Sunday, October 6, 2013

Isle Royale National Park 2013 | Day Two

Feldtmann Lake to Siskiwit Bay
(Map at bottom of post)

Siskiwit Bay
Thunder and heavy rain woke us up at 5:30 a.m. By 7:00, the rain had stopped, and loons were calling across Feldtmann Lake. Not wanting to get up, we laid in the tent listening to our surroundings for about an hour. We made oatmeal and coffee for breakfast before packing up and hitting the trail at 9:30. We were disappointed to leave Feldtmann Lake without having seen a moose, but we still had 7 days ahead of us and a lot to look forward to.

Hiking on the Feldtmann Ridge
The Feldtmann Ridge Trail parallels the south side of Feldtmann Lake for about 1 ½ miles before arriving at the base of the Feldtmann Ridge. A steep climb that ascends about 240 feet leads to the top of the ridge and views of Feldtmann Lake from above. After the sweaty climb, breaking out on top of the ridge was welcome. It was overcast and windy, and the cool air felt wonderful. Hiking on top of the ridge is very pleasant, with knee-high yellow grass surrounding the exposed red conglomerate rock that the trail – and the ridge itself – is made of. It is interesting that this part of the island's rock is red, while the Greenstone Ridge and other areas to the north and east are grey. The openness of the ridge is a nice change from the woods and the thick, high vegetation encountered on much of this stretch.

The Feldtmann Ridge Trail enters a white birch forest
The trail does not remain out in the open along the entire ridge. It weaves in and out of the woods, at one point crossing a stream, as it slowly ascends to a fire lookout tower. The tower stands on top of the ridge approximately halfway between Feldtmann Lake and Siskiwit Bay, and it's where we stopped for lunch around 12:30.

Approaching the fire tower on the Feldtmann Ridge
I climbed up the tower steps as far as I could go before the structure is closed off near the top. From here, Feldtmann Lake can be viewed to the west, Lake Halloran and Siskiwit Bay to the east, and the Greenstone Ridge to the north.

Looking west from the fire tower on the Feldtmann Ridge
After resting and eating peanut butter and jelly tortillas, we resumed hiking. The trail leaves the open ridge just east of the fire tower and re-enters the woods. For much of the way from here to Siskiwit Bay, the trail passes through thick, high brush. Some of this section of trail had been a logging road in the 1930s and is now grown over. I love Isle Royale, but in the interest of truthful trip reporting, I do not want to overly romanticize the experience: this part of the trail kind of sucks. The vegetation is so thick that I could not see Craig hiking in front of me for much of the way, nor could I see the actual path below my feet at times. Although there is no easy way to get turned around, from time to time I wondered if we were on the right path. Branches scraped at our arms, and colorful, furry caterpillars hitched rides wherever they could latch onto us (actually, I liked that part). This stretch is tiring, not because the terrain is rough (it is actually pretty flat), but because it is long and tedious, with virtually no scenery to enjoy. 

Moose and wolf scat on the Feldtmann Ridge Trail

We reached Siskiwit Bay at 3:30 p.m. The campground here offers 2 shelters, 4 individual tent sites, and 3 group tent sites. The shelter at site #5 was open, and we collapsed into it gratefully. I changed out of my hiking boots and into Crocs and didn't move for about a half-hour. Shelter #5 has a view of the bay and the standard picnic table out front. The day had become sunny and beautiful, and we were happy to be spending the next 2 nights here. Suddenly, trekking through all of that brush felt worth it.
Siskiwit Bay

Since our tent had been packed away wet after the morning's thunderstorm, I laid it out to dry in the sun, and we walked down the path to the bay to check things out and collect water. The path from the shelter curves through tall yellow grass before descending to the shore, where a community fire ring and a couple of picnic tables make a nice gathering area next to the dock. The beach here consists of smooth red stones and pebbles, and a breakwater made of boulders shields the dock from rough water. It is very quiet here, and I looked forward to waking up early the next morning to watch the sun rise over the east-facing bay. 

From the dock at Siskiwit Bay. The fire ring and picnic tables are on the shore between the dock and breakwater. Shelter #5 is at the top of the grassy hill at the edge of the woods.
The water was cold, but not so cold that we couldn't get in, and we both spent some time cooling off in the bay before returning to the shelter to make dinner. We used the twig-burning stove, which was challenging since most of the twigs we found were wet from the morning rain. After a few false starts and a bit of smoke, we had a small cooking fire burning in the little contained stove. Because twigs burn away so quickly, this type of stove needs constant feeding and supervision in order to prevent the fire from burning out and having to start over. Before long we were happily eating cheesy noodle casserole at the picnic table. A fox trotted by while we were cleaning up, looking around briefly for anything interesting to steal before moving on and disappearing in the tall grass.

Dinner prep
After dinner, Craig walked down to the group fire ring to dispose of the stove's ashes. By now, people had started to gather there to talk and absorb the sun. While Craig talked to fellow hikers down by the water, I read a book at the picnic table and had my camera on-hand in case the fox came back through camp. 

And then this happened: 
Left: Hanging out at the shelter picnic table.   Right: An unexpected visitor.
I saw movement and looked up to see an animal walk across the path and disappear into the grass. I stared dumbly for a few seconds, not believing what I was seeing, before picking up my camera. It wasn't the fox returning for a visit; it was a wolf. It turned around and emerged onto the path leading up to our shelter, around 30 feet away. I looked beyond the path to where Craig was talking with other hikers at the fire ring. No one but me could see what was happening because of the tall grass. The wolf looked from side to side, then started walking up the path toward me. 

I stood up, thinking that it might not realize I was there. It seemed focused on the grass in its immediate vicinity, and it kept walking toward me. This was really exciting, but how close should I let it get? I knew it was wrong, but part of me wanted to just stay quiet and see what happened. The more sane part of me knew that would be inappropriate for a number of reasons. It took a few more steps closer, then I clapped my hands and yelled at it like I was scolding my dog for being on the couch. It sounded stupid to me, and the wolf was not very impressed either. It stopped walking and looked at me for a second or two, but it seemed unconcerned. Then it turned around and slowly walked away, turning left where the path forks off and leads back toward the main hiking trails. 

Not wanting it to leave altogether before Craig had a chance to see it, I walked down the path and waved my arms to get his attention, while trying to keep track of the wolf's whereabouts. After a few frustrating minutes of Craig not understanding why I was waving frantically and not saying anything, he realized that there must be something to see and everyone walked up to meet me. The wolf was standing on the path a short distance away, it's coloring allowing it to blend into the grass nearly perfectly. We watched it as it looked around, observed us watching it, then turned and walked away for good. I took a video of it during this time, but the quality is very bad.

Wolf track on the beach at Siskiwit Bay
At dusk, Craig and I walked to the trail junction where the Island Mine Trail begins. We followed the trail to where it leads out onto the beach at the end of the bay. This is known to be a good place to spot animal tracks, especially in the early morning. We thought this may have been the direction in which the wolf had traveled, and we were right. Its tracks were clearly visible down the length of the beach. We walked along the beach for a while and returned to camp as it was getting dark. 

Back at the dock, we watched river otters swimming near shore. The couple we had flown with were camping here also, and they joined us at a picnic table where we traded hiking stories. Suddenly the fox appeared, and we watched its silhouette in the dark as it trotted around us for a few seconds before disappearing once again. Billions of stars shone in the black, moonless sky. It was going to be a cold night.

Day 2 route
 To be continued in: Day 3 - Siskiwit Bay Part Two (no hiking day)


Unknown said...

Wow-I am one of the people standing around the fire ring while the wolf walked by. What a great picture. Thanks for sharing. What a wonderful park!!

Nina said...

Greg - I remember talking to you afterwards. This was such a wonderful experience! Reading the current notes from this year's winter study (and if I'm guessing correctly), it appears this wolf died recently, which is very sad.

Unknown said...

Your accounts of IRNP are vivid. Great narrative and photos of a truly remarkable place. Thirty plus years ago my wife and I made backpack trips on IR during the first three summers of our marriage. IR set us on an outdoor life together and It's nice to know the vistas and adventures remain similar to when we were there. I still daydream about the place.