By Carl Cooley
In less than 40 days, Jared Munch paddled from Duluth, Minn., halfway around Lake Superior, up the Michipicoten River and down the Missinabi and Moose rivers in Ontario, Canada, to James Bay on the Arctic Ocean.
Munch, formerly of New Auburn and now from Duluth, set out on his journey on June 17 and finished on Thursday, July 25. He estimated he covered 920 miles on his stand-up paddleboard.
“It feels good,” Munch said via phone on Tuesday, July 30. “I’m surprisingly less worn out than I expected to be.”
It was exhilarating to make it to the Arctic Ocean, Munch said. When he got to the mouth of the Moose River, he could see where the freshwater and saltwater mixed. He couldn’t help but yell with excitement.
“The feeling when I got to the ocean, it was definitely surreal,” Munch said.
Munch said the hardest part of the trip was the paddle around Lake Superior. Every day was a mental struggle because there were two-foot high waves and winds at his back.
“Looking back, I’m glad I did it, but at the time it was difficult,” he said.
The most physically gruelling part was going up the Michipichoten River from the mouth at Lake Superior. For the first 15 miles or so, the river was too shallow to paddle on and Munch had to wade up most of it before the river turned into a series of reservoirs. But he really enjoyed that day, he said.
“It was so different. Just hiking up a river and totally working my butt off during that time,” he said.
On July 11, Munch made it to the headwaters of the Michipichoten and Missinabi rivers near the town of Missanabie, Ontario, where he met his father, Bill Munch, who would join him in a canoe for the paddle to James Bay. Jared had asked his father to join him, and Bill would be backup for Jared, as traveling solo down rapids is not recommended or smart.
From Missanabie, Jared said it took them two days to cross the lakes and portage over the “height of land” divide that separated the Great Lakes watershed from the Arctic Ocean watershed. It was mostly a swampy mess full of mosquitoes, he said.
Bill, an experienced canoeist who has been to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area more than 100 times since he was young, glided across the lakes with ease. Jared said it was hard for him to keep pace on his paddleboard.
But once they got on the river, the first section was narrow and they encountered class I and class II rapids. Jared coached his father through the rapids, as Bill was less experienced at canoeing whitewater rapids. He only flipped three or four times, Bill said. Occasionally, Jared would paddle through, walk back and then take the canoe through the class II rapids.
The river was low, which made some easier, and others more difficult as they had more rocks.
About halfway down the river they arrived in Mattice, Ontario, a town that they had shipped some supplies to. They were able to restock and send home supplies they didn’t need.
About two days down the river from Mattice, there were very large rapids and waterfalls they portaged around. Bill said this area is where the Canadian Shield—a formation of bedrock that covers half of Canada—drops off. There are river canyons and great views, he said.
Portaging took a long time and Jared said one day they only covered 20 miles but nine of it was portaging around Thunder House Falls and Hell’s Gate Canyon.
After, the river slowed and got shallow. “We got to a point where it was obvious that it wouldn’t be good fishing,” Bill said. That’s when they decided to finish out the trip making 40 miles a day.
The last couple of days, they slogged through a half-mile-wide shallow river beds and across sandbars. Here, Jared had the advantage because he could see the river channel ahead from his paddleboard. Still, there were many wrong turns made, Jared noted.
By July 23, they made it to the town of Moose Factory, Ontario, just two miles upriver from James Bay. Here, they had gracious hosts from the Moose Cree First Nation. They stayed in a museum and former staff house of the Hudson Bay Company.
On July 25, Jared paddled out to the ocean and was given a ride back by a Moose Cree guide in a boat, along with Bill.
“A proud moment,” Bill said. “We got it done, but were like, ‘what’s next?’
“Great trip, great trip,” he added.
Overall, the best parts of the trip for Jared were camping on Battle Island on Lake Superior, where he watched the sunset by a lighthouse on a cliff. On the river, he enjoyed fishing beneath Thunder Falls. The pool was loaded with walleye, he said.
For wildlife sighted, Jared saw a deer swimming half a mile out from shore on Lake Superior, he saw two moose and he saw many jumping sturgeon. Fortunately they did not see any bears.
“The whole trip reminded me of what people described as a marathon,” Bill said. The starting out, it is tough, but you eventually hit a point where it feels better and you keep going.
Jared said he finished this trip strong and in a better mindset than he did on his trip around Lake Superior four years ago. He credited being better prepared on this trip and having better skills for handling the board on the lake and rivers. He also knew that he had to bring along better food, like protein bars, to stay in shape. He noted he only lost 10 pounds this trip and felt good enough to paddle in a race this past weekend.
Jared said it was a possibility he would attempt another feat like this again. But soon he would finish his masters degree in civil engineering and would start a fulltime job. For him, it was a now or never, decision to do it.
Like his first time around Lake Superior, he asked people to donate to Neighborhood Youth Services youth program in Duluth. As of July 30, he had raised $1,390 toward a goal of $4,000. Those who wish to donate can go to gf.me/u/ugnis4.
To see posts and photos from Jared’s trip, search Facebook for “Jared Munch - SUPerior Adventures.”