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TR: 5/30-6/5, 2012 [Windigo to Rock Harbor to Windigo]

Posted: Tue Jun 12, 2012 4:09 pm
by placebo96799
ISLE ROYALE TRIP REPORT (May 30 to June 5, 2012)

I last backpacked on Isle Royale in 1995 and 1996. Then I was in my early 40s and was strong enough to lug a 60 pound pack across the island. Now I am in my upper 50s and wanted to try backpacking again. But, a 60 pound pack would take the fun out of it, and might not even be luggable, at this stage of my life. So I invested in some lightweight gear and got smarter about what is essential. I decided to make this Isle Royale trip a test run to see if my new gear (as well as me) was up to the task before I took on more ambitious trips. I was able to get my pack with 8 days of food and 2 quarts of water down to 35 pounds. My original plan was to hike the Minong Trail from Windigo to Rock Harbor and the Greenstone Ridge Trail back. I gave myself 8 days to complete the trip. Unfortunately a fire closed a section of the Minong and I had to modify my route. (Note: all my times are the Central Time zone.)

Wednesday, May 30th
I arrived at Grand Portage at 6:15 to catch the Voyager II. There were only 11 passengers and we departed at 7:15. We arrived at Windigo at 9:15. Everyone disembarked to hear an orientation by one of the park rangers and then we all registered at the office. An ominous sign was that while we were on the dock for the orientation I could not stop shivering. It was sunny and in the 50s, but I could not stop shaking because I was so cold. I was wearing adequate clothing, but I didn’t warm up until I started hiking. I believe that 7 of our original 11 got back on the Voyager II for McCargo Cove and Rock Harbor destinations. By the time I registered, organized my pack, filled my water bottles, used the restroom and got a snack at the store it was 10:20 before I hit the trail. It was a surprise that the store was open. I had read online that it wouldn’t open until about June 7th. Because the Minong was partially closed my revised plan was to take the Greenstone to South Desor and camp for the night. At about 2:30 I got to the South Desor trail spur, but because I felt good I decided to go on to Hatchet Lake. I got to Hatchet Lake by 5:30 and made camp. Only one other campsite was being used. After dinner I tried unsuccessfully to send a message out on my Delorme inReach satellite communicator. I believe the tree cover was too thick to get an adequate signal. The mileage for the day was 19.1 according to the Trails Illustrated Isle Royale map. I only saw 6 people on the trail and they were all early in the day, and all were headed to Windigo. There were several downed trees blocking the trail, but all were easy to go over or around. Surprisingly there were zero bugs.

Thursday, May 31st
I could not get warm over night. I wore 2 layers on inside my sleeping bag, but was cold all night. I’m guessing that the overnight temp was in the low 40s. I got up at 6:00 and was on the trail by 6:30. It took a few minutes to cover the 0.5 miles up to the Greenstone. I stopped then to have my breakfast and to send a message to my family on the inReach. I had no trouble getting a signal up on the ridge. My plan for the day was to work my way towards Rock Harbor and stop when I was tired. I took the Greenstone to the Indian Portage Trail and headed for Lake Richie. On one of the boardwalks my right foot slipped off as a loose plank shifted on me. I was lucky that I caught myself before I fell completely in the muck. I was relieved to only have one drenched, muddy shoe. I got to Lake Richie before noon. While I stopped to filter water I saw 3 otters playing in the lake. I felt strong and moved on. I got to Daisy Farm by 2:00 and decided to stop for the day. There were just a handful of people at Daisy Farm and I had several shelters to choose from. 16.9 miles for the day. I did not see anyone all day on the trail. There were just a few downed trees and still zero bugs.

Friday, June 1st
Last night may have been the coldest I’ve ever been. I woke up shivering violently several times over night. I have a 30 degree bag and a silk liner. I wore most of my clothes- socks, long pants, rain pants, 3 shirt layers and my rain jacket- and I still froze. I later learned that there was a light frost that night. I got up a little after 6:00. I was tired, but happy to get moving so that I could warm up. While I was filtering water near the dock I noticed a moose about 300 feet away standing in the lake getting a drink. I left Daisy Farm on the Rock Harbor Trail at a brisk pace to warm up. Within a half hour I stopped at a sunny spot to have breakfast and tend to a small blister. It was the first time I wasn’t freezing in several hours. There were many muddy stretches on the trail. I arrived at Rock Harbor at 9:50. There weren’t many campers so I had a large selection of shelters to choose from. But, before I unpacked I decided to rent a cabin for the night. I needed to get a decent night’s sleep where I didn’t freeze. At $215 it was expensive, but at the time seemed worth every penny. The first thing I did was take a long, hot shower and then I went to the store and got a couple of sodas to satisfy my caffeine needs. Early that afternoon I did the hike to Scoville Point. It’s a beautiful walk and the weather was perfect. I had lunch at the point. I loafed the rest of the day. AND I took 2 more hot showers. 12.4 miles for the day (8.2 Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor, and 4.2 for the Scoville Point loop). Still no bugs!

Saturday, June 2nd
I woke up well rested and was on the trail by 5:30. My plan was to head for McCargo Cove. I took the Tobin Harbor Trail to the Mount Franklin Trail to the Greenstone Ridge Trail. Near Mount Franklin I stopped for breakfast. A light rain started while I was on the Greenstone. It drizzled off and on for about 4 hours. I took the East Chickenbone Trail (is that the trail’s name?) to McCargo Cove. It was deserted but for a couple waiting for the Voyager II to pick them up. I could have taken a shelter there, but it was well before noon and I felt good so I decided to go to Todd Harbor for the night. With the rain I wanted to stay in a shelter, and I figured that as deserted as the park was I would have a very good chance to get the lone shelter at Todd Harbor. I took the Minong Trail and got to Todd Harbor at 2:00, and of course the shelter was occupied. The good news was that the rain had stopped and the skies were clearing. I set up my tent and did my chores and settled in for the night. I enjoyed camping along Lake Superior. It is one of life’s simple pleasures to fall asleep to the lapping of the waves. 22.0 miles for the day. I saw a group of 5 hikers near East Chickenbone on the trail. No mosquitoes, but I did have a few flies buzzing me during the day. Also, I saw a moose along the Minong.

Sunday, June 3rd
Overnight several light rain storms woke me. But, I stayed warm all night in my sleeping bag wearing only shorts. I was up at 5:00 and on the trail by 5:20. I took the Minong Trail to the Hatchet Lake Trail. At the junction there was a small sign stating that the Minong west of this point was closed due to a fire. Within the first half mile on the Hatchet Lake Trail I saw a moose. Next I took the Greenstone all the way to Windigo. It was rather uneventful and I arrived at 1:40. Washington Creek was deserted and I had my choice of shelters. I unpacked and walked to Windigo. I got tokens for the shower and to do laundry and did both that afternoon. I went to bed early that night. Once it got dark there were LOUD insect/amphibian sounds from the creek all night. The noise didn’t let up until it got light. The first hour or so it was deafening, but then I got used to it and actually enjoyed it. 22.4 miles for the day. I only saw 2 people on the trail- near South Desor. There were just a few bugs at Washington Creek.

Monday, June 4th
I slept until 7:00, and again I stayed warm all night. I didn’t even use the silk sleeping bag liner. Before breakfast I took a 6 mile out-and-back hike on the Feldtmann Lake Trail. I saw an eagle during this hike. Shortly after breakfast the Voyager II arrived from Grand Portage. I arranged with the captain to leave Tuesday instead of Thursday for Grand Portage. Next I walked the 9 mile Huginnin Cove loop. Huginnin Cove is a beautiful spot north of Windigo. It was a fun hike, especially the half mile or so rocky stretch along Lake Superior. The rest of the afternoon I spent viewing all the exhibits in the visitor center and reading a short book on wolves that I purchased there. For dinner I ordered a pizza from the store and sat on the patio and enjoyed my meal. After dinner I did the 1 mile nature walk behind the visitor enter and then I called it a day. 16 miles for the day. I did not see anyone on the trails. Not enough bugs to mention.

Tuesday, June 5th
I heard what was probably a moose walking the creek around 4:30. The same pattern occurred with the LOUD insect/amphibian noises all night. I got up at 6:00, and again I stayed warm all night. The Voyager II wasn’t leaving until noon so I had time for one last hike. I enjoyed the Huginnin Cove loop the day before so I decided to do it again- this time clockwise. I had gone counter-clockwise on Monday. I was back to my shelter at 9:05. I packed up all my gear and headed to Windigo for a shower and breakfast. The Voyager II arrived on time and I left Isle Royale. 9 miles for the day. Once again I did not see anyone on the trail. Only a couple of pesky flies at the shelter.

Observations and Lessons Learned
I had a great trip. The weather was near perfect. Prior to the trip I was sure that due to the mild winter bugs were going to be a problem, but they were almost non-existent. Overall the trails were in great shape. There were more trees down on the west end of the island than on the east, but few posed much of an obstacle. As for the boardwalks, only a handful of the hundreds of planks that I walked need to be repaired. The trail crews are to be complimented for their efforts. Also, the rangers at the visitor center were outgoing and enthusiastic. And I met several engaging fellow hikers.

I started with almost 14 pounds of food. I planned on eating about 2500 calories per day. However, I didn’t have much of an appetite and averaged about 1800 calories per day. I never felt weak. In fact, I believe I got stronger as the trip progressed. My typical breakfast was a bagel with lots of peanut butter or honey. During the day I’d snack on 3 protein bars and a couple of mini-Snickers. Only three nights did I bother to make dinner. Two were mashed potatoes with sausage and the other noodles with sausage. The other nights I just had some crackers and peanut M&Ms.

I was very pleased with my new equipment. I’ll just comment on a few of the items. I used a Sawyer filter for my water needs. It weighs about 4 ounces and has threads that fit on a standard plastic soda bottle. I took three 24 ounce soda bottles. One I marked for collecting unfiltered water. I’d dip it to fill it, screw on the filter, turn it over, squeeze the bottle, fill one of my “clean” bottles and repeat. I could get 2 bottles of filtered water in less than 3 minutes. Much quicker and easier than my old pump-style PUR filter. I used a JetBoil as my stove. It worked flawlessly. I could boil 2 cups of water in 2 minutes. Set-up and clean-up were fast and easy. I used a Squall 2 tent from TarpTent. It’s quick to put up and roomy. The only issue is because it is a single wall tent condensation can be a problem. But, that’s a minor quibble. My family worries when I take solo trips, so to ease their concerns I bought a Delorme inReach satellite communicator. It cost $200 from REI which I thought was reasonable. But, Delorme gets you on the monthly data package. Anyway, it worked as long as I made sure that the tree cover wasn’t too dense so that I could get a decent signal. There is a free smart phone app that allowed my iPhone to control the inReach via bluetooth. I could type messages up to 160 characters on the iPhone and then send them via the inReach to family and friends. Additionally, they could respond and usually the next time I’d use the inReach their messages would be waiting for me. I need to experiment some with it. People would get my messages, but they would be truncated. They would not get all 160 characters if the message was that long. The last item I’ll comment on is the pair of Crocs I used for camp shoes. It was worth every one of their 12 ounces to be able to get out of stinky, muddy, damp hiking shoes at the end of each day’s hike.

Because I left Isle Royale two days earlier than planned I had time to explore the Lake Superior coast from Grand Portage to Duluth where I caught my plane home. The drive is incredible, and the 6 state parks along the way make it even more so. There are numerous streams with rapids and waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and a lighthouse perched on a rocky cliff and trails to explore. Highly recommended!

Re: Windigo to Rock Harbor to Windigo (May 30 - June 5, 2012

Posted: Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:51 pm
by hooky
Glad we got to meet you at Daisy. There are pics of those moose in my trip report. If you remember Paul's last name, please send me a private message. Ben and I would like to track him down and send him a few of our pics.

Re: Windigo to Rock Harbor to Windigo (May 30 - June 5, 2012

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 5:33 am
by johnhens
Did you enjoy the trip more given your decreased pack weight?
What Pack did you use?
Do you wear a cap of some sort when you sleep, may help as far as staying warm.
22 miles, good for you!!!
Glad you got a chance to enjoy the North Shore, beautiful ride.

Re: Windigo to Rock Harbor to Windigo (May 30 - June 5, 2012

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 10:39 am
by placebo96799
Hi Johnhens ............ the lighter pack made the hiking much easier, and more enjoyable. I use a GoLite Pinnacle. 35 pounds seems to pushing the maximum that pack can carry comfortably. The nights that I was cold I wore the hood of my Marmot jacket, as well as tucking my head in the upper pocket of the sleeping bag. If I would of thought of it I would have worn my headnet too.

I almost used my extra 2 days to hike the Feldtmann loop south of Windigo. But, I had a friend whose work took him to Duluth and he spoke so highly of the north shore I had to check it out. I couldn't lose either way.

Re: TR: 5/30-6/5, 2012 [Windigo to Rock Harbor to Windigo]

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:57 pm
by Vandy
You indicated your appetite wasn't what you expected it to be. I wonder if the fact your body didn't have enough fuel to burn led to you being cold on the chillier nights.

Re: TR: 5/30-6/5, 2012 [Windigo to Rock Harbor to Windigo]

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2012 2:30 pm
by Wilderness Junkie
Great report! Wow! 22 miles and 17 miles the following day. That's impressive! Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for the report!