Saturday, August 15 – 2008
10:00 – 15:00
Roads: Dry / Clear
Area: Lake Erie
Vehicle: Blue GMC Suburban
Weather: A Few Clouds
Trail Conditions: Dry
Hikers: Wolf, Chuck
Plan: Visit Mowhawk Island
GPS: 42.833162 by -79.522047
For several years now, we have seen a small lighthouse off the coast of Lake Erie, which appeared to be abandoned and have a house attached to it. We researched the island to find out that it was known as Mowhawk Island and was about 2km off the North shore of Lake Erie. It was abandoned in 1932.
10:00 Chuck arrives at my home in N.O.T.L. And we put the old Sportspal aluminum canoe on the trailer load supplies into a large backpack in the event we somehow get stranded on the island. Extra food, water, strobe lights, and a tarp. While driving to the launch we noticed some kayakers who appeared to be ending there day. Wolf suggested they may have started at dawn or in the early morning Chuck suggested that this was uncalled for as the only advantage to starting so early would be to smell the stench from the seaweed and at that very moment we drove by a very bad smell coming from the shoreline. We laughed for quite some time.
10:30 We arrive at the end of Dikhout road and observed the lighthouse off in the far distance on the lake. The water was calm, the weather was nice and clear. We unloaded the canoe and placed the backpacks into it and made our way down the steep, muddy embankment towards the water. Thankfully the mud was fairly dry and did not present too much of a challenge to navigate.
10:50 We set sail into the wind heading south in a canoe in Lake Erie with the Mowhawk Island lighthouse in full view. There was a green patio chair to our left which we figured we would use as an exit marker en-route home (provided no one moves it beforehand) The calm waters were easy to paddle through, although this was only Chuck’s 2nd time paddling. We made our way past a few small motorboats. We had planned on landing on the windward side of the island, but there were several jet-skis out on the water and decided to stay on the leeward side to keep away from them.
11:50 As we approached the island, we could see thousands of sea birds. Their calls were very audiable even at quite a distance from the island.
12:00 We arrived on the North Side of Mowhawk Island and carried the canoe far from the water. The birds flew all around us and complained bitterly as they swooped and dive bombed us. The island was flat and covered in bird poop and zebra mussels. The large abandoned stone house and attached lighthouse stood tall over everything. The dead bird bodies, zebra mussels and bird poop made moving around in my usual bare feet on the island a bit of a challenge, although there were no real sharp objects to injure myself on. The sound of sea bird calls was deafening, and the smell of bird poop was quite overpowering in some sections of the island.
There was a sign posted on the island which stated it was not allowed to be visited from April 1st to July 31st due to bird nesting. Thankfully we are here just after that time. We took the time to take a few photographs and make a couple of short videos about the island, including a humorous, nonsensical video by Chuck.
As we approached the old Light Keepers house it was apparent that there would be no troubles investigating the house. The roof and all windows were missing, leaving only a large stone skeleton of a building connected to the large rough-hewn stone lighthouse towering over the island.
We entered the ruins through a window on the east side, and climbed into the ruins to see there was a set of scaffolding erected on the east wall. The floor of the old house was overgrown with weeds which had found shelter from the harsh lake conditions. Sadly, the floor was also covered in dead bird carcasses. There also was a very large population of flies who took shelter in the ruins.
The lighthouse itself was a large, empty, tubular structure. The stench of bird poop was very overpowering as the poop was several centimetres deep at least. We took a few photographs of the interior of the lighthouse, and made our way back out to the island.
As I sat on the island to write in my journal and Chuck went off to explore and photograph, I was covered with hundreds and hundreds of tiny flies. Even a thick coating of deet spray did not keep them off me. Thankfully none of them bit either of us. They proved only to be a minor inconvenience on our trip thankfully.
13:30 Off to the North we saw thick cloud cover rolling in and Chuck felt it best if we packed up and got off the island to ensure we did not get trapped here during a storm as we came by canoe, not by powerboat. We packed up our gear and hit the water to head back to the mainland.
The storm moved over us and the waves picked up. We got in some small swells and could feel the aluminum canoe twisting from the waves. We were fortunate to get our paddling in sync and push off to get the most forward motion when the waves peaked.
Approaching shore around 14:40hrs I used my binoculars to spot the green patio chair on the shore, and we headed towards it. We beached the canoe just after being hit by a couple of whitecap waves which thrust a bit of water into the canoe.
14:45 We pulled the canoe far onto the shore and ambled up the steep embankment with our packs and paddles to stow them in the truck. We then pulled the canoe up the embankment and secured it to the trailer, just as we could see lightening bolts to the North and hear thunder. Thankfully we were safe in the truck when rain started.
15:00 head for home.
In retrospect Chuck and I really could not believe we made such a long journey across the open water using a canoe. Over 2km of open water travel was quite a different experience from the usual flat waters of small lakes and rivers which the canoe is designed for. Thankfully we are both strong paddlers and the wind was at our backs which made no trouble going through the harsher waves on our return trip.