Dave and I just finished paddling up the French River and are getting ready to cross Lake Nipissing, some 40 days into our 2,000-mile expedition. Our chosen modes of travel are canoe and sailboat. The route: Ely, Minn., to Washington, D.C. The purpose: Save the pristine water of the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) from the threat of sulfide ore mining.
We departed from the Voyageur Outward Bound School on the Kawishiwi River on August 24. A flotilla of 20 canoes joined us on the water for the first mile. We paddled right past the proposed mine site of Twin Metals and followed the flow of the water into the Boundary Waters, where we followed the U.S.-Canada border for 160 miles to the top of the 8.5-mile Grand Portage. After a slog down the trail where we soaked in a few lessons, we reached the wide-open expanse of Lake Superior.
On Superior, we loaded Sig—a 20-foot Wenonah MN 3 named in honor of wilderness/Boundary Water champion Sigurd Olson, as well as the signatures gathering on its bow as a symbolic petition—onto the deck of our 27-foot sailboat and headed down Minnesota's North Shore. We reached Duluth in time to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act on September 3. We then headed east along the South Shore of Lake Superior, passing through the Apostle Islands, the Keweenaw Peninsula and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, highlighting a few of our favorite paddling destinations along the way. — Amy Freeman
Lake Superior’s top paddling picks
As we sailed along Lake Superior's shores I couldn't help but reminisce about the time Dave and I kayaked around Lake Superior in the fall of 2006. We passed by all sorts of memorable locations so much faster in our sailboat, but if we had to name a few of our favorite paddling spots, they’d be the following.
Palisade Head and Shovel Point: You can launch a kayak right in Tettegouche State Park, on Minnesota's North Shore near Silver Bay. The towering rhyolite cliffs and headlands make this stretch of lakeshore unique. Not many people know that there are caves and arches to explore on this side of the lake.
Apostle Islands: This is a well-known paddler's paradise. The Apostle Islands are a National Park, located out from the Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin. There are many established campsites on the islands. The sandstone caves and arches along the mainland and out on some of the islands are fun to explore on a calm day.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Blew our socks off. This stretch of shoreline is in Michigan, between Munising and Grand Marais. Massive sandstone cliffs line the shore. There are caves, arches and even a waterfall that drops straight into the lake. Water leaches through the sandstone, depositing minerals on the faces of the cliffs. This creates a painted look, with streaks of reddish brown, white, black and even greenish blue.
Our journey has been punctuated by events in various towns like Ashland, Wis., Houghton, Marquette and Munising, Mich. We've been sharing our story, imparting our love of the Boundary Waters and warning of the threat of pollution from proposed sulfide ore mines. After holding 15 events, over 800 people have heard our message in person so far. The BWCAW is, after all, the nation's most-visited wilderness area, receiving a quarter of a million visitors each year. The question we implore people to consider is: Should we allow America's most toxic industry to operate within the watershed of our most popular wilderness area?
National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, Dave and Amy Freeman, are in the midst of Paddle to DC, a 100-day, 2,000-mile journey by water from Minnesota to Washington, D.C., in order to protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide ore mining. Check out PaddletoDC.org to learn more about the project and to sign the petition. Click HERE to read more about Dave Freeman's 400-mile canoe descent of the Brazilian Amazon's storied Rio Roosevelt, and HERE to read about the Freeman's 11,700-mile North American Odyssey.
The Freemans will be sending in a series of dispatches from their Paddle to D.C. journey, highlighting skills, destinations and lessons learned as they paddle, portage, and sail SIG across the country.
Click to read Part I: Lessons from the Grand Portage.