Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Return to the Slate Islands - Lake reasserts Boss status

 It's time to get back in the groove with the TLITB blog, especially since I can now see the Boss from my window and am about 95% retired.  I am not sure if the lack of posts was due to the chaos with moving, disengagement from work, or the sheer laziness of throwing two lines and a picture up on Facebook.  In any event it's time for a bit of extended writing.

Way back in April our friend Rick, a guy who paddled all the way around Lake Superior on the two weeks a year, 11 years plan, suggested a trip to the Slate Islands in far northern Canadian shore of Gitchee Gumee.  Wife Kathy jumped on it immediately, the VoiceOfReason quickly weighing the pros of revisiting one of our favorite spots on the lake.  DaveG, a man of no small amount of outdoor experience himself, jumped at the chance to round out the foursome.  We got things dialed in, filed a formal float plan, and headed to Terrace Bay.  Little did we know that Lake Superior and the Slates would be tossing us a few Bert Blyleven quality curveballs. 

The first curve was waking up to fog that barely allowed us to see across the highway, accompanied by a giant red blob on the radar that appeared to be slowly heading in our direction from somewhere between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.  We decided that we could easily beat the storm and had gps waypoints on the Slates as well as the venerable nav charts, bearing compass, and clear plastic navigation tool.  JB would have been proud! None of us particularly mind a blind crossing other than the lack of scenery, and the fog really softens anything that we did see for a very nice ephemeral quality.  We paddled at a steady 3 knots for about two hours and hit Mortimer Island, almost literally because according to the gps we were only 125 meters away when the cliff loomed out of the fog.  After skirting around Mortimer into the inner islands we saw tents at the first two camps we passed.  We later learned that was the sum total of visitors in the entire archipelago.  We camped at a spot we called the junkyard for its pile of debris of  an old camp that some boaters had thrown up years ago and then let go to hell.  We then encountered curve #2, a biblical plague of black flies and mosquitos.  We were prepared with bug shirts and the famous 'bat cave', Dan Cookes rugged adirondack style mosquito tarp combo but still took casualties as we dug the gear out and got things set up . The ruggedness of the tarp  ould soon be tested.  One of the disconcerting things about the Slates is that the Thunder Bay VHF marine forecast can't be picked up and the Pukusawa / Marathon forecast is on the wrong side of the typical storm approach.  The pitter patter of rain hit the tent around 11pm and the defecation hit the rotation around one am Monday morning. Curveball # 3 in spades.  Two solid hours of wind, including a couple microbursts that bent the tents down on top of us, tried to shred the bat cave, and knocked down somewhere between 40 and 50 rather substantial spruce and balsam trees in and around the camp.  Camping tip: It's much better to batten down everything when its not raining, dark, windy as hell, and you are in your underwear at 2am.  We later learned that this same cell killed a man and severely injured his son in the BWCA when a large white pine fell on his tent.  It also nearly electrocuted some young girls on an Outward Bound trip with a lightning strike, knocking four of them unconscious and causing 2nd degree burns on others.   It was a bad night in the north country.
Just before we went to bed pre storm a couple wolf researchers from the Ministry stopped by to check their traps in the area.  They had trapped and collared a wolf that morning.  Apparently a couple years back when the lake froze three wolfs strolled out on the ice and liked the tasty caribou and snowshoe hare treats they found there.  The researchers came back the morning after the storm in their Zodiac to check on us, let us know they were OK, and inform us that a tree fell on one of the tents that the two ladies and temporarily trapped one of them.  Rick and I went out fishing and stopped by to see how the women were doing.  They had driven 18 hours from east of Toronto,  a semi annual trip, seasoned women about our age who have husbands that just don't like to camp.  They had been hacking at trees for three hours getting their camp back in shape.  One was napping but the women that was vertical told us she had to crawl out of her sleeping bag and long johns to get our of her tent.  Fortunately it was just branches that pinned her down.  In the end we were all either lucky or benefited from a guardian angel.  Before we left we attended a show at the Big Top south of Bayfield.  It was the opening of the 2016 season and one of the Anishnabe elders, Red Cliff tribe of Ojibwa, smudged the crowd with burning sage and told us that it would chase away bad luck and negative thoughts. There was also a rosaryor two in dry bags. Who knows? 

The rest of the trip was bluebird weather, favorable winds and seas, and diminished insect attacks.  The scenery was spectacular as we circumnavigated Patterson Island and viewed the Sunday Harbor light.  Rocks, cliffs, and view of the Canadian mainland were all fantastic.  One of the highlights was the old clawfoot tub, the wood fired hot tub, at the Come N Rest camp  on McColl Island.  It wven has a piece of playwood to avoid burning ones tender ass when you clim in and ease into the hot water.  Unlike a lot of hot tubs the water just keeps getting hotter as long as the fire is stoked and my guess is that a person would be hard pressed to find a better view.   Lake Trout were caught and eaten and the return crossing was on bright sun with full visibility and a very accomodating quartering SE sea over our right shoulders for a nice push back to the mainland. Our landing and launch site was on a long cobble beach in Jackfish Bay, about 250 meters up and over the Canadian Pacific main track that connects eastern and western Canada.  By the time we had dragged boats, gear, and our aging carcasses to the vehicles we were ready for the traditional post paddle community bump of Irish whiskey.  But the storm still had one lingering surprise for us.  A lot of the electronics in both cars, including clocks, warning lights, compass, etc., were screwed up from what must have been a very close lighting strike.  It was a fitting end to our Slate Islands adventure.