TR: 7/16/17 to 7/22/17 - Windigo to RH

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TR: 7/16/17 to 7/22/17 - Windigo to RH

Post by ZenDad » Wed Sep 20, 2017 9:03 am

This was our second visit to IR for me and my teenage sons. Our first visit was in 2015. We drove from metro Detroit to Houghton and stayed at McLain State Park the evening before our scheduled seaplane departure. Watching the sun setting over Lake Superior from McLain State Park was a great way to start our transition away from smartphones and our busy suburban lives into the magical world that is found on IR.

7/16/17 – Houghton to Windigo and Windigo to S. Desor

We took the seaplane from Houghton to Windigo. Tomas was our pilot over to the island and he provided a smooth and enjoyable flight from Houghton. We arrived at Windigo a little before 9:00 a.m. and after a brief presentation from the ranger, we bought our isobutane fuel from the store, filled our water bottles and Camelbaks at the fresh water spigot and headed up the Greenstone Ridge Trail. The island had seen a lot of rain the week before, so much (most?) of the trial was plagued with huge muddy sections. Our trekking poles were put to great use as we navigated the muddy trail. We arrived at the Island Mine trail turnoff and we were still feeling strong, so we made our way to the S. Desor campground. We arrived at the campground and found only one other campsite in use. We selected a campsite that had good access to Lake Desor. We enjoyed an afternoon in the sun out on a big rock that sat about 5 feet out into the lake. One of my sons fished off the rock, but never even had a nibble. There were a lot of mosquitoes in the area, but applying bug spray kept them at bay. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over Lake Desor.

7/17/17 – S. Desor to Todd Harbor

We awoke a little sore from our 12+ mile trek from Windigo, but ready to take on the next leg of the trip. The trail dried out some, but there were still some muddy patches to navigate. On the section between S. Desor and the turn off to Hatchet Lake/Todd Harbor, I came up over a rise in the trail and a female moose was standing directly on the trail just staring at me. As I was quickly figuring out whether to get behind a tree or take a picture – and seeing if the moose’s ears pointed backward (they weren’t) as the ranger had told us was a sign of danger – she started a slow trot off the trail and into the woods before I could do either. I would describe the experience of seeing a moose up close like that as a bit frightening, but more majestic than anything. I was surprised at how large she was and could almost feel the ground move as she trotted off the trail and into the woods. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The most beautiful section of this trail was a mile or so past the Hatchet Lake Campground turn off. We were surrounded by aspen trees with a forest floor of fern. It was as magical of a place as I’ve ever experienced—perfectly quiet with white tree trunks, green everywhere with an ever so slight view through the canopy of tree leaves of the vast blue sky. We arrived at Todd Harbor and it was the only campground that was full during our week on the island. We snagged one of the last tent sites and within an hour, a kayaker arrived and asked if he could use the other tent pad in our site, which we were happy to share. He had a weather radio with him, so we were able to get a weather update and he shared his kayaking experience with us – I think I want to try that way to see IR someday.

7/18/17 – Todd Harbor to McCargoe Cove

When we woke up, we definitely were feeling the effects of the 12+ miles from the day before. Like others have said, a seven to eight mile day on IR is like a 12-15 mile day anywhere else, so the 25 miles of trekking over the past two days had worn us down. We were glad to have a relatively short hike between Todd Harbor and McCargoe Cove. We arrived at McCargoe just after noon and were able to snag a shelter. We spent the afternoon napping and fishing off the dock (no bites, but relaxing nonetheless). We had intended to hike back up to the Minong Mine, but in the end a quiet afternoon of napping won out. That evening, we fished off the dock and visited with the other hikers. The cove was like glass in the early evening with a nearly perfect mirror reflection of the surrounding trees. There was one sailboat that was in the cove, but it was anchored out in the cove and didn’t come to the dock. Otherwise, there were no boats that night. The same group who had the communal fire the night before at Todd Harbor had a fire that night, but like they had the night before, wrapped things up before the 10:00 quiet hour. McCargoe was one of my favorite campsites. We did have a good laugh that evening with some of the other hikers who had read on this forum that it was a good place to potentially see moose (we didn’t see any) and we were joking that maybe people posted the McCargoe moose sightings just to get people’s hopes up, ultimately to be dashed. In any event, it was a beautiful calm evening.

7/19/17 – McCargoe Cove to Daisy Farm

Our other visit in 2015 to IR was mainly on the RH/East side of the Island, so we were excited to be returning to a familiar campsite at Daisy Farm. The hike up and over the Greenstone was warm, but we were happy to have much fewer muddy spots on the trail to navigate. The area around East Chickenbone was marshy and sort of a different topography than the other parts of the island. We enjoyed the variety of landscape. When we passed the East Chickenbone campground, I could understand why it is not one of the more popular campgrounds because of the elevation difference to get down to the lake for water. Up on the Greenstone, we met some boaters who had come in from Daisy Farm for a day hike. They asked a lot of questions about our backpack experience up to this point. When we made it down to Daisy Farm, we were able to grab one of the many available shelters. We enjoyed an ice cold plunge into Lake Superior off the dock. It was shocking how cold the water was, but it felt great! That evening we enjoyed a presentation from Candy Peterson (Rolf Peterson also came over from their cabin across the bay) about the Moose/Wolf study. They brought some bones, skulls, and moose antler sheds with them for people to check out. The interactive presentation lasted about an hour and the time flew! This was also a highlight of the trip.

7/20/17 – Daisy Farm to Lane Cove

This was my favorite segment of the week. The climb up to the Greenstone out of Daisy Farm toward the Ojibway Tower reminded me of parts of the mountains in the Western U.S. where I grew up. The climb up the stairs of the Ojibway tower is always thrilling (and a bit terrifying for those of us who have a fear of heights). It was a perfectly clear day, so we could easily see over to Thunder Bay, Canada and could see down to Rock Harbor. It really gave the perspective of being on an island in the middle of a massive lake. The hike along the Greenstone over to Mt. Franklin was warm and I felt like I drank most of the water in my Camelbak during this segment alone. One of my favorite places to have lunch is on Mt. Franklin. The views are spectacular and the cool breeze coming up from Lake Superior was like sitting in front of an air conditioner. We then made what feels like a 90 degree descent from the Greenstone toward Lane Cove. Despite the steepness of the first ½ mile of this hike, this trail (from Mt. Franklin down to Lane Cove) is my favorite area of the Island. The beautiful lush green old growth forests feel like some of the hiking I’ve done in Olympic National Park in Washington State. We arrived in the early afternoon at Lane Cove and had our pick of campgrounds. We enjoyed another cool dip in Lake Superior and spent the afternoon and evening relaxing and playing cards. That night, we were able to see the Milky Way very clearly. We had hoped to get to see the Aurora Borealis at some point on our trip, but it wasn’t meant to be this time.

7/21/17 – Lane Cove to Rock Harbor

My boys went ahead while I enjoyed a slow pace through the thick boreal forest that lined the way back up to the Greenstone. I met up with my boys at the top of the Greenstone and we headed down to Rock Harbor, via the Tobin Harbor Trail. We arrived in RH just after noon. We secured a shelter and we enjoyed passing hikers on our way in to RH who had just arrived on the island and looked fresh and full of energy and excitement for the adventure that was ahead of them. As we walked into RH, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment for having started at Windigo and finished at RH, while traversing the Greenstone several times in our zig-zag pattern of exploring the island. We were happy to fork over the $6 for each of us to have a hot shower. We then headed over the Greenstone Grille where we enjoyed Burgers, Fries, and I also enjoyed a cold beer. With some time available in the afternoon, we rented a canoe for a few hours and explored Tobin Harbor. They keep canoes on the Tobin Harbor side, so it made for an easy launch into the harbor. We canoed up to the west end of the harbor and were thrilled to have a couple of loons come floating by us within 10 feet or so of the canoe. They seemed pretty comfortable around people—which wasn’t the case with the other loons we saw on the island (and we were mindful about keeping our distance per the instructions from the ranger). After canoeing for about three hours, a light rain started falling, so we headed back to our shelter for a bit. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the Lighthouse Restaurant and stuck around the area for a ranger talk that night in the indoor auditorium. The discussion was about what winter is like on IR. We were again fascinated with the discussion and it was interesting to see what happens here during the months that IR is closed to the public.

7/22/17 – RH to Houghton

Jon Rector met us with the seaplane at the dock for the first flight of the morning. We also had a passenger on the plane who was part of the facilities team for RH and it was interesting hearing his stories about living on the island every summer. He is one of the first to arrive every season to open the buildings and repair damage from the harsh winters and he is one of the last to leave the island. We enjoyed hearing about his unique way of life and I couldn’t help but be jealous as I was already feeling a bit melancholy about leaving IR and the prospect of re-entering my busy life at home. As we were driving back to metro Detroit later that morning, we were already talking about our next visit to IR.

Words can’t begin to describe the beauty of IR. I loved being able to bond with my sons who will soon be off to college—hoping that the memories made during this trip will help keep us centered and in touch with each other. I am already looking forward to the meticulous planning for our next trip to IR and we can look forward to once again starting a week of mindful connection with nature and with each other that begins with the very first step back on the island. For such a remote and distant location, Isle Royale somehow feels like home. I can't wait to get back.

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Re: TR: 7/16/17 to 7/22/17 - Windigo to RH

Post by paulbates » Wed Sep 20, 2017 5:34 pm

Great report, thanks! Took a trip with my young adult daughter this summer. It's great to have something in common to transition into their adult life!

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Re: TR: 7/16/17 to 7/22/17 - Windigo to RH

Post by Midwest Ed » Wed Sep 20, 2017 8:12 pm

Very nice trip and report. Thank you for taking the time to share. For the record, Lake Desor (and Hatchet Lake) are considered void of any game fish, although there have been anecdotal reports of some successes.
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Re: TR: 7/16/17 to 7/22/17 - Windigo to RH

Post by torpified » Thu Sep 21, 2017 6:00 am

Awesome report! I especially enjoyed the account of the moose encounter and the idyllic trail beyond. Thanks!

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Re: TR: 7/16/17 to 7/22/17 - Windigo to RH

Post by Grandpa » Thu Sep 21, 2017 10:52 am

Thanks for an exceptional report. Our son was nine on our first trip together. He's now 42. We have many great memories of our trips together through the years. It's good to see that you had a good experience together. You're quite right that IRNP feels like home.
First visit 1982. Last visit June, 2018. Isle Royale is my favorite National Park!

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