Isle Royale, May 2005

Day 1

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On May 25 we began another long drive north to Grand Portage, Minnesota for a several day excursion on Isle Royale. This time we planned to hike the Greenstone Ridge from Windigo to West Chickenbone and then south on the Indian Portage Trail to Chippewa Harbor. We arrived at the dock in Grand Portage at 2:00 a.m. (Eastern), found a parking spot on the hill and slept in the car for a few hours. We were awake at 6:30 a.m. to make final checks of our gear, put on our hiking boots and carry our packs down to the boat. Captain Fritz, a new captain this year, checked everyone's reservations as the gear was being loaded. A short time later, and right on time, the Voyager II pulled away from the dock. When we awoke at 6:30 a.m. the sky was sunny and bright and there were only a few clouds drifting along, but by the time we boarded the Voyager, thick, gray clouds had moved in and the once bright sky was now a dull, dreary palette of grays and dingy whites. The forecast predicted thunderstorms at some point during the day, but I was hoping the rain would hold off at least until we made it to our campsite for the night.

The journey over to Isle Royale was a peaceful one because Lake Superior was like a sheet of glass. I slept for about an hour and thirty minutes of the ride and when I woke up and looked out the window I saw a corridor of water bracketed by thick forests -- we had just entered Washington Harbor. As we stepped off the boat and onto the Windigo dock it was nice to see the familiar smiling face of Ranger Valerie Bowen greeting everyone. We picked up our gear, listened to the "Leave No Trace" speech and spoke with Valerie for about 15 minutes before heading down the trail. Before we could actually begin our hike we had to stop at the bathrooms to fill up our water containers. Valerie told us they had not yet turned on the water spicket near the ranger station because last night was the first night the temperature had not fallen to 32 degrees or less.

We finally hit the trail at 12:05 p.m. and headed for the Greenstone Ridge. It didn't take long before the first memorable situation of the trip took place. A short time into the hike I became quite hot and decided to take off my fleece jacket. Instead of taking off the entire pack I decided to just unsnap the strap across my chest and balance the pack in the air by the hip belt while I removed my jacket. Needless to say, as I removed the jacket, the pack shifted and fell backward. At the same time, the bite-tube on my hydration pack slipped through a plastic loop on my backpack. The tubing itself easily fits through the loop but the bite-tube always requires some extra force. The extra pressure created by the tight fit caused the mouthpiece to be pulled off the tubing. The next thing I saw was the rubber tubing wildly swinging around like an out-of-control fire hose, spraying a steady stream of precious water all over the ground. When I realized what happened I quickly pinched the hose to stop the water and we looked for the mouthpiece. I rinsed it off, put it back in place and we were once again on the way. It only took five or six drinks to finally clear out every last speck of dirt -- I guess I was going to have a little extra fiber in my diet today.

At roughly .6 miles from the ranger station we came to the junction of the Greenstone Ridge Trail. From here the trail began its gradual but steady 360 foot ascent to the crest of the Greenstone Ridge -- the backbone of the island. We stopped for a short break roughly 2.5-3 miles into the hike and then stopped for lunch when we reached the Island Mine Trail junction, a mere 6.5 miles into the day.

After lunch, the Greenstone dipped into a valley almost immediately after passing the Island Mine Trail. From here it began another steady climb toward the high point on Mount Desor at 1394 feet. The section of trail after Island Mine was quite a bit more demanding than the first section as there were more ups and downs, more rocky portions of trail and more rock outcroppings to traverse. Plus first-day hiking fatigue had begun to set in making our legs, ankles and feet tired and sore. Eventually we came to a place on the ridge where we could see a portion of Lake Desor. "Alright, we're almost there!" we thought, happily, however, Lake Desor turned out to be the Energizer Bunny of Isle Royale, it just kept going and going and going. As it turned out, Lake Desor is nearly three miles long between it's farthest points so we had quite a way to go seeing as we had only had a glimpse of the western end of the lake. Roughly 45 minutes to an hour after first seeing the lake we finally reached a welcomed site; the post indicating that the campsites were .3 mile away down a side trail from the Greenstone. Even though the post said .3 mile, it felt more like .5-.75 miles because the trail cut back toward the west and dropped steeply toward the lake. The steep descent over rocky, muddy, tree root-covered trail made for a torturous end to the day! It was now 5:15 p.m. and we finally settled in at group site #1 which was not far from the lake and was in the middle of a birch tree forest.

Words can't begin to describe how nice it felt to finally take off my backpack and be able to walk around in lightweight water shoes. The rain had managed to stay far away from us all day, but the sky was now very gloomy and the sun was entirely cloaked by a blanket of thick, gray clouds. We could tell it wouldn't be long before the rain paid a visit to our campsite so we set up the tent and hid our packs inside the vestibules before doing anything else. After we had everything situated we went down to the lake to get water for dinner. A light shower began to descend while we were filtering water so we quickly finished up and headed back to the tent to stay dry. We both were exhausted from the day's hike and since there was nothing else to do we passed out on our sleeping bags and didn't wake up until 8:30 p.m. At this point we were ready to forego dinner and go back to sleep until the morning but hunger and sound thinking won out. We began to prepare dinner but before the water could reach a rolling boil it had begun to rain again. The rain was now coming down at a steady pace so we had to cook and eat inside the tent. The Mountain House® Chicken & Noodle dinner and side dish of corn really hit the spot. We had a pop tart for desert and some hot chocolate to ward off the chilly night air that was creeping into camp.

Unlike other portions of trail we have encountered on the island, today's hike was not very impressive in terms of sights to see, so I didn't take many pictures. Much of the hike was through the middle of a forest and even when we were up on the ridge we were still in the middle of the trees and not able to see very far out into the distance. We passed several other hikers during the day but never saw any moose even though their tracks and droppings were plentiful along the trail. Much of the tree cover during the first part of the day consisted of cedar and birch trees which eventually changed to mostly maple trees and then back to tall thin birch trees which is what surrounded our site at South Desor. Bugs had not been a problem today while hiking but they were rather persistent once we arrived in camp so I resorted to wearing my headnet most of the time when I wasn't inside the tent.

After dinner we looked over the map to check out tomorrow's hike and then I wrote in my journal until 11:00 p.m. The forecast posted at the ranger station predicted a low of 47 degrees with heavy rain and thunderstorms overnight and a high of 60 degrees for tomorrow with a chance of evening rain and thunderstorms. As I lay in my sleeping bag, allowing the knots tied in my muscles to unwind, I could hear the haunting but soothing calls of loons somewhere out in the darkness on Lake Desor.

Final count for the day: A chipmunk, several hikers, numerous moose tracks and droppings, thousands of trees which all looked the same after a couple hours and hundreds of pesky bugs.

Miles Covered Today: 11.6
Total Trip Miles: 11.6

Day 2

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