Hattie Cove to Michipicoten River

CanadaOntarioLake Superior coast
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
David Zechel
Trip Date : 
July 2015
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
170 km
Duration: 
10 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
0
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Not applicable
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Not applicable
Remoteness: 
Intermediate
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Unknown
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Start at Hattie Cove, Pukaskwa National Park. We arranged for an employee of Naturally Superior Adventures (Michipicoten River, Wawa) to drive our vehicle back to their facility and our end point for the trip.

We drove from Dorset (near Huntsville, Ontario) to Naturally Superior Adventures the day before in approximately 11 hrs. NSA has a beautiful campsite at the mouth of the Michipicoten where one can stay for a small fee. We camped there after our long drive and arranged to drive to Hattie Cove (approximately 2.5 hrs) the following morning.

Technical Guide: 

Route and Time

We paddled along the coast from Hattie Cove to the Michipicoten River, a total of 170 km over 10 days. The West to East direction is favoured by the westerly winds at that time of the year (early July). We alloted 10 days for our trip, which is a liesurely pace, but had food for 12 days in anticipation of being windbound. 

The annotated maps that we used on this trip are contained in a PDF file below. Use at your own risk.

Safety Considerations

This route is fully exposed to the winds of Lake Superior. The lake is also lethally cold (3-4 C) in July. There are also certain sections of the coast or exposed headlands where landing in a canoe or kayak would be difficult or impossible. For these reasons it's important to let the lake decide when one should paddle. One should also consider wearing drysuits or at least wetsuits (Farmer John / Jane) on the water. The air temperature, due to the air conditioning effect of the lake, is typically around 15 C during the day. At night temperatures can drop to 5 C. You will need clothing and sleeping bags appropriate for 'Fall' camping conditions. 

We carried the following safety equipment on this trip:

  • VHF marine radio - We used the radio primarily for weather reports. In theory the radio could be used to contact a nearby boat, but we saw few of these on our trip. Note that one is required to take a Maritime Radio Course in order to use a VHF marine radio for communication (with the exception of distress calls).
  • Satellite phone - We rented the sat phone from RoadPost.ca and carried it in a Pelican Box. Never used it, but we thought this would be helpful if we needed to call for a shuttle or to notify our family if our plans changed due to the weather.
  • Personal Locator Beacon - This was carried in one of our life-jackets. Make sure that you register the PLB with the Canadian Beacon Registry.
  • Drysuits - We wore drysuits everyday with the exception of 2 days that were dead calm and warm. Wetsuits would be an adequate alternative. Most days were cool enough that overheating wasn't an issue.  

We also submitted a trip float plan to Pukaskwa National Park and left copies of this plan with our families. 

Bugs

The bugs are not a problem on the lake, or on the shore if there is a wind. But the mosquitos can be horrific inland. Pack repellent if you wish to go hiking.

Other Resources

http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/on/pukaskwa/index.aspx

https://www.naturallysuperior.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAIYkf6I5to

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

June 27th, 2015

Drive from Huntsville to Wawa

Drove from Dorset, Ontario to Naturally Superior Adventures near Wawa. Total travel time of approximately 11 hours. Camped in a designated site at the facility, a beautiful crescent bay at the mouth of the Michipicoten. As we were camped a young man paddled up the Michipicoteon on a SUP. Jared Munch, a university student from Duluth, was attempting to be the first person to circumnavigate Lake Superior (clockwise) on a SUP. We were humbled to learn that he had completed our 170 km route, Hattie Cove to Michipicoten, in 56 hrs. He said he was in a rush to make the border by July 4th (Yankees are so sentimental). He carried everything he needed in a couple of dry bags and resupplied with food along the way. Jared said his hands were frozen into claws each morning and were painful to get moving again. Later we learned he was successful in his quest and was even featured in Outside Magazine. He certainly has my vote for the most impressive feat of paddling on Lake Superior! One of the owners of NSA spoke to us in the evening about the lake. I was able to add further annotations, particularly potential campsites along the coast between Pukaskwa National Park and Michipicoten, to my maps using the guide maps in the resort. The owner also informed us the lake temperature was only 4°C, and the week before they were still seeing pans of ice in the bay.

 

Day 1, June 28th, 2015

Drive from Michipicoten to Hattie Cove.

Paddle from Hattie Cove to Willow River, 12 km.

At 9 am our shuttle driver, Mirinda, employed by NSA, joined us for the 2.5 hour drive to Hattie Cove. After unloading our gear, Mirinda drove our car back to NSA, where it awaited us at a public parking spot called 'Government Dock', about 100 m from the NSA campsite. We assembled our Pakboat 170 and installed the spraydeck. This would be paddled by Corina and Anni, while I would paddle a 16 ft Novacraft prospector with our Siberian husky, Shyla. It was very warm in the shelter of the cove and we discussed how to dress for the water: no protection, wetsuits, or drysuits. There was no wind, so Anni and Corina opted for no protection and I split the difference and wore a 'shorty' wetsuit. By 1 pm we paddled through the gap that separated the cove from the main body of the lake. This was unnerving as we knew the shelter of the cove could be deceiving. Adding to my anxiety was the starkness of the coast itself, beautiful like the Harris paintings, but all shattered and barren rock, attesting to constant pummelling by the lake. Vegetation was stripped from the rocks 30 ft above the water line. I tried to imagine the waves that would scour the shoreline like this, and what we would do if we had winds during the trip. However, the lake was dead calm, the sky was perfectly clear, and so we enjoyed a relaxed paddle 10 km along the coast to Willow River. Anni and Corina made the right call with paddling attire as I sweated away in my wetsuit in the calm 25°C air. There was essentially zero chance of flipping in such conditions, although Shyla turned out to be a new variable in this calculation. While she had been trained to sit quietly in an canoe, we had not paddled with her when the family was divided into different boats. She became very anxious, seeing Corina and Anni paddling some distance away, and would stand and move around in my canoe, howling in despair, and even attempting to stand on the gunnels. This required the development of a new paddle stroke that resembles a cross-draw in order to leverage her back into the bottom of the boat. I began to have dark thoughts that Shyla might jeopardize the trip, but after a while she resigned herself to her station. Two days later she even stopped the howling. At willow river we camped directly on the long sandy beach. A couple of hikers from the Coastal Trail, which runs 60 km along the coast of Pukaskwa National Park, were also camped there but used the designated site just off the beach. Later that evening 3 more groups arrived. This wasn't a problem as there was acres of space for everyone. Dinner: risotto with dehydrated mushrooms, peas, 2 smoked garlic sausages, and mushroom sauce.

 

Day 2, June 29th

Willow River to Fisherman's Cove, 18 km.

At 5 am we're up and making a fire, cooking breakfast, and brewing the all important coffee. Anni and I start packing gear. It's cold, around 5 C. Corina wears my down parka while cooking. We're not the fastest paddlers when decamping, and its 8 am by the time we hit the water. We happily donned the drysuits this time to stay warm. The conditions were more challenging this day, as a strong headwind developed along with white-capped waves. Shyla was better behaved, but still howled on occasion. Then the fog rolled in, a new experience for us, but the density never reached the point of interfering with navigation. Dark clouds rolled overhead. At Oiseaux Bay we stopped to make a fire and bake bannock. We like to do this on our longer trips when we're not in a rush and the warm bread perks the spirit on a cold day. It takes us nearly an hour to cross Oiseaux Bay and round the corner to enter Fisherman's Cove, which is flanked on the West side by a sheer cliff. Fisherman's Cove divides into two smaller coves at the end; we take the Western Cove as our campsite, landing at noon. A nice beach and swimming spot greets us, but none of us are eager for a dip with the air temperature hovering around 15 C. Dinner: dehydrated ground beef with beans, zucchini, red peppers, salsa, and cheese, all wrapped in tortillas.

 

Day 3, June 30th

Fisherman's Cove to Simon's Harbour, 11 km

The night brought more wind and then rain, the latter stopping at 8 am. The marine forecast on our VHF radio warned of high winds in the morning, so we decided to sleep in and wait for calm. At 9 we have breakfast then hike up the Coastal Trail, which runs through our campsite, to the top of the massive ridge on the Northwest side of the cove. At the top we are easily 100 m above the lake and have a panoramic view of the coast. The trail to the top is rough, made so by the shattered rocks, roots and moss. Walking off the trail is even more difficult. On the ridge the moss is up to a foot deep, and the lichen hangs in letter sized sheets from the rocks. Everything looks old and battered, the trees are stunted. It would be easy to disappear here. Thankfully, the wonderful mosses and lady slippers dispel these thoughts. From the top the lake still looked angry, but the wind appeared to have shifted to offshore. Perhaps, we thought, we could sneak along the coast in the lee of the shoreline. Back at camp we have lunch and pack up. We made decent progress on the water, which was relatively calm near shore, but the wind dynamics were chaotic, seemingly channelled in different directions by the cliffs. At times it was relatively calm, then suddenly there would be a massive gust into our faces, bringing us to a standstill. Anni and Corina had no problems, but at times I was at the limit keeping my boat under control, which seemed to amuse Shyla who awoke from a nap to watch the show. In a surreal moment I looked up to see a black bear calmly making it's way along the steep, rocky shoreline, oblivious to our efforts against the gusts. I shouted to Anni and Corina, but they could not hear me in the wind. We continued on and in within 3 hours we cover the 11 km to Simon's Harbour, arriving at our campsite at 6:30 pm. Supper is late, but tasty: chicken with mango / coconut curry and rice.

 

Day 4, July 1st

Simon's Harbour to Cascade Falls, 18 km

Up at 5 am to greet a cool but not freezing morning. Corina did not sleep well thanks to a nagging cough.  Slow once again getting off (8 am), which we blame on suiting up in drysuits, but we are happy to have them on in the chill of the morning. On the water we had sunny skies and the wind at our backs as we cruised along in 1 meter waves. At times we had to fight to keep the canoes from turning broadside to the following sea. We never venture far from shore in such conditions. We stop 11 km down the coast for lunch at Swallow River where allegedly the remains of a trapper's cabin can be found, but we don't bother looking for it, happy instead for a warm fire and freshly baked bannock. After a short 1.5 hr paddle we arrive at Cascade Falls around 2:30 pm. I'm excited to be here because this was one of Bill Mason's favourite campsites. It certainly does not disappoint. The twin falls that spill into the lake are surprisingly loud, so we pitch our tent high on the beach in a quiet corner. Corina immediately inflates a Themarest to have a nap on the beach, which is a rough mix of rocks, sand, and driftwood. A previous visitor with too much energy had erected a massive tepee of logs. While Anni reads a book Shyla and I follow a steep trail to the crest of the falls, which is preceded by another impressive waterfall. I tried to imagine, unsuccessfully, portaging down and around the falls if one descended the Cascade River. Eventually Shyla ran back to camp, only to return 10 minutes later with Corina who was armed with a first aid kit, convinced that I had fallen off a cliff. We returned to the beach where Corina baked a blueberry cake over the fire. Perfect! Dinner: pasta bolognese.

 

Day 5, July 2nd.

Cascade Falls to Pukaskwa River, 20 km

Leave camp at 7:30 am; we're getting faster! It's chilly on the water and we are very glad to be wearing dry suits and neoprene gloves. We've worn the suits every day now other than the first. Today the water is the calmest we've seen it and we move at a relatively quick pace. We jump over to Otter Island but have no luck in spotting caribou that are rumoured to inhabit the island, but we do find an old antler on the beach. After the island the landscape becomes a bit less rugged and vegetation grows on the rocks. But as we near the 20 km point, big cliffs appear again. It's a rare thrill to paddle along the base of the cliffs when waves would normally force you to keep a safe distance. We stop for a snack break on Richardson Island to see the Pukaskwa pits. We find three pits dug into the loose rubble of the shoreline. One pit is considerably larger than the other. Their original function is not known, but what is certain is the gorgeous view from the pits towards the west. By the time we reach the 80 km mark of the trip and the park's southern boundary, the sky has turned blue and the day has finally warmed. It's 1:30 pm and we all crave bannock baked over the fire. Our campsite is a long sandy beach protected by some islands. I soon pass out for a nap with Shyla. Corina and Anni bravely attempt to swim in the lake. A pleasant afternoon passes in the sun. Dinner is turkey pot pie. It is good.

 

Day 6, July 3rd

Pukaskwa River to Redsucker Cove, 20 km

Rain and wind keep us in bed another 2 hrs and we rise at 7 am when the rain stops. On the water by 10:45 and the rain returns. Happily it does not last as the day is grey and cold enough without it. We're wearing toques and gloves. So far we have seen 1 kayaker and 10 hikers, all on the first day, as well as boat - likely a shuttle. We feel quite alone. We have left Pukaskwa Park now. The coastline is more green, the rocks less barren and less polished. At times there are huge cliffs. After 12 km we stop on a beach and make bannock over a fire. So good when it's still warm! Anni and I enjoy it with margarine, which is holding up well in the cool temperatures. Another 8 km to our campsite (km 100 of our trip) and another beach. We try to find a flat spot on a rocky island nearby as Corina wants to camp on granite for a change, but can't find a spot to land the boats. Beaches are so easy. Anni soon as a fire going and after we change into dry clothes we feel better, having been chilled all day. Arriving at 5 pm does not leave us much time to do much other than camp chores. Dinner is Singapore noodles with tofu, which is delicious. One pack of rice noodles is the perfect amount and tetra-packed tofu is really good. Dehydrated green beans need longer than other veg to soften. Next time cook beans, then dehydrates. Corina makes Monkey cookies for dessert. The added chocolate chips make a mess but somehow this is better. Corina cooked them over the fire like bannock. A thick fog rolls in before bed.

 

July 4th, Day 7

Redsucker Cover to Little Ghost River, 19 km

The fog is lifting as we go about our morning chores, revealing a lovely calm day. We think the drysuits might be a bit suffocating today, but the constant air conditioning of the lake makes them welcome protection. We begin paddling at 7:45 am and as we pass the 101st km, we remark that there are some perfect campsites. At Floating Heart bay - a gorgeous spot where Corina fantasized building a cabin - we stop for a snack break. Nine km to go to our next campsite just before Little Ghost River. There are beautiful long beaches that tempt us before our site, but tonight  we take a site annotated on the Naturally Superior Adventures wall map and camp on rock. No sand in the tent tonight! We face a protected cove surrounded by wooded hills. This was an early stop around 1:30. Anni makes a fire for our bannock. Feeling sleepy, we brew fresh coffee. I putter around mending some clothes while Corina writes in her journal. Anni and Corina have both developed painful blisters and swelling on the tops of their hands. This happened to Corina before on a sea kayaking trip, so the sensitivity appears to be genetic. Anni also has a rash on her neck from the drysuit collar. Dinner: Thai peanut sauce and rice. Disaster seemed iminent when we discovered that our dehydrated chick peas had gone mouldy, but kidney beans were fine as a substitute. Corina added peas from another meal (we had plenty extra) to pump up the volume. Apple crisp for dessert.

 

July 5th, Day 8

Little Ghost River to Dog River, 18 km

This was the day that freaked me out for months prior to the trip. Point Isacor. A 7 km stretch where landing the boats would not be an option. What if the wind came up while we were out there? What if the fogged rolled in as it had several times during the trip? I set my GPS to give real time readings to the first possible landing, but this did little to dispel the feeling that I was on a trip to the gallows. Anni and Corina, however, were calm and happy as could be. Turns out that all my worrying was for nothing, as the lake is absolutely calm. Not even swells rocked the boats. We end up taking our time, filming and taking pictures. The cliffs along this stretch are immense and I get a cramp from looking up. Anni spots two bald eagles. The lake provides a perfect marine green view to the boulder strewn bottom. The GPS indicates that our cruising speed in these perfect conditions is 4.8 km/hr and soon we are past the cliffs and hit the first landing at 10 am. We are surprised that we were too hot today and quickly strip off our drysuits, but Anni chooses to keep hers on. Around noon we arrive at the famous Dog River, another star of Bill Mason's films. I'm determined to camp on the huge sand bar that protects the mouth, just like he did with his family in the 70s. Perfectly polished rocks and pebbles line the beach, which has two tiers, perhaps a memento of winter and summer storms? We spend the afternoon collecting rocks and exploring the beach. Later we swim on the warmer river side of the sandbar. With the day so hot I soon attempt a swim in the lake itself but only manage to thrash a quick retreat to shore. Although there is no breeze to speak of, a swell begins to build in the afternoon. Five paddlers in kayaks arrive and set up camp at the eastern end of the beach. As we are heading to bed the cooler air thankfully returns. Dinner: chilli and corn dumplings (delicious!).

 

July 6th, Day 9

Stormbound. 0 km.

At 5 am the rain deters us from leaving our sleeping bags. We can hear the surf on the beach and a weather warning was issued on the radio. Oddly, there isn't much wind yet, just large swells hitting the beach and the roar of the surf. When I leave the tent for a piss I see that the current of the Dog has set up large standing waves at the river's mouth. It's clear that we're not going anywhere today. A trail of gear led down the beach to the kayaker's camp. Not our gear, fortunately. At first I thought a bear had come looking for goodies. I hiked down the beach and with my 'hello?' a groggy young guide emerged from the kayaker's tent. She was leading four teens on a trip. In the middle of the night the waves had washed their kayaks and a gear pile into the lake, most of which she was able to retrieve, but they were still missing a kayak. (You were in the lake at night? In the surf?! I thought.) When the wind died down she would paddle to the next bay to have a look for the boat, and they would be able to continue their trip. I admired her composure, thinking that I would be on the sat phone calling for help in that situation, and after wishing her good luck I returned to our tent. The weather continued to worsen throughout the day, with rain and increasing winds. Soon the rain was pelting, and the wind shifted to roar down the valley walls of the Dog River and out onto the lake. This posed a problem for our lean-to cook shelter which filled with air and attempted to take flight. With another tarp to close the front of the shelter and a few more ropes to hold everything down, we semi-stabilized our shelter in time for dinner. Afterwards we retreated to our tent and listened to wind and rain drumming on the fly.

 

July 7th, Day 10

Dog River to Michipicoten, 30 km

We were relieved to awaken to a calm morning. After a quick breakfast we packed up camp and set off for our final day. The sky was a striking contrast of dark clouds to the north and blue sky to the south, the two forming a perfect line overhead. Our kayaking friends were still asleep as we paddled by their tent, but we were pleased to see the missing kayak pulled up on the beach. As we coasted along the shore we noted many flat, rocky sites that would make perfect campsites (no sand in the tent!). At noon we stopped for lunch and sat atop a high outcropping of granite overlooking the lake. It was warm in the sun, and we realized we were close to Wawa now as a small fishing boat tended tended to some nets offshore. Shyla revealed some rock climbing skills by descending the cliff face to the shore below. We thought she had marooned herself, but she just as quickly scampered back up the cliff. The wind began to build after lunch so we decided not to cross the large bay to Perkwakwia Point and stayed close to shore, which turned out to be a nice paddle with various channels and islands. Rounding Perkwakwia Point in 3 foot waves required more attention than I cared for on the last day of paddling, but soon we were in the protection of the next bay. Again we stayed close to shore rather than sprinting across the 3 km width of the bay to the site of Naturally Superior Adventures. This doubled our distance, but I was grateful for the time to reflect on our trip. We opted to land on the government beach rather than paddling around the point and up the mouth of the Michipicoten, which was frothing with standing waves from the wind. It was a strange feeling to hear the canoes grind ashore one last time, where only 10 days earlier I had stood on this very beach, looking towards Point Isacor, thinking how crazy we were to be doing this trip. We camped once again on the protected beach at Naturally Superior Adventures. The next day we loaded up our car (parked nearby in a public lot next to 'Government Beach') and began the 11 hour drive back to Dorset.

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Comments

Post date: Tue, 02/16/2016 - 16:10

Comments: 

Hi J. Cooper!

1) Thanks for pointing out the error in geography. This has been corrected.

2) Great information. Thanks!

David

Post date: Tue, 02/16/2016 - 12:38

Comments: 

2 comments:

1) In the Day 10 report, it mentions McConnell Pt. I have lived on the shore of this part of Lake Superior since 1982 and I have paddled and motorboated (over 40,000+km) in this section of Lake Superior and I have never seen the name "McConnell Pt." on any map or chart. I figure that they were referring to Perkwakwia Pt.

2) "The lake is lethally cold (3-4 C) in July." The water temperatures in late June/early July were cold in 2014 and 2015 due to the fact that Lake Superior was over 90% frozen for those 2 winters. The ice did not melt until May. This was unusual. For example, the water temperatures along that shore (Michipicoten River to North Swallow River) on June 24, 2013, ranged from 6 C to 13.3 C (river mouths were up to 20.5 C). By July 5 the water temperature was 9.4 to 14.4 C in the  McCoy Harbour to the north end of Lake Superior Park area. The water in Lake Superior is cold in the early summer.  Be prepared for cold water survival when paddling/boating on Lake Superior in spring and early summer. Emergency rescue can take many hours (usually by a Canadian military helicopter or a Michigan Coast Guard helicopter) - assuming that someone has been notified that you are in trouble.