Paddling from Huginnin to Little Todd Harbor
We started about 10:00 A. M. with one-foot waves which got a little worse as we progressed. I don’t think it was the height of the waves, though, that was the issue. We felt tentative at this start because of the hype about the danger of the Big Lake. I am not saying that one should take Superior lightly, absolutely not.
As experienced big lake paddlers, we have navigated quite large waves, just not with the straight up cliffs that also descend straight down into the water for 85 to 110 feet to create the rebounding waves that have no forgiveness. We know that Lake Superior claimed 3 paddlers in 2021 and 2 in 2020. We were not interested in joining them. Check US Coast Guard stats here: https://glsrp.org/statistics/
We also heard stories about deaths of paddlers on the Island, several while attempting to paddle Blake Point and mostly from being underprepared, underequipped or short on time so they were pushing when they should have been waiting. Still, it was daunting, and we felt small in the face of the fury of which we knew this lake was capable. We have not been able to verify the IRNP stories, however, but the thought still lingers.
While we took a day off at Huginnin, perhaps we should have taken an additional day there as the clapotis waves were worse on our second official day of paddling. The wind carried a whiff of our own fear back to us.
With regular waves, you work with their regular action. The Trouble with Clapotis waves is that they don’t function like regular waves. The recoil of the waves off the cliff face send the force of the returning wave into the incoming wave, creating a washing machine affect. Notice the wave in the image above. The wave isn’t “regular.”
The solution to clapotis waves is to stay out of them. To avoid them, you have to stay back from the impact area, which puts you further out into Lake Superior, which presents other challenges. We ended up trying to keep a happy medium of being further out, but not too far out. Once we realized the solution, we stayed about a quarter to a half-mile off shore.
We logged 9.3 miles in 2.5 hours, stopping for a break on a rocky beach in a small cove. It was the first place where we could land and get out to take a break. At the cove, we hiked up a rocky point to look over the water. There, we saw clearly the difference between the waves near shore and those further out and away from the washing machine.
We finished the last four miles in less than an hour. Glad to marvel at the colorful thomsonites and tiny snail shells on the gravel shore.
The Campsites at Little Todd are typical of Isle Royale, once you traverse the bank and take the short path into the campground. This is the view of campsite 1, looking toward the forested area that surrounds the campground.
There are individual fire rings at each of the four individual sites, with no group sites. Each of the individual sites can accommodate two or more tents, so in busy times you may find yourself doubling and tripling up. In August, we found the black flies voracious and were so very happy that we had the screen tent to sit in. Unfortunately, we did not get a photo of it here. Still, this huge luxury item made us thankful for the space and weight capacity of the boats, especially the Titan.
Campsite I: This is our lightweight setup at campsite one, but the screen tent is not visible in this shot. We love this tent for warm nights because of the lightweight fabric that lets the moonlight in. We were hoping to catch a good view of the aurora borealis, but we did not from this location. The smoke from the Canadian wildfires was read on each day’s weather forecast on the Marine radio.
For kayakers, Campsite I is ideal because it is closest to the gravel beach. Campsites II and III are further away from the beach, so you have to carry your gear further, and Campsite IV is flanked by rocks, making landing dicey at best.
Ending the day at Little Todd Harbor restored our sense of competence–after all, we did it! We navigated the washing machine without a mishap. As we sat in our Helinox camping chairs, heating up water for our dehydrated dinner, I smiled. It was good to feel good about my strength, my paddling skills, my being in the world. Why didn’t we pack anything more interesting than a dehydrated meal? That’s the backpacking mindset.
The campfire would have crackled in the fire ring as the evening sky pinkened and darkened, but fires were banned and the firepits taped off with yellow caution tape because of the drought. Still, the sun disappearing behind the Minong Ridge, and we enjoyed the peace of our campsite under the starlit night.