June 9th to June 15, 2017
After spending the morning installing a seat in the middle of the canoe, Pascal and his dad Neal headed off northward towards Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior. Neal had a few trepidations about the trip because he had not done any paddling for over a year. But he felt he was in good hands with Pascal at the helm.
The first day with dad was fairly short, only 18 kms. Pascal’s plan was not to burn dad up right out of the gate. We camped on a very nice pebble beach and entertained ourselves by looking for more “thunderbird eggs”. Turns out that they are quite common in the area so we accumulated quite a collection.
Our second day was cut a bit short by an oncoming thunder storm. We ditched at the first place we could find, a small sandy beach, and pitched our tent some way back off the shore in a woods of small trees. This turned out to be a good choice because we were soon treated to the type of storm Lake Superior is famous for. Lots of thunder, lightning and hurricane force winds. We came through it as snug as a bug in a rug due to the shielding effect of the small and flexible trees surrounding us. Others were not so fortunate. Back at Naturally Superior and Rock Island Lodge several trees came down: onto a tent-trailer, a tent, a cabin and several trees fell across the road. We also heard that other campers, including Diane Whelan (500 Days in the Wild) had their tents flattened that night.
By early morning the storm had passed and all was calm again. The lake remained a bit of a challenge due to residual wave action sloshing about. We were also blanketed in a thick fog. Most of the day was spent blindly following compass bearings from point to point and listening to waves crashing on the rocks to our right. We ran into several debris fields of branches, bark and small trees which all attested to the power of the previous nights storm. Dad was a bit disappointed with the fog since it obscured our views of the Superior shore line that makes this part of the lake so famous.
Most of the fog cleared and the waves subsided by early afternoon. Just after entering Pukaskwa National Park thunder head clouds appeared on the horizon and were heading straight for us. We continued paddling for a while but decided to ditch as soon as possible once the thunder started. The shore line around this part of Lake Superior is pretty much rock faces punctuated by small rocky coves making it difficult to find a landing spot when you need one. Around 3:30PM we ran across the Light House on Otter Island and were so desperate to get off the water before the storm that we ditched at the old light keepers house (in Old Daves Harbour). A sign there informed us that this was a protected area for Woodland Caribou and could only to be used in an emergency. With the rain starting and an oncoming storm we figured this qualified, so made camp: pitched our tent in the rain, made then ate dinner in the rain and prepared for the worst – which never came. The rain stopped, the clouds passed and blue sky made a brief appearance. By then it was too late to break camp so we spent the night, never leaving the dock area.
The next morning was again calm and fogbound. Cascade Falls was just a couple of kilometers away so we set a compass bearing for it and started paddling. We could hear the falls for a long time before seeing them, but they eventually emerged out of the mists.
This day was pretty much a repeat of the previous day minus the wave chop. By mid afternoon the fog lifted and a beautiful blue sky emerged. We were finally able to take in the scenic Lake Superior shoreline in its full splendor! We reached the campsites at Willow River around 5:30PM were we would spend the night. This was our first and only official campsite in Pukaskwa National Park. These campsites are veritable Hiltons: Lots of level space to pitch a tent, a bear box to safely store food, an outhouse and a fire pit with grill – pure luxury! On the other hand there seems to be some camper fed wildlife in the area. We were visited by a few Snowshoe Hares that sat at the edge of the campsite looking at us like we ought to be feeding them. Not going to happen.
Our fourth and final day together started with a bit of early morning fog which soon cleared. The rest of the day was sunny and bright for the paddle into Marathon.
Neal and Pascal met Danielle, Pascal’s mom, in Marathon. The three of us had a special time together hanging out in this small northern Ontario town. There are only four hotels in this town, all of which were fully booked as were the B&B’s. Luckily there was a small campground on the town limit, Penn Lake Park and Campground, where we camped, two of us sleeping in Pascal’s little tent, one of us in the car. For the two nights we spent there it poured ++++ but somehow we managed to stay quite dry. Since there was a strong off-shore wind and it poured off and on the next day, Pascal decided to have a rest day. He knew he had the Voyageurs historic 14 km portage called Grand Portage coming up in about a week. He was trying to figure out a way to drag his 85 pound pack while carrying the canoe and the food barrel so he would only have to do one trip. He thought a toboggan might do the trick, so we explored Marathon by going to all the shops, of which there are only a few, looking for a toboggan in June! Carrie Berlin, who worked at Napa Auto Parts, checked out her attic and found her old toboggan and gave it to Pascal. It felt like Christmas! We were also lucky to find the Oar House Restaurant which had both decent food and wifi . The owner was very gracious and let us hang out there as long as we wanted which gave Pascal an opportunity to update his Facebook page and to download all the pictures he had been taking.