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Solo kayaker makes two-stage crossing of Lake Superior

Jul 26, 2017 09:23AM ● By Editor
Mike Stout of Prior Lake, Minn., recently made a 70-mile solo crossing of Lake Superior from the Pigeon River near Grand Portage to the Keweenaw Peninsula near Houghton, Mich., stopping to camp one night at Isle Royale National Park. He is shown here at the start of his crossing at the Pigeon River. Michon Jenkin photo

A number of adventurers have paddled around Lake Superior. But a Twin Cities man recently paddled across the lake.

Mike Stout of Prior Lake, Minn., made the trip in two legs. He paddled from the Pigeon River near Grand Portage to Isle Royale, camped a night there, then paddled on across to the Keweenaw Peninsula near Houghton, Mich. Stout, 56, paddled alone with no boat accompanying him.

He made the 70-mile trip in a total of 27.5 hours despite fighting strong currents on the second leg, he said. He took several smartphone photos to document his trip.

Stout started the crossing on the evening of July 18 and finished shortly after sunrise on July 20. The first leg of his trip, to Isle Royale, covered about 22 miles and took six hours in good weather, Stout said. He camped a night at Grace Harbor at the southwest end of the island, then started for the Keweenaw Peninsula at 10:30 a.m. on July 19. He reached the Keweenaw, landing at North Canal Township Park, about 7:30 a.m. Thursday, making the roughly 48-mile crossing in about 21 hours.

He had watched the weather forecasts and planned his trip for a period of light winds, he said. Despite paddling into 2- to 3-foot waves during the second leg of the trip, it was Lake Superior's currents that challenged him most.

"I didn't even take into consideration the strength of the current," Stout said. "I never thought it would be a factor. That thing puzzled me all the way through."

At one point, nearing the Keweenaw, Stout found himself directly north of his destination, he said. He was paddling due south to reach his destination, but realized the current was pushing him north by northeast. He just kept paddling and eventually got a break in the current.

His girlfriend, Michon Jenkin, was waiting for him when he made landfall.

"He looked like a little pinhead on a very great body of water," said Jenkin, of Savage, Minn. "He's quite an adventurer, or maybe a little on the crazy side."

"To go from Isle Royale to the Keweenaw — that's pretty exposed," said Tim Bates, associate director of the University of Minnesota Duluth's Recreational Sports Outdoor Program. "That's a long stretch where a lot of things can happen with weather and waves. To have the mental and physical ability to do that is pretty impressive. That's amazing."

Stout paddled a 17-foot-2-inch Quest kayak made by NC Kayaks.

Last summer, Stout made a 55-mile crossing of Lake Michigan from Two Rivers, Wis., to Ludington, Mich. That crossing took him about 15 hours, he said.

At least a couple of others have made crossings of Lake Superior under their own power, said Pat Kohlin, sea kayaking coordinator at the UMD's Recreational Sports Outdoor Program. A Twin Cities man, Don Diamond, paddled through the geographic center of all five Great Lakes in the mid-1990s, Kohlin said.

In 1846, a Catholic priest named Father Frederic Baraga, according to legend, made a harrowing small-boat crossing with an Ojibwe guide from the Apostle Islands to Schroeder on Minnesota's North Shore. A cross and plaque at the mouth of the river commemorate the crossing.

Stout, who owns a marketing firm, plans to do another long-distance paddle next summer, but said he'll be content to paddle in the Apostle Islands or the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the meantime.

From the Duluth News Tribune By Sam Cook on Jul 24, 2017 at 8:33 p.m.