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A few days around Isle au Haute, Maine. Trip report

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I had seen Isle au Haut (IAH) from a distance in previous trips to the area and it always intrigued me because of its height, the fact that it has year-round residents (about 65), a national park, and of course its name apparently pronounced something like Idaho to my not New England ears. So I wanted to paddle the island and perhaps do some hiking in the park. I asked my friends Dan Sigall and Bill Doucet and together we planned and executed this camping trip, including a circumnavigation of the “Island at the top” just before the official start of the summer.

The trip started for me a day earlier: I left Stonington close to 6:30 pm with a light north wind and paddled to Rock I. only 0.8 NM from the launching point. Rock I. has several campsites; I chose the one on the west side among trees, with a view of Crotch Island and a partial view of Stonington. I had the island to myself and I slept well with a light wind keeping the bugs away.

Next morning while waiting for Dana and Bill, I paddled through the passage between Sand I. and Crotch I. and then checked the working granite quarry at Crotch I. With plenty of time, I crossed and circumnavigated Green I., which has a very nice east coastline, before coming back to the Caribbean style beach at the north end of Rock I. I met Dana and Bill a bit later.

Together we paddled past the east side of Merchant I. and on to Kimball where we set up camp on a beautiful area, facing west, away from the view of IAH houses. On the way, an osprey grabbed a fish in front of us which I took it as a good omen. I am sure that the osprey was happy as well.

A MITA site with a wonderful trail and views, Kimball is a jewel and we were the only occupants through our stay. The sunsets after dinner were magnificent and we did not have to change the position of our chairs to watch them. Some mosquitoes but not many. Bill found a tick, but we think he brought it on his boat from NH.

The forecast called for strong winds from the south for next day so we decided to go hiking. After breakfast we paddled to IAH town and, leaving the kayaks at a small cobble beach near the public ramp, we hiked the National Park trails for six hours. The trails are marked, very well maintained and beautiful. With up and downs and a few scrambles, they meandered through the forest with the occasional dip on rocky beaches towards Duck Harbor campground and then on to the Western Head. The campground has six lean-to campsites and several state of the art composting toilets. There is also potable water.  The ranger told us that all sites get booked for the entire season in the first few minutes after they open the registration. They are in a beautiful setting.

The ferry (“the Mail Boat,” a nonprofit outfit) provides year-round scheduled services between IAH and Stonington and seasonal service to the Duck Harbor campground. Before paddling back to Kimball I. we stopped at the General Store, a cooperative with fair prices and a good selection of basic items (like ice-cream!). There was a small truck food but it was closed. Next time.

For Tuesday the forecasted called for winds from the S SW of less than 10 knots and 3 ft. swells diminishing in the afternoon, so we decided to go for the circumnavigation. We paddled clockwise to get the benefit of the wind on the way back and we had chosen the dates so that the tide started to flood as we turned on Western Ear.

On the way we checked Doliber I., a very small MITA island near the north end of York I. This is a barren island with a reasonable landing that would do in a pinch, but with only one tree and little cover, camping there is best on a wind-free day. 

All the east coast (including Eastern Ear), except for a small piece at the south belonging to the National Park, is private. While there are residences facing the open ocean dotting through the length of the east coast, there are not enough to diminish the wild look of the cliffs that make much of the coastline.

When turning around Eastern Ear we discovered that the forecast was too pessimistic and the winds and swell were much lower than anticipated. So we enjoyed a calm paddle between the “Ears” playing on the rocks and walls. The western Head and Ear are impressive with tall cliffs, small coves and facing the open ocean, one could feel the power of the sea and imagine how it would be during mid or heavy seas.

With plenty of energy left, we went around Kimball I. and back to our beach instead of going through the cut.  Kimball has a very nice west coastline.

The paddled had a tide assist both ways –at times quite noticeable - and a light wind on our back. A 9 to 5:30 easy day at the “office.” Bill’s GPS clocked it at 16 NM.

The trip back to Stonington was nice and calm except for a very loud noise we could hear a long way away coming from the quarry at Crotch I. It sounded like they were cutting or drilling through granite. With that level of noise, I would hesitate to stay again at Rock I. at least during the workweek since Rock sits only about ½ mile from Crotch I. However, there was a group of about 15 kayakers with tents, tables, chairs and a motor boat on their last leg of a six-day trip on Rock I.

Great paddles with good friends and lovely weather.

Thank you MITA and the owners of the islands we visited or stayed. Access to coastal islands is a privilege built on landowner trust and visitor care. Visitation guidelines vary by island and owner expectations can change from year to year. When planning a trip, please be sure you have the most up to date information for each island, and be a mindful guest when you visit. The Maine Island Trail Association is a good source of information about many coastal Maine islands open for recreational use, www.MITA.org. MITA membership is the best way to keep current and support responsible use and stewardship of these special places.


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Great descriptive report, Ricardo, and a perfect weather window. Having embedded this locale in my long-term, I recognize nearly all of your shots, and recall fondly all my trips there. It always seems correct to CW IAH for some reason.

Agree such a Caribbean feel (Rock; and others with the white, crushed-shell beaches).

It's not enough to circumnavigate the island; hiking on the beautiful trails completes the experience, and affords some beautiful perspectives, esp. of the untamed southern, exposed shore. 

In this shot of bill along the rocky coastline, I'd describe the water as "mercurial."



Sorry, Dana, that you had such a troublesome educational experience at such a young age. I hope that you can put it behind you eventually.



Edited by gyork
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Wonderful report Ricardo!  And great pics all.

The Stonington area fills a significant portion of my kayaking memory bank because of trips like this. 

Thanks for sharing!

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