Showing posts with label Greenstone Ridge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greenstone Ridge. Show all posts

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Isle Royale National Park 2013 | Day Four

Siskiwit Bay to Washington Creek
(Map at bottom of post)
A rocky section of beach along Siskiwit Bay

We awoke on day four to a grey sky and fog encroaching on the bay and obscuring the trees across the water. If we were lucky, it would just remain foggy. If not, we were in for a rainy day. Our plan was to hike to South Lake Desor today. Just under ten miles away, Lake Desor is rumored to be a nice place to camp, with tent sites above the shore of the lake. Because it is tent-only, we thought about this likely scenario: hiking in the rain, arriving in the rain, setting up camp in the rain, and being unable to dry out. Dealing with rain is part of the experience, but we had left ourselves open to itinerary changes and we considered all of our options. 

Morning of Day 4 - fog crawls over distant ridges to the north across Siskiwit Bay
We had an extra day worked into our schedule, so we could stay one more day at Siskiwit Bay and wait out the weather, or we could also hike to Washington Creek. Washington Creek is the campground at Windigo, and it has several shelters. Siskiwit Bay is great, but I didn't feel like spending a third day there. We wanted to see Lake Desor, but it wouldn't be the worst thing to skip it in favor of a shelter at Washington Creek given the weather outlook. It was a difficult decision to make, but we decided to pass on Lake Desor. This meant we would be completing the Feldtmann Loop a day early.

Bridge over Big Siskiwit River

Washington Creek is 11 miles from Siskiwit Bay. We had spent so much time thinking about what we were going to do that we didn't leave until 11:45 am. This is a very late start, and we had a long hike in front of us. It was cold, so we put our rain jackets on for warmth and also as a weather precaution before heading out. Backtracking to the spot where the Feldtmann Ridge Trail ends, we set off on Island Mine Trail, which begins at Siskiwit Bay and runs north to the Greenstone Ridge. Island Mine Trail follows the edge of Siskiwit Bay for about 1 ½ miles and crosses the Big Siskiwit River by footbridge. The trail is technically inside the brush just off the beach, but it is possible to hike on the beach itself for much of the way. We walked on the beach as far as we could, but eventually had to return to the trail. The underbrush was so wet from the fog that we were quickly soaked from the waist down. We should have known better and worn our rain pants from the start.

Big Siskiwit River
We detoured onto a rocky stretch of beach in order to put our gear down and put on rain pants. During this time, a small National Park Service boat emerged from the fog out in the bay. As we balanced on the rocks, trying to get our rain pants on while refusing to take our boots off, we watched two park rangers put a canoe into the water from the boat. One person paddled to shore, where another walked out to meet him and got in the canoe. At first, we thought that they might be in the process of performing a rescue. Maybe a hiker slipped in the wet conditions and had been injured, and the park service had been notified. After a few minutes, this didn't appear to be the case, but given that it was not great weather to be on the water, they must have been up to official business of some kind as they paddled across the bay. It is unlikely they were out there for fun. (Do park ranges have time to do things for fun? Probably not.) They saw us watching them and waved, which made me feel bad for gawking. 

National Park Service Boat in Siskiwit Bay

The rocks along this section of shore are amazing. I picked up stone after stone and examined them while Craig finished getting his gear in order. Mostly red and all approximately the same size, some rocks were filled with fossils and crystals, while others were conglomerates containing pieces of other rocks that had been fused together over time. 

It began raining while we were on the beach, and it didn't stop for the rest of the day. Hiking in the rain can be fun at times, but the novelty wears off after a while. By the end of the first hour, we had enough of it. Island Mine Trail leaves the beach and turns inland where it follows the path of what had been a wagon road in the 1870s leading to Island Mine, where copper was sought after. There are no views during this two-mile stretch, and there is more of the tall vegetation to contend with. Most of the hiking on IMT was easy, and we were able to maintain a good pace without taking too many breaks. Unfortunately, because it was raining so much, I had to keep my camera tucked away, and we didn't do any exploring in the area of the mine. We saw an old well, but we didn't see the old steam engine that remains in the woods, or any other parts of the mine itself. It was wet and muddy, and we had a long way to go after getting such a late start.

This had been a well when Island Mine was functioning

We ate lunch in a cedar swamp, which had enough of a canopy overhead that it kept us from getting rained on too much. Aside from the section that follows the old wagon road, IMT is an interesting trail. It is unfortunate that it was raining so heavily; we were more focussed on getting through it without slipping in the mud or on wet rocks and tree roots than looking at the environment around us. Parts of the trail are somewhat rugged, with one steep climb and a few switchbacks, and it crosses a stream just before reaching Island Mine Campground. We reached the Greenstone Ridge shortly after passing through the campground, where a group of three hikers huddled under a tarp out of the rain. We couldn't tell if they were camping there, or if they had just stopped for a break and wanted to get out of the rain for a little while. From the trail intersection, we turned west; we had gone about five miles and had six more to go. This stretch of the Greenstone heading toward Windigo is all downhill and very easy hiking. Again, the rain prevented much looking around or picture-taking, and we basically hiked full-blast all the way to Washington Creek Campground. We arrived at 6 pm. 

Washington Creek - viewed from Shelter #1

We passed the group campground, which was shockingly loud. Kids were screaming, and we could hear people jumping into water, splashing and yelling. We would discover later that a school group was spending a week there. We followed the path down into the campground itself, and wound through the woods past all of the campsites, finally stopping at the very last one: Shelter #1. We had a nice view of the creek, but we were mostly concerned with getting out of our wet clothes and checking the contents of our backpacks to make sure nothing had been soaked. The covers that were made for our backpacks had done nothing to prevent water from getting inside, but we had also used garbage bags on the insides of our packs as extra protection, and all of the important things were safe. 

Wet stuff hanging in our shelter at Washington Creek

After 5 ½ hours of hiking in the rain, our rain gear had not proven very effective. We were both soaking wet. Our boots performed well considering the length of time we were in the rain, but they were still a bit wet inside. We hung our wet clothes inside the shelter, dried off, changed into warm clothes, and made dinner. We obviously weren't going to find dry wood for the twig-burning stove, and in order to conserve the small amount of fuel we had, we ate one of our cold-prep meals: Kickin' Chicken Hot Wings Wraps by Pack-it Gourmet. It rehydrated in 15 minutes with cold water and was a perfect, filling dinner.

It stopped raining shortly after we arrived at Washington Creek, but the thick fog remained. Although the creek was right there, the water wasn't very easy to access, so we walked to Windigo, which is about 10 minutes away, to get potable water from the spigot near the dock. We felt bad about skipping Lake Desor, but we were glad to be in a shelter and in a position to air out all of our wet clothing and gear after a full day of hiking in the rain. 

Washington Harbor - fogged in
It got dark early that night due to the lack of sunshine and persistent fog. We turned in at 9 pm and decided to play the following day by ear depending on what the weather chose to do. I could not fall asleep; my legs felt crazy. They tingled and were very restless, jerking around from time to time of their own accord. Though I had felt really good physically throughout the day, I think the long day of hiking much faster than I normally do in determination to get through the rain and arrive at our destination as quickly as possible had caught up with me. Something big got into the creek outside our shelter just after we went to bed, and we listened to it swimming around in the dark. We were both too tired to get up and try shining our headlamps outside to see for sure, but it was obviously a moose. It is common to see them along Washington Creek, and we hoped more would be around the following morning. 

To be continued in Day 5: ...?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Isle Royale National Park 2012 | Part Two

*GUEST POST*Part 2 of Craig's solo trip report - May 14-21

Looking up Moskey Basin toward Lake Superior from shelter #2

Friday morning arrives and I am heading to Moskey Basin - Nina's favorite place. I’m unable to decide between it and McCargoe Cove. My hike would be about 6 miles, a good part of that repeated trail from the day before. After a night of rain, I would caution people about the foot bridges on this section of the Indian Portage Trail. They get very slippery. Upon arriving at Moskey and opting for shelter #2, I immediately took a dip and did laundry. All the shelters here are good, but I really like how the rock at this one slopes down into the water. The sun was out so I figured hanging a clothesline would be a good move. A brief rain would eventually cause me to bring the laundry inside only to put it back out later.

Female Merganser

Male Merganser

Before leaving home, Nina helped me prune my food supply. Luckily we didn't eliminate too much, because at this point I started noticing what I had left for the remainder of my trip, and there was little, if any, excess. I brought the first book of the original Foundation Trilogy with me. As it turns out, I had to ration my reading as well as my food. I did not want to blow through the book and be left with nothing. I could've used a second book, or a lightweight Kindle loaded with several books. The waves were very loud as they crashed into and flowed by the rock, which was my front yard for two days. The first evening would find things very peaceful and dead quiet.

The end of Moskey Basin

Saturday was my second day at Moskey Basin, bringing with it very nice weather and a day full of relaxation. After my morning ritual of a cold face splashing and a water filtering session, I walked around, visited the ice-damaged dock, and took some photos, including one of my favorite graffiti of this trip. The rest of day was just me hanging out and I have no significant notes from my goings-on. This evening was far from quiet; the loons were very vocal. They performed all night, literally.

What can you say?

I left Moskey Basin Sunday morning at 9:30 and started heading for Three Mile campground, which true to its name, would place me 3 miles from the boat pickup at Rock Harbor. Three Mile is the second place on this trip I’ve never stayed, Chippewa Harbor being the first. I ended up stopping to put on partial rain gear during this hike, as it was sprinkling a bit and looked ominous. Full rain gear is warm and suffocating, unless it is really cool out, so I went with the jacket and pack cover only, opting to convert my pants to shorts. This made for comfortable hiking through the light rain. I stopped at Daisy Farm for a snack and to look in a shelter we stayed in before, to no avail, for some Iron Maiden graffiti we saw on our last trip. Nina really wants a photo of it, and we’ve no recollection of where we saw it. After snacking, it stopped sprinkling so I tucked the rain jacket away. Wouldn’t you know the minute I put it away, it started sprinkling again, so I donned the jacket and headed out my last 4.4 miles of the day.
Wolf scat

About a mile into my hike, the clouds began darkening, but they appeared to be behind me a good distance, or so I thought. I took the risk and figured with the comfortable pace I had going, I would just make my way to Three Mile and avoid putting the rain pants on. I was very comfortable in shorts. As it turns out, the dark clouds either caught up quickly, or told the lighter, closer clouds to start in on me anyway. It started and I was faced with a window of about 30 seconds to decide on the rain pants. For some reason I chose not to wear them and paid. It began raining, and by raining I mean pouring. In under 10 minutes my socks and the inside of my boots were soaked, as evidenced by the squish sounds I heard with every footfall. I had a good laugh at myself and still enjoyed the walk. My last trip to the island was filled with perfect weather, so my dues had to be paid. It's is all part of the experience.
Moose droppings

Trying to follow Leave No Trace principles, I walked right through the trail puddles, some of which would by now be water mixed with moose marbles and hairy wolf scat. The reason for staying on the trail is to avoid widening it, encroaching on and causing more wearing of the non-trail surfaces bordering either side. Sometimes the puddles were a little deep and I would carefully hop on rocks or roots. Despite all this, I made really good time and arrived wet and ready to shed my heavy boots. After throwing my stuff in the shelter and grabbing a towel, I went to the lake to clean out my socks and boots, knowing I would not have the luxury of dry boots again on this trip. They were still wet after arriving at home. I also got in the water and had a really cold rinse, after which I went inside, got sorted, and dried off. Ironically, the only pants I had to wear now were my dry rain pants. Touché. My only dry footwear was the pair of Crocs I wear around camp, which are full of holes, so any trip outside would be a rock hopping affair, in an effort to keep my socks dry. It was at this point I discovered that, in addition to my rain jacket failing to keep me dry, my pack cover failed in its commitment to its duties. I pulled out some damp socks, a damp shirt, and wet long underwear. Somehow, and with lots of luck, I also pulled out a dry pair of socks, a dry pair of underwear, a dry shirt, my dry fleece, and thankfully Nina’s dry camera. The hood of my sleeping bag was a little wet, but that was not a big deal. I guess the lesson learned is to keep things in plastic bags within your pack if you expect super rain. Our rain gear worked swimmingly the last time we used it during our trip to the Porkies, and I’ll give it another chance on the next trip.

The shore and a dock at Three Mile at sunrise

All this wetness led to me having my favorite meal of the whole trip. After drying off and setting up my sleeping pad and the like, I made some coffee and enjoyed one of the best Snickers bars I’ve ever eaten. I spent some time reading only to realize I was really cold, especially my feet. I didn’t feel cold when hiking in the rain, but I’m sure the dip in the lake didn’t help. Anyway, I thought getting in my sleeping bag would be a good idea. It took a few hours to feel properly warm. I arrived that day at 1:00 pm to existing rain (obviously) and it kept raining steadily until after 7:00 pm. Aside from a quick trip to get water after the rain let up, I was essentially in my bag in the shelter from 1:45 pm - 6:15 the next morning. No sleeping pad is comfortable for that long.

The sun on its way up at Three Mile

Monday brought with it great weather - the best yet. It is too bad the best weather was on the last day, but it made for a really nice walk back to Rock Harbor, and the boat ride back was smooth sailing. Typically on the last day, your pack is lighter since most of your food is in some outhouse or another, so to speak, but mine was filled with wet clothes. It was a short hike though, along a very interesting, diverse trail. On both visits I wondered how many people, visiting the Island for the first time, go immediately down the Rock Harbor Trail with a full pack and expectations of a nice, flat walking trail.

Rock Harbor Trail

My tale ends with the store at Rock Harbor being open and me having a really good can of Coke. The wait for the boat to arrive was about 3 hours. A guy came strolling in, ahead of his buddies, with an almost full kitchen garbage bag of trash strapped to his pack. I had to ask. He said that it was the garbage from three guys for three days. I couldn’t believe they almost filled a 13 gallon garbage bag. Once back in town I stopped at the Mariner North for a Reuben and then headed to Zik’s to wet my dry. I stayed in town that night and left for home at 6:15 Tuesday morning.

An islet along Rock Harbor

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 repellant.

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Isle Royale National Park | Day Six

McCargoe Cove to Daisy Farm

We had declined an invitation the night before from friendly camp neighbors to join them at the fire ring (one of only a handful on Isle Royale) in favor of retiring early. We wanted to get an early start for our 8.2 mile hike to Daisy Farm since we knew that half of it would be along the Greenstone Ridge. Our goal was to get up to the ridge as early as possible to avoid having the midday sun beating on our heads. Plus, we had now become a bit spoiled by the shelters and wanted to get to Daisy Farm as early as possible in the hopes of securing one.

Regarding the shelters, we were very impressed with their condition. From reading tales of other hikers trekking in areas such as the Appalachian Trail, we were not expecting the cleanliness that we encountered. The shelters were heavily graffitied, and based on some of the handwritten messages (side note: Apparently lots of people count a black sharpie among essential gear to be taken on a trip where the goal is to pack as few items as possible!), the structures have been in place since at least the early 1970s. Despite this, the 3-sided structures were in great shape. Isle Royale's shelters have a screen front to keep bugs and other visitors out, and I was amazed at how successfully they did their job. I didn't see a single spider or even a cob web in any of the 4 we used. A broom hangs from a nail by the door of each one with the understanding that visitors sweep dirt and debris from the floor before leaving camp. Designed to sleep six, it's considered good etiquette to share a shelter with other parties should the campground fill up and the weather turn bad; however, due to the perfect weather and lateness of the season, we managed to have one to ourselves each time we elected not to sleep in our tent.

We ventured down to the dock for a quick sunrise photo, then stepped onto the trail just after 7:00 am. After backtracking past the beaver dam and along the stream that connects McCargoe Cove to Chickenbone Lake, we began to climb back up the Greenstone Ridge. The East Chickenbone Lake Trail (unnamed on the map, but everyone calls it by this name) is a beautiful 1.6 mile stretch which winds past the eastern side of Chickenbone Lake, creeping over rocky ridges and dipping down into cool, foggy valleys.

Crossing a footbridge over an unnamed stream

Our early start ensured nice cool temperatures, and once again our pants were quickly soaked through from the dew-covered vegetation. Just before the end of the trail, it abruptly ascends via a couple of steep switchbacks to the top of the Greenstone Ridge. We reached the top around 8:30 am and stopped for a 15-minute breather. Like the lookout at Mt. Franklin, this unnamed spot offers an expansive view of the north side of the island from a height of around 900 feet. From here, the 4.2 mile stretch of the Greenstone Ridge heading east is a tiring, yet pleasant hike. The path weaves alternately in and out of forest and onto bare rocky crests, and hints of fall color were just starting to peek through the trees. We were happy to discover that it was alternately shady and sunny, and therefore not nearly as hot as the section we had hiked between Mt. Franklin and Mt. Ojibway on day two.

Taking a break to enjoy the view atop the Greenstone Ridge

During a snack break, we met a woman solo hiking the length of the island via the Greenstone. This was her fourth consecutive year hiking Isle Royale and she had yet to see a moose. I actually felt guilty that we'd had the good fortune of seeing some exciting wildlife during the first five days of our first visit. This lone hiker had flown on the sea plane to Windigo and was heading east to Rock Harbor where she would fly out at the end of her trip. I take the occasional solo vacation which usually incorporates day hikes, but I don't know if I have the guts to to an overnight by myself. Yet.

We descended the Greenstone Ridge around 11:00 am heading southeast along Daisy Farm Trail. Foot bridges guide hikers over a few small streams, swamps, and marshy areas before the 1.7 mile trail ends at Rock Harbor Trail.

We arrived at Daisy Farm Campground at noon and were able to claim a good shelter very close to the water. I can't say what, exactly, made this day so tiring, but I have never been so exhausted as I was when we dropped our packs at Daisy Farm. Every muscle felt devastated, and I could not have cared less about filtering water, changing clothes (aside from removing my boots), or preparing food. I don't think I moved for nearly an hour once my sleeping pad was inflated and I could lie down. Each one of my limbs weighed at least 1000 pounds, and once horizontal, all well-meaning thoughts such as, “I should really do some stretches,” were squashed in favor of slowly sinking into a coma.

Early morning fog lurks in a valley along East Chickenbone Lake Trail

Once I managed to miraculously regain consciousness, I hobbled unsteadily down the short path to the water. The shore along this part of Rock Harbor consists of small volcanic rocks and is a nice spot to cool off and lay clothes out to dry in the sun. The water was freezing and my washcloth-sized MSR pack towel came in handy as I could not bring myself to fully submerge. I limped back to the shelter where Craig and I drank hot peppermint tea and shared a bar of dark chocolate that we had been saving.

The rocky shore in front of our shelter at Daisy Farm

After more resting, we visited the dock to filter water and absorb some sun. Truthfully, I don't remember much else about the rest of our day at Daisy Farm. We spent most of our time lying in the shelter, eating snacks, talking about how great the trip had been thus far, and marveling at how completely destroyed we felt. The sky turned overcast and the wind picked up when we went to bed. From what we could remember of the forecast, there was a chance of rain the next day and we wondered if a storm was blowing in. Part of me would have liked to witness a Lake Superior storm from the relative safety of our shelter in the harbor, but the rest of me was hoping for dry conditions during our hike along the potentially slippery Rock Harbor Trail the following day. We felt that we had been so fortunate with the weather that it had to change at some point. We would just have to wait and see what the morning would bring.

Looking out at Rock Harbor from inside our shelter at Daisy Farm

To be continued in:
Day Seven: Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor

More photos from this trip can be seen here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Isle Royale National Park | Day Four

Moskey Basin to West Chickenbone Lake

Chickenbone Lake

Moskey Basin is known for its sunrises, and although the morning started off a bit cloudy, we were not disappointed. We went about our morning routine at a leisurely pace, and once oatmeal and coffee were consumed we discussed our day's route. We had two possible destinations: Lake Richie or West Chickenbone Lake. Both are inland lakes known for good fishing and moose spotting potential, and each offers only a small number of tent sites. We decided to roll the dice and just see what happened.

Sunrise at Moskey Basin

We backtracked to the trail intersection and headed west on Lake Richie Trail which brought us to the campground in just under 2.5 miles. Lake Richie is a favorite spot for canoeing and fishing, but the drawback is that the campsites are located away from the lake and up a ridge. While the lake is picturesque and dotted with small islands, all of the campsites appeared to be in direct sunlight, and on this warm sunny day there would be no chance of shade until evening. We stopped in one of the campsites to eat a snack and make a decision. While Craig munched on trail mix, I visited the outhouse. It was terrifying.

Lake Richie

A side note on going to the bathroom in the woods: I feel a bit prissy complaining about the outhouse, so let me explain. When we first began planning this trip, we figured that the Isle Royale backcountry bathroom experience would consist of digging holes and bringing our own TP. We are not virgins to this form of dehumanization. Later on in the planning stage, we were happy to learn that there were pit toilets located at all campsites. Once on the island, the clean state of the facilities at our first three locations made us very happy indeed. We became spoiled.

Outhouse at West Chickenbone Lake
A charming path lures hikers to the horrors within

After detouring to a private spot in the woods, I returned to the campsite and reported my grim bathroom findings. It was only 10:30 am, and we decided that we didn't want to spend an entire day in the open sun. If we had a canoe for exploring the lake we might have felt differently, but we decided to keep going and try our luck at West Chickenbone.

Lake Richie Trail ends at Indian Portage Trail which follows the north side of the lake for a little over ½ mile. Indian Portage Trail runs the the width of Isle Royale from north to south and connects the opposite shores of the island via four inland lakes and a handful of canoe portages. A hearty person could paddle a canoe up Chippewa Harbor to the south, then paddle his/her way north through Lakes Richie, LeSage, Livermore, and Chickenbone before re-entering Lake Superior through McCargoe Cove to the north.

Portaging a canoe is nuts. Once heading north on Indian Portage Trail, we crossed paths with a forest ranger whose head was hidden inside the upside-down canoe balanced on top of his shoulders. He asked us for our names as we passed him. “I like to make a mental note of who I encounter out here in case of an emergency,” his voice echoed down to us. I have no idea how he could see where he was going. A bit further north, the trail hooks around Lake LeSage, then begins to climb some ridges. Here, another canoe portage follows the trail and creates a connection with Lake Livermore. This stretch included a descent so steep it took me several minutes (only with slight exaggeration) to navigate it relying heavily on my trek poles for balance. I had recently sent the poles back to Leki for repairs; if one of them had collapsed, I would be dictating this from a full body cast. Portagers would have to scramble up or down that segment while hoisting a canoe. To us it seemed impossible, but one person we met along the way assured us that the canoeing experience on Isle Royale is worth the work involved.

Fishermen on Chickenbone Lake

The trail hugs the marshy west end of Lake Livermore before ascending the Greenstone Ridge. Rounding the narrow end of the lake, something caught our attention through a window-like opening in the trees. An unidentifiable big brown object stood in the water on the opposite shore. We stood there for several minutes when the thought occurred to each of us simultaneously that we might be a couple of idiots staring at a large overturned tree. As soon as Craig gave up and started to move on, the tree moved its huge head. MOOSE! I was so excited I nearly fell off the plank bridge we were standing on. It was far enough away that we couldn't tell whether it was male or female, and it wasn't until we returned home and could view the enlarged photo that we were able to see antlers.

A bull moose cooling off in Lake Livermore

We left our moose window and began to climb the Greenstone, which was not nearly as steep a climb here as in other places. Once at the top, beautiful glimpses of Chickenbone Lake could be seen through the white birch trees. Here, the trail descends steeply and passes a group campsite on the way to the individual sites at the lake's edge. We saw the 2 young hikers we had met leaving Lane Cove on our second morning. They had ended up taking 2 days to get to Chippewa Harbor, and were currently hiking the 10.6-mile length of Indian Portage Trail to McCargoe Cove. West Chickenbone was a convenient place for a break along the way.

A glimpse of Chickenbone Lake while descending the Greenstone Ridge

Chickenbone Lake is shaped like a chicken wing and the west campground offers six tent sites. After some debate over location, we settled in and took a swim. The pit toilet here was a horror show which Craig advised I not attempt to use if I could help it. A sign hung in the outhouse explaining that the facilities further inland can't receive as much attention as the others, which makes perfect sense. A very bold and chatty squirrel took up residence in our site and proceeded to pester us for the duration of our stay. Known for chewing through both tent and backpack in search of food, we had read about these tiny menaces which are closer to chipmunks in size and unique to Isle Royale. After it engaged Craig in a game of chicken around our Nalgene bottle, we decided to hang our food as a precaution.

Our campsite at West Chickenbone Lake

The only tree with an adequate branch for hanging food was located at the water's edge. Our minds got carried away with an elaborate fantasy of a moose wandering through our site in the middle of the night, heading toward the water, hooking an antler on the hanging bag, and dragging our food supply out into the lake. The squirrel watched the entire food hanging process with disturbing intensity, chattering loudly the whole time. We kept our fingers crossed that it would retire for the night and leave our packs undisturbed under the tent's vestibules. In the end, all was safe and the squirrel entertained itself by chasing a snowshoe hare back and forth through our campsite until dark when we all went to bed.

PCT food hanging method thwarts demonic squirrels

Snowshoe Hare flees tiny squirrel, is unfazed by giant human
To be continued in: Isle Royale Day Five: West Chickenbone to McCargoe Cove

More photos from this trip can be seen here.