Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Isle Royale: Day 3, Atwood Beach – Unnamed Lake – Long Point –Rainbow Point

Total Distance = 10 miles; Time = 5 hours.

The morning forecast reiterated last night's news. Even at 7am the Rock of Ages weather station already reported 25 knot winds and 6' waves. Our beach faced to the southeast so we were protected by the forest and the small point to the west. We did not feel much wind in the campsite. As we prepared to leave the sun peaked through the clouds and we took that as a good omen. Launching was easy into placid 1-2' waves.

As we rounded the small point to the west of Atwood Beach, the waves were noticeably larger than the day before. Forecast was holding true. We had to keep a little bit off shore as the 3-5' waves were breaking all over the place on the McCormick reef. A loaded Nordkapp is not very jittery in the face of the hits from the beam by a broken 2-3' footer. You get hit and lean into the wave with anticipation of being surfed sideways but the wave just passes under. As I was noting that to Russ, the lake quickly reminded me who is the boss. I remember squeezing in between some rocks and the steep shoreline in a place where the waves were smaller. Then, just like that, I was upside down. That's the nature of this ride: it tolerates no sloppiness. Russ, who was further off shore at the time, later told me that it was a rapid succession of breakers one after another that capsized me. As I went under I suddenly became worried because of the close proximity to the shore. I did not have my helmet on. Luckily, I promptly rolled up and quickly paddled some ways off shore to stay out of the breakers for the rest of the day.

As the shoreline rotated clockwise from SE to SW, the wind veered from W to SW and we started to feel it before long. Forward progress slowed even though our boats were loaded up to the hull-deck joint. Being mostly under the water they presented little for the wind to grab on to. We paddled all of 5 miles in 2 hours and stopped for a snack at an unnamed inland lake which we were able to spot from the water. Looked like a prime spot to see moose—shallow and overgrown with all kinds of green. There were tunnels snaking through the lake grass—most likely they were moose paths.

After the break Long Point was our destination. By this time every wave was above eye level and most certainly there were some 8-footers sloshing around. We could see the Long Point clearly in the distance. What gave it away was a band of threatening breakers. The chart shows shallow water for about a half mile to the east of the point. This was where we were coming from.

Long Point demanded a wide breadth. Even with that each one of us caught some breaking surf. It was Russ's turn to get wet. Focused on the task at hand I lost sight of him behind me for a minute or so. Not like paying attention to him would have made much difference in these conditons—I could see his kayak for several seconds at a time and then it would disappear in the trough for a good while. Close to the shoal, we could not stay too close together.

After I came through on the south side of the shoals, I turned around to look and saw Russ's determined figure climbing onto the shoulder of a braking wave. From the back, the breakers look even more threatening. Something was not right—Russ was farther behind than I remembered seeing him last. And, oh yes, he was missing his signature hat with the piece of cloth for a neck shade on the back. As he got closer, I noticed that he was missing his sunglasses too. I figured one of the waves he was breaking through must have hit him in the face. That's all it takes to lose your gear in conditions like these. I was lucky to ride over the tops of the rollers I met. Perhaps I paid my dues during the capsize next to shore. Turned out Russ was knocked over and had to roll up paying his homage to the Lady in the process.

From Long Point to the Head we stayed well off shore. The breakers closer in were getting to big to be taken casually and definitely not to be used for amusement. The shoreline sand beaches were gone and it was all rock again. Landing, in case we needed it, would not have been easy. There were plenty of flat rock beaches but there also plenty of rock walls shooting straight up from the water.

Shallow seabed extends even farther from the Head than from the Long Point. On this stretch we were now facing directly into the wind. The breakers were definitely growing more threatening with passing time. We obeyed their warnings and paddled even farther off shore. Every time we thought we were far enough, we would see explosions up ahead and end up turning to port—a little more insurance.

We were discussing our options no more than 10 feet from each other. Russ noted that these were the biggest conditions he's experienced in a kayak. I shared with him that I was feeling quite severe pain in the abdomen from not having taken care of the nature call in the morning. I was holding it in for some time now and the pressure was rising rather than going away. All the action in the torso was not helping a bit. Adrenaline produced in response to stress constricts the vessels further which, again, was not good under the circumstances. That's when it happened. All of a sudden Russ was just gone! I was looking straight up and all I could see was the white of his underhull. Next, even that quickly vanished as he went down of the other side of this steep huge wave. I think I could have reached its top but only had I reached up with a fully extended paddle.

Getting farther and farther away from shore we finally rounded the Head and started looking for a beach to land. I could not hold it any longer. No landing spots were immediately apparent with all the cliffs, rocks and breaking surf. We rafted up and put our helmets on. After a while, we spotted two small rock and sand beaches next to each other in a small mini-bay surrounded by steep cliffs. Looked like access to the forest access was possible from there. I just had to land. We probably caught a break in between big waves and the beaches were also protecte from the Rainbow point directly to the north but landing was unremarkable. A couple of side surfs in mild 2' bubbling mounds of water and I landed on a sand beach about 30' wide. The waves that produced the white water were no larger than 4'. Russ picked a somewhat bigger south facing rock beach a hundred yards to the north. Ohhh, sweet relief!

When it was all said and done and we reconvened for a conference, it was an early 3pm. We only covered half the distance to Huginnin Cove. After a little trip to the forest I felt instantly better and was ready to head back into the dishwasher. Russ, somewhat unexpectedly, was less eager to get back out there. The wind was whistling through the trees, the waves were crashing on shore, it was pretty clear that the seas were still building. In that light, Russ suggested that we stay put for the day. I was still high from the earlier paddle but, in reality, little consideration was needed to see the wisdom of this call. As much as I was eager to get on the roller-coasters again, we've spent enough energy as it was and progress with the beam seas was not going to be very great.

So we unpacked and built our tents in a little overgrown meadow well away from the water. Close to shore it was way too noisy. Then we cooked our dinners and after some picture taking time the darkness was quickly descending upon us. Where did the time go? Oh, I remember: we chased the camp fox. I took off my wet paddling clothes, changed, and went to the kayaks to get the rest of the gear. Russ hung our dry suits and under-layers to dry. After a while I noticed that one of my booties was missing. The rangers warned us about the foxes that steal anything and everything left unattended. The likelihood of one of them snatching my smelly shoe while we were 100 yards away separated by thick bush was credible. That would have been bad news but, luckily, the boot was stuck in the leg sleeve of the dry suit, not stolen.

We considered a hike to Feldtmann lake but by the time the dinner was done it was really time for bed! With the energy surges built on stormy water gone, dry and warm after dinner, fatigue set in very quickly. We enjoyed some down time and were in the tents shortly after sunset when there was still plenty of light in the sky. The forecast for the morning was clean. We'll have an early start and make up the distance.

Go to: Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7 Reflections

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