Saturday, June 2, 2012

Isle Royale National Park 2012 | Part One

Craig's Solo Trip Report - May 14 - May 21

The Isle Royale Queen IV approaches Isle Royale

My trip consisted of 8 days on the island, hiking about 45 miles. I was able to get a shelter every night and never had to pitch my tent, although I felt the need to bring it just in case. I was surprised at the number of people on the boat (Isle Royale Queen IV, leaving from Copper Harbor). As it turned out, a good number of those people were volunteers for the Moosewatch research expedition heading to the island to go off-trail and collect moose bones. Aside from a couple days of crowded sites, the island was still quite desolate, and I did not encounter people on the trails with any significant frequency. In general, the weather was a bit cool and overcast, with a few days of sufficient sunshine. It rained a bit early Tuesday while I was still in my sleeping bag, and late Friday morning brought with it a little rain and thunder. Sunday was definitely the day of rain. Evenings were always cool or cold and it was still light out at 10 pm. Luckily, two of the sunnier days found me at my two favorite places - McCargoe Cove and Moskey Basin - at which I planned multi-day visits. The bugs were practically non-existent; I never used any insect repellent.

The NPS Visitor Center at Rock Harbor

The boat ride over was significantly rougher than when Nina and I went in 2009, but not by fault of the Captain or his boat. He did what he could, considering given lake conditions, to make the ride better, including some zigging and zagging away from the usual route for a short while. The Captain said the waves were about 2-4 feet and that those waves could sometimes feel worse than larger ones. I would have guessed bigger, but I defer to his knowledge. For the first hour I felt fine, but during the second hour of the trip, lake conditions unchanged, I had a bit tougher time coping. I ended up being fine, just on edge a bit. Taking my fleece off and standing by the fan a couple times was helpful. Thank you fan. I also decided not to finish my coffee, as it would be jostling all around my stomach, and that idea did not sit well with me. My breakfast was an apple, and that would be the only thing I ate until 2:00 pm.

View from Tobin Harbor Trail

I spent the first day at Daisy Farm, about 7 miles out from Rock Harbor. I started on the Tobin Harbor Trail, cut down near Three Mile, and continued on the Rock Harbor Trail. Being unconditioned for this trip and with a full pack, I wanted to avoid the varying and potentially challenging terrain of the Rock Harbor Trail for its first three miles. This reasoning would also free up that section of trail for my return hike. Besides, the Tobin Harbor trail is not without some nice views of its namesake.Upon arriving at camp, one of the first things I do is take care of filtering my water, usually from a collapsible bucket. Most of the time when getting water from the backcountry, you'd be filtering to avoid exposure to Giardia and Cryptosporidium, but on Isle Royale there are also Hydatid tapeworm eggs to be concerned with, which start in wolf scat and make their way into the water. A two-minute boil is an alternative to filtering, but you'd have to carry a good amount of extra fuel for your stove. This becomes a personal decision of carrying a filter vs extra fuel I suppose.

Looking out toward Lake Superior from Daisy Farm

This day was relaxing, but somewhat uneventful. I was just happy to be on the island again. Isle Royale seems to reset something in you and can invite a calmness, lasting for days or even weeks after returning home. There were some fallen trees over the Rock Harbor Trail from 3-mile to Daisy Farm, but as I would see Tuesday, at least one trail maintenance crew was out and about, chainsaw and axe in hands. Those trees would be gone by my last day. Island happiness aside, two things really bothered me. I’ll never understand people who let the shelter/privy doors slam shut. Grrr! The other phenomenon is polluting the lake with food bits, facial cleanser, near-lake tooth-brushing, etc. Why?

Moose print along Rock Harbor Trail

I woke up on day two to some early rain and cold temperatures; however, the sun was making a valiant effort. The rain didn’t continue, nor did it affect my hike in any way. Loons put on quite a concert during the night; they have a formidable catalog of sounds. My next destination was McCargoe Cove, and I couldn't wait to sit there for two days and do nothing. It was on this hike that I saw the trail maintenance crew coming from McCargoe Cove; they were headed to Daisy Farm. I remember wondering how hard it would be hiking 8.2 miles carrying a large chain saw. Regardless, I am thankful those two guys volunteered to do it. Their work was evident and would definitely make for easier hiking.

Arriving at McCargoe Cove found me with sore legs and three blisters - my first hiking blisters ever - which I would handle after hanging out at the dock.
I popped a couple of ibuprofens and made my way down to the water, at which point total relaxation would begin. Staring across the cove at the trees and their often mirror-like reflections puts me at ease, and I couldn’t get down there quickly enough.

The dock at McCargoe Cove

I laid there for a solid hour and enjoyed every second. I was breathing great air and seeing beautiful scenery. The sun and clouds are still fighting for dominance. The sun eventually lost, which is a bummer, but not a deal breaker, as I packed for varying conditions. I tended to my feet with some Molefoam, antibiotic ointment, and duct tape, and hung out in the shelter for a bit with my hat and gloves on. During this time I heard 4 people jump off the dock. That had to be cold and they had to be nuts, but I respect that they jumped in. I don’t like letting an opportunity to jump in Superior go to waste. I ended up going in only three times - three cold times. One of those guys I would later make fun of for having a comb on a backpacking trip, seeing as his hair was pretty short, and a comb would serve little purpose. The added weight was probably insignificant, and it’s really not my business what he packs, so to each his own. He was a nice guy nonetheless. It never rained, but remained cloudy.

The Voyager II coming in to McCargoe Cove

Wednesday morning I took the necessary gear down to a picnic table by the water and had my usual breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. It was a really nice day and I couldn’t pass on a dip in the lake. I did a little lake laundry that day as well, although my Smartwool Microweight Crew Shirt could’ve easily gone another day or two. That shirt is worth every penny and goes without getting funky much longer than any polyester based hiking t-shirt I’ve ever tried. Another boat from Minnesota, The Voyageur II, drops people off here, so I sat by the dock and watched the boat come in, and talked to some fellow hikers for a bit. They were all heading off to other places. One guy started eating a block of cheese. I mean gnawing right off the block, saying he was getting rid of heavy food first. There were also some "squatters" at McCargoe Cove. Until June 1, there are no limits on how long you can stay in one place. A few people were in 2 different shelters and were on an extended stay of, I think, a couple weeks. They stay there as a base camp and go on day hikes and whatnot.

Shelter #6 - McCargoe Cove

Thursday morning I left McCargoe Cove around 8:30 am and started heading to Chippewa Harbor, where I've never been. The trail I started on this morning was the same one on which we observed the wolves during our last trip, so there was a bit of excitement, although I knew the odds of seeing them again were about zero, especially with the wolf population allegedly down to nine. I met a guy who has been to the island 35 times and he has seen a wolf only once. As it turns out, some time after I left McCargoe Cove, this very same guy later told me a bull moose had exited the woods across the cove and got in the water for a bit. Damn.

A footbridge on Indian Portage Trail
This is the area where wolves were spotted on our last trip

The section of the Indian Portage Trail leading to Chippewa Harbor was a nice, easy hike, albeit the buggiest one. I couldn’t even take a ten minute break without curious gnats and mosquitoes stopping by to check me out. Trail bugs aside, Chippewa Harbor was very nice and I had the entire place to myself. There were 4 shelters, 2 individual campsites, and a group campsite. I chose shelter #1 due to its having the best view, and I had to sweep out hundreds of dead flies. The flies were in shelter #2 as well. I wonder if the flies meant I was the first to have stayed there this year.

Shelters #1 and #2 - Chippewa Harbor

There is a historic old school house out past the group campsite and for some reason I completely forgot to go see and photograph it. That would have made for a good photo or two. The shelters are atop a huge slab of basalt, which leads down to the water’s edge at a small bluff. One side tapers down to the dock, from which Lake Superior is visible. It was cloudy with a cool breeze at this place, and would later get pretty cold while I was trying to sleep. It started raining at 4:45 pm, but did not stay on steady. I kept wishing I would have packed a slightly warmer "camp shirt".
The view of Chippewa Harbor from shelter #1

It would eventually storm while I was tucked in for the evening. And storm it did, a short while after a raven flew through the campground alerting me. It was very dark and very quiet when the lightning and thunder started. Wow! It was very intense and long in duration. The thunder would start with a rumble and go into a full force insane symphony of scary noise, all the while the floor of shelter vibrating to the music, followed by a loon performing backup vocals. The lightning was nothing shy of incredible as well, the way it lit up so much of the surrounding area. With those two powerful forces of nature displaying their might, and the almighty Superior not far away, I was a bit spooked and felt rather insignificant. Remember, I was the only one there. Essentially I walked 4.3 miles away from anyone else on the island. I tried a couple of times to capture on video the lightning lighting up my shelter. It looked very cool, but my half-hearted video attempts yielded nothing. It remains in my memory alone.

Chippewa Harbor, looking out toward Lake Superior

To be continued in Part 2: Moskey Basin, Three Mile, Rock Harbor

1 comment:

DC said...

Craig -- very cool! My best man wanted my "bachelor party" to be a backpacking trip on Isle Royal, but we weren't gutsy enough to go so early in the season (it might still happen in the summer...). I'm looking forward to the rest of what we missed. :)