Last week I had the amazing privilege to guide an eight-day sea kayak expedition on Lake Superior for Naturally Superior Adventures. The route started with a boat shuttle out to Cozens Cover at the eastern end of the very remote Michipicoten Island. From there we worked around the island clockwise before making the 18km crossing to the north shore and back towards Wawa and Naturally Superior Adventures. Here is the full route map (new window).
This trip was different than a typical guided trip in that each participant was responsible for their own food, camping gear and boat. My role throughout the trip wasn’t to do the cooking (they would have starved to death if they did) but rather to get everybody back home safely.
Lets cut to the chase, Michipicoten Island is wicked awesome. If it isn’t already on your bucket list of trip destinations, you need to add it. Even if you just plan on circumnavigating the island as the vast majority of visitors do, you will die a happier person (hopefully long after the trip is done).
Here is what makes the island special:
The crossing from the island to the north shore of Lake Superior was something that was always a concern in the back of our head. We had a two day window to make the crossing so it came down to figuring out which day was better. We decided to make the jump on the trips third day and cross north from Bonner Head. This meant that we only made it around 3/4 of the island but if we kept going and crossed the next day (from the east end of the island) it would mean a very strong head wind and medium seas. I believe we made the better choice and was on the water at 7am with light tailwinds. Just over three hours later we were on the north shore patting each other on the back, happy with our accomplishment.
Michipicoten Island has a long history of failure over the years. Explorers to the island had dreams of striking it rich through mining or fishing but more times than not they were sent home bankrupt. It was a very tough place to try to make a living.
Talking to the owner of Naturally Superior Adventures, Dave Wells, we figure that less than 50 people visit the island each year and we were one of only two commercial trips that will visit this year. Also, the route that we took by crossing and paddling home has only been done by about 20-25 people in the past 15 years so as you can guess, Michipicoten Island is a pretty remote place.
Due to that remoteness, if you do go, you need to make sure that your paddling and rescue skills are rock solid. There are several sand and cobblestone beaches to camp on but they can be few and far between in certain points so plan your day out carefully. Finally don’t count 100% on your VHF radio being able to access the Canadian Coast Guard in the event of an emergency. Due to the high mineral count in the rocks, there were several places along the north shore where you will be in a radio shadow and unable to get a signal. On a trip I took out there in 2007 we had a difficult time reaching the Coast Guard and had to paddle offshore about a mile or so to report in one evening.
To help out with our risk management plan, inReach Canada sent me one of their newly released inReach SE to put through it’s paces. The inReach SE is a two-way satellite communicator that allows you to send short text messages to anybody in the world from anywhere. It has a built in keyboard similar to your old cell phone so it doesn’t require you to connect your smartphone via bluetooth (though that option is there if you want). I’m working on a more extensive review but the real short review is that I was blown away by the unit. The fact I could send a note to the NSA base (or my wife) letting them know where I we were located was amazing. Even better, a couple of days I sent them a request for a more precise weather report then what was on the radio and 15 minutes later we had the response. I did find a couple quirks with the unit but I will hold onto them until I publish the detailed review. Overall, I was very pleased with it.
Should you do the trip next year? Of course you should. I would tell perspective paddlers that they should be comfortable in medium seas with 2-3 foot swells and have a firm grasp on both rescue and camping skills.
Here is a very cool short documentary that I found while researching the island. It gives a very good idea of what you can expect when you visit next.
If you want to see more photos, stop by my flickr page and scroll through the collection or click through the slideshows below.
If you are looking for an adventure this summer you should consider joining me on Lake Superior as we circumnavigate the extremely remote, Michipicoten Island (map link).
The Michipicoten Island Expedition (as we've dubbed it) is being organized by Naturally Superior Adventures and is an 8-day sea kayaking adventure for intermediate paddlers looking for a challenge yet still want to be under the care of a guide.
The plan is to take a 60 kilometer boat shuttle from Michipicoten Bay out to the mystic Michipicoten Island. We will then circumnavigate the island, make the 18 km perpendicular crossing from Bonner Head to the mainland, then eastwards along the Superior Highlands shore before finishing back at the NSA base in Michipicoten Bay, a total of about 140 km over the eight days.
Michipicoten has a very interesting cultural history. Once shunned by First Nations peoples as a place of malevolent giants, Michipicoten Island became one of Ontario's most promising sources of copper and an easy access point to Lake Superior's seemingly endless bounty of fish in the early 1900s. Since then, the copper mine and fishing village have been abandoned. All that remains are old mine shafts, ramshackle buildings and flourishing populations of woodland caribou and beaver. Throw in a couple of lighthouses and a few shipwrecks, rugged shoreline and you've got everything all wrapped up in this island expedition.
For those who have always wanted to do a trip on Lake Superior but shied away from a fully pampered guided trip, this is the adventure for you. It's unique in that it's designed as a self-reliant expedition so all members of the group are responsible for their own food & gear. I won't be cooking for you but I'm quite happy to bring you a cup of my famous poor tasting and burnt coffee in the morning. My role in the as leader will be to provide logistical support, local knowledge, a safety net and completely made-up stories of my time living with a pack of wolves.
Because it's a self-reliant trip in a very remote an inaccessible part of Lake Superior participants need to make sure they have a strong level of both kayaking skills and wilderness camping experience.
Michipicoten Island is an amazing place and completely unique to the rest of Lake Superior. I had the opportunity to visit back in 2007 and have wanted to return ever since.
The dates of the trip are Friday, August 2-10th. There is a floating price scale depending on the number of participants so for example, if we have 3 people the price is $1190 but that price drops to $750 if we get six people onboard so make sure you get a buddy to come along. Of course taxes are not included in those prices.
Check Naturally Superior Adventure's website for all the details and feel free to contact me or NSA with any questions you may have.
It's going to be wicked awesome.
It’s been a very, very busy couple of weeks and I realized that I never got a chance to write about my must recent adventure teaching onLake Superiora couple of weeks ago.
For the second year in a row, I had the pleasure of being invited up to Naturally Superior Adventures to teach a Paddle Canada Level 2/BCU 3* course.
My good friend, Erik Ogaard was also teaching a Paddle Canada level 3 course that same week so I hitched a ride with him. The journey north from Toronto to Wawa is no small trip across town. The 12 hour adventure requires CD playlist ground rules and it was quickly established that we would only listen to greatest hits CD’s by artists from the 70’s and 80’s. With that in mind we made the trip rocking to Bruce, The Zeppelin, The U2’s and Mr. Bowie. Needless to say there was a solid amount of both air guitar and drumming to keep the cars passing us entertained.
The original plan was for Naturally Superior Adventures to offer the two courses during the same week. The level 2/3* was going to be taught by Bonnie Perry, myself and assisted by Ray Boucher and the level 3 by Erik but due to some last minute participant drop-outs, we decided to combine both levels and teach everything as a level 3/3* course.
Combining courses always has potential pitfalls. There is the potential for level 2 students to be overwhelmed by the level 3 material and level 3 students to be underwhelmed by the paddling conditions. Since we had four instructors we decided to work as a group and split up into smaller groups if necessary to deliver the material at the different group’s skill levels. With very careful planning, it was a working model that ended up being quite successful.
Anyways, I had an absolutely fantastic time teaching with my fellow partners in crime, Bonnie, Erik and Ray and I pretty much spent the whole time laughing at and with them. They are both awesome people to hang out and teach with.
For teaching environments you can’t ask for a much better location then at Naturally Superior Adventures. The base is located right at the mouth of the Michipicoten River where flows into Lake Superior. If you are looking for rough water you just paddle out on the lake. The whole time we were there it was blowing an average of three foot wind waves. If you the waves get too big (as they did on day 1 with 7 footers rolling in) then just paddle up the river and find some shelter. Finally if you are looking for surf then all you need to do is get out and paddle in the river mouth. When the current is flowing and the wind is blowing against it, the surf gets absolutely huge. By huge, I mean screaming girl huge.
For me, I pretty much gauge the success of any advanced course on how much gear I lose and the number of new scratches I get on my boat. It must have been successful asLake Superiorstole both my hat and sponge as well she gave me a hole in my boat as a parting gift. I can’t blame her; I was the idiot with the brilliant idea to go rock hopping in swells with a fully loaded boat.
Here are a bunch of photos from the week:
I’m off for a week teaching in
See you soon!
Browsing around on Flickr, I found these really cool series of photos from Naturally Superior Adventures. They are mainly known for their sea kayak courses and guided adventures but they also offer trips along the north shore of Lake Superior in their 36 foot Voyageur Canoe.
Photo credits: Naturally Superior Adventures
Think your waterproof gear is actually waterproof? Think again.
Last week two paddlers were rescued via helicopter from their tandem kayak on Lake Superior. It was a pretty serious rescue and the Coast Guard credits the fact that they are alive today due to the personal locater beacon which alerted the authorities that emergency help was needed.
The thing to remember is when the Coast Guard comes out and saves your butt; they never rescue your kayak or canoe. In those windy conditions all they care about is you. That’s what happened in this case. When the helicopter plucked the paddlers from the water, all their gear and the boat was left to the fate of the wind and waves.
The day after the accident a couple staff from Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa, Ontario went out in a motorboat to try to find the kayak as well as any floating gear but they came back empty handed. Luckily a day or so later the boat magically washed up on shore in the wind. When the boat was finally towed back to the shop the staff started pulling the gear out of the boat to see what got lost and what was still dry.
Wawa, Ontario -- Naturally Superior Adventures is hosting its 8th annual Surf Superior Confluence October 1-3. This casual gathering of surf-seeking intermediate to advanced paddlers takes advantage of autumnal gales and late summer warm water to provide an informal, instructional and by all means entertaining way to cap off the paddling season in early October.
“There was a time when we feared the waves at the mouth of the river”, says Naturally Superior Adventures director David Wells. “But now we embrace them and have fun with them.”
Posted without comment.
Update: Just found out that this is Ray from Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa coming back from a trip so yes, this is a fully loaded boat.
Here are a couple photos from a trip last week up to Lake Superior last week. I had the pleasure of being invited to teach a Paddle Canada Level 2 sea kayaking course at Naturally Superior Adventures with my co-instructor; the very funny and hugely talented Rev. Bonnie Perry. Long-time readers will remember a piece I wrote a year ago when she was nominated to be the Bishop of Minnesota.
Summer is more than half over and it’s sadly time to start thinking about fall paddling events. Here in Ontario there are several events that are shaping up to be really rock solid and worth checking out.
Greenland Style Symposium – August 26-29
Skinny stick paddlers will want to make note that the Greenland Style Symposium that takes place in Wawa, Ontario is coming up very fast. It’s an awesome weekend of low key learning and general fooling around.
They have a great line-up presenters (if I do say so myself). The gang going to be there includes Bonnie Perry, Doug Van Doren, Keith Wikle and myself as the general paddle and water carrier.
If you don’t already own your own Greenland paddle, don’t worry. Registration includes use of their paddlers. This is a good way to try out various designs and sizes before you buy or make your own.
For those who want to get more bang for their long drive, come up early and participate in their joint Paddle Canada level 2 and BCU 3* course that starts August 22 and runs right up to the starts of the Symposium.
More info: naturallysuperior.com