Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Silver Islet to Rossport


Lake Superior Trip Report

Ann Arbor temperatures hovered above 100 degrees, with Beulah temps just slightly lower at 95. It felt like purgatory in July in Michigan. 

Meanwhile, up in Rossport, Ontario, perched at the top of Lake Superior, the mercury was stuck somewhere in the lower 70’s and the humidity barely registered. Tom O’ Connor and I took a vote on where we’d rather paddle, and Rossport won 2 to 0. Go figure? So we pored over maps and guidebooks and made the plan to paddle the 85 miles from Silver Islet, located on the tip of the Sibley Peninsula, to  the little village of Rossport which is nestled among the islands to the east.
Bill Newman and Sarah Ohman in their Guide to Sea Kayaking on Lakes Superior and Michigan state “In our opinion paddling from Silver Islet to Rossport is one of the two best extended wilderness trips on Lake Superior.” According to them, the trip highlights are “remote islands and wilderness camping” and caution the trip as being “remote wilderness with no facilities, rocky shoreline exposed to southerly winds, very cold water, fog, and exposed water crossings.”

So, this looked like our kind of trip then, eh? Each mile driving north from sweltering Lower Michigan dropped the temperature, and things began to look green again. This was a change from the drought that Michigan was locked in. Once we cleared the Canadian Soo and caught our first glimpse of blue Lake Superior at Batchawana Bay, we had another 300 miles to Terrace Bay where we stayed for the evening. Next morning, we pulled in to Superior Outfitters in Rossport with whom we’d arranged to drive us to Silver Islet and then shuttle our vehicle back to their store. Our shuttle driver, Ruth, is a Rossport native and possesses a wealth of information on the culture, economics, wildlife, and geography of the region. And with a shuttle of just under 100 miles, we had plenty of time to learn from her.

On a trip like this you need to be prepared for every kind of weather situation, and the amount of gear that we had to cram into our hatches made us question our sanity, if not our ability to separate necessities from luxuries.

One thing that we had going for us was that the water was unusually warm. Normally up here Lake Superior was doesn’t warm up until late in August, and then it only warms to 60 degrees or so.  This year the lake was already near 70 degrees and it made for comfortable swimming while creating less angst for us in the event of a capsize.

Ruth left us at Silver Islet and we began paddling east. Once clear of the Sibley Peninsula, a glance backward afforded us a clear view of the “sleeping giant” that the Sleeping Giant Provincial park is named for. According to Ojibwa legend, the sleeping giant is really Nanabiziew, a trickster and teacher of the Ojibwa.

The Sleeping Giant




 Heading eastward, we had to make the 5 mile crossing of the mouth of Black Bay, a 30 mile long inlet that reaches far north toward Nipigon. Since our departure was delayed by the shuttle until noon, we decided to quit early and we camped on the eastern shore of Edward Island, a distance of 13 miles from Sibley. We enjoyed the quiet little cove campsite that was remarkably bug-free. We had a view of Magnet Island and anticipated the next morning’s sunrise over the open lake. As we left the cove the next day, there appeared a number of mare’s tail clouds which signal some changing weather. Our tentative goal was to get to Swede Island and its’ public sauna, a distance of 22 miles. The stiffening south wind had other plans and we settled for a slab of rock island just north of Swede. There was no driving tent stakes into the granite slab, so we hunted down boulders to hold the corners of our tents. And it was good that we did because midway through the night Mother Nature presented us with a spectacular lightning show, some wind, and a little rain. Morning dawned with a blood red sun that was the result of smoke from a large forest fire that was caused by the lightning hitting somewhere Nipigon Lake. A haze was drifting over Lake Superior and by mid-morning our eyes were burning and we could taste the acrid smoke. It seemed to hang around all day, making views into the deep bays all but impossible. This section of our trip featured many large islands such as Brodeur, Lasher, Spar and Fluor Islands which we used as windbreaks from the lake. Wide open Lake Superior rarely gets calm, so in order to conserve energy we sometimes looped to the inside of the islands even though it often wasn’t the most direct route. The islands were all remarkable in their ruggedness. It truly is a wild place. We saw a couple of groups of kayakers and could occasionally hear but not see, a motorboat. Our intent was to stop and perhaps spend the night at a place known as CPR Slip. The slip is a small harbor built years ago by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a kind of retreat for company bigwigs. It features a bunkhouse and sauna. We had read that the sauna and surrounding area were publicly maintained and we would be welcome there. So we were quite surprised by the unwelcome reception we received by the “caretaker” who hurried out to meet us and inform us that we were not welcome there. We got the bum’s rush and never learned what it was that caused such an atypical Canadian reaction to meeting kayakers. Tired as we were, we plodded on to the channel north of Bowman Island where we met some women who were out kayaking and enjoying the sunny weather. Their demeanor was 180 degrees different than our “CPR greeter”. They wanted to know all about our trip and made camping recommendations for Duncan Cove which was a couple of miles ahead of us.  On what turned out to be our final day of paddling the route was generally exposed to the south and featured a number of crossings with few places to get out and take a break. St. Ignace  Island (huge) and Simpson Island (very large), are divided by the imposing Moffat Strait which leads north to the super-sized expanse of Nipigon Bay. While Nipigon Bay might offer protection if the wind picked up from the south, it can be treacherous in any type of east-west wind. So we leaned into our paddles, headed into the 15 mile per hour headwind and slowly made our way along the shores of the two big islands. Just as we made it into Simpson Channel, which was our route into Rossport, the fog rolled in and the wind shifted to the south which made the four mile crossing to Vein Island just a little more problematic. We had our compass bearings to the island, but with the building side wind, we pretty much had to guess which part of the island we might hit. It’s always a relief to see the tree line emerge from the fog and confirm that we’re not adrift in the middle of the lake. With seven miles remaining until we got to Rossport, our arms began to feel like lead and our rear ends like they’d been pounded with rubber mallets.  Our last day turned out to be 27 miles long. As the fog lifted and the sun shone again, we packed our gear for the long drive home.

If you only get one chance to paddle the clear, cold waters of Lake Superior, and you’d like to see her at her wildest, you won’t do better than to head up to what is known locally, and affectionately, as The North Shore.

References

For logistical help, guides and shuttles, contact;

Superior Outfitters
Box 88
Rossport, Ontario, Canada, POT 2RO

(807) 824 3314


Other outfitters offering guided trips to the area are;
Caribou Expeditions                 http://www.caribou-expeditions.com/index.shtml

Naturally Superior                    http://www.naturallysuperior.com/

For park and camping information contact;

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

For some background on the area and to read about the saunas along the north shore, contact;             www.conormihell.com

For additional help in trip planning read  Guide to Sea Kayaking on Lakes Superior and Michigan by Bill Newman, Sarah Ohmann and Don Dimond

Submitted by George Granlund

No comments:

Post a Comment

New to Kayaking?

Don't know how to get started? Which boat to buy? How to learn without embarrassment? What if it tips over? Do I have to roll the kayak?

We were all beginners once and we'd be happy to help you with the basics. Before you even buy a boat, why not stop in at our monthly meeting (see the Paddlers Calendar) for some friendly advice from experienced paddlers. Whether you're interested in calm afternoons on one of Michigan's beautiful lakes and rivers or two weeks in the wilderness, we can help - we've been there.

To ask any questions or to contact the group for any reason, please send an e-mail to Eastcoastpaddlers@gmail.com