Lake Superior, also known as Gitchee Gumee, has long been one of my favorite bodies of water. I have been fortunate enough to hike the entirety of Isle Royale National Park, which is an amazing island in the middle of this huge lake, but I have never been lucky enough to kayak on it. Today’s guest post is by Leigh McAdam from hike, bike, travel, and she recently returned from a kayaking adventure, and here is her story. Her follow information is linked below this awesome post.
You can’t be serious says my 81 year old retired BC Ferries captain neighbour. You’re kayaking on Lake Superior? Do you realize it can be more dangerous than the North Atlantic?
Those were the words that stuck in my head as I headed to Lake Superior for a week of kayaking last summer.
But first a little background on Lake Superior
- It’s the largest lake in the world based on surface area.
- There is enough water in Lake Superior to cover all of North and South America to a depth of one foot.
- European explorers from the 1600’s reported huge fish – nine foot sturgeon and pike longer than seven feet. Unfortunately the fishing is in a steep decline now.
- Rocks on the Ontario shore of Lake Superior are some of the oldest in the world – 2.7 billion years old.
- The average water temperature on a year round basis is 40F. In August the lake warms to a balmy 58F.
- It’s the deepest of the Great Lakes – 1335 feet at the deepest point.
- Sailors reported wave heights of 40 feet the night the S.S.Edmund Fitzgerald sank. Fifty foot waves are possible.
Cold water, a huge lake capable of making its own weather system and a reputation for sinking ships.
Who would ever want to go on a kayaking adventure on Lake Superior
Our group of four did. We all love a challenge but at the same time we were aware of Lake Superior’s reputation and the fickleness of its weather. We chose to kayak around Mitchipicoten Island with a guide in July – when the weather is the most predictable and storms are at a minimum – partly from the logistical perspective and partly because of the lake’s reputation.
All of us were competent kayakers – but none of us could do an Eskimo roll. Our 26 year old guide Ginny was in a different category altogether – hardcore, nerves of steel and so skilled she paddled Lake Superior alone for two plus months the summer before.
What’s the attraction?
Imagine kayaking around an island where you don’t see another soul for days? Where you don’t hear even a motorboat engine? Or see a plane?
Wilderness and all that goes with it, is why the four of us and others kayak Lake Superior. We all love the rhythm you get into – the waking in a tent and popping your head out to see how the wind blows, the breakfast that always tastes better outdoors, the physical exertion that comes with paddling for hours at a time, the wildlife, the history of the area and the ability to fully relax with no interruptions from the modern world.
We got that in spades from Michipicoten Island.
It’s an island with an interesting native history. The spirit of Mishipizheu according to Native lore, resides on the island as well as in the depths of Lake Superior. As one story goes, in the late 1660’s four Natives tried to carry away a canoe load of copper nuggets – nuggets that were the cradles and toys of Mishipizheu’s children. As they paddled away from the island, a great underwater Manitou spoke to the men and soon after all four died. Since then and continuing to the present day, many Natives refuse to land on the island, or any island in Lake Superior for that matter.
The six day paddle around Mitchipicoten Island provides spectacular paddling – past a rugged coastline broken by quiet coves and beaches, past abandoned fishing villages and a bay filled with shipwrecks. Most of the paddling we did was under sunny skies though one crossing to Davieaux Island happened in thick fog with only the compass pointing the way.
On hot days it was tempting to go swimming – especially in waters that looked as seductive as those in the Caribbean. The best I ever managed was an in and out, with a scream to punctuate my feat.
The island is famous for its herd of woodland caribou. Some days, especially at dawn and dusk, we would see them walking the beach – and once we glimpsed a rare albino caribou. Beavers are plentiful in the interior and there’s enough birdlife to keep a novice birder happy.
The shores of Mitchipicoten Island are a rock collector’s dream. Interesting colours and shapes had us all poking about on the beaches for hours at a time. That’s what you do when there isn’t an internet connection; one beach in particular was justly famous for its agates.
We’ve only paddled about 70 kilometers of Lake Superior’s shoreline. The choices are endless for further trips but two are notable, at least to me – paddling the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin and the wild 100 kilometers of Lake Superior shoreline that make up Pukaskwa National Park.
I’m not finished with Lake Superior yet!
For further reading I recommend: The Wolf’s Head by Peter Unwin and Deep Water Passage: A Spiritual Journey at Midlife by Ann Linnea. The second one is notable because she is the first woman to circumnavigate Lake Superior by kayak.
Thank you Leigh for the great post and pictures. Here is more about Leigh: She is an avid world traveler and loves outdoor adventures. When she isn’t traveling or blogging at HikeBikeTravel you’ll find her in the garden or curled up with a good book.
She can be followed on her blog: Hikebiketravel
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Wow, what an incredible experience!!!
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Thank you for posting this blog Ted.
I hope it motivates someone to make the trip to Lake Superior. We met many Europeans and a few Americans at the lodge we stayed in before we left for our kayaking trip. Some were on repeat visits because they’d fallen in love with the beauty and the wildness of the area.
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As someone that doesn’t even enjoy kayaking, this sounds like a pretty good trip!
By the shores of Gitchee Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
My nother thought Longfellow was the consummate poe. I was raised on his poems. Never knew there was a real Gitchee Gumee-lol. Great photos!!
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We did have a great time on the trip but maintained a very healthy respect for the Lake and its moods. For any geologists in the crowd it looks like Michipicoten is near an old volcanic centre although the heat seems to have disipated over the last 2.7 billion years or so. There are some mine workings near the west end of the island. It would appear the monster effort to get heavy equipment there and set up was not rewarded as the actaul mine workings are quite limited. You can see some clues as to the activity along the shore but you need to go ashore and into the woods to see all the ruins. Its fun piecing together the old operation; OK maybe not everyone thinks that fun but at least you have to admire the effort put in by the oldtimers. Safe paddling!
VEry well-written story, Leigh!
Sounds like you guys had an amazing trip there. How cool to see caribou and pick wild blueberries.
It certainly broiught back lots if memories from my childhood- hiking, camping and traveling arund the US with my family.
My mom’s uncle had a cabin on LakeSUperior in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We stayed up there a few summers. ON the shores of the freezing lake, we collected beautiful stones, slid down high sand dunes, and built a raft to float on the lake. I’ll never forget how FREEZING the water is! brrr…
Had no idea about the giant fish from before us whitey’s came. Cool pics and trip – like the remoteness and total disconnect with normal day to day life. Despise kayaking though – would only do it in a canoe.
what a great story! I’ve been paddling in the Apostle Islands and got stuck on one for two days with a large group as we waited for the sudden bad weather to break. Also went up last June for a week to kayak the “sea caves” there. The Lake said No.
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You have awesome post and pictures Ted! Keep it up
I appreciate the visit. Hope you had a Merry Christmas!