Michipicoten Island Expedition Follow-Up

Wednesday, 30 May 2007
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SeanIt has been a crazy week and a half since I got back from my expedition on the North Shore of Lake Superior. I have had zero time since getting back to collect my thoughts but I finally got a couple minutes so here is a short breakdown of our trip.

I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty details of our trip as I don't have the time and you will probably stop reading in about two sentences. Trust me, could easily make it super boring...

Way back in December 2006, Sean and I decided to do a trip up on Lake Superior. We wanted to do a really hard push trip with some long crossings so we thought why not early spring? Yes, the water is only 2 degrees C but who cares; we had drysuits.

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Sean
Sean after a long crossing.
Click to zoom.
It has been a crazy week and a half since I got back from my expedition on the North Shore of Lake Superior. I have had zero time since getting back to collect my thoughts but I finally got a couple minutes so here is a short breakdown of our trip.

I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty details of our trip as I don't have the time and you will probably stop reading in about two sentences. Trust me, could easily make it super boring...

Way back in December 2006, Sean and I decided to do a trip up on Lake Superior. We wanted to do a really hard push trip with some long crossings so we thought why not early spring? Yes, the water is only 2 degrees C but who cares; we had drysuits.

The total trip distance was around 220km over 7 days leaving us with not much wiggle room as far as distances or wind delays. Some days we paddled just over 40km while others were shorter days of only 25km.

We planned to paddle from West from Wawa, Ontario and then South out to Michipicoten Island. This involved two major crossings of 18km from the North Shore out to the Island.

Paddling out to the island was a little white knuckled as we had 1.5 meters of following seas and wind of around 15 knots. After just under 4 hours, we hauled our tired buddies on shore for a well-deserved snack. Now if only things had gone that smooth, then it would make for a nice tidy story. The fact is that it didn't.

Lets add more to the story. Before our crossing out, we radioed the Canadian Coast Guard to inform them our plans to cross. We also asked for search and rescue to be activated if we failed to check-in with them after the crossing. Our plan was to be there by 12pm so we set the cut off time at 1:00pm just in case we were late. When we landed our boats at 11:52am, we attempted to call into the coast guard only to discover that we were sitting smack in a dead zone. We couldn't get though to anybody including US Coast Guard or any other ships on the water. We hadn't seen a boat in three days so it wasn't surprising. After a brief moment of panic, we decided that we needed to get warmed up and then back on the water. Maybe farther down the shore we could pick them up. At 1:15pm we were about a Kilometre offshore, when we heard the static voice of the radio operator. He sounded almost as relived as we finally were to make contact with them. He had been calling for us for the past 15 min and was about 30 minutes away from sending out the planes looking for us.

A Sea Cave
A Sea Cave.
Click to Zoom.
If you are ever thinking of paddling on Lake Superior, you need to do it. It is a really fantastic location indeed. I don't really want to tell you how fantastic Michipicoten Island is. In fact, it sucks. There are no waterfalls, sea caves or huge cliffs right down to the waters edge. We didn't see any fox or local caribou animal trails. Don't let anybody tell you about the Caribou antlers we didn't find. It is a complete lie. Anybody who tells you that the closest description of Michipicoten Island is a rainforest in the middle of Lake Superior lying through his or her teeth. Don't think of going there, waste of your time.

Got it? Good...

What else exciting happened? Well, we were forced to do a night paddle for four hours.
Back on mainland, there is a large headland called Point Isacore. It is a large sticky-outy point with 5km of solid cliffs. Tall, like 25 stories tall. There is absolutely nowhere to land for the entire 5km. We have heard plenty of stories of smashed boats kayaks along there. The game plan was to tackle the point at first light the morning as we knew a windstorm was coming in later that afternoon. At 7:30 pm we picked up the latest weather forecast on our VHF and discovered that the storm had been moved up by 6 hours. If we didn't get around the point now, we would be wind bound for at least two days. It was as cut and dry as that.

We packed up camp and were paddling by 8:30 pm. Luckily the seas were dead calm. We rounded the point going east with our planned destination being the Dog Harbour 20 km down the shore. Things were going quite well but then the clouds rolled in and the sun went down. That's when things got weird.

Launching from a Sea Cave
Launching from a Sea Cave.
Click to Zoom.
I have been out on many night paddles with varying degrees of darkness. That night, things were ink black. Looking right across Lake Superior, the black water seamlessly blended into the ink back sky and you couldn't tell the difference between them. On our left was the shoreline, which quickly disappeared in the night. We could only hear the sound of the swells rolling up on the rocks.

To say that we were a little freaked out was a bit of an understatement. For the last three hours, it took all my mental energy to stay focused on the task at hand and not think about the dead bodies and giant monsters that I kept seeing under the water on my right.

Long story short, we finally made it to our destination and pulled into the first available bay. We crossed back and forth trying to see shore for a spot to set up our tents. At 12:30 am, anything would do. We finally found a small rock outcrop that we figured would be good for the incoming storm.

The next morning when we got up, we laughed because we were in probably the most exposed location in area and just like we predicted the night before, we were about 100 feet from a nice protected sandy beach... figures. We saw the beach the night before but the light of our headlamps tricked us into thinking it was a rocky cliff. We have already written letters of complaint headlamp manufactures about their poor accuracy in lighting the way to protected sandy beaches. We have asked for compensation.

There are a few other stories from our trip but I will save them for telling people at parties. I still need to keep some grade "A" material.

OK, that's it for now. I posted photos from the trip on our Sea Kayak photo gallery at www.seakayakontario.com.

Thinking now, I am interested to hear from other paddlers who have done extended night paddles. How did you keep sane?

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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