For the past 5 years our summers have been focused on increasingly lengthy and challenging canoe trips. While I have no regrets about our summer choices, such trips essentially mean abandoning two things for the summer – Jack the Dog and our sea kayaks. Thus, this summer we decided to hit pause on our northern canoe trips and mix it up a little bit, with a sea kayak trip in July (sans dog) and a canoe trip in August (with dog), and a week in between to transition from one to the other (and to relish sleeping in a real bed for a few nights).
The clear choice for sea kayaking was right in our backyard, Lake Superior. I have been itching to get out to Michipicoten Island, we love the Pukaskwa coast, and Conor could leave his car in Terrace Bay after a trip immediately prior to ours, so combining those factors we decided to paddle from Wawa to Terrace Bay, with a jaunt out to the island en route.
We started in Wawa on a windy Saturday and paddled roughly 25km, stopping on a cobble beach just shy of the Dog River.
The next day we had great weather and pushed a longer day, past the imposing cliffs of Isacor, lunch at Ghost River, and 40ish km later pulling in at Pipe River to set up camp.
Break along the way
Dinner’s on at Pipe River
From Pipe River we were staging our crossing over to Michipicoten Island. From Pipe to the Island it’s about 16km, the closest one can get. We had a good forecast, so made a thermos of tea and packed up the cooking gear in the evening. Up at 5:30 for a quick breakfast of thermos tea (we love our thermos) and granola, and on the water well before 7am. While we didn’t have any wind or waves to contend with…we did have fog. Thick, expansive fog. Initially it looked to be hovering offshore a bit, but pretty quickly we were engulfed. And thus it became a game of staring at your compass and paddling into oblivion for almost 2.5 hours. About 300m out we could see the tips of the trees, and the shoreline finally came into view when we were about 100m away. But props to compass navigation – we were bang on where we wanted to be!
We pulled off on a cobble beach to chill out for a while. Made some hot beverages, pulled out the books and musical instruments, and hung out enjoying the lifting weather and view of the mainland.
From whence we came
After an early lunch we hit the water again, and right on cue the fog came back in. This time however we could creep along the shoreline, so a different experience than the crossing. Our next step was the east end lighthouse, and just like the island, about 100m away it loomed out of the fog.
The fog has lifted quite a bit in this picture…
We wandered around for a few minutes, and then paddled around the point to the south side of the island and set up camp in Cozens Cove. Eventually the fog lifted and I was able to see what a beautiful spot it is!
We were granted a calm day again the following day. While I don’t mind some wind and waves, I was happy for flat water to explore the island. Anyone who has spent time on Lake Superior knows how clear the water is, and it’s just that much clearer out at Michipicoten Island, kilometres away from any inflowing rivers. The geology on the shore and lake bottom was really neat – I spent a lot of time looking down at the world below me as I cruised along the surface!
The main harbour on Michipicoten Island is Quebec Harbour. This sheltered harbour is a popular anchorage for cruisers and also contains the bulk of the camps (aka cabins or cottages, if you’re not familiar with northern Ontario terminology!). Most interestingly for us, a few old shipwrecks were dragged into the harbour which can be explored via paddle power.
The weather started looking a bit dodgy after lunch, so we set a steady pace for our next destination, the tombolo on the west end of the island. Paddled around the point at the end of island was a really wild feeling, with the whole of Lake Superior stretching out before us.
Paddling past the west end marker
Conor with a fishing pole sticking out of his head and Lake Superior extending behind him
Our third day on the island was a 0km day. A vicious headwind combined with rain and cool temperatures kept us ensconced in our tent all day, emerging occasionally for food and to move around a bit.
The following day wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it was an improvement and we wanted to get in a good position for the crossing. We bucked into a headwind all day until pulling ashore to camp on Bonner Head, from where we would start our crossing.
However, there were two really cool things along the way to distract us from the headwind. First, we stopped to check out a cave in the mining district (factoid: the copper used on the parliament buildings came from Michipicoten Island). My understanding is that this was initially a natural cave, but it was enlarged through blasting to serve as storage for the mining industry.
Second, not far beyond the caves, we saw four wolves on a beach! I don’t have any pictures of them, but trust me when I say it was a fantastic sighting. There was one big fella on the beach, along with two smaller ones. We assume they were fairly young, based on their size and the goofy way in which they were gallivanting around the beach. The fourth was shy and didn’t come right out, but would peek out from the bushes. We got quite close in our kayaks and got to watch them for a good 5 minutes. Amazing. Also controversial – there is a population of caribou (which are endangered) on the island, and these wolves are a recent addition. They came over a few years ago when the lake froze over and they could walk across the ice. Now it appears they’re having a feastdown on unsuspecting caribou and beaver. Should humans interfere and move the wolves elsewhere? Not an easy answer, and certainly not an answer I will pretend to have.
Beach peas on Bonner Head
Sitting on the island, looking across to the mainland
The next morning was another alpine start to start the crossing early. Once again we had a perfectly calm morning, and this time visibility was good. We figured this would be an interesting experiment – is it better to cross in the fog, or in clear weather? Interestingly, although if I had to choose I would opt for a day where I could see my destination, the crossing actually felt much faster in the fog! On the way back we had nothing to focus on except our destination, which we stared at for over 2 hours while it ever so slooooooooooowly got closer. On our foggy day we had something else to focus on (maintaining a compass course), and when the shoreline came into view we were basically there!
That said, slow as is felt we did eventually get back to the mainland (right on target once again), and pulled into a shallow cove and sandy beach for a break and a swim. It ended up being quite the social event too, as a voyageur canoe group was packing up and getting ready to hit the water.
And so concludes part 1! From there we carried on towards Pukaskwa and Terrace Bay, but that’s plenty for now.