The second day of the trip started with, not surprisingly a beautiful sunny day.  Sleeping in a hammock can get pretty cold, even when it is not that cold out, because of the lack of insulation below your butt.  In contrast, once the sun rose in the morning, the rays of the sun heats the hammock quickly.

My breakfasts on the trip were called Oat-Fit, and there were a quick oatmeal product, not unlike the Quaker variety, except much higher in quality (although ironically not higher in cost).  I found them at Wal-Mart, but have sense seen similar products at Costco.  They have one that is oatmeal with, get this, real chocolate.  That was my choice for this morning. AWESOME!!!

Packing the boat on day 2 was much easier than day 1, because I knew where everything fit.  Breaking camp kinda sucks because I didn’t have any big bag to carry a bunch of stuff from camp to boat at one time.  At NOLS we had large duffel bags to carry things to the boats.  That would have saved a few trips, which would have been nice.

Today was a BIG day.  The plan was to cross from South Manitou to North Manitou, which is defiantly larger, but more remote.  The crossing is approximately 4 miles, and the islands circumference is approximately 20 miles.  My plan was to paddle across to North Manitou, cross the western side, and the North side, and then make it to the ranger station on the east side, where there is the only campground on the island.  Unlike South Manitou, on North Manitou you can camp in the backcountry, but have to be 300 yards away from the water “so as not to ruin anyone else’s experience”.

The crossing was long, with a Northerly breeze, getting stronger the closer I got to North Manitou.  By the time I reached the island there were frequent white caps and waves breaking over the bow.  Although it is fun to have water crash over my boat while the boat stays remarkably stable and dry, it does get cold, and I decided that in such conditions, I should land on North Manitou, eat some GORP lunch and change into my dry suit.  The dry suit is a new procurement, thanks to the REI Anniversary sale.  The suit is a Kokatat Gore-Tex front entry suit.  To protect the Gore-Tex booties, I put on my Xtra-Tuf boots, which are an Alaska essential.

After a meal and getting into my foulies, I hop back into the kayak and start out on the most grueling paddle of my trip.  The northbound leg up the west side of the island was certainly an interesting paddle.  The western side of both of the Manitou island’s are large sand dunes.  According to Native Legend, the Sleeping Bear Dunes were made when a mother bear and her two cubs tried to cross Lake Michigan from Wisconsin to Michigan.  The mother bear was able to make the crossing, but the two cubs did not.  The cubs became North and South Manitou islands, and the mother stayed along the shore, hoping to reconnect with her cubs, creating the sleeping bear dune, after which the shoreline is named.

Paddling along the dunes was interesting, although it made me acutely aware that if I needed to land, there was a beach to land on, but little shelter to be found.  The wind continued to be against me on this leg of the journey, and fatigue started to set in.  I would continually mark out a feature on the shore line, and try to paddle so I was parallel to that feature before I rested my arms.  Often times, my eyes did not know the limits of my weary arms, but it is always good to set lofty goals.

The most direct goal was to round the corner from a northerly course to an easterly course.  Each time I think, OK, maybe this will be the turn….  Nope.  A little further.  Maybe around this point.  Nope.

But then finally there I was, staring down the long wall of dune that makes the north side of the island.  The NPS ranger on So. Manitou, Sean, had told me that if I got too tired, there is a great camping site on the north-west part of North Manitou that many kayakers used.  I didn’t want to give up early, making tomorrow’s paddle that much harder, but it was tempting to stop after a hard northerly paddle into the wind.

In the end it was a moot point, because I never found the site.  It was for the better, anyway.  Once I turned to the east, I was glad that I hadn’t stopped.  The paddling suddenly became easier.  I warmed up, and was able to take the dry suit off.  I started to really cruise, and before I knew it, I was turning back to the south into a large bay that houses the camp and the ranger station.

This is where things started to get weird.

So the ranger station at North Manitou was not just a shack.  It was more like a small village.  An empty village, with literally only one person, a NPS maintenance worker.  He was a nice enough guy, and even showed me this amazing barn they have on the property, and then pointed me the way to the only campground on the island.  With how beautifully maintained the village was, and considering how nice my campground was last night, I had high expectations for the N. Manitou campground.  Strangely the campground totally sucked.  It was cut into a thicket, and felt more like a POW camp than a place one would like to spend their vacation. Plus there was a high pitched hum of insects ready to suck you dry.  Needless to say this was not an option, and so I started looking for a suitable place to bushwhack.  I was not opposed to breaking the silly regulation about camping near the lake, and even thought of poaching somewhere within the village.  I kept searching, and kept slowly making my way farther south.  It was getting late; after 8pm.  I was leery to camp near the village, lest someone find me and tell me to move along.  Finally I found a pretty nice spot with perfect trees for a hammock close to the beach.  Apparently the park service was aware of how “wonderful” this spot was because they had placed a marker that said “No Camping”.  I thought it was a perfect feature to hang some of my gear.

The sun was almost set as I unpacked the kayak, set up camp and finally sat down for some dinner.  The day was long and I decided to treat myself to Mountain House “Chicken ala King”, which received rave reviews on the REI website, and is also one of MH’s most expensive meals.  Sadly I found it lacking.  It was basically chicken noodle casserole.  But still a good end to a strong day of paddling.


Surprisingly, I have not gone on a sea kayaking expedition since the summer of 2007, when I spent a month in the Tongass Wilderness of Southeast Alaska, and spent a week paddling the Massasauga Provincial Park in Onterio.  Five years!  Where has the time gone, and what have I been doing (oh, yeah… medical school, and residency).

But it was time to change that poor track record, and so I have decided to dedicate more time to sea kayaking this year.  I have made several short excursions around the area, including visiting my friends from Riverside Kayak Connection for their Wednesday Night Kayak events,  and had paddled out to Kelly’s Island in Lake Erie, but I’ve been wanting to get back into multi day Kayak camping expeditions.

One of the paddling trips that I kept seeing while researching sea kayaking in the Great Lakes was the paddle to South Manitou Island in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  The trip starts with an exposed 8 mile crossing in the middle of Lake Michigan, with cold water, unpredictable conditions and freighter traffic through the shipping lanes.

Click here to see a map of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

As it turned out, I was already planning to attend the Great Lakes Regional Wilderness Medicine Conference in Gaylord, MI, and then had a week of vacation following, so I was already in the neighborhood for a great expedition.

As all accounts will tell you, if you are planning on Kayaking over to South Manitou, it is best to put out from the Glen Haven Canning Co. in Glen Haven, an open-air museum village run by the Park Service.

Thousands of similar pictures exist, but you can trust that I actually TOOK this one, because my trusted Volvo is parked in the “No Parking” area nearby.

After the long, rainy weekend, made worse by the fact that I was the only one at the conference with the bright idea to actually “Commune with the Wilderness” by camping in my tiny REI quarter dome tent next to huge campers at the truly lovely-when-not-rained-out Otsego Lake State Park, the sun was out, the sky was warm and I was ready to dip my P&H Capella into it’s 3rd Great Lake.

It was approximately 5pm by the time that I started, not the safest hour to start a major crossing, but the sun was high, and NOAA had assured me good crossing conditions.  The water started as a vibrant Aqua blue with bottom features easily visible below.  As the water got deeper, the color changed to a most magnificent deep blue, but never quite to black.

Navigationally, it was a very easy paddle, just point to the South Manitou lighthouse, and make corrections as needed.  There was a 5-10 mph northwesterly wind that started kicking up some whitecaps in mid-crossing, and as my arms started to get cold, I reflected on the foolishness of crossing this water without a dry-suit on.  But after 2 hours of paddling, I made it to South Manitou Island.

The end of the crossing: looking at the lighthouse on South Manitou Island, Lake Michigan.

A note of history about South Manitou Island: as the only natural harbor on the east side of Lake Michigan, South Manitou Island was a natural place for cargo and steamer ships to “wait out the storms”.

Obviously not a picture taken by me, but this is an old photo of the US Life Saving Station Crew.

A US Life Saving Station (which actually preceded the creation of the US Coast Guard) was located at the harbor to help stranded vessels.

“The Crib” located off the shoals of North Manitou Island could be seen and heard in the distance throughout the trip.

A lighthouse was built on the island, and a “shoal light” was built off the coast of North Manitou to facilitate shipping through the Manitou Passage.  The Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1958 due to “obsolescence”, and therefore could not help guide the Liberian freighter, the Francisco Morazan, which wrecked off of South Manitou in November of 1960 (Seriously, as the saying goes, “It’s always the Liberians!”).

I landed at the rescue station, and ended up finding Sean, the Park Service Ranger, who I found out was a Federal Agent, professional bad-ass, and regularly carried a firearm during his on-duty hours.  Luckily by 7pm he was off-duty and his fire arm was safely tucked out of view.  He told me he was glad I had gotten across safely, because apparently less than 50% of people who attempt the crossing actually make it, and they end up calling the Coast Guard (that option sounded expensive).  I asked him where the best spot to camp was, and he recommended that site #23 at the Bay Campground.  “Its larger and more secluded.  Out there by the old cemetery.  The only other people at Bay Campground are at site #6, so they shouldn’t bother you at all.”  Great: all the makings of a classic B-rate horror movie.

Location for tent placement. Note the trail leads directly down to the beach.

True to his word, site #23 was a pleasant location right off the beach with trees perfect for setting up my Henessey hammock and a feeling of camping right on the beach.

In what would become a theme for the trip, it was well after 9pm by the time I had unpacked, set up camp and was ready to sit down to dinner, Mexican Chicken and Rice provided by Mountain House.

Stay tuned for our next adventure, and Andrew and the P&H paddle to North Manitou Island.