Thanks to everyone on the forum providing lots of help and wisdom in our planning. Much of what we did was because of the lessons we learned from everyone on here.
Planned and Actual Itinerary:
Saturday, Aug 27: Fly from Houghton to Rock Harbor, Hike to Daisy Farm
Sunday, Aug 28: Daisy Farm to McCargoe Cove
Monday, Aug 29: McCargoe Cove to Todd Harbor
Tuesday, Aug 30: Todd Harbor to Little Todd Harbor
Wednesday, Aug 31: Little Todd Harbor to North Desor
Thursday, Sept 1: North Desor to Windigo
Friday, Sept 2: Fly from Windigo to Houghton
Saturday, Aug 27:
Three friends and I got off work on Friday, and headed up north from Metro Detroit around 7 p.m. We made it to St. Ignace around 12:15 AM where we had hotel reservations off the main strip for about $85. We awoke early and grabbed our continental breakfast. People in the lobby were checking the weather for Mackinaw Island on a shared computer so we took the opportunity to check it one last time for Isle Royale. After they found out we were backpacking it later today, their heads filled with ideas of us riding moose into battle to fend off wolves during the nights. We left the hotel with our heads held high, brimming with confidence after being the talk of breakfast. We arrived in Houghton around 1, and got our fried food fix at taco bell before making our way to the airport. We had the address for Royale Air Services, we just didn’t know what to look for. We walked inside the terminal, saw the sign and discovered we were in the right place. After alerting the guard we were there, we raced back to the car to grab our gear and do a quick clothes change. Dave came out to greet us immediately, to see if we were ready to go. He never asked our names, for ID or anything, we just walked out and started loading up the plane. At 1:47, we were in the air and headed the island. The weather was beautiful that day, and could really see the coastline up and down the U.P. and on the way in to Isle Royale. As we neared the island, my stomach dropped a little bit after seeing how large it really was, and that we needed to make it across the whole thing over the next few days. We landed smoother on water than any other aircraft I’ve ever been on, and Dave took off his headset and said, “I never tried that before!” with a smile. It was the first time he tried gliding into the harbor with 4 people and gear just to see what would happen—and we dropped like a rock. We didn’t mind, our sense of adventure was at its highest. We landed at Rock Harbor around 2:30 and then checked in with the Ranger and bought fuel. Two of our packs started at 41 lbs and another two were 50-53lb—based on the scale. We were all looking forward to a big meal to start cutting our pack weights down. At 3:30, we took off from Rock Harbor towards Daisy Farm. The weather was great that afternoon, very sunny and warm. We got a great view of the coastline most of the way to Daisy. Around 4:39, we made it to 3-Mile and stopped for a snack on the dock. We continued on, and reached Daisy Farm at 6:30. This was the first time we had seen shelters—every other campground we had been to in the past was tents only (in other state/national parks), so this was a new experience for us. After our long day, we decided to use Shelter #10 to save us the trouble of packing tents in the morning. We unpacked our gear, and all hopped in the lake to clean off for the night. The water was cool, but not frigid. Daisy Farm was as advertised, almost like a car campground. There was no shortage of people around, with at least 3 boats docked. A ranger was doing a clinic at the dock on wolves that night. We didn’t drop in to watch, had to try our new gravity water filter. We fended off the fearless squirrels, cooked our heaviest meals and went to bed.
Sunday, Aug 28:
At 7:30, we woke up to our alarm to start our first full day on the island. The weather was cool in the morning, waking up all put on long sleeves during breakfast. We have a few slow movers in our group, and we didn’t hit the trail until 9:20. At 10:20, we reached the Greenstone Ridge and took a break. Anyone that still had their convertible pants on made them into shorts. We strolled into Chickenbone East and looked for a site to have lunch. I had read on the forum that this campsite was awful, but didn’t truly realize how bad it was. I haven’t seen Island Mine, but its had to imagine a more miserable site than East Chickenbone. There were only a few campsites, and none of them had any shade at midday. There were a few backpackers at the site, and we had no idea what was keeping them there in the middle of the day. Eventually, we found the path to get water, and hoped for a decent spot by the lake to have lunch. We didn’t need to fill up on water, just was looking for a shaded area for four of us to eat. The spot at the bottom was reasonable, but certainly not worth the trip down the hill. I’d recommend to anyone to skip East Chickenbone completely, and not even use it for a trail break. Find a clearing on the trail instead. We packed up at 1:30, and moved towards McCargoe Cove. The East Chickenbone trail was pretty bad too. It was in a marshy area that was really overgrown. We’d hike uphill, then downhill and then through a bog. Repeat several times. We pushed through it all and made it to McCargoe at 2:15. We grabbed Shelter #7 and immediately dove off the dock and swam. One of our group picked up a leech on his foot, but it was relatively uneventful in pulling the little guy off. The entire campsite was empty, with the exception of a sailboat in the harbor. McCargoe was an amazing campsite that was peaceful on the harbor.
The Great Chili Disaster at McCargoe:
We started cooking dinner around 6:15 at the table near the campfire ring. I had a two person gnocchi meal I cooked yesterday, and was receiving half of a Pack It Gourmet Chili meal tonight. I fired up my trusty Whisperlite, and boiled the 4 cups of water needed for the meal (and a side of green beans). I handed off a measured cup of boiling water to my friend, and he attempted to pour it into the provided freezer bag. During the pour, the bag folded and he ended up pouring the water directly on his skin. He looked at it for a few seconds, and another friend asked, “Are you ok?” He responded, “Yea, I’m good.” I told him to go down the harbor to cool it off and just remained there for a while longer. After a few seconds, he said, “No, I’m not ok…” and got up to head to the water. On his way to the dock, he turned around and told me to continue on cooking the chili and skip the beans—we yelled at him to get his hand in the water. He came back, with all the pain kicking in full force. Several pieces of skin were immediately burned off on his hand/wrist and more blisters were forming. After a bit, we broke out our first aid kit to find the antibiotic ointment, painkillers and whiskey. He ended up in a lot of pain that night. What made things worse is that when I was shaking the Chili bag after we got it full of water, it burst open to spill half the chili on the table. The food tasted amazing, but I’d repackage it in better freezer bags if I ever buy from Pack It Gourmet again.
Monday, Aug 29:
My burned friend and I woke and watched the sunrise over breakfast. The other two guys stumbled out of the shelter a little later and eventually got moving. We broke out the first aid kit, and tried cleaning and wrapping the burn as best as we could before hitting the trail at 9:45. The bugs were out a little that day, but only one of our group put on bug spray during the warm morning. We decided to check out the Minong Mines on the way, and it was worth the side trip. The map (and DeFuesne’s book) both said there was a secondary parallel exit, so we decided to use that as our goal to continue on. After checking out the mines, we continued on what seemed was the path on the way out. After a few minutes, we quickly realized we were not on a trail. Two of us decided to press on and bushwack our way to the trail, and the other two were hesitant. After a little prodding at their sense of adventure (and challenging their manhood), we stormed the ridge knowing that we would have to hit the Minong Trail sometime (Or miss it and eventually hit Lake Superior). Our bushwack was successful, and we ran into a few cairns at the peak of the ridge. We celebrated a bit and pressed on to Todd Harbor. We passed two pairs of backpackers along the way. One pair told us to check out Group Site #1, because it was located on the point at Todd Harbor. We got to Todd around 1:00, to find another empty campsite. After looking around, we decided to grab the shelter, knowing we’d be using our tents the next two nights. Group Site #1 was amazing, and would have been our first pick if we hadn’t grabbed the shelter. We felt a little cooler than previous days during the hike and didn’t immediately jump in the water. Instead we checked out the Haytown Mine up the trail, where one of our group members decided to jump down the cliffs to get wet. After that, we all went back to the camp and swam for a bit. A father and son later showed up in #4; they arrived after two long days of Windigo-N.Desor and N. Desor-Todd Harbor. A little bit later, two men showed up in campsite #2. We invited a few folks to the fire, but nobody joined. After a bit, we turned in for the night.
Tuesday, Aug 30:
We woke up at 6:45, and got a pretty good start on the day, breaking camp at 9:00. We arrived at the Hatchet Lake Junction at 9:30 and quickly made it to Little Todd at 12:10. There were two guys in camp, just packing up as we were arriving. We checked out the campsites and decided that #1 was the best for our four tents. One of our guys lost one of his campshoes, so he went on a solo hike back to look for it. The rest of us set up our tents and enjoyed lunch. It seemed we had a pretty easy day of hiking and we got to camp really early, so we all enjoyed the day. There was a lot of reading, swimming (coldest water yet), meditating, and shoreline watching going on. A few of us even explored the coastline by climbing up the large rocks for about a quarter mile in each direction. Climbing up and down the coastline was probably not the smartest thing we did on our trip, but we had fun exploring little coves, making comical cairns and laughing at ourselves realizing going down large rocks is harder than going up. Our friend did find his shoe and returned to set up his tent on the actual rocky coastline. Eventually two other backpackers showed up and took campsite #2. This was the first night that we were sleeping in our tents so it was a little different that the other nights. I recently picked up a Tarptent Contrail, and spent some time tinkering with it this day in order to get all the guidelines right making sure it was tight. We had a nice day at this beautiful campsite and ended it with a nice campfire.
Wednesday, Aug 31:
We woke up around 7 and didn’t hit the trail until 9:30. A few of us were sluggish get out of bed and tearing down tents took a little bit of extra time. This was the only day that everyone put on deet before leaving camp. I think part of the reason was that we were standing around waiting before leaving, so that made the bugs swarm us a bit. I don’t think they were out much more than other days. Also, the weather was cloudy and looked like rain.
We had read that this stretch of the Minong Ridge was the toughest and it lived up to its bill. There was lots of up and down on ridges—but also rewarding with great views of the island. We knew what we were in for on this leg of the trip, so we planned on breaking every 30 minutes. With our packs significantly lighter than when we started, we remained in pretty good spirits. We arrived at North Desor around 1:30 and we figured that was decent time because we were stopping a lot. Right as we arrived, it started getting a bit darker than it was on the trail. Two men were just packing up camp as we looked at the map of campsites. They both tried to warn us that the trip from Windigo to North Desor was very tough. They were heading towards Little Todd, and we tried to warn them that it was probably going to be worse than their previous day even though it was half the mileage. They didn’t really want to believe us. They left campsite #3 and we grabbed #1. Campsite #1 had enough room for four solo tents because there seemed to be a newly formed pad there with grass depressed. We set up camp, and it started to drizzle. We got to eat lunch under the cover of some trees, but it was pretty windy. In the afternoon, the rain slowed down so I grabbed the water filter bag to fill up. The inland lake was moderately cloudy water, and the filter made it look crystal clear. After I made it into Desor Lake, I realized the water was warmer than the air (by far our coldest day). We all swam a bit and cleaned off, which lifted our spirits a bit. It rained on and off during the afternoon, so we spent the day reading and napping. Around dinner time the rain let up, so we got to cook and eat together on makeshift stone/wood benches. Even though we didn’t have a fire, our spirits remained pretty high.
Thursday, Sept 1:
We awake at 7 for our final day of hiking. The weather was chilly, but certainly not cold. It was overcast in the morning, but there were signs of the sun trying to fight its way out. The hike from North Desor to Windigo wasn’t terrible, if it wasn’t for the length of the hike. There were several passes up and down the ridge, but not as bad as the previous day. Everyone was happy that our pack weights were significantly reduced and we mostly seemed light as a feather. We stopped for lunch on a ridge, at what seemed past the halfway point on our journey. Eventually, we make it to the first junction with the Huginnin Cove loop. Using the book/map/guides, there was talk of beaver dams being good landmarks—I think this just lowered our spirits because every pass looked like a beaver dam so it felt like we were getting nowhere. We anticipated that the last few miles would be quick because it was broken up into several small portions. But, we all had to admit we were probably a little too excited to reach camp and it started to drag on a bit. At 3:30, we made it to the Washington Creek campsite and took shelter #7. We were a little disappointed with the campsite after having many nice ones along the trip. We then made the trip to Windigo and found the store where we got our first chance for someone else to cook for us in a week. The only option they had left was cheese pizza, but it was worth it. We each paid for showers and one of us did laundry. Ranger Cindy Crosby (which is funny if you are a Detroit Hockey Fan) was doing a bat presentation at 8, and we all decided to go. When Ranger Cindy was recruiting people for the event, our burn victim got brought up in conversation and she offered to have the EMT show up to have a look at it. When we got there, EMT Steve was ready to go and said, “We couldn’t have done a better job taking care of the wound. You were textbook.” He cleaned and wrapped it up, and we all got a pat on the back. He also hooked him up with some lidocaine for the pain. Only the four people in our group were the ones at the presentation, but it was totally worth it. We had been entertaining ourselves all week, so it was nice to have interaction with another person. I highly recommend going if you have the chance. Also, the Ranger station at Windigo was much nicer than the one at Rock Harbor.
Friday, Sept 2:
We woke up around 6:30, hoping to get down to the dock early for our 9 am flight. We had heard that the pilot often looks for a clearing in time and takes off when he can, which can be early. The weather looked pretty clear from Windigo, but things were bad in Houghton. We got down the dock by 8, and got to talk to the Rangers about our chances at taking off. They were giving them the weather report, and the plane was “socked up” in Houghton (which I guess means fog).
We spent the morning sitting by the dock waiting for the plane. Every sound from the wind or a 4x4 sounded just like the plane coming in. Later in the morning, Ranger Cindy started her shift and she loaned us a deck of playing cards and bananagrams. We got to sit and play a few games of euchre and the tables by the dock. The Seahunter showed up around 11, and dayhikers rumbled by trying to hit the trails fast. Around 1:10, we decided to take a bathroom break and pause euchre for a bit. As soon as we did, we heard the seaplane coming in. We left Cindy a thank you note with her games and bolted for the dock. (We never ran faster) Three passengers unloaded the plane and Dave looked a little worried about us taking off. The guy that was on the 11 flight wandered down and we got to experience our first elitist backpacker on the island (After I tried to compliment his backpack, he made a comment that we couldn’t afford it.) We hopped on the plane and hoped he got stuck there for a few days. We took off around 1:25 and landed back in Houghton just before 2. From there, we loaded up our gear, and started the long drive back to metro Detroit.
Water Filter – We used the Platypus GravityWorks water filter, and couldn’t have been happier. All four of us used 3L Bladders during the hikes and needed more for cooking. It took a little while to learn how much you needed to backfill the bag to clean out the filter and mess with some air bubbles, but it still worked really well. I’d highly recommend buying one over a pump filter. The only time water seemed really dirty was at our campsite at North Desor.
First Aid Stuff – We had enough first aid equipment for our burn victim, but not a lot extra. Before our next trip, we’ll be taking a second look at the first aid gear and adding extras of gauze, wraps and antibiotic ointment while removed old unused things.
Pack weight – I got a new backpack this year, Osprey Exos 58, and absolutely loved it. It was completely maxed out its first day around 41 lbs, but once I got to less than 35 lbs it was great. My waist was sore after day 1, but it go better pretty soon. I’ll make sure my pack doesn’t go above that on any future trips. Another guy had a GoLite Quest 75L with a starting weight of 39lbs (under the max rating of 45lbs) and worked as advertised.
Stoves – We had four people in our group, and we brought two whisperlite stoves with us. This was the first time we all were using the same stoves/fuel as a group, so we didn’t know how much fuel to buy. We had way too much fuel (probably 20+ oz) when we were done with our week and we weren’t even doing a great job at conserving. One lesson learned was that one of our stoves failed because no maintenance was done on it in the off season.
Camp Shoes – We’ve all tried to lighten our loads significantly in the past years, and were split over camp shoes. Two of us brought crocs and were very happy with the extra weight. One guy brought ultralight running shoes and that was okay. Another guy used Zem brand barefoot shoes, and failed miserably because of the amount of rocks on the island. They would have worked fine in other locations though.
Water bottles – Two of us switched over completely to using all the platypus water bladders instead of bottles. This paired nicely with the gravity filter and could have connected directly to it if we wanted. The only worry with the softbottles is them breaking in your backpack—but we had no issues. It was great to roll up and empty bottle in your pack during the long hike.
Ecosystems – Wow. IR has an incredible number of ecosystems. Every trail we went on seemed completely different than the last one. One moment, its dense forest, next it’s almost desert southwest on the ridge. From there it seems like we’re in the Smoky Mountains until we reach a completely different rocky coastline. We were ready for the great views, but surprised by how much variance it had from end to end.
My name is Drew, and I was one of the group on the subject trip (the injured party during the great chilli accident). I just wanted to add my comments about my specific gear and meal plans
Drinks: I used the CamelBak Exlier and Nuun tablets for my 100oz pack bladder every day and loved it. I think the Nuun tablets tasted slightly better, but required so many more (1 tablet per 16oz versus 24oz of the camelbak) that I would simply buy the Camelbak ones again for slightly less weight.
The Starbucks Via were fantastic (i used the French Roast), as many have said on here before.
I wish i had brought a 16oz Platypus flex bottle like Dan to mix drink powders with in the evenings. Would be worth the extra .7oz
Breakfast: I split a Mountain House eggs/ham/peppers frozen breakfast with a split bag of instant potatoes and it was heaven. I think i added some dry milk too for some extra calories/fluff.
The rest of my breakfasts were oatmeal and some freeze dried berries. standard and simple. never disappoints.
Snacks: Cliff bars, gorp, Cliff Shot Blocks, and Gu. All great, and some random handfulls of SourPatchKids, Mike&Ikes, and Reese Pieces. I highly recommend the latter.
Lunch: Jiff individual 1.5oz packets of peanutbutter and Snyders hard sourdough pretzels (2), little jerky, with some fruit leather (really hearty, really good). The Wild Bear Salmon was actually quite good too.
Dinner: The aforementioned PackIT Gourmet chilli was great, but the bag was awful. Their freeze dried chicken reconstituted very quickly and well, but acts more shredded than chunky (but the weight savings was well worth it when buying the 16oz pack)
Most of my meals averaged about 4-5oz and my daily allotment of food was under 2lbs daily. This was included a good deal of candy (24oz total) and was doable through the large use of freeze dried and dehydrated food.
Tent: I ordered the 1-Man Alps Zehpyr 1 for a song off SteepAndCheap and was pleased. At 3.625 it's not heavy, but i certainly could shave off a pound or two going with another alternative. The tent is very spacious and I was comfortable changing and sitting up in it to read on the rainy day. I had to improvise a guy line on the back side of the tent with a baby pin, string, and rock to pull the rainfly off the mesh, but once I did had no more condensation issues by my feet.
Sleeping bag: I too ordered the Stoic Somnus 30 mummy bag off SAC and was EXTREMELY pleasred. Our evenings didnt get past the mid/low 40s, but I was cozy all the same; never too hot or cold. The center zip is nice if you wanted a little extra breathing room or on a muggy evening. at 28oz w/ stuff sack, its a dream.
Sleeping pad: Prolite Plus you all know the brand and pad. 24oz and works great. An approved material and insulation over my old prolite 4
Pillow: Exped Air Pillow was fantastic at 3oz. the double valve system made blowing up and deflating a breeze.
Pack: the GoLite Quest 75L pack was fantastic for me. I'm 5'11", 180lbs medium athletic frame and the M Quest fit me perfectly. No, it doesn't have the fancy mesh or airflow backing and is basically a main pack area, front pocket and top pocket, but I fit every item i cared in the pack on day 1 and under 40lbs (it was rated to 45). My hips were a little sore following day one, but after that was completely fine (i attribute that to not training with a pack on at all prior to the trip more than improper loading).
Shirts: I wore RailRiders Ecomesh and SS shirts and loved them. I think I will only wear the ecomesh LS one next year as it was nice to block the sun and not too warm. I ordered a Large at the company's advise, but maybe could have got away with a Med. Loved the shirt though, only got slightly funky on day 6 and dried extremely fast daily.
Camp Shoes: My ZEM Gear "Playa" shoes would have been amazing at 4.5oz for the pair..... if I wasn't walking on quarter sized rocks the whole time. They were an awful choice for camp shoes on Isle Royale, but may serve well, even great, somewhere more dirt or sandy.
REI Trekking Poles: REI came out with their own immatition of the "Flip Lock" by Black Diamond, but it was a poor substitute. My poles will slip 20-30mm a day and more under extreme loading. I assume this is due to about 50-60% less clamping surface area when compared to the flip lock.
(more to be added shortly)
Thanks so much to the folks on this forum, your lessons learned helped us tremendously and we hope someone can be aided by our experience
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re the trekking poles, I have the same pair (but say Komperdell--they make the REI ones) and they've been rock solid for me. You may need to tighten up the locks with the little screws--a little bit can make a big difference.
Thanks for the kinds words. We wanted to give back to the forum since we learned so much ourselves reading before our trip. The hand is doing well, thanks. Some of the skin below my thumb is still very pink, but otherwise I have no issues. Was mostly healed after 3 weeks, but man was that peeling gross. Doctor says most all of the scaring will fade away over time.Ingo wrote:Thanks for the nice detailed reports. i enjoyed! How's the hand doing Drew?
re the trekking poles, I have the same pair (but say Komperdell--they make the REI ones) and they've been rock solid for me. You may need to tighten up the locks with the little screws--a little bit can make a big difference.
Komperdell - yes, I remember reading that they were the OEM for those. I actually tightened the lockscrew on the trail but was still unhappy with them. I'm looking forward to using my new carbon fiber BDs next trip out.