Thursday, November 16, 2017
Lake Superior's jagged, rocky shoreline again attempts to hide entrances to harbors and rivers. After negotiating a number of underwater rocks and shoals to approach closer to shore, the mouth of the White Mud River is still elusive. But, the promise of a great hiking trail, including crossing a raging rapid on a swing bridge, kept the crew focused on finding a safe way into the river.
Finally, an opening is spotted that should be the river's mouth, flowing into Lake Superior.
It is a tiny opening. Even this close, it appears like many of the small, shallow, dead end coves that lie along the shore.
Once in the river, a spot wide enough to swing at anchor was found and Last Dance was secured to the bottom. The trail and rapids were a few miles up the rivers, and while much of it is deep, there are reported to be some shallow, rocky spots that would put a cruising boat aground. The river trip is best done by dinghy.
A beautiful, clear sky day occurred, perfect for exploring the river and hiking the coastal trail.
The river proved to a winding water road through tree covered rock walls. The normally slow dinghy was further hampered by running against the current, but it only lengthened the time spent experiencing an untouched, natural wilderness.
The navigable section of the river ends at a set of rapids, but not The Rapids.
The coastal trail runs close to these rapids, making access easy by landing the dinghy along the shore. The trail is well maintained, marked, with campsites along the river.
A good hike up the trail from the lower rapids leads to the dramatic rapids, crossed by a suspension bridge.
Although a new suspension bridge of steel and concrete has replaced the older rope and wood structure, it can be intimidating to walk out high over the rapids on a walkway that is moving in the wind.
The spectacular view of the raging rapids is well worth the fear of swinging above them. The sight is beautiful, the roar loud, and the spray reaches far above the bridge, wetting those who stand and view.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
The indigenous people of Canada are referred to as First Nation. As with all lands that were conquered by colonizing Europeans, the native populations were moved to selected areas and denied the opportunity to share their culture with their children. For over a century, Canada would not allow First Nation people to play a drum. Things are improving.
The Last Dance crew encountered a group of First Nation people, paddling across Ontario on a Voyager canoe. This group was from the Metis Nation, decendents of the indigenous people and French fur trappers. They were celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Canada nation by following the trade routes of their ancestors.
They came ashore from the Lake Superior side, climbing up the vertical rock face of Otter Island by the lighthouse. Conversations were struck up with descriptions of the long, long journey by canoe and the significance of the journey to their heritage. Their path on Lake Superior was along the eastern and northern shores, like Last Dance, but much closer to shore for protection. And, they paddle every day, regardless of weather. As they came through Old Dave's Harbor, they raised their paddles in salute to the Last Dance crew.
They began with twelve paddlers, but the harsh environment and physical stress had reduced their number. The Metis Nation flag was flying proudly at their stern.
A 2500 kilometer journey in under 3 months is an large undertaking by a group of young people. The determination, persistence, and stamina required to complete the trip is at an amazingly high level. It was a moving experience to meet these young men and women.
At Hattie's Cove, there was a Fire Social. The Pukaskwa National Park is entirely on First Nation property. The park has many First Nation people on staff and has developed programs sharing the First Nation culture. It is tradition to socialize around a fire, and a native tea is brewing in the pot.
Important symbols and their origin were shared along with practices that have been developed to show respect for the bounties of nature and other people.
The Last Dance crew was fortunate to have additional instruction into the cultural practices as one of the Metis Nation paddlers was sitting at our side. The paddlers had passed Last Dance, spending the night farther along the coast in Marathon. They were given a ride back to the park so they could participate in the Fire Social. At the end of the ceremony, a spirit could be felt. It was uplifting, sensual, and peaceful.
The First Nation people can again play the drum. The youth are working hard to learn the culture and the songs from the elders so that they are not lost. Drum songs were sung and meanings explained, enjoyed by all at the Fire Social.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
The water body to the left is Hattie's Cove. It appears to be a lake from this vantage point, but there is a cut through the ridge hidden in the trees connecting to the cove on the right. Pukaskwa National Park headquarters is located on Hattie's Cove, the northern most point of the large, 726 square mile park. Many hiking trails allow visitors to experience the Lake Superior wilderness, including the challenging 60 kilometer coastal trail.
The ragged shoreline near the park headquarters has scenic trails that pass through many different environments, all in close proximity. Parks Canada has instituted a new program of placing red Adirondack style chairs at interesting views along some of the park trails. The pair of chairs at Pukaskwa did provided quite a view.
A dinghy ride was required to enter Hattie's Cove as it is off limits to powered craft and anchoring. During the exploration of the shore in the attempt to find the small cut leading to Hattie's, the chairs were sighted on a ridge. The first man-made objects on the shore since the Otter Island Light, 50 miles south. The first trail hiked brought the crew upon the chairs for a great photo opportunity.
The jagged shoreline of Lake Superior is obvious along the Pukaskwa Park trails as they meander near the water.
The jagged shore had many rocky features, as it had for the entire length from Sault St. Marie. Then, a beach appeared. A horse shoe shaped beach of white sand. How did that happen, geologically?
Inland of the beach are low sand dunes, similar to what could be found in Florida - a very odd spot along the big lake. The hiking through Pukaskwa is filled with amazing experiences.
Monday, October 2, 2017
Traveling farther north along the shore of Lake Superior more coves and harbors are found along the coast. After Old Dave's, the next planned stop was at Pulpwood Harbor. In the above image a round top rock was an identifying landmark listed in Bonnie Dahl's guide to Lake Superior, to be kept to starboard. A shore lined with rock formations, coves, and islands makes for difficult identification of locations, particularly when charts have no detail.
Finally, around the rock island off the round rock formation, the entrance to Pulpwood Harbor could be seen. The described rock in the middle of the entrance was the indicator which made identification possible. Pulpwood has been spotted.
A rock islet lies in the middle of the entrance. Which side? The paper charts, usually the choice for navigational detail, had none. The chart plotter had more detail, but lacked any specific depths or location of any rocks, other than the obvious one above water. Fortunately, information from others who have cruised here before allowed for a safe passage. There is deep water to be found right of the rock - to the left, a sudden shallowing with many hidden sharp rocks.
A view out of Pulpwood into Lake Superior shows that an island to the left narrows the entrance, providing some protection from the lake when winds kick up. The sloping rock shores made for easy landing for Bonnie walks and exploring the area. But, the benefit of anchoring in Pulpwood was not the harbor itself. A few coves to the north, a long dinghy ride away, Hattie's Cove is host to the park headquarters and hiking trails in the 725 square miles of Pukaskwa National Park, a story for another blog post.
Pulpwood is named after its use during the lumbering era. Logs were floated into the cove, stored here to be later transported in rafts of logs to pulpwood mills. There is still large rings drilled into the rock on either side with a long steel cable that was stretched across the opening to secure the logs. On a calm day, the sinker logs that litter the bottom could be seen. It was fortunate for the crew that Last Dance's anchor did not catch on one.
The lack of accuracy of the electronic charts was demonstrated again in Pulpwood. The chartplotter had Last Dance anchored on land rather than in the cove. Evidence that reinforces the need to multiple navigation sources and that no one source should be trusted as being correct. The challenges of navigation are one of the reasons that few boats cruise these waters and these beautiful areas are rarely visited.
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Tucked in close to shore creating a protected anchorage in preparation for a forecast storm. Stern tie was used again to hold the boat close to shore in the slight curve of the cove. The anchor is set in 37 feet of water which would create a swing circle greater than 240 feet if the boat was allowed to swing on the anchor. Much better to be held in one spot. Eventually, Last Dance was secured with two anchors forward and two stern lines aft. A very worthwhile effort in gaining a protected mooring for the storm and to have access to the island and experience the nature and history of this area.
The buildings to the left are the assistant lighthouse keeper's house and boathouse. One of the interesting aspects of Old Dave's is the history of the Otter Island lighthouse and the fishing camp on Old Dave's Island.
The deep water makes for a long anchor line to achieve proper scope but, on the other hand, allows a boat to be moored very close to shore for greater protection. As can be seen on the chart plotter screen above, while Last Dance is less than a boat length from shore, she is in over 14 feet of water. (The depth sounder is set to read the depth of the water under the keel. Since Last Dance has about a 4.5 foot draft, the draft has to be added to the reading to calculate depth.)
From anchor, looking to the south, the opening to Lake Superior can be seen. On the shore of Old Dave's Island the remains of the abandoned fishing village are slowly deteriorating.
Looking north, the opening to Otter Bay with the mainland on the northern shore.
The fishing village was home to multiple fishing boats for many decades. The depleted fishery of Lake Superior made commercial fishing from this outpost economically unfeasible and the village was abandoned. A close look at the water reveals rocks and logs that were once part of crib structures providing docking wharfs for the fishing boats and now making this shore impossible for anchoring.
The houses have seemed to survived the ravages of rough weather but the storage and workshop buildings are quite deteriorated. Some remnants of the habitation lay along the shore - an old bathtub and a washing machine.
The concrete wharf at the assistant lighthouse keeper's house is still in good repair, providing an easy and secure landing for trips ashore.
Trips ashore are greatly appreciated by Bonnie, the boat dog, for exercise walks and to explore the various smells. Different and unknown smells reside here due to a herd of caribou which live on the island.
Otter Island is a part of Pukaskwa National Park, which has decided to allow all park property to return to its natural state. This policy is allowing the lighthouse keeper's building to deteriorate and rot, erasing evidence of an important part of history.
While rare for visitors to land here, the park service does expect a few and provides information about Otter Island. The lack of communications in this area is noted by the statement: "In case of emergency contact by satellite phone . . . "
The Otter Island Lighthouse is at a high point of the island, a good distance from the house on the cove. A long trail leads from the assistant lighthouse keeper's house to the ridge.
While the trail was built for utilitarian purposes, it makes for a good hiking trail through the rock formations and the woods. It also leads to the buildings and history of the only lighthouse on this coast of Lake Superior.
The lighthouse is no longer operational and the trail no longer maintained. The lack of maintenance is obvious as the trial is becoming overgrown and structures, such as this staircase, are deteriorating.
Over the top of the ridge and down the lake side, the Otter Island Light sits. With the elevation provided by the island, the lighthouse did not need to be a tall structure. Interesting cutout of a beaver serving as a wind vane.
Multiple ridges of granite make up this part of the path, creating difficult walking. Long elevated walkways and bridges were constructed to support travel between the buildings, of which there are three - the lighthouse, the lighthouse keeper's house, and the generator building, in this image.
A helicopter landing pad sits adjacent to the generator building, providing access in winter months when the lake is frozen. Four, large speakers in front of the building served as a very loud fog horn.
A concrete walkway leads from the generator building across a bridge over an interesting cut. Looks like someone, quite large, chiseled a groove through the rock, leaving some of the broken rock in the bottom of the groove. The rock islands lie outside Old Dave's Harbor's lakeside entrance, providing some protection from rough water coming in from the lake.
The walkway leads to a larger cut in the rock, one deep enough to allow vessels to enter. Supplies and diesel fuel were delivered to the lighthouse by tying to the wall of this deep cut, then using a power-operated crane to lift the supplies. The cuts through the rock in this area are most interesting.
History of power at the lighthouse can be seen behind the generator building. The concrete saddles once held diesel fuel tanks which powered generators for power to the light and the lighthouse keepers houses. A concrete wall around the tank field is a safety catch for fuel if a tank developed a leak. Later, the tanks were removed and a serious structure was installed to hold solar panels to power the light and buildings. Now, the solar panels are gone and the light is dark.
Otter Island light viewed from the water gives a view of the three buildings - generator building, lighthouse keeper's house, and the lighthouse. The ridge in the background is on the mainland, on the north side of the bay. These are the only buildings on the shore of Lake Superior for over 60 miles in either direction.