if we had to look for
another site, there were several sandy beaches
that we could look at. The falls site was
unoccupied. We soon had our tents pitched and our
gear placed strategically about the firering.
Later, I was about
to step into the lake for a well deserved bath
when two men from Minnesota appeared at the
bottom of the falls. A quick hello and a query
about ladies being in their party being answered
in the negative, I was soon splashing about in
ankle deep water.
Walt and I decided
to try for a few walleye or lake trout for the
evening meal. An hour of trying produced one pike
of somewhat small proportions. We decided to
return to camp.
spaghetti was delicious. As we finished our meal
at 8:00 p.m., it began to rain. As we sat on tree
stumps trying to decide where we would fish
tomorrow, the rain became a downpour, chasing us
to the shelter of our tents.
We awoke at 5:40
a.m. to solid overcast and a 52 degree, drizzling
rain. We got a fire going for coffee and oatmeal.
The rain stopped by 6:30 and the clouds were
breaking up. The promise of a nice day was
At 8:00, Mel and I
paddled across the lake to the north shore and
fished the shoreline to the west for two hours.
We didnt get a strike. Mexican Hat must be
a very deep lake. In most places we had 20 to 30
feet of water under the canoe when only 10 feet
We got out of the
canoe to stretch our legs and look at a beaver
lodge. I showed Mel how we could put two 330
conibear sets in the runway and be pretty sure of
a double by the next morning. This was a very
active lodge. Woodland Caribou Providence Park is
evidence of low fur prices for the last several
years. There is in my opinion an over population
We paddled south
across the lake and slowly fished the shoreline
to the east toward camp. Finally Mel caught a
30-inch northern which he released. The ice now
broke; I caught a 23-inch walleye followed by a
17-inch walleye. We put them on the stringer.
Fish chowder would no longer be delayed
Back at camp, I
filleted the fish. Mel separated the backbones,
skins, and heads. He wrapped the heads and
skeletons in cheesecloth and dropped the bundle
into a two-liter pot to boil to make a fish
stock. We added two chicken bullion cubes to help
concoction of fish parts had boiled forever, or
so it seemed (probably one hour), we removed the
cheesecloth bag of fish parts and proclaimed the
stock done. We added celery flakes, onion flakes,
basil, powdered milk, one pack of dried potato
soup, and enough crushed pepper flakes to add a
little bite. Then in went a freeze-dried pack of
mixed vegetables. After pondering this mix, we
added a second pack of mixed vegetables. We
allowed this mix to simmer for a minute or two.
Our chowder became a thick stew after the second
bag of vegetables cooked for awhile. Then we
stoked up the fire to bring the mix to a boil.
Nearly Chowder Time
After it started
to boil we added the fish which had been cut into
one-inch cubes. The fish cooked in 5 or 6
minutes, and we dug in. Believe it or not, that
was delicious. We each ate a full liter of stew.
dishes we sat around the fire for a couple hours
and watched satellites coast overhead in a
star-filled sky, simply enjoying a relaxing
I awoke at 7:00
a.m. to the sounds of Walt building a fire. This
42-degree morning was colder than any of the
previous mornings, so I rolled over and snuggled
deeper into my mummy bag expecting at any moment
to hear Walt yell out, "The water is
boiling.". It was not until 8:00 a.m. that I
awoke again. Walt had let me sleep an extra hour.
What a nice gentleman he was.
Making an easy
breakfast of oats and coffee we were on the water
at 9:30. Our first stop was just across from camp
at the falls on Mexican Hat Lake. We climbed to
the top and took a few pictures looking back down
from the falls to the northernmost part of
Mexican Hat, we
explored some of the many sandy beaches along the
way. We passed three beaver lodges and saw a
beaver swimming along the shore. Much beaver wood
had floated ashore. At the upper most part of
Mexican Hat, the lake flows out of a small bay on
its way to Glenn Lake. A portage was located next
to the outlet, but the volume of water was
noticeably less than the inflow at the falls next
to our camp. We ate a few snacks and admired the
beauty of our surroundings before heading back.
We had not caught any fish this morning, so we
decided to fish around the little island near
camp where we had caught the walleyes yesterday.
At 3:30 p.m., we
had not caught any fish, so we paddled back to
camp and dug into our food packs for yet another
of those delicious freeze-dried entrees.
After dinner we
chatted about our lack of fishing success on
Mexican Hat. It was now Tuesday evening, and we
were scheduled to be picked up at the Leano Lake
exit point at noon Friday. We decided to pack up
and move closer to Leano Lake in the morning.
About 6:30 p.m., the sky to the north and the
west became quite black and thunder began
rumbling toward us.