The paddle from Daisy Farm to Chippewa Harbor was uneventful. The water was glass calm, reflecting the clouds overhead, as we left the Daisy Farm dock just before 10:00 AM ET. As we passed out of Rock Harbor, near the Rock Harbor lighthouse, we were overtaken by a small open boat with a tiny outboard motor. We were relieved for the boaters when they turned toward Caribou Island, for their boat was not sufficient for the open lake, especially with the three passengers on board: https://youtu.be/8Ikql4uO21k. Our passage from the channel into the big lake saw more choppy water with building waves as the forecasted storm approached. It was an increasingly difficult paddle as the morning progressed.
By the time we came into the channel to Chippewa Harbor, the waves were beginning to crest and break occasionally on Lake Superior. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms with small craft warnings, so we were pleased to paddle into the calm waters of the harbor and land on its pebbly shore. On the other side of the dock was a beautiful vintage boat, a Valley Nordkapp in charcoal that caught my eye. I hoped the owner was a friendly sort to talk about his adventures in the Nordkapp. Pulling up onto the beach, we discovered an open shelter near the dock.
Our shelter sat on an angle to the water so it faced both the hill and the dock. Up the hill from our shelter, the Indian Portage Trail leads out toward Lake Richie and East and West Chickenbone campgrounds, terminating at McCargoe Cove, a little less than a dozen miles away over land, but some forty-plus miles by water. We had paddled past it three days prior.
In the breezy afternoon, it was pleasant to unload our boats directly into the shelter, not having climb the hill that we have traversed more than a few times before on backpacking excursions.
Once we set up inside, we turned on the marine radio, which confirmed the forecast we had heard earlier in the day: thunderstorms with high winds were on tap for the next couple of days, followed by heavy fog. Inside the shelter, we set up our freestanding Big Agnes tent which provides some warmth at night and also creates a little privacy within the screen-fronted structure. With our Helinox Chair Zeroes and our kitchen gear assembled, we were ready for a pleasant hiatus from paddling.
Since the storm had not yet arrived, we set out for the old schoolhouse which Duane had heard about from other hikers. He caught a glimpse of it as we paddled into the harbor, but try as I might, I could not spy it through the trees. My trouble was that I thought the Johnson Schoolhouse was going to be of some stature, however tiny in terms schoolhouses, but it was the size of a bedroom, not even the size of a small house. The schoolhouse had been erected in 1936 and was used for a short time to educate children of fishermen there in Chippewa Harbor.
The plaque reads that the schoolhouse is dedicated to Holger and Lucy Johnson, resident commercial fishermen from 1904 to 1954. It was restored in 2005 by the Isle Royale Natural History Association volunteers and the Isle Royale National Park.
The Johnson Schoolhouse is on a dead end trail behind the group sites at the back of the campground , heading down the harbor toward the open lake. Passing through the group tent sites, the trail comes to a junction in what appears to be an old farmyard, complete with an old apple orchard, but with no remaining structures. Taking the right fork brings you to the schoolhouse.
Taking the left fork leads to a ridge that overlooks Lake Mason to the north; to the south is Chippewa Harbor and to east is Lake Superior. The trail traverses rocky ridges and exposed outcroppings. It extends past hemlock bushes clinging to the exposed rock, up steep inclines through forested trails, and finally emerges on the ridge from which we observed the oncoming storm. I took a quick check of my email and texted my sons. Yes, there is cell service on the island, but you have to work for it, and even then it is spotty. As I have said before, be prepared to pay very high roaming charges for international service or get a plan that includes Canada in its service area.
As we stood atop the ridge, the rain started, pelting our faces on the brisk wind. We scampered down the rocky trail, now wet and slippery with the scattered raindrops in advance of the main body of the storm. Back at the shelter in 15 minutes, we were pleased to be joined by a fellow paddler, the man in the Valley Nordkapp who had already been on the island for nearly a month and was making his way back to Rock Harbor to catch his ferry.
Apparently, Dogger bought the kevlar beauty used, from a kayak shop in Detroit, and retired his other boats because of the Nordkapp’s grace and responsiveness. He was a guest for coffee often over the next three days as we waited out the storm. From him, we got some really great kayaking hacks, like protecting the hull of our boats when beaching on a gravelly shore with cut-to-length pool noodle pieces and using Tyco’s Lego Duplo-blocks to hold up deck rigging to prevent it from breaking the tip of a fishing pole. He shared a wealth of island lore and secret places to explore that make up our itinerary for summer 2022.
After a week of hard paddling from Windigo, past McCargoe Cove, to Belle Isle, across the north shore, around Blake Point, through Rock Harbor and Daisy Farm, we cherished the down time to rest and recover at Chippewa Harbor. In one week, we had paddled more than 80 miles. As we listened to the roar of the waves on the big lake, we finished our Volwerth’s summer sausage and Jilbert’s cheese, we drank fresh coffee made in our French press, and we marveled at how much stronger we had become. Life was good.