After setting up camp on Tonti Island, outfitter Mike Petzold, center, prepares dinner.
For true kayaking enthusiasts, the northeast coast of Lake Superior is the crown jewel of kayak touring in the Midwest. The Slate Islands are there with their woodland caribou and exotic geology. Lake Superior Provincial Park is there with its natural history and the spiritual presence of Nanabijou. Pukaskwa National Park is there with its rugged beaches and the magical allure of its wilderness coves.
These are among the very best touring destinations in North America. Pukaskwa, in particular, is simply outstanding in all respects. (Readers may recall Dave Foley's descriptions of this coast in the March 2010 issue of Silent Sports.)
It is important to realize, though, that northeastern Lake Superior demands respect and skill from paddlers. The waters here have no sympathy for those who lack good rescue skills. This lake makes no allowances for poor judgment, hasty decisions or careless mistakes.
Storms moving across the lake from the west stir up near freezing water from the depths. Even in the middle of the summer, when the water may be tolerable for swimming along the south shore, water on the northeast shore remains painfully and dangerously cold.
Lake Superior is notoriously subject to rapid weather changes, too; big wind and big waves develop in the course of just a few minutes. This happens on a coastline with limited opportunities for a paddler to slip into protected waters. Under these conditions, a capsize without rapid and dependable rescue is life-threatening, to say the least.
So what to do? Is there a way for paddlers with beginning or intermediate skills to experience the positive aspects of northeastern Lake Superior without the risks, cautions, caveats and anxiety? I think so.
The Great Lakes contain other destinations where one can duplicate some of the good paddling experiences of Superior with fewer of the obvious risks. One of them is the Mississagi Coast in the North Channel of Lake Huron. It's very attractive, little known in the kayaking community, with more forgiving waters for novice or intermediate paddlers. It is also more accessible to kayakers coming from the Upper Midwest.
Read the entirety of John Vollrath's guide to paddling Lake Huron's Mississagi Coast in the March 2013 print edition of Silent Sports magazine. To order a copy or subscribe, call 715/369-3331.