Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Isle Royale Trip: Looking Back

Six days around Isle Royale is not nearly enough! Circumnavigation itself could be done much faster if you're after a record. Another group from Chicago did the same trip in 5 days earlier this year. On the ferry to the island we heard stories of paddlers doing it in all of 3 days. Next to that a week of time sounds like a really long haul. The island is around 100 miles around if you don't deviate from the straight line too much. Six days leaves you just short of 20 miles a day and that's a lot of time on the water with a loaded boat even in calm conditions. But calm conditions is not what Isle Royale is about and not something you should count on in this remote paddling paradise. If you're planning to do any hiking or explore any of the bays or land on any of the hundreds of islands that surround the King you definitely need more time. I wish we took two or three extra days. A short 8-mile side-trip down the McCargoe cove was one of the highlights of the whole trip. So were the hikes on Amygdaloid Lake and the one to Look-Out Louise. I wish we had time to go into Washington Harbor, visit the Rock of Ages and the Passage Island lighthouse. Six days—we could have easily spend those just in the NE section alone.

Make sure your travel partners are compatible! Ideal situation is where partners are of equal strength and experience as well as share similar goals for the trip. If that is not the case, expectations and compromises need to be explicitly settled in advance of the trip. It's no fun for the person who has to wait for the partner nor is it for the one who has to work at maximum RPMs to keep up. Both partners need to have experience with conditions they tackle on the trip. Temptation may take a less experienced partner after the more prepared one and unnecessary complications/safety challenges may arise. I am not suggesting that this cannot be done. It should, however, be explicitly settled ahead of the trip. Equipment needs to taken into account when establishing compatibility: Eighteen-foot racing kayak with no overhang will not be compatible with a 14-foot 26-inch-wide recreational kayak even if the paddlers driving them are. After this trip, I am wondering if Nordkapp H2O is compatible with Nordkapp HS? Is it possible that a little bit of rocker reduction with a little bit of extra buoyancy at the ends and somewhat reduced bow and stern overhang make for a meaningfully faster kayak? Another possibility is that working a jack-hammer before the trip makes for a stronger paddler compared to another one inhaling epoxy fumes with his head in the cockpit.

Practice packing your boat the before the trip! Had I taken all the clothes, gear and food I brought with me to Copper Harbor, there would have been a bag or two on the decks of the kayak or a bag would have been left at Rock Harbor Lodge. The Lodge, by the way, happily stores your overflow stuff for mere $3.5/day (as of 2009). That's a lot of money for a laundry bag!

You always need to take extra food on a multi-day trip away from the supermarket but do some careful estimation and don't take twice as much as you will need. Extra weight in the kayak is not as deleterious as it is in the backpack but extra pounds matter and add up over the miles and miles you'll be covering. Having to squeeze things into the hatches every morning also takes time, tries you patience, and can take away from the enjoyment of the trip.

Do not take foods along that you have not tested prior to the trip. Something too spicy too sweet, salty or containing new food additives that don't agree with your system can easily disrupt the plumbing system. On a demanding trip your body will be taxed with physical challenges outside of the daily rhythm and you don't need to add any additional stressors from the inside. Stick with the basics and do your culinary discovery adventure at home.

Bring paddling gloves to protect your hands on the trip! This is an absolute necessity for those who work desk-jobs and do not have serious calluses built up before the trip. By day three my soaked hands were very tender. NRS Mystery gloves provided a huge relief and made for much more pleasant paddling.

Open direct-line A-to-B crossings can present interesting challenges as well as save time on a trip. Conversely, they can be boring. Especially in a place like Isle Royale A-to-B is usually not the best course to travel. Shoreline is the reason to go there. In windy conditions you will probably also find that the island will hide you from the wind somewhat or even completely close to shore.

Clothing layers under the drysuit are highly customizable and how much or what you have next to your skin makes a difference. These days the fabrics available to the paddler are nothing short of amazing. Choose those that make you feel dry even when they are completely soaked with sweat! They exist! Anything with non-itchy Merino Wool or Lava Wool fabrics do it for me. Instead of one warm and bulky item get two or three thinner wicking insulation layers. Most layers designed for wicking will not get you warm in cold conditions and will feel wet under the dry suit. You need your layering to trap some air to do that. Fleece, polartec, and wools are the best I've tried.

Try your equipment before the trip. Especially paddles and rescue equipment. Emergency is no place to learn the nuances of how things work. "How different can Werner paddle be from Lendal?" you may ask. I switched from one to the other within days before the trip. As a result, I have experienced more than a few jolts of adrenaline when I braced with waves hitting the beam and, instead of the familiar solid support, I felt the paddle slip down into the depths. Both paddles are top-of-the-line high angle propulsion super-machines with bent carbon shafts. I use both set at 60 degree feather. I paddled with the Werner for at least 10 hours before the trip and yet, the muscle memory was calibrated for the Lendal. I also bought a new thermos for the trip. The tea in it was completely cold in about 4-5 hours of paddling!

Bring a tarp! The self-proclaimed grand-daddy of modern sea kayaking, Derek Hutchinson, portrays Americans as fat and lazy in his books. He clearly looks down on "American" style kayaks with their huge cockpits, ample cockpit volume and wide beams. Even with his supremacist attitude he sings praise to one American invention—the tarp! It is a great inexpensive gadget that will allow you to stay outside of your tent and socialize when the weather goes south. Cooking and eating in a downpour are quite civilized under the cover of this lightweight mobile shelter. It is indispensible for packing in the rain. Combination of hot rocks and cold water spells rain. Be prepared.

Two-liter hydration pack on the back of my PFD has substantial weight and worked very well for me on day trips. Paddling full days, though, 2 liters of water is not enough. Even if you can make it on 2 liters of water through the day, you should not. Without forcing myself to drink but taking a sip every time I would think about water, I found myself nearly emptying two 2-liter packs a day. Get a bigger bladder, have water filter accessible for refilling on the water or carry an additional water pack. Many water filters can be hooked up directly to the drinking tube if you remove the mouth piece. That way you can refill the bladder without needing to unscrew the lid or take it off your back.

Sleep is important for bodily regeneration on a physically demanding trip like this. I can't sleep as well on the ground as I can in my home bed. Most of us probably can't. While still exhausted after a long day, sleep is good; however, quickly the sides and the back start signaling excessive pressure and I need to turn from side to side. If you are like me, quality sleep under those conditions is just not going to happen. Here's a thought: maybe night sleep on trips should be limited to 5-6 hours. If possible, you need to try and get at least four consecutive hours of sleep to reach deep REM stage where the best regeneration happens. Short naps during the day could, then, be used to get additional rest as needed. I find naps in a hammock particularly enjoyable. On this trip, I have not even unpacked the hammock because we were either paddling, packing, cooking or hiking at all times.

Mark your maps with anything you want to reach or use as sea and landmarks. For Isle Royale I wish I had added the campsites, mines, villages, and any natural features I wanted to visit. Memory is just not reliable and doubt about your destination is not a pleasant feeling when you're using up the physical reserves at the end of the day. In retrospect, I feel conflicted about navigation on this trip. We probably relied too heavily on GPS. I am a fan of this technology and it worked pretty well meeting the demands most of the time. GPS will not soon replace the 'full' view you get on the full map. One annoying detail about the GPS was the tendency to not display various points of interest that were present on the map until the unit was zoomed in to 800ft. At that level of magnification, GPS is practically useless as the screen only shows about a ¼ of a mile across.

Have a helmet easily accessible when paddling next to shorelines like those on Isle Royale! Both the bottom of the lake and the shoreline are full of hard rock surface. The rock there is rarely smooth. If you are caught in an unexpected squall, even 1-2 foot waves can present challenges and lead to head trauma when landing.

No comments:

Post a Comment