Monday, March 23, 2009

Devils Island via car or kayak

OK, OK, its another ice post.....kind of. I received an email from Gail at Living Adventures in Red Cliff and also a comment on the blog with a link to pictures of Devils Island that were taken when a bunch of folks from Madeline Island drove out there a week ago Sunday. That must mean the stars are aligned and that I must post them. Tom Lynch up in Duluth hooked me up with their blog which I can really relate to. They are circumnavigating Lake Superior at a rate of approximately one to two weeks per year. I guess that would be the antithesis of a Freya Hoffmeister style record breaking circumnavigation and I heartily approve since I'm doing almost exactly the same thing. Mileage from driving on the ice doesn't count however, it must be via kayak and that's one of the reasons that this ice road out to Devils is so fascinating. I've paddled exactly the same route in the summer.

The crew left from the Red Cliff Marina, the most central place to launch in the Apostle Islands National Park, and it was about 22 miles. The typical paddle route is to turn north at the end of the jetty and pass by the wreck of the Fedora near Red Cliff point. Paddlers then head east toward the Oak Island spit and then along the south shore of Oak. Another crossing is needed to get from Oak to Manitou and the Manitou Island Fish Camp. I would imagine the drivers swung around Manitou Rock to avoid the shallow water and thin ice between the rock and the island. The rock probably smells just fine this time of year, unlike the summer when its a roost for gulls and cormorants that don't mind ignoring the adage not to 'foul your own nest'. From there the kayak (or car) has to do another crossing to Otter Island and around the east side of Otter for another crossing to Rocky Island. The Rocky Island spit is one of my favorite sites in the park and I'd love to see what it looked like in the winter. The course then goes up the east shore of Rocky, which is a favorite sailboat anchorage when there is a west wind, and past the newly designated Rocky Island Historic District fishing camps. After rounding the long, narrow point on the north end of Rocky, the route swings to the northwest and Devils is visible, all by itself, about 4 miles away. Or maybe not visible, since we've made this crossing in the fog at least 3 times. There was no fog on the ice however, and the auto expedition arrived at the north end of Devils Island, lighthouse, sea caves, and all.

No one that I've talked to remembers the ice ever being thick and consistent enough to drive to Devils Island, and that includes folks who have lived up there for decades. Everyone I've spoken or corresponded with is also aggravated that no one told them about this trip....including Yours Truly. Seeing the island, trees, beaches, and the sea caves in the winter is a completely different experience from the summer view and the folks that made it out should consider themselves very lucky to have had what would appear to be a once in a lifetime experience. Apparently open water was only about a quarter mile to the north, a fact confirmed by the sat photo from that day. Its too bad that no one informed NOAA because they could have zipped out and fixed the weather station. I wonder if the wilderness regulations will let them use wheeled vehicles to get from the dock up to the lighthouse. It should be interesting to find out later in the spring. For now we're just waiting for the ice to melt or at least break up so we can launch and get our butts back in the kayak seat. Congrats once again to the Devils ice road expedition. I'd credit the photos but I have no idea who took them. I guess thats part of the fun.


Ranger Bob said...

"I wonder if the wilderness regulations will let them use wheeled vehicles to get from the dock up to the lighthouse."

If they come ashore at the East Landing (ie the rock ledge), they'll be able to use carts to move their gear up, since they would not be entering the designated Wilderness area. The area around the light station was excluded from the legislated Wilderness.

However, if they land in the harbor at the south end of the island (which may be necessary now that there are no longer cleats at the East Landing) they will have to get what amounts to a special dispensation from the park superintendent to hump the handcart up the road, since then they would be passing through the Wilderness.

That would require something called a "minimum requirement analysis." There's a full discussion of what that entails here:

The Minimum Requirements Decision Guide

Not a simple matter!

DaveO said...

Why haul an ATV out there, fix it, and get out, when you can fill out multiple forms and waviers instead? Just make some poor SOB run the gauntlet of flying vermin (believe me, I've run it) from the south dock to the light with a backpack full of gear. The put-put-put of the ATV might cause a wilderness lover to drop an extra blueberry in their granola and ruin the whole transcendental experience. Never mind the public good of having an operating weather station. Wonder why they yanked those cleats? They sure as hell didn't fall out. Very rough landing over there if there is any swell at all. The rocks have a patina of gel coat in many spots.

Nan said...

Didn't the cleats disappear through natural erosion? I have a vague memory of going out there once and the boat operator being surpised to see that one of them was gone.

Ranger Bob said...

Typically, ice takes the cleats out every few years. Until recently, the park replaced them when that happened.

It is indeed a rough landing, but serves a purpose. The day back in '92 we replaced the lens in the lighthouse tower, I tied a boat there for at least 8 hours, with nary a swell all day.The lake... um, calls the shots.