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Home » Adventures » Apostle Islands » York Island

Long Detour to Visit Sea Caves

Route I paddled this day About 19 miles

Route I paddled this day
About 19 miles

My itinerary only had a very short paddle from Sand to York Island to reach my next night’s lodging. Rather than spend the whole day on land I took a detour to explore the mainland sea caves. They were completely out of my way, but I wanted to see them and did not think I would have the time or energy for the caves later in my trip.

Departing Sand Island I paddled away from York and up the coast. The trip across the lake to the caves was easy, but it still took a couple hours to reach the rock breaches. The east end of the marked caves was uninteresting, consisting mostly of jagged rock faces careening above the water and no real caverns to enter. Paddling all that way just for these would have been a disappointment. As I continued advancing along the cliffs towards the Meyers Beach they became more fascinating. The openings grew larger, and I could maneuver about the formations in my kayak. Their sizes varied — from room sized, to tall narrow cracks, to tiny passages. Once again the chorus of waves smacking against the rocks and echoing off the walls filled my ears with delight. Not a performance by Monte’s Rainbow Sheep, but it still impressed. I continued through the many caves, enjoying paddling the narrow crevices and hearing the orchestra.

Rock formations along the mainland

Rock formations along the mainland

All good things come to and end though, and I eventually reached their terminus. I wanted to remain and enjoy the cliffs but still had plenty of miles to camp at York Island. The way back would be harder as well with a slight headwind obstructing progress. The breeze was light and only mildly kicked up the lake, but the perturbations were enough to interrupt my flow and force continual concentration. I could not zone out and paddle mindlessly across the water but had to put forth effort stroking and constantly be mindful of the lake.

Rough Seas

Myself inside my kayak (calm seas)

Myself inside my kayak (calm seas)

I paddled through the froth, back the way I came and eventually found some temporary refuge from the wind on the south side of Sand Island. I enjoyed the slight reprieve, but the crossing to York Island still loomed ahead. As I started across the waves were bigger than before. The channel opened unobstructed towards Lake Superior so the water’s furry was in full force. At most though a couple foot swells assailed my boat, and I held steady. Sailing directly into the crests made maneuvering easier. Some waves crashed on my deck, but I remained dry and upright as I rode through the bumps. I kept in the forefront of my mind that the lake is always the boss.

Conditions continued to worsen as I neared the end around the west side of York Island. Big rocks comprised that shore, and I could see the surf crashing powerfully against them. I needed to stay far away from that destruction. On the back side of York Island I ran parallel to the waves which made my boat tipsier. These were the toughest conditions I faced all day, of course at the tail end of a long paddle when I was tired.

The waves attacking the side of my boat were unnerving, leaving me ready to promptly beach my boat. As soon as I advanced enough to get in line with the beach, I bee-lined it towards shore and camp. I did not know on which end of the beach was my assigned site, but did not care and just wanted to get to land.

On Land

As I drove towards shore waves came at me from behind, and I kept one eye backwards so nothing unexpected hit me. Nearer shore the chop was the worst as I encountered breaking waves. I paddled fast through this crashing water while trying to stay in rhythm with it. I managed and burst through this last hazard with my kayak hitting sand as I jumped out and hugged the ground.

York Island’s Beach

York Island’s Beach

The waves hammering the shore were too big into which to launch, so unless the weather subsided I could be stuck on this tiny rock for a while. I later found a short trail from the beach to the south side of York Island though, which could have been used for escape. It also would have made for a much easier and safer approach had I known of it beforehand.

I had the entire island to myself that night. I explored a little but was not overly ambitious in my tiredness. As night fell the stars came out in full force, giving a free, magnificent shower of their wonders while I lied on the beach. Unfortunately northern lights did not chime in as a finale.