I first fell in love with kayaking when I was a ten-year-old girl at a cottage with my family. Being ten years old and having a sibling meant that I got very little time to myself, and alone time was something I highly valued. I remember the incredible sense of independence I felt out on the water, and while I had to stay close to the shore because my dad said so, I felt free.
After that cottage trip I was hooked on the sport. I would unrealistically beg my parents for a kayak for my birthday and try to convince them that it could stay in my room. I began to hopelessly think that kayaking would be something I’d only get to do at friend’s cottages, and as an adolescent, I was right. I did always maintain the belief that someday in the distant future I’d get to take up the sport for real, I just didn’t know where or when I’d get to start.
My first real kayaking experience as an adult was a fantasy come true. Once again, I was out on the water feeling independent and free, just as I had once felt as a child. I was lucky enough to have met the right people who were able to introduce me to the real world of kayaking and make my childhood dream a reality.
I did not care what the weather was going to be like, although it happened to be a perfect fall day. Even if it had been freezing cold, raining or snowing, nothing could have tainted the perfect sense of unity with nature, and nothing could have stopped my desire to be reunited with the water.
I will admit that I was worried about my ability to keep up with my new friends, who have much more kayaking experience than I do. To my surprise, I was able to maintain what felt like a reasonable pace, and despite having kayaked 20 kilometres I did not feel tired during our trip (afterwards was another story).
-We were out on the water for about seven hours, having stopped many times along the way to appreciate the beauty surrounding us, and to take a few photos of course. The time went by too quickly and before I knew it we were reaching our destination. Nonetheless, I was not sad that the day was over because I knew that it was really just the beginning, and so many incredible adventures were yet to come.
I was finally fulfilling my childhood aspiration and taking up a sport that only felt natural to me. I am so grateful for the friends that I made that day because they opened the doors to so many future voyages that we will undoubtedly embark on together. If you have a “passion-from-a-distance”, I highly encourage you to seek out opportunities to become involved in that passion.
You never know what kind of amazing experiences you will get to partake in and life really is too short to be lived from a distance.
When pro kayaker Rafa Ortiz decides to follow his dream to paddle over Niagara Falls, he sets in motion an incredible series of events that eventually takes on a life of its own. To prepare for this mission, Rafa enlists the help of world-renowned paddler Rush Sturges and a tight team of their friends. Together they go on a remarkable three-year journey from the rainforest rivers of Mexico to the towering waterfalls of the U.S. Northwest.
Fifteen people have attempted to go over Niagara Falls and just 10 have come out alive. Rafa Ortiz made it his quest to join that successful number. Three years in the making, Chasing Niagara tells the story of the Mexican-born paddler’s bid to become the first kayaker in history to successfully tackle the falls. Few places in the world can boast such a torrent of water, 100,000 cubic metres of water falling there every second so the risks of the challenge are for all to see. In addition, undertaking such a feat is illegal so evading the authorities was another issue to tackle. Enlisting the help of some of the world’s best kayakers - Ortiz states “you’re only as good as the guys you paddle with” - the 24-year-old’s decision to run the falls dates back to three years previously. Although in the film he admits to being hypnotized by the water at the location as early as 12 on a family trip, one of 22 million visitors a year to the falls.
But the film is not for the faint-hearted, Ortiz and his friends coming to the precipice of death in practicing for the climactic stunt. It opens in dramatic circumstances with Ortiz and his friends performing emergency CPR on Spanish paddler Gerd Serrasolses after one particular waterfall attempt goes horribly wrong.
With such a backdrop, it is unsurprising that Oritz says: “Most people thought I was crazy,” and subsequently labelled him “the man with the death wish”. A self-taught kayaker, he was born in Mexico City but became enamoured with the outdoors and, in particular, water after his parents bought a small coffee bean plantation in order for their children to envelop themselves with nature.
While they back his dream and talk of how he reduces the risks as much as possible, the nerves of his life-threatening stunt are palpable both in their words and on their faces. But Ortiz has perpetually been driven by the big drops for as long as he can remember. Virtually hypnotised by it, he says: “Water is life… beautiful yet relentless…peaceful yet unstoppable.
It has a mind of its own”. For the “father” of the group - and their most experienced member - Rush Sturges, tackling Niagara is personally too big a risk but he believes as do the rest of the paddling throng that a line is possible to undertake for Ortiz successfully. As Sturges says: “He’s willing to take it to the next level and I want to help him to get there.”
Cut with footage of past attempts in history - both successful and unsuccessful - the film is a captivating glance at both the beauty and beast like nature of the rapids from Ortiz’s native Mexico to Canada and beyond.
Even in preparation there are runs that afterwards, he admits, “that’s the first time I thought I might die - it nearly cost me my life”. But what of the Niagara descent? Can he be the 11th person to safely ride the falls…and survive? Only time will tell… Watch it HERE on Red Bull TV now.
For the record, when we asked Rafa what his favourite spot in Ontario to kayak is, he emphatically responded: The Mighty Ottawa!
Kalob Grady is a fixture on the Ottawa River and very well known in Ontario in the white water community. Kalob has competed in and won the Canadian Junior National Championships and represented Canada at the World Freestyle Kayaking Championships, where he finished sixth. In 2017, Kalob placed 3rd at UNLEASHEDxUganda
Kalob is starting to work towards a professional career off the water. Studying at St. Lawrence Collage as a student in the school of Business, with a focus on Marketing. He hopes to merge his Marketing studies with his Kayaking career to be able to pursue his passion for life.
Kalob is a team member with: MEC, Jackson Kayaks and Kokatat.
What part of Ontario are you from and how did that contribute to your love of kayaking?
I am from the small village of LaPasse, Ontario. A town located on the banks of the Ottawa River and just minutes upstream of the famous whitewater section. Growing up here, especially in an outdoors and water focused family meant it was only a matter of time before I started pursuing the sport of kayaking. My parents and early coaches did a great job at keeping kayaking fun until I wanted to push my comfort levels on my own terms. They were extremely supportive at the beginning, driving to the put-in, meeting me and my friends at the takeout, always finding time to drive us the awaiting warm and safe waters of the Ottawa. Growing up on this river with its World-renowned surf waves, high volume style and reasonably consequence free rapids has been extremely beneficial in my development as a kayaker. Being able to push limits, and make mistakes in a safe way has been a huge factor in developing skills I now use all rivers all over the World. The Ottawa River is, and always will be my home, and it is 100% responsible for my addiction to the sport of kayaking!
What is the most underrated white water run in Ontario?
The Blakeny Rapids on the Missisippi River are the most underrated rapids in Ontario. These rapids start flowing in the early early season from snow melt and are often a great warm up to the cold air and water before all the massive Stakeout waves begin to form. With many different channels, and lines, it’s a great place to bust out the long boat and send some laps! Sidenote: I am confident that there are undiscovered sections of whitewater in Northern Ontario that have not been paddled, or seen that could have incredible potential!
Tell us more about World Class Academy.
Currently, I am working as the head coach and environmental science teacher for a high school called World Class Academy. World Class is a fully accredited, Kayaking focused private high school based out of White Salmon, Washington. We are a travelling school that chases the best whitewater in the world while maintaining a focus on academics. The goals of the program are: Academics, Athletics, and Character. We are developing the next generation of educated kayakers that are prepared for success in postsecondary education. We also aim to foster the kids passion for the world's natural spaces. The kids get to explore and discover many amazing locations from the various kayaking trips provided by the school.
As a student of business, how has that helped your career in kayaking?
It’s an easy concept to grasp that kayaking at the top level isn’t possible forever. However, my dream is to stay active in the kayaking and the outdoors industry. Attending business school trais me in the the skill sets to transition into the behind the scenes aspect of the sport with a company, as I slow down on the water. Full disclosure, I haven’t finished business school yet, and don’t plan on slowing down in the sport anytime soon, but the things I have been able to study/learn are applicable to a lot of things in such a small sport. I have chosen to specialize in marketing, so knowing what is going on with sales/budgets/campaigns is really awesome, I’m not just in the dark when talking to business people or team managers.
Finally, surfing or dropping?
Ahh, great question. Honestly, it depends on the day, the month, the season. I’ve noticed that as I finish a season at home on the Ottawa, I am ready to get after some tall waterfalls or challenging whitewater. After a few weeks of being scared, and stepping up my game, it is nice to go on a relaxing trip, more river running and lifestyle based trips. This lets gives my body time to recover from the impacts and stresses of waterfalls. That only lasts for so long before I get the urge to hit big waves and get after some freestyle hustle. Restarting the cycle.
Photos and Story By: Rebecca Vandenberg. You can follow her adventures on the Alter._.Eco Blog
I would like for a second, or a minute rather, to paint you a picture. One sort of picture that will render you curious. To travel on water, one must definitely consider the enjoyment of a canoe or kayak, to this statement, most of my friends would agree. However, one type of watercraft in particular would make any enthusiasts’ heart sing. And that one boat, would be made by tree and by spirit.
This is also known as the skin on frame canoe and kayak.
I experienced my first paddle on one of these marvelous watercraft, on a mid morning in late October. At 8 months pregnant, I agreed to meet with a wonderful man named Jon, the owner of Backcountry Custom Canoes, in Guelph Ontario.
It was on this crisp morning that I met Jon at his home and workshop. I was greeted with a smile and promptly offered coffee and pastries, and immediately knew it would be a great interview. Before I continue with my interview with Jon, I would first like to tell you a little about the owner of Guelph’s custom boat maker.
Jon loves to paddle. He also loves trout, and fishing them in particular. And to get to trout, you most likely have to paddle into the backcountry. So it is really makes sense to learn that the motivation for Jon to build his first skin on frame canoe, was so that he could access farther and better backcountry to fish better lakes.
It is this love story that made Jon realize how amazing skin on frame canoes really are, and that he was really good at making his boats exceptionally durable and portable. This is how Backcountry Custom Canoes was born. Backcountry Custom Canoes is located in Guelph Ontario, adjacent to the Speed River, which is also his favorite place to canoe. Why you ask? Because it is this river that he has taken his children ( 2 daughters) canoeing for the past 9 years.
Growing up on the shores of Lake Superior, Jon grew to love the water, and even in the gnarliest of lakes, he learned to paddle and his passion grew. Fast forward years later, Jon made a major career change and ended up with Backcountry Custom Canoes. Jon makes 3 models of skin on frame canoe, and any type of kayak a customer may want. All of which can be customized according to the customers needs, and all the canoes are named after Trout of course.
The first canoe model he has is the Aurora, which is a symmetrical boat, narrow and fast tracking. The length can be anywhere between 12 -14 ft and weights between 19 -24lbs. Extra floatation can be put in the boat for rapids. It paddles great with a kayak paddle or a canoe paddle. The width is between 28-30 inches Everyone who paddles this shape describes it as lively and fun.
The next model of canoe is the Brookie, which can be between 13 -15ft in length and typically weighs between 25 - 30 lbs. This boat was his original design, as he wanted to build this style of boat for himself. This solo boat is stable fast and tracks nicely, and with a width of between 29 -32 inches it can be paddled with a canoe or kayak paddle.
In regards to kayaks, Jon takes a little bit of a different approach to his design. Fitting the best design to meet the customers needs, he does not really follow conventional kayak designs. As he states it, kayaks are a bit more tailored to the individual needs and desires of the customer. He can follow certain designs like that of a euro or also know as the sea kayak design, or create something custom. Regardless his boats are all about performance, with the average specifications ranging from 15-17 feet in length. These boats start at $3000 and are available with hatches, foot pegs, and even a rudder.
For more information you can visit their website at: www.backcountrycustomcanoes.ca
It’s day 7 and it feels like we are surrounded by motorboats. That is not an experience I was expecting to have near the middle of a three-week backcountry canoe trip. We just passed our third motor boater and my morning swim was disturbed by the sound of them puttering across the lake to find the sweetest fishing spot. We dig deep with our paddles, hoping that the longer and farther we paddle today, the faster we can salvage the trip we had run away from. A sprained ankle, a portage that never materialized, creek travel that was more than we bargained on and about a million kilometers of portaging: Temagami can really kick your butt the first time around. Now, 3 years later, we’ve learned to balance on razor sharp rocks with heavy loads on our backs, we’ve learned how to navigate with a compass and map, to look for portage signs in the dirt rather than neon plates nailed to trees, learned what a 10 year old overgrown axe blaze looks like. But, in this moment we know none of that. So here we are basically starting our trip all over again. Seven days in and only one day out and we can feel it.
Our destination is an exquisite stretch of river complete with seven (yes 7!) secluded, backcountry waterfalls that we will take almost the same number of days to enjoy. The sort of pure, untouched, remote places that are the prize that makes the hard work of canoe tripping worth it.
One could do this loop of the Lady Evelyn River in Temagami in a long weekend, but we chose to stretch the trip out, to take time to enjoy each of the uniquely beautiful waterfalls. One of those waterfalls stands out in my memory. Our first glimpse of it is an experience that is still lodged deeply in my heart, even all these years later. Let me take you there…
Except for the distant rumble of the falls behind and before us all is calm and quiet. A breath of air causes slight ripples in the otherwise glassy reflections. A loon pops up just beside our canoe once, twice, five and six times flapping and preening and preparing for the day ahead, guiding us upstream. An osprey continues the call onward, gliding low overhead before disappearing just around the river bend. A picture of peace. Before we know it we are at Centre Falls. We spend the afternoon playing in the ‘waterslides’ that can be found in the rapids below the falls.
Finally, we tackle the mountain of a portage that skirts Centre Falls, dubbed (a little too affectionately if you ask me) the ‘Golden Staircase’. As we push off from Centre Falls toward Helen Falls a shiver of excitement energizes my paddling. This will be the first waterfall that I have seen that no motor could ever bring you to. I will not be viewing this falls from the side of a highway. The sections of river above and below it are too small to land a bush plane on, so you can’t fly there. And those motor boaters we left back on Lady Evelyn Lake? Well, they can motor right up to Franks Falls. If they are from the resort they can even take a walk to the other side of the portage and unlock one of the heavy Grumman canoes chained to a tree above Franks Falls. They can then paddle up to Centre Falls to spend the day. But there is no way that they could portage one of those Grumman’s around the Golden Staircase and thus, their journey would have to end at Centre Falls. No, Helen Falls is reserved only for those willing to do the work necessary to enjoy this backcountry gem. There’s something so unique about that. Something so secluded, so rare.
There’s one more portage between us and Helen Falls. It’s a relatively easy one and as we amble along we marvel excitedly about the fact that humans have been walking this very path for the past 5000 years. You can see the way that footprints have eroded the forest floor down to the rock below, whereas the rocks beside the path are covered in thick layers of duff. Part way along we stop. The river here is a shallow stream bubbling along over the ever-present Temagami boulders. The hills on either side frame the river and the sunlight shafts through the surrounding pine just so. “Right here. This is where I would build my cabin. The rapids, the hills, it’s perfect.” The conversation about where we might build a cabin is almost as prevalent as the Temagami boulders, and my husband has found today’s answer.
Ten minutes later we round a bend and there she is, Helen Falls, my first glimpse of a true backcountry waterfall. We rest our paddles on the gunnels and drift for a moment, taking it all in. The sound thunders over us along with the spray. From here we can only see the bottom section of the falls. The rest of it curves up through a canyon, around a corner and out of sight. We pull up the canoe and run around exploring. Hiking up the hill behind the falls we find our way out to a rock ledge over its top section. We carefully climb down until we’re sitting right over the thundering water. It’s day 9 of our trip and we have arrived, finally, in a place we want to be. I let the thundering rumble through me, shaking out any lingering anxiety. As the water rushes on by I am filled with peace.
With out ears full of rumbling water we leave our ledge to check out the campsite options. We settle for one on the North side of the river. We have easy water access here with a nice swimming pool on one side and a great spot to sit and watch the falls on the other. Quickly we move through ritual that is setting up camp: tent, water, dinner, tea, s’mores. I’m relaxed in a way that only comes with days spent travelling by paddle. I’ve left the hectic pace of motors and gadgets behind and I’ve arrived, finally. Physically, mentally, spiritually here, now.
Read more about our mishaps in the first half of this trip HERE
And read about all the newbie excitement that came with our first year in Temagami HERE
By: Trevor Thompson
There aren’t a lot of river systems you can do as a loop. Sure, you can paddle upstream on a lazy river and then paddle back down, but a complete loop is rare. The Sydenham/Snye/Running Creek loop in Wallaceburg may be unique in all of Ontario for your ability to leave the launch and come back to the launch from the other direction.
If you decide to try the loop, there are numerous options for starts, stops and launches, but we decided to launch at Crother’s Conservation Area on a dreary October day. Little did we know, it would rain off and on our whole paddle. Parking is free, and there’s a floating dock to make launching easy.
The first (and last) section is a smaller tributary, about 75’ across called Running Creek. Don’t let the name fool you! All of this water is nearly as flat as a lake with only a minor current. The water is beautiful blue because it’s actually fed from Lake Huron and the St. Clair River. We set out heading east down Running Creek, as it winds behind houses until you hit the Sydenham.
The Sydenham is a wider, muddier river and from this point forward, you’ll be turning right at each confluence. Paddling through Wallaceburg is a typical urban affair. Bridges, roads, and houses. It was quiet on our trip, but in the summer keep an eye out for slow moving pleasure boats.
You’ll pass three branches of the river, each are navigable for quite the distance, one will take you to/from Dresden if you have the time, but that’s a paddle for another day. There’s a lot to explore, and it would take multiple trips to see it all.
As we headed down river and out of town the river becomes wider still and far more natural.
After about 6km, you will come to where the Snye meets the Sydenham, and you’ll begin an upriver stretch. You can’t miss the turn, the water is the original blue you started out in on Running Creek. This stretch borders the Walpole Island First Nation and is the most scenic of the route.
Look out for deer, Bald Eagles, and all sorts of wildlife. You’ll now be able to decide how far you want to take this trip, as there are three options: Two drainage channels, or all the way to Running Creek. Going to the end will add 10km to the trip we did. Again, the current is minor, but you can feel it as you paddle. We took the first drainage canal, about 4km upstream from the Sydenham.
There are two low level bridges to get under and you have to duck! Water levels rarely fluctuate enough that you’d need to portage around, and there’s always plenty of depth to paddle in.
We headed up the channel until we got back to Running Creek and again turned right. This stretch is quiet, narrow and travels through farmer fields. We’re heading downstream again, and you can feel it in your arms!
We wrapped up about 3-3.5 hours after we started. It was a steady paddle without breaks, but we weren’t looking to set any records either. If you’re looking for a more scenic sea kayak style adventure, or just want to get out on some flat water to practice your skills, this is a great trip in southwestern Ontario.
COST: Free kayaking, free parking.
Difficulty: Easy. Rivers are deep and wide. There are a number of loop routes ranging from 16km to 26km, or pick a tributary and follow it.
More info: Wallaceburg Water Trails
By: Jake O'Flaherty
For trip booking information, check out Naturally Superior Adventures website.
It took me four attempts to reach Denison Falls. The first attempt came in July of 2015 as I was contracted to provide on-water safety for a group of summer campers. Our trip was a convoy of tandem sea kayaks with guides in singles, centred around a 36-foot voyageur canoe that I was at the stern of. We had four days to make the 50 kilometre-return trip along the Lake Superior coastline.
An unanticipated family emergency arose on the second day and needed to leave so we performed an impromptu “switch-a-roo” as another guide paddled his way out to meet us. This set our schedule back and we were then faced with a decision. We could push the group hard and make up for the lost day; or to readjust our plans and take it easy. After discussion, the other guides and I made the choice to readjust the course. Reaching Denison Falls was not the primary goal of this trip, and after presenting the options and plan to the group, they wholeheartedly agreed. The campers were 14-16 years and had spent the whole summer together. They were a riot! There were a few times I was crying from laughing so hard at the jokes that they made. The extra day at camp was an opportunity for the group to bond and make new memories. There were no qualms about not reaching Denison Falls, and in two days myself and the other guides would head out again in that direction with another group form the summer camp.
In the time between the trips, we were watching the weather quite intently; it looked as if a storm would be brewing on Lake Superior on the third day of our four-day trip. We realized once again we would be rushing to reach Denison. The forecast proved to be correct, and the weather day came in just as planned.
One of the most magical things about spending time in the wilderness is the creative ways people fill in hours. With no cell phones, television, or internet to distract ourselves, we find entertainment in the smallest things. The weather day was filled with examining native plants, skipping stones, laughs by the campfire, and swimming off the smooth rocks at the Minnekona campsite. Although this trip also did not reach the falls, there’s no doubt it was a success.
Late in that 2015 summer two of my childhood friends drove up from the Toronto area to take advantage of some free time we all had. Three reasonablly fit individuals could easily make the trip to Denison in the four days we had planned. Lake Superior had different plans that week. An August gale whipped up, and for the next four days the winds were rarely below 15 knots from the west, which would have been headwinds the entire journey out. We took a canoe trip on a river inland instead.
The following June the stars aligned. The weather window looked to be enough to finally complete the trek to the falls. As part of a guide’s training week early in the summer, the Naturally Superior Adventure’s staff journeyed to Denison Falls while getting prepared for the upcoming paddling season.
Much of the coastline between the NSA base at the Michipicoten River and the Nimoosh Provincial Park -where the Dog River and Denison Falls are located – is undeveloped. The exceptions include private residences for the first few kilometres and the Michipicoten First Nation reserve just after Perkwakia Point. Perkwakia Point is of special interest, as it is home to the last manually operated lighthouse on the Canadian Side of Lake Superior and offers a panoramic view of Michipicoten Bay. The landing is rather rocky and only feasible in calm conditions.
The campsites found on the route are unique. They offer sandy, sheltered landings and are maintained by local stewards who take it upon themselves to maintain them. In my opinion they are some of the most beautiful sites on the lake. McCoy Harbour, a tombolo lined with white sand dunes and punctuated by a rocky point, makes an excellent campsite or lunch spot. It marks the ¾ point between the Michipicoten River and the Dog.
The Dog River mouth is marked by a long rock bar. It is arguably one of the nicest spits around. I consider myself to be a bit of a rock aficionado, especially when it comes to camping on them. And let me tell you, the rocks here are of the highest quality. Between “grain of sand” and “stone”, the nickel and quarter sized pebbles are perfect for carving out a contour for a sleeping pad. Don’t get me started on how much I really can’t stand camping on sand either. Camping on sand results in it being caught between your toes, in your hair, armpits, sleeping bags, anywhere imaginable. Not this stuff though. These rocks, well, they rock.
The camping area at the Dog River is fantastic. Contemporary paddlers are by no means the first ones to discover it. A pictograph on one of the cliffs entering the river indicate the area has been used by Anishinaabe people, likely as a fishing area. Later, Booth Co commercial fisheries ran a small outfit out of the nearby Dog Harbour. Remnants of a fish camp can be seen on the Dog River as well.
For canoeists travelling down the river, the falls would have been a murderous portage. For those venturing upriver, it is an adventure.
Part of the mystique surrounding these falls is that they are not easy to get to. After the 25-kilometre paddle to the river mouth, a semi-grueling bushwhack masquerading as a hike awaits. On the map it will show to be less than three kilometres alongside the river, but the reality is often very different. Expect to climb over deadfalls and sidestep down embankments. There’s a chance the path may disappear from under your feet at some point. As the trail meets the river a waterfall appears. Some believe this to be Denison Falls. Although these falls are nice, they pale in comparison to what awaits up the rope and around the bend.
One of my favourite things to do at Denison Falls is to scramble up to the top of the falls, sometimes swimming in the pools along the way when the water level is right. Looking down from the top provides an interesting perspective.
There is a certain energy at these falls, knowing that so many other eyes have shared the view for so many years, and yet the falls remain untouched. I believe part of the reason for that is the challenge to get to the falls. It would be a different feeling if they were simply a roadside pullover. It is a hard feeling to describe. The only way to truly understand is to see them for yourself.
Jake O’Flaherty is a guide for Naturally Superior Adventures based on Lake Superior near Wawa, Ontario. Information on guided trips to Denison Falls can be found at naturallysuperior.com/sea-kayak-denison-falls
A New Year, A New Adventure: Each year, since we began this annual tradition (brothers weeklong backcountry kayak-camping trip), I think to myself there is just no possible way we can top the previous year’s location. We have been very fortunate to have already visited so many fantastic paddling destinations throughout Georgian Bay (Philip Edward, McCoys, Mink, Franklin, French River/Bustards, & Benjamin Islands) and of course last year's amazing coastal paddling route of Lake Superior Provincial Park. How do you top that? Well this year we decided to check-off another location from our growing bucket list that was actually supposed to be last season's trip but was changed last minute due to an unruly Lake Superior. The Slate Islands are located approximately 13kms off Lake Superior's beautiful and rugged north shore directly across from the quaint little town of Terrace Bay Ontario. This cluster of two large islands (& several smaller ones) are designated as a natural environment Provincial Park.
There are no provincially marked campsites or services but there are several areas that have been established by locals over the years. The Islands are chocked full of amazing human and natural history. Most notably is the fact that the islands were created by a meteorite impact, and are home to a herd of endangered woodland caribou. Unfortunately we were unable to see any caribou on our circumnavigation of the islands. We have been told the population has declined due to wolves crossing to the islands over an ice bridge and that some caribou may have crossed back to the mainland.
In recent news, the Canadian Government has relocated woodland caribou from another Lake Superior Island (Michipicoten), facing the same challenges, over to the Slates with hope of saving the region’s dwindling population.
Getting There: The North Shore Our scheduled 10.5 hour drive from Windsor Ontario cutting up through Michigan and back across at Sault St. Marie on our way to Terrace Bay would actually take us closer to 14 hours when including food breaks, multiple border crossings, traffic and numerous road/bridge construction projects along I-75 and the Trans Canada Highway. We would end up putting over 2,400 kms on the odometer before making it home over a week later.
Road trips often become a big part of the adventure, and we tackled this one by leaving at 4am on a Saturday with hopes of making it up there in time to paddle across to the islands before sunset. We lucked out with zero issues at either border crossing and the drive up I-75 through Michigan is actually very wooded and peaceful. The real fun begins after passing through the city of Sault St. Marie Ontario and traveling West on the Trans-Canada Highway. This section follows the shore of Lake Superior providing stunning views and glorious winding mountainous roads through thick forests that are speckled with beautiful inland lakes. This is rugged, wild land with limited locations to fill the tank or grab a bite to eat. Be sure to stop in some of the small towns/communities such as Batchawana Bay, Wawa or White River.
As we rolled into Terrace Bay we came to the sad realization that due to our late arrival and the soon to be setting sun, it might be wiser to just stay at a local motel and tackle the 13km open water crossing bright and early the next morning. We both ended up passing out around 9pm with an alarm set for 5am the next morning.
The Crossing And Exploration Of The Islands: We woke up early and double checked several weather apps/forecasts before setting out to the public beach. We had both agreed that we would not attempt the crossing unless weather and waves were near perfect and if Superior chose not to cooperate we'd continue our journey west along the coast.
Most people that venture across to the Slate Islands hire a local shuttle to bring them, their gear, and canoe/kayak across. Prices and contact info can be found on the Town of Terrace Bay website. Luckily for us, Superior was smooth as glass. Our only challenge would be the extremely dense fog. We took a bearing, relying on our deck compass and Garmin GPS to point us in the right direction for our 2 hour paddle across the lake to the islands. Within a couple minutes of leaving the public beach the shore disappeared into the fog. It was eerie paddling for 2 hours straight and not seeing anything from either direction. The entire time the sun was attempting to penetrate the fog but failed until about 1/2 km off the shore of Mortimer Island. We planned to land in the middle of the north island (Slates consist of 2 large islands, Mortimer and Patterson to the south along with dozens of small islands) and work our way into the interior bay/channel created by the 2 large islands.
Most visitors spend the majority of their trip exploring the sheltered natural bay between the 2 islands, with some making their way around the outer exposed portions. We had hoped to completely circumnavigate both islands if the weather permitted as well as explore the interior to do some fishing (known for fantastic lake trout).
We decided that we would break camp each and every day, not establishing a set base camp in an effort to see more of the island(s). Our first day's camp would be at the "Come n’ Rest" cabin located on one of the smaller interior islands (McColl). The MNR has locked the two buildings and we found the site appeared to be falling into a state of disrepair. We explored the grounds finding all sorts of interesting artifacts before setting up our tent on the cabin’s porch. We would continue to move around each day establishing a new camp as we progressed around the islands. Each site was completely different in appearance and feel. From dense wooded sites to fine sandy beaches to grey unearthly rock to cobblestone bays to black (almost volcanic) rock to sharp edged slate beaches.
Each campsite was absolutely beautiful and unique. Along our travels we enjoyed fishing, hiking up to inland lakes, exploring mazes of shoals speckled along the shoreline, crawling into an old mine shaft, rock jumping into Superior's chilly waters, watching bald eagles soar above, beautiful sunsets with loons calling and warm nightly driftwood fueled bonfires. A personal highlight was paddling into Sunday Harbour on Paterson's south side and hiking up 250+ feet to see the 36ft tall Slate Island Light House that was built in 1903.
It is my understanding that it is the highest lighthouse on the Great Lakes. The view of the island was amazing from that vantage point and worth all the bug bites (black flies). In the end we made camp in 6 different locations, and circumnavigated 90% of both islands.
Our scheduled return trip ended up being delayed one day due to a wind advisory calling for 2-3 metre high waves. Overall the weather on this trip was fantastic except for our second last day where we were trapped under a tarp with torrential downpour for the entire day/night. Not bad for a week on the big lake. Thick fog would once again engulf us on our return paddle, but would be accompanied by almost glass like water conditions, so we couldn't complain. The Slate Islands definitely lived up to our expectations with their remote, rugged and diverse beauty. With another adventure in the books, where to next?
Jill Brown is a rising star on the kayak/canoe/hiking expedition scene. Born and raised in Ontario, she took her vast skill set to Canada's West Coast to push the boundaries of the BC backcountry. Never one to say no to a challenge, she has done solo packrafting trips in the Yukon, wilderness kayak trips in Ontario's rugged and untamed Northwest and tackled the mighty Colorado in a tandem kayak through the Grand Canyon. We are all big fans and we are lucky to have had the chance to work with Jill.
Born and raised in Ontario, What lead you on all of these amazing adventures?
Growing up on Coney Island on Lake of the Woods, I was always off having adventures. Whether catching turtles from my kayak in the near by marsh, or tracking deer and bear through the woods that surrounded our cabin. This is where my passion for adventure was derived from. Accompanied by my passion for photography, I have been able to blend the two in the past few years. Reconnected back with the water, the wild, my camera and sense of spontaneity after a 77 day cross Canada trip. I returned to Squamish, BC with a new sense of determination to explore. Never turning down an adventure when placed in front of me.
Sea kayaking or whitewater?
When it comes to the type of paddling I enjoy most I have to say both are even for different reasons. Sea kayaking allows me to capture every moment with my cameras accessible and capable of being out. Allowing me to take others along on my adventures more freely with my imagery. Whitewater though, allows me to connect with my adrenaline. It also opens up many places others have not visited, let alone with cameras along. I feel more in touch with nature as the spray of a pounding river hits my face, a river’s shores with the tracks of the wilds only inhabitants strewn about. Where as sea kayaking, I feel freer, the world is open to explore.
How have you turned your passion for paddling into a career?
I am one of the lucky few in this world, who has a passion that is able to make a career and lifestyle out of. Not just that, but it creates endless opportunities for every possible adventure and passion I could have. Putting my Photography and paddling together has opened up many doors, mainly because most photographers are not willing to risk the gear, hard to find a person skilled in both, and willing to go out on a whim and hope they can capture those hidden moments among the waves. Really, it’s through a lot of hard work and determination though. Having the drive to try and not just think it isn’t possible and never turning down an opportunity and making sure to always having the camera along to document.
What future projects are you working on?
This Spring, I, with the company of long distance canoeist Martin Trahan, will embark on an incredible 7 month journey. Beginning in the Pacific Ocean south of Seattle, we will paddle up against the Columbia River, Portage 600 kilometers through the Rockies, and then continue eastward to St.louis, retracing the paddle strokes of famous explorers Lewis and Clark. From St. Louis we head southwards to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, The final destination is the tip of the Florida Keys. More people have walked on the moon than achieved this cross country, 7,000 kilometer plus journey.
THE EXPEDITION: Excerpt from coursingthroughamerica.com
From April to November of 2018, two Canadian adventures aims to paddle an open canoe across America; from the Pacific Ocean just south of Seattle to the Atlantic Ocean at the tip of Florida. As you can imagine, this trip will take a grueling 220 days to complete the 4750 miles from coast to coast. This is the expedition of a lifetime. Inspired by Verlen Kruger and Karl Adams, the team will travel across United States of America from the northwest coast to the Southeast coast in less than a year. This adventure will take the team across America’s natural waters to pursue their dream of discovery, understanding and consciousness of the world around them. This incredible seven-month journey will empower the participants to engage in a close relationship with nature while retracing the legendary explorations of many historical voyageurs such as Lewis and Clark, Louis Jolliet, Jacques Marquette as well as follow the traces of America’s First Nations.
Otherwise, I am always on the lookout for new projects and goals. A big fingers crossed for a Russian expedition in the next couple of years. Other future projects include: Paddling the English River in Northwestern Ontario, finishing a goal of summiting the highest peak in South Western BC, Skihist Mountain, after my last attempt was thwarted by Mother Nature. Cascade Inlet and the mountains that surround it, is another project in the works. My mind is always racing with ideas. I hear of a river or area that few have seen or explored and I am drawn to it, to share its beauty with the world. I am, as well continuously being presented with projects and ideas and team ups with numerous other adventure seekers, to which I am always excited for!
What does it mean to be a women influencer in the adventure sports industry?
Honestly, overwhelming to have so many other women, both young and old telling me how inspired they are from following my adventures. I shouldn’t really single out women when it comes to this, as the most beautiful thing is the encouragement I receive from men in such a male dominant industry. This industry is incredibly difficult to break into for both men and women. I do my best to be all inclusive. Capturing both grit and beauty has always been my goal. To be influencing others, whether women or men, to get out and follow their passions, connect with the wild, paddle, fulfill our natural instinct to explore and experience the peace that even the biggest of creatures can bring to you is truly the passion behind everything I do.