Isle Royale, August 2011

Day 4



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The sounds of loons and a couple very vocal cranes somewhere out in the distance marked the start of our day. During one of the periods of silence I heard something much more interesting. Something was splashing in the bay, something large, and it wasn't very far away. I've heard this noise before and on Isle Royale it usually means only one thing -- a moose. I jumped up and ran out to the front of our shelter which gave me a good view of the entire bay. Just off the shore, about half way between us and Senter Point was a cow moose and two claves. I ran back and woke Mike, hoping he would be up in time to see them. Unfortunately, by the time he made his way down to the end of the dock, the animals were already across the bay and standing on the southern shore of the point almost a half mile away. They were too far away for a defining picture, but I snapped one anyway. By zooming in all the way Mike and I know what the formless brown blobs are, but for anyone who wasn't there, they wouldn't have a clue.

I'd heard the group of four down by the water sometime around 7:00 a.m. but they were now long gone. Brian also was nowhere to be found so he too must have made an early departure. Did I mention that we're not the hit-the-trail-early type of backpackers? We enjoyed a relaxed start to the day and headed out around 10:20 a.m., stopping only for a moment to speak with the kayaker who paddled in at dusk last night.

Instead of taking the actual trail we walked along the beach to see if we could locate any tracks left by the moose we saw earlier, which we did. The sky had clouded over shortly after we woke up for the day and it stayed that way until just about the time we reached the Island Mine Trail. At that point the clouds broke, the sun began to shine and the temperature started to rise.

The hike north on the Island Mine Trail was rather taxing. For starters, we encountered moisture-laden air and dense tree coverage that effectively blocked any type of breeze. These two factors greatly increased our core temperature which led us to consume more water than we had expected. Second, the terrain was choked with vegetation and rocks which made for a slower, more methodical approach to our forward progress. Third, the grade seemed to be mostly uphill. Gaining 700+ feet in elevation in just over four miles didn't seem like it should have been difficult at all, but combined with everything else it just seemed to make for an arduous hike. As we would learn a couple days later, during conversations with other backpackers, they too had similar complaints about the Island Mine Trail. All of a sudden we realized that we weren't the only ones who had been beat up by the trail. Over the years I've noticed that hiking can be as much of a mental challenge as it is physical. There have been numerous times when I hardly remembered the trail condition behind me because I was fully immersed in good conversation. But, there have also been times when I felt like everything about my day was conspiring against me. This section of trail presented us with both experiences. At one point during our northbound slog I accidentally kicked a fist-sized rock uphill as we crossed one of several rock outcrops. That simple, inadvertent action helped take our minds off the task at hand because our conversation turned to the fact that science was at work all around us. Mike had taken physics the previous year and the movement of the rock prompted a spontaneous discussion of geeky physics-type concepts such as moment of inertia, work (force*distance), the coefficient of friction, gravity and projectile motion. The time seemed to pass a little more quickly, at least for a while.

A sight that seemed like it would never arrive finally appeared before our eyes at 1:20 p.m. -- the Island Mine campsites. Burdensome backpacks were removed and we found a sturdy, downed tree to sit on as we ate our lunch of granola bars, salami sticks and trail mix. We finished eating and topped off our water bottles but decided to linger here for a while longer; quickly getting back on the trail was not very appealing at the moment. In all my trips to Isle Royale, this was my third time stopping for lunch at Island Mine, and in all those times I had never ventured further than this makeshift seat. I left Mike sitting on the tree and went to scope out the rest of the area.

As a campsite Island Mine has never had much appeal to me or others I have spoken with. It sits on a small ridge, but is completely surrounded by trees and lacks any good views into the distance, and its only source of water is a very small stream downhill from the entrance. The stream's volume, even during the spring, when the water table should be at its highest from the winter melt-off, is pretty scant and in the warmer months it is all but a trickle at best. As I wandered further away from the main trail I discovered that aside from the aforementioned issues, the campsites are pretty nice. They were well-spaced, wide open and all had fire rings. I never imagined there would be fire pits here since the sites are all in the middle of a heavily wooded area and far from a dependable source of fire-fighting water. I was actually pretty impressed. I found site #4 occupied by a single male. We spoke for several minutes and I learned that he was here with two of his 70-year old neighbors and that they were from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He hiked faster than his companions and agreed to find a nice site and get things set up before they arrived. When I finally made my way back to get Mike I found him talking with the two 70-year old guys who had just arrived. They told us they had heard wolves howling the night before when they were at Hatchet Lake. Very cool! We wished them well, shouldered our packs and headed out. Next stop, Washington Creek.

Within 5 minutes of our departure we encountered two more guys, roughly 65-70 years old, who were here from Wisconsin. Turns out they have been coming to the island for over 30 years and plan to continue doing so as long as their health will allow.

Making it to the Greenstone Ridge Trail was a huge psychological boost. For one, it was a milestone of today's hike, and second, we knew the trail would provide softer ground beneath our feet and a mostly downhill grade for the remainder of the afternoon. From the time we left Island Mine until 40 minutes into our Greenstone hike, we passed 13 different people on the trail - it was a pretty busy afternoon. The strength we gained from our extended lunch break at Island Mine did not last for more than about an hour or so on the Greenstone. Our achy shoulders and feet began to complain again and we were hot and thirsty.

It was about 5:15 p.m. when we strolled into the Washington Creek area and took up residence at shelter #8. Removing our backpacks caused us to feel like the astronauts when they were skipping over the surface of the moon. We didn't do anything for the next 30 minutes except to sit at the picnic table and unwind. As it turned out, the blister that was on Mike's foot this morning when we left Siskiwit had grown larger and was very sore. Not to mention that he developed some kind of heat rash or blisters on his shoulders and upper back where the straps had been resting and they were very inflamed and sore. I felt bad for him.

As we were sitting there discussing our day, Grace, a second-year park volunteer, walked up to our shelter. She talked with us for a couple minutes and inquired about our day's hike and then invited us to attend her moose presentation in the ranger station at 8:00 p.m. We promised we'd see her in a couple hours and then she disappeared down the trail to invite other visitors.

Two shelters down at #7 were a father and his 5-year old and 8-year old daughters. His wife couldn't get away from work so he came with his girls. They had hiked out to Huginnin Cove, stayed two nights and then came back to Washington Creek and would be leaving in the morning. We spoke for a few minutes and then returned to our shelter to start dinner.

We moved the picnic table inside the shelter just as a short-lived rainstorm began. We ate spaghetti for dinner, cleaned the pots and walked the .3 mile to the ranger station for the moose presentation. It was a small group, just Mike and I, the guy from #7 with his daughters, Gary and Deb and three other people - ten of us in all. Grace gave her presentation and then divided the room into two teams of five so we could play a friendly game of "hang moose" to determine which group remembered the most facts. She alternated questions between each team to see if they could provide a correct answer. A wrong answer meant a new part of your moose was drawn on the gallows. Team Bullwinkle (the other team) surged ahead with a 3-0 lead over Moosehead (our team), but we made a nice comeback and the game drew to a dramatic 4-4 tie. Moosehead provided the last correct answer and won the game. There were no prizes, just good old fashioned satisfaction and bragging rights. Mike's feet and shoulders were pretty sore and he hadn't really felt like walking over for the presentation, but afterward he admitted that he was glad we went because it was very interesting. We stopped at the dock for a couple photos and then walked back to the shelters with the dad and his girls and a husband and wife we met before the presentation.

It was pretty dark by the time we entered the shelter so we made some hot chocolate, sat at the picnic table and talked about the day's memorable events while basking in the peaceful calm that surrounded us. Mike was exhausted and went to bed at 10:00 p.m. and I stayed up and wrote in my journal in the dim, flickering light of my candle lantern.

Our original plan for tomorrow was to hike out to Huginnin Cove, spend the night and then return to Washington Creek the following day. However, I realized that the island had taken more of a toll on Mike than either of us had anticipated. With a couple blisters on his feet and a very sore rash on his shoulders we chose to wait until the morning before making a decision to hike out or to put in a zero day.

It had been another perfect day filled with sunshine, clear skies and a high of probably 75 degrees. The weather forecast posted at the ranger station called for an overnight low of 60 degrees and a forecasted high for tomorrow of 68-70 degrees.

Before retiring for the night I stepped outside and was enveloped by darkness so black that the only thing I could make out was a very faint silhouette of the treeline across the creek. And, it was quiet, very quiet. There was no breeze to rustle the leaves, no crickets, no animals noises, not even something small scurrying around in the underbrush. The deathly quiet made it seem as though even the forest was exhausted from a long, tiresome day and had fallen asleep early. I looked up and once again saw the Milky Way hanging silently, majestically overhead. It's at moments like this, when all distractions have been stripped away and I'm alone with only the thoughts in my mind that I felt very small, insignificant and powerless in the overall picture. Humanity tends to get too wrapped up in its own accomplishments and supposed power to realize that we are all still just microscopic specks in the grand scheme of God's creation and might.

Final count for the day: A flock of mergansers in Siskiwit Bay, a cow moose and two calves, tons of grasshoppers, several dragonflies, a lot of red squirrels, loons and sandhill cranes [Link 1, Link 2], a Spotted Tussock Moth caterpillar [Link 1, Link 2], ducks in Washington Harbor and lots of people.

Miles Covered Today: 11.5
Total Trip Miles: 31.8

Day 5


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