View of the lake and forest from the front of a canoe on a bright, clear day

365 days in Quetico

Gary Fiedler is a Minnesota-based photographer about to undertake a 365-day journey in Quetico Provincial Park. In this post, Gary shares his passion for Quetico and his underlying motivations for this journey of a lifetime. 

On June 21, 2018, I will embark on a 365-day solo canoe and winter camping adventure of a lifetime in Quetico Provincial Park.

It is not intended to be a trip of conquest with impressive distances traveled, obstacles overcome, or exploration at the ends of the earth. Instead, its purpose is to experience the transformative power of the wilderness, find clarity in thought, and contemplate my connection with nature in quiet solitude.

Guy sitting in a camp chair with a beige australian outback hat, life jacket, brown hoodies and grey quick dry pants with water and trees in the background

Over the past 30 years, I have come to know and love Quetico’s incredible scenic beauty and broad ecological diversity, and enjoy the sense of achievement after a great trip. As each adventure unfolds, I learn something new about myself and the wilderness.

I plan to utilize photography, audio recordings, videography, and detailed journals in order to share my experience with seasoned outdoor enthusiasts and future explorers through articles, exhibits, a book, and perhaps a film documentary.

Quetico attracts the outdoorsy

Quetico Provincial Park has a unique blend of qualities that can satisfy a wide spectrum of outdoor enthusiasts.

Guy with hat at dusk sitting in front of a fire with a sun set in the background

Beginning campers can enjoy easy hiking or canoeing from the campground, while the hardiest and most determined explorers can encounter greater challenges and solitude in the backcountry.

Majestic country

This is majestic country with vast sprawling lakes mixed with lazy intimate waterways, scenic rivers, gorgeous waterfalls, great campsites, and trophy fishing.

Interesting geologic formations abound, with towering cliffs, glacial-scraped bedrock, and a wide variety of rock types twisted and folded. Evidence of an ancient land that was shaped by tectonic forces.

These boreal forests are home to moose, bear, wolves, beavers, eagles, and loons to name a few commonly seen. For the botanist or the curious, the Wawiag River is one of many areas with rare and unique plants due to its ice-age geology.

Warm campfires on full moon nights

After the sun sets, the vast night sky is graced by the Milky Way, millions of stars, and sometimes the dancing aurora on moonless nights. Warm campfires on full moon nights are simply magical and must be experienced to be believed.

While Quetico does not have grand mountains, the biggest trees, or the deepest valleys, it does have diverse beauty throughout the changing seasons, with well-established and historic canoe routes and portages connecting it all.

Camping across the seasons

Each season has its own set of challenges and rewards that are remembered, reminisced, and sometimes embellished in story around evening campfires. Some of the most cherished and valuable family memories include the excitement of discovery in the eyes of a child or loved one while exploring the wilderness.

The park’s rugged charm continues into winter as well. Adventurous individuals can ice fish, snowshoe, cross-country ski, sight-see, and winter camp.

A 365-day solo trip seems daunting and one cannot expect to undertake such a challenge without experience and preparation. Over several decades, I have enjoyed many canoe-country adventures, both as solo trips and accompanied by family and friends, ranging from extended weekends to six weeks’ duration.

The transformative power of Quetico

In 2014, I completed a 221-day solo canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park. The following are two excerpts from the Fall 2015 issue of The Boundary Waters Journal Magazine conveying the transformative power of the wilderness I experienced.

October 24, 2014 day 219 of 221, Ensign Lake BWCAW. It is here that I witness my last sunset while standing on the rocky point at water’s edge. The sunset is not visually spectacular, but profoundly enriches time spent reflecting on my adventure and life. Looking back, the trip seems to have gone by so quickly and feels somewhat unfinished. I wonder whether I should have pushed myself a little harder, powered through the bugs, and took more risks. I may have created a few more incredible photos and maybe even had some hair-raising tales to add spice to my story. Perhaps I could have traveled twice the distance and reached many more lakes and rivers. But then, it would have been a trip of conquest, not one of experiencing the wilderness in all its inspirational majesty, simplicity, and peacefulness. No price can be placed on the beauty and tranquility that stirred my emotion. Nothing compares to the soothing symphony of nature’s soundscape or the immense power of silence while watching a sunset. How could one quantify the value of challenges overcome that strengthen one’s fortitude? These words only begin to portray the personal impacts of my adventure. The depth of my experience is beyond description and continues to shape the very definition of my consciousness.

My love for the wilderness goes beyond the beautiful scenery. It is the unexpected surprises I might see or hear at any moment. I sit with eyes shut and listen to the rich symphony of sounds that nature orchestrates. I lie back on three billion-year-old greenstone and ponder the heavens in a star-filled sky, and feel awestruck by the immensity of time that has created all things around me. I respect and admire the wildlife that roams these forests, filling them with cheerful sound, playful antics, and the drama of life and death. I love the scale of things out here too. The sky is immense and ever-changing, from tranquil blue reflections to dramatic storms; it all unfolds before me from horizon to horizon.

Pink Lady’s Slipper on the forest floor

Here there is space to be free, free to wander, and see things no one has ever seen. It is a place to dream and be inspired. I am not alone in these ideas. Many writers, poets, painters, philosophers, and photographers are inspired by wild places. We try to capture the essence of the wilderness, romanticize it, express its beauty, and interpret what it means to us as a way to inspire others. This job is never done. Interpretations are as varied as individuals. The world underfoot and scenic vistas are as vast and unique as the imagination. These ponderings fill my dreams as I look toward the horizon at the start of each wilderness canoe trip. I will continue to dream of canoe trips for many more years. I will take them and dream again.

Reflecting after the 2014 trip

Nature has the power to strengthen us, test us, and heal our broken spirits. It does not judge us, but embraces us, teaches those who pause and listen to it. Wilderness touches all our lives in some way through inspired art, literature, and photography. It provides us with clean water and air, recreation, and emotional escape. All it asks in return is to exist as it always has, unspoiled and beautiful.

Quetico is a true gem with easy access to all. Those who explore this world-class wilderness area will discover first-hand all it has to offer.

To read the full 3-part Boundary Waters Journal Magazine article about my 2014 221 day wilderness adventure in Quetico, and to see more photographs and videos recorded by my wife and me, please check us out on social media (@RadiantSpiritGallery) or Radiant Spirit Gallery online.

Quetico Provincial Park is one of three northwestern Ontario Parks that are part of the Northwest Wilderness Quest