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Isle Royale National Park - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip

Report Type: Extended Trip Report
Trip Dates: Aug-Sep 2004
Nearest City: Grand Portage, MN, USA
Difficulty: Difficult
Submitted by: John Craun

Description:

On Friday afternoon, 8/30/04, I met with Grant (Black Sun), Karl (turtle) and Alain (Khat) in Grand Portage. Black Sun, turtle and Khat are all experienced paddlers that have finished a Watertribe Everglades Challenge (280 miles from Tampa to Key Largo). Alain is also a certified BCU kayak instructor. Our trip plans were to Circumnavigate Isle Royale, and if weather permitted, to paddle across Lake Superior to Isle Royale and back.

That day the conditions on Lake Superior were good - overcast with some light rain, light winds and waves calm to two feet. The forecast for that night and the next day were also good. We made the decision to do the crossing Friday evening. We crossed the border into Ontario and went to a small launch area at Little Trout Bay. I had been there last year and paddled the island chain to Pie Island and back. All of us had expedition type sea kayaks, GPS's, VHF radios, wet or dry suits etc.

We started paddling at 7:20 PM from Little Trout bay to cover 22 miles to Windigo on Isle Royale. The first half the crossing was calm, but then it started raining. The waves were about two feet and a wind of about 15 mph in our faces. We all had lights and GPS's to navigate, so the weather was just a minor problem that made the crossing take an hour longer. We got out of our kayaks at the dock in Windigo harbor at 1:00 AM, and went to the camping area there for the night.

Saturday morning we slept in and then registered at the ranger station there for our trip around the island. Khat's forearm was very sore and swelled up, so he decided to stay there at Windigo and let it heal. Khat was the most skilled paddler in our group, and his conclusion was that his new drysuit gaskets were too tight and restricted circulation in his wrist.

Saturday morning as we were loading up to start our counterclockwise circumnavigation of Isle Royale, some sport fishermen came to the dock. They told me that they had a problem; the fishing was good that day and they already had their possession limit. I told them we could help them by eating a few of their lake trout, a great meal before kayaking for the day! We kayaked around 15 miles that day to Long Point and camped there for the night. The wind Saturday was SW with waves of not more than three feet all day.

Sunday morning we were up early and on the water at sunrise. About a mile after leaving camp I spotted a bull moose feeding along the shore and got some great pictures of him. The weather was good with SW winds again, so we quickly paddled South shore East to Point Houghton. From there we crossed directly to Malone Bay and then portaged into Siskiwit Lake. There isn't an easy way to portage kayaks! That night we camped at the beautiful campground in the narrows between Wood and Siskiwit lakes. We listened to the Loons, watched a moose swim across Wood Lake, and swam in the warm clear wilderness water.

Monday morning I got up early to try the fishing - only caught one small northern. We paddled back across Siskiwit Lake and portaged out to Malone Bay. From there we proceeded east toward Rock Harbor. Again we had good weather with SW winds. With such good weather we paddled past Rock Harbor, and around the notorious Blake Point to spend the night at Duncan Narrows. Duncan Narrows is a nice camping area, and a great place to watch the sun both set and rise!

Tuesday we explored the Five Finger Bay area and proceeded to Belle Isle - which lives up to its name. Because Belle Isle is beautiful, and we were ahead of schedule, so we stayed there and camped. That afternoon we explored Belle Isle, picked blueberries, and took a swim in cold clear Lake Superior.

Wednesday the weather was mostly sunny with NE winds kicking up waves three to five feet. The quartering tailwind helped us make good speed, but the wind and waves wear you out bracing and holding your course. By noon we were taking a break in Todd Harbor, and at 3:00 PM we were at Little Todd campground. The NE wind was strong and the waves about five feet, so we prepared to spend the night there. We decided to hike up the trail to the top of the Minong Ridge, which felt good after all the paddling. The view from up there is great, and so are the wild blueberries. By the time we returned to the campground the wind was almost gone, so we decided to load up our kayaks and take advantage of the good weather. The paddle from Little Todd Harbor to Huginin Cove is at least 15 miles along a rock wall and cliffs with no harbors, coves or beaches. We went for it and the weather was good, so we made Huginin Cove before dark.

We slept in Thursday morning and then walked the trail from Huginin Cove back to Windigo to search for our friend Khat. He was still there at Windigo with tendonitis, and had to take the ferry back to Grand Portage on Friday. We ate there at Windigo and paid to take a hot shower, which was well worth the money! Then we went to the ranger station to report that we had completed our circumnavigation of Isle Royale, so they wouldn't come searching for us. By the time we hiked back to Huginin Cove the wind was coming hard out of the NW with waves over five feet. We read, relaxed, ate and napped. The wind kept up all afternoon and evening, so again we spent the night at Huginin Cove.

Mother Nature woke me up before sunrise Friday morning and it was calm, so I woke up Black Sun and turtle. We quickly loaded up our kayaks and were on the water by sunrise crossing Lake Superior back to Little Trout Bay. With calm conditions we made it to Little Trout Bay by 10:45 AM. It was a great trip with good friends, who are excellent kayakers. We were also blessed with great weather for a trip like this, where you are so vulnerable to the dangerous conditions Lake Superior is known for.

Isle Royale is a wilderness area that is ideal for sea kayakers, which needs to be protected from those who would like to develop it for financial gain!

Comments:

This trip was strenuous, dangerous and challenging. Only those who are experienced kayakers, healthy, in good condition, have good kayaks and gear, and are well prepared should attempt it.

Outfitting:

All of us had 18' expedition type sea kayaks. My kayak is a strip built Panache of Laughing Loon design that I made.

Resources:

"Guide To Sea Kayaking on Lakes Superior and Michigan" and "Isle Royale National Park Foot Trails and Water Routes" are books with all the information needed.


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