Mother Superior 

The area between the Sleeping Giant and Rossport is still well paddled so there are a fair few ‘rustic’ campsites. We lucked out and found one of these tucked onto the north shore of a well sheltered island just short of our next crossing. And then sat there for 2 days. It was so well protected from wind and swell that we struggled to believe the weather was really that bad, but a severe weather warning for strong winds and big swell covered the entire of west Lake Superior, and on looking through binoculars at the treetops behind us and on the other side of the bay we could convince ourselves to sit tight… we whiled away the time with our books and Lord of the Rings, made some necessary repairs, battled with the tarp and failed to catch some more fish. It was a particularly pretty camp though and we told ourselves there were worse places we could be stuck… 

By Sunday morning the weather was due to have settled so we were up early to make the most of it. As usual, Mike was out of the tent first but returned pretty smartish. 

‘It’s bloody freezing! And I can’t see a thing!’. 

‘That’s because you’ve got us up before dawn…’ I may have replied. 

‘Nope, dense fog. Can’t even see the water.’ 

We had breakfast in the tent and found our extra layers before packing up and setting off. Mike was right, it was freezing and we couldn’t see a thing, and the first glimmers of dawn had the same effect as full beams in fog: quite magical but entirely unhelpful. Still, armed with GPS and compass we were able to progress with me trying to describe to Mike whereabouts we were. At one point, questioning a direction change, he said ‘nope, I just can’t visualise it’ to which I said ‘I’m writing ‘Happy Birthday Phil’ with our track!’. He stopped asking questions after that… 

Two days of strong south westerlies had created a pretty significant swell which we enjoyed rolling over on the crossings. There were vacuoles in the fog which gave us glimpses of the coast but most of the time we could just hear the waves crashing on the shore somewhere off our beam. And then suddenly they were crashing in front of us and beside us and behind us and we found ourselves amongst some rocky islets not marked on the map. We dove in to the shore and had ’emergency coffee’ (read: chocolate) until we could see a bit more.

Whilst on the shore we spotted a double sea kayak paddling past and out straight through all the breakers. ‘People!!!’ I squeaked. But they were already swallowed by the fog. Amazingly we caught up with them a few kilometres along the coast. We’d been behind them for a while when they abruptly turned to head out to sea – nearly t-boning them we saw the name of their boat: Titanic! We stopped for a chat and they asked if we’d found any of the ‘Secret Saunas’. ‘Then the stories are true???’ We asked. They very kindly pointed the next one out on the map and we promptly paddled our socks off to get to it. 

Tucked deep into a bay where we undoubtedly would have missed it is the CPR slip (I may be giving away Superior secrets here but I’m trusting to our readership not to tell…). A cabin, several pontoons, a big fire pit and a HUGE sauna! We had the fire lit before we’d even unpacked the boat or explored further – we’d noticed the weather was distinctly cooler since we’d stopped in Thunder Bay but now it was most certainly Autumn and any opportunity to warm up was very welcome! 

We had considered carrying on that evening but once clean and warm, we really treated ourselves and spent the night in the cabin which meant food at a table and a bunk to sleep in. Ultimate luxury. 

Knowing the weather was against us we set off the next day to paddle in the relative shelter of St Ignace island which was stunning, and then got absolutely brutalised by conflicting wind and 2m swell on the exposed sections south of Simpson island. Physically and mentally exhausted we pulled into a beach which had looked promising on the map. Not a spot to pitch a tent (but lots of wild peas, surprisingly, which we happily harvested for dinner). We had lunch and discussed and eventually carried on just around the headland to find ‘MacKay cove’ – another backcountry campsite, maintained by volunteers and beautifully sheltered. Think of it as a bothy but without the building… we spent 2 nights waiting out some fierce northerlies, reading and eating warm bannock for lunch and drying our kit. It was all very relaxing apart from being woken by something tripping over one of our guys ropes at night and then thundering off into the bush… 

With the freezing northerlies reportedly subsiding we set out towards Rossport… and pulled in again after 5km to let them actually subside. Waiting it out on a tiny pebble beach, which we convinced ourselves we could probably camp on if we really had to, we kept a pretty close eye on the channel we needed to get across. 

Eventually the white caps disappeared and we made fairly short work of the 2.5km crossing. Gaining a bit more shelter in between the islands of Rossport we planned to head to a provincial park along the coast. Then we got some mobile signal and found out about the restaurant in Rossport… and the cabins. We didn’t make the campsite! 

What we learnt: 

Superior is beautiful but frustrating in equal measure.

The saunas aren’t a myth.

Cas’s navigating isn’t half as shonky as it used to be!

Thanks go to:

Carole and Yvan for the tip off!

The lovely couple who let a pair of stinky paddlers join their table in the packed restaurant.

6 thoughts on “Mother Superior 

  • We arrived at MacKay Cove the same day you left and knew you had been there because Yvan found a tent peg with “made in England” stamped on it! Then we found your entry in the log book. Humans were so few and far between on that stretch of Lake Superior that on the morning we left CPR slip, we passed one the handful of cottages on St. Ignace island, and a lady came down running to the shore crying out “Rush hour! there a canoe about 1.5 hour ahead of you!” We hope Superior lets you continue your wonderful trip. The invitation in Montreal still stands!

    Carole and Yvan

    • Hi Carole and Yvan! Ha, can’t be many people on the lake, especially at this time of year! We found Mackay Cove by accident, after scaring ourselves rounding a headland just before in huge swell and wind. It’s a great place to be stuck in bad weather, though we’re not sure the tent peg is ours!

      It was great to meet you, and thanks again for sharing the location of the sauna! Was a real treat. You may have seen we got off Superior at Marathon. The weather was looking too wild to let us make much more progress, and we made the right decision. We’re edging along the North Channel of Huron, but windswept again today. If we’re going to reach Montreal we’ll let you know!

  • Yay we have internet back up and you have more posts! I LOVE your blog – great pics and great to hear your news. No new nephew or niece here yet….. but can’t be long. xx

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