Lake Superior’s Susie Islands

Susie_Islands_Paddle_RouteBack from Lake Superior’s Susie Islands. I had a great weekend plying these sacred and spectacular islands at the edge of the Canadian border. Four years ago as part of a centennial celebration of Quetico Provincial Park and Superior National Forest I joined eight others on a voyage in a 26-foot North Canoe from the stockade at Grand Portage to Fort William in Thunder Bay. That route passed through the Susie Islands. I was awestruck by their beauty. At that time the lake was angry with huge swells and water crashing against cliff faces (and  two of our paddlers vomiting over the gunwales as green as lima beans and smelly sick). It was not a time to linger, but I vowed that some day I would return. My good friend, Dick Pula, has trusted friends in the Grand Portage First Nation band and he secured permission this spring for us to travel and experience these islands and to camp at an Ojibway ceremonial campground on the mainland just adjacent the archipelago. I asked Dan Cooke and techno wizard Andy Jenks to join us. Andy and Dick would be in sea kayaks. Dan and I would share an 18.5 foot Bell canoe with a complete spraydeck. The lake was glassy calm and we had a chance to circle each island. The water was as clear as the reef walls of the Cayman Islands. As we passed the points of each island watching the bottom drop away to indigo darkness was spellbinding, orange cliffs, black walls, ribbons of brilliant white quartz and occasionally rock faces ruby red were astonishing. Nowhere on these islands were there easy places to land, just fortresses of rock and thick forest. Some places there were sentinels in the forms of twisted and timeless cedars. Beaches that looked from afar inviting became steep banks of splintered rock or rounded stones that conjured dinosaur eggs in my mind. Nevertheless, we made landfall on one island and marveled at exquisite lichens. The embrace of wild nature eased my mind. I felt privileged for the opportunity and I thank the Grand Portage aboriginals for their gracious offer. It will not be forgotten. As we needed to make significant open water crossings, I was also grateful that the winds and waves of the big lake were in abatement. But we took no chance and roused at 4:30 am to make the first and the last crossings. Dick likes fancy food, so it was eggs and bacon for twilight breakfasts and steaks and fresh potatoes for a late supper. Paddling with rockstar solo paddler Dan Cooke in the bow of my tandem was also an experience I shall long relish – he did fine, but still prefers solo boats (by a wide margin). I have had good weather this year for my trips —- the Rio Grande, Eleven Point, North Fork, BWCA and Big Fork perfect. Okay Jacques, I have not forgotten the first couple hypothermic  days on the Buffalo, but other than that, pretty darn nice. I hope my luck will hold on the Noatak.

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