Apostle Islands, Lake Superior (again), June 2022

Georgia Yankee

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My wife, Stacy, good friend Ken and I took another trip to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior in June. Nearly the same planned itinerary as last year but a different trip due to weather. Luckily, all of the worst weather (wind) was on days when we did not need to be on the water. We had planned on 9 days but paddled out a day early as the weather forecast for day 9 was not good.

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DAY 1
We put in at the marina at Legendary Waters Casino on the Red Cliff Indian Reservation north of Bayfield, WI. We had to wait a while for rainstorms to pass before loading the boats and heading out. We had a strong headwind until we got on the lee side of Hermit Island, a few miles out, where we took a break on a small beach. We were surprised to see a group of 16 or so young people in a voyageur canoe. They had intended to go on to Stockton Island, also our destination, but thought conditions on the crossing were unsafe for their boat. So they put in on Hermit Island for what must have been a pretty miserable night camping in thick forest on uneven ground with swarms of mosquitoes--a testament to the good judgement of their guides. They really had rotten luck because the wind never died down overnight and even increased the next day. I sure hope they made it somewhere better.

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At the marina

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Headed toward Hermit Island

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Voyageur canoe group


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Canoe landing at Hermit


The crossing from Hermit to Stockton Island was fine for sea kayaks but I’m not sure the voyageur canoe would have made it. They definitely made the right decision. Also, it was too wavy for me to let go of my paddle and take any pictures. I take seasickness prevention medicine on all of these trips. I think this crossing would have utterly incapacitated me otherwise. Strangely, for most of the crossing the wind was not bad but as soon as we got out of the waves we had a cold wind in our faces again for the last couple of miles. I think it was 8 PM by the time we made it to camp.



DAY 2
We slept in and went for a totally lazy hike but spent most of the day sitting around camp.


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Campsite on Stockton Island. All of the established campsites have large bear boxes and fire rings. Some have picnic tables.

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Blue bead lily


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Giant waterbug.


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Indian pipe.


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This butterfly was working hard at something on the beach. Just stayed in the same spot for many minutes at a time.

DAY 3
It was threatening rain in the morning so we put up the tarp and packed the tents before they got wet. Weather prediction was for headwinds again for the crossing to Outer Island. Bad headwinds never materialized but the fog closed in pretty thick for a while. We also had rain and a little thunderstorm.


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Breakfast under the tarp.


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There was a break in the rain so we were able to keep things dry while loading the boats.


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Nice, calm water in the lee of Stockton


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Fog and waves as we work around the east side of Stockton Is.


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Still foggy

It was not looking good but we knew there were places to land where we would be able to see Outer Island if the fog lifted. We decided to put in at one of those places, have a little lunch and see what we got. Trouble was, those places were around on the northeast side of the island facing into the wind and waves. We found a sheltered little cove with just barely enough gravel beach to get the boats out of the water. It was comically miserable. We were cold, the waves were loud and almost reaching where we were sitting, the spot was just uncomfortable and there was water running over the top of the overhang above us and dripping all over everything. And we were stuck there by the fog. We had almost three miles of open water to cross and no visibility at all. It looked like we were going to have to retreat along the shore of Stockton Island and find somewhere else to camp.


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We put two boats over here...

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...and one here.


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Stacy grabbed her rain hat and just perched it on top of her other hat to keep the dripping water off her head. I asked if she wanted to take it off so as not to look silly in the photo. She said “I don’t give a f### what I look like”. Fair enough. By the way, we left on our polarized sunglasses because they made it easier to see through the fog.


But wait! What’s that out there across the water? Yes—it’s Outer Island just emerging from the fog! There was no guarantee the fog would stay away but we were confident we could make it either to Outer Island or back to Stockton on a compass bearing if the fog returned. So we went for it. It started raining but it is amazing how little that matters in a sea kayak. You are buttoned up tight in your spray skirt and getting splashed anyway so it hardly matters. Stacy and I tried a new rain strategy this trip. We bought super cheap PVC sou’wester rain hats from an industrial supply catalog. We combined those with hoodless paddling jackets and it was great. Could have used a longer overhang on the front of the hat but it was nice not to have our heads enclosed in hoods.


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The wind also stopped just as we set out.


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A little thunderstorm passed over us on the crossing. Only cloud to cloud lightning, fortunately.


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Trying to figure out where the campsite is


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Just intermittent sprinkles by the time we reach the campsite.

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We set up the tarp over the bear box to have a convenient kitchen.

DAY 4 We lucked out again with the weather. For our non-paddling day on Outer the wind came up like crazy. We were camped on the lee side of the island and hardly noticed the wind even though it was fierce on the other side. We couldn’t have paddled anywhere and we didn’t have to deal with wind at camp.

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On the windward side of the island.

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A strange puffball, maybe?

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Outer Island scenery

DAY 5
Today is another paddling day. Weather prediction was for a solid headwind again but it was never bad and became a dead calm by the end of our paddle to Rocky Island.

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Loading the boats at Outer Island camp

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Park service biologists showed up just as we were leaving. They are studying some rare plovers nesting on the island.


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We rounded the point and started on the first leg to Cat Island. A headwind but not bad.


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By the time we got to the Cat Island sand spit the wind had died completely. Would have been a sunny, warm paradise except for…


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Beach flies! I think they are technical called stable flies. You find them primarily on the beach. They look like houseflies but they bite.


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They seem fascinated with neoprene. We packed up and got back on the water but the wind had died completely and the little f###ers rode with us across a couple miles of open water biting all the way. We got to the next island, Ironwood, and there were not any flies there (except the ones we brought across). We enjoyed a fly-less lunch stop. For the final crossing to Rocky we were fly-less.


By now the waves had died as well so it was incredibly smooth paddling. It had also gotten warm and it was sort of hard to stay awake.

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On the photo above you can just barely see a Great Lakes ore boat on the horizon between Ken and the island. The scale is hard to get a handle on in the photo. The ore boat is over 1000 ft long. We saw a few of those boats this trip.


DAY 6
It turned cold again and the wind was blowing straight off the water into camp on Rocky Island. The plan was to paddle out to see Devil’s Island but it was too windy. So we spent another lazy day hiking and hanging around at camp.

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The campsite on Rocky Island has custom made furniture made from beach debris.

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And it abuts an honest-to-goodness bog. We were able to walk out onto it for a ways. With each step you could feel you were on a floating raft of vegetation.

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Typical bog plants like pitcher plants and sphagnum moss.


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Rocky Island scenery.


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A collection of beach rocks. The bedrock in this area is sandstone but glaciers have carried in a great variety of rocks from elsewhere.


DAY 7
Paddling to Oak Island today. Started into a stiff headwind again. We got out of the wind against the cliffs on the north side of Otter Island and fought the wind along the west side of Otter. We thought the crossing to Oak would be bad but Oak Island must have been tall enough to block the wind. Turned out not to be bad at all.


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Otter Island cliffs

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Oak Island beach

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Oak Island camp


DAY 8

We had planned two nights on Oak but the forecast for our planned exit day was for 20 kt headwinds. The prediction for today was for “only” 15 kt headwinds. We decided to take a quick hike then pack up and head back today. There had been heat advisories all week for northern WI. Until now it had been pretty cold out on the lake. But the south wind had been bringing the heat out over the lake and as soon as we got away from the water it became oppressively hot.

Paddling out we had a pretty stiff headwind when we passed out of the shelter of Oak Island but were only exposed to the full force of the wind in certain stretches. So the paddle back was not too bad. Not nearly as bad as day 1.

All in all a great trip. We got back to Red Cliff around 6 PM and it was 95 degrees. Just crazy for that part of the country.

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It’s hard to take a picture of a forest but this is an attempt. Lots of white birch, yellow birch, hemlock, poplar, maples and oak.


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I took a panorama shot from the overlook above camp but did not notice it failed to interlace correctly. It shows a good bit of the route we paddled.


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Loading the boats for the last time before heading out. The overlook is at the high point in the center of the picture.
 

scatman

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Dec 23, 2013
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Great report @Georgia Yankee! That Voyageur canoe looks like it might be fun. I really like the shots of your group heading to Outer Island in the rain.

I wonder why the flies were so attracted to neoprene? And the pitcher plants are fascinating to me.

Thanks for sharing your trip.
 

Georgia Yankee

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Aug 23, 2016
Messages
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Great report @Georgia Yankee! That Voyageur canoe looks like it might be fun. I really like the shots of your group heading to Outer Island in the rain.

I wonder why the flies were so attracted to neoprene? And the pitcher plants are fascinating to me.

Thanks for sharing your trip.
That canoe was really cool. We came around the edge of the island and almost couldn't process what we were seeing at first. They had to paddle in time with each other to keep from getting tangled up. Sometimes they would sing to keep time. And they could really move along.
 
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