A World Apart: Sea kayaking the Slate Islands

The easiest way to explain the geological history of the Slate Islands, a doughnut-shaped archipelago located a dozen kilometres offshore from Terrace Bay, is to picture the earth’s crust as a pool of water. Drop a pebble into that pool and what happens? The surface is broken and sprays upwards—and so the Slate Islands were formed when a 30-kilometre-wide meteorite crashed into the earth half a billion years ago.

The impact produced bizarre geological features including shatter cones—serrated, pyramid-shaped rock structures and deposits of gold and copper. The nickel-rich rock of Sudbury, Ont. is also the product of a meteorite impact. You need not a geology degree to appreciate the unique surroundings of the Slate Islands. This cluster of more than 20 islands is also home to a remnant herd of woodland caribou, which thrive in the absence of predators and human disturbance. The population rises and falls based on the availability of browse—namely old man’s beard, lichen that dangles from tree branches.

The Slates are also one of the best places on Lake Superior to observe tough, wizened arctic-alpine vegetation that’s persisted in a cool microclimate since the end of the last Ice Age, 8,000 years ago. Plants such as encrusted saxifrage, butterwort and three-toothed cinquefoil—all common on the Slates—are typically found 1,500 kilometres north in the arctic or at chilly alpine elevations. These plants are hardy—capable of growing in both dry and very wet conditions and tolerant of short growing seasons—but their range on Lake Superior is rapidly diminishing as climate change increases the lake’s average water temperature.

On our five-day Slate Islands weekly escape you’ll experience the natural wonders of the islands while paddling an area that seems to have been designed with sea kayakers in mind. The islands offer sheltered inner channels and exposed outer coasts. Depending on the weather, we may set up a base camp and do day trips, or plan on breaking camp and moving every day. Other highlights include the sweeping view from the Slate Island lighthouse on the outer shore of Patterson Island and exceptional fishing for feisty Slate Island lake trout.

This fully guided and outfitted sea kayak trip includes charter boat shuttles to and from the islands, making it suitable for novice and intermediate paddlers.