Canoe Route/General Advice

Questions about water transportation and fishing on the island.

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MichaAnn
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Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by MichaAnn » Mon Mar 26, 2018 6:49 am

Hello All!

I have dreamed of going to Isle Royale for years now and I would like to get a little advice. My wife and I would love to plan a canoe trip for our 10th anniversary. We are both inexperienced paddlers but are hoping to change that. The date we hope to go isn't until 09/12/2021 which is why I want to know if we could be ready in time. Here is the route we planned. (I didn't include transportation days)

Day 1 – Start at Malone Bay to Siskiwit Lake to Wood Lake Campground.
Day 2 – Siskiwit Lake to Intermediate Lake to Lake Richie to Lake Richie Canoe Campgound.
Day 3 – Lake Richie to Lake LeSage to Lake Livermore to Chickenbone Lake to W. Chickenbone Campgroud.
Day 4 - Chickenbone Lake to MaCargoe Cove Campground.
Day 5 - MaCargoe Cove to Birch Island Campground.
Day 6 - Birch Island to Pickerel Cove Campground.
Day 7 - Pickerel Cove to Lane Cove to Stockly Bay to Duncan Bay Campground.
Day 8 - Duncan Bay to Tobin Harbor to Rock Harbor.

**We purposely planned for extra days to wait for good weather to make the North shore turn to Pickerel portage.

Not sure if this is overly ambitious or not. Would love the input. -Thanks!


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Re: Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by torpified » Tue Mar 27, 2018 7:12 am

I haven't got any advice, since (other than a solo foray onto Tobin harbor in a 2 person kayak) I've never paddled, only walked. I'm hoping that I'll be bold enough to try paddling the island some day, so I also hope you'll keep us posted on your 10th anniversary ISRO paddling project!

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Ingo
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Re: Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by Ingo » Tue Mar 27, 2018 9:21 am

I've canoed Isle Royale many times and do have some concerns about your route for inexperienced paddlers, especially at that time of year. The weather tends to turn in Sept--on a mid-Sept trip we only had one or two decent paddling days out of a week. The rest of the time we fighting whitecaps and large lake swells in Rock Harbor, that were challenging and pushing the edge of safety for experienced paddlers at times. Also you are likely to be by yourself through the inland lakes and north shore without any help available if you do have trouble.

So first, I'd go in July or Aug, which tend to have better (calmer) weather. I wouldn't recommend paddling on any open Lake Superior waters, in any case, specifically Birch Island to Pickeral Cove. One of my worst decisions was to paddle that stretch putting us in a very dangerous situation, although it all seemed OK when we left.

One option would be to go from McCargoe to Chippewa Harbor via Intermediate and Wood Lake. It would be relatively short days and distances, but that's never a problem for me :). You could also get up to Malone if Siskiwit is being friendly, but it is a big lake and can also be dangerous.

Another option is to start at Belle Isle, explore the protected bays and work your way to Rock Harbor. Again, not a long distance, but plenty to explore and side trips available, including a hike up to Mt Franklin from Lane Cove. And if you want more, move on to explore the south side using the campgrounds on Rock Harbor.

In the meantime get all the experience you can, paddling in rough water, but in a safe environment: warm water and other people around. Practice capsizing and self-rescue, again in a safe place like a beach. My standard line is that Isle Royale is not the place to learn how to canoe, so if you're not ready, consider a backpacking trip.


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Re: Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by kolo » Tue Mar 27, 2018 12:38 pm

The advice that Ingo offers is spot on! In preparing for my first canoe trip to the island, I gained very good information on this forum from him and several others. They know what they are talking about; they have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share.

I echo what Ingo says about Isle Royale not being the place to learn how to canoe.

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MichaAnn
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Re: Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by MichaAnn » Tue Mar 27, 2018 12:54 pm

While I appreciate the responses so far, we obviously were not looking to learn how to canoe on Isle Royale. I have done a 3 day trip on the Two Hearted / Tahquamenon. I guess I didn't make myself clear in the original posting. We are inexperienced paddlers as far as something like Isle Royale. I image it is something much different than a casual river trip. I was more inquiring what level of skill it would take to do the trip we planned. We are also not doing it until 2021 so we have quite a bit of time to prepare. Would the route be finished in the days planned. Too many portages, that kind of thing.

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Re: Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by Ingo » Tue Mar 27, 2018 2:36 pm

Ah, that helps a lot! And I missed the "21". I'm all for pushing yourself and new things, but just cautious about encouraging someone to get into something that may be over their head, esp. in a public forum.

Overall you have very reasonable days. The only thing I'd probably do differently is start at Chippewa instead of Malone, even if it adds 2 portages. I like Malone, but Chippewa better, especially the paddle up the arm. Either way I like the trip and something I might do, but not in Sept.

The weather in Sept makes any paddling in an open canoe a questionable proposition and you have to be very flexible and prepared. So if going that late I make sure there's alternatives in the plan and keep it simple in case the weather just doesn't cooperate. Beyond just wind and waves, you get more prolonged weather patterns, so you potentially could get stuck somewhere (like McCargoe) for days and days. Or put yourself in a high-risk situation. Earlier in the summer you may have to wait out weather, but fairly unlikely to be for more than a couple days. And the ferry quits going around the north side in mid-Sept, so the option of hitching a ride out disappears.

So I like it for before Labor Day, with the usual caveat about being very careful at Siskiwit Lake and Birch -> Pickerel. But if you're set on mid-Sept then I really would reconsider the route. And for what it's worth, I'm planning a trip myself for the week after Labor Day and struggling a bit with the same issues. Thinking we'll probably plan to start at McCargoe and up the north side, knowing if the weather forecast isn't favorable we can change our mind and get off at Belle Isle instead, avoiding the open lake.

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Re: Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by Base654 » Tue Mar 27, 2018 7:50 pm

Ingo has good information. I won't repeat the same. I support every thing he says.

speaking just about the portages: Two years ago I went from Belle Isle to Lake Richie canoe camp in one day. It was an achy day, but hours wise it wasn't terribly long. You have plenty of time for weather days. (before anybody freaks out about a wasted trip, I was on a fact finding mission. that year's trip was the west end of the island where I spent 5 days)


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Re: Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by johnhens » Wed Mar 28, 2018 6:08 am

Good advice here. Don't underestimate Siskiwit, the prevailing winds are out of the west, sw or nw. That can kick up some good waves on Siskiwit.
When going from Birch to Pickerell, there is a bouy marking the entance to McCargoe that you can see from Birch. If the lake is kicking up, and you will hear the waves breaking, we check the bouy before attempting to cross to Pickerell. Crossing from Belle to Lane, we have left Belle and become enveloped in fog. Have your compass and map with directions handy and a GPS. I would encourage a handheld VHF too. I have done the Duncan-Tobin portage once, it is a hard carry. Ask Ingo as he has done it many times. We paddle kayaks by the way.

Are you fishing on your trip?

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Re: Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by Ingo » Wed Mar 28, 2018 8:11 am

MichaAnn wrote:
Tue Mar 27, 2018 12:54 pm
I was more inquiring what level of skill it would take to do the trip we planned.
Rereading the thread I realized no one had addressed this...
- Get as much experience as possible in the windiest, waviest conditions you can, but in a safe(r) environment: warm water, people around, etc. We would also practice on a busy boating lake with lots wakes. Assume you won't have a single calm day, and then relish it when you do.
- Whitewater experience is good. The bays and islands can create currents and washing machine like conditions at times with waves from multiple directions. Not unlike being on a haystack in some rapids.
- Practice capsizing--on a beach--in warm water. You need to know what that's like, and the ability to get back in and bailed out, if you don't already. While practicing with our young kids (many yrs ago), my daughter got stuck between a seat and thwart under the capsized canoe. Before that I hadn't considered that I would have to take her life jacket off to get her out, because it was pushing her up into that gap. Not easy, especially when she's panicking.
- Be able to turn the canoe very quickly. Sometimes you'll need to angle up into the waves, then turn to angle back. Making that turn in time between two large waves that could flip you is critical. Lake Superior can have swells that you won't see on other lakes.
- May seem trivial, but loading and unloading the canoe. Almost all cases I've seen of people and gear going in the water have been either loading or unloading. Usually funny, but very dangerous being soaked to the skin when you're alone in the wilderness, often tired and cold already. The Duncan side of the Duncan to Tobin portage is particularly challenging: steep shore, large slippery rocks, and deep water.

Hope that helps!


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Re: Canoe Route/General Advice

Post by Redbad » Wed Mar 28, 2018 9:22 am

I have done much of that route. It is very doable.

BUT

September is a very dynamic month weather wise. Storms on Lake Superior will affect both your ability to get to ISRO (the ferries will not run if waves on Lake Superior are 10 or more feet in size (I have been weathered in in September); weather will also affect your paddling:

Lake Siskiwit gets nasty whenever there is a sustained SW wind. You will not have much protection as you paddle from Malone bay to Wood Lake and from Wood Lake to the Intermediate Lake portage.

Indian Point, the point that you have to traverse from Birch Island to Pickerel Cove, is VERY exposed. There are no good options for bailing out if you commit to the passage at the end of McCargoe cove. The good thing is that the paddle around Indian point to Pickerel Cove is only 2 miles or so, so if you have a good opening, you will only be exposed for a short period of time.

I concur with the choice of taking the Duncan to Tobin portage. Blake point is even more exposed than Indian Point and having traversed Blake point once (and getting hit with the wind change and clapotis going into Duncan Bay) I wouldn't recommend this route.

Get a quality VHF. Learn how to use it.

Get dry suits. You are going to get wet. You will be on big water (Lake Superior).

Get practice as other posters have suggested. It might not hurt to get some whitewater canoeing experience.

Good luck!

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