Isle Royale, May 2007

Day 4



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Shortly after I climbed into my sleeping bag last night I heard peals of thunder rumbling faintly off in the distance. Every minute or so the thunder would make its presence known again but, with each succession I could tell that it was closing the distance on us. Eventually, the last shred of daylight disappeared and the interior of the tent was illuminated by periodic flashes of bright, blue light as our protective nylon bubble was assaulted by heavy drops of rain. When I woke up this morning around 7:00 a.m. I heard the wind whipping across the ridge above us and through the trees around the tent. It sounded pretty blustery so we stayed in the tent for a couple more hours. The sound of the racing wind was periodically accompanied by what sounded like a horn coming from somewhere off the east coast of the island. Later we were to learn that it had been emanating from the Passage Island Lighthouse [Link 1, Link 2]. When we finally emerged from the tent to pack up and leave we were greeted by a brisk wind, damp air and water drops falling from the saturated branches above us. The temperature was probably about 45 degrees.

We ate a quick breakfast, filtered water, packed and were cruising down the trail by 10:20 a.m. Only a few rays of sunshine managed to find their way through the infrequent breaks in the clouds as we headed back to the west, however, it wasn't long before the clouds overpowered the sun and we were hiking under completely overcast skies. In lieu of the hot day we had yesterday I had prayed for somewhat overcast conditions today so we wouldn't be quite so parched but we got more than I expected. The complete lack of sun would've been o.k. if it hadn't rained so much overnight but, we were fighting a losing battle with the thick, rain-soaked vegetation and ground cover that crowded both sides of the trail. My dry pants quickly soaked up the water which allowed my socks to wick the water down into my boots, thus leaving me to hike the remainder of the day with cold water squishing in and out of the padding in my boots every time I took a step. Now I just hoped that the rain, if any, would hold off until we reached our destination.

There wasn't anything exciting about the trail today since we had just passed the opposite way yesterday, however, before we knew it we had arrived at the junction with the Mt. Franklin Trail. We planned to stop here for lunch but the mosquitoes were so intense that we chose to eliminate our lunch break entirely and stopped only long enough to retrieve a couple granola bars before continuing on. The Mt. Franklin Trail made an immediate descent from the Greenstone Ridge bringing us down about 350 feet in 1.5 miles. Near the end of the trail we crossed a planked walkway and then a small bridge at which point our surroundings changed dramatically. The trees changed to mostly pine-type trees and they seemed to be much more tightly concentrated and closer to the trail. We had only taken a few steps away from the bridge when we realized we were on the Tobin Harbor Trail. The trail only had a few ups and downs and a few rocky, tree root-covered areas. The views were very nice especially with all the pine trees and the almost glass-like harbor to our left. We definitely could tell that water levels were down this year because there was a good 20 or so feet of mud and silt along the shores of the harbor where there once used to be water. By now thick fog was cascading over the tops of the trees on the opposite side of the harbor. At one point during a short break we watched as fog rolled down the harbor from opposite directions, eventually meeting in the middle and engulfing the last remaining clear view of the tree line directly across from us on the opposite shore. About the only things left to see were faint, ghostly silhouettes of objects that vaguely resembled stands of trees. It was quite otherworldly!

It wasn't very cold today, probably about 55 degrees, but we felt a definite drop in the temperature the closer we got to Rock Harbor. Eventually we began to hear people talking somewhere on the other side of the thick tree cover to our right and realized we were almost at Rock Harbor. We passed a U.S.G.S. worker coming down the trail in the opposite direction to check on a monitoring station and a few steps later we were hiking down the asphalt sidewalk that leads to the ranger station and the camp store. As we set foot on the sidewalk a light mist began to descend from the moisture-laden sky. We picked up our pace realizing that we were now in a race with the approaching rain. It was almost like Mother Nature was playing a cruel game with us. We had made it this far without being rained on but now every time we began to walk faster the precipitation began to fall quicker and harder. As we fast-walked down the Rock Harbor Trail we began to check for a vacant shelter. I was becoming a bit skeptical that we would find one because the first four shelters we looked at were already occupied or had a hiking permit tied to the door handle. A vacant shelter had no table while another had a table but it was sitting outside in the rain and was completely soaked. Ken found the seventh shelter unoccupied and with a dry table sitting inside. Shelter #5 had just become our home for the rest of our trip.

We unpacked, set out the sleeping bags, washed off some of the dirt and changed into some warmer, dry clothes. We ate the tortilla shells, salami and cheese that we had planned to eat earlier in the day at Mount Franklin and then walked down to the dock to filter more water. As we walked past the camp store we discovered that the water had been turned on and there were a couple other hikers filling up water bottles at the tap behind the store. We were not necessarily in the mood to pump water through the filter so there was no argument over which method to use. We opted for the tap and filled all our containers in about 60 seconds; sometimes simple technology is just much more efficient! After stocking up on water we walked down to the harbor to check out the views only to discover that it too was completely obscured. As I stood on the dock peering out into the thick, never-ending fog my eyes were drawn to the harbor's rocky boundary and the trees and scrub brush that made it their home. It was an odd site to see these sentinels of the Isle Royale shoreline, tough and battle-hardened by years of exposure to the worst weather Lake Superior could conjure up, simply fading away into the endless white void out in the distance. The entire scene looked like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller yet it was amazing, eerie and peaceful all at the same time.

As we stood at the dock it began to rain again so we made a mad rush back to the shelter and it ended up raining pretty hard for the next several hours. It appeared that hiking back to the portage the night before combined with not stopping for a lunch break today had actually turned out to be good choices, otherwise, the extra time we would have spent on the trail would surely have left us hiking in this soaking rain. As it was, we arrived at our shelter around 2:40 p.m. and had the rest of the afternoon and evening to relax and enjoy the surroundings.

For some cheap entertainment we checked out several of the vacant shelters and looked at the graffiti. Although I don't condone the act of defacing anything, especially in the backcountry, I couldn't help but be amused by some of the inscriptions. While perusing the various shelters the thought came to me that all these backcountry scribblings could be made into an interesting book. I figured I could name it something like "Backcountry Graffiti: Drawings, poems and words of wisdom found in National Park Service shelters". I could include chapters such as: Poetry, Drawings and Sketches, Advice, The Risqué, Love and Romance, Web Sites, Quips and Anecdotes, Rhymes, and Trip Logs. It was all pretty amusing and we passed quite a bit of our free time reading the various ramblings and taking a few photos of some of the more unique drawings.

By 7:30 p.m. it had cooled down enough for us to be able to see our breath inside the shelter. It was also rather damp due to all the rain so we took to sitting inside our sleeping bags at the picnic table while we played cards and talked about the trip. Sometime after 9:00 p.m. we cooked some homemade bowtie pasta and meat sauce and finished up dinner with some Chocolate Mousse dessert. After dinner we passed the time by warming our hands over the flame from the stove and flipping through the channels on Ken's small transistor radio. We got quite a laugh out of a nonstop loop of funky, techno, computer music coming to us from somewhere out beyond. Whenever we came across the station on the return trip down the dial we found it to still be playing the same song. We never did hear a station identifier or a D.J., just that lonely loop of electronic music.

Final Count: Two garter snakes, a few blue jays, a couple chipmunks, an unidentified land bird but still no moose or wolves.

Miles Covered Today: 8.1
Total Trip Miles: 34.4

Day 5


This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:26 AM