Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 2011

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HexFletch
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Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 2011

Post by HexFletch » Mon Jun 06, 2011 1:18 pm

Planned Itinerary
Day 1 -10am Depart Houghton via seaplane, arrive Windigo approx 11am
Hike to South Lake Desor (11.6 miles)
Day 2 - Hike South Lake Desor to Hatchet Lake (8.1 miles)
Day 3 - Hike Hatchet Lake to Moskey Basin (13.2 miles)
Day 4 - Hike Moskey Basin to Three Mile (8.3 miles)
Day 5 - Hike Three Mile to Rock Harbor (2.7 miles)
Depart via Royal Air Service approx 11am (EST)
Arrive back in Houghton, MI approx 12pm (EST)

Actual Itinerary
Day 1 - 5:30pm Depart Houghton via seaplane, arrive Windigo approx 6:00pm
Hike to Island Mine (6.9 miles)
Day 2 - Hike Island Mine to Hatchet Lake (12.8 miles)
Day 3 - Hike Hatchet Lake to Moskey Basin (13.2 miles)
Day 4 - Hike Moskey Basin to Rock Harbor (11.0 miles)
Day 5 - Depart via Royal Air Service approx 2:15pm (EST)
Arrive back in Houghton, MI approx 3:15pm (EST)

As you can see from the above planned and actual itineraries, we had some slight deviations from the original plan. Flexibility is key when traveling to Isle Royale … and our flexibility was certainly tested. Our trip got off to a decidedly fateful start with major storms delaying our departure from Houghton. Lake Superior, being the surly lady she is, was already testing our flexibility and it seems she caught me in my short-sighted optimism. We spent a boring and unproductive day staring at a tv screen in the airport. The pilot for Royale Air Service came out with sporadic updates and warnings. Though I would never hold him or the airline accountable for weather delays, it should be said that more information could have been relayed. We (and one other passenger) spent the day making various plans to cover all circumstances, including revising our planned routes, returning home and rescheduling for later in the year, etc. In the end, the pilot came out a little after 5pm and announced that we had a window of weather to get over there so we scurried to the plane and winged our way over.

We thought that given the lost day of hiking we might revise our route from the planned Windigo to Rock Harbor to a loop out of either Windigo or Rock Harbor. The pilot informed us that on this day no landing at Rock Harbor was possible due to prevailing winds. Fine – we thought we might do the Feldtmann loop out of Windigo. The pilot promptly informed us that we couldn’t change our pickup from Rock Harbor. Looking back now I find this to be irritating given that they could so easily change our fellow traveler’s planned dropoff point (He was to be dropped at Rock Harbor but ended up at Windigo). I wonder where the flexibility is for the airline.

Still concerned about making the full trek from Windigo to Rock Harbor, given the lost hiking day, we discussed our options with the rangers. We asked whether the water taxi was running thinking that we might hike to Moskey Basin and get the taxi the rest of the way. The ranger informed us that the water taxi was not running yet. We discovered later, much to my chagrin, that in fact the water taxi did begin running two days later. She was correct that the water taxi wasn’t running at the moment we spoke to her but neglected to inform us that it would be running by the time we got to Moskey Basin. It was simply an error and not intentional but it would have helped us out. Later, I also wished at this moment she had informed us that there was a boat from Windigo to Rock Harbor that we could catch later in the week. We expressed an idea that we might do the Feldtmann loop but that we had to get to Rock Harbor to catch the seaplane. She didn’t offer the option of this boat and I honestly wasn’t aware of it. Again, I’m disappointed that the ranger wasn’t better able to offer helpful information. But ultimately, I should have been more prepared with that information for backup. I was simply too optimistic about my plans. I just include it here so that others can benefit from my mistakes (and I made a multitude of them). Do not expect the rangers to be able to give you all-encompassing information and be prepared with pointed and specific questions.

So, with the information we had, we felt our only option was to stick to our original plan of hiking Windigo to Rock Harbor. We were aware of the reported deadfall and were very concerned that the lost day of hiking could make things difficult. So we decided to push on that evening to at least get to Island Mine (thank goodness for the long days on Isle Royale). At around 6:15pm we left Windigo and hustled to Island Mine. The hike was difficult given our hurry and unfamiliarity with the trail. The deadfall began almost immediately after the climb to the Greenstone Ridge. There was A LOT OF DEADFALL. This would turn out to be the story of the majority of the Greenstone Ridge. We arrived into Island Mine just before 9pm. Island Mine, as campgrounds go, is forgettable so we were happy to be pushing on the next morning.

The next morning we began our first big push to Hatchet Lake. The terrain was incredibly difficult. My biggest mistake in planning was underestimating the deadfall. We encountered, literally, hundreds of difficult deadfall obstacles throughout the week. I vastly underestimated the time and energy these obstacles would sap from us. It was this morning that we were hit with the first and only rain of our trek (small miracles!). This would be our lowest moment. Unable to fully appreciate the beauty of the terrain, we slogged our way to Ishpeming Tower to wait out the rest of the storm where we attempted to dry ourselves and re-energize. The brief respite worked to lift our spirits and energy levels. We pushed on the Hatchet Lake and happily arrived by around 6pm. It should be noted that the descent to Hatchet Lake is a long and difficult one after a long day of hiking. To a weary hiker the half-mile feels like 5 miles.

Nonetheless, we were pleased to arrive in to Hatchet Lake to rest our legs. But, moreso, because we had run out of water. There are water sources between South Lake Desor and Hatchet Lake but they weren’t the best sources and we foolishly thought we could push on to the next water source. We did fill up at a pond at one point but wish we had made additional stops.

Hatchet Lake is a serene and beautiful campground steps from the lake. It was terrific having water so close by and the setting couldn’t have been more beautiful. There was a wind storm on this evening and a birch tree came down with an enormous thud not 50ft behind our tent. This naturally led to a distressingly wakeful night. We were careful to look for dead trees before putting down our tent but there was nowhere else to go so we just gutted it out and counted on good odds. Happily, we weren’t crushed by a tree in the night.

The next morning we began our trek to Moskey Basin. We stocked up on water and headed back up to the Greenstone Ridge trail. We spent the morning hiking along the ridge. By mid-afternoon we had made it to the meeting point of the Greenstone Ridge and Lake Ritchie trails. We felt that the hike would get much easier from this point on given the somewhat limited ascents/descents from this point forward. We were wrong. This was easily the most difficult part of our whole trek. The first mile of Lake Ritchie after the meeting with Greenstone Ridge is the most deadfall I have ever seen. There are portions where the obstacles are literally two steps apart and ten in a row. That one mile took us over an hour. Thankfully, this let up to a more average level of deadfall after that first mile. The rest of this day proved to relatively easy hiking, especially the last two miles in to Moskey Basin.

Moskey Basin was our favorite spot on the journey. We arrived in to camp around 5:30pm and already the shelters were all taken. But we got a great tent site with an excellent view of the lake. And again, we were steps from our beautiful water source. I loved Moskey Basin! The best part of our whole experience happened this evening. In the middle of the night we heard wolves howling. They were loud … and, I believe, very close. They would howl and then the loons would retort with their call. This went on for some time. It was an orchestra of nature. Incredible!

The next morning we decided to make our final push on to Rock Harbor. We had originally planned to stop at Three Mile on this day but with a 10am seaplane flight we decided that we’d be more comfortable getting to Rock Harbor. We were worried that weather or terrain might slow our morning commute so thought it best to push on. We were pleased this morning to hear the sound of chainsaws in the distance. Hoping for a bit less of the deadfall we pushed out of camp.

The trek from Moskey Basin to Daisy Farm had it’s difficult moments. Having tweaked my knee on day one, I was doing a bit of hobbling on the descents and the rocky outcroppings were a bit hard on the knee. It was during this section that we encountered two crews working to clear the deadfall. And it was from this point on that the deadfall began dwindling until the last section of trail where there was none. Rolling in to Daisy Farm for a rest at the picnic shelter was pure heaven. Eventually a few more hikers rolled in and it was nice to finally be able to share information with other hikers. We hadn’t seen many people until this point. We enjoyed lunch and a rest and then pushed on to Three Mile.

The hike from Daisy Farm to Three Mile was relatively easy … and beautiful. I do love the views when hiking close to the water. We made it to Three Mile fairly quickly, took another brief rest and then made the final push into Rock Harbor. This last section of trail went incredibly fast … I suspect that might have something to do with the end of our journey being is sight. We rolled in to Rock Harbor around 5:30pm and were lucky to get the last shelter (#3).

We went to the store and, like many weary hikers, bought a bunch of junk food and gobbled it down. Shortly thereafter, our fellow seaplane passenger from days earlier strolled in to camp and we offered him a spot in our shelter. He had similar stories of struggle with the terrain and deadfall. We merrily shared our war stories and a couple sips of whiskey in celebration (as well as a thoughtfully-shared Bud Light from the fellow one shelter over – thank you, sir).

The following day we hurriedly packed our bags in the morning and headed down to the seaplane dock. The plane did not come as scheduled and we began to hear rumblings that the boats may not come this day. We thought this might mean a no-go for the plane too. We began asking with the rangers, the store and the lodge. Nobody had any information and everybody told us to ask the other one. Finally, the lodge told us that the seaplane would be arriving for us at 2:00pm. Pleased to hear this we went back to the shelter to cook up some eats. Still, we continually walked between the rangers, store and lodge trying to get information just to be on the safe side. Around 11:30am we heard the seaplane and hastily packed up our things while one of our number ran down to the dock. The sound we heard was the seaplane taking off. This was unbelievably disheartening. A guy down at the dock told us that the pilot would be coming back at 12:30pm so we brought our bags down there and sat at the dock. We asked up at the lodge again and they reported that the pilot was displeased that we weren’t at the dock for the first flight and when we asked why they told us to be there at 2:00pm they had no explanation.

Around this time the Queen arrived from Copper Harbor but the Captain indicated that she would not be returning this day, or possibly even the next day due to incoming weather. Afraid to lose our shelter with incoming weather, we stationed one of our number up there and offered to share with a couple of other backpackers that we had met at Daisy Farm a day earlier.

The seaplane never arrived at 12:30pm and we began to believe we would be in Rock Harbor for another night. But we still held out hope that the original report of a plane at 2pm would hold true. So we stayed down at the dock. And, the seaplane did arrive to take us back at 2:15pm.

After arriving back in Houghton we asked the pilot why the dearth of information. He indicated that he doesn’t really talk to anyone up there save one guy (Kim, at the lodge). He never told us this on our inbound journey. And, when we did talk to this guy at the lodge the information was spotty (possibly because the pilot may not communicate everything to him – not sure). Either way, be forewarned that you may have to do some legwork to figure out what’s going on with your flight off the island.

In conclusion, we had fabulous moments, beautiful views … and some very trying times. I would urge those of you planning your journey to be more prepared. I really believed I was being thorough in my planning but in retrospect I see the errors I made in planning. I did many things right, thankfully, including building flexibility and extra days into our schedule. But, I wish I had taken the deadfall reports more seriously. I did take them seriously but I suppose I didn’t fully realize the quantity of obstacles and how it would slow our progress , and tax our bodies. If you take anything away from this – TREE FALL IS ABUNDANT AS OF LATE MAY-EARLY JUNE 2011. It will slow your journey so I would say you should plan your days shorter. If you feel great, you can push on. But don’t put yourself in the situation where you have to push further when you are already worn out. That just isn’t fun. Most of us hike to enjoy our surroundings so make sure you keep that possible. Overall, we were pleased that we completed the Windigo to Rock Harbor trek. We enjoyed some splendid scenery and met some terrific people. We take away some very positive experiences. But I wouldn’t want to do the trek over again. I think I would plan more conservatively next time.

Enjoy Isle Royale - it's a beautiful place. Happy trails!

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Tom
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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by Tom » Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:25 pm

YOU MADE IT BACK! CONGRATULATIONS! :D

The deadfall reports that keep coming in make me think I should delay any plans for a trip this season until, oh, August. I have flashbacks of hiking segments in years past that sound similar - A tree every ten feet - But fortunately those segments were short, and normally the trails clear.
I also vividly recall the first time I hiked down off the Greenstone and into Hatchet. I thought the same thing as you, and wanted to torture the evil park employee who thought it would be funny to make the sign be ".3 mile to Hatchet.." and you don't see the "Trail Intersection" part. Then, you FINALLY get down the hill, tired from the day, to find the "oh, if you want the CAMP, that's .2 mile to the left, silly."
Being from MN, I have the luxury of using the service out of Grand Portage. While I fully understand how difficult communications with an island can be, it always impresses me how much the boats DO communicate with park staff. It seems the rangers always know when the boats are coming in early; have to delay; etc, and relay that to the hikers in the area. It must be a Seaplane thing..
Hopefully, for your next trip (there is ALWAYS a next trip to IR!) things will go so much more smoothly!


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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by Midwest Ed » Mon Jun 06, 2011 10:15 pm

I was duly impressed, most of all by your tenacity to get the job done. Did you find any extra time to take any photos? I would love to see some dynamic shots of trails with intense deadfalls.
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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by Rafiki » Tue Jun 07, 2011 12:49 am

Glad everything worked out in the end. That is a real pain, with the Rangers not having a clue about the water taxi and with the lodge telling you that your plane was going to arrive at 2pm only to find out that he was their at 11:30am and took off without you. The pilot and the Royale Air schedule, even with weather considered, seems to be unorganized and sketchy. I understand weather will cause delays, but how about some sort of communication on the part of the pilot with someone on the island. You are after all almost paying twice as much for a plane ride to the island in comparison to a ferry ride, yet somehow how the ferry operators communicate delays to the rangers, but the pilot does not? Hilarious. I'd actually laugh in the pilots face if he expressed any aggravation about me not being on his plane at 11:30am. Your whole experience with the Royale Air Transportation sounds like it completely sucked. Do you plan to fly with them again? I know I wouldn't, and furthermore, I never will having heard your story. I don't have patience for dimwitted operations that leave me hanging and clueless. Anyways, enough of hearing about my frustration with your matter, I'm just glad you had a great time. I definitely would love to see some pictures of the havoc that came with the fall storms.
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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by HexFletch » Tue Jun 07, 2011 9:29 am

@Rafiki - I'm conflicted on the seaplane. I really felt that the situation was ridiculous. And it's so easily solved - simply having an intern answer phones and communicate with the island would've made the seaplane experience wonderful. The way it is managed at the moment ... I'm not sure I'd book it again. That said, you can't beat the experience and the time-savings. It is also interesting to note that throughout my time researching this trip and while on the island I had grown to understand that the boats are more reliable. And, indeed, I believe they are in most cases. But it was those of us on the seaplane that got off the island on that particular day whilst those on the boats remained stranded. Although, you could do worse than being stranded on Isle Royale - I don't think anyone was too upset about it. :D Either way, I think I'd enjoy the experience of taking the boat next time (probably out of Copper Harbor). We were somewhat limited on time this trip so decided to spring for the seaplane.

@Midwest Ed and Tom - Thanks for the comments. I wish I had taken more pictures. Early on I was taking a picture of every major deadfall. But as they piled up, and as I began tiring, the camera got put away. Still, I have a few shots of some horrifying :evil: deadfall. I will try to post them later this evening. And yeah, the descent to Hatchet Lake is exactly as you described. At least the camp itself is worth the work in getting there.

We fully intend to be back to Isle Royale. Overall it was a good trip. I just think we bit off a little more than we could chew, in addition to some logistical errors. I should mention that most of what we struggled with was due to being there early in the season, i.e. deadfall, boat schedules, information availability, etc. Hopefully I wasn't conveying that the trip was an absolute disaster because it wasn't. There were just some things I would've changed. It's a nice little accomplishment for us to have logged a good portion of the Greenstone Ridge. But the next time we will be happier to just amble about the island with smaller mileages (and packs!) and fewer contraints.

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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by HexFletch » Tue Jun 07, 2011 9:42 am

Here's one picture of the downfall that I have available at the moment. Will try to find more tonight.
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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by RDellar » Wed Jun 08, 2011 6:19 pm

So funny you say on tuesday you were at Hatchett lake and had a tree fall on your site. I was there May 31 also, Individual site #2 and had a three stand of Poplar trees fall 6 feet from my tent. Trees fell around 10 pm. Talk about a light nights sleep.
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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by RDellar » Wed Jun 08, 2011 6:40 pm

Indian Portage backbreakers......

I will also be posting my own trip report for the trip my wife and I took on May 30 to June 3, Rock Harbor to Windigo. I had a similar experience as HEX, I could almost copy hers and post it in reverse!!

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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by fonixmunkee » Wed Jun 15, 2011 8:31 pm

HexFletch, this is an amazing write-up! You did a great job...nice work!

There's two types of IR trips: the nice ones that are fairy tale, and the ass-kickers. Looks like you had the latter of the two. It builds character, and hopefully you won't be deterred from returning. I'm glad you got to enjoy your trip some, and I think you will find that in the long-run, you'll look at certain camping/backpacking situations in light of this trip and go "meh, that's not so bad."

Regarding the details of your trip, yes, the downfall is bad. It's all over other trip reports, so your input adds to the pile, which should give everyone a no-kidding idea of what it's like out there.

The hike down to Hatchet Lake is quite a tease, indeed. The hike OUT of Hatchet Lake is just plain suicide. Be thankful you went DOWN it. ;) I had heard from another person two weeks ago who stayed at Hatchet that the trees were crashing down around their tent as well. Scary times.

Thanks again for a great trip report, and I look forward to more photos!

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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by HexFletch » Sat Jul 09, 2011 11:43 am

Thought I'd add a few more photos of the deadfall. Wish I had taken more - I believe these are all from the section of the trail from Windigo to Island Mine. Stopped taking pictures of the deadfall after that point .
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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by HexFletch » Sat Jul 09, 2011 11:46 am

More deadfall pictures.
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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by HexFletch » Sat Jul 09, 2011 11:48 am

Some big, some small, some gnarly, some easy. All made the hike more interesting.
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Re: Trip Report - Windigo to Rock Harbor, May 30-June 3, 201

Post by HexFletch » Sat Jul 09, 2011 11:52 am

@RDellar - Holy crap!!! :shock: I would've been terrified if a tree came down that close to my tent. I would've probably spent the night in the outhouse at that point ... not that it would've been any safer in there. Glad you two made it safely through the night!

And that's a great photo of the indian Portage trail - it really was unbelievable in some sections.

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