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PostPosted: Mon Jul 28, 2014 3:39 pm 
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Location: Thunder Bay, ON
Woodland Caribou - Ghosts of the Slate Islands

Part I - Putting The Slates on the Slate

Years ago I had herd that heards :wink: of woodland caribou could be found on a small collection of islands on Lake Superior just south of the town of Terrace Bay, Ontario. I found this intriguing. Really? Woodland caribou? This came as a surprise to me, as I had thought that their presence was now relegated to the upper reaches of Lake Nipigon and beyond. How did they arrive on these islands? Apparently via ice bridges that formed on rare occasions (even rarer now) over the distant years when the lake froze over in winter. Perhaps this tidbit was passed on to me in the summer of 1988 while I was a student working in Terrace Bay, shortly after the islands had been granted provincial park status by the Ontario government. I was already accustomed to some locals regaling me with what they considered to be serious accounts of their heroic hunting ("I felled 2 moose with one shot of my 12 gauge and they both toppled neatly into the back of my pickup truck"), social ("I can mentally suck my balls up into my abdomen which allows me to be hoofed hard in the nads by a star place kicker without feeling a thing") and other outdoor activities accentuated with some local lore - so I knew enough to be a bit skeptical. Yet some even made mention of Jacques Cousteau visiting the Slate Islands many years before when he had traveled around the Big Lake. I figured that at least that could be falsified (and I wasn't about to test the place kicker claim). Still, I was left with the lingering sense that there was a good possibility none of this was even remotely true. Keep in mind that this was several years before truth and salvation arrived in the form of the Internet. I remember one June evening looking out from the pump house along the rocky shore of the icy dark lake and staring out at the haunting undulating shadows that made up this small archipelago, about 9 miles out. At the time it really seemed like a rugged, distant, isolated and stunningly beautiful place. A print-out inside my work quarters for that evening indicated that the lake depth dropped more than 600 feet between the mainland and the islands, and I found this to conjure up a rather chilling thought. This lake is equally mesmerizing and unnerving at the same time. Lake Superior holds more water than all of the other Great Lakes combined, and can be inhospitable at the best of times. A fellow once said to me that the Big Lake can be summed up in one simple statement:"Respect it, or die". From what I knew of the lake - that sounded pretty astute, and accurately reflected the eerie sense of danger and intrigue surrounding this mysterious inland fresh-water ocean that I remember feeling while casting my gaze over the islands that night many years ago.

That feeling returned a little more than fifteen summers later, one sunny July afternoon in Thunder Bay in 2013. While chatting about camping over some drinks (likely umm....several) and enjoying a backyard fire, a friend (Chris) suggested that we take his runabout out to the Slate Islands and spend a few days of backcountry camping there. The notion of visiting the islands seemed ambitious and daunting enough - let alone traversing the expanse of open, hauntingly deep, unpredictable, ice water that aptly describes the passageway - in a small watercraft. I was assured that once the motor could be resurrected and made functional again (he was joking right !?) - all would be well. This wasn't the kind of reassurance I was looking for. Then again, considering the seed of these plans had been sowed and cultivated during a period where our frontal lobes were being liberally irrigated with ethanol, I figured that this would just be yet another instance of the DPs (Drunken Plans) where remarkable creativity, energy, motivation, and inspiration one evening - can be suddenly obliterated from memory the next morning when practical considerations take precedence. As strange as it may seem, this actually wasn't going to be one of those times. The plans not only continued to take shape, develop, and solidify - but even better - Chris couldn't exorcise the two-stroke demons from his engine's cylinder head - so we would have to book a ferry service to the Slate Islands instead. Some crazy adventurers will vigilantly follow the marine forecasts and slip away in their canoes and kayaks in the still of the early morning - and feverishly ply the waters as they race toward the islands - fighting time and mother nature. We wouldn't be one of them.

With time, I eventually became aware - conscious of the fact that I'd soon be traveling to these remote islands - and what I had imagined years ago - the many secrets hidden by the islands at that time - would soon be available to me. Would I actually see a woodland caribou? According to many - there were no guarantees that we'd have an encounter with these shy creatures that roamed throughout this unique part of the world.

Here is a Google Maps snap-shot of the general location of the Slate Islands in Lake Superior.

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And here is a close-up of the "Slates". They are made up of two main islands (Mortimer and Patterson) and several smaller islands and islets that collectively cover about 14 square miles of land. Geological evidence suggests the islands were formed by a meteorite impact and various cues provide testament to this theory among the numerous bays and coves (including prominent shatter cones) and in the various morphological features of the land lying under the water. Surrounded by what many refer to as northwestern Ontario's year-round refrigerator, the islands are subjected to a rather harsh climate over much of each year.

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Our plans eventually evolved into a four-day excursion. Diane and I would bring both Hobie Adventures, and Chris and Lori would take along a poly tandem that they'd rent in Rossport, ON about 30 minutes from where our rendezvous with the ferry would take place. Even though the Slate Islands are a designated provincial park - there are no park services on the islands and as such there are no fees for camping there. Yet unlike true backcountry camping - we wouldn't have to tote all our gear on our backs. We would realize many of the luxuries of car camping - minus the car. This meant that we'd be bringing tents, cots, luxuriously heavy sleeping bags and air beds, as well as a large propane fueled stove, bulky coolers, lots of perishable food, unimaginable quantities of alcohol, and plenty of warm clothing.

Here is the car loaded up with 2 Hobie Adventures at Diane's place on August 2, 2013 at 6:17AM.

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The rugged scenery on the Trans-Canada highway along the north shore of Lake Superior rarely disappoints. The following photo was taken about 15 minutes east of Nipigon, ON at a roadside rest-stop at the top of one of the numerous climbs.

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About an hour and a half from Thunder Bay, we met up with Chris and Lori in Rossport, ON at Superior Outfitters as they were loading their kayak on their vehicle. Rossport is a really quaint and pretty village that boasts an incredible array of nearby islands (Wilson Islands) and attracts paddler's from across the globe. Nearby is the resting place of the Gunilda, a yacht that sunk in 1911 that apparently Jacques Cousteau claimed to be the worlds finest shipwreck. The story is incredibly fascinating. See here: http://www.therebreathersite.nl/03_Historical/Gunilda/Gunilda.htm

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I decided to snap a few photos of the area and immediately I was drawn to this sailboat. With the weather threatening rain, and the cool, damp breeze creating a chill in the air, this looked like a quintessential maritime scene. We had hoped that the weather would improve. The outside temperature was hovering around 15C (60 F). It wasn't likely that we'd be any warmer by the time we were dropped off at the islands. That was a sobering thought.

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From there we drove eastward on the Trans-Canada and soon reached Terrace Bay and winded our way through town, and down toward the marina where our ferry would be waiting. You can see the mighty Aguasabon River in the background. A little further up the river is a waterfall and lookout that is a popular stop for tourists along the north shore.

The best way to describe this photo is that Chris looks excited, and Lori looks cold. I remember thinking to myself that I wanted everyone to enjoy themselves and have fun - in spite of the weather. I believe this was Lori's first time backcountry camping and I wanted it to be a good experience for her - for fear that she might never wish to interior camp again.

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The owner of Blue Bird Charters http://www.bluebirdcharterboat.com/index.htm - Come (pronounced like hair comb) met us with a friendly smile, a great jovial attitude, and a surprisingly thick French accent. He hails from New Brunswick. I wasn't sure what strategy he'd have in place to carry our kayaks - but his method soon revealed itself. All the gear went down below. We had some doubts about all of it fitting - but remarkably - the Blue Bird swallowed it all whole. Good thing Chris couldn't start his boat.

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I made my way to the beach and captured some shots of the Slates from the shoreline. It was hard to imagine that in about 45 minutes we'd be there.

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The passageway out from the marina is apparently a tricky one to navigate according to Come. In some areas the water was only a couple of feet in depth. In the few minutes that it took to slowly and at times erratically meander out of the channel - it looked like Come was getting a genuine workout. He was turning the ship's wheel with such frequent over-steering-like course corrections that he looked like a stunt driver piloting the General Lee around the set of Dukes of Hazzard. But he knew what he was doing - before two long we broke free of the channel. The cost of the ferry was $550 (CND including return :) ) split between the four of us. We have been told by other visitors to the islands that some ferry services have weight limitations (e.g., 100 lbs per person). I think that was the weight of just one of our coolers. Fortunately, with Come we didn't have any weight restrictions and he was willing to drop us off at any dock/campsite on the islands we wished. Really, a small price to pay for such friendly and efficient service and remarkable peace of mind. We all agreed that this decision saved us a whole boatload of work. :lol:

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I shot some photos of the rugged shoreline once we were out in the open water. Somewhere in that shot is the Trans-Canada highway, hidden among the trees and hills. It isn't difficult to see why this route is quickly becoming a favourite for motorcyclists seeking isolation, scenery, rugged natural wilderness, and twisty tarmac.

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And here is Diane holding up one side of the rack to ensure the kayaks stayed in place. :lol: With her arm extended out like half a gymnastics iron-cross maneuver no less. She's a woman with incredible fortitude and supernatural muscular strength to boot.

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A few times I peered over at Come's depth finder and the gauge read more than 700 feet. Even as we approached some of the islands, it was incredible to see depths greater than 400 feet even though we weren't really that far from shore.

I captured some images of the islands as we approached the entrance between Mortimer and Patterson.

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I managed to snag some interesting looking islets along the way.

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I really liked this shot and was pleased that it turned out. This really captures the raw beauty and isolation of the area.

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Once we had made it through the opening into the heart of the islands - it was interesting to see the variations in rock formations. Even the water seemed to take on different hues.

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Come had mentioned to us that he had a nice spot in mind that featured a soft sandy beach to launch the kayaks from, as well as plenty of flat ground to pitch our tents. He even mentioned that a caribou that people named "Clarence" would sometimes visit the site. The spot he selected is known as "Fisherman's Cove". However, as we approached, it became immediately clear that others had commandeered the large site ahead of us. Come recognized them right away. He had dropped them off at another spot some distance away a few days prior. Once you're dropped off - you can pick any site you wish - as long as you return to the drop-off site at your pickup time. Despite some disappointment at this turn of events - Come reassured us that he would be picking them up the next day and that we could then occupy the site once they left. In the meantime - he'd let us off at the nearby entrance to the cove and we'd setup our tents and stay there for the evening.

This was to be our temporary site at the entrance to Fisherman's Cove. The shack apparently was used by commercial fisherman years ago. However, it was now rotting and clearly in disrepair. It is against park regulations to sleep in them (not the most appealing accommodations anyway) and similar rules prevent the restoration of these historic buildings. The most pressing challenge was trying to find some flat land to setup our tents. At least the sky was clearing and the warmth of the sun was a welcomed addition.

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And here are our kayaks. We had finally made it to the Slate Islands.

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And here is Come preparing to leave. This was it. We were on our own.

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What would the evening have in store? Would the weather hold up? Would we have any evening visitors?

Stay tuned for Part II.

Mike


Last edited by Quetico on Thu Oct 02, 2014 1:40 pm, edited 11 times in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2014 1:33 pm 
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Woodland Caribou - Ghosts of the Slate Islands

Part II - A Close Encounter

With all of our gear readily accessible, it didn't take very long to set up camp. We wondered about the well shorn grasses all around the site. Many areas looked exactly like a golf green and we were quite sure that these weren't cut by a precision greensmower.

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Within a few minutes Chris noticed a skull that looked remarkably like what we would have expected a Caribou skull to look like. It looked pretty convincing. The evidence was beginning to accumulate. But so far - there were no caribou sightings. We even thought we might see something along the shorelines as we arrived on the boat - but we saw nothing.

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It was shortly after finding a suitable site for my tent, setting it up, and placing our cots, air beds, sleeping bags, and pillows inside that tragedy suddenly struck. Or at least it seemed that way for Diane. She needed to use the "facilities". Yet there clearly were none. Of course - we had come prepared with a collapsible shovel and had held the equivalent of a conference to discuss the scatological particulars of dumping in the woods with everyone beforehand. It was backcountry camping after all. Everyone knew that the shovel would inevitably get plenty of use during the trip. Yet the women had never "dropped some kids off at the pool" in the bush before and this wasn't something they were especially looking forward to. Realizing that there's always a first time for everything - I made a grand production out of it and marched off into the bush with Diane to find a suitable spot some distance away from the site. We struggled with the options. We could just dig a hole on the other side of a fallen tree and have the trainee squat over it. Or we could dig the hole in front of a standing tree and have the trainee lean with their back against the trunk - like they were shi...err...sitting on an invisible throne. Or we could dig the hole and have the trainee grab onto the tree (or another person's hand) and lean back. Diane chose this method. I promised I wouldn't let go when the time came. :lol: If I did, both of us would be in lots of shi....So I began digging. And digging. Lots of roots. More digging. This wasn't going to be easy. More digging. More cutting through roots. After wiping my brow of salty sweat several times and laboring over the slowly developing hole for about 15 minutes - it looked sufficient. Apparently, this wasn't something I was going to look forward to either. After Diane finished her business that included tossing all dignity, pride, and privacy out the window - we buried the hole again and stumbled back to the campsite. Chris asked "Where were you guys?". I said "We were back in the bush a ways. I dug a toilet for Diane". Chris replied "But there's an outhouse right over there behind your tent". Doh. We couldn't stop laughing. It was like an episode of Beavis and Butthead - just when we thought the giggling was over - it started up again. We still laugh about it.

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Quickly it became sunny and everything warmed up considerably to about 20C (68F). Then an hour later, the girls had winter jackets on as the sun disappeared. Then the sun re-appeared and everyone had shorts and T-shirts on again. The cycle lasted through much of the evening.

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The views from our site were quite magnificent. If we didn't know any better we would have just assumed that we were beside any inland lake in northwestern Ontario. It certainly appeared that way.

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In the distance I could see an object in the water.

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A few minutes later we spotted a sailboat. A day later we would actually talk to the crew - a husband and wife. They walked along a trail from our campsite to see if they could reach Lake Superior on the other side. They were from Duluth, MN and have travelled the Big Lake extensively. I asked them about the Apostle Islands - a place that I would like to visit at some point - and they had been there numerous times. However, what surprised me was that they mentioned that it "Didn't compare to this". I suppose the solitude and isolation held considerable appeal to them. I'd still like to visit the Apostles though.

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And here I am behind the fire. It had rained considerably over the preceding week and much of the wood was wet. We found the easiest way to build a fire was to saw the limbs off deadfall rather than cut the trunks that were closer to the ground and much less accessible. Old Man's Beard (or Sailor's Beard) - the greenish-grey lichen that grew readily on the trees acted as good fire starter when ignited.

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Diane and Lori decided to try some fishing, but apart from a few snags - didn't catch anything. The area is supposed to be excellent for salmon, lake trout, and a variety of other fish.

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We were beginning to get hungry. With Chris volunteering to be the chef for the evening, he prepared a savory meal of salmon, baby potatoes, and salad that was incredibly delicious. Food always tastes fantastic around the campsite. Soon after we were done eating and the dishes were washed, a red canoe came around our point from the campsite at Fisherman's Cove. We waved to the occupants. One of them hollered "If you take the trail to our campsite, you will see Clarence the caribou there". And then they said something that rang true for the rest of our stay. "He's incredibly friendly, but he's also an incredible nuisance. When he leaves - you breathe a sigh of relief. But then notice when he's gone - that you strangely miss having him around!" This was all we needed to hear as we walked, ran, tripped, stumbled, gored ourselves on deadfall branches, cried out in pain, and traipsed through the several trails that led in the general direction of the other campsite deep into Fisherman's Cove. The alcohol we had consumed with supper really wasn't compatible with the activity we were now engaging in. Clearly - we intended to get there at all costs.

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I arrived last. And what I saw when I joined the others was hard to put into words. I was stunned. The animal simply didn't look real. It was larger than I had expected. And it looked so out of place on the campsite. I had never seen a caribou so incredibly up close before. It really was an unbelievable experience. Magical. It was evidently quite tame and didn't appear skittish at all. Everyone took turns touching it. It made some shivering-like movements a few times when stroked but seemed largely comfortable with human contact. We had been told that the caribou on the Slates have no predators. And it wasn't that uncommon for them to be curious and largely unaffected in the presence of people. We took some photos and thanked the campsite occupants and then made our way back through the bush to our site. We all talked about the experience for quite some time back at camp. Was this encounter a rare event? We all agreed that we kind of missed him already. As it turns out, this wouldn't be our last encounter with Clarence.

Here is Lori with Clarence. Our campsite was located just around the rocky point in the distance on the right.

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And here is Diane.

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And here is my leg after some kind of different encounter with a sharp stick. My shins looked a bit like I had tried to leg wrestle a honey badger.

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Once back at the site, we gathered around the fire, sipped a few more drinks - and simply revelled in the irrepressible joy of being together with great friends in such an inspiring place.

As dusk was setting in, I managed to capture a loon far out into the water. What would a northern Ontario wilderness evening experience be without loons?

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The sun was starting to set so I took the opportunity to snap another photo.

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Chris and Lori decided to take the tandem out for a trial run to practice their paddling together in preparation for some touring we intended to do the following day.

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After burning the last remains of the wood we had gathered for the evening - we turned in for the night. We all agreed at this moment that there was certainly something special about the Slate Islands. And we were already talking about returning at this point - even before the first night had come to an end. After retiring to bed (well close enough - we had cots after all!) and quickly falling asleep I remember waking at one point in the middle of the night and marveling at how incredibly dead quiet it was out here. There are no bears on the islands. No wolves. We didn't even see a chipmunk or squirrel. We did see some rabbits though. Granted, it was nice to be backcountry camping without having to worry about packing up all our food and hanging it from trees to keep it away from bears. We could just leave everything in the coolers. We all agreed that The Slates would be a great place to introduce someone to backcountry camping. It offered many extra luxuries and considerably less hardship.

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Tomorrow we'd be moving camp and taking the Hobies out on the water to explore some of the islands. What would we discover? What would the day bring?

Stay tuned for Part III to find out.

Mike


Last edited by Quetico on Wed Jul 30, 2014 6:33 pm, edited 7 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2014 2:03 pm 
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Location: Thunder Bay, ON
Woodland Caribou - Ghosts of the Slate Islands

Part III - Exploring the islands

Breathing in the clean and cool night air while feeling warm and cozy, coddled in the flannel lined sleeping bag - I must admit that it was hard to get up in the morning. Rarely have I slept better than when sleeping outdoors. As we gathered some items together in preparation for breakfast - we received another visit from Clarence. We learned a number of things from this encounter. The first of which was that anything on the picnic table was fair game. It was readily apparent that Clarence needed a few more finishing school credits before graduation. If anything was remotely close to him - he'd knock it over on the table too - which made us check our whiskey to make sure he hadn't sampled that as well. Speaking of which - any food left out would get unceremoniously sniffed and frequently sampled with his Gene Simmons-like tongue - so we knew to pack away all food items as soon as we scouted him making his slow charge from a distance. Needless to say - we made sure to secure everything away by the time he arrived. We also soon realized that people food wasn't really his thing. No - Clarence scarfed down Sailor's Beard lichen faster than Honey Boo-Boo sucking back cotton candy. It was his Achilles-hoof. And he would strangely show up a short while after we started cutting off branches and sawing deadfall - like South Park's Towelie showing up each time Stan or Kyle mentioned something about water. Like he had been classically conditioned to the pairing of the sound of chopping and sawing and the presentation of mouth watering lichen. We noticed that Clarence would avoid deadfall that included lots of branches, perhaps due to the threat of injury, or previous experience getting entangled. I preferred the more parsimonious explanation that he simply knew someone else would eventually clear it and provide a ready made meal for him - like the bush equivalent of "Meals on Wheels". :lol: Likewise - once we'd de-limbed the logs - Clarence would suddenly materialize and proceed to chow down on the trunk from side to side like he was eating freshly buttered corn-on-the-cob. We were inadvertently providing his breakfast, lunch, and supper.

Here is Clarence eating "lichen-on-the-knob".

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Here is Diane trying to distract Clarence while everyone clears the picnic table. Uh...he wasn't that easily fooled.

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Today would not only involve moving camp - but getting the Hobies out on the water and exploring the bays, beaches, campsites, and natural features of the islands. The weather was looking a bit gloomy, but we still held out hope that it would clear and make the entire process more bearable. Ultimately, the weather held up. By afternoon, Come arrived and picked up the group on the site at the end of Fisherman's Cove and we quickly - and as smoothly as possible - transported all of our gear over. I was in charge of ferrying everything across in the Adventure with items attached here and there on the bow and stern, as well as some in my hand. I'm sure the image of me ferrying a free-standing tent over my head (O.K. - I held it with one hand) would have been entertaining to include in this report - but we were somehow too focused on breaking camp to capture the moment. It was surprising how smoothly and efficiently our system worked. It was certainly better than trying to carry everything over the bush trail, and packing everything back up would have simply taken too long.

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Everyone was overjoyed to be camping on flat land again, and quickly began re-configuring the site.

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We certainly appreciated the extra room the new locale afforded. We all agreed that this was a much better campsite. Thanks to Clarence's sculpting, all we needed was a putter and a cup to make this a destination resort. :lol:

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When I invite people to go camping - most wince at the idea and admit that their days of sleeping on the ground are long over. Even the mention of cots and air beds and the promise of plush, warm rectangular bags makes little difference. Yet - everyone who has slept on our Camptime Roll-A-Cots, with Thermarest Dreamtime pads on top, and cuddled up in our extra wide Teton Sports Celcius 0 Degree flannel-lined sleeping bags with camp pillows - no longer have tent camping "issues". That is - as long as they get the "beds". Here are some notable perks: 1) The cots sit about 15" above the floor so you can store all your gear underneath as you sleep, and save lots of space. 2) Storing gear under the cots keeps you from having to leave it outside under a vestibule where it can still get wet should it rain overnight, 3) You can sit on the side of the cots and get dressed more easily in the morning, which is worth having them for this reason alone, 4) When the ground is uneven - you can sleep above the rocks, twigs, and bumps - the cots remain level, 5) You can even use the cots at home as a spare bed for guests - it sure beats a pull-out couch that jabs you in the back with cross pieces and coiled springs. For me - it offers much of the comfort of sleeping in a bed - especially when you place an air mattress on top. It doesn't get any more luxurious than this when camping in a tent. This is similar to the set up I used on my first backcountry kayak trip with the Hobie Adventures here: http://www.hobiecat.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=48&t=18870

Here is what our set up looks like. The tent is a Marmot Halo 4. It's perfect for this type of camping, with straight up and down sides that greatly increase usable space while minimizing footprint size. And it's very easy to set up.

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Shortly after gathering more branches for fire wood and collecting a large bundle of sailor's beard to help with ignition - like clockwork - Clarence appeared along the shoreline, slowly, methodically, and deliberately marching his way towards our new site. He went straight for the sailor's beard. Like diving into an enormous bundle of bean sprouts in the bulk aisle. Our pleas went unheard. Clarence has no manners. You have to give it to the guy though. He oozes character and personality. And he knows what he wants and buds to the front of the line to get it.

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I wasn't sure if it was curiosity towards the camera or a clear disdain for paparazzi (perhaps he didn't want his questionable antics caught on tape) but he clearly has little reverence for one's personal space.

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After everything was in order we decided it was time to explore the area and venture out from our campsite. We had heard about a bathtub on McColl's Island that could be heated underneath with a fire, as well as an area where an old mine could be found. These sounded like interesting spots to explore.

It seemed that each time we looked at the water - the hue would change.

Diane was pretty speedy on the Hobie. I needed to put some effort in just to stay with her. We looked for where the mine should have been - at least according to our map. Yet - we found nothing.

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Here are the kayaks on the beach at McColl Island.

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And Diane's idea of a romantic getaway at the Slates. Complete with a "hot" tub, fireplace, breathtaking scenery, and a very large open-aired ice-cold pool nearby......

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This campsite looked positively luxurious compared to what we'd seen up to this point. Like a Hampton Inn without the amazing breakfast buffet in the morning. Of course - staying in the cottage was only permitted during emergencies. At least the outhouse was fair game - though I'm sure it was also used for emergencies. :P

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We ate lunch and then continued further west.

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See what I mean about the changing colour of the water?

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And here too. Hue knew we'd see so many colour variations in the depths within the islands. In the distance we could see the ominous exit to the open water of the lake. This would be the windward side too. No thanks.

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I assume this large ring was used for the prominent, large booms that corralled logs cut on the mainland then transported elsewhere by freighter.

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We spotted a cruiser enjoying the tranquility of a small, sheltered bay.

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Around a corner we could see another campsite and decided to check it out. The beach looked incredibly appealing for some late night severe shrinkage-inducing skinny-dipping, and the site itself offered great views from the top of a short trail up from the water. There was also a convenient outhouse nearby that I made sure to put to good use. We all thought that this spot would be a great place to stay on a future return trip.

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We decided to head back to our site - excited for our evening ritual of food, cocktails, warm fire, great friends, and one slightly annoying - yet loveable colleague. Diane. No just joking......I think you know now who I'm talking about.

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Diane looking incredibly cozy and comfortable pedalling her adventure.

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And this is what our site looked like from the water. We were almost home free.

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Back at our site - Chris told us that he had a confession to make. A confession that would be familiar to most any Hobie kayak owner. I had to sit down and grab a Kleenex. He began with "When I first heard that you guys were bringing some pedal kayaks to the islands - I thought that these things would be just toys. Not until you started pedaling them did I realize how quick and versatile these kayaks could be on the water." And he finished with "Lori and I had a hard time keeping up with you guys. I have a completely different respect for them now. Those things are awesome". O.K. - that may not have been completely verbatim - but my memory is pretty sound and I think my rendition of what was said is eerily close to what had flowed from his mouth that evening. :D

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As the day grew to a close - we were treated to a pretty spectacular sunset.

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That kept getting more vibrant.....

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As the evening wore on.....

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The next day would be both exciting and nerve wracking. We would make an attempt to visit the lighthouse on the south side of Patterson Island and leave ourselves completely vulnerable to the wrath of Lake Superior. We didn't know it at the time, but this was more dangerous than we had even realized. After the trip - I met a guide who informed me that "Many make an attempt - and most of them are turned back by winds and rough water". We didn't know - what we didn't know. And we were naïve enough to try it.

How did it turn out?

Stay tuned for Part IV.

Mike


Last edited by Quetico on Fri Aug 01, 2014 7:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2014 7:24 pm 
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Your report rocks, Quetico! Always enjoy your reports; the writing and photos! Can't wait for the next instalment!


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 1:43 pm 
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Woodland Caribou - Ghosts of the Slate Islands

Part IV - The Push to the Lighthouse

Despite more than a little trepidation, we were all looking forward to exploring the eastern and southern-most reach of Patterson Island and the prospect of visiting the lighthouse and station there. We all knew that the lake would be reasonably calm on the leeward side of the island, but we expected things to change once we approached the southern tip, where we'd be exposed to the open lake and unpredictable winds.

Here is what our planned route looked like starting from the campsite. The total distance to and from the lighthouse was about 18 miles. We had plenty of time, but wished to get a reasonably early start in case any unforeseen circumstances arose.

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And there was another concern. With all the photos I'd taken, my camera was almost out of juice and I had no spare battery. Lori and Diane had also been collecting photos - but both of them were suffering the same low battery fate as I. Yet it was really important for me to capture the days events and what I knew would be an important and meaningful part of our adventure. Still - there was good news. The day promised clear skies and the sun was shining bright. This was essential if my plan to charge my phone had any chance of working. I had all of my hopes resting on the shoulders of my Suntastics sCharger-5 solar panel. If it couldn't at least supply some charge to re-energize my camera's battery - then all the photo taking would stop here. My expectations were running high as I connected the panel to my camera and waited. The moment of truth came when I turned on the camera two hours later and discovered that it now read fully charged. Did I mention how much I love this charger? We ended up charging Lori's phone too (we discovered early on that we couldn't make any calls from the island, even though we could text) but her iphone would stop charging when the sun became obscured periodically by cloud cover. Suntastics does make a newer panel that addresses this issue though (see here: http://www.amazon.com/Suntactics-sCharg ... XG90F9FT87)

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We figured that the return trip would take us about 5 or 6 hours including food breaks and a visitation to the lighthouse if we were lucky enough to make it that far. From my previous trip to White Otter Castle that saw some pretty rough conditions - I knew the Hobie Adventures would be up for the challenge.

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We planned to stick together and hug the shoreline as close as practical. Once around the point to the right, we'd be turning more and more southward. Brimming with confidence - partly stemming from favourable weather - Diane "The Fearless" had taken the lead by some distance and was startingly oblivious to the "stick together" memo that I had sent out only moments earlier. Yelling out to her numerous times made little difference. I suspected things would change once we reached the south part of the island. Oh yes - later on there'd be no need to plead.

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The Hobies generally tend to cruise pretty comfortably at 4 mph under good conditions with the turbo fins. A reasonably fit person could maintain this pace for considerable periods of time. I had upgraded early to the sailing rudder and the extra turning response it lends to the kayak makes a world of difference. The point we were navigating toward seemed far off in the distance and as we drew nearer, the views of the mainland became more prominent.

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Before long, we were approaching the point and all of us were curious to know what lay ahead.

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The first thing we discovered was that the rugged shoreline of Patterson Island featured some stunning geological rock formations that contributed to the illusion below of Chris and Lori engaging in some dry land training. It seemed incredible that they hadn't hit rock bottom yet.

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On the beach of this expansive bay were several canoes. They belonged to a large group of women who were camped between our site and the point. They managed to grab a magnificent spot with a long sandy beach. They too were taking advantage of a perfect day to be exploring out on the water. The fact that they didn't stray any further south suggests they may have had a better sense of self-preservation than we did.

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Here we see the stunning changes in the lake water. These weren't photographic anomalies or post-processing stylistic tricks - this is exactly how the water appeared at times.

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We heard some sounds of rushing water nearby and spotted a small stream cascading down a rock face. You can see it in the centre of the frame below. While the surrounding water near the shoreline was deeper than it appears in the photos - Diane did get hung up briefly on some rocks. I think it was because she became too entranced by the scenery unfolding before her - and around every corner. She knew to "flutter" the fins so they wouldn't sweep too deeply, and managed to free herself with little drama.

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Each time I paused to capture a few photos - the others quickly slipped away in the distance. I had to kick it up a notch to catch the rest of the group. What happened again to the "stick together" message?

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Here is Diane still in the lead and not letting up one bit. Any faster and I was worried that she might get up on step and we'd never see her again.

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And here is Chris and Lori right behind. As far as I knew - it wasn't a race. Yet when facing a headwind - it appeared the Adventures had a big advantage in speed. At other times however, we were all pretty evenly matched.

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We had planned to stop at least once on the way in - and when we noticed a picturesque little sheltered, rocky bay - we all agreed to stop, rest, and eat some lunch.

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The view from across to the mainland from our log perch was nicely captured in this photo. With the brilliant sunshine - everything looked so vivid and vibrant. Everything popped out at you just like in this image.

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There was a startlingly clear stream flowing down through this sheltered cove. We took advantage of this by wading and washing our feet in it, followed by some obligatory "couples" photos. Many movies feature some kind of customary romantic sub-plot to maintain the viewer's interest. I decided to spare you of such sugar-coated distractions. :lol:

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Everyone looked to be in good spirits. The calories we were consuming would come in handy for the more challenging sections up ahead.

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I like to think of this photo as the calm before the storm. How do I know? Because I took only 3 photos in the span of the next 30 minutes. Why? Because it started to get rough with the kayaks being hit by winds and currents from what seemed like every direction. Taking out the camera meant lifting one hand off the rudder and removing one from the side of the kayak for bracing. Constant rudder use in these conditions helped smooth out the ride and maintain stability. I knew at some point that I should risk taking a photo if the lighthouse came into view. We were now getting more antsy with the rougher water and the lighthouse couldn't arrive soon enough. But eventually we would see it. And despite the rough ride - we all knew that we'd be off the water again soon.

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And I would eventually get my shot. But it took several tries that resulted in a collage of separate sky and water scenes. It was clearly difficult to hold the camera steady. I was trying to time each shot with the severe up and down rocking motion of the kayak. Thank goodness for Sony's excellent optical stabilization. These few photos were probably composed more quickly than any shots I have taken previously.

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When I finally captured the image below I knew better to just leave good enough - alone. My next task was to negotiate the criss-crossing waves around the point that would threaten to upset the kayak. I noticed a dog at the lighthouse keeper's home and eventually saw someone on the grounds. We were seeking the shelter in the bay around the corner - but even if we intended on landing here - I really don't think it would have been possible. This made the few minutes that it took us to round the corner feel even riskier. Some might say that the conditions don't really look that rough in the images. But it wasn't just the wind, waves, and currents that made this stretch particularly nerve wracking. More importantly, it was the threat of extremely cold water - if you suffered the misfortune of being immersed in it. I recall filling up a water bottle in Lake Superior in early July some years ago. I was in up to my knees for only about 20 seconds to fill the container and the pain I experienced due to the cold felt like someone was tightening my shins in a vice. It was unbearable. We started making bets on who could enter the water and return: 1. With a full bottle, and 2. Without crying out in pain at any time. Nobody could do it in one shot.

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At no point did I feel in over my head. However, I remember looking at Diane a few times and wondering if she felt the same way that I did about this section. If she was equally wary. If she did - it certainly wasn't portrayed in her facial expression. She looked as cool as Pinky Tuscadero. Later I would find out that she was indeed "bricking it". But we never spoke of it until we were back at the campsite. Nobody wanted to discuss the elephant in the room. I recall the most challenging part being the rounding of the point - navigating through the turbulent water there. It was like the Slate Islands equivalent of Cape Horn. I was being drawn in every direction until I covered enough distance to free myself from its pull.

The house in the distance used to be the lighthouse keeper's home before it was replaced by the buildings seen below the lighthouse in one of the photos above. The conditions improved greatly as we made our way deeper into Sunday Harbour.

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It was a relief to be on solid ground again. I don't think any of us were looking forward to the return trip around the point. The biggest surprise was that Lori and Chris were drenched. Diane was completely dry and I had a sopping wet rear end. I would have never expected such a comparatively dry ride from a sit-on-top.

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When we arrived on shore we were greeted by Jim Bryson who owns the lease to the house. He and his family share a long history of lighthouse keeping here. We wanted to be respectful and were concerned about imposing on him and his family - but he was incredibly friendly, gracious, and interesting to talk with. We chatted for some time about the history of the area and the lighthouse. We even talked about the weather. Our summer really hadn't been a warm one. He mentioned that dips in the bay were common in a typical summer. However, the water this year was just too cold.

We were pretty eager to see the lighthouse and he enthusiastically pointed the way to the trail and we swiftly began our ascent. The lighthouse itself is over 200 ft above the lake and is the highest elevated one on Lake Superior.

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Here we are excitedly climbing the trail. The route was in good shape and a relatively easy climb. Before too long we were at the top.

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The views from above were even more stunning than we had anticipated. When you look out onto the water and toward the horizon - you really gain an appreciation for how enormous the lake really is.

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In this photo you can see the newer lighthouse station below.

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Of course - the lighthouse itself was locked - and we understood why. But that didn't dampen our zest for what interesting things we might find inside. I was surprised to see a large helicopter landing pad located a short distance away. I snapped a quick photo of Diane and Lori in front of the main structure.

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I also captured an image of Sunday Harbour where we came in.

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After descending the trail and returning to the beach, we quickly prepared for the voyage back. We didn't want to waste too much time in case mother nature pulled the shades down on our weather window. While it was just as daunting the second time around, we took some comfort in knowing that we had already made it through once. Kind of like my similarly traumatic second ride on Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point amusement park a few years ago. Nevertheless, the feeling of relief was noticeable when we made it far enough around the island - to again secure protection from the wind and waves.

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We wanted to rest at some new spots on the return trip.

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This beach was interesting because it featured a stream that according to our map, flowed from a lake some distance away. Chris and I - being the intrepid explorers that we are - decided to follow the stream to its source.

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Our dreams were dashed when after 20 minutes of challenging terrain, much bush whacking, and several twisted ankles later - we came across this swamp. That was all that was left of what might have been a small lake at some point. I'm not sure what we were expecting - but this certainly wasn't it (my apologies to all those fans of swamp ecosystems that I will acknowledge, typically teem with an incredibly vital and diverse array of organisms - who might be reading this).

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When we arrived back at the beach - we communicated our disappointment to Diane and Lori and then prepared for our final leg back to camp. Not without one hitch though. Sometimes the pedal drive becomes demonically possessed and doesn't want to follow the laws of physics and the natural world and click into the drive-well. This was one of those times. It took a few tries to get it right. The others at least seemed relatively patient........though I thought it strange that they were pointed in the wrong direction......

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As we continued onward - we spotted a caribou along the shoreline and I quickly zoomed in for a shot. This would be one of three caribou we'd see on the trip - aside from Clarence. Were sightings and encounters really so rare that they merited the title of "Ghosts of the Slate Islands"? Apparently at one time - during the early 1990's this was certainly not the case, when their numbers were as high as 600 in this area. But current estimates suggest the herd may have dwindled to only 100 or so members. If this is correct, glimpses of these unique animals (with the exception of our friend back at camp) on these islands would be more rare than it once was.

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We finally made it back to our site and all of us joined in and celebrated our success with some food and drinks. It was an incredible adventure that we will remember and discuss for years. The challenge just made it all the more satisfying. To cap off the perfect day, Clarence entertained us with a cameo appearance - that was once again timed perfectly - coinciding with our evening hunt for firewood.

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We were now getting used to the following scene at our site.

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Tomorrow would be our last day at the Slates. We intended to do more exploring in the morning before being picked up by Come. There was still plenty of adventure left in this trip, as we would soon find out.

Stay tuned for Part V.

Mike


Last edited by Quetico on Fri Aug 01, 2014 7:58 am, edited 10 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 4:43 pm 
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Location: High Point, NC
Outstanding.

The only thing missing were sail kits for the kayaks.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 4:52 pm 
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Location: Thunder Bay, ON
Arctic Dude wrote:
Your report rocks, Quetico! Always enjoy your reports; the writing and photos! Can't wait for the next instalment!


Thanks Arctic Dude! Just one more installment to go. Glad you are enjoying it.

And welcome to the forum! :)

Mike


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 4:55 pm 
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Tom Kirkman wrote:
Outstanding.

The only thing missing were sail kits for the kayaks.


Thanks Tom! The sailing kit has been a dream of mine for a while. I was hoping to at least purchase one this year to try it out. Will now have to wait for next year.

Mike


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 04, 2014 10:09 am 
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Location: Thunder Bay, ON
Woodland Caribou - Ghosts of the Slate Islands

Part V - A Few More Finds

We wouldn't be picked up until the afternoon - so we decided to take advantage of one last opportunity to explore the area. We headed west again and followed the shoreline.

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The water was calm, which made for a nice, peaceful paddle and pedal....

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We had read about what has been deemed the largest shatter cone formation on record situated a short distance from our campsite - so we decided to see if we could locate it. It didn't take very long as it was looming just around the first corner.

Conveniently, the bow of my kayak served as a prominent red marker - pointing in the direction of this inconspicuous geological feature. You can see the large triangular shape with the apex of the formation at the top. This geological anomaly serves as further evidence that the Slate Islands were formed by a meteorite impact, as shatter cones are only known to arise from such events. The small striations (fissures) in the rock (only seen up close) are thought to be created as a result of the shock of the impact and the intense pressure created.

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Of course - everyone wanted to pose in front of it.

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Which allows one to appreciate the scale of the formation when using the kayaks as a reference.

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From there we continued to follow the shoreline in the direction of where another object of interest was supposedly located.

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Not long after - we came across it. A large slash-pile next to the water. Well - not quite.

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As we moved in closer - the pile of wood began to take shape. It wasn't merely a random pile of old lumber. A pattern began to emerge.

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It was the old remains of a burned-out, and sunken barge. There are a few of these monoliths dispersed throughout the islands. Left where they ran aground - they exist as a large remnant and reminder of the importance that logging played in the area at one time.

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Through the wreckage we spotted another caribou grazing in the meadow behind.

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This image captures the full length of the sunken beast.

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Just before turning around and heading back to the campsite, Chris spotted an object up on a nearby hill. We came in closer and recognized it as another dwelling. This would have been easy to miss, as from almost every angle - it was nicely hidden by foliage.

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It looked like the trail would be a rather precipitous one to climb. While we didn't have enough time to mount an expedition to the site - it's the curiosity of exploring such old relics that create the desire to return again at a later time. Clearly on this trip we were only able to skim the surface of the interesting features and treasures the islands have to offer.

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From here we made our way back to the site - satisfied that we had had our fill for now.

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Come had dropped off a group on our site, and when we arrived we chatted them up and gave them some useful pointers on what to see, and where, as well as how to "cope" with Clarence's visitations.

We quickly and efficiently took down our tents and re-packed our gear in anticipation of Come's arrival. All but one of the new group left to explore the area - not wasting any precious time and taking advantage of the fair weather. We were pleased when Clarence made another visit - giving us a chance to see him for one last time.

I thought this final shot really captured the moment. Only a few days ago - we were the ones arriving - armed with gear, and bristling with excitement and a desire to explore - endowed with energy and spirit. Our adventure was only beginning at the time. Now - we were passing on the torch - and I wondered what experiences they would return home with after only a few days. I'm sure they'd be just as memorable and fulfilling as ours had been.

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I hope you enjoyed this lengthy, photo-laden description of our unforgettable experience out at the Slate Islands. As mentioned at the outset - we had planned to return even before our first day had been completed. And now those plans have come to fruition, as we prepare to re-kindle the experiences that made our first trip so enchanting and rewarding. In the coming weeks, we will be re-visiting this charming and rugged archipelago bounded by the greatest of all Great Lakes. We are all eagerly looking forward to it.

Mike


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