Archives for the month of: October, 2014

I had a real good night’s sleep at Lane Cove. The lapping of wavelets made for a soothing background and there were no moosely incursions into my dreamland. I fixed a couple of packets of oatmeal for breakfast and had a cup of coffee as well, just because I wanted to. Other than the chatter and antics of squirrels I saw and heard no wildlife as I got my camp packed away. I discovered another piece of inadvertent litter – someone had lost a short section of paracord. I tied it onto my pack. It’s really gratifying to go to a place that has almost no litter so I wanted to remove what I found, no matter how it got there. My collection efforts totaled up at the paracord, a piece of dental floss collected at Lake Richie, a corner piece of a Clifbar wrapper found near Windigo and the FroggToggs found between Huginnin and the Minong junction. Everything but the paracord was already disposed of in one way or another. The paracord could be my LNT souvenir.  I snapped a couple of quick pictures of the ultra smooth water and scenery and headed out.

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The trail from the Greenstone down to Lane Cove has switchbacks. That makes it unique on Isle Royale. No other trail section has enough sudden elevation change to need more than one or two tiny switchbacks. This trail has several long ones. Maybe that’s why people think that it’s tough. It isn’t. I left camp about 9:15. By 10:30 I was standing on the Greenstone ridge trail. I didn’t have to stop to rest a single time. Gimpy ankle and all I just kept a slow steady pace and it was shockingly easy. I took a short moment to savor the feeling of conquering the climb so handily and then began to descend the south side of the ridge. I would not see the north side of the island again on this trip.

Upon crossing the Greenstone, the trail I was following changed names from Lane Cove Trail to Mount Franklin Trail.  As I followed its gradual path downwards I passed first a pair and then a single hiker who were on their way outward bound.  After about 1.5 more miles I came to a junction and hung a left to follow Tobin Harbor Trail.  Tobin Harbor is long and narrow (about 5 miles long, yet narrow enough that you can see detail on the opposite shore, which gradually gets further away as one presses eastward).  The trail follows along right beside the water for most of the 3 mile length that I followed it until I came to Rock Harbor.

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The area was pretty deserted.  First, I went down to the dock area where I saw a couple of park employees working busily on season end tasks.  No rangers around.  The dockside office was closed for the season and had been emptied out of merchandise; sheets were hung over shelves and counters.  The sun was out and the weather was very pleasant so I just sat around for a bit and savored it.  Then I strolled over to the campsite area.

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As I followed the gravel pathway to the campsite, I passed the ranger station, ranger quarters and the closed-for-the-season bathroom, laundry, and shower facility.

The camp area was also empty of people.  I poked around a couple of the shelters and then unslung my pack and claimed shelter #2 by dint of sitting down at the picnic table outside of it and kicking up my feet for a short break.  Then I dug around in my pack and found my electronics bag.  After stashing my pack inside the screen enclosed shelter I took the Newtrent down to the dockside ranger office and plugged it up to charge.  Since there was absolutely no one around I left it there.  I may have mentioned this before, but in case you missed it, here’s a hiker fact for you:  most hikers won’t steal stuff.  All moral and ethical standards aside, nobody wants to add to their pack weight.

 

I headed back up towards the campsite area and was stopped short by the sight of a fox just sniffing and snorting around in the grass outside the ranger station.  I snapped a couple of pics of the semi-tame little beast and then finished my short trek.

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It was sort of lunch time so I decided to do that.  I was still a bit couscous rich so I got out the stove and boiled some water for a hot meal.  Shortly after my stove was lit, guess who showed up?  Hungry fox.  He approached the picnic table several times from different directions, never hostile and with obvious caution tempered by the thought of an easy meal.  I gently shooed him (it was a he) away and poured the now-boiling water into my gallon freezer bag of couscous.  After waiting the requisite 10 minutes I cracked open my freezer bag and started to chow down.  And guess who was back?  He sauntered through the campsite four different times while I ate.  He never did the ‘Oh-I-am-starving-please-feed-me-and-save-my-life,-oh-great-one’ that domestic dogs are known so well for pulling off.  This was more of a ‘I-just-want-to-be-sure-this-campsite-remains-clean-so-I-patrol-regularly’ sort of saunter.  I studiously ignored his overtures and ate my lunch.  Then I secured my pack inside the shelter and took all my trash down to the dock and placed it in the dumpster there.  It being end-of-season and all, there was no reason not to – this was going to be the last dumpster leaving the island and it was going to be 1/3 full at best.  No trash for you, Mr. Fox.  I checked the Newtrent – still not charged.  It had been pretty dead.

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Back at the shelter I hung up my clothesline and did some laundry.  There is a single faucet of potable water at the edge of the campsite and I was getting water there for my washing.  Chlorinated, but no filtering required.  Good enough for laundry.  I drank the water in my bladder – Lake Superior tastes better than the chlorinated stuff.

Mid-afternoon a few more people showed up.  Gary, whom I’d met at the trail junction two days prior, wound up in shelter #3 beside me.  A pair of guys who I later learned were Tom and Joe had moved into shelter #1 on the other side of me.  Joe had fallen and broken his nose on the Tobin Harbor trail earlier in the day.  Nothing in sight to trip on according to his recounting of the event and yet – broken nose.  Hey, we all have those moments.  I tend to like the company of people who don’t seek a thousand excuses for a fuck-up.  Joe owned his nose-shattering trip by frankly admitting that he wasn’t paying close attention to his feet despite knowing better and,’Wham!  That rock just smacked me right in the nose!’  The nose in question was swollen quite a bit and looked painful.  You’re on an island several hours away from the nearest town, there’s no boat even coming by today, and you break your nose.  What do you do?  If you’re a tough old bird from Jersey, you suck it up and try to have a good time anyway.  Joe had a DeLorme Inreach, and I got to look it over.  Pretty cool unit.  The InReach has real-time two-way satellite text messaging.   And GPS.  And emergency feature similar to the Spot.  The subscription fees aren’t that heavy, either.  And plans include unlimited usage of the 40ish preloaded text messages.  All in all, I find it to be pretty impressive.

 

Around 5PM I fetched the mostly charged Newtrent from dockside, plugged my mostly dead phone up to it, twitched the very touchy cable a dozen times to get the phone to start charging and left it inside the shelter to do its thing while I cooked dinner (last of the couscous), took down my dry clothing, and generally puttered about for an hour or so.  Then I set up my bedding all by myself in this shelter that would hold 8 people and settled down to read myself to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I heard several moose making romantic noises during the night but fortunately none of them decided to hump my tent so that worked out just great on my end. I got up in the middle of the night for a quick pee and was astounded by the stars overhead. It’s a rare occasion when I am in a place that has zero light pollution to ruin the celestial view. It always astonishes me anew when I see the stars in their full glory.

The night was cool and clear so I quickly crawled back into my bedding and snuggled down for some good snoozing. Warming up after being out in cold air always feels great and makes it easy to go back to sleep.

I rolled out of bed before light and found that my tent was absolutely drenched with dew and condensation. Fuck fuck fuck, this was bad. I mean it was really soaked. The combination of elevation and humidity had conspired to make one hell of a mess for me to clean up.

It took over a hour to get it sort of dry. I had to stop and dash/waddle for the privy mid-process. My bowels simply would not wait. This was a NOW event. I made it, barely.  Dignity, what dignity?   After, I went back to squeegeeing the tent – it did not noticeably dry in my absence. The tent was nowhere near this wet even when it got rained on. I wanted to just scream WTF at the sky. I was finally packed and hiking about 9:30. East Chickenbone easily wins the “Worst campsite, do not stay here” award for Isle Royale. Consider yourself warned.

I considered stopping for some more trail puddle water as I had drunk about half of my water overnight. Then I slipped in said puddle and muddied it. I met a gent named Gary at the puddle (junction with trail to West Chickenbone) and stopped to chat for a bit. He had blisters and was trying to decided whether he should alter his hiking plans. I had just finished going through the same evaluation process. On the one hand, I was a day ahead and could definitely make my boat rendezvous despite my ankle situation. On the other hand every mile that I walked on my ankle was making it worse and who needs to aggravate a debilitating injury? Every step was sending a jolt of pain through my ankle and up my shin. In the end the decision was actually kind of simple. I was here to see the island by hiking the trails. My body was capable of continuing despite the condition of my ankle. I’d rather hike to Lane Cove and be carried out by a troop of girl scouts than skip it because I was in a little discomfort from an old injury. Take Advil. Press on.

I hit the Greenstone and headed east. It was pretty nice scenery and the trail wasn’t that tough. Lots of good views. I stopped for lunch at the Ojibway fire tower and while I stuffed down ground beef and tortillas two guys came in from the direction of Lane Cove. I asked and they’d spent the night at Lane Cove. They said that the trail wasn’t very tough, which I found reassuring.

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The Fall colors were really showing well on the foliage and I enjoyed the hike quite a bit despite my painful hobble.  In places I could see Lake Superior to both the North and South simply by turning my head left or right.  Many small flowers were still in bloom.

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I was running low on water when I came to the turnoff to Lane Cove. The temp was very agreeable, probably 60 degrees. I wasn’t worried at all – I could probably do 10 miles without water like this and I only had a couple of miles to go – downhill. I crossed a few low places and passed a large beaver dam, but there were bridges and my progress was swift and easy. I arrived at Lane Cove by 15:00.

 

I chose site #4 but all 5 sites were just great.  The water was clear, calm and beautiful.  Every campsite has a great view of the cove but I really did like #4 the best.  I was blessed with the presence of a half dozen Mergansers who were alternately fishing and hanging out on a shoreside log. On my 3rd attempt I got some pics and video.

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I was the only person there and I really enjoyed the serenity. I hung up the tent and let the last moisture dry from it before setting up camp. Dinner was Sweet and Sour Pork with Rice. Pretty good. I always worry about beans and rice rehydrating properly but the meals I brought performed flawlessly.

I turned in at sunset, already feeling a little nostalgic. The next night would be spent in Rock Harbor and I would surely see lots of people, harbingers of the end of this trip.  Blech.

 

Some time during the wee hours of the morning, the winds calmed.  When I awoke the lake was calm and beautiful.  Much easier to scoop some water.  I cooked oatmeal inside the tent.

Cooking inside your tent is generally disrecommended.  Fire, lightweight flammable material, your only shelter going up in flames and flaming bits adhering to your skin – you probably get the idea.  However, it felt really decadent on this particular morning and I did it.  I half-wrapped my quilt around my back, put my piece of Z-lite seat on the floor in front of me and set up my stove right there in the tent.  A few minutes later I was having oatmeal and hot coffee in the comfort of my shelter.  AND I hadn’t put any weight on my ankle at all.

 

My poor ankle was feeling like someone had been using it as a handle to pick me up and swing me about all night.  I purposely avoided examining it while slipping on my hiking socks.  I already knew that this was an Aleve day and a bunch of prodding just wasn’t going to help anything about the situation.  Fortunately this would be one of my shorter mileage days and it looked like it wasn’t going to be too tough of terrain either.

 

I packed up and was on the trail by 8:45.  Then I walked 3/4 of a mile in the wrong direction.  I had only glanced at the map and I remembered there being a trail junction a ways before I came into Todd Harbor and I incorrectly concluded that I needed to hike back to that junction and take the other fork.  I remembered it as being 1/2  mile outside of camp.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  That was Hatchet Lake trail, and 1.4 miles back.  What I needed to do was hike through the Todd Harbor Camp and continue east towards McCargoe Cover.  Eventually the dim little light bulb over my head went off and I stopped and checked my map.  My legs were pretty damp from vegetation dew, my ankle was grumbling and I truly hate realizing that I’ve made such a dumb mistake.  I allowed myself a few seconds of self-derision.  Then I decided to blow it off.  I turned around and went the right way.  Problem solved.

Now heading in the right direction, I blew right through Todd Harbor campsite and followed the Minong  for 5.8 more miles to McCargoe Cove.  I was there in time for an early lunch, partially because I decided not to take a side trail to see the Minong mine.  I’d seen a few mines and they all were pretty similar.  Rocky holes in the rock.  And damnit, my ankle hurt.  McCargoe was a pretty little area, complete with dock and shelters.  I had lunch at a picnic table in front of one of the shelters, and got a little more water in my bladder down at the dock.  Foil pack chicken on tortillas – tasty.  I could have filled up with good clean Lake Superior water but I chose to only get 1.5 liters and keep the weight down to make life easier for my ankle.  This was a decision that I would later come to rue.

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It’s less than 2 miles from McCargoe to East Chickenbone, which was my planned stop for the day.  I was pretty stoked to get there.  This would be my shortest mileage day and I’d be able to kick back and relax.  I went through some boggy areas but nothing very tough.  There were walkways and it was pretty easy.  The last 1/2 mile of trail ascended fairly steadily and there was a side trail marked for ‘Water’.  Ominous.  Every other campsite I’d been to on the isle had a good water source.  I’d been warned by a friend that years ago he had issues getting good water at East Chickenbone.  This had flown out of my head in the meantime and I only had the 1.5 liters I’d picked up at McCargoe plus 20 oz in my secondary stash in a water bottle.

As the trail ascended towards the Greenstone it regularly dipped into lowland areas, which were now bridged with boards.  I continually spotted amazing views.

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I arrived at the East Chickenbone campsite and checked it out.  There were three campsites and they all were pretty austere.  I chose #3, farthest back from the trail.  Of the three sites, it appealed the most.  It had a tree.  The other two sites had scrub trees but this one actually had a tree-tree.  That, and a small patch of soft grass that looked large enough to pitch the tent on.  Oh, and no water.  I resigned myself to trekking back to the side trail for water.  It would be a good 1/2 mile each way but at least I wouldn’t be burdened with a pack.  I went about my camp chores at a luxuriously slow pace, secure in the knowledge that I had hours and hours of daylight left and the weather was nice and dry.

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I set up camp and then filtered all of the water from my bladder into my cooking pot and mug.  Then I grabbed a trekking pole for support and set off to the water trail.  Water trails away from camp are pretty much the norm on the AT but after over a week of not going more than 100 feet to fetch water this felt like punishment.  I’m on an island in the biggest lake in the world and there’s no water handy, WTF?

I made the trek downhill pretty easily and had mostly stopped grumbling to myself when I arrived at the water trail.  It seemed remarkably long despite being very straight and mostly level.  It was well trimmed and no vegetation was leaning into the path.  This wasn’t so bad, after all.

When I reached the shore of Chickenbone Lake I was confronted with unsavory water.  I need to describe this unsavory water so that you can imagine it, but I’m not sure if I have adequate words for the task.  I’ll try, and please bear with me.

Imagine a lake bottom covered with rocks and sand.  It’s a lake that deepens fairly rapidly as you depart from shore, except at the east end where someone made a path to the shore for hikers to get water.  At this east end, the lake is fairly shallow all the way across.  The winds that caress this lake in its bowl just north of the Greenstone ridge are prevailingly from the west and push the waves towards the east end.  So the reason that the east end seems to have shallowed up over the eons is due to all of the suspended and floating items in the water being pushed there in disproportionate amounts, where they settled and eventually decayed, creating a humus-like muck that lays in layers over the naturally sandy and rock bottom.  Over decades and centuries this  buildup will progress and eventually will turn the area from lake into wetland and at some far future time,  just soil.

Enter Tom, not at the soil stage, but much, much earlier in this timeline.  The lake waters are several feet deep.  They are also completely full of gunk.  Gunk, in this case seems to be some sort of algae bloom.  Not just floating on the top, nor lying serenely on the bottom, but everywhere.  At all levels of water.  Floating and bobbing about in big fuzzy undefinable shapes, like green clouds under the water.

I was NOT putting that shit in my water bladder.  Not only did it look like a great way to stop up a water filter but it just wasn’t very appetizing.

And just to clarify, let me tell you something:  I’m the sort of guy who, when he encounters a skittle lying innocently on the ground in the middle of the trail, wonders really hard if maybe, just maybe, another hiker dropped it 4 seconds ago.  Cause we all know the 5 second rule.  And it’s not like there’s any OTHER skittles around.  So as long as the color hasn’t started running off it, and it’s not actually stuck to that leaf, it’s probably only been 4 seconds.  Yeah, just 4.

But that water was NASTY.  I moved along the shoreline to the west about 100 yards, checking regularly.  Nasty, nasty, nasty.  Tried to the east.  Nasty, nasty, nasty.  I just refused to drink a salad of algae.  That thirsty, I was not.

I turned around and headed back to my dry-ass camp, carrying an empty water bladder.  Then I had a bright idea.  I pulled out my map and checked the topography.  Yep, my camp was on something of a mini-ridge and before the trail ascended the rest of the way up the Greenstone there was another low place.  I passed the turnoff to camp and followed the trail south and downwards.  It turned into boardwalk over bog.  I saw several spots of open water, but none that were easily accessible or flowing.  After the boardwalk ended, and right at the junction that would take me 1.9 miles to West Chickenbone, I came upon a large clear puddle that was several inches deep.  With some careful scooping I was able to get about a liter of fairly good looking water.

This is normally the exact opposite of what I would advise someone to do, but needs must.  My trek the next day was going to be about 10 miles with no opportunity to get water until its end.  I could do that, just with the water I had back at camp, but not comfortably so.  I took some puddle water to allow myself the comfort I desired.  It was almost as clear as most lake water I’d gotten, better than a lot of what I drank on the AT, and way better than what was available from the East Chickenbone ‘Water trail.’  I called it good nuff.

Back at camp I made water conserving choices.  Dinner was chicken fajitas on tortillas – a meal rehydration that used only 1 cup of water instead of the 2 that most meals use.  Also fantastically good.  I’ve had lots of restaurant fajitas that weren’t as good as the ones that MountainHouse makes.  I definitely recommend the fajitas.

I also chose to put my water bladder in reach for any night thirst that might arise.  I wanted to be sure to not be excessively thirsty at any time so little sips from the bladder through the night would be more manageable than drinking from a cup.

About time I finished hanging up my hiking clothes to air overnight I saw another hiker, coming though to check out the sites.  I explained where the water trail was and warned him about being sure to not let his pump filter get stopped up if he decided to get water there.  Then I hit the hay, while the sun was still up.  A couple of Aleve later I was out.

 

I woke up to a calm setting and enjoyed the quiet while going about my morning routine.

Every campsite had one guaranteed amenity: a privy. The privies and shelters are all liberally decorated with graffiti. People MUST leave their mark. I greatly prefer graffiti to litter. It is often amusing and I seldom trip over it. This privy had some notes that drew my eye.

2006: Cairns are litter! Do not alter nature. All cairns must be destroyed!
2007: 93 cairns scattered. Work continues.
2008: 58 cairns down and counting!
2009: Got laid. I don’t care about cairns any more. Beautiful campsite.

My laundry from the previous day was mostly dry but I elected to wear my sleeping socks to hike in and let my wool socks dry more. I strapped them outside my pack.

My right ankle was very sore and stiff. I couldn’t observe any actual benefit from my trouble of elevating it to sleep. My left foot was feeling better, though. Still minor soreness but much better than recently. More like the memory of soreness than actually hurting.

I set out on the trail around 9:15 under cloudy skies and a temp that seemed to be in the mid 40’s.  The lake was really gorgeous.

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The trail was very beautiful. The pattern of my hike on this day was to have long walks on stony ridges broken up by dips into lowland wooded areas between the ridges. There would be some sort of muck or water crossing usually involved in this but these had taken on almost a ritual significance at this point.

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Each crossing of muck represented an expected milestone of sorts. I could tightrope walk a rotten log or fallen tree or hopscotch across almost submerged rocks without planning or concern. These were my crossings and they were meant to be crossed by me. It was utterly beyond consideration that I would slip or fall, that a chosen path would fail to lead all the way across, that a decades-old rotting log would collapse. Anathema!  I crossed because this was how things worked here in the world of Tom hikes Isle Royale.

The day was tough on my ankle but it was shorter miles than the day before. I had passed the longest mileage days of my trip; maybe the shorter miles would let the ankle recover. Right? I mean, right!

I lunched on a garlic summer sausage and some hard cheese as I sat on an open ridge high above my surroundings. It was way too much food so I packed away the remaining portion for dinner.

I arrived at Todd Harbor at 4 PM and found a couple of guys in one of the shelters. I had to ask if there was a directory sign for this campsite. I guess that such a high percentage of the users come in from the opposite direction that I entered from that it was deemed there was no need to put signage on the trail that enters from the west. I walked through to the middle, found the signage and then turned back around and went back to site #1, which I had passed on my way in.  I wanted to be on the periphery, away from any accidental human contact. Need something? Sure, I’ll help. Otherwise, leave me be and I will do the same for you. It worked. I didn’t see or hear them again until I passed their shelter on my way out the next morning and faintly caught the buzz of a snore over the sounds of my passage.

As I went about the act of setting up camp I made it a priority to get my clothesline up early. Airing out can really cut down on clothing odor if you have the time to do it. There was a very nice breeze coming off the harbor and I had time. I certainly had excess stink to be rid of. I changed into my laundered garments from the day before and hung up my worn stuff to air. Then I headed over to the tent pad and started setting up the tent.

It doesn’t take me much time to set up our double rainbow tent. First I assemble the single ridge pole and slide it into its sleeve on the tent. That takes around 2 minutes total. Then I place the very floppy partially assembled tent on top of the Tyvek that we use for ground cloth and stake it down. After hat takes 3 minutes or less. So I am done in 5 minutes or less.

In the time that I set up my tent and put all of my gear into it I was interrupted not once, but twice by moose.  I’d not seen a moose the whole time I had been on the island despite being nearly trampled by them cavorting through my campsite at Feldtmann Lake.  Elusive, ephemeral, and stealthy are all words that do not describe moose.

Finally I got to see them.  It was about like I remembered:  mostly just hoping that they stay over there and leave me alone over here.  Pics, such as they are:

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I ate the remainder of my garlic sausage and cheese for dinner.  I hated the idea of leaving the greasy sausage kicking around open and half eaten in a gallon ziploc bag so this was how I fixed that.  (Emptied Ziplocs also happen to make great trash bags.)

There’s a mine close to Todd Harbor but I declined to go see it.  My ankle was really throbbing.  All day while I hiked ridges, every one of them leaned the same way – to the right.  So I put extra stress on the lame ankle all day and it just wasn’t happy about that.  And it was talking pretty loud at this point:  “Do not walk on me, putz!”  11.9 miles was enough.

I went down to get water and had some minor difficulty.  The wind was up and the waves were rolling in pretty good and there was no good place to stay dry while getting water.  I opted for getting about 1.5 liters and keeping my feet dry and just called it good.  I could always get more in the morning if I wanted.

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I turned in and slept kind of chilly again.  That breeze coming off the harbor was blowing right into every vent in my tent and seemed to find ways to get to me no matter what.  Eventually I laid stuff stacks against all the vents by my head and blocked them up successfully.  After that I slept quite well.

 

 

 

 

The night before had started out pretty warm so I decided to dry out my wool socks by wearing them to bed.  Body heat can be the fastest way available to dry something at times.  My poor feet.  So wet.  So long.  They were really pitiful but they got the job done – socks dried overnight.

My poor tent was getting kind of odious from the combination of drying socks, unwashed clothing and unwashed Tom so I left one of the vestibules open for more ventilation.  By 2AM the temp had dropped a good bit and wind had picked up enough that the blasts of chilled air forced me to close it and get out my bag liner.  I woke again at 5, shivering.  I put on my jacket and got warm enough to sleep a while longer.

It didn’t get light in camp until after 8.  I cooked Alpine Aire Hash Browns with Reds and Greens for breakfast.  NOT my favorite.  Maybe they would be awesome if rehydrated and then fried.  They say you can eat them either way.   The way that I had them – they sucked.  Had to really force myself to eat them all.

I was packed up and headed out on the trail by 9.  This was going to be one of my bigger mileage days and I would be following the Minong Ridge trail for most of it.  The Minong had a reputation for being a lot rougher than any of the trails I had traversed thus far.  I wanted to be sure I got going because there was no middle camp to fall back on.  I was doing 14.5 miles and that was that.

The day started out cloudy with gusts if wind.  The first 3 miles I would be on Huginnin Cove trail and then I  would hit the Minong.  Almost a mile of the Huginnin runs right by the waterside and is fantastically beautiful.   I took many pictures and found blueberry bushes that seemed strangely untouched by humans or other beasts and feasted on the sweet tart berries.

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About halfway along this stretch of  Huginnin,  a bit after the trail had departed the coast I found someone’s lost gear trailside.   A complete set of FroggToggs in the case and marked with identification.   I tied them to my pack and carried them until I came to the Minong-Huginnin junction.  I left them at the signpost as I would be going no closer to Windigo than this.   Most people do not go more than 10 miles or so from wherever they arrive on the island.  Carrying them to Rock Harbor would greatly decrease the chances of them making it back to their owner.  In the Windigo lost and found they stood some chance.

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The Minong was definitely rougher than any of the other trails on the island that I had usedm.  There were more ascents and descents than the Greenstone and these were steeper as well.  I sometimes had to take a breather but never really had to stop and take one of those AT “I must rest now, before I die” breaks.  There’s just not enough total elevation difference to create that much exertion.   It was work.  It just wasn’t as tough as those long AT ascents and descents can get to be.

There were other challenges to compensate.  Every single time I came down a slope to a bottom there was water.  Sometimes it was a creek.  Sometimes it was a pond. Sometimes it was just a mucky area.  Always, there was a way across.  And that way was consistently tough.  No footbridges.  In some places log sections had been placed in the muck to walk on.  Many times these were submerged.   In numerous locations trees had fallen across or along the trail in these bottoms and while their branch covered trunks were tough obstacles to navigate, they were often the only visible method of crossing that didn’t involve getting very wet and muddy.  None of this water looked particularly inviting for consumption.  I patted myself on the back for bringing enough good clean Lake Superior with me to last the whole day.

Areas that would have taken 30 seconds to cross if clear and dry instead often took 15 or twenty minutes.  If one insisted on staying relatively clean and dry, which I did.  Six more days ahead of me. No laundry.  No shower.  I JUST dried those damn socks.  Yeah, I wanted to stay out of the muck.

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Several times I crossed beaver ponds.  The means of crossing these was to walk on top of the dam.  Always an interesting activity.

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As I made progress through the day I began to have a different and greater concern than the crossings.   While my left foot was definitely on the mend and feeling better than it had in days despite some lingering soreness, my right ankle was in trouble.  The way I was exerting it on the crossings – seemed to be beyond its limits.  There’s an old injury in that ankle and I suspect that it was accomplice to the situation as I don’t recall any single twist, strain or fall as a precipitating event.  Regardless of the wherefores and whats, my right ankle began to hurt, burn, and swell.  I considered turning back after around 3 miles or so of Minong.   If this got worse I could run into real trouble.

The descents hurt the worst.  The jarring stress of stopping your body’s weight from just falling all the way down a hill can be tough on knees and ankles.  Thankful that I had brought trekking poles I depended heavily on them and my Black Diamonds carried me through.  Otherwise I am sure the ankle would have dumped me in an inglorious heap at tge bottom of a hill.

The ascents made me huff and puff and drink water but were otherwise very doable.   Again, I really exercised my trekking poles.

The bottoms, in case I didn’t get this across before, really sucked the most.  Every one was a different combination of suck.  It’s just no fun traversing fallen trees over water and muck on a bum ankle with a heavy pack.

I had a lunch of tuna and corn chips up on a nice rocky ridge in the sun.  The clouds had vanished and the wind was mostly gone, having left behind only a pleasant breeze to remind me of its departure.   I reviewed my island map (NatGeo, $11.99, waterproof and VERY useful) for the umpteenth time and decided that I had likely traversed the worst of the elevation changes that the Minong had to offer.  I would press on and try to be good to my traitorous body part.

As the map indicated, I had passed the worst areas.  I now found myself following the stony Minong ridge for extended periods with brief diversions into low places.  There was still water to cross and it still sucked but the travel between the bad places lengthened so my average pace improved.

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Several times I missed where the trail turned and had to retrace my steps.  In most cases the rock cairns that mark the trail were there and I just missed them.  In no case was I ever more than a couple of hundred feet past the missed turn before it became very obvious.  Yet, the way I was hobbling along I begrudged those extra steps instead of enjoying the scenery the way I should have been.

At 5:00PM I finally arrived at North Lake Desor.  There were only 3 single tent sites.  I was the only person there.  In fact I had seen no one all day long.  Pretty nice.  I chose site #2 which was clearly the best site by a good margin due to its view of and access to Lake Desor.   After setting up the tent  I went down to the lakeshore and scrubbed some muck off my clothes.  Then I hauled water away from the lake and actually washed the clothes with some Dr. Bronners.  All the while I was being alternately scolded and bombarded with pine cones by a very demonstrative red squirrel who wanted to make sure that I knew I was not welcome here.

Then I went and got in the lake myself.  Once I had scrubbed a while in the chilly waters I hauled some water and soaped and rinsed myself away from the lake.  Then I put on dry fresh clothes and resumed my normal routine of dinner and camp setup feeling much better for being somewhat cleaner and less smelly.  The late afternoon sun lent a welcome touch of warmth as I performed my chores.

I cooked up a pouch of Mountain House Beef Stroganof and it was very good.  I see now why it is their #1 seller.  First time I tried that flavor but it’s on the menu from now on.

I tacitly ignored the looks of my swollen ankle and swallowed a couple of more Advil before going to bed with it elevated on my pack since my clothes bag was pretty empty.

It rained off and on all night and was very cloudy first thing in the morning.  At 7:30 it was still not light in my campsite.  Most of the wind was gone and the surf from Rainbow Cove no longer was so loud.

I had stayed in the tent so many hours with all the rain that my back was stiff and hurting and I felt pretty grubby from sweating during my sleep.  I thought that I figured out what made my left foot so sore, too.  Leather stretches when wet and I had adjusted my shoes multiple times as they had stretched and shrunk with all the cycles of wet and dry.  The very last section of lacing was somehow in a bind and not sliding through the eyelets.   Visibly it didn’t look out of place but it was super tight and not moving.  I got it broke loose and relaced that shoe entirely and that felt like it might be fitting better.  My foot was so sore at this point that it was hard to tell.  EVERYTHING hurt my foot.  Standing.  Sitting.  Propped up.  Walking.  All hurt.  This would pass with time I hoped.

My planned destination was Washington Creek, a campsite right near the Windigo ranger sration and dock.  I had a mail drop at the station with the food for the rest of my time on the isle – or so I hoped.  I had been worrying a bit about it for several days as I traveled to the west end of the park.  As of this morning I had six full meals worth of food on me.  That meant I could eat normally for 2 days.  Or I could skip 1 meal daily and go 3 days on that food.  OR I could, if necessary,  eat 1 meal a day for 6 days.  I felt that if my mail drop wasn’t there that I could be back at Rock Harbor in 3 or 4 days easily.  Or I could pay the boat at Windigo to ferry me to Rock Harbor.  Or possibly even get them to bring me food to Windigo if I waited an extra day for them to do so.  Yeah, I had spent some time thinking about the possible scenarios.

This wet morning I didn’t sit around wondering;  I packed up and got on the trail.   Then it started raining again.  Oh well.  I could deal – only 8.8 miles to Windigo.  The rain was over by 10:00 but the damage was done.  Every plant leaning into the trail was saturated and shortly I was soaked from mid thigh downwards.

When I arrived at Windigo I was mildly surprised to discover that the dockside ranger office there is much larger and nicer than the one at Copper Harbor. There were around 40 people hanging out in the dock area and the Voyageur II was docked.
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I stopped in and asked the ranger if there was a package for me. She checked in back and came up empty. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Ruh Roh, Raggy!

I explained that I was a day ahead of my planned arrival date and she suggested that I check with the boat captain as they often had packages in possession prior to the drop dates and would sometimes have them on the boat a day early. Down to the dock I trotted. The boat was unattended; one of the guys hanging around told me that the captain had gone off with a ranger not long ago. I waited and chatted. I learned that there is a rental cabin on the west end of the isle; he and his wife had stayed there the night before and liked it.
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The boat captain arrived back after a half hour or so. During this time I had settled down a good bit. I had 3 meals on me. I had already made up a day in my hike – I could afford to wait until tomorrow for my package if necessary and still be “on schedule.”

Unnecessary. There was exactly one package to be delivered on the boat and it was mine. Holy crap, this thing was heavy, too. What did I put in there, lead bars?

I tramped back uphill to the ranger station and went inside for more info. The laundry, concessions and showers on this end were closed for the season. Oh well. There was an outlet where I could recharge my electronics, right beside the door. I signed their logbook. I bought a bandana to serve as a kitchen rag. I filled out a wolf sighting report. I went outside and plugged up my Newtrent to charge.

The Newtrent (brand name, I forget the model #) is a 10,000 ma battery backup and a lifesaver for someone who would like to use electronics on a longer trip like this. I had completely recharged my phone 3 times off it and it was showing about half a charge still. Good thing. Not sure if it was the charging block or the usb cord but every few minutes the device would stop charging. I strongly suspect the cord since I was also having increasing difficulty getting my phone to charge. The cord would have to be wiggled and repositioned endlessly before charging occurred and then it might stop at any time. Frustrating, but it was a good way to keep me busy until I fell asleep at night. With the phone in airplane mode I could get 2.5 days of use taking pictures and reading. And this meant that the camera I was carrying had been kept packed safely away and dry during those rainy days. I only risked my phone that costs 2x the price of the camera. Illogical much?

I stayed at the ranger station for 3 hours charging devices. During this time I had lunch, chatted with an older couple who came by and camped up on the balcony with me (I had discovered a second entrance door with power outlet and no foot traffic and moved across to this side). I took their photo together and we talked about my trek. They gave me a Reese’s Nutrageous bar. Ambrosia! Soon after they departed for the boat I met a couple who were hiking together. We’d crossed paths a little. I had seen them at Island Mine and Siskiwit Bay but we hadn’t spoken. Turns out they had camped in the site beside me at Feldtmann as well. They were doing a 3 night loop on the west end (Siskiwit, Feldtmann, Huginnin) and had stopped in to check the weather forecast on their way to Huginnin after getting rained on while hiking along the Feldtmann ridge and all night (not in the forecast they had read). They thought the moose were partying in my campsite the night before, too.

While my devices charged I had eaten lunch, repacked my food bag and pack, cleaned all the mud from my shoes, semi-dried my socks by wringing them out and then wearing them sans shoes for an hour, and gone over my planned itinerary for the rest of the trip. The only change I instituted was that instead of staying at Washington Creek I would go to Huginnin Cove. I had also watched an eagle fishing in the bay for about 20 minutes. The trail along the shoreline was supposed to be very scenic (and the number of people around Windigo was starting to grate on me. Even after the boat left there were like 4 rangers and a maintenance guy around. Gah!). Surely Huginnin Cove would be more peaceful.

I headed out towards Huginnin Cove which was just 4.1 miles and an easy trek for someone who now knew he had enough food for the rest of his time on the island. With my feet dry(er) and the rest of my clothing dry it was a pretty pleasant little hike. The shoreline was gorgeous. You can see Canada quite clearly. The campsites were ok. There was just enough sparsity of trees to make the place feel a little bare. I took site #4 which was about 100 feet from the water and set up my gear. An older couple was in site #5 but I only saw them once, just as I arrived.
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I zipped off my pant leg bottoms, scrubbed mud off them and hung them to dry before cooking Alpine Aire Santa Fe Black Beans and Rice for dinner. Really tasty; I had worried a bit about the rehydration of the black beans but no issues. Tasty and filling. Mmmm.

My left foot was still really sore despite the relief of the shoe adjustment. I took a couple of Advil before turning in and propped my clothes bag under my feet for a little elevation.

I woke up to cloudy skies and a stiff breeze coming off the lake.  My washed clothing was pretty dry on the line so I got changed before cooking breakfast.  I don’t remember if I have talked about cooking meals so this seems like about as good of a time as any to do so.  When planning my meals I decided to adhere to a similar meal structure as what we used when hiking on the AT.  Cold lunches and hot breakfasts and dinners.  The hot meals consisted 100% of things that I could prepare by adding boiling water and waiting.  To some folks that might sound bad or short on variety but it was pretty good to me.  The one piece of advice I can offer regarding prepping meals like this is to go a bit short on the water and a bit long on the wait time.   If packet directions say 2 cups of water and wait 8 minutes then I use 1 1/2 cups of water and wait 19 minutes before eating.    The biggest advantage that these meals had for me over the AT hike is that there was no sharing – I ate two portions for most of my meals because of this.  The calories were welcome.

This morning I ate a Mountain House Breakfast Scramble and it was pretty tasty.  I was packed up and on the trail by 9:15.

My left foot was very sore in the flesh across the top of the top of the tarsal area behind the toes.  Each time I lifted that foot just the weight of the shoe pressing down on the sore area nade me want to wince.  My right ankle was still just as sore but no worse and definitely less painful.   Here’s a truth.  Sore body parts ho hand in hand with prolonged physical activity.  Either you deal or you don’t.   With much internal whining I dealt.

Shortly after leaving camp I spotted another apple tree at the edge of a clearing that once housed the headquarters of a lumber operation on the island.   Then I saw a fox that darted quickly off the trail and into underbrush.    No fox pic –  I was way too slow.

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The trail from Siskiwit Bay to Feldtmann Lake picks up and follows the Feldtmann ridge and makes for some pretty decent scenery in places.  At the end of the summer it also makes for some VERY overgrown trail in other places.  I could have been 10 feet from a moose and never have seen it.  The trail was mainly evident in these places because it was the path of least resistance – and most trails on Isle Royale tend to go in the shortest path to their destination.   Makes it a lot easier to know you’re still on the trail.  You didn’t turn; the trail didn’t turn.   You are still on the trail.

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I did see a tiny little bit of falling water as I ascended Feldtmann Ridge.   There is little flowing water on the island so the was notable.

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Wolf scat and tracks were things I was seeing daily.  I have a lot of pictures of poop on my phone.  I assure you that I left most of the scat unrecorded.   There are places where you have to play hopscotch to avoid it.

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Since there’s no hunting of the moose and no collecting allowed  it’s not uncommon to see where someone has found a shed and left it trailside.  They are particularly common at the trail junctions.

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As I made my way further West along the trail I kept my eyes open for a lookout tower. This would be about halfway along my planned miles for the day (10.2 to Feldtmann Lake) and where I intended to have lunch. I spotted a collapsed wooden structure and made a mental note to let National Geographic know it was time to update the map…

I kept moving and about 15 minutes later encountered the actual watch tower. It wasn’t much of a lunch spot mainly due to cloudy skies and a stiff westerly wind. I kept moving and had an Oatmeal, Raisin and Walnut Clifbar to keep my energy level up.

As I continued to progress westward the wind was blowing directly into my face very steadily. I spotted what was either a small hawk or a large falcon soaring above the grassy ridge more than once as I moved along. The wind, though mildly annoying due to its speed and persistence, turned out to be fortuitous.

Q: How do find a unique wolf?

A: U nique up on him!

Which is exactly what happened, though not through any active connivance on my part. The wind just happened to be perfectly directed and strong enough that my scent did not precede my presence. It was also causing a good bit of noise as it ruffled the acres of tall grass on the ridge. So the sounds of my footsteps apparently passed unnoticed.

The first thing that I spotted was a weird motion in the grass. I actually took a couple of more steps trying to see what it was, if anything before I saw it again and experienced that moment of uncertainty while my brain tried to definitely categorize the shape and motion into certainty and my heart sped up with the hope that this would be one of those rare sightings that you hear about but don’t expect to actually experience yourself. I whipped out my phone as quietly as I could. The activity in the pictures is identical to what drew my attention. See if you can spot it.

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And now, since it’s so hard to spot in the pics, even for me, here’s what drew my eye:

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I watched for a good twenty seconds/years.  It was a small wolf, but definitely a wolf.  The muzzle was broader than I expected and the coloring was not grey at all.  This guy was reddish-brown.

The reason for the odd head-bobbing motion that got my attention was that he was eating berries.  I snapped photos as fast as my phone would and then did the right thing:  scared the wolf away.  It’s important that wildlife remains wild, especially in sanctuaries such as this.  Encounters with humans, no matter how innocently they occur, should not be encouraged.  I raised my trekking poles high and yelled at the top of my lungs to startle him as much as possible.

And just in case you’re wondering, no I was not afraid.  I estimated this guy to be in the range of 35-40 pounds.  He was as best I could determine, alone.  Predators like to take on prey on terms that the predator establishes.  In general, if you startle a predator they run.  At least initially.  I’d be MUCH more worried to discover a wolf following me than to sneak up on one and startle it.  Wolves make their living by following things – and then eating them.  So I wasn’t afraid – I just wanted to help keep the wolf from becoming too comfortable around humans.

I snapped a couple of more shots as he made his exit, bouncing along the trail.

 

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And thus ended the wolf encounter.

 

Shortly after, I came to a fantastic view of Feldtmann Lake.  The trail abruptly descends from the high plains-like ridge through forest and bog to the campsite, but before it does, there is a fantastic view of the lake several hundred feet below you.
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I made the descent with some trouble as my left foot was really hurting at this point and got to the Feldtmann Lake campsite pretty quickly. I chose site #2 which had ample room for setup and a good view right onto the lakeshore. It was not yet 14:00 when I set up my tent – a very early day. However I was pretty well done in. I just wanted my foot to feel better and to potter around a bit. As I set up the tent I was considering taking a .8 mile excursion to Rainbow Cove. With all the wind from the west the surf sounded like it was right beside me. Then raindrops began to fall. I scooted my ass inside my tent and scratched the excursion right off the list. I had had enough wet clothes for a bit.

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I ate a cold dinner of beef jerky, corn chips and Clifbar. Mmm, junkfood. Finished off both the jerky and the corn chips, which needed doing anyway.

The mercury dropped pretty strongly; it felt like it was in the 30’s again. I slept with my clothes on and was pretty comfy in that regard.

I was NOT comfy with the moose activity though. It seemed like every 15 minutes a moose went tramping through the campsite making lovelorn noises along the way. Whistling, grunting, splashing, stomping, chomping and tramping. Every few minutes. I swear it was like a regular ungulate highway. I was genuinely concerned that one would step on or trip over the tent.

Between sporadic rain, steady wind and darkness I really just didn’t care to look outside the tent to see what was going on and I didn’t. I would have loved some moose pics but I knew I wouldn’t get any in those conditions and I figured not being trampled to death by a half ton rutting herbivore would do as a nice alternative.

In the morning I looked and no moose tracks were closer than 20 feet to the tent. So maybe I was being a bit of a drama queen. Or maybe they just didn’t leave tracks when they were standing outside the tent. Who’s to say?
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I slept well at South Lake Desor and awoke to find that the weather did not exactly match my expectations. The ten day forecast, which I had been monitoring closely in the days prior to my advent on the isle had been for lows in the 40’s and highs in the 50’s. In short, perfect hiking temps.

My shirt, my pants, my underwear and my shoes were all crusted with a thin sheet of ice when I emerged from the tent to see how much they had dried overnight. There was a layer of frosty ice on the toes of my shoes. The tent itself was filled with condensation over the entire interior and dew/frost covered on the outside. Without exaggeration it was far wetter than the day before when I had packed up in light rain. My socks – the poor things were holding so much water in the wool that they were still so wet that no ice had formed on them. As I assessed the state of my union I could hear loons calling from the lake.
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To top things off for this rocky start, my right ankle hurt more than when I had gone to bed the night before and I had a raging case of chapped arse from hiking 15 miles in wet clothes.

On the bright side it wasn’t raining; I could get my tent good and dry with a little time. And my first aid/hygiene kit included a small container of Gold Bond powder, just for this happt occasion. That stuff can usually really improve some chub rub and make your day better.

I doctored my poor sore arse cheeks and then steeled myself for what needed to be done. I shed my sleeping clothes and put on all my icy wet gear from the clothesline. Best way to warm and dry it at this point.

I wiped the tent down, inside and out, with my kitchen shammy. Then I started breakfast. Hot oatmeal was joined on this day by hot coffee. I brought enough coffee packets to have it daily but until now I had abstained. This was a good time for hot coffee.

Great thing about my hiking clothes – they dry pretty well and quickly from body heat. Once the initial chill was off they got comfy fairly quickly. The only low pqiint was the socks. I brought two pairs of socks for this trip. One for hiking and one for sleeping. Now I could always change up that designation but I chose them with this in mind. Hiking socks: Darn Tough, boot cut, high wool content. They could take a week of hiking and still not stink. Wool will keep you warm even when wet. Sleeping socks: Darn Tough, boot cut, Coolmax – zero wool. They’re great for sleeping because they wick really well and keep my feet from getting too hot while still providing warmth and comfort. The hiking socks were just hoing to be wet today and that was that.

In no rush, I took my time and got the tent squared away properly and felt good knowing that at the end of the day I wouldn’t be pulling it out wet. I pulled out of camp around 9:35, with the intent of going to Siskiwit Bay. As I departed a pair of crows flew overhead; cawing loudly. The squirrel mafia was nowhere to be seen.

The mushrooms that can be found on Isle Royale astounded me on this day. My journey took me through a variety of different microclimates and many of these areas hosted numerous fungi, often larger than I thought to see in this harsh area. A few are pictured here but I took over 50 photos – and that’s just what was trailside that I didn’t miss (I miss obvious things all the time).
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Departing the Greenstone Ridge I took the Island Mine trail southward. I planned to have lunch at the Island Mine campsite if it was a good site. It turned out that it wasn’t. I kept moving. About 1/4 mile after Island Mine I chose a semi-sunny rock and laid out a lunch of ground beef and tortillas.

The island mine itself is right by the trail so I climbed the miunds of tailings and took a brief look around. I also found a historical well noted on my map – it’s dry these days.
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The trail elevation steadily decreased until I found myself back at lake level. To someone who grew up close enough to the Gulf of Mexico that summer expeditions for a weekend or even a week here and there were always within reach (remember $.79/gal gasoline) it’s very odd to walk along the shore of Lake Superior, where the sand is grey and composed of rock particles, the water is chillingly cold and fresh, and water depth may plunge over a hundred feet right beside the shore.
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The trail involved a LOT of boardwalk as I progressed. And several places where I had to just go walk on the rocky sand beach because the trail had been consumed in spots by marsh. The sun was out and a light breeze played amongst the scrub trees and grass as I approached the finish of my miles for the day. My left foot was now sore on the top side down by the toes and each time I lifted my foot the very minor weigh of the shoe would make me wince. My right foot no longer had pain in the tarsal area but the ankle was hurting a bit more.

After following the waterline for quite a distance the trail turned inland for a bit and then arrived at Siskiwit Bay campsite. This was another deluxe campsite equipped with picnic tables at every site. As I went down the site trail I spotted moose tracks right there in camp. I wound up at site #2 as I found site #1 was already occupied by a couple who were using hammocks as their sleep system.

I hung up my ground tarp and tent on my clothesline to allow them to dry any remaining moisture from the day’s icy start. Then I went down to the pier to fetch some water. On the way I noticed an apple tree, complete with ripe apples. I knocked one down with my trekking pole and stashed it in a pocket. Good eating. Fresh fruit is a real treat in situations like this.
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I filled my water bladder completely full and headed back to my campsite. Then I got out the Dr. Bronners and proceeded to wash the muddiest and nastiest of my trail clothing including my still-damp socks. With all the items wrung out I draped them over the clothesline and got the tent set up while wearing my sleeping clothes.

Then I washed me. The water was ungodly cold. But I needed it. I poured enough on myself to get wet and lathered up with Dr Bronners. Then I rinsed and repeated the process. Declaring the process complete, I dried as well as I could with my tiny little shammy cloth and put clothes back on. When the shivering stopped I felt much much better. That cleaning was due.

I headed back down to the pier area to refill my emptied water bladder and detoured down by the fire pit on my way and discovered where someone had put a dozen apples of various sizes and ripeness on the picnic table there. I selected a very small one that looked somewhat ripe and bit into it. SOUR! I ate it with gusto.

I made my way back to my tent and cooked dinner: Mountain House lasagna. Tasty but the marinara was a little sweet to my taste. Real cheese in there.

I found another unexpected luxury when I visited the privy. It was stocked. Unheard of!
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Belly full and butt clean, I crawled into bed and was out cold before the sun sank below the trees. Not too shabby.
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