Isle Royale, August 2011

Day 3



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Around 7:30 a.m. I was awakened by the sound of people hiking past our site; it was the group from site #2 on their way to Windigo. When we finally stepped out of the tent at 8:00 a.m. we were greeted by the island's typical morning sounds -- chirping birds, the rapid fluttering of wings in the trees, a couple red squirrels chattering and a loon squawking out on the lake.

We ate breakfast and packed away our gear. Since this trip was a break from our typical "rush, rush, rush" way of life, we took our time getting ready and were heading out of camp by 9:55 a.m. We noticed that Gary and Deb had moved from site #3 down to site #2 and that they were talking to one of the island's few sworn law enforcement rangers. We planned to stop momentarily to be cordial, but ended up talking with the three of them for 30 minutes.

The ranger's name was Steve and he was heading back to Windigo after an extended backcountry outing (he had spent the previous night in the Feldtmann ranger tower). Park management wanted to get sworn rangers out in the field more often, especially at some of the more remote sites. The reason for this was to allow rangers to interact with and educate visitors and to enforce the backcountry rules. He said that with all the downed trees, visitors are more prone to using the wood for illegal fires, even though fires are not permitted on many parts of the island. During our conversation I mentioned that I had caught a lot of pike here at Feldtmann Lake several years ago but had struck out this year and last. He replied, saying that the lake has always been known for good pike fishing, but in recent years, not so much. We inquired about the island's current wolf population and learned that it currently stood at only 15, of which only two were females. Before we parted ways, Gary and Deb confided in us that they were too worn out to continue on with their initial route and had decided to stay one more day at Feldtmann Lake before heading back and staying at Washington Creek.

We said our good-byes and officially began our push toward Siskiwit Bay at 10:25 a.m. The trail itself was easy-going, however, the vegetation had had all summer to grow and was now crowding the trail causing our pants to absorb the dew as the foliage brushed against our passing legs. Even though it was still fairly early, the ever-rising sun caused an equal change in the temperature, and since we were hiking in a relatively low-lying area with a lot of moisture, the humidity level was "up there" too. The ranger said it was supposed to be another hot day, and from the looks of it, the forecast was probably accurate.

About 1.5 miles into the hike we reached the point where the trail began its climb to the ridge roughly 150 feet above us. When we reached the top we were treated to a spectacular panorama to the west overlooking all of Feldtmann Lake, Rainbow Cove and Lake Superior. We also were rewarded with less muggy conditions and an occasional breeze to help cool us down.

Although there was a slight breeze now and then, we were, nonetheless, in direct sunlight at the warmest part of the day, so we were burning through our water and Gatorade at a somewhat alarming rate. We finally reached the ranger tower at 1:00 p.m. which was the pre-planned location for lunch as well as an extended break. We climbed the tower as far as the stairs would take us, took a few photos and cooled off in the wind that was blowing unimpeded at that height. Looking down from where we stood we were able to get a birds-eye view of the trail that carried us here and the section that led away toward Siskiwit Bay. From our vantage point the trails resembled jagged scars meandering across the face of the ridge. After lunch we took off our boots, socks and shirts and hung them over some plants to dry out in the sun while we laid on the soft grass for a short time.

The break ended up being longer than either of us had expected, but it was quite rejuvenating and we resumed our trek toward Siskiwit Bay at 2:25 p.m. When we left the tower we encountered an immediate decline followed by a short climb to another high point which is where we stopped for a couple seconds for Mike to inspect the dilapidated remains of the old Feldtmann ranger tower that now lay in a heap, slowly rotting away. From here to Siskiwit Bay the trail was all downhill or over level ground, much of it through thick foliage or forested areas that did not allow any cooling breeze to reach us. The heat really began to take its toll and our pace slowed quite a bit. We wanted desperately to chug our remaining 8oz of water but decided to ration it over our last two to three miles because there was no place to resupply until we reached our destination.

Our growing discomfort caused us to think ahead to our possible lodging accommodations. We were really hoping to snag one of the two shelters, but we knew that Brian had been in front of us even before we left Feldtmann Lake, and if there were any people coming from the opposite direction we surely would not be getting a shelter. Hope was quickly withering.

At 4:30 p.m. we began to hear voices coming from somewhere out in front of us. A few paces more and the trail entered the Siskiwit Bay campsites where we saw Brian talking with two other guys down near dock. Both shelters were gone, for sure. Just to add insult to injury, in a sort of masochistic way, we walked up to the shelters to see who had taken them. To our amazement, somehow, miraculously, shelter #5 was still empty. Our prayers had been answered! With a couple wraps of the twist-tie our permit was secured to the door handle, thus etching in stone our right to occupy the shelter for tonight.

We unpacked a few things, put on more comfortable footwear and walked down to the bay to filter some desperately needed water. In no time flat I downed an entire 32oz bottle of cold, Lake Superior water. I obviously needed it. We learned that Brian had arrived quite a while before us but had, for some reason, passed up the remaining free shelter. We introduced ourselves to the other guys, Steve and Gary, and learned that they were here with their friends, Ron, and Edna. They were all probably in their late forties to early fifties and were from Illinois. They had started at Rock Harbor and were going to Windigo via Chickenbone Lake, Hatchet Lake and South Desor, the exact opposite route as Brian. Gary had been to the island four times, but this was Steve's first encounter and for the next 15 minutes we all swapped hiking and Isle Royale stories. Just about this time a single male kayaker arrived at the shore and beached his craft near the long cement dock. Mike and I looked at each other, and without saying a word, we each knew what the other was thinking -- a few minutes later and we would definitely have lost our shelter to this kayaker. A short time later Ron came down to the shoreline and spent some time talking with everyone before he and Steve and Gary went back to their shelter.

Mike and I finished unpacking and started our taco dinner around 6:30 p.m. I knew we would not be able to finish all the food so I went to Brian's site and invited him to bring over his food and eat with us. When he'd finished his dinner I offered him the last two tacos so we didn't waste anything He was a bit reluctant at first, but when I assured him that we had eaten our fill, he gratefully wolfed down the tacos. We had a good conversation over dinner and learned that he was on a mission to hike every one of the 58 National Parks. At that time Isle Royale was his 19th park.

After dinner we made our way back down to the dock where we fished for quite a while, and although we saw a couple fish jumping between the dock and the breakwall, we once again caught nothing. Despite the fact that we struck out fishing we were, nonetheless, entertained by three otters that swam into the area from the west end of the bay. They maneuvered their way under the dock and then made passes back and forth between the dock and the breakwall, occasionally catching what appeared to be small fish. It eventually became too dark to see the otters, and on the way back to the shelter, somewhere across the bay to our north, we heard the trumpeting of a single crane, almost as if it were saying goodnight to everyone and everything within earshot.

Before retiring for the night Mike and I stood outside our shelter and talked for a few minutes. It was extremely dark except for the amazing lightshow above our heads - a shooting star, a satellite and the white confetti-like appearance of the Milky Way. Mike was exhausted and went to bed around 10:30 p.m. but I stayed up until 11:45 p.m. so I could record my thoughts and the details of our day.

It had been another stunning day. The sun was perched atop a bright, cheery sky and the temperature was probably between 75 and 80 degrees. The bugs had been almost non-existent, except for a short stretch right before Siskiwit Bay where wave after wave of mosquitoes mercilessly attacked us. The night was clear and cool and my guess was that the temperature would bottom out somewhere in the upper 50's. Nice sleeping weather! One final hiker did come into camp around dusk. We didn't really talk except to say hello, but I'm sure he was tired and in a hurry to get to bed before it was completely dark. I heard something scurrying around the shelter while I was writing, but every time I got up to see what was lurking about, it was gone. From the sound it made I surmised that it was probably something bigger than a rabbit; it was most likely a fox.

Final count for the day: One ranger, nine hikers/kayakers, a rabbit, a garter snake, countless red squirrels, three otters and three mergansers.

Miles Covered Today: 10.2
Total Trip Miles: 20.3

Day 4


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