Across Canada – Stage 5 – Lake Superior
Thursday 8th September
There was a beautiful blood red sun rise across the huge Lake Superior that we could see out of our hotel window. It was just amazing and we were hoping there were going to be more to come.
At breakfast I ordered eggs Benedict which was actually very good but the service was terrible. I thought Alaine was going to say something as the two waitresses were very sour and unhelpful. I can’t remember service being so bad, yet the service in other areas not related to the restaurant was good. We left the restaurant saying to ourselves maybe its because we were in US. Things were different here?
We walked to the Grand Portage Fort to learn more about the history of the voyageurs. I had retraced the voyageurs routes from the Canadian Rocky Mountains so I was very interested in learning more. I also retraced the voyageurs when we paddled the Athabasca, Slave and Mackenzie Rivers but there was no way I had endured the discomfort that they would have gone through. You can’t imagine the pain and suffering they would have experienced at times. At least we had an easy way out and it wasn’t our job.
Cleaned up and ready to sight-seeing. At a scenic lookout near the fort.
Part of the old Grand Portage Fort.
At the fort we joined a tour group in the canoe building shed. It was Eric, the guides first tour and he did an excellent job. We learnt so much about canoe building, the life of a voyageur and how they would rendevous here at Grand Portage.
The gates to the fort.
The Great Hall at the Grand Portage National Monument where Voyageurs, fur traders and buyers used to rendezvous.
Trading of furs at Grand Portage.
The jetty outside Grand Portage Fort. Voyageurs and traders from Montreal met up with Voyageurs from the west to trade.
After our tour we walked out onto the jetty that was protruding out into the calm Lake Superior before returning to the information centre where Eric, the information clerk called the US customs for us.
Although we had been in Canada and were about to paddle back into Canada we were told we had to contact the customs if we ever spent a night in the US. We could have slipped back over the border without anyone knowing but we thought we had better stay within the law. Eric tried several times and eventually he managed to get the right person to talk to and handed the telephone to me. I talked to an customs officer who wanted us to paddle to the Pigeon River border control straight away. I asked if we could paddle there tomorrow but he preferred we made it there today. When we returned to the hotel I checked the milage and found it was 30 kilometres and there was no way we would get there before dark so Leonie went into action. She rang the customs and displaying her sexy voice she explained our problem and that we couldn’t get there by kayak by nightfall and there was no taxis in town so we couldn’t get there by land. They then suggested sending a car to pick us up which sounded pretty good and would save us a lot of trouble. They called at 4.00pm and said the car would be a the hotel any minute. We went down and waited outside the hotel and soon after a customs truck pulled up. An officer greeted us. I opened the front passengers door to get in but with a definite no, he said I had to sit in the back.
So all three of us sat in the back of the truck with little leg room and a cage in front of us and a cage at the back of us. The opening at the bottom of the seats was blocked off and there was no way we were getting out. We were pinned in like sardines, well not quite but nearly. The officer just drove, chewing gum with little expression on his face.
It was a scenic drive to the customs post. When we arrived were escorted to the customs office where another officer started interviewing us. He didn’t quite understand where we had come from and why we were there as I doubt if any other paddlers do what we did and go to customs. Another officer tried to explain to him what we were doing. He may have been the person we spoke to earlier on the phone. We filled out a form and they asked for our finger prints. The fingers on our right hand, then the fingers on our left hand then our thumbs. They then took our photo and stapled a green card in our passports and said we needed to leave it at the airport before we left Canada or they will think that we overstayed our stay.
Eventually we went through the process and the customs officer relaxed and became more human. He even joked and wished us well on our trip. He said, we will have to get a process sorted for kayakers coming across the border. Minutes later we were back in the truck and being taken back to our hotel. We asked the driver what his job was and he said apprehending illegals. He also lightened up. The US customs turned out being very good to us.
I was a little restless when we returned to the hotel so wanting to see some of the real Grand Portage Trail, I decided to go for a run to check it out. Before the trip I wouldn’t have been able to run more than a kilometre without stopping but since then and after running several of the portages I was starting to feel running fit.
The Grand Portage trail which links Lake Superior to the Pigeon River is 13.7kms long, and bypasses a set of waterfalls and rapids on the last 32kms of the Pigeon River before it flows in Lake Superior.
I reached the trail after about 2kms on the road. The trail was about a car width wide but the track itself was only a foot track. It varied from a flat track to a rocky track, to a board walk, to tree roots, across streams, as well as being hilly. I just kept running wanting to see as much of the track as I could.
Part of the Grand Portage portage trail.
The portage trail is well maintained as today many walkers use the trail. It varies from level, to rocky, to tree roots, to muddy and is fairly steep in places.
Eventually I had to turn and head back down the hill as I didn’t want to be caught out running in the dark. By the time I returned I had been running for 55 minutes or more. I was surprised that my legs were feeling so good after the previous hard few days. Back at the hotel I checked the beach in front of the hotel and saw a small bear running across it and into the woods.
After a shower we went down to have dinner. We started with a great salad as much as we could eat. I then had duck, Alaine had buffalo and Leo had ribs and finished off with a sweet. The service was much better due to it being a Jamaican student serving us who was studying hospitality and was there for a year. She was much friendlier, smiled and much easier to talk to than the others.
Friday 9th September
The sunrise was blood red again. We had breakfast in the room to save time and to help us get off earlier. When we had packed we grabbed the kayaks and pulled them across to the beach. It would be the last time we would have to carry a pack on our backs and tow the kayak as there were no more portages.
Paddling Lake Superior was going to be a new experience. It was one hell of a big lake, however this morning we were blessed with calm conditions. Two people came over to talk to us as we loaded.
Packing for our first paddle on Lake Superior.
We paddled across the bay to Portage Island which had low rusty coloured cliffs at the end of it. We looked back seeing Grand Portage for the last time and after paddling around the first mainland point we could see a few cars on a highway in the distance. High hills and cliffs were part of the mainland which were stunning although when we reached the nearby islands they were even more spectacular. I hadn’t imagined the lake being so beautiful.
Goodbye to the Grand Portage Fort.
We briefly stopped on an island with a mixture of coloured rock with a slanting rock face and mountain ash trees which were loaded with red berries. The black layered slab that we landed on was slippery but a short walk along the island was well worth it, it was amazingly beautiful.
Beautiful rock, beautiful Island.
A lovely view through some islands
And we thought the lake might be boring!
We left the islands for a while and crossed over to Pigeon Point. A power boat was fishing and moving slowly along the cliff. It was lunch time so we made for a boulder beach. Luckily there was no wind so we were able to pull in next to a huge rock in calm water and anchor the kayaks. There were several mountain ash trees displaying their canopy of red berries. I climbed a cliff behind and was able to see for miles up, across and down the lake.
Lunch on a bouldery beach near Pigeon Point, Lake Superior
Once around Pigeon Point we could see the bay where the Pigeon River entered the lake and where the US and Canadian customs were located. We were now crossing the border into Canada. We were thankful that we didn’t have to paddle to the customs post as it was several kilometres from our location and we would have to detour several kilometres. Again the scenery surrounding us was stunning.
The rugged islands.
As we reached another set of islands we could see paddlers in the distance. First there was one, then two, then four. We hadn’t really seen any real kayakers on our journey so we were excited to meet other paddlers.
I noticed three of the paddlers were using Greenland type paddles which are usually made of timber and have no offset. There is certainly a growing trend amongst some sea kayakers in using these type of paddles. The paddlers using them usually swear by them and love paddling with them. I haven’t used one but somehow I don’t think I would swap my Werner or Epic wing paddle for one. Well not at the moment at least.
It was great to meet other kayakers.
Dave Olson reached us first. He seemed to be the leader of the group and what I gathered, he was a bit of a kayaking guru who knew a lot about the lake and who has a web site called; The Lake is the Boss.
We chatted and instantly we felt as if they were friends that we hadn’t seen for a while. When you have something in common there is usually an instant bond.
One of the other paddlers Rick Hoffman had paddled just about all the way around Lake Superior in weekly trips, doing two weeks a year. I think he said he started in 2004 and he doesn’t have far to go before he completes it all. His favorite spot was the section between Marathon and Wawa, the Pukaskwa Nation Park. Our trip this year won’t quite reach that section but I’m looking forward to paddling it another year.
On Dave’s website the two other paddlers on that trip were Ranger Mark and Bad Hatter. I’m sure they did tell me their names but being as old as I am I will excuse myself for forgetting. They bonded with us straight away and we were joking and having laughs with us. We only spent a few minutes with them but it didn’t take us long to feel like friends.
None of them could imagine kayaking the border voyageur route and doing all those portages that we did. I think they thought we were mad Aussies. They weren’t the first to think that.
The group knew a lot about the lake and they shared a few camping sites with us, one that we were going to use that night on Spar Island. It was sad to see them paddle off. A few minutes later I looked back and saw the four paddlers way in the distance and silhouetted against the sun. Within minutes we were kilometres apart.
We followed an island hoping to reach our camp well before the sun set. The big island came to an end and then a few tiny islands started appearing. Through the gaps we could see the big bad lake. It was still flat and calm, but like Dave and the group said, it is unusual to find the lake as calm as it was that day.
A white quartz rock sunk under water at the end of Spar Island, it was quite unique. Our campsite was close, but we really didn’t know what to expect. The cliff at the beginning of the island was covered with moss and just looking so stunning. A little further a deer was down at the waters edge. It was so clean looking and proud. It stood there like a statue and then suddenly took off into the rocky forest leaving us looking for more. The small cove that Dave talked about was in front of us. There was a stony beach in the corner but a large flat rock area next to it. The water shallowed quickly and no sooner had we stopped looking at the beauty of the cove we slid our bow up the slippery flat rock.
We were always thankful for a campsite, and this looked like a beauty. On closer inspection there wasn’t that much dirt to peg the tents down but there was enough for us. The camp was spacious with the rock stretching nearly 100 metres up the hill. It was good to walk on and good to spread our gear on.
Camp and cliffs on the south end of Spar Island.
By sunset it was time for wine o’clock. Alaine had bought some beers in Grand Portage so it was time to drink them. They had been in the cold water since we arrived but funnily enough although this was one of the coldest lakes in the world, the beer wasn’t that cold. Probably that was the reason I drank 3 cans without knowing it. Or were they just planted next to me and I was told by Alaine I had drank them!
The chill soon crept in, the sun went down leaving the sky with a red glow. No sooner had I stopped writing my diary the stars were out and having clear skies they looked impressive.
Typing my diary and experiencing a stunning sunset.
Saturday 10th September
For some reason we all thought it was Sunday when it was actually Saturday. We would be reaching Thunder Bay in the afternoon but I think I told Dan, when we were at Grand Portage that we would be there on Sunday in two days time. I was concerned he might be thinking we were arriving tomorrow so I sent him an email, as we could get reception on the island. There was a little mist in the bay but it cleared quickly. The sun helped to dry our tents that were spread over the rock to dry.
Drying out our tents after a damp night.
At 10.30am we started crossing the bay from Spar Island and there was some amazing scenery both on the mainland and also the islands. There were cliffs just about every where we looked. Small clusters of houses were also now nestled beneath the cliffs on the mainland. It was hard to see how the people got to their houses as the terrain around them looked extremely rugged for a road.
Leonie enjoying the calm conditions
The lake was just stunning.
At Flatland Island, the very last island before Thunder Bay we decided to have an early lunch. We also needed a rest as looking and admiring the stunning scenery in every direction was quite draining!! Even at lunch, although we were on the flattest island around, we had an amazing view of a cliff on the mainland. It was at lunch we realised that when we crossed the border we had stepped into another time zone and in fact were now going to be one hour late in arriving. I sent Dan another email.
Another lunch, another fine view.
A tall chimney way ahead indicated the whereabouts of Thunder Bay. We passed by the tiny Bonnet Island where it shallowed and we spotted a big fish below us. The water was so clear but the lake bottom was only rock or sand and sometimes weedy in the shallows. There didn’t seem to be any coral or anything colourful down there. Unlike the ocean there was limited marine life so it felt a little more sterile than the ocean. That though didn’t detract from the enormity and beauty of the lake.
Being a little behind time we stepped up the pace. The cliffy Pie Island over to our right was a little lost in the heat haze but it was still a spectacular sight. With all its cliffs it looked as if it was a great island to paddle around. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do it, we will leave that for the local kayakers.
Leo with Pie Island in the background
A few yachts were sailing along the north-western side of the island. Our eyes drifted back and forth looking ahead and then across to Pie Island to watch the yachts. Beyond Pie there was another giant of a high cliffy range they call the Sleeping Giant. Our next leg was from Thunder Bay around the Sleeping Giant. If we hadn’t been going into Thunder Bay we would have gone from the tip of Pie Island straight to the Sleeping Giant as it was a lot closer.
Dan was going to meet us at a sandy beach in the Chippewa Park which was about 10kms before the main town. We were getting closer and it looked as if we were only 15 minutes behind schedule. We rounded two square points close to Chippewa Park and sighted a beach on Sandy Beach Road. It didn’t look like the park beach but there were several people sun bathing and even one or two people in the water, mainly children. We headed towards the beach just in case it was the one that Dan meant but within 500 metres I spotted someone on the point ahead waving their jumper. It didn’t quite look like Dan but whoever it was, was trying hard to attract our attention. We instantly changed direction and headed for the waving hand.
The waving hand wasn’t Dan but a lady who Alaine thought was Cheryl. She didn’t look like Cheryl to me but then again I have been wrong and when it comes to remembering names and faces Alaine is always better than me. Not this time though as the lady turned out being Dan’s brother’s wife, Hely.
We were expecting to land on a beach but instead we landed at Dan’s brother’s summer house. Dan, Kenny and Hely stood on the front lawn as we negotiated around a few boulders before hitting their boulder beach which was protected by a rock groyne.
Dan, Kenny and Hely stood on the front lawn.
It didn’t take long to get to know Kenny and Hely who were staying at their summer house for the weekend and said we could leave our boats there for as long as we wanted. We had a drink and a chat but we had to get going as Dan had a Voluntary Air Rescue meeting at 6.00pm.
We left some of our gear at the house and loaded all our necessary things into Dan’ car. Within 15 minutes we were at Dan’s home and meeting his wife Cheryl. It wasn’t long before Dan was off to his meeting. Cheryl made us very welcome. When I met Dan and Cheryl there was only me, but now there was three of us, but that didn’t seem to matter, Cheryl soon had us sitting outside on the patio serving us hamburgers and salad. We chatted for a long time. Leo soon felt at home when Cheryl said she enjoyed a drop of wine. Leo had a drinking partner.
Sunday 11th September
Cheryl cooked us eggs Benedict. We had a leisurely breakfast and talked heaps. Well, I think the girls did most of the talking. We weren’t in any hurry, but we had to ring the customs and tell them that we had landed. It was too late to do it yesterday, so we thought we would do it today.
Dan drove us back to Kenny’s place where I contacted the customs and asked them if we could get Dan to drive us to the city customs post to save us having to paddle the 13 kilometres into town. The customs man on the end of the phone wasn’t at all receptive to that idea, he said we had to go to the marina in town which is a designated spot for in-coming vessels that have come in from the US. He didn’t seem to want to compromise, so although we didn’t really want to donn our kayaking gear, we had no choice!
We were keen to see Fort William so with Cheryl off work Dan planned to take us today, but the last tour was at 4.00pm and it was already 1.00pm and we hadn’t started paddling. It was 13 kilometres to the marina, which meant it was going to be a two-hour paddle to get there, so we would be pushing for time.
The first part of the paddle the wind was helping us along, then as soon as we got around the first groyne the wind changed, the lake became rougher and it was a bit harder to gain some kilometres. We could see the city although we couldn’t see our destination at that point.
Leonie heading into Thunder Bay.
We crossed over the bay passing 3 entrances to the Mission River. A sea rescue boat and two jet skis sped by bumping up and down against the choppy waves. The chimney that we had been seeing for miles was now behind us. It was part of a factory. Grain silos were ahead and others were further across the bay. Two relatively big ships were anchored at the first set of silos.
Passing the first lot of silos. Big ships use the lake.
Despite the wind being slightly against us we were making good time and arrived at the marina just as several yachts that were racing across the finishing line. It took us 1 hour 50 minutes.
The Thunder Bay Marina.
As soon as we pulled in I climbed the bank to find out how to contact the customs, when Dan and Cheryl arrived. I rang the customs number and the man on the phone asked me a few questions, – do you have liquor, are you carrying drugs, what is the serial number of your kayak, what colour is it etc. He then wanted Alaine’s details and soon after he said we were cleared and we could go. I told him that Leo was also there, but he said she had to ring in after I had put the phone down. That seemed a bit ridiculous but that’s what he wanted. Within a few minutes Leo was also cleared. We just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t have done that back at Kenny’s place, but I suppose it all had to be official.
Alaine paddling the kayak to the boat ramp.
By the time the two kayaks were loaded on Dan’s car it was 3.30pm so we had 30 minutes to get to Fort William. We arrived there with 4 minutes to spare but by the time we had paid and joined the tour, it had started. The tour guide was very good, although he did go on a bit, but we learnt a lot about the voyageurs, their way of life, the fort, canoe building and lots more. It was well worth joining the tour and it made us appreciate even more how difficult the life of a voyageur was.
Part of Fort William
Trying on a hat made of a Beaver Pelt at Fort William.
Looking around the canoe building shed. All the canoes were made from natural materials.
A canoe used by the Voyageurs were made from natural materials.
Alaine, Cheryl, Dan and Leonie. Dan and Cheryl looked after us in Thunder Bay.
That evening we treated Dan and Cheryl to dinner at a Steakhouse. It was certainly good food and very good service.
Monday 12th September
We were well behind schedule and there was no way we would now get to the end of Lake Superior in the time we had left, but we still had about 10 days of paddling to do before we have to make our way to the big cities and eventually home.
Everyone we have met so far has commented on how deadly Lake Superior was and how cold the water was and how rough it gets and how the weather can change seasons 5 times in one day without warning. Paddling to the north pole might have got less negativity. Hearing all the negative comments didn’t help Alaine to feel safe about the lake. She in fact was feeling pretty paranoid about paddling on it, especially the big 22 km crossing from Thunder Bay to the Sleeping Giant, so we needed to hear some good stories about the lake to ease her mind, but in reality, I didn’t think any positive comments would still do that!
With the weather changing with every minute and a gale warning out for the lake for the next 4 days it wasn’t looking very good for kayaking across the bay to the Sleeping Giant. We were reminded that it was the middle of September and gales are common this time of year. The lake creates its own weather pattern, people said. We were also told the lake is rarely as calm as what we experienced on Friday, so be concerned. Of course I have heard all these types of comments before, when I have tackled other lakes, rivers and oceans and I am experienced enough to know they are at times right, but with time, experience and common sense most conditions can be worked around or conquered. We just needed the right conditions to give it a go.
Dan drove into town for a chiropractor appointment. He dropped Alaine and I off in the centre of town but took Leo with him, who also wanted to see a chiropractor. The kayak shop wasn’t open so we walked to MacDonalds to have a coffee while we waited for them to open up at 10.00am.
When Leo and Dan arrived at the kayak shop the girls seemed to spend up big. We only had 10 days of paddling left, so I couldn’t understand why they were spending so much.
I bought some maps, but they didn’t have them all so Dan drove us to another kayak shop to see if they had them. We met Bill Ostrom who made a lot of the packs that he sold in his kayak shop. Bill had spent the long weekend making a new portage trail between two lakes north-west of Thunder Bay. He reckoned that we must have been the first paddlers to kayak the border route as most paddlers paddle canoes along it.
Next door to the kayak shop was the Persian donut shop. Dan took us in to try the locally made Persians that the Thunder Bay people seemed proud of and enjoyed immensely. They were similar to a donut/cinnamon bun that you would find in Australia. We still hadn’t found all the freeze dried food we needed so Dan drove us to an outdoor store and then later dropped the girls off at a supermarket. We drove to the Air Rescue hanger at the airport to see if a parcel that was sent there for me had arrived. Dan was very involved with the Air Rescue Unit, so he showed me around the hanger, their rescue plane and offices while we were there.
We met up with the girls a little later, bought some beer and wine and drove home. The skies were amazingly black. A huge cloud engulfed the city as if a large spaceship was going to swallow it up. The weather didn’t look good for the start of our journey to the Sleeping Giant.
A black cloud sweeps across the city. The weather for Thunder Bay wasn’t good. Gale warnings were forecast for the next few days.
We were far from prepared to go the following day so we decided to take it easy that evening and be prepared to leave on Wednesday.
For dinner Leo prepared the nibbles and Alaine prepared a pasta dish.
Later two of Dan’s friends, Chris and Chris, who Dan dives and plays underwater hockey with came around to meet us and chat. They both paddle and know quite a bit about the lake. Chris the artist gave us a small book on the Pukaskwa National Park and the first page Alaine turned to said: Remember, Lake Superior kills quickly. Sadly, not the positive reinforcement I was hoping she would hear.
Conversation with the Chris’s also reflected around the dangers of the lake. By the end of the night Alaine had heard one too many bad stories about the lake.
As Chris left, he said when we finished our journey we could leave our kayaks in his container until we sold them or wanted them which was very generous of him.
Cheryl, Alaine, Leonie and Dan at Kakabeka Falls
Wednesday 14th September
It was dark and my body didn’t really want to get up but I had to. 6.30am wasn’t that early as we always got up at 6.30am but with the change in time zones, the cold and it being pitch black, it certainly felt too early.
We had breakfast and started loading Dan’s car. Outside it was cloudy and windy. With the weather forecast in the area having a gale warning it was too risky for us to paddle the 23 kilometres across Thunder Bay to The Sleeping Giant but we had to start paddling otherwise we would be in Thunder Bay for several days to come, and we didn’t have that much spare time left. Dan though was prepared to drive us around to Silver Islet on the Sleeping Giant so we didn’t have to make the dangerous 23km paddle. Although Alaine was much happier with that decision, she really would have been happier on shore and not paddling at all.
Cheryl left for work and about 45 minutes later we were ready to go. I was a little sad that I was breaking my journey and not paddling that 23kms, but at this stage it was better to be paddling on the lake rather than waiting in Thunder Bay for the weather to get better and that wasn’t likely to happen.
It was cold outside, real cold, in fact extremely cold and I had only put my sandals on so my feet were freezing in the car. When Dan stopped at Tim Hortons for a coffee I managed to change into my runners which helped to warm my feet.
Before leaving the city entirely, Dan stopped at the Terry Fox lookout so we could get a good view of the city and lake.
Terry Fox lookout. Thunder Bay.
Terrance Stanley “Terry” Fox CC OD, (July 28, 1958 – June 28, 1981) was a Canadian humanitarian, athlete, and cancer research activist. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated, he embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 mi), and ultimately cost him his life, his efforts resulted in a lasting, worldwide legacy. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries and is now the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research; over C$500 million has been raised in his name.
Fox was a distance runner and basketball player for his Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, high school and Simon Fraser University. His right leg was amputated in 1977 after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, though he continued to run using an artificial leg. He also played wheelchair basketball in Vancouver, winning three national championships.
In 1980, he began the Marathon of Hope, a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research. Fox hoped to raise one dollar for each of Canada’s 24 million people. He began with little fanfare from St. John’s, Newfoundland, in April and ran the equivalent of a full marathon every day. Fox had become a national star by the time he reached Ontario; he made numerous public appearances with businessmen, athletes, and politicians in his efforts to raise money. He was forced to end his run outside of Thunder Bay when the cancer spread to his lungs. His hopes of overcoming the disease and completing his marathon ended when he died nine months later.
When we arrived at Silver Islet Dan drove down a narrow lane passing some very old timber homes, some of them were original to his friends house. We stopped briefly to watch a deer graze in someone’s back yard. We moved on and drove to where Rick had a cabin above a cliff over-looking the ocean. One of the neighbours soon arrived asking us why we were on someone else’s property. Dan eased his mind when he told him he was his friend.
The man said the locals wouldn’t appreciate us launching off the nearby private beach so we headed for the government boat ramp near the store which was closed. We saw another deer on the way back.
From the internet – Ghost towns: Silver Islet is another of Ontario’s best kept ghost towns. It is also one of the oldest. A one time silver mining town on the shores of Lake Superior, a huge deposit of silver was discovered around 1845. There was no easy access to the silver ore deposit for it was located on a small shoal under a limestone mesa called Thunder Cape. Initial efforts to mine the ore all proved futile. It was as though the volatile weather of Lake Superior was to deny entrance to the ore deposit for all time to come. Several decades later the battle was joined when a new owner acquired the property. Several breakwaters were built to contain the fury of the lake’s waters. They, too, were demolished by storms, ice surges, and even a freak tidal wave. Finally, a breakwater of rock and concrete was built that allowed miners to extract silver ore worth $3 million. In 1883, mining operations ceased for lack of fuel for the furnaces and water filled the shafts. Submitted by: Henry Chenoweth.
A view of Silver Islet near the Sleeping Giant mountain range.
Dan backed his vehicle down to the boat ramp and we started unloading. Although we had loaded many times before, this time we carried extra clothing and about 15 days of food. The extra clothing soon filled the spaces in our hatches, but we still managed to stuff all the gear in.
A couple from British Columbia with two Necky Kayaks turned up and were going for a short paddle around the calm of the bay. We had a chit-chat and they were away. It was still cold and the day didn’t seem it would get any hotter so we dressed in more clothes to compensate. I have never paddled in so many clothes before. I had two thermals, my lightweight cag and my goretex Kokatat paddling jacket with hood, my thermal bottoms, my Kokatat fleece pants and some over pants.
The three of us all rugged up for the cold, windy weather. Silver Islet, Lake Superior.
We had a quick lunch, finished packing and said our goodbyes and thanks to Dan and paddled off with the freezing wind behind us. The wind soon blew us across the bay and into a rougher section that wasn’t as protected.
Leaving Silver Islet.
I could see Rick’s house on the cliff. When we were there looking out at the ocean earlier it looked pretty rough, now we were in it and it was rough. The wind was whistling and pushing us madly around the corner. Our hoods were firmly fastened as the icy wind was just too cold to have our ears exposed. The bay was very pretty, a beautiful beach, old houses, cliffs, it was spectacular, but the scene was soon gone as we were whizzed away by the wind.
I looked back frequently getting stunning views of the Sleeping Giant and Pie Island. Before us though were other great views of the islands ahead. Although the weather was wild, we were more protected from the bigger waves due to being between the islands, than if we were out in the big lake.
Looking at the backside of the Sleeping Giant.
We had a campsite spot on the mainland in Finlay Bay picked out that Rick suggested, which meant that our days paddle would be short and we wouldn’t be exposed to the rough seas, well not today that was. However, just before Middlebrun Island I asked the girls if they wanted to cross the bay and camp on Edward Island. Between Middlebrun and Edward though it was very exposed rough water and I did tell them that it was going to get rougher the further we went. At that particular time they didn’t seem to be too concerned and agreed to go. I was a bit surprised.
We left the protection of the shore, although it was still quite rough, and paddled towards Edward Island about 8kms away. Within minutes it went from fairly rough to rougher. Now there was no protection from an island or from the Sleeping Giant but it was easier to go forward than to go back to where we had come.
The waves in the exposed water were so confused, it was like being on a mechanical rodeo bull, the waves twisted, turned, reared up and sank. Many waves surprised us and Leo was being thrown around like a cork. Even our big kayak was being thrown around but we had a lot more stability than Leo in her narrower Epic Kayak. Nevertheless she was handling the conditions very well and hung on.
Alaine was a little anxious in the back especially when Leo got more than 10 metres away from us. Two small islands that I thought we might get some shelter from was surrounded by reef and waves were exploding all over the place. We had to pass in front of them, the water conditions getting no better.
We were now more than half way across the bay and for a moment or two, Cranberry Island a few kilometres away did seem to shield us from the NW winds but it wasn’t for long, in fact the seas got worse.
Alaine was still worried about Leo, although she didn’t worry about us despite the conditions as our kayak was really stable even in the rough stuff. I did however had to ensure I kept an eye out for any rogue waves that were popping up all over the place as the kayak needed to be positioned at the right angle when they exploded or when the wallowing of the waves twisted us around. Being in a horizontal tumble drier was quite an experience. It was important as an expedition paddler to experience rough seas and not get too complacent. I’m now 60 so I had to be careful not to lose the skills and stamina that I used to have. At this point I didn’t think I had, or if I had it wasn’t noticeable. Although the kayak was stable, it was hard to know if our skills helped us from capsizing. If Leo hadn’t have been as capable as she was, the Epic kayak would have capsized long ago. As I had found out, the Epic feels more unstable without a load, its stability seems to be much better loaded and in the rougher conditions.
And the conditions still got no better. Leo was apparently singing, I don’t know if it was nerves or if she was enjoying the experience. She certainly didn’t look too stressed. Hardscrabble Island, a kilometre or two off shore may have protected the cove we were about to enter if the wind was coming from the south-west but it was coming from the north-west so our cove wasn’t protected. In fact the waves became higher and more confused as the water shallowed. Horseshoe Cove was within our grasp but the lake still threw a few rogue waves at us to the extent that I thought Leo was going to capsize. She saved herself, then another wave came but she controlled the kayak and by that time we were entering less confused water and the entrance to Horseshoe Cove. I took a photo but of course I missed the real action.
Going from the rough to the smooth of Horseshoe Cove.
Leo had smiles all over her face when we paddled into the calm of the cove. It was so different inside being protected by the wind. There was a narrow sand beach in the north-east corner so we paddled across to it. It didn’t give us much room to erect our tents, but it was enough, although when the waves in the cove started surging later in the day the waves just about lapped onto our tent vestibules. In the night we ended up sleeping a metre from the surging waves.
Camp in Horseshoe Cove.
It was bitter cold when we landed and we just wanted to get out of our kayaking gear and into warmer clothes which we did straight away. I erected a clothes line between two bushes and supported it with driftwood and hung our wet gear out. It was good to be dry but we couldn’t function properly without our warm gear, our beanies and later our gloves on.
Our tents were soon erected and once they were up we had an instant home that would protect us from the cold, the wind and the rain. There is nothing so nice as crawling into a tent to get away from the weather.
Threatening clouds were passing over quickly. Behind them were more clouds, but at times the sun managed to break through for just a fraction of a second but they didn’t help warm up the night.
Looking out of the cove.
Thursday 15th September
It was bitterly cold when I ventured from my tent at 8.00am, the girls took longer to rise. The trees behind us were blocking out the sun so we weren’t able to take advantage of its warmth. We were well wrapped up and taking off our gloves to work with fiddling things wasn’t an option. The sun started to shine on the western part of the cove. We could see the sun creeping our way but it wasn’t going to reach us before we had left. Instead, when we were eating breakfast we walked along the shore to meet the sun. What a different it made.
Alaine and I were ready well before Leo and it was just to cold to stand there and wait for her so we leaped into the kayak, paddled and explored the cove. On the western side someone had started making a camp in the forest, but it looked too uneven to camp on. We paddled outside the cove and the conditions were amazingly different from the previous day.
After 20 minutes Leo was still on shore and we were still paddling in and out the cove trying to keep warm. When we did get going at 11.00am we moved around the corner and paddled between some islands that gave us shelter. Before us was a yacht tied to a jetty, a big shed, a flat grassed area and a cabin with smoke coming out of it’s chimney. It looked just great and the area was kept neat in a beautiful part between the islands. It would have been a nice place to live all summer.
What a difference a day makes. Leaving Horseshoe Cove.
We crept closer to the property and a man with a dog started walking our way so we stopped to have a chat. Bud Saunders said he was about to leave the island but was waiting for the weather to get better to motor over to the mainland and take everything with him. He said the channel we were in had been one big mass of waves in the last few days. His dog was itching to get into the water, but Bud said, he had sores on his head so he was trying to stop him from swimming. He said his sores had healed but it had recently been rubbing the sores with his paws so they were exposed again.
We said our goodbyes and continued our trip through the islands passing an island with several cabins. By 1.00pm we were ready for lunch so we stopped between some rocks and behind a rocky shore in the shade of the wind. We had so much gear on it was hard to move or go to the toilet.
The sound of a motor got louder and a few minutes later a pretty big boat motored between the islands about 600 metres away. It looked more like a Indonesian smugglers boat but we were later told it was a typical Lake Superior fishing boat.
With a full belly we moved off through some islands on our way to Swede Island which meant we had to do another open crossing. Our route between Bennett, Barclay and Number 10, and the Macoun Island wasn’t quite as rough as the bigger crossing we did the previous day. Over to the west the hills called the Papps, which we had been seeing along our way were changing appearance. From the south they looked like a pair of women’s boobs, the right one being a better shape but as we passed them from the west the left one was looking more firm and well shaped. There was a high hill to the left of them and smaller hills on the right of them. The hills which were quite bare were in a perfect straight line, lying in a north-westerly direction. They kept my attention for some time!
The Papps (twin hills) in the distance.
Swede Island and its two neighboring islands featured some high hills and their own special rows of cliffs. Once inside the channel it was very calm and we were able to view the cliffs at close range. We were given the location of a hut nearby but after seeing a pleasant campsite in the channel we decided to stop there. We had good views down the channel to the south and the north. The sun was still high so we were able to feel its warmth for a little time longer.
One of the cliffs on one of the islands.
Only metres away there was a clump of rhubarb, well it certainly looked like rhubarb but we weren’t quite sure why it was growing on that stony beach. The cliff opposite which was interspersed with pine trees and rock stayed in the sun until it set, but unfortunately the pine trees nearby to our west soon shaded us and a chill crept in.
The girls happy to be on shore and relaxing.
A large brown and white gull circled us and within minutes became braver and landed a few metres away. We would move around camp and it would take to the air and then circle us and land again. It got closer and closer until it was only two metres away.
The stars in the night sky were just beaming with brightness.
Friday 16th September
The water was lapping up the beach all night and kept waking me up as it was so close. We were up at 8.00am just before the sun rose above the trees and cliff top. With the sun the morning was a lot warmer than the previous morning so we were thankful.
There were lots of islands ahead to explore. Note the rhubarb.
We paddled away down the channel and decided to check out the hut and sauna that Rick suggested as a campsite. A jetty with a broken back greeted us. We pulled up beside it in the shallows and jumped out trying not to spend too much time in the cold water. The timber sauna building was a classic. Inside there was a 2 metre timber seat and foot rest. There was a mirror, a bottle opener, buckets, stones and a wooden stove. We had never seen such a sauna. We still didn’t really know how it worked but it looked good and I’m sure it would be an amazing experience especially when it was freezing cold. We meddled around in the sauna for a while taking photos and checking it all out.
A jetty with a broken back.
A sauna in the middle of nowhere. Used by the odd fisherman who want to warm up.
Leonie and Alaine inside the sauna, although we didn’t need to fire it up.
Next to the sauna was a hut that had a notice saying; Emergency Hut Only. In-between the hut and sauna there was a fireplace and a table. A track at the back of the hut led to the lake and a small cove. The cove was calm with not a ripple on the water but a cluster of round smooth boulders scattered in pockets giving the cove an artistic look. As I clicked a few photos I couldn’t help but feel that I was really living. Sometimes seeing the beauty of a simple scene gives me goose bumps, it gives me a sense belonging to my surrounds and great satisfaction that no other thing can give. For a time I was suspended in my own world, I looked and dreamt and wanted to share the experience, the scene with other people. Will they have the same feeling. The girls came along.
A magical moment.
At that moment Alaine brushed through the bushes and was faced with the beauty of the cove. She instantly fell in love with what she saw and said, isn’t this so stunning. How gorgeous, how lovely. For Alaine every bit of the countryside is usually beautiful in her eyes but from what I saw on her face, this was extra special.
We looked across the cove to where the rocks were scattered further out and where they lightly fronted an island about 100 metres away. Further beyond the cove, where the lake was equally as calm, there were other islands seemingly floating on top of the perfectly clear still water.
For a few minutes I was in a dream world, nothing at that moment was as beautiful as the silent cove which wasn’t as dramatic as the Rocky Mountains but it displayed a different kind of beauty and magic.
Another calming scene.
Back at the sauna we stayed around for a few more minutes before returning to our kayak seats and paddling away with a great feeling in our hearts.
We paddled across and between the narrow gap of Chapleau Island and an unnamed island. We were lost for descriptive words about the area. Although it wasn’t as stunning as some of the other spots, it was still something pretty special. This narrow channel led us between two other islands, Spain and Borden. This was even more picturesque, especially at the spot of a cliff that was riddled with pine trees that were popping out of the smallest of crevices. The rock was as colouful as a water colour painting of a rainbow. It displayed browns, white, orange and different shades of grey. It wasn’t huge but it was still beautiful.
Small cliffs between the islands.
Between the islands.
We moved around an island, which at a distance looked as if it blocked the channel. Beyond it, the channel widened and led us to where a large rock slab with no trees formed a campsite. In a small cove beside it the remains of machinery, a large steel pulley wheel, a boiler and other steel pieces lay in and out of the water.
Circling the cove we took pictures of the machinery and then moved through a couple of tiny islands in the channel between Borden and Lasher Islands. The scenery was still pretty awesome with pockets of scenery that was even more special.
Old machinery left by bygone miners.
We entered another bigger channel and headed north with the wind behind us. Now the waves were crashing on the cliffs and rock shore on our left hand side. The wind had picked up and we had less shelter from the islands. We passed a gap between Newton Island and Pugsley, then another gap between Pugsley and Coutlee Islands and another gap between Coutlee and the bigger Brodeur Island. Looking back up the gaps gave us a different view of the lake.
At the end of Brodeur we had decided to have lunch around the corner in the shelter of the wind, but when we rounded it and Alaine saw that we had to do a 6 kilometre or so open water crossing she didn’t want to stop but to carry on and get across the bay before the conditions became worse. In the far far distance we could see what looked like two red and white big boats but in fact they were houses on Lamb Island and part of the lighthouse structures.
Our target looked a long way off, although it wasn’t that far. The wind though was picking up and making the conditions a little more testing. I had told Alaine that it was only a four kilometre crossing which it was to the nearer land but I wasn’t aiming for the nearest land and so it was further. She wasn’t happy that the distance we were going to was more than what I said. She also wasn’t happy when Leo got more than 10 metres from us and Leo at that time was much more than that. We asked Leo to stay close but she wandered much further. If she capsized and we were too far away to get to her before she froze we wouldn’t be able to help but she knew the consequences of capsizing in the freezing water. They say you only last a few minutes in this water before you become hypothermic so when Leo wasn’t right next to us Alaine worried. Alaine’s concerns started to annoy me so I got a bit sharp with her when she continually asked me to get closer to Leo. The lake was rough but at that time, not so rough to worry about.
Otter Island which was on our left near the mainland peninsular was steep and rugged. I looked at it a lot of the time on the crossing as it was quite spectacular. The lake started to ruffle and roughen as we approached Roche Point. A reef at the point, where the water was even rougher made us take a wide track around the point. Leo at that stage was beside us and dancing around like she was in a rumba competition. Once behind the reef and into the shallows everything calmed.
The water calmed in the lee of the reefs
The water shallowed to a few centimetres before we hit the rock beach. We pulled the boats up but left them in the water. It was less windy behind the point and very civilised. The beach was fairly steep and bouldery with drift wood littered about 6 metres away, near the top where it seemed the water level had once been. It was hard to imagine though that the water level could get that high but the orange rock wall out of water seemed to indicate that the lake got much higher.
Amongst the rocks were colourful stones, pieces of old pottery and Alaine found a tiny piece of blue glass. (She later used the glass for the centre piece of a ring she made for her daughter.) At the top on the forest level we found a couple of old brown rusty cans although it was hard to know what year they would have been left there.
Only 20 metres away there was a rich orange 10 metre long x 4 metre wide sloping wall. Two or so metres of its base was brown, like most other rocks and where it appeared the water may have risen up to at one stage was grey/brown. It was just an amazing piece of natural rock.
The coast line cliff and the point was a mottle orange colour with a mixture of white and brown with a few pine trees and shabby bushes on top. The forest along the bouldery beach was scattered with trees changing colour to golden yellow and brown that were mixed with the deep green. The forests were certainly more interesting to look at, now there was that change in colour. Looking along the shoreline that led to the next point it had several patches of small rocky cliffs along the way.
We sat on the boulders enjoying lunch hidden away from the cold wind that was blowing around the corner. Alaine had brought a cucumber with us so I started lunch with cucumber and vinegar, one of my favourite dishes before having tortillas with cheese and tomato, cheese and jam and finishing with nuts and chocolate.
We were sheltered by some beautiful rock formations.
A colourful coast.
The lake was full of white caps with waves breaking closer to the shoreline and on the reefs. The conditions were getting worse but our paddling ahead was less exposed to the wind and swells.
The coastline had short sections of cliff all along it.
Our crossing to the next point which looked like a deformed chicken leg wasn’t as rough as expected, although Leo’s boat was still dancing and occasionally disappeared in the swells. Before we turned the corner at the point, the rocky reefs and tiny islands off shore created breakers and disturbed water. We were soon sheltered by the point and found a truly amazing section of coastline with reddish sand.
Smooth rock and beautiful beaches.
On shore the rock was smoother, less steep with sections of flat rock. The rock colour varied from a rich red, to orange to a selection of greys. Between the rock were beaches that looked from the water just extraordinary. Our hearts pulsed stronger seeing such an unexpected magical place. For a few moments we looked on, paddled a little further and looked in amazement again. It reminded me of some other places I have been in the world.
The rock shore steepened and formed a chasm, a narrow gorge that had a vertical wall on one side and a thick forest of trees which were changing colour on the other. The beach at the bottom of the gorge was laden with big boulders, unfortunately it wasn’t suitable for camping but there were several better places along this section of shore.
To camp on one of the better beaches between the flat smooth rock would have been the best, but it was still quite early so I didn’t suggest it but I wished I had as my heart slumped when we moved on. We could have walked and run about on the flat smooth rock and just enjoyed being in such a nice place.
We started crossing the bay towards the north-westerly tip of Spar Island. A fire was ablaze on one of the further islands. A concern if the fire jumped to other islands. We could see some amazing beaches, more pink than yellow, but at closer inspection they were rocks or boulders and not good for camping on.
In the distance a fire on Fluor Island.
Only an hour or two earlier I had commented on the lack of eagles on the lake, then all of a sudden at a rock outcrop that fingered out into the bay there were four eagles, two on the rock, one in the air and one in a tree. They were a little too far to get a close up picture with our basic cameras but it was so good to see them take off, glide, flit and fly.
The sound of a helicopter started to get closer. We tried desperately to spot it flying over the hill. Leo thought she had spotted it but it was another eagle soaring above a high hill in the distance.
With Fluor Island being on fire I didn’t think it wise to go to the campsite that Rick suggested in a narrow channel just north of us, just in case the smoke was drifting towards our camp. Instead we started looking around the area close by, but many of the beaches that looked beautiful from a distance were made up of big boulders and not the best to camp on.
A beach in a bay opposite Spar Island took our fancy so we paddled to check it out. On closer inspection it was all boulders but there was a small section that had smaller stones that would be okay to camp on. We had detoured and because we hadn’t seen anything better in the area we decided to stay.
Drying my gear. At least camping on stones we don’t get sand in our tents.
Within minutes we had a clothesline erected for our wet clothes. Being in a westerly corner of a bay meant that we would lose the sun sooner than later as the tall spruce trees would block it out and when there is no sun a chill soon creeps in.
The boulder beach was quite hard to walk on and at the top was littered with decaying timber. A clear patch above the beach was quite pretty and seeing a carpeted area of moss covered rock undisturbed meant that no-one had been there for sometime. Amongst the rock were more rotting timbers, red berry plants and a whitish heather. Beyond the clearing the forest was thick and intermingled with dead rotting trees.
Behind our tents the forest was blooming with red mountain ash berries, the changing colours of leaves and white mushroom shaped fungi growing on the large dead branches. We thought our surrounds were special but for a botanist this area would have been like heaven.
Some of our wet gear was spread along the boulder beach and were moved every few minutes to chase the sun. The boulder beach was like four rolling hills that had been created by storms and wave action when the lake was at different water levels.
Our campsite on the rocks.
The stones were carpeted with moss.
Saturday 17th September
The morning wasn’t so cold and for some reason, the girls were up before me! It could have been because of the beautiful sunrise or the sight of a slightly misty morning.
I soon grabbed the trowel and walked over the small, round boulders and found a quiet place in the forest. The mist was still rising from the water and the sun was reflecting on the leaves of the trees making them sparkle as the light fed through the branches.
Sunrise in the stony cove.
Behind our tents the waning moon was shining bright through a gap in the pine trees. The berries of the mountain ash were a rich red against the perfectly clear blue skies of the early morning. It looked as if it was going to be a perfect day.
As the sun rose right across the bay its warming rays made our breakfast so much more enjoyable. For some reason Leo was lagging again. I wasn’t sure why but we were always waiting for her to launch. Sometimes it was only a few minutes, other times it was for much longer. In the early days it was her iPad that distracted her. She was receiving and sending emails to people at the kayak club, as well as sending emails to her family. That meant we were waiting a lot. When we had no reception she was able to focus more on the trip. It was difficult to understand why you would want to get away in the wilderness and then spend hours replying to emails!
The day was just perfect as we started crossing the bay towards Fluor Island. As I was looking towards a nearby beach I noticed two sandy wolf trotting along it. We stopped and then turned our kayaks towards their direction. They immediately noticed us and trotted off into the forest. We waited a few moments but they didn’t return.
There was much less smoke coming from the mountain on Fluor Island than the day before. The wind was light and the water to the east was sparkling because of the sun’s rays. We paddled around the cliffs of Starke Point, where water was swaying back and forth off a reef without any trouble at all. There were gentle breakers hitting it but they were much friendlier than the ones we had by-passed on other days.
Starke Point Cliffs on Fluor Island.
After paddling a few kilometres on the east side of Fluor Island we paddled between Fluor and Willard Island. It was quite beautiful, but a little further, as we paddled between a few smaller islands the scenery turned from beautiful to stunning. When we stopped on one of the small islands for a pee we were able to check out the animal poo, animal tracks and a few different kinds of bushes, vegetation and big mountain ash trees. Not only that, we were able to pause and get the most fantastic view of our route ahead, which had some rich orange cliffs beckoning us.
Having a break on a small island near the bigger Fluor Island. It was stunning scene.
It was such a lovely paddle heading towards the orange cliffs. Arrow like spruce trees and the odd birch tree thickly covered the hill tops. In the far distance beyond the cliffs was a high mountain range with a line of cloud floating above its ridge. It was virtually the only cloud in the sky.
Leo slipped ahead as we took several photos of the area. It is surprising how much distance a kayak can travel when you stop and take a photo. Sometimes I felt guilty taking so many photos, but it is so great to look back and relive those moments. I often felt a little glum when I know I should have taken a photo, but I didn’t. Today was certainly one of those days to take photos.
The colourful cliffs were on an island a few hundred metres west of Irvine. As we got closer it was again one of those times when I felt so lucky to be living and being able to explore places where few people go. All three of us could have walked on water with joy and excitement at that moment. I have experience this feeling so many times before when I explored alone, but it was good to be able to have others share the same experience and the thing about Alaine and Leonie they did appreciate the beauty around them.
Approaching the orange cliff was really something special.
We approach the cliffs and an island with a cabin on. Seeing the vista through the gap in the islands was also something special but for me it was the orange cliff, which was probably caused by lichen, that was the better spectacle before us.
We passed between the cliff and Irvine Island and it was like walking into another room with another much different but beautiful scene from all angles. We paused for a few moments and stared as the scene was on a much wider scale and we couldn’t capture it all in our camera lens. There was a gap to our north between Fluor Island and another small island revealing what looked like a beautiful sand bar and the wider Blind Channel beyond it. It would have been good to explore further but it wasn’t on our track as we had to head to our north-east.
On the same small island called Tisdale, at it’s eastern end we could see a tree that looked as if it had been shaped with a large wide ball on the top, like the bushes you see in people’s garden who have trimmed them. When we passed the eastern end of the island it was actually two different trees. Nearby the island was composed of low smooth rock cliffs, some rolling like hills.
As we paddled over to Newash Point on St Ignas Island and into a more exposed part of the lake Alaine became worried because Leo was more than 50 metres ahead after we stopped to take photographs. I wasn’t particularly worried as the lake wasn’t that rough, but for Alaine it was a big thing and I think she thought I didn’t care so I could feel a little tension between us. As we arrived at Newash Point Leo had allowed us to catch up as the islands and reefs off the point caused a lot of breaking waves. We thought we might have to go around all the islands but at closer inspection we were able to sneak through a reef and the first island allowing a shorter course into the bay between St Agnace, Agate and Bowman Islands.
No sooner had we paddled into the bay we could see several reefs breaking inside it. We were easily able to avoid them. There was also something like a gate and a bench on the shoreline. Rick had marked a camp site on my map around the next point so we headed to it to have lunch. As we rounded the point, where waves were breaking on a reef, we could see a Canadian flag flying high on the steep hill over to the west. It was above the cliff line, but below the tree line. We were puzzled why such a flag would be up there.
The cove was calm and inside there was a high steel flag pole with the Canadian flag flying at the end of a sand spit. We paddled to it and another smaller cove appeared with a big boat and three or four cabins snuggled in the trees. It was just an amazingly protected harbour.
We paddled around the cove looking and landed next to the jetty which the big boat was tied up to. I jumped out and had a quick walk around but there seemed to be no-one there. It was lunch time so we pulled our kayaks up the shore and enjoyed lunch on the beginning of the jetty. The boat next to us was similar to what we had seen a couple of days before. It also appeared that the cabins in the cove were used for groups, maybe fishing groups.
An extremely sheltered cove on St Ignace, opposite Agate Island.
Our visit to the cove was very enjoyable and as we left it and paddled across Squaw Bay we could see a building ahead at the end of Bowman Island. The wind had picked up and it pushed us quickly towards the buildings. When we passed them there was no one there.
Within a couple of kilometres we were leaving the shelter of Bowman Island and the wind pushed us passed Dupuis Point and once we started crossing the exposed lake again I could feel Alaine getting anxious as Leo was surging forward at times. The wind increased and the lake became rough with the waves washing and wallowing in all directions but mainly from the south.
We passed by the tiny Nest Island and for a few moments we were sheltered form the bigger waves coming from the south. Being less than 100 metres long our shelter was short lived. Luckily it wasn’t too many kilometres to Hope Island and Armour Harbour where we would get some shelter from the southerly winds.
We were now following the rugged and mountainess St Ignace Island which was about 22kms long by about 12kms wide and has over 100 big and small lakes on it. With the wind getting stronger the islands off Ignace gave us some shelter.
As we paddled to the north of Hope Island and into Armour Harbour passing Hope and along Armour Island the water calmed and Alaine started to relax. The shores along Ignace were high, with cliffs dotted along it at different heights and with many of the trees between the cliffs turning yellow giving some indication that fall was on it’s way.
Leonie paddling the Epic 18 in the calm between Armour and Ignace Island.
A few cabins came into view. Some of them were quite hidden in the trees but we didn’t see any one around. The wind was increasing so we checked for a campsite at the bottom of the bay in one of the small coves. There was a unusual hexagonal cabin hidden in the trees but the beaches were too narrow and stoney. Although the view of the Harbour was quite stunning and we would have been able to watch the sun set, camping there wasn’t possible.
Mc Nab Harbour was our target for the night but to reach it we had to go out into the exposed water again and paddle along the coastline for a few kilometres. I was hoping that the conditions out in the open lake were going to have calmed or Alaine would not be in a good mood by the time we reached it. Unfortuntely it was rough so we bounced up and down and got thrown about.
Reaching the cove we had to make sure we didn’t turn too early or the big waves could roll in and surprise us from the rear-side. We kept paddling until we were in the centre of the cove entrance and away from the breaking waves that were slamming onto the point. I told Leo to turned quickly in her boat as it was quite unstable and I didn’t want her being surprised by the waves.
The swell was quite high and we were in danger of them breaking when the water shallowed further into the cove. We paddled in taking care and keeping well away from the waves breaking on the rocks each side of us. There was a narrow entrance of calmer water which we followed into the cove and into the safety of the calm water. There was a black sand beach with a big slab of rock on the left side and high cliffs further back to the north. It was certainly a pretty cove and we were pleased to be there.
It took us a bit of time to pick the exact spot on the sand to camp. I erected a washing line and Alaine sat on the sand with her head between her hands. She wasn’t happy being on the lake when it was rough. Before we put our tents up we levelled the sand a bit to have a flatter surface.
A cove in McNab Harbour
The sun was moving around to the west and it was about 7.30pm when the sun was blocked out by the trees. We all washed before we lost the sun and then I went for a walk to the cove entrance to see if the lake had got any rougher. It had but I didn’t tell the girls as I didn’t want to worry them.
I walked to the narrow gap that we paddled through to reach our camp in the cove. It was calm inside but rough outside.
The sky was full of aircraft jet streams with a few clouds creeping in. We were seeing so many aircraft jet streams now, it was a very busy sky above us.
As it became dark a small bat started flying by us often getting quite close.
Collecting water to purify.
The day calms and the sun fades.
Relaxing in the cool evening with the dark sky full of stars and a small bat skirting around.
Sunday 18th September
The wind picked up in the night and the lapping waves nearly reached our tents. I walked to the entrance to the cove and checked the water conditions. It was certainly a lot worse than we entered it so I knew we were going to be tested today. It wouldn’t please Alaine to know that it was going to be much rougher conditions so I didn’t make a big deal of it. I quietly told Leonie that it was going to be rough and that she should attach the sponsons on the side of the kayak. The sponsons would help with stability when blown up.
We started paddling out of the cove about 10.45am, destination Woodbine Harbour, a cove only 8kms away. As soon as we started paddling out of the cove I knew that we were in for an interesting and exciting paddle as the swell was up and the lake was full of confused breaking waves. Alaine took a few pictures on the way out but the pics didn’t really reflect when it was truly like.
Leaving the cove.
After leaving the cove the lake becomes rougher.
We continued along the shoreline at a fairly slow pace, although we were working hard against the strong wind. The waves were hitting us broadside so every time we saw one coming we would quickly change course to hit them slightly head on.
We look back to where we had come.
When we left the shoreline and started the open crossing I was hoping the waves would start to have a regular pattern, but they didn’t. It was still very rough. The swell must have been 2-3 metres high but it was the combination of the confused wallowing waves, the breakers and the swell that made it so rough. The Necky tandem was so stable I felt at home in such conditions and even Alaine later said that she too felt safe. Although we were very stable there were a few waves that tried hard to rotate us horizontally and vertically. We had to work with the waves and know and go with their fluid aggressive nature.
It was going to be a testing paddle.
The conditions needed advanced skills to stay upright and Leo was handling them very well. She looked quite comfortable in the kayak and there were lots of times when the kayak was only touching the water by a few feet. We had to stay close together but we also had to make sure that we were far enough apart not to crash into each other.
When the big waves came through we often crashed down and I was wondering if the kayak would stand the beating. It wasn’t sinking so it must have been. Alaine was quiet in the back and I knew that she was getting saturated by the breaking waves. She had put on a lot of clothes so just maybe she wasn’t feeling cold.
The water continued twisting the kayaks around like corks. A huge breaking swell came through and Leo was sat on top of a breaker. I thought her time was up but she calmly kept control. I was impressed.
The closer we got to the next island the stronger the wind and the point of the island we were headed to seemed to take forever to reach. There wasn’t much we could do but to watch the waves heading towards us from the southerly direction. From the south-west the waves had about 400 kilometres to generate their power.
The average temperature of the lake during the summer is about 4.4 °C. Lake Superior is the largest, deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes. Annual storms on Lake Superior regularly record wave heights of over 20 feet (6 m). Waves well over 30 feet (9 m) have been recorded. The lake was fed by 200 rivers.
As we got close to the shoreline the waves were lashing the rock shores. Don’t capsize now Leonie, I thought. As soon as we came opposite the bay I advised Leo to blow up her sponsons and so we rafted up to give her stability.
The lake was big, the water cold, the clouds were threatening and the conditions were getting rougher.
There was a big swell running into the bay and all I could see was breaking waves at the end. At that point I wasn’t even sure if there was a safe way in. In theory there should be! We turned our kayaks into the bay and started moving towards the end of it. The swells were big, even I was cautious and a little worried. Ahead of us were deep troughs caused by the swell and looking quite frightening. We had to be careful not to be picked up by one of these big swells and go surfing down a wave and lose control. I advised Leo not to allow herself to be accelerated by the swells but to back off or even paddle backwards at times to let the swell roll in. This worked well.
The deep troughs continued moving into the bay but luckily we were able to keep upright and not to be part of one. Even half way in, I still wasn’t sure if there was a safe route. The waves were pounding the reef at the bottom leaving a confused mass of whitewater.
Then I saw a safe passage and headed over to the left and we were soon sheltered by an indent in the shoreline. It was a relief to be there. Leo who was all smiles said that she was pleased that she had the sponsons on as they gave her a lot more stability and she felt quite safe.
Leonie relieved to have reached the calm water.
At the bottom of the bay there were still a couple of reefs and an island that were being slammed by the waves preventing us from getting into the cove but luckily a small gap opened up and we able to go around them. We paddled between a reef and an island and managed to get to the calm waters although the wind was still strong and we could hardly move against it.
A reef at the bottom of the bay.
We first checked a beach on the eastern side but it wasn’t any good so we went across to the west side where we could see a clearing in the trees. Then we saw an old broken table, a fireplace and some camping spots. It was nearly like paradise and to Alaine who didn’t like the open crossings, it wasn’t nearly paradise, it was paradise!!
Within minutes I erected a clothes line, we got into warm dry clothes and set up our tents. It was early but we intended going no further today. You just know when you shouldn’t push your luck. Thirty minutes later we were eating hot soup and tortillas and were soon on track to feel at home at our sheltered campsite.
It was so good to find a good camping spot and be out of the gale tossed, cold lake.
About 500 metre away the waves were still crashing on the reefs at the bottom of the first part of the bay. It was enjoyable watching the conditions worsen while being safe and snug on land. The rain started to increase and it soon chased us into our tents. I took the opportunity to do some typing but an hour or so later the rain stopped and Leo had a fire going.
The waves were still crashing at the entrance to our cove.
As we had a late lunch we decided on a light nibbly dinner. It was too cold, wet and wintry outside to stay near the fire so we soon retreated back into our tents.
It was time to have some hot soup.
I rang Dan on the satellite phone to see when he had time to pick us up at Rossport. The reception wasn’t good and he was driving home from across the US border in the thick fog after a day diving on a wreck in Lake Superior. We lost contact so I sent a text message. Within minutes he replied so we communicated by text rather than talking.
The rain had set in for the night. I wrote in my diary and also typed it into my iPad. I wrote my diary in a book every night. Then if I had enough battery power I would type it all out on my iPad. The trouble was being in the wilderness my battery didn’t last too long.
Although we were in a bay the water was washing several metres up the beach and from my tent it sounded as if it could be getting close to the kayak so just before I retired at 11.30pm I went out and checked to see if it had been washed away….It hadn’t!
Monday 19th September
It rained heavily in the night. Alaine was up first and she shouted out that it was misty. I took her word for it and did some more typing but when Leo got up I thought I had better as well.
The sea conditions had improved dramatically, what a change in only a few hours. The reefs weren’t being pounded and there was a way out of the bay without having to dodge the reefs. We had thought we would be camping there another day but with the better conditions we decided to move on a little further.
It was good to see a brighter calmer day.
Alaine was happier with the better conditions!
We had dried freeze potato, beans and sausages for breakfast. They were $11.50. It was the first time we had tried them and it may be our last!
The sun was trying to shine through and later the skies did clear but only to come back cloudy and then turn sunny again. The forest behind was full of pine trees, many were bare of leaves, many had fallen and there was little undergrowth.
The trees behind our camp were bare of leaves.
By 11.00am we left the safety of the beach and paddled across the reefs that were being hammered by thundering breaking waves a few hours earlier. It was so different. The cove was quite long and it took some time to get out of it. We were told there were caves in the cove but we could only see a couple of small ones.
There was still a good swell running but it wasn’t breaking and was much smaller than yesterday. Eventually we cleared Woodbine Harbour and started paddling along the coast. The rebound from the cliffs stirred up the water. The coastline was made up of rock, cliffs and coves and there appeared to be a few places where we could have hidden behind islands and shelter from the extreme weather. Luckily the weather wasn’t that bad and we didn’t have to take shelter.
We had a little wind behind us and were able to travel fairly fast. Yesterday we were paddling hard and not getting anywhere and today we were making good time. We could see a lighthouse ahead that was actually on the island we were headed to. We had now decided to finish our trip at Rossport as Alaine wasn’t comfortable with the open water and beyond Rossport there were no islands for us to hide behind.
Alaine was more relaxed with the conditions calmer.
Morn Point. South-East of Simpson Island.
When we passed Morn Point, on the south-east end of Simpson Island and started crossing Simpson Channel to Battle Island, the wave patterns were coming from several different ways and shaking us around. The swell was coming from the south but the wind was coming down the channel from the north-west creating a stir.
As we crossed the channel we could see the mainland proper for the first time since leaving Thunderbay. In the other direction we could see the lighthouse on Battle Island which looked impressive sitting on a tall narrow rock that from a distance looked as if it had been man-made.
Leonie with Battle Island lighthouse in the background.
The crossing was bouncy but the closer we got to Battle Island it began to calm. We paddled around and into a cove on the northern side and was greeted with a stony beach and an old power boat. A jetty and a shed with a tractor behind it was across the cove a 100 metres away. The shed looked freshly painted white and red.
We landed in full sunshine. It was so nice to have the warmth. We erected a clothes line and sat around and had lunch in the sun. Being fairly hot I decided to try a swim. I dived in and by golly it was cold. I immediately turned and swam back to shore. The water was freezing but I was pleased to have taken the dip as I at least knew how cold it was. I had a wash while I was wet.
As we were putting our tents up we heard a train’s horn in the far distance. We all smiled, it reminded us of the trains around In the Rainy River region. It was the first train we had heard for ages. The mainland was about 10kms away.
As soon as we get to shore the washing line goes up.
Once settled in we walked along a track to the lighthouse. About 100 metres before the lighthouse, on a side track we came across an old vintage truck. It had a red bonnet and black mud guards. We admired it and moved towards the lighthouse and buildings. They too were painted white and red and looked very fresh and well maintained.
An old truck on Battle Island
There was a sign saying; Enter at your own risk. If the lighthouse had been in Australia the sign would have probably said; Keep Out Trespassers Prosecuted Government Property.
The views from around the grounds and high on the cliffs were stunning. There were three different views and they were all special. We walked onto the heli-pad and then onto a cliff and took photos of the lighthouse from the south side. We followed a concrete path to the rocks below the lighthouse which was perched on an amazing high towering rock. It was an interesting visit.
The grounds of the lighthouse keeper.
The lighthouse from the south-west shore.
The Battle Island Lighthouse.
To the north of the lighthouse. The mainland in the far, far distance.
We walked back to the camp along the track between the cliffs, the trees and the hanging moss. On our return the sun was blocked out by the trees and the chill was waiting for us.
I sent a text to Dan and he confirmed that he was going to pick us up on Wednesday at 12.30pm. Being only 12 kilometres from Rossport we didn’t have far to paddle. I did some typing to catch up on my blog. It had been hard to keep it up to date.
As ducks landed in the quiet bay it seemed strange that our trip will end in two days time.
Tuesday 20th September
It was a beautiful sunrise. I took a photo of it and crawled back into the tent for another 15 minutes.
Sunrise on Battle Island.
Once up, I went for a walk along a narrow path in the forest and found a rubbish tip. Old oil tanks, pieces of steel and general rubbish were covering a small area surrounded by a thick forest that was full of fallen and rotting trees. Part of the nearby forest the trees were tall and bare of any leaves, as if they were diseased.
Men working – never!
A leafless forest.
The forest floor around our camp.
We weren’t sure why the trees were like this?
The forest behind our camp.
We had breakfast and relaxed in the sun. We had decided to stay on the island for another day instead of moving to another camp spot closer to Rossport. We also decided that we would have dinner at the lighthouse at sunset.
Leonie called her partner Dan and they talked to each other on Skype.
We relaxed, walked to the shed with the old tractor and typed my blog. I went for a walk along the island until I could go no further. The cliffs stopped me from reaching the easterly point. Flowers, fungi, and dead wood littered along the forest edge. Coloured stones were hidden amongst the boulder beach and an old steel boiler or engine was lying in the shallow water.
Memories of my early life on the farm.
Like a Christmas scene.
Grasses and seedlings along the shoreline.
Flowers on the forest floor along the shore.
Strange creatures along the shoreline.
There was so much to see and take in along Battle Island Shoreline
Every few metres there was beauty along the shoreline.
It turned cloudy and cool. I decided to go for a run along the track and trail making it a circuit. It was up and down and tested my leg muscles and breathing. It was a short run, only 3 minutes but I ran it at speed. I ran it three times trying to run faster each time. It felt good to have some fitness return. Although I had done a lot of kayaking, I haven’t really done any running or cycling for about 3 years so it was good to feel fitter again.
Having a day off from paddling we just wondered- who had the biggest muscles so we posed!! Alaine won.
Having a day off from paddling we just wondered – who had the biggest muscles!!
Alaine won the contest.
Although it was still cloudy and cool and rain threatened we still decided to walk over to the lighthouse to have dinner. It was stormy when we got there so we moved the table onto the veranda and I typed my blog and the girls played games.
Dinner was cooked on the veranda and then we walked down to the cliffs below the lighthouse to eat it. It was cold on the rocks so we took shade behind a big boulder. We toasted our fantastic trip with a cup of wine.
Conditions on the lakeside of Battle Island.
We found a sheltered spot to have our evening meal as the wind was very cold.
Our last evening meal of the trip. Below the lighthouse.
We were happy but it was a sad time having to finish our trip.
It was near dark when we started our walk back to camp. As soon as we got there it started raining heavily and strong winds tried to blow the tents down. We dived into our tents and our night outside was over.
In the very early hours of the morning I awoke to the tent shaking. I crawled out of my sleeping bag to put in more pegs and tightened the guy ropes. With the tent shaking and constant rain rattling the fly it was difficult to sleep well.
Wednesday 21st September
It was misty and cloudy and although the lake had calmed significantly, there was still a swell. I took a run to the lighthouse and back. The lake was rough on the southern side and waves were pounding and dumping on the shores and bouldery beach. There was a sunny period but it didn’t last long.
The last look at Lake Superior before heading back to the mainland and the finish of our Across Canada Trip.
Part of the trail with hurdles that I used as a running track.
Having my last cold swim in Lake Superior. The lake is said to be 4 degrees.
The clouds move in bringing a darker day.
We had breakfast, I went for a run and took my last swim in the cold lake before rugging up and taking off for our last paddle at 10.10am.
Once out of the bay the sea across the first exposed part was rough . There was still a good swell running down the Wilson Channel but the wind was behind us so it was an easy paddle towards Rossport.
Our final destination is in the far distance.
We could now see the white of houses a few kilometres ahead.
The surf and waves were pounding the rocky shores to the west. The seas calmed as we started passing the last set of islands, Wilson, Channel, and the high cliff faced Quarry Island with a couple of small islands in-between. The mainland was ahead and we could see a road with traffic, a railway line and houses of Rossport.
It was a pretty finish to our trip but as always, it’s sad ending a trip. Although we had great fun, seen an enormous amount of stunning scenery and met a number of wonderful people, we hadn’t quite reached our original goal. Never mind there is always another year.
Alaine very happy. The finish is near.
The smooth rock shores of the mainland were now to our left. The railway line was running horizontal around the coast. Rossport which was only small was quiet. There were no boats moving and little traffic on the road. Holiday season had really past by. The only sound was someone hammering and building a new house not far from the jetty.
We paddled up to the jetty and boat ramp. There was no one around, it was quite weird. We paddled the kayak as close to the concrete ramp as we could so I could get out without getting my feet too wet.
We landed and pulled the kayaks up the ramp and started unloading for the last time. It felt strange. I put the camera on a tripod and took a self timed shot of the three of us. The final photo of the trip and now it’s all over.
In Rossport. Our last picture on the water. Oh how sad.
No more paddling. It’s home time.
Our clothes were spread all over the place to get dry. We started packing our gear and getting ready for Dan to pick us up. It was hard to believe that we had totally finished our trip. No more paddling, no more portaging, It was sad really.
Dan arrived about 12.45pm and we soon had our gear packed tightly inside the car, we lifted the kayaks onto the roof rack and tied them tightly.
Dan drove out of Rossport and up the Trans Canadian Hwy back towards Thunder Bay. It was a scenic drive and we had views of Lake Superior most of the way. At Nipagon we stopped at Tim Hortons for a coffee, a salad roll, and two donuts. We were back in the real world. At this rate we would be stacking the fat back on. I lost about 10 kilograms and feel good with my body weight but I can see that I won’t be able to keep it off if I don’t keep exercising or watching what I eat and drink!
Back at Dan and Cheryl’s we celebrated the success of the trip with a beer and some wine.
Cheryl, Dan and the gang relaxing, after (for me) three and a half months of paddling across Canada.
It was a strange feeling to be stopped after paddling so far but it was time to go home but first we had some sightseeing to do in Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec. Hopefully we will be back another year to finish off the trip across Canada. It was such a great trip, we experienced and saw some amazing wilderness that will be etched in our minds forever.