Please help a novice plan his trip

Questions about water transportation and fishing on the island.

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zebano
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Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by zebano »

Ramblings/background
I'm turning 40 and want to do something epic and stupid. I'm an ultra runner who grew up backpacking on Isle Royale every year from 1995-1999 with many pleasant memories. I've decided I want to run the length of the island from Windigo to Rock Harbor Visitor Center to celebrate, preferably using the Minong trail (yes, I know it was closed this year, Greenstone is my fallback). My cousin will run with me, my two brothers will come camp a night and collect gear we don't want to run with and take the ferry around to Rock Harbor (yes, we're assuming the ferry will be running next year).

The big question is What Comes Next??

We've all done canoe trips to the boundary waters and some easy lake and river -style kayaking and can do basic things like a wet entry in calm & warm water. We had the idea to circumnavigate the lake on sea kayaks but after some reading, that's probably outside of our skill level and would require either lots of training or a guide. So we've downgraded our adventure a touch and are looking to do some easier paddling & portaging and see some of the interior of the island. We haven't settled on an itinerary at all but our current plan is to try and paddle & portage just 8-12 miles a day with one or two easier days since two of us will have just run an ultra marathon and the other two are in ok, but not great shape.

Proposed Itinerary:
1. Rock Island Visitor Center to Daisy farm with optional stops on Tookers and Mott's island. This is the biggest question mark we have, as we're not planning to bring sea kayaks!! Is this fool-hardy or something we can do if the weather is decent?
2. Visit Rock Harbor LIghthouse, paddle Moskey Basin and portage to Lake Richie
3. Paddle Lake Richie, Portage, Paddle Intermediate Lake, Portage to Siskiwitt, Paddle Siskiwitt, portage to Malone Bay.
4. Easy day paddling Malone Bay and exploring Wright Island (weather permitting).
5. Siskiwitt Lake > Lake Whittlsey (camp)
6. Chippewa Harbor & Lake Richie
7. Lesage > ChickenBone > camp at McCargo Cove -- It's unclear if Lake Livermore is workth more than a little detour
8. See the Minong Mine, maybe Birch Island, load the Voyageur II for Grand Portage


This is eyeballed based on this http://npmaps.com/wp-content/uploads/is ... rk-map.jpg, if any of these portages are very difficult (for reasons other than being long) please let me know.

Gear Wise: Is this feasible with recreational kayaks? Should I buy a VHF radio just in case? We haven't talked about wet suits yet but I believe we're all planning on having one, are spray skirts needed for the interior lakes? Should we get spray skirts just for Moskey & Rock Island Harbor? We're all investigating how much gear we can actually fit in our personal Kayaks.

Are there any outfitters near Grand Portage that you would recommend if we determine we need different kayaks? (or don't want to transport it)

Is there anything we're missing out on here that you think we should try to do?

Oh, The timing of this has ranged anywhere from early April to September but I think we're going with Aug 24th right now as that's my half birthday. I'm not sure that makes much difference as Superior is cold year round.

All feedback is welcome.
Bobcat1
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Re: Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by Bobcat1 »

In no particular order:
1. Do not count Rock Harbor or Siskiwit Lake as inland waters. Both can get pretty gnarly depending on what the wind is doing. You want either good touring kayaks, or possibly canoes if you are skilled at handling canoes in choppy water. Canoes are much better for portaging too, and can hold plenty of gear. Are you prepared to handle 3-ft swells with a foot of chop on top of the swells, with 20-mph winds coming at you from several different directions? That's what Rock Harbor is if the wind comes from some directions. Wind from the south can turn it into a washing machine as the swells off the Lake hit the gaps between the islands that form Rock Harbor. In a typical summer though, lots of people do canoe or kayak successfully in the Rock Harbor area, and the inland lakes are small enough that you should be ok.

2. If you end your trip at McCargoe Cove, you can't get back to Grand Portage except by overnighting at Rock Harbor because the Voyageur II ferry travels clockwise around the island. That almost doubles your return ferry ticket too because you need to pay for you and your boats from McC to RH and then from RH to Grand Portage the next day. See if you can figure out how to end at Chippewa Harbor instead, which is much better suited for a pick-up on the way to Grand Portage.

3. Yes on the wetsuits and VHF radio, providing you have a plan for seaworthy kayaks with spray skirts or good canoes.
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Ingo
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Re: Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by Ingo »

Good advice from Bobcat1.
- When you go makes a difference too--I would not recommend Sept as it tends to have longer/stronger blows with the potential to be laid up for several days, particularly on Rock Harbor and Siskiwit. I like mid-July for the summer months--black flies usually gone, not quite as many folks as Aug, and usually favorable weather (no guarantee, of course).
- There's not much to see on Tookers, just to stop, and Mott is pretty civilized, more so than R.H. But the fishery, lighthouse, and researchers cabins are all rather interesting and highly recommended. There's also an old cemetery you can visit on, guess what, Cemetery Island (near Caribou).
- If the weather is good, paddling Lorelei Lane between Davidson/Inner Hill and Outer Hill islands is pretty neat--but getting in and out can be tricky if there's swells off the lake--be prepared to turn around and exit at Star/Davidson Islands.
- I love Caribou Island over Daisy Farm, but again with good weather. Make sure the forecast is good for the morning--the stretch past Middle Island Passage can be a washing machine, even when other areas are relatively calm. If need be, backtrack across to the main shore and follow it--it still may not be great, but will be relatively better.
- Also would also end the trip at Chippewa. And would add Wood Lake in one direction or the other--probably the nicest canoe only campground. The only reason I'd do the trek from Richie to McCargoe is if I were going up the NE side--Livermore and LeSage are just a couple of small lakes to pass through (although nice little lakes :) ). The portage from C.H. to Richie is the only one I haven't done, but have heard it's one of the hardest.
- There have been places to rent kayaks from in Grand Marais, but can't personally vouch. I can recommend Bear Track Outfitters in Grand Marais for canoes, particularly if you want kevlar. The Voyageur II also rents canoes, aluminum Grumman I believe, which is the most convenient (but I think you still pay to transport them).
- Recommend a VHF (although I've gone without). If nothing else the weather bands are usually more reliable than a weather radio.
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Bobcat1
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Re: Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by Bobcat1 »

One more idea that will really help as you plan. Get a copy of “Isle Royale: Foot Trails and Water Routes” by Jim DuFresne. It’s a guidebook that will really help your planning. While you’re ordering that, get the hiker’s map too, as it will let you see the topography of the portages as you plan.
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backwoods doc
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Re: Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by backwoods doc »

Bobcat1 and Ingo are far more knowledgeable than I am about all things Isle Royale, but I'll put in my two cents after having made two canoe trips on the inland lakes.

I would consider doing the following:

1. Don't try to combine a Lake Superior paddling trip that requires sea kayaks for safety with an inland lake trip.

2. If you opt for an inland lake trip, you can keep your ferry trips shorter (no lost days circumnavigating the island), and avoid the hustle and bustle of Rock Harbor with the following itinerary:

Ferry from Grand Portage to McCargoe, then make your way to West Chickenbone, Lake Richie Canoe, Chippewa, Whittlesey, Wood Lake, Siskiwit, and out at Malone Bay. Ferry from Malone Bay to Grand Portage.

That itinerary will give you two longer portages of 1.2 miles each (McCargoe to Chickenbone and Ritchie to Chippewa), plus a bunch of shorter ones. If you want to be more challenged, you could also add on a side trip to Moskey by doing the 1.9 mile portage back and forth from Richie (or just hike out and back without your canoes). If you spend a couple of nights at a campsite, you can also hike in that area.

I would strongly advise against renting one of the old aluminum canoes at the Grand Portage ferry dock. They weigh about 85 lbs, and are no fun to portage. Much better to have Bear Track fix you up with a 42 lbs Kevlar canoe.

Campsites along the route: Wood Lake is our favorite (high on a bluff/lots of wildlife). We haven't been to Lake Richie Canoe, but have heard great reports (plan to get there in 2021). Malone Bay is very pleasant also. Whittlesey is our least favorite (high weeds throughout). If you happen to get to Intermediate, there's a pretty little site tucked back in the woods.

RE: Siskiwit, yes, it can get windy. Those winds are often out of the SW, and can double your paddle time from Wood or Intermediate down to Malone Bay, as well as produce white caps. The lake is generally more still in the early morning. Some paddlers will plan an extra day at the end of the trip, in case Siskiwit is rough. So you could hole up at Wood Lake for an extra day if it's too windy, or get to Malone a day early if Siskiwit is calm (and have a day to paddle or hike from there - perhaps even paddle out to the nearby islands if Superior is calm).

Also, be aware that the the ferry to and from Grand Portage doesn't run every day, so plan accordingly. https://www.isleroyaleboats.com/
TopCarrot
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Re: Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by TopCarrot »

backwoods doc wrote: Sat Oct 31, 2020 7:47 am Ferry from Grand Portage to McCargoe, then make your way to West Chickenbone, Lake Richie Canoe, Chippewa, Whittlesey, Wood Lake, Siskiwit, and out at Malone Bay. Ferry from Malone Bay to Grand Portage.
I love this canoe advice and Great sites . If there are still any restrictions Rock harbor will hardly be bustling.

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Midwest Ed
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Re: Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by Midwest Ed »

All great advice…

After backpacking most of the Island I returned after a few years with a borrowed 1st time canoe and drafted a friend tp help paddle. We did almost the same route you are thinking about, starting in Rock Harbor but ending at Chippewa Harbor. It was my greatest Isle Royale trip. BTW, it was exactly 42 years ago this month and so close to your birth. :D

I saw you used the word “camp” in just 2 instances of your itinerary and no total duration mentioned. I like the way you plan the journey based on the going and getting there as opposed to the much more conventional method of defining the days by referencing the evening campground.

A great, quick and easy next step for you is to download a copy of the Park’s 2020 Newsletter “The Greenstone” for much information on regulations and even a portage table with descriptions and much more.

In regard to the Rock Harbor Channel from Snug Harbor (Rock Harbor Lodge) to Moskey Basin, as long as you pay attention to the weather it’s not dangerous but in a stiff blow from the southwest it can be a struggle. The 2nd main antagonist can be running the gaps through 2 or 3 main spots along the many islands on the outer channel barrier. As mentioned earlier there can be substantial washtub seas in and near the gaps. Even the shoreline close to the mainland can be affected so it can become a trade off to stay far enough from the mainland to avoid the backwash but close enough to allow for what should be a fairly easy emergency self rescue to the mainland shore. In and around the outward islands can be present a whole different level of danger in rough seas. While there are a very few places on the southern shore that can make ditching difficult it is nowhere near as dangerous as many parts of the north shore.

The portage from Moskey Basin to Lake Ritche is long at 2 miles but there’s not much up and down (120 feet) and most of the trail is clear and wide.

As noted by others, the Voyageur II offers a good deal of flexibility in their several drop-off and pick-up opportunities. Take note that these intermediate stops are only guaranteed when scheduled. Check with the Voyageur scheduling people but I’m pretty sure you could change your drop-off point based on weather forecasts for the following day. If indeed the expectations are for sustained headwinds in the Rock Harbor Channel you might be able to opt for a McCargoe Cove entry or maybe stay over one night at Rock Harbor for a next day entry at Daisy Farm or Chippewa Harbor or Malone Bay. But being able to get back on the Voyageur at Rock Harbor the following morning would be a last minute gamble since their departure might be booked up. You could find this out though the day before.

There are several very nice campgrounds that are only accessible by paddling. Wood Lake and Lake Ritchie (canoe site) are 2 that come to mind.

Since you seem to have quite a degree of flexibility, and you probably have experienced Black Flies by all means I would try to avoid that time of Spring. The danger is always overrated but it they swarm you, especially if no head-net,...well, I'd rather be anywhere else.
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johnhens
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Re: Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by johnhens »

Lots of good info here. A little more info about your kayaks, ie length, bulheads, dry storage, rudder?
Stone Harbor Outfitter in Grand Marais might rent kayaks. check with them https://www.stoneharborws.com/
Eagles have nested on Wright Island in the past, if that is the case the Park does not allow visitors on there. We were there in September, always cool to see the historic sites. I just finished a book about David Mech's time as a wolf and moose researcher, his first summer, Wright was his base of operation for the summer.
The VII does rent canoes (think this is mentioned ). Check with Capt. Don for specifics. If you choose to paddle kayaks, I have portaged our kayaks using a portage yoke from a canoe. I would lash it around the cockpit lip using a hold own strap. I taped a piece of foam on each side where it would rest on my shoulder. I should mention the kayaks are 16.5' and 17' weight about 65#.

We did CH-W-WD-Siskiwit-Malone. The portages not too bad, up and over. We went through Whittlesey, would like to get back there and spend a day or 2 there. Ingo can tell you about doing the Tobin-Duncan portage, did it once, hope to avoid it. I have hiked the portage into Ritchie from Moskey, long but not too difficult. The portage from Intermediate to Siskiwit not too bad.

As others have mnetioned don't underestimate Rock Harbor as far as rough conditions, 4+' waves are not uncommon with a SW or NE wind.
A VHF is recomended, at the very least you can get weather reports and adjust your trip as the weather changes.
zebano
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Re: Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by zebano »

Oh wow, tons of great information, thank you all. On our planning call last week, we basically spent the whole time debating kayak versus canoes and decided we were going to attempt to portage our kayaks locally and see how viable it is. We thought perhaps a soft sided pack like a Duluth pack would allow us to unload them for the longer portages and carry them a little more easily. I personally have a 13' Heritage Osprey but I'm not sure what everyone else has.

The Wood Lake and Richie campgrounds will be added to the list.

What is everyone's best estimate of when black fly season ends? Our current plan was to move the trip up to early June (the 12th) but we could push back into July if need be. I'll bring this all up to the group this weekend and have a revised itinerary after that.
Bobcat1
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Re: Please help a novice plan his trip

Post by Bobcat1 »

A Heritage Osprey is a sit-on-top kayak, right?
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