Monday, May 19, 2008

Apostles observations

One of the things I love about changing seasons is the stuff that you rediscover when you begin the next seasons activities again. Seeing and hearing the Black Cap Chickadees in the deer stand, feeling the quads burn when you strap on the telemark skis for the first time, and settling into the groove as you begin your first long kayak crossing of the season.

On Friday we loaded up the gear and headed for Manitou Island in the Apostles. While I did forget the bag that had Sunday's breakfast in it, we did bring most of the gear we needed. It was raining as we left the deserted Red Cliff marina, which the local Ojibway tribe operates, but the sun was out with a nice rainbow by the time we hit Red Cliff Point. We figured we must be pushing the season a bit because the familiar red navigation buoy on the point had not been put in place yet. We finished the 3 hour trip to Manitou Island in the dark with the almost full moon glinting off the paddle blades on water that looked like liquid mercury. There were some big spring storms this year and the campsite was littered with aspen, most of which were broken off 10-12' (3M) above the ground. The mile long trail to the old fish camp was littered with trees also. We had the saw along and did a little bit of clearing but, wilderness area or not, the roar of the chainsaw will be needed to clean this mess up, assuming the NPS wants a passable trail.

Saturday brought a steady northwest wind and the promise of unsettled weather. We had planned to move camp to Oak Island but once again the VoiceOfReason earned her moniker. "Why don't we just stay here and take a day paddle?". A unanimous vote was quickly taken as we correctly assumed that the site would not be reserved for that evening. In fact the only other kayaks we saw all weekend were on car roofs. We saw two fishing boats on Saturday and a commercial fisherman and a couple sailboats on Sunday but we pretty much has the entire park to ourselves. We took off for the spit on Rocky Island to see if there was any storm damage to the big white pines there, but as we rounded the NE point of Otter Island some nasty looking clouds and building seas prompted the VOR to announce, "I'm turning around". Since she is the VOR we once again agreed. The National Weather Service out of Duluth still had only generic 'isolated thunderstorms, some of which could be severe' reports so we did what folks have done for centuries; we kept a 'weather eye' on the sky. Of course halfway into the crossing back to Manitou,"Doppler radar is reporting strong thunderstorms on a line from Two Harbors to Port Wing, moving southeast at 40mph with 50mph winds and pea sized hail. These are dangerous storms so take cover......" Fortunately they missed us to the west and some other weather missed us to the east so we had a pretty decent day with a fine Apostle Island sunset over Otter Island. The KingOfIronwoodIsland tried out his new folding camp chair and its hypnotic properties relaxed him so much that it was reported when he made it to the tent he went to sleep with his headlamp on.

He was up early the next morning however, as he announced with a shake of our tent "bear in camp!". Sure enough there was a roughly 250# black bear tearing up an anthill about 20 yards west of camp. Could this be the same bear that we saw last summer in roughly the same spot? Could he have bulked up that much in 10 months? There are striking similarities between the two pictures. You decide. Manitou does have a bear box and he showed no interest at all in the camp or us. He ambled up the beach on what appeared to be his regular route and all was fine. Score another one for the bear box, at least three of which will be installed this summer due to donations from kayakers in CASKA, SKOAC, the GurneyGranny, and matching funds from the Friends of the Apostle Islands Nat'l Lakeshore. Great stuff to improve the park!

We headed back to Red Cliff with a nice tail wind and leisurely swells pushing us along. The bears must be out in full force because we saw tracks again when we stopped on Oak for lunch. The lake is up roughly a foot over last year. That extra water made the treacherous (to gel coat and fiberglass, that is) crossing of the Manitou reef much less nerve wracking. We were back in Red Cliff early afternoon after a fine outing.

Next weekend is Memorial Day and the crowds will increase greatly, drop off for a couple weeks, and then build back up for the peak season of the 4th of July through Labor Day in September. Even though the weather was brisk, this was a great outing with no crowds and a chance to see how the park weathered the harsh winter. This is the 3rd early May trip in a row; I think it could be an annual.

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