On the way home from a long weekend of instructing at the Door County Sea Kayak Symposium, I took a detour up to Lake Superior to meet up with friends and paddle Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 40+ miles of sandstone cliffs, dunes, sea caves, arches and waterfalls.
At 350 miles (563 km) by 160 miles (257 km) Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world…it plunges to a depth of over 1300 feet and has had recorded waves of over 20 feet. But on this sunny mid-summer day, the water was as smooth (and as clear) as glass, which allowed me and my friends John and Josh Tatro to explore the cliffs and caves up close. Low water levels (Superior is about 18 inches below normal levels) opened up caves that we never could have gotten into before…
Pictured Rocks gets it’s name from the myriad colors formed by minerals filtering through the sandstone. Copper oxidizes into a turquoise green; iron appears as orange streaks; there are whites, blacks, ochres…all juxtaposed against the aquamarine water.
I snapped this photo of John and Josh…it gives a sense of the scale of the place as well as the colors (click for a full view).
In retrospect, one of the really wild things about paddling the rocks is the feeling of scale one experiences as a kayaker. We spent a good part of the day peering up at huge cliff walls…and the other half of the day trying to fit our kayaks (and ourselves) into the smallest nooks and crannies we could find. Both had a way of creating a feeling of being pretty small and insignificant compared to the forces that shaped these rocks.
Above (left to right): Josh Tatro works his way through deep, but rather low sea cave; me contemplating all the things that could go wrong with this seemingly convenient bivy spot; me popping out of another sea cave.
We had a lot of fun scampering around on the rocks….the sandstone is really grippy, which is hell on your gel coat, but great for climbing (and getting a good angle for a photo)…and lots of conglomerate rocks meant plenty of handholds.
Above (left to right): I found this wall a lot easier to get up than to get down (now, where was that handhold again??); Josh navigating the caves on all fours; John and Josh moments before I took the quick way down into the 51F water.