planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Questions about trails and campsites on the island.

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sparklerbc
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planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by sparklerbc » Sun Jun 18, 2017 10:38 am

hi all-

i'm planning a trip to isle royale to do some hiking and i'm a little confused about just how hard the hiking there is, and consequently, what i should plan for.

the NPS states "experienced backpackers should plan on 8-10 miles a day." I consider myself an experienced backpacker, having backpacked about 2/3rds of Appalachian trail in the past 6 years, plus a few other trips. a typical day for me while backpacking is more like 17 or 18 miles, 20, or even 22 on easy terrain, maybe as little as 12 on very difficult terrain.

my idea of very difficult terrain? well if anyone is familiar with the white mountains in NH or the maine high peaks region, thats what i consider very difficult. the maine high peaks, for instance, is a serious of 2K foot or more climbs in a row, up 2K feet, back down, then up again and repeat, over rocky, root, muddy terrain. thats the sort of ground i can only do 12 miles on.

given the lack of elevation on isle royale, i'm having a hard time grasping that it can actually be that hard. i don't want to bite off more than i can chew, but i just can't picture it being terrain i can't do 15 miles a day on.

i'll have 4 full days (and the days are certainly full, as much to my pleasure it seems sunset is at the impressive hour of 9:59pm) and parts of 2 others where i'll also be on the ferry part of those days.

rounding a bit, hiking across the island and back is about 80 miles. to my mind, this should be well within reason for the time i have... unless someone the terrain really IS that hard.

i'm landing at rock harbor, and then thinking of taking the greenstone ridge out to winding and then back on the minong ridge.

this last part it seems the consensus is will be the especially hard part. I've seen threads about trying to do it in 2 days and that it is difficult but not impossible. again, given that it is about 30 miles, if it can't be done in 2 days that'd make it one of the absolutely most difficult travels i've ever seen, and i really can't see how it could be THAT hard.

so does anyone have any feedback? is looping the island in 4 full days and parts of 2 others as impossible as some sources would try and lead you to believe? anyone here done such a trip?

thanks.


Midwest Ed
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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by Midwest Ed » Sun Jun 18, 2017 1:46 pm

I think you'll find much of Isle Royale closer to your White Mountain experiences.

Back in 2012 a man named Eric ran the entire 40 mile Greenstone Ridge trail (including Lookout Louise) in 8 hours 47 minutes. It was probably a new record. Here are the discussions he had on this forum. His report is on his own web site here.

Given that as a starting point and your self described experience, if your goal is to traverse the length of the Island and then return in 4 days + 2 half days if I read you correctly (5 or 6 nights?), you could do it. But I find myself asking the same question that arose when observing Eric and that is. . . . Why? Actually doing the entire Minong Ridge trail in one day would be the biggest achievement (or obstacle depending on one's viewpoint).

Much of the Greenstone Ridge trail is easier than many other trails on the Island, although it too has its points of difficulty. The roots and rocks and mud you speak of in Maine and NH are quite prevalent on Isle Royale, especially along the shoreline trails and along the prehistoric shoreline trails further inland. As you noted there are no 2000 foot changes in elevation but on some trails, over the course of a few miles your legs will experience the equivalent over repeated up and down over large and small rock formations. Other times the roots and rocks make for very slow going especially when wet as is often the case. There are though several areas where the trail is smooth hard packed soil and gravel, offering a pleasant stroll through the woods. And then there are many lengths, primarily through low lying and swampy areas, where you will be traveling on narrow man-made board walks sometimes slightly submerged if the water levels are high.

Here is a Youtube video I found that demonstrates a bit of the trail offerings. I do not know the producers of the video. I tagged the beginning of an 8 minute section. Its gets good about 4 minutes in, at about 25:40.

Anyway, I think you will experience your 12 mile/day pace in many locations although you could do 18 to 20 in others (unless of course you've got bad weather). You didn't mention where your point of departure. Plans would vary since distances between campgrounds are greater and alternate routes are fewer on the west end. Be prepared for weather delays that could affect your schedule both hiking and ferry.

You can read several trip reports here and check out Mike T's guide at his website.. He has available GPS recordings showing elevation changes.
Last edited by Midwest Ed on Sun Jun 18, 2017 2:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by torpified » Sun Jun 18, 2017 2:29 pm

I can't speak for the stretch of the Minong Ridge between the Hatchet Lake junction and Windigo -- which is supposed to be where the toughest going is. And perceived difficulty is just that: perceived, and so inevitably subjective. So the following is in the scope of acronyms such YMMV IMO FWIW etc.

For me, trails through NH's White Mtns were considerably stiffer going than the trails I've walked on Isle Royale, both because the treadway was more technical and because the climbs and (worse!) descents were longer/steeper. In NH I was 24 and gassed after 10-12 miles. I've done my IR hikes in my early 50s and found 20+ mile days within comfortable reach. The insane number of hours of daylight during hiking season contributes to this. (For calibration, when the mature me walks established trails in the Sierras, mileages in the low 20s, with 5-6K ft of climbing, are pleasantly taxing.)

So, yeah, I wound up walking farther than the NPS guidelines led me to believe I'd walk. The island is remote and backcountry impact is managed in part by funneling hikers into established camps. I suspect the mileage guidelines are meant to minimize the incidence of visitors getting in over their heads/camping between established sites.

My guess is that your plan is manageable for a seasoned AT section hiker. A different question is whether a modified plan might make for a more enjoyable trip. This seems like a personal question -- only you can balance the potential pleasure of getting yourself out to one end of the island and back again against the potential pain of angsting about whether you'll really make the return ferry. (I myself much prefer disjunctive plans that I can adapt to circumstances---thunderstorms, twisted ankles, walking 25 miles by accident. . . .)

two thoughts:
if you go out the Minong Ridge and return on the GRT, then if you're in a situation where you need to crank out some big days at the end to make your boat back, you'll have a superhighway to do them on.

there might be a way to involve the Voyageur II to give yourself more options/more variety---for instance, if you can take it back to RH from Windigo your last day, you can hit Lane Cove on the way to Windigo via best part of the GRT and the Minong Ridge -- then, depending on how long that takes you, explore Hugginin Cove and/or the Feldtmann ridge loop before your date with the Voyageur II.

Whatever you do, please report back!


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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by sparklerbc » Sun Jun 18, 2017 10:43 pm

thanks for the insights, especially the comparison to the whites, thats helpful to know.

my thoughts about doing greenstone first are mainly that there'd be an opportunity to bail via ferry while returning on minong if i was behind schedule. i'm not sure really how much help that would be though, so maybe i'll reverse the order.

the two issues with the ferry though are the schedule and the price. i really can't understand how the ferry from windigo to rock harbor arrives in RH 15 minutes after the boat from RH to cooper harbor has departed. when i see things like that i can't help but wonder if there isn't a deliberate attempt to make life difficult going on.

i don't want to ferry back to RH and have 24 hours to kill before leaving the island if i can avoid it. if i'm behind schedule and it becomes necessary, thats a different story.

in all likelihood i'm going to just start walking towards windigo and see how it goes. if after the first partial day and the second full day it doesn't seem like i can reach windigo (at least, windigo and making the turn back and getting a few miles in that direction done would be ideal) by end of the 2nd full day well... ill start making creative loops around to kill time and/or resign myself to an extra ferry ride that gets me back to RH 23 hours too soon.

as for the question of why- its how i like to hike. i hike to hike. i enjoy being in motion, covering ground, the sense of traveling by foot. i do not enjoy sitting around a camp. if i'm being honest, at times i downright loathe it. at best, i tolerate it because it allows me to do more of the thing i enjoy- the actual hiking.

in another thread someone talked about how sticking to 8 miles a day meant being done hiking for the day by 11am at times. i have so little interest in doing something like that i can't even out it into words.


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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by sparklerbc » Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:09 am

a little more specific idea of a rough plan. thinking now of definitely going minong first

day 1 (ferry lands by noon, lets say hike starts at 1, leaving 8 hours hiking time with the late sunset)- 15.3 miles to mcargoe cove (question- thats via the shortest route, but any recommendations on best way to go? seems there are options and they are all sort of close in miles)

day 2 18 miles to lake desor (on minong ridge) (i'm guessing this will be the toughest day i have planned? also figuring if i don't make this or have a very tough time with it, then i have plenty of time to revise the plan)

day 3 18.6 miles past windigo and onto greenstone ridge, ending at island mine. (which day is harder, this or day 2?)

day 4 13 miles to hatchett lake (feels too short, but pressing on the chicken bone seems perhaps unnecessary, but if i get to hatchet and feel like going on i would)

day 5 15.4 miles to daisy farm (or if i make chicken bone the night before, maybe do chicken bone to lane cove?)

day 6 7 miles to do by 2:45 to make the ferry home.if I've made it this far, i figure that should be easily done.

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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by Ingo » Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:19 am

sparklerbc wrote:
Sun Jun 18, 2017 10:43 pm
i really can't understand how the ferry from windigo to rock harbor arrives in RH 15 minutes after the boat from RH to cooper harbor has departed. when i see things like that i can't help but wonder if there isn't a deliberate attempt to make life difficult going on.
Not at all. Perhaps a lack of deliberate effort to coordinate at worst. The number of people who may want to jump off the Voyageur II and onto the Queen is pretty small. The VII can't get there any faster (it leaves MN at 7:30) and the Queen probably doesn't want to get back later than it does. I do know it's pretty much the same as when I worked in RH in 1979.


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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by JerryB » Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:21 am

I cannot even imagine doing this trip. Or, at least I cannot imagine doing it and enjoying it. To me, the best parts of IR are the campsites and the least interesting part is the Greenstone Trail itself, at least on the western end. That is me and not you, so enjoy. My only two cautions: On the Minong, your plan is doable but wet weather will seriously complicate matters for you. The exposed ridges between Little Todd and Desor are treacherous when wet (I fell twice on one trip). Day 3 is physically possible but the section from Desor to Windigo is very long with some nasty beaver dams to traverse. All I wanted to do when I finished it was get to Windigo. The section you are adding on to it is a gradual uphill the whole way. Not hard, but the uphill never seems to end. Best of luck


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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by sparklerbc » Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:46 am

i'm sure IR has spectacular campsites. they might be the best campsites anywhere ever. i'm just not a camper.

speaking of camping... is there camping at windigo? i can't exactly tell from the info available on the website. for some reason it isn't listed on the mileage chart of campsites on the official NPS information.

re: ferry- one leaving 15 mins later and one leaving 15 minutes earlier is going to cause either of the operating companies issues?

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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by Ingo » Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:47 am

sparklerbc wrote:
Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:09 am
a little more specific idea of a rough plan. thinking now of definitely going minong first

day 1 (ferry lands by noon, lets say hike starts at 1, leaving 8 hours hiking time with the late sunset)- 15.3 miles to mcargoe cove (question- thats via the shortest route, but any recommendations on best way to go? seems there are options and they are all sort of close in miles)

day 2 18 miles to lake desor (on minong ridge) (i'm guessing this will be the toughest day i have planned? also figuring if i don't make this or have a very tough time with it, then i have plenty of time to revise the plan)

day 3 18.6 miles past windigo and onto greenstone ridge, ending at island mine. (which day is harder, this or day 2?)

day 4 13 miles to hatchett lake (feels too short, but pressing on the chicken bone seems perhaps unnecessary, but if i get to hatchet and feel like going on i would)

day 5 15.4 miles to daisy farm (or if i make chicken bone the night before, maybe do chicken bone to lane cove?)

day 6 7 miles to do by 2:45 to make the ferry home.if I've made it this far, i figure that should be easily done.
I also have no comparable experience to be a good judge, but sounds like the best plan to me. I'd probably take the ridge trail on day 1, since I think it's a somewhat easier trail even though more elevation. And save the harbor trail for coming back.

Days 2 & 3 are the longest days on the hardest trail, but if you end up at say Little Todd and Washington Creek, it will be easier to make up miles coming back. If you do days 2 & 3 as planned, and still looking for longer days, add Lane Cove at the end. Note that if you're late in the summer, water at Island Mine can be an issue. The creek there can pretty much dry up, so ask the ranger when you register.


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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by sparklerbc » Mon Jun 19, 2017 8:13 am

if i do the ridge trail on day 1 and then lane cove on the way back i'd be going back over ground already covered (perhaps only minority) wouldn't i?

not a huge deal but it strikes me as something maybe easily avoided. though making day 1 as easy as possible also seems wise.

i don't know if id want to try and make up days on the way back. i'm aiming for the tuesday ferry off and there isn't one on wednesday. i think if after day 3 it doesn't seem in the cards then either a shorter loop hike that doesn't go all the way to windigo or a ferry back to RH on monday will be what i do.


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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by JerryB » Mon Jun 19, 2017 8:19 am

speaking of camping... is there camping at windigo? i can't exactly tell from the info available on the website. for some reason it isn't listed on the mileage chart of campsites on the official NPS information.

The camp at Windigo is called Washington Creek

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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by Tom » Mon Jun 19, 2017 8:55 am

sparklerbc wrote:
Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:46 am
re: ferry- one leaving 15 mins later and one leaving 15 minutes earlier is going to cause either of the operating companies issues?
Actually, I think it's all because there is only one official dock for ferries in Rock Harbor, and they have to share it. Therefore, they both can't be docked at the same time, so the NPS makes them have schedules that accommodate. No nefarious plot by the ferry concessionaires.
(Although in practice, the Voyageur II will often take a slip at the marina when available, but that's not it's official docking location as provided by the NPS.)


Ambitious hike. Doable if in good health and fitness; but like others have noted isn't probably a push I would take, myself. It's such a beautiful park to enjoy.


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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by sparklerbc » Mon Jun 19, 2017 9:57 am

i'm sure it is beautiful and i'm going to enjoy walking through so much of it.

i really don't hike fast at all. i just don't sit around because that isn't something i enjoy. i don't think spending more time moving rather than standing still precludes enjoying a beautiful place.

look at it this way- if i spend 6 days just doing RH to windigo instead of doing the loop, Ive seen less of the park. sure I've spent more time, potentially, enjoying half of it, but who is to say which is actually more enjoyable?

i think part of why some people say they wouldn't enjoy the way i hike is because if they were to attempt it they'd be miserable. thats fine. I've met people who can hike a 35 mile day. if i tried that i'd be miserable, so i don't. that doesn't mean i can't see how those who can do it enjoy it.


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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by Midwest Ed » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:22 pm

As I first suspected, it appears you have a bit of "Eric the runner" in you. That's cool. Not that you run but that doing long days, maybe some that are harder than for most other people is what you enjoy. I think taking the Minong Trail first is wise as as any issues that might arise will do so early. You will then have more time for adjustments. The ridge route to McCargoe Cove will be faster and more scenic (more panoramic, assuming the weather is clear). No water sources while up there. I'm pretty sure, as Tom states, the Ferry timing is controlled by the NPS. Also, I think they prefer to not have multiple ferries docked at the same time in order to help control their personnel requirements for processing visitors.
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Re: planning a trip and have questions about difficulty

Post by TylerS » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:40 pm

I just posted a new topic in the "Trip Report" forum and I think you will be interested in reading it. See the link below:

viewtopic.php?f=8&t=3362

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