Isle Royale, August 2011

Day 2

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A repetitive beep, beep, beep broke the silence inside the car at 6:30 a.m. I was annoyed by the incessant drone emanating from my watch until my conscious state fully emerged from its sleep-induced fog and I realized that this was the "starter's gun" signaling the beginning of a week-long adventure with my son on Isle Royale.

The temperature was about 60 degrees and the sun was unobstructed as we stepped from the car, put on our boots and packed away last-minute items. By 7:00 a.m. we were standing on the dock next to the Voyageur II eagerly awaiting our departure time 30 minutes out. A straggler at the marina delayed our departure by five minutes, but the great views and perfect weather tempered this minor aggravation.

En route to the island we'd struck up a friendly conversation with another couple, Gary and Deb. This was their first trip to the island, and during our conversation we learned they would be doing the same trails as us. The Voyageur II and its 22 passengers arrived at Windigo right on schedule. Ranger Sean met everyone at the dock and went through the standard welcome speech covering what to do and not do on the island. Prior to the trip I had corresponded with Tom from the Isle Royale Forums. He mentioned that he would be leaving the island the day Mike and I were to arrive and that he would be at the dock looking for us. After the Leave No Trace speech I walked a few paces down the dock and saw Tom talking to someone. After introducing ourselves for the first time in person I realized who he was speaking with; it was Rolf Peterson, the patriarch of the annual Isle Royale wolf and moose study. Tom introduced us to Rolf. I have followed Rolf's winter studies for years and now I was standing here talking with the legend himself. It was like meeting a rock star. It was a cool experience.

A ranger recorded our anticipated itinerary at the front desk of the ranger station up the hill from the dock. We then spoke with Tom for a few more minutes before filling our water bottles at the spigot and heading out at 11:30 a.m. We picked up the Feldtmann Trail a few yards south of the Windigo dock and began our trek into the pristine wilderness. The trail seemed more like the setting for an outdoors flash mob than an isolated trail tens of miles from the mainland. Within the first 60 to 90 minutes we must have passed at least 14 other hikers, more than I have ever encountered on one of the island's trails in such a short span of time.

The temperature began to rise as the remaining miles to Feldtmann Lake dwindled. Soon the crisp morning breeze was gone, replaced with warmer, slightly muggy air. The sun was shining brightly, our spirits were high and the views were amazing. It wasn't long before we reached the footbridge over Grace Creek where we stopped for just a couple minutes to get a drink and admire the surroundings. Less than a half mile past the bridge Mike noticed a bald eagle surfing the thermal currents and making large, lazy circles overhead. Several yards later we discovered a couple sets of moose antlers along the edge of the trail. Mike was getting a good glimpse of what Isle Royale is all about.

We stopped for lunch somewhere around the half-way point of today's hike. We weren't able to find a suitable location to spread out our food and gear off-trail so we ate right in the middle of the path. As we were finishing up a single hiker walked up from behind us. We spoke with him for a couple minutes and learned that he was doing a solo hike from Windigo to Rock Harbor, that he lived in El Paso, Texas and that his name was Brian -- an easy name to remember. We said our good-byes and agreed we would see each other again at Feldtmann Lake. We started down the trail again a few minutes later and in short time leap-frogged past Brian. The temperature was fairly warm and the lack of a cool breeze only exacerbated our energy drain. We wanted to have a good shot at site #2 which, in my opinion, is the nicest spot at Feldtmann Lake, so we quickened our pace a bit and forged ahead, figuring there may well be a few people ahead of us and knowing for sure that the Texan was right on our heels.

Along the way we encountered several blow-downs. Those backcountry roadblocks slowed our pace because we were forced to climb over or crawl under them to continue our forward travel. One of the park rangers said the island had taken a direct hit from a major storm the previous fall. The island was battered by 70 mph sustained winds, with gusts up to 90 mph. As a result, there were an estimated 4,000 downed trees scattered across the island, many of which clogged the trails in some form or fashion. Needless to say, the four trail guys on the island had a daunting task ahead of them.

Barely outside of the Feldtmann Lake campsites we heard slow but methodical, whoop, whoop, whoop sounds off to our right. Turns out, the sound was courtesy of a bald eagle flapping its wings as it took off from its perch in a nearby tree. Eagle #2 on day 1, it was shaping up to be a great start to the trip! We stood gawking on the trail for only a few seconds because Brian once again came into sight around the bend about 30 yards behind us.

By 4:05 p.m. we were standing in front of the plaque depicting the layout of the Feldtmann Lake campsites. We walked in and discovered that four people had already laid claim to site #2. From the looks of it they must have already been there for a while. We moved further down the path and dropped our seemingly lead-filled packs to the ground at site #4. I had camped at this site before and its large, open, flat terrain was a perfect consolation prize. Brian strolled in shortly after us and took up residence at site #1.

We gladly removed our heavy, awkward boots and donned lighter-weight footwear as we set up camp. With all the essential jobs out of the way, the only thing left to do was whatever we wanted to do. The first leisurely activity was to take the 15-20 steps across the trail to the shoreline and do some fishing. We fished for quite a while but came up with nothing except the occasional lure-snagging clumps of lake vegetation. Bummer!

As we were eating dinner, Gary and Deb strolled into camp. They settled in next to us at site #3. A short time later they walked past our site on their way to check out the rest of the campsites. They let on that they were pretty sore from the long day of hiking and said they were contemplating staying here for an extra day to rest -- they would make their final decision in the morning. It was impossible to know it now, only several hours into our trip, but Gary and Deb and Brian would all become part of the memorable moments of our Isle Royale experience.

After dinner I asked Mike if he wanted to make the side trip out to Rainbow Cove which is probably my favorite spot on the island. At first he seemed content to just stay in camp and rest his weary feet, but I explained that it was a must-see part of the island, that it was an easy-going .8-mile walk, that we would save time doing it tonight instead of tomorrow morning and that the beach would renew his mind and body. He finally agreed and we headed out.

The trail deposited us right in the middle of the large, crescent-shaped cove. The views were spectacular and stretched out for what seemed like miles to either side of us. The views were amazing with blue water that reached out and grasped the horizon, billions upon billions of tiny, rounded, red pebbles under our feet, a continual stretch of green trees that lined the cove like curtain and an endless expanse of crystal-clear sky. This is the only type of mind-altering drug I will ever want and it only took Mike a few seconds, post-arrival, to realize that what I had told him was true. I soaked my feet in Lake Superior's icy water until my feet were so cold and numb that it was almost painful. I then laid on the beach and burrowed my feet into the tiny red pebbles. They had soaked up copious amounts of heat after spending an entire day exposed to the sun's intense rays and the warmth soothed my feet, back and shoulders even as a cool breeze infused my lungs with a healthy dose of unadulterated northern Michigan air. For the next 90 minutes we skipped stones, took pictures, explored the beach and just enjoyed our own private section of the island because there was not another sole out here. When the golden hues of sunset began to cascade over the landscape we realized it was time to head back to camp

Upon our return we filtered more water and fished until it was too dark to see. Unfortunately, we didn't get even a single bite between the two of us. As we stood talking about our day in front of the tent we were buzzed by a single bat in search of its dinner. The bat made continuous loops through our site, frequently passing right between our faces as we stood about two feet apart. He was definitely a skilled flyer. The situation caused us to recount the opening scene from the 1986 movie, Top Gun…"Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby. Negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full", but Maverick flew his F-14 past the tower anyway. By 10:00 p.m. Mike was tired and ready for bed. I wrote in my journal for about 30 minutes while listening to a single loon calling out on the lake before finally succumbing to the sandman myself.

Final count for the day: Two cormorants perched on their usual rock in the middle of Washington Harbor, two bald eagles, two moose antlers, three loons in Feldtmann Lake, a rabbit near our tent during dinner and one at Rainbow Cove, one hummingbird, many, many little red squirrels, virtually no bugs and an abundance of people.

Miles Covered Today: 10.1
Total Trip Miles: 10.1

Day 3

This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:28 AM