Last week I returned from two very different kayak adventures in the Apostles on either side of the Labor Day weekend. The post weekend trip was with the usual suspects on the annual fall trip and the pre weekend event was with five boys and two adults from the Washburn Scout troop. While they were different, they were both fun as well as instructive.
The scout trip had five boys and three adults. While they all lived in the Bayfield peninsula, none had been to the islands via a people powered boat. Maps and compasses were required and explained and five crossings we did over the course of three days were uneventful though slow. The group got strung out on the second one from Sand to York, but with light winds and mild chop it wasn't much of an issue. I did explain why we want to stick together however and we had a nice tight formation for the last three. We did have one double, a really good fall back if there is a weaker or ill paddler, as well as a great place to store extra 'comfort' gear. The boys cooked us breakfast and supper over the wood fire, which I always enjoy, and had the camping part dialed in due to BWCA canoe trips and backpacking adventures in the Porkies. The 11.5 miles from Sand Island to the Oak spit was a bit much for some of the guys but we all survived just fine. I was determined that if the wind was over ten knots we would abort and head back to Little Sand Bay but, contrary to the forecast 15-20 out of the NE, we got light and variable, perfect for beginning paddlers. We also had an estrogen component in the group, sis-in-law the MayorOfTurtleRiver. She has experience in scouting up in the Bemidji area with her two boys and was a welcome addition. Plus she got to hang around Washburn with her eldest sis, the VoiceOfReason. Blueberries were picked, music enjoyed at the Big Top, and a bit more paddling was squeezed in, although much more Gitchee Gumee paddling is needed in her opinion.
In keeping with that double kayak mode, RangerMark and the BadHatter decided to take the Aleut II on our fall adventure, this year to Outer Island for two nights. Once again the spacious middle hatch allowed for such things as a restaurant style butane burner for convenient gourmet dining plus the extra space to make sure there would be enough adult beverages if we were windbound. As usual when paddling the Apostles there were pros and cons with the pros heavily outweighing the cons. When we arrived on Ironwood Island, our first night, we found 'Bring back the picnic tables' spelled out in sticks on one of the tent pads. We heartily agreed. Even though it is technically the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness Area, the campsites are far from bare bones wilderness. They all have a large metal bear box, many paid for by a combination of the Friends and a half dozen kayak clubs around the area, tent pads and fire areas surrounded neatly by 8 x 8 timber borders, and a iron fire ring with cooking grate. We all have camp chairs but, like everyone gravitating to the kitchen to talk, it's just nice to have a place to lean your elbows while relaxing. I'll bet those same kayak groups might ante up for a few tables. I'm not sure what happened to the ones that used to be there but the ones in the group sites are really nice. They also moved the campsite on Outer about 250 yards up the spit. Being a creature of habit, I bombed in and did a surf landing when I saw the small sign that I thought was the campsite sign was actually the sign at the right. Oh well, back in the boat, launch through surf and another surf landing 250yards up the beach. We then encountered the ‘tents within a first down of this sign’ sign. One smart ass decided that touching the sign would be a good thing, but I’m not sure the sign was needed. There were maybe 3 or 4 places to pitch a tent and that was it.
The overall experience on both trips was outstanding however. We watched the red light on Devils flash from the Little Sand Bay dock, and watched a thunderstorm complete with multiple lightning strikes savage the Bayfield peninsula as we sat there high and dry, protected by the Gitchee Gumee force field or something. The Oak group site, far and away the best group site in the islands has a perfect view, big dry area for tents, and the high ground breeze that keeps the bugs at a manageable level. For some reason the NPS is talking about closing this site, a spot where there has been human habitation for quite some time. I don’t get it but it’s on the table for some reason. The Ironwood campsite is fabulous, an observation I made when we camped there last August. Nice tent pads, exposure to a nice breeze, and a bombproof landing area against anything but a southerly wind. The Milky Way was just cookin’ on a moonless night and we saw so many satellites we began to think there was some sort of NSA facility hidden away on Ironwood. We visited the new Cat Island site which is no longer on the beach. It is nicely thought out with a water view but it looks like it might harbor a mosquito or two during the buggy season. It has a cool composting privy and it will be interesting to see how that works. We even got some big water to paddle in as we began our 22 mile trip from Outer to Red Cliff. It was all of 3-5’ which oddly enough is what NOAA forecast on the nearshore. The north shore of Stockton offered a nice lee for a dozen or so miles and by then the wind had decided to taper off. I also have to hand it to the Red Cliff Band. I feared no more kayak launching when the big fancy casino came in but you can launch and park for a fee and when you get done paddling a nice shower awaits you along with a beer in their lounge overlooking the harbor. Be advised that the beer should be purchased while breathing very shallowly and taken out to the patio because every guy who used to love sitting in a bar smoking before the ban is at Red Cliff, exercising that right.
Good weather, good company, active water on Gitchee Gumee and a great park. I couldn’t think of anywhere I would have rather been. Now Bob and Neil, about those picnic tables………….