Paddling Lake Superior

symposium - GLSKS
I too hope GLSKS is not included among the irresponsible promoters of paddling on Lake Superior.

The reality is 180 degrees opposite.

They are extremely safety conscious, have a highly skilled & accredited Safety Director every year, along with daily a.m. safety meetings well before any classes start or trip shuttles leave the parking lot.

Two years’ ago a whole day’s worth of trips at all skill levels were called off due to a small craft warning. Safety is always the final consideration.

The instructor:student ratio is consistently 1:5 and often better (for rolling 1:2 of course)

In all classes, on land on on water, dressing for cold water immersion, assessing one’s own skills and limits, learning proper boat outfitting and control in bumpy water, recognizing and treating early signs of hypothermia, etc. are constantly reiterated. This is exactly the kind of learning environment that would have saved the lives of many who were taken into Superior’s icy mansions.

All boats must have two bulkheads, full decklining full kayak skirt. Be at least 16 feet long to go on all trips except a dedicated beginner paddle on a calm inland lake.

Students must wear a PFD (not just have one on the boat) and carry a whistle, pump, and sufficient water for hydration, as minimal safety requirements. There is much detailed info given out beforehand how to dress for cold water, head to toe.

In the last two years, the symposium has been run by Downwind Sports of Marquette and Houghton. They know and paddle Superior. They have an excellent relationship w. Kokatat, and, as a result, Kokatat’s rep bring in a fine selection of loaner drysuits free for the asking, and fitted w. care. This year there is an onland class on how to wear and care for a drysuit, led by Suzanne Hutchinson, a Kokatat rep and GLSKS instructor.

This is the 27th consecutive year of GLSKS. It’s now the oldest symposium in North America. They never had a fatality, a pretty nice track record.

Well said.
And excellent symposium.

I do not mean to discredit any highly responsible organization that has such a great safety record.

My warnings are to suggest to the uninformed that a trip on the lake is not something to be taken lightly. Someone else mentioned that there are those who may not be as responsible as the organization that you mention.

Also I was not talking about canoeing or kayaking inside of breakwaters or artificial harbors, although I’m sure these can be perilous enough at the wrong time. I was talking about venturing out onto the lake, uninformed, unprepared, upon a whim or poorly conceived plan.

Obviously, under the supervision of experts with a high level of specialized expertise, a venture upon the lake would be a far different experience from just winging it.

Solo and other paddlers would definitely be wise to utilize the services of your esteemed group.

I in no way no it all about paddling on the Great Lakes. My comments are just my own and are generalizations that don’t impinge on the credibility of any highly responsible organizations.

You see the lake, you think about it, you desire to go out on it some day. Maybe that day some day comes. I have been on the open ocean solo in an open canoe, paddling alongside Dolphins. I was about fifty feet or so from shore with one foot maximum waves coming in, but the ocean changes fast and I was very aware of what I was doing and did not venture far or far out to sea. I was highly respectful, not fearful, of the situation I put myself in and I made my voyage short. An hour later the waves were close to three feet and building. Frequently I see people in small kayaks about a half mile out in the ocean and wonder at the wisdom of it. I can only imagine getting swept out to sea by a powerful current or winds and having it get dark. But as you mention, there are ocean kayaking groups that are led by experts that provide training and evaluations before putting you out to sea. This is obviously very wise to take advantage of, as it is in all hazardous paddling.

I don’t think your Great Lakes association is self serving in any way and I apologize if my comment was infered to include it. You know what type of promotions to which I was refering, I’m sure.

I’m always very respectful of the water and try to be as prepared and informed as possible, even when canoeing on slow moving rivers and lakes in the heart of the summer. Any attempt to paddle on Lake Superior at even the warmest time of the year is more than a quantum leap from that.

I am also aware that during the time of pre-history, American Indians travelled and carried out commerce and fishing on Lake Superior for time out of mind. It may be that they were tuned in to the moods of the lake and knew intuitively how to handle themselves. Possibly there is archeaological and other information that sheds light on how successful they were at protecting their lives while venturing onto the lake. I am aware of a wealth of historical documentation that recounts the innumerable drowndings on Lake Superior during the Fur Trapping period. One would expect that these people were not led by amateurs, even though they were propelled by powerful business enterprises.

Good comments
I have to say the Guide service earned my respect. Uncle Duckys I must have chatted with them 4-5 times trying… Up front and honest about the weather. Even the night before the weather hit.

Living in Michigan all my life, only 2 miles from Saginaw Bay… All the lakes are nothing to mess with. Even some of the in land lakes. Like Houghton Lake, Our Cabin sit on the south shore, its about 7 miles to the other side and 14 miles long if my memory serves… The lake is 20-24 feet at the deepest. When storms roll in there, That little lady is pound for pound just a bad as Lake Superior or even Michigan. I have been caught out there with my GrandDad, Father and even by myself fishing… When a storm rolls on the Houghton Lake look for the closest shore line… and haul you butt to it… Nice thing is is for sure, all the people around the lake I have when storms roll in the doors are open to them who are stranded on the Lake.

easy there
The symposium is THE best single way to get paddling safely in Superior.

I’ve paddled the great lakes for years and I don’t know if I’d be kayaking at all if I had to stick to safer alternatives. Pictured Rocks is truly something to be seen from the water.

I agree with that
A guided tour, lessons and symposia help one develop what you’re describing.

Things can go south pretty fast there but if you pick the day and weather in midsummer you can usually count on relative calm, IF you’re taking in only part of the coast. OTOH one of the things that makes it fun for me is when it gets a bit lively, paddling along the coast can be a blast. But I’ve also had to stay well offshore there to avoid the clapotis, and the thought of landing anywhere nearby was a fantasy.


– Last Updated: Jul-12-11 9:53 AM EST –

Hi, I'm going to respectfully disagree with you about "respect" vs. "fear." While, people do respect it, many of the people that live in my hometown (Grand Marais, Minn.) also fear it. In my paddles (I've paddled all of the American shoreline of Lake Superior and Lake Huron), I met many people who not only respected the lake, but many who also fear the lake. That fear of the lake is much more apparent on Lake Superior than it is on Lake Huron (despite Huron having more shipwrecks).

semantics question:
Did you feel fear at all in your travels? I think a dose of fear is perfectly normal in certain situations; it’s how one HANDLES that fear that is critical. Personally I enjoy the challenge the emotion brings even if at times it takes a step back and a few deep breaths before reacting to manage that fear.

But you’ve done some long trips…did you ever feel fearful on past trips, and has it disappeared?

really nice article! P net should link
to it.

Very nice work.

Fear vs. Respect
I’m not sure it is a semantics question. Fear and respect are definately two different concepts. Both can be healthy, but I think fear can be irrational at times.

Yes, I’ve felt fear while paddling and climbing. More so while climbing.