Friday, January 16, 2009

Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge 2009

The board and friends of the Verlen Kruger Memorial Association and Kruger Canoes are pleased to announce the Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge (UHHC) 2009.

We invite experienced and adventurous paddlers to participate in the retracing of an historic 1790 canoe journey from Detroit to Chicago via the Detroit River, Lake Erie, the Huron and Grand Rivers of Lower Michigan, and Lake Michigan. The trip will start at Detroit on April 17 2009 and end at Chicago approximately three weeks and 475 miles later.

The UHHC 2009 will begin at Belle Isle Beach on the Detroit River (a short way upstream of what was the Detroit waterfront in Heward's time - now under a landfill occupied by Hart Plaza), and finish at a marina close to the entrance of the Chicago River. This route differs from the 2008 challenge, which started at the mouth of the Huron and ended at Grand Haven. This time, UHHC pioneer Charlie Parmelee will have companions all the way – paddlers Mark Przedwojewski and Dan Smith are already committed. We believe we will have additional paddlers from as far away as Florida.

Last year's UHHC: On March 28, 2008 General Motors retiree and long distance canoeist Charlie Parmelee of Leslie started upstream on the Huron River from its mouth at Lake Erie in his Kruger Sea Wind expedition canoe. His intention was to duplicate Hugh Heward's epic 1790 paddle and portage across the Lower Peninsula from Lake Erie to Lake Michigan via the Huron and Grand Rivers. After much struggle and some set-backs (such as an unscheduled swim somewhere between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor) he finally arrived at Grand Haven on May 2 only to be prevented from reaching his Lake Michigan goal by an oil spill. It was mostly a solo journey. Charlie is the one who labeled it the ULTIMATE Hugh Heward Challenge to differentiate his journey from the annual Hugh Heward Challenge, a 55 miles-in-one-day canoe/kayak marathon run down the Grand River from Dimondale to Portland.

It is expected that the 2009 trip will take less time than Heward's, due to the advantages of modern gear and our superior knowledge of the portage route between the Huron River and Grand River watersheds.. It took Heward and his crew 47 calendar days to cover the distance, 24 of which were actual paddling days; we expect our modern day travelers will finish the trip in less than 24 calendar days, start to finish.

Heward's Journey: On March 24, 1790 Brtish trader Hugh Heward, together with seven French-Canadian paddlers in two birchbark canoes, departed Detroit on a trip that would take them to the Chicago Portage and then via the Des Plaines and Illinois Rivers to the Mississippi. Instead of following the usual exploration and trade route north through Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac then south through Lake Michigan, the Heward party went downstream on the Detroit River into Lake Erie, then upstream on the Huron River. They eventually worked their way to the divide between the Lake Erie and Lake Michigan watersheds, portaged their canoes and goods into a tributary of the Grand River and then paddled down the Grand to Lake Michigan. In effect, they took a shortcut across Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Once in Lake Michigan they coasted the east and south shores of the big lake until they reached Chicago. The Heward party arrived at the Chicago River (which then flowed into Lake Michigan) on May 9, 1790.

For a preview of the journey, "fly" Google Earth to Detroit then use the direction and tilt arrows to follow down the Detroit River, up the Huron River and Portage Creek (through Hell) to the Portage Lake Swamp near Stockbridge, then down the Portage River and the Grand River to Lake Michigan, then along the Lake Michigan shoreline to Chicago.

This is not a trip for inexperienced paddlers. The Huron has very difficult stretches, as Charlie can attest. There are many dams to get around and the portages are not easy. Portage Creek is often called Hell Creek for good reasons. The portage between the Erie and Grand watersheds can be several miles long depending on spring water levels. Good canoe wheels are a must. The Upper Grand has many log jams. You can expect snow or rain and cold weather, especially in the early part of the trip. Charlie started out in the snow and ran into ice on Ford Lake. The Heward party had snow-day delays.

For paddlers going all the way Kruger expedition style rules will apply:
Expedition-ready canoes able to handle big open water and upstream travel
Self supported at all times
Carry all your own food and camping gear, including canoe wheels.
No shore assistance except at the two Check Points, Portland and Grand Haven
Sails and open water gear can be picked up at Grand Haven.
Challengers should discuss these rules with Mark when you register.

Casual canoeists or kayakers are welcome to paddle along for a couple hours or couple days or more. All are invited for beer and pizza at the Damsite Inn when the Challengers go through Hell.

Entry information: Due to the recent economic slowdown we are waiving any entry fee for this event. A trip like this takes a significant financial commitment due to gear, food and time off from work, we are inviting any and all that want to take part in this extreme event to use any moneys that would otherwise be spent on an entry fee to plan and execute a successful trip.

Although there is no entry fee, we are asking participants to register by sending an Email with their contact information to Mark Przedwojewski, or by phone at 231-266-2089. We are requesting registrations by March 15, 2009. Late registrations will be happily accepted, but it is helpful to our planning to know the number of paddlers that will be participating.

The Verlen Kruger Memorial is still accepting donations towards the cost of installing the Verlen Kruger commemorative statue and plaza by the Grand River at Portland. Please forward any donations to the Memorial. For more information on the UHHC, the Memorial, or the annual 55 mile Hugh Heward Challenge, visit

We have available autographed copies of Jim Woodruff's narrative monograph "Across Lower Michigan by Canoe-1790" (the research paper that inspired the original Hugh Heward Challenge), for a small fee of $15, including postage. This is a detailed, illustrated study of the expedition based on Heward's own journal. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the Verlen Kruger Memorial. You can obtain a copy from Mark at Kruger Canoes. Mark can be reached by phone at 231-266-2089 or email at

You can also see Jim's monograph on the internet thanks to Bob Coller's blog "River Thoughts".

Paddle on.........
The Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge planning crew,

Charlie Parmelee
Mark Przedwojewski
Dan Smith
Jim Woodruff

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