TR: 6/16/17-6/18/17 [Windigo>Todd Harbor>Rock Harbor]

Reports or links to reports on trips.

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TylerS
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TR: 6/16/17-6/18/17 [Windigo>Todd Harbor>Rock Harbor]

Post by TylerS » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:33 pm

My wife and I enjoyed our first trip to Isle Royale this past weekend in celebration of our 4 year wedding anniversary. We lucked out with absolutely gorgeous weather and trail conditions, and being from Northern MN I can't say the bugs were bad at all.

**Note: All times posted will be in Central Standard Time.

Day 0: We left our home in Detroit Lakes, MN and made the 6 hour drive Thursday afternoon/eveing to The Outpost Motel (great place and great host, I highly recommend it) just NE of Grand Marais. After stopping in Grand Marais for a few photos and pre-trip drinks, we arrived to the motel just after 10:00 PM.

Day 1: We left the motel just before 7:00 AM to catch our ride to Windigo on the Sea Hunter III. There were only 2 other backpackers on the boat, the rest of the approximately 50 people being daytrippers. It was a gorgeous morning with calm seas but the Sea Hunter travels fairly fast and doesn't have much indoor seating so the ride was pretty chilly. We left Grand Portage at 8:45 AM and arrived to Windigo a little after 10:00 AM.

Getting off the boat, we were immediately greeted by a ranger on the dock and did our half hour LNT discussion. After that we went to the ranger station, explained our itinerary (and backup itineraries), and grabbed our permit. We started our journey on the Minong Ridge Trail by 10:45 AM.

The trail from Windigo to the N Desor Jct was mostly in the trees with a little ridge walking mixed in the closer we got to N Desor. The most difficult and slowest going areas were the numerous wet/muddy cedar swamps and beaver dams. Our last creek crossing was 4 miles before the N Desor Jct and the trail was dry from there to the Little Todd Jct. About 1 miles before the N Desor Jct we got our first view of Lake Superior from the top of a ridge and it is spectacular. The section from N Desor Jct to Little Todd Jct is all ridge walking or navigating from one ridge to the next... we lucked out with dry trail conditions and it was a blast!

We arrived at the Little Todd Jct around 6:30 PM and decided to push the final 6 miles to Todd Harbor. We had reports that the trail from Little Todd to Todd was rather easy and uneventful, and that turned out to be true. This would be the first time mosquitoes came out at all so we put on our permethrine treated pants and long sleeves with some deet on our necks and hands, and the bugs were no longer an issue at all. We arrived to Todd Harbor a little after 9:00 PM, pitched our tent in site 4, and enjoyed our chicken stir fry while watching an amazing sunset... dinner and a show to the max! The only other group at Todd was in the shelter and we never actually saw them, just the permit on the door.

Day 2: Since we made it to Todd Harbor on day 1, we knew that meant an easier day 2 and we slept in. We packed up camp, leisurely enjoyed our coffee & breakfast by the lake, and hit the trail just before 9:00 AM.

The trail to McCargoe Cove went smoothly and we stopped there around noon to refill waters and eat lunch around the fire ring. We were the only people at McCargoe and after our quick lunch break we headed for East Chickenbone. The connector trail from MCC to ECB goes through a lot of low areas and there was moose sign everywhere. A neat little section of trail that was different than everything else.

We hooked up with the Greenstone Ridge Trail at E Chickenbone and took that all the way to Mt. Franklin and the views of Lake Superior and the island were great from on top of the ridge. We stopped for breaks and pictures at the Mt. Ojibway Fire Tower and the Mt. Franklin Lookout. Both are spectacular spots that can't be missed! We left the Greenstone just after Mt. Franklin and hiked down off the ridge toward Tobin Harbor. We took the Tobin Harbor Trail into Rock Harbor and it was mostly in the trees but had great views of Tobin Harbor most of the way. This was the only other area where we ran into mosquitoes so we put on our pants and long sleeves and that was that.

We strolled into Rock Harbor at exactly 6:59 PM, 1 minute before the Rock Harbor Trading Post closed! Having no idea what their hours were before hand (or that the store even existed), we were pretty happy to find out we could get a hot shower, towel, soap, and 2 big beers all for a little over $10... some of the best money I've ever spent! We grabbed the shelter highest up on the hill and had creamy chicken wild rice soup for dinner. There was still some daylight left so we took a little walk through the marina and lodge area; Rock Harbor is a really cool little "town".

Day 3: We made coffee in the morning and hopped on the Voyageur II a little before 8:00 AM. The boat ride around the island ended up being really cool and nice surprise that neither of us were excited for going in. Storms were forecasted for that morning but we had flat calm seas and it never rained until we were about 20 minutes from Grand Portage. The fog that rolled in made for some very dramatic north shore scenery to end our first trip to Isle Royale! We got back to Grand Portage just before 3:00 PM and made our 6 hour drive back home. What a great trip.

Some comments on our planning... this was a trip that I've been considering for awhile but never fully planned until last minute. I had some unexpected downtime at work and found out I could take a vacation day for our anniversary so we booked the ferry 2 days before leaving. I researched the trails and knew we wanted to traverse the island end to end, definitely including the Minong Ridge Trail because we really like moderate scrambling and route finding. We get more excited about the trails than we do the campsites and weight our backpacking trips more towards the hiking rather than the camping.

After seeing the 8-10 miles/day recommended by the NPS and other sources online, I was nervous for our permit conversation with the Ranger but it went very well. We explained our planned "itinerary" to the ranger and backup plans as follows:

Basically we were going to set out on the Minong Trail and make it as far as comfortably possible on day 1. If we made it to Todd, we knew we could make it to Rock Harbor the next day. If we only made it to Little Todd, then we would have got an early start on day 2 hoping for Rock Harbor but willing to finish at Daisy Farm if that made more sense. If we only made it to N Desor on day 1, then we would have turned around and headed back to Windigo on day 2. We also shared this plan with the Voyageur II knowing they make stops at all those locations and they were fine with our plan.

The ranger said she liked our plan and it sounded like we were informed and had done our research. With this plan in place we NEVER pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zone trying to hike too fast or too many miles. We knew we could go as fast/far as the trails allowed and still have a ride back to the mainland on Sunday. I know it goes against the norm on Isle Royale but that is our backpacking style and I think it worked out great! If we could do the trip again this week, I'd plan it the exact same way.


torpified
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Re: TR: 6/16/17-6/18/17 [Windigo>Todd Harbor>Rock Harbor]

Post by torpified » Mon Jun 19, 2017 4:45 pm

That is some excellent walking and a wonderfully informative trip report!

About the "moderate" route finding on the Minong Ridge--can you elaborate? What skills and/or perceptual capacities did it call for? Map/compass/GPS? Developing an eye for cairn placement and the flow of the trail? Searching hopefully? And did the route finding ever cross over from enjoyably challenging to not-so-enjoyable worrisome?


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Re: TR: 6/16/17-6/18/17 [Windigo>Todd Harbor>Rock Harbor]

Post by TylerS » Tue Jun 20, 2017 8:06 am

torpified wrote:
Mon Jun 19, 2017 4:45 pm
That is some excellent walking and a wonderfully informative trip report!

About the "moderate" route finding on the Minong Ridge--can you elaborate? What skills and/or perceptual capacities did it call for? Map/compass/GPS? Developing an eye for cairn placement and the flow of the trail? Searching hopefully? And did the route finding ever cross over from enjoyably challenging to not-so-enjoyable worrisome?
It really wasn't difficult at all. Basically the trail is very obvious in the trees, then it brings you up hill to the top of a ridge and the "trail" disappears because there is only rock and no soil. There were lots of cairns that you follow along the ridge until you get close to the end and then the trail would head back down into the trees. **NOTE: The trail almost always leaves the ridge on the SOUTH side due to the island topography.

So on the ridges there really isn't a trail, you're just walking from cairn to cairn along what looks like the best route. With my wife and I, whoever was in front was looking for the next cairn and the person in back would watch the south side of the ridge to make sure we didn't miss the trail leaving the ridge. It worked out well and we never had any issues. I had along a map/compass and gps and never needed to use either due to losing the trail.

The ridge walking was never worrisome at all, I think you would almost have to try to get seriously lost on the Minong Trail. We had a blast and the "hardest" parts were our favorite parts.


torpified
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Re: TR: 6/16/17-6/18/17 [Windigo>Todd Harbor>Rock Harbor]

Post by torpified » Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:02 pm

Thanks -- that's really helpful. After reading the Todd Harbor outhouse graffiti some killjoy left bragging about how many cairns he or she had kicked over, I got worried the rocky parts would be completely uncairned. And it's a great tip to look for southern exits. Although I had most the materials to construct the tip myself, I didn't manage to draw the conclusion. So it's both informative and humbling, which is very appreciated.

One last question (these aren't idle -- the Minong Ridge is on my to-do list!): elsewhere on the island, where trials cross outcrops, the path the trail takes is often lighter than the surrounding rock--more pearly, almost. It took me a while to glom on to this, but when I did, it was real navigational epiphany. Did you notice the same thing on the Minong Ridge?

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Re: TR: 6/16/17-6/18/17 [Windigo>Todd Harbor>Rock Harbor]

Post by jrwiesz » Wed Jun 21, 2017 9:47 am

torpified wrote:
Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:02 pm
Thanks -- that's really helpful. After reading the Todd Harbor outhouse graffiti some killjoy left bragging about how many cairns he or she had kicked over...
One last question (these aren't idle -- the Minong Ridge is on my to-do list!): elsewhere on the island, where trials cross outcrops, the path the trail takes is often lighter than the surrounding rock--more pearly, almost. It took me a while to glom on to this, but when I did, it was real navigational epiphany. Did you notice the same thing on the Minong Ridge?
The outhouse graffiti at Todd was there in 2009 when I visited; unless someone keeps renewing the cairn destruction claim, I don't worry too much about it. Didn't worry back then; didn't observe anything of cairn manipulation, by anyone back then.

The issue of the "trail... lighter...pearly... across outcroppings" is addressed in one of Jim DuFresnes' revelations, in the first chapter(The Island and the Lady) of his trail guide.

He attributes this phenomenon,"the red path", to the thousands of hiking shoes traveling those trails and leaving their trace. Like an eraser at the end of your pencil, when you erase something, you wear off some of the rubber. And hiking shoes leave their residue behind. :?:

Works for me. I, especially noticed the phenomenon on the trail between Moskey and Daisy! Not so much on the Minong; a trial less traveled?

Here's to the Red path &
Isle Royale Rocks!
"And standing on the the crest of the Greenstone Ridge, I suddenly had this desire to retreat north to where I just come, to stay in the backcountry, to spend another day in a place where the only deadline I had was to pitch the tent before dark."
Jim DuFresne


Topic author
TylerS
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Re: TR: 6/16/17-6/18/17 [Windigo>Todd Harbor>Rock Harbor]

Post by TylerS » Thu Jun 22, 2017 10:12 am

torpified wrote:
Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:02 pm
One last question (these aren't idle -- the Minong Ridge is on my to-do list!): elsewhere on the island, where trials cross outcrops, the path the trail takes is often lighter than the surrounding rock--more pearly, almost. It took me a while to glom on to this, but when I did, it was real navigational epiphany. Did you notice the same thing on the Minong Ridge?
I definitely noticed that... even though there isn't a trail, you can still see the "trail" (if that makes sense). Personally, I attributed it to the moss being worn off the rocks from hikers. There was a couple times I found myself walking on "crunchy" rocks, where the dried moss was still there. That was my clue that I was not on the most used path and to stop and have a look around for the "trail". There isn't much worry in losing the trail while on the ridges, it's when you need to leave the ridge that provide opportunity to lose the trail. If you do miss an exit off the ridge, you'll shortly come to a ledge or cliff that looks more difficult than any terrain the trail covers. That's your clue that you missed the exit and need to do a little backtracking to find the trail off the ridge or start looking for a missed cairn.

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