TR: 8/5-8/11/2017 [Minong: McCargoe > Windigo + Hugginin] Dad / Daughter Trek

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paulbates
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TR: 8/5-8/11/2017 [Minong: McCargoe > Windigo + Hugginin] Dad / Daughter Trek

Post by paulbates » Sun Aug 13, 2017 7:03 pm

I've taken "Dad/Daughter" trips with my girls for a number of years. Now as adults, we've been able to do a few as well. I got to travel to NJ and back with my daughter Kristen last year to spend time together and introduce living away for her internship. This time, my daughter Nicky and I planned a week on "the island" after talking about it for the last few years, and last fall we nailed it on the calendar and started planning, conditioning and outfitting.

Background
The backdrop is that my parents frequently took us on national park vacations and went to Isle Royale twice in the past, the last time 50+ years ago :shock:. My parents would not camp or backpack, but I did extensively in my teens and 20s. My Uncle Stan was the Naturalist for Yellowstone, and later in his career ran the Interpretation program for the Great Smokies. He helped me discover a lot about the Smokies, interacting with nature and my abilities by defining different trips for me and my friends to explore, including orienteering and manways. This trip to Isle Royale was a way for Nicky and I to get away and also one way for me find closure in losing both parents and my Uncle and Aunts in the last few years.

Our mission:
Hike the Minong Ridge from east to west, and also go to Hugginin Cove. We had tentative plans for Feldtman depending how the trip and weather played out.

The Trip in
Nicky and I drove from the Detroit area to Mackinaw City on Thursday the 4th. We spent the day on Friday the 5th visiting waterfalls and Kitch-iti-kipi Springs in the UP. We then stayed at the available suite in the Isle Royal Seaplane base.. very nice; modern, new.. with a fully equipped kitchen.

- Saturday August 5th - Travel to the Minong Ridge Trail east termination

We went out in the Beaver and back in the Cessna
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Tomas flew us out in the de Havilland Beaver at 10 to Rock Harbor.... I crossed off the bucket list: a Beaver flight and a radial engine flight. Then picked up the water taxi to McCargoe Cove. It was really striking how clear and sharp all the outcroppings and trees looked, like my eyes had changed.

No one in the tent sites and we set up camp at Site 2, good for hanging hammocks which was out primary sleeping method. We then hiked out to the Minong Mine and toured it, did the duck under in the pit and roamed the surrounding areas based on info on the map post there. We went back to camp and went down the dock for a swim with some of the other families camping there. Clean, cool water. We "hung out" at our camp for a while, and then went back to the group fire ring to heat the pasties we brought with us frozen from Roy's in Houghton, wrapped in foil, for dinner our first night.

Had fun talking with other campers. In particular, I got a great informative overview from another camper about how she used a food dehydrator to lighten weight yet bring real dishes for her family that are home made favorites, yet lighter and travel well. Something to consider in the future.

- Sunday August 6th - McCargoe to Little Todd Harbor 13.2 miles

Little Todd Harbor Sunset
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Got up 8-ish, packed up and left. Split a clif bar and got on the trail. The weather was perfect and we headed for the top of Pine Mountain to stop and enjoy coffee and breakfast. We then moved on to make Todd Harbor, 6.6 miles. Took a break, ate our dried veggie/fruit/clif bar lunch and filtered water at the campsite closest to the lake off of the trail.

After lunch, we moved on from Todd Harbor to Little Todd Harbor, another 6.6 miles including the trip down to the camp. Based on reading about how the trail starts changing here, we got out our trekking poles. I do not regret buying those at all , they were essential for me. A lot of forest walking with some notable ups and downs. A few stream step stone and log crossings, and the infamous ~20' big dead tree crossing.

A "mystery trail" appeared just under 2 1/2 miles from Little Todd / Desor trail junction. The main trail is following a small ridge crest in the forest. The mystery trail comes straight up from the valley on the north side more gently sloped, and then crosses over and goes steeply sloped south side (48.02444, -88.88693). It is not a game trail. Straight and perpendicular to the main trail in both directions and saplings had clearly been cut with a sharp tool (I asked about it 2 days later after reaching Windigo and told it was probably a trail crew cache location). The topo map shows no navigable water or other trails close by in either direction.

A big climb near the end, and soon the sign post for the Little Todd / N Desore trail appeared. Then a slippery, sometimes mucky - sometimes balancing act - 1/2 mile, with some steep descents to the lake on the campsite access trail. But what a beautiful, remote campsite. We took site 3 which was spacious and had its own nice fire pit and surrounding with log benches to sit at a comfortable distance (permitted there). I took a dip, rinsed my clothes in the lake and dried them on some warm, sunset facing rocks nearby. Kind of hard to swim there, can be done. Because of the size and amount of rocks in the water, flip flops were useless, actually counterproductive at that location.

Two sites were taken, one by a camper that was already in site 1 (we met Adam later at Windigo). Another by a couple who passed us on the way from Todd Harbor - they did Chickenbone to Little Todd, and then later a mother-daughter group took site 4; who started at Windigo, swept around Hatchet lake off the Greenstone to camp here.

- Monday August 7th - Little Todd Harbor to North Lake Desor - 5.6 miles

A view of the trail, and the rock cairns we got to know very well
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Woke up to wind, clouds and thunder. Decided to eat in camp and pack up while waiting it out, then took off a little later than planned when the questionable weather system seemed to move off to the north to Canada. We had wanted to get out early given the difficult reputation of this section of trail and do as much hiking as possible while the sun was low and it was still cool.

The reputation of this section of trail is well earned. It started us off with a climb to open ridge top and rock cairn navigation. Some rock hopping, and then then the notorious "ups and downs". That sequence continued the whole way. If you look at a topo map, the largest of these is the heavily shaded area at around 3 miles that is ascended heading west. Its a +150' ascent from bottom to top through the woods. You grunt up out of the valley at a fairly steep angle, and less than halfway it angles almost straight up to the top...whew! I had done a lot of conditioning on a sledding hill at home with my pack full weight + extra thrown in, and yet I could have done more to prepare for this monster!

I'm struck by how much 2 older skills came into play: Orienteering: having a general idea about where I am going, where I should be, and where I really was at all times. Bouldering: Though we didn't do a lot of climbing up rocks, its a very technical trail and the ridge tops and very steep ascents/descents required that I spent as much time figuring out where my next footfall landed as much as I did looking for where I was going and cairns. While we surprisingly never saw a moose on our trip, moose scat was everywhere on top of the rocky, scrub grass ridge-line. Had to keep an eye open for them too.

We saw no one on the trail on our hike. We got to N Desor camp trail, hiked the .5 miles down. It felt longer, but not as cumbersome or steep as the trail down to Little Todd. We had our pick from the empty campground and took site 1. It easily supported 2 hammocks. The weather was perfect and went in right away for a swim after getting water filtered. Previous campers have moved the rocks out of the way on the water front and you can actually barefoot navigate from this site in for a swim by pushing over the shallow part near shore. The water there is really nice and again, nice warm rocks right in the sun on shore to dry things off.

All of our neighbors from Little Todd showed up as the day progressed. The mother / daughter team had a boat to catch the next day at 3:00 and we exchanged ideas and information about determining the best time to leave the next day to make it. We hoped they made it and it appears that they did.

- Tuesday August 8th - North Lake Desor to Windigo- 12.4 miles

Because of the impact of the previous few days hiking, we decided to rest in the morning and leave a little later, but early enough to make it to Windigo before sundown. The weather looked a little iffy though. Our neighbors had all packed up and left, the mother and daughter team very early to make the boat. The iffy weather turned to rain so we covered things up. I had set up the Kelty Mesa 2 tent the night before and we sat it out talking and playing cards. 10 turned to 11 turned to 12. We knew it was easily going to be a 7 hour trip given our average speed so far, so we finally got up to pack.... as the rain stopped around 1:00 as we left. We took extra water as this section is known for not having much.

One piece of advice for those planning the traverse of the trail sections from Windigo to Little Todd in August is about water. Count on few opportunities for water, none really on the Little Todd to N Desor section. Not a lot of it, and what there is, is fairly brown and dirty brown even after its filtered. The creek 6 miles on the way to Windigo is iffy. Unfortunately the better water opportunities are near the trail beginnings and ends- not the long middle. The 2 quarts per person "standard" is a minimum. Nicky carried lake water in the dirty filter bag to filter later - which we filtered in route and used. In addition, we carried 5 clean quarts already filtered to share. The downside is that more water adds to the packing weight for a notoriously "up and down" trail. The videos I've seen of this section with clear, clean waterfalls on this part of the trail that were shot in May do not apply to August.

We got going and made it over the early ridge outcroppings and into the long forest hike. It started raining again. Fortunately for us we were in thick canopied woods for most of the rain and the sun had dried most of the ridges by the time we went back up. We sat the heaviest rain out under a tarp and took a break, but also knew our late departure meant we didn't have much time for it. The fall back plan was to set up wilderness camp along the way but never really found something savory enough to camp at, even as hammock campers. And none near necessary water, because there really isn't any.

We kept going and pushed across the 3 beaver dams. Maybe someone with better skills could ballerina across these things and be dry, but our boots were soaked and muddy as result of crossing... and we were barely half way. We got to a ridge top around 7 miles and saw the sun moving down and discussed at what near term event(s) we would call it and stop to set up wilderness camp.. but also agreed to push harder to see how far we could go. The trail's big ups and downs settle down after the Minong Overlook and Nicky set a faster pace for us. The weather had cleared which lifted our spirits. As the sun continued dropping down, it started looking a little darker behind the last ridge crossing before the final decent into Washington creek camp, but were then treated with some sun the rest of the way after making it over the top. We made it! Like the day before, all day hiking and saw nobody on the trail.

Hard to believe, we got in Windigo on one of the busiest weeks of the year after 8pm and 2 shelters were open. We took #14. I addressed our muddy boots and got fresh water at the spigot while Nicky unpacked us and set us up in the shelter, we made dinner and called it a day.

What a day! We did the Minong, board to board in 3 days.

- Wednesday August 9th - Windigo "rest day"

Sunrise from our site
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We were tired. Also, I had sent part of our supplies to Windigo so we wouldn't have to carry it all. We had a sandwich at the only other store on the island and went to some of the interpretive programs while we waited for the boat to arrive with our box. The interpretive talks are not to be missed. Isle Royale is like a mini Galapagos, its an isolated environment of its own and animal species have adapted in a very short time. Its not clear how a number of them got there as its many miles from shore. We rested, cleaned up our clothes and dried our boots more and enjoyed a day off.

We went back to the store for pizza for dinner, and shared a table with Adam who had been at our earlier camp sites on the Minong. Had a very enjoyable conversation about this adventure, and others. Glad to have met him! Nicky also ran into the couple we had been at campsites with as well.

- Thursday August 10th - Windigo - Hugginin Cove East - 5.3 mile

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We were rested up and had heard how beautiful Hugginin was. We got packed up and left later as this was a more improved and easier trail than we had been on. We got going but soon it cooled off and rained, and rained.. rained all the way there. Set up on site 2 nearest the sign post. Though we could have easily set them up, we skipped the hammocks and put up the Kelty. Made some hot food and rested and warmed up in our sleeping bags in the tent, talking and playing cards. We saw a group there that we met later back at Washington Creek that had kayaked in, had good success fishing the day before and then kayaked out. Later, another group hiked in and took their remote site. As evening came the skies cleared and gave us a beautiful Lake Superior sunset.

- Friday August 11th - Hugginin Cove West - Windigo - 4.36 mile

Woke up to clear and perfect weather. We weren't in any hurry. Had breakfast and coffee overlooking the sunrise on this beautiful, remote cove. We had to make it back by 3:00 to catch the float plane to Houghton. We hiked at one of our best rates of the trip. We had lunch and gift shopped. Nicky went for a swim and I found a sunny hill to relax and dry out our stuff, and my boots (somewhat). We headed to the seaplane dock at 2:30 and soon Jon skimmed the Cessna in and tied up to retrieve us.

Once back in Houghton, we only had to walk from the Portage Canal Seaplane dock to Isle Royale Seaplane's available cabin/suite where we spent the night, as we were getting up very early Saturday for the 10 hour drive back to Detroit.

Post trip thoughts

Mark Romanski, Division Chief - Natural Resources, wrote in the latest Greenstone newsletter about the adjective "Islandness", as a way to define this remote and special place.. definite and yet ineffable at the same time. I suppose you could put 10 different Isle Royale visitors in their own room with their own white board and ask them to write the definition of "islandness", and get 10 different, yet 10 true definitions.

Here it is for me: We live and work in a society that has limits, rules and forms to sign at every point to protect us from ourselves. I'm not against that, but the history of my families in America is based more in independence, making it on your own wits and volition. I enjoy activities that let me touch that past in some way. On Isle Royale, especially the Minong, its the opposite of today's hectic, guard-railed, risk managed world.

Its not an app or simulation to restart with the press of a button. It is patience, attention, independence and volition: "figure it out". Be prepared, be aware and work through whatever comes your way: Crossing streams on old logs and beaver dams, interruptions to the plan from weather... do I have enough water?

For me, "islandness" is a way for me to get a challenge with myself and succeed. Nicky and I had a great trip and It feels pretty good!
Last edited by paulbates on Mon Aug 14, 2017 8:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Ingo
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Re: TR: 8/5-8/11/2017 [Minong: McCargoe > Windigo + Hugginin] Dad / Daughter Trek

Post by Ingo » Sun Aug 13, 2017 7:56 pm

Thanks Paul!


johnhens
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Re: TR: 8/5-8/11/2017 [Minong: McCargoe > Windigo + Hugginin] Dad / Daughter Trek

Post by johnhens » Mon Aug 14, 2017 5:12 am

Nice trip, did not know you could fly in a Beaver to IR! !


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Re: TR: 8/5-8/11/2017 [Minong: McCargoe > Windigo + Hugginin] Dad / Daughter Trek

Post by torpified » Mon Aug 14, 2017 5:33 am

what an adventure! Thanks!!

A question about a term in the background section: what are "manways"??


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Re: TR: 8/5-8/11/2017 [Minong: McCargoe > Windigo + Hugginin] Dad / Daughter Trek

Post by paulbates » Mon Aug 14, 2017 8:06 am

johnhens wrote:
Mon Aug 14, 2017 5:12 am
Nice trip, did not know you could fly in a Beaver to IR! !
Thank you!

The Beaver is a recent addition that IRS leases from a company in Washington state. It was built in the mid 1950s. A little slower than the Cessna, but carries 6 (including the pilot) instead of the Cessna's 4. It was fully loaded when we flew out, 4 big guys (me included) in the back.

Tomas, one of the IRS pilots, and his father are flying it back to Washington at the end of this season when the lease it up, and unlike the Cessana, its floats only.. no wheels to put down beneath the floats... talk about an adventure!

Paul


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Re: TR: 8/5-8/11/2017 [Minong: McCargoe > Windigo + Hugginin] Dad / Daughter Trek

Post by paulbates » Mon Aug 14, 2017 8:35 am

torpified wrote:
Mon Aug 14, 2017 5:33 am
what an adventure! Thanks!!

A question about a term in the background section: what are "manways"??
Thanks!

Great question. In the Smokies, and places like Daniel Boone National Forest in KY, it was how old, un-maintained trails were referred to. Old homesteader / Native American trails or unused logging roads that have long since been abandoned. They are there, usually not on maps, and you can take them, but its up to you to find your way along them. No blazes are put up, no trees cut out of the way or flooding out repaired. Typically there is a trail to follow in some places, and then it just disappears and you have to make your own way to find it again.

Paul


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Re: TR: 8/5-8/11/2017 [Minong: McCargoe > Windigo + Hugginin] Dad / Daughter Trek

Post by torpified » Mon Aug 14, 2017 1:07 pm

manways: that's an extremely useful concept, and "manways" is an agreeably Middle Earthish name for it! I'll take solace in knowing how to describe what's happened to me next time I lose the real trail because I've wandered down a branching manway by accident . . .


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Re: TR: 8/5-8/11/2017 [Minong: McCargoe > Windigo + Hugginin] Dad / Daughter Trek

Post by paulbates » Mon Aug 28, 2017 8:07 pm

Here is a short video story of our trip down the Minong to go along with the trip report:

https://youtu.be/wHzvcCVrUb0

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