Sunday, December 1, 2013

Isle Royale National Park 2013 | Day Six

Washington Creek to Huginnin Cove 
The most magical place on Earth (Sorry, Disneyland)
(Map at bottom of post)

Huginnin Cove
We woke up at 7:30 am, again to grey sky and still more fog – not a welcome sight. Regardless of the weather, we were heading to Huginnin Cove today, but we hoped that things would improve.

East Huginnin Cove Trail

Huginnin Cove is on Isle Royale's north side, approximately 5 miles from Windigo. It is tent-only (no group sites), and the campsites are close to the Lake Superior shore, with views of Canada to the north. Despite this, Huginnin Cove is apparently more of a day-hiking location than an overnight destination. I had read about the rugged trail and rocky shore and was looking forward to spending a night here.

East Huginnin Cove Trail near Lake Superior
I felt very lethargic this morning, and after eating breakfast, I packed up sluggishly. Because Huginnin Cove is so close, we were not in a hurry to leave early. The sun actually came out around 10 am, and it was clear and sunny for a whole 20 minutes. Just as our spirits were lifting, it became overcast and cloudy again.
Butterfly at Huginnin Cove
Huginnin Cove can be reached by two different trails that form a loop beginning and ending just east of Windigo. Our plan was to hike there via the East Huginnin Cove trail, taking West Huginnin Cove Trail on the way back. To reach the HC trails, we headed east past Washington Creek campground to the Minong Ridge Trail. It is necessary to hike about a mile of the Minong Ridge Trail to reach the junction with East HCT. Heading east on the Minong Ridge, the trail crosses a bridge over Washington Creek, which has a shed built next to it containing equipment to monitor the flow of the creek (I did not think to ask the reason for this, unfortunately). The junction with West HCT is located a short distance from the creek, followed by the East HCT junction a quarter-mile or so further.

Heading north on East HCT, the trail passes the remains of Wendigo mine, which operated briefly in the early 1890s. The mine closed after just two years after failing to yield a worthwhile amount of copper. The trail winds through marshes and swampy areas, which are usually good for moose-spotting, but we didn't see any on our way there.

East Huginnin Cove Trail gets interesting

The first few miles of hiking are mostly in nondescript woods and not very exciting. However, once the trail gets closer to Lake Superior, things get much more interesting. This is what I'd been looking forward to, and I was not disappointed. For about a mile, the trail runs along a short bluff above the lake. Below us, waves emerged from the fog to crash against the rocky shoreline. Huge boulders are strewn everywhere along this stretch of trail, with thick moss growing on everything, and gnarled tree roots snaking all along the trail and over some of the boulders. This was more like it.

Waves come ashore along East Huginnin Cove Trail

Unfortunately everything was extremely slippery due to the recent rain and the endless wet fog. We had to be very careful; the rocks were slimy with mud and wet moss, and the tree roots were like well-oiled death traps. Despite taking deliberate care with every step I made, my left foot slipped on a rock, going right out from under me and causing me to crash hard on my left side. Fortunately, I didn't fall straight forward onto my face and onto more rocks. I managed to fall on relatively soft, mossy ground to the side of the trail and was not hurt. I was very lucky. 

Rocks at the beach at Huginnin Cove
This is a wonderful, short hike – by far our favorite of the trip – and we were both happy to be hiking on this rugged, scenic terrain. The trail continued following close to shore, and soon we came upon the first of two coves. The first cove is filled with enormous pieces of driftwood – entire tree trunks that have washed into the cove and onto shore. It looked mystical in the fog. Just past this cove, the trail heads away from the water, winding through the woods and around to the second cove and the campsites.

The first of two coves on East Huginnin Cove Trail
Hiking into camp, the trail runs close to Huginnin Creek before emerging onto the beach, directly at the center of the cove. Huginnin Cove has five sites; standing at the center of the cove, we looked to the right to see Site #1 located just offshore on the spit of land that creates the cove's east border. Sites 2-5 are to the left and in the woods off the beach. Lucky for us, no one else was here at this time, so after a quick walk-through of the sites, we set up camp at Site #1, which is far and away the best. This site has one half of the cove to itself, including the large boulders at its eastern tip, where it is possible to sit and watch the lake for hours.

Campsite #1 at Huginnin Cove
It had been persistently foggy and overcast during our hike, and we were still unsure which way the weather was going to turn. We set up our tent and changed into warmer clothes quickly in case things took a turn for the worse. Our luck continued, however, and the sky cleared suddenly around 3:00 pm. The sun shone warmly, and fluffy white clouds floated overhead in a gorgeous blue sky. We had almost forgotten what that looked like.

The view north from Campsite #1 at Huginnin Cove
The scenario could not have been more perfect. We had nabbed a kick-ass campsite, and the weather had become beautiful. Our tent was just a few steps from the water, surrounded by trees and rocks. We spent a lot of time out on the boulders, either climbing around and exploring, or sitting in the sun and watching the green-blue lake. Directly ahead is Canada, with Pie Island around 20 miles away and looking like a misplaced butte – its rectangular shape and flat top standing out against the horizon. 

Looking north to Canada from Site #1 at Huginnin Cove
We waded in the cove for a while, and Craig eventually returned to the tent to take a nap. There was no way I was going to spend any time inside if I didn't have to, and I sat on the beach sifting through rocks and just enjoying the view and weather for a couple of hours. At some point, two more hikers had shown up and set up camp at other sites. Sites 2-5 are not visible from the water, but are relatively close to shore. Site #2 is probably the next best site after #1. It is close to the beach, though not directly on it.

Campsite #1 at Huginnin Cove

Being on the northwest end of the island, Huginnin Cove would allow for good sunset viewing later in the evening if the sky remained clear. We decided this was the perfect time and place to eat our favorites from the food bag – chilimac from Mary Jane's Farm, followed by banana pudding from Pack-it Gourmet for dessert. While we cooked dinner, a couple of snowshoe hares hopped through our camp. They are really fast and surprisingly big, with huge rear feet.

The view east from campsite #1 at Huginnin Cove. The Canadian shore can be seen in the distance.

After eating, we returned to the boulders to watch the lake and explore a bit more. Craig climbed over the rocks and over to the adjacent cove, while I took photographs of the area in the pre-sunset waning light. Unfortunately, a wall of clouds appeared just as the sun was about to set. The sun sank behind it, preventing the spectacular sunset I was hoping for. I was too happy to be disappointed by this, however. Today had been a wonderful day.

Moon above Huginnin Cove

The moon rose above the cove, and we sat outside of our tent watching it illuminate the trees and reflect on the water. As dumb as it might sound, Huginnin Cove was magical. The gloomy weather and rain of the days before were worth it just to spend a day here. Neither of us wanted to leave. We would have loved to stay here a second night, but the weather was still questionable. The number of people we had seen stranded at Windigo due to bad flying conditions was worrisome, and we didn't know if this good weather would hold. We decided the best plan would be to hike back to Windigo the following morning in order to give ourselves a better chance of getting home on time. If the weather looked like it would take another bad turn, maybe we would be able to leave early.

Moon above Huginnin Cove

We stayed up as long as we could, turning in only when we couldn't stay awake anymore. I didn't even try to read; I laid in my sleeping bag listening to waves washing on shore in the moonlit cove and trying to make the moments last as long as possible. I drifted in and out of a light sleep, eventually hearing a light rain gently falling on our tent later in the night. 

To be continued in Day Seven: Huginnin Cove to Windigo

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