Monday, September 3, 2007

Around Isle au Haut

Todd and I have been working up to this one for awhile: Isle au Haut. We've taken trips to it, and gone around the nearby islands, but never circumnavigated it. From Stonington, the small mountains on Isle au Haut are the backdrop to the archipelago between, where we usually paddle. It's almost a boundary, representing the area we can easily get to and from in a day. We've often imagined though, what it would be like when we really had a whole day to paddle, and we could push beyond our usual boundaries. The south side, which is mostly wilderness and part of Acadia National Park, is boldly exposed to the open ocean, and could turn wild in a hurry.

It's about twelve miles to get to Isle au Haut and back. It's probably fifteen to paddle around it. By any estimate, it's at least a 25 - 30-mile paddle. We left at 6:30 yesterday morning on an outgoing tide. Knowing we had far to go, we made an effort to paddle efficiently, but we also had the tide and wind pushing us. We made it to Western Ear by nine.

The change from the archipelago to Isle au Haut is immediately evident. Instead of pink granite, dark schist cliffs rise directly from the ocean. On shore, hardwoods mix with the more usual spruce, and rounded cobbles cover the beaches. Even the seaweed is different. Every now and then, an impressive-looking summer home rests atop a cliff, its windows facing a broad, uninterrupted horizon. Even on a calm day, the swell from the deep, open ocean feels powerful, and capable of changing moods in an instant.

At the tip of Eastern Head, we turned right, paddling in toward Head Harbor, and then along the cliffs toward Western Head. As we rounded Western Ear, Brimstone Island was suddenly visible, looking closer and bigger than ever, immediately followed by the Camden Hills. Despite the Sunday ban on lobstering, a few fishermen were out hauling traps. Around this time, the tide turned, which would help get us back to Stonington.

We kept our breaks short, stretching-out and quickly eating before moving-on. We were in the Isle au Haut Thorofare by eleven or twelve, and feeling a little fatigued. When I raced to surf down a powerboat's wake, I felt it in my muscles, and decided to use my energy more wisely. At this point we'd both probably paddled farther than ever before in one day, and we still had to get home.

We started seeing more kayakers; after all, it was a beautiful Sunday on Labor Day weekend. We sat on Bill's Island for one last rest before paddling the last, much more familiar stretch. The water had turned far more heavy and thick than on our way out. We returned to a busy boat ramp at 2:15. About eight hours: 7 hours paddling, 1 hour of breaks.

When we saw a friend at the ramp, I couldn't resist: "Go ahead," I encouraged him. "Ask us where we went."

Last night: ten hours of sleep.


Wandering Boy said...

I realize this is an account of a trip taken some time ago, but I am planning a similar trip this September (I plan to kayak to Isle la Haut then camp there for a couple of days while I explore the coastline) and would appreciate any information you can provide on what I might expect. I am an experienced river and lake kayaker but have spent little time in the ocean...what must I know before striking out? What is most likely to get me into trouble? I should mention that I will be alone. Thanks--great trip report.

Michael Daugherty said...

Thanks for reading. Here's a link to some other Isle au Haut trips:

If you are not experienced on the ocean and you're paddling alone, you might keep Isle au Haut in mind, but also consider the opportunities between there and Stonington. Weather in September (or any time really) can go either way, but the remote south side of IaH will always be subject to more swell and rougher conditions. It is awesome, for sure, but I would at least have a flexible plan. Where are you planning on camping?

Also, I think we'll be doing a 3-day class at Old Quarry in September that will probably take us around Isle au Haut.

Wandering Boy said...

Thanks for the quick reply, Michael. My tentative plans are to leave Stonington sometime during the first week of September, paddle to Duck Harbor, and camp there for a couple of days, maybe three. I would appreciate more information on your class at Old Quarry (dates, content, cost, etc. ...and where is Old Quarry?); sounds like something I might consider. My schedule is quite flexible. My objective, other than exploring Acadia, is to gain experience in ocean kayaking. I have some rather ambitious expeditions planned and really need to acquire ocean-going skills.

Thanks again,
...Bill Harris (Wandering Boy)