TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

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dcclark
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TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by dcclark » Sun Jun 09, 2019 5:41 pm

In response to torpified's plea for trip reports, I humbly submit this report. I discovered that I had a lot more to say than I initially thought (and that the board won't let me upload more than 3 photos per post), so I'll be writing up a much longer report on my hiking blog along with many, many photos. I'll post a link in this thread when those posts are ready. There are lots of other Isle Royale, Porcupine Mountains, and general Michigan trip reports on the blog to tide you over until I post this year's trip.

Update: Here are the full blog posts (with photos!): Introduction, Travel, and links to all 5 days of blog posts.

Background: This was my first spring trip, 3rd overall. It was also my first solo trip to the island. I am an introvert, and one reason I backpack is for all the opportunities for silent naval-gazing. Going in May, I expected to find quiet, solitude, and not see another living soul for days at a time. Lots of reading, introspection, silence.

What I actually got was by far the most social backpacking trip I've ever done. I didn't expect it, but it was fantastic. The island was surprisingly busy this sprig, and almost everyone I met was a first-timer. There were a large number of solo hikers too. Most of my non-hiking, non-sleeping time ended up being spent hanging out with people I'd never before met, chatting, laughing, stargazing, and generally having a great time. This is the first backpacking trip where I traded emails with half a dozen people and hugged (formerly) complete strangers before heading home.
Trail-assembled group photo at Rock Harbor
Trail-assembled group photo at Rock Harbor
OK, on with the blow-by-blow account! I've included some shout-outs to folks I met on the island. All names are approximate, and in some cases, totally made up.

Day 0: Sunday May 26, Grand Rapids to Copper Harbor. I drove 9 uneventful hours from Grand Rapids up to Copper Harbor. The biggest excitement was mama duck and a horde of ducklings crossing the highway in Seney. This was my first time staying at the Bella Vista motel -- we've stayed at the King Copper every other time, but got a bit tired of living in the mid 60's. I ended up in Isle Royale house (how appropriate) room #9, which is literally a shed tacked on to the back of the house. But, it was clean and cozy, and I'll definitely return.

Day 1: Monday May 27, Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor to Daisy Farm. The morning was cold, cloudy, windy, and spritzing rain. Because I can never sleep well before a trip to the island, I was the 2nd person at the dock. There were a surprising number of people on the boat. The main cabin was nearly full, and I ended up sitting with Doug and Steve from Cow-lumbus Ohio (their term, not mine, but who is this Michigander to argue with those who know best?). They were first-timers to the island, and we spent the trip talking chatting about everything from trail advice to computer network design. Captain John expertly steered us, and the trip was smooth and easy despite the weather.

After Ranger Molly oriented us, I was the second person in line to register when I realized that I needed a photo ID for my Annual Pass... which was stashed in my backpack. So out of the line I went, found my ID, and got back at the end of the slowest registration line I have ever experienced. Meanwhile, a big group was buying out nearly all of the beer in the Trading Post, breaking out cigars, and preparing to party.

I finally made it out on the Rock Harbor trail, which I have never taken up to Three Mile before -- I always did Tobin instead. The variety of terrain was impressive. I met another fellow on the trail who had set down his medium-sized Igloo cooler (!) and was readjusting his pack.

The trail was good up to Three Mile, after which it started to get muddy... and muddier... and then muddiest. There were a few mud bogs where I had to rely on my hiking poles for stability. I stopped for the night at Daisy Farm. Not fully satisfied with sitting back and relaxing, I poked around on Ransom Hill looking for some of the old Ransom Mine remains, but all I found was one (very tenuous) possible adit.

After dinner (Alpine Aire Black Barf chili -- never again), I hung out at the dock for a while and enjoyed a decent sunset. I set up my tent in the shelter -- I did this every night -- and cuddled up for a long winter's nap. The cold was nothing that a shelter, tent, 10 degree bag, XTherm sleeping pad with 6.0 R value, 3 layers of clothes, and a Nalgene filled with hot water couldn't help with. I had weirdly vivid, yet boring, dreams. One of them was the academic equivalent of someone telling me to change the font and spacing in a report I'd just written.

Day 2: Tuesday May 28, Daisy Farm to Moskey. Tuesday dawned clear and cold, and ended up being a sunny and even warm day (60 degrees). After breakfast, I headed up the highly angled trail towards Moskey. There were a few wildflowers here, but not much blooming overall -- spring is really late this year. I saw hepatica, marsh marigolds, some violets and wild strawberry blossoms, and very little else. The deciduous trees were just starting to leaf out.

At Moskey, I claimed my favorite shelter -- #7, so hands off! -- and immediately met Nicky from Connecticut. She is the only person I've ever met who was over-prepared for Isle Royale (since she hikes the White Mountains regularly) and had just finishing knocking out the Minong without breaking a sweat. We chatted for a while in her shelter's rocky front yard, which seemed to be a magnet for waterfowl. This is how I discovered just how silly Mergansers look and sound when they're calling to each other. We then met Nicky's shelter-neighbor Woody from Wisconsin, another solo first-timer and Real Ultimate Outdoorsman. His attitude toward life can be summarized by his future plans: "Maybe I'll go out to Big Bend next, spend some time there until I'm out of money, and then see if they need any help in the oil fields." That, and "maybe I'll ride into Windigo on a moose!"

Before it got too late, I took care of an important day hike. While planning my trip, I'd become obsessed with the idea of bushwhacking around Moskey Basin and up to Mt. Saginaw. To test my plan, I decided to bushwhack the half-mile to the first short point of land south from the campground. If that worked, I'd spend the next day, all day, getting to Mt. Saginaw and back. This went as well as everyone reading this expects. I almost didn't get started, because the swamp right behind Shelter #8 was so full of water that I had to find an old beaver dam to walk across. The higher areas were filled with dense evergreens, although they were more navigable than the swamps -- not as bad as I'd been warned. I made it out to the point and got some photos looking back at the campground. Between me and the next point of land, there was a bigger swamp that finally stopped me. I couldn't see the far side of any of the many beaver dams and my tenuous attempts to walk across a few of them nearly filled my boots with muck. I'm not a fool -- or at least not that much of a fool -- so I turned around and headed back. Final score: 1 mile, 2 hours.

If you go find a topo map and compare the location of this tiny little point of land, to the location of Mt. Saginaw, you'll get a sense of just which icy spheroid would have to pass through which netherworld before I had a chance of making it to Mt. Saginaw tomorrow. There was no way I would be doing the 12+ mile bushwhack I'd hoped to do.

I slowly trudged back along the line of shelters, and noticed that every last one of them plus a campsite were filled. At one of those shelters, I met Sid (from... somewhere downstate) who was the only repeat visitor I met all trip. We connected immediately over Copper Country history and had an exceptionally detailed discussion about the location of some good places to look for silver in the western UP.

After dinner, I took a walk to look for moose in the swampy inlet just outside of the campground. I found no moose (current score: still 0), but I did find two fresh wolf prints. I finished up the evening hanging out with Sid and Nicky (Woody must have found his moose-mobile), chatting about hiking, and watching the stars come out. We stayed up way too late but got to see a spectacularly clear sky.

Day 3: Wednesday May 29, Moskey to Daisy Farm. It was a chilly night and I'd gotten to sleep after midnight, but somehow I still woke up at 5:30 am to see the gorgeous pre-dawn light shining from the end of the basin. Then I went to sleep for another hour. The basin was calm and beautiful as always -- my favorite place on the island.

Because I had given up on bushwhacking to Mt. Saginaw, I suddenly had an extra day in my trip. I spread out my map as I ate breakfast and decided to leave Moskey a day early and do day hikes at Daisy and Three Mile. It was hard to leave. Nonetheless, I packed up, attempted to say goodbye to everyone I'd met, and completely failed since I was the first one to even be awake. I took my time on the trail, exploring the mini-waterfall that crosses the trail a little ways outside of the campground, enjoying the occasional wildflowers, and somehow cramping my uphill foot on the highly slanted trail. The day was sunny and, again, at that perfect backpacking temperature of 60 degrees.

Back at Daisy Farm, I finally snagged the much-coveted (by me) Shelter #4, with its huge grassy front yard (in August, it really shows the meaning of the name "Daisy Farm"). After all of the usual camp chores and camp naps and some foot-soaking in 32.5 degree Lake Superior, my foot felt good enough to do some dayhiking. I did the Mt. Ojibway Loop, clockwise. I'd never been up to the fire tower by this route, and it was quite lovely. I climbed the tower and also peeked into the abandoned outhouse just down-slope from it -- was that from the days when the tower was actually staffed? On my way downhill, I nearly ran into two cows and a calf happily munching in the scrubby growth high up on the ridge. Current score: 3!

Around this time, I also figured out something that I always wondered about: Why some of the longer boardwalks are build so high above the water -- 2 or 3 feet easily. One the bridges on the Mt. Ojibway trail that used to be high and dry is now on the wrong side of a freshly minted beaver dam. Its boards are just barely above water level, some lower. I ended up seeing many more cases where beavers had blocked a swamp and filled it right up to the level of the walkway. Those trail crews know what they're doing.

Back at camp, I spent some more time reading on the dock. As I sat, a park boat pulled up and dropped off an impeccable ranger. He could have been on the cover of an REI catalog, or a recruiting poster. An older couple from Houston enjoying the sun on the dock asked him some simple questions about the campground and ranger talks, to which he knew exactly none of the answers. Turns out that he was the new ranger-in-residence for Daisy Farm, he had just been hired, and had never even been to Isle Royale before this. He would be learning -- a lot! -- on the job. (The next day, at 3 Mile, we all watched as he drove a boat in circles and learned how to use the sirens -- "Teaching the new guy how to drive" another ranger muttered.) So if you head to Daisy Farm this summer, check in and see if the ranger is doing ok. The couple (I never got their names) turned out to be retired teachers from Houston, who spent their time traveling around the US and camping at interesting places. This was their very first backpacking trip, and they'd chosen Isle Royale to do it!

That brought me to 9 pm, at which point my wonderful day of hiking, climbing the Greenstone, and moose-watching finally caught up with me. I turned into a pumpkin and went to bed even before it was dark.

Day 4: Thursday May 30, Daisy Farm to Three Mile via the ridge. My early bedtime on Wednesday mean that I was up and at 'em nice and early on Thursday. The morning was cool but sunny (are you tired of hearing that yet?). I headed up the Mt. Ojibway trail, taking the longer and more scenic ridge route to 3 Mile. No moose on the Mt. Ojibway trail this time, sadly. I climbed the tower again -- because it's there -- and continued along the Greenstone and almost immediately ran into a moose happily munching right next to the trail. A couple passing in the opposite direction warned/enlightened me about a similar situation up ahead, and sure enough, another moose upped my score to 5, entirely on the Greenstone.

My next stop was the elusive Mt. Franklin. On my first trip, my wife and I climbed out of Lane Cove, headed towards Mt. Franklin, and stopped to have lunch at a nice open grassy area with mild views of Canada. We didn't know what the big deal was about. A few yards down the trail, we found out. But we'd eaten and rested and it was full of other people, so we didn't stop. Today, I finally found Mt. Franklin and had it all to myself. I twisted myself into knots trying to get a selfie, and totally failed until Dave and Lindsay of Chicago came by and enthusiastically helped me out. Dave in particular was inordinately excited to meet another Trail Dave. I didn't have the heart to tell him how many people with my exact same full name I've met.
"Assisted Selfie" at Mt. Franklin
"Assisted Selfie" at Mt. Franklin
The trail down to Three Mile was as beautiful and varied as ever. I met quite a few hikers, including a 70+ year old woman and her daughter who were trucking it right up the Greenstone, excited about the views ahead. I also ran into Nicky again, and discovered that we'd had essentially the same itinerary since leaving Moskey. She was on a "day hike" from Three Mile to Lane Cove and back and was considering adding a side jaunt to Lookout Louise into the mix. I shook my head in amazement.

The half-mile stretch of the Mt. Franklin trail from Tobin Harbor to Rock Harbor may be my favorite trail on the island, especially how it winds through dark forests with mottled light filtering through evergreens. This time I was left almost breathless by the open glade on the ridge just before the final descent into Three Mile. The ridge was sunny and warm and perfectly still. I could hear birds warbling, bees buzzing, and trees swishing. I stopped, closed my eyes, and enjoyed a moment of quiet bliss.

At Three Mile, I set up in Shelter #3 and quickly made my way down to the dock, where I read and soaked my poor feet (and tried to convince yet another couple from Chicago -- names unknown -- that the water was bathtub warm and that they should try it). I stayed out too long in the breeze, and despite the warming sun on my face, I ended up chilled to the bone (which did not help the credibility of my "the water's great, come on in!" spiel). Hot tea, a few additional layers, and a vigorous hike around the nearby ridges did the trick to warm me up.

Back at the Three Mile dock I discovered Doug and Steve, who I hadn't seen since disembarking on Monday, chatting with Nicky. Since I'd last seen them, the Ohioans had made it to McCargoe, escaped from the hard-drinking and hard-smoking crew that went with them, took a "day hike" down to Todd Harbor and back (what is with these crazy-long dayhikes?), and had thoroughly fallen in love with the island. After dinner, I went to Doug and Steve's shelter and met Nicky and yet more Chicagoans, Allie and Brian. Brian made my back hurt sympathetically because he was constantly carrying a massive camera setup -- a full frame Canon plus a cannon-sized and shaped lens that must have weighed 3 pounds on its own. We spent a wonderful evening drinking apple cider (from powder), trying out each others' camp chairs (or in my case, trying everyone else's since this seemed to be a standard item that I'd somehow missed!), talking gear, being amazed at Nicky's hand-assembled "Thanksgiving dinner" freeze dried meal, and having a grand time.

As I walked back to my shelter long after sunset, I thought about the amazing trail community that had come together, spontaneously, over my four days on the island. It was a warm and, frankly, surprising feeling. I fell asleep in the cold night feeling quite happy indeed.

Day 5: Friday May 31, 3 Mile to Rock Harbor, the Scoville Trail, and back to Copper Harbor. Friday morning dawned... cold, cloudy, and rainy. Surprise! My trip ended the way it started, after an unexpected run of great weather in the middle. I headed back to Rock Harbor via the Mt. Franklin and Tobin Harbor trails. I passed Doug, Steve, Allie, and Brian on the trail, and thought I was the first of the Three Mile crew to arrive, until I found Nicky in the Visitor's Center -- she'd been "in town" for an hour already. Outside, the same huge group from my first day was again smoking cigars and buying the store out of all their beer.

The whole crew, including Mark from Grand Rapids (who I had met at Daisy Farm, and the others had met at McCargoe), reunited and decided to spend our last few hours on the island together hiking the Stoll trail out to Scoville Point. We billy-goated on the shoreline rock formations and generally cavorted about. We reached the end of the point with just enough time to half-walk, half-run back, do a quick round of goodbyes and hugs, and run onto the boat, losing only one person along the way (Doug got a bit too engrossed in his search for an eagle's nest -- found! and "beaver cave" -- not found! -- and literally made it in to the boat at the last possible minute.)

The trip back was quiet as always, as we all pondered our experiences. Doug, Steve, Mark and I met up at the Michigan House in Calumet for the best burgers and beer in the world (although admittedly, any "real" food would have been the best in the world at that point, but a Gipp Burger at the Michigan House really is one of the best burgers I've ever had). Peer pressure and strength in numbers made it possible for us to have dinner before any of us changed our clothes or showered.

Afterward: Every trip to the island has its own character. My first trip was a hot death march where I nonetheless fell in love with the island. My second trip was a beautiful stroll through the woods filled with relaxation and blueberries. This trip was completely different. I didn't see many new places or trails, but I did meet new people, got to know them, and felt like I was really part of a "trail community". And it was a bit of a surprise that this trail community somehow made leaving the island a bit easier than usual this time.

And of course, I'll be back! On this trip, I made sure to invite every newbie I met back to the island, partly because I knew it would likely happen anyway once they fell in love with the island, and partly to invite them into part of the wonderful community that I found on the island. I encourage you to do this too.
Attachments
Colonel Meat Stick says: You'll be back!
Colonel Meat Stick says: You'll be back!
Last edited by dcclark on Wed Aug 21, 2019 2:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.


torpified
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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by torpified » Mon Jun 10, 2019 6:21 am

Thanks for answering my plea with a wonderful account of an awesome trip! (Perhaps the only thing that could have made it better was Doug actually finding the "beaver cave" under the Sandy dock as the Queen sounded her horn . . . . )

Social theory: the place does feel utterly unlike the social scene at my suburban chicago high school (think "breakfast club"). I think part of it is sense that everyone who makes it to the island is in on a secret that they're delighted to be sharing with everyone else.


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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by Duffy Moon » Mon Jun 10, 2019 9:43 am

Thanks for the great report. You covered the area that my wife and I will be spending most (or all) of our time in, at the end of August. Sounds like a wonderful time.


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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by Bobcat1 » Mon Jun 10, 2019 6:49 pm

I think we should get Nikki and Torpified to hike together-they could probably do Windigo to Lookout Louise, swim across Tobin Harbor, and take the Rock Harbor-Minong route back to Windigo before some of us even crawled out of our sleeping bags! Seriously though, great trip report and story about the hiking community you found.
19 RH-ML-TI-RH by kayak
16 RH-DF-MB-TI-RH-3M-RH by kayak
09 RH-DF-MC-TH-HL-SD-WC
00 WC-IM-WC
96 WC-FL-SB-SD-HL-CE-3M-RH
94 RH-DF-MB-3M-RH
92 RH-DF-LR-CW-HL-SD-IM-WC

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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by nicky1406 » Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:30 pm

I love this trip report, Dave!
Bobcat1 wrote:
Mon Jun 10, 2019 6:49 pm
I think we should get Nikki and Torpified to hike together-they could probably do Windigo to Lookout Louise, swim across Tobin Harbor, and take the Rock Harbor-Minong route back to Windigo before some of us even crawled out of our sleeping bags!
Torpified - should we try this?! :lol: :mrgreen:

I just returned from another long weekend in the White Mountains, but you have inspired me to get working on my own IR trip report now! Like you, I am also very much an introvert and was looking forward to the solitude that Isle Royale promises, yet was very surprised by and thankful for the experience of meeting so many great people and sharing the adventure with you all.

Looking forward to the detailed TR and photos on your blog, Dave. Cheers!

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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by dcclark » Tue Jun 11, 2019 7:39 pm

Thanks all!

There is definitely a feeling that when you're on the island, you're in it together with everyone (well, except maybe the guys smoking cigars and buying the store out of beer). But that feeling seemed closer to the surface on this trip. Maybe it was the relatively small number of people, or the larger number of solo hikers, or maybe I was just feeling more sociable than usual!

Nicky - write your report! I'm curious to hear about the rest of you trip. Especially the wolves...


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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by torpified » Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:38 am

dcclark wrote:
Tue Jun 11, 2019 7:39 pm

Nicky - write your report! I'm curious to hear about the rest of you trip. Especially the wolves...
yes, do! (As for bobcat's suggestion: I'm a cruddy swimmer!)

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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by nicky1406 » Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:27 am

dcclark wrote:
Tue Jun 11, 2019 7:39 pm
Nicky - write your report! I'm curious to hear about the rest of you trip. Especially the wolves...
Working on it as we speak! Er, type... :wink:

I didn't think I'd have much to say, but boy am I proving myself wrong! Trying not to make it too long-winded for you folks. Hoping to finish it up tonight or tomorrow :D

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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by fonixmunkee » Thu Jun 13, 2019 8:26 pm

Impeccable trip report, and some good pics. Thank you for sharing. Your details of some of my favorite campsites really bring me back and make me miss it.


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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by johnhens » Fri Jun 14, 2019 6:03 am

A few days ago, I was going through boxes of maps for an upcoming trip (not to IR). When I think of a trip I would like to do, the first thing I do is get the maps for the area I would like to go to. I guess you could call me a mapaholic. I came across my First Edition Jim Dufresne guide to Isle Royale. This has the East Feldtmann trail in the guide. I thought I had lost this many years ago. I was quite surprised and happy to refind this!!!
I was paging through the guide when I came across a couple of pieces of paper with names and addresses. One of the paper pieces was for a couple I met. We have done many trips together since this trip, including trips with his 2 boys, who have inherited the love of IR, and have become good friends. I called him immediately and we laughed for the nest 20 minutes about this trip and others. Some of my closest friends are folks I have met on IR.
Dave, thanks for sharing your wonderful adventure. I always enjoy reading the TRs and pics from trips. Hope you make it to Mt. Saginaw someday!!!

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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by dcclark » Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:18 pm

fonixmunkee wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 8:26 pm
Impeccable trip report, and some good pics. Thank you for sharing. Your details of some of my favorite campsites really bring me back and make me miss it.
Thanks! You'll see many more, and better, pics once I get photos edited and posted on my blog.
johnhens wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 6:03 am
A few days ago, I was going through boxes of maps for an upcoming trip (not to IR). When I think of a trip I would like to do, the first thing I do is get the maps for the area I would like to go to. I guess you could call me a mapaholic. I came across my First Edition Jim Dufresne guide to Isle Royale. This has the East Feldtmann trail in the guide. I thought I had lost this many years ago. I was quite surprised and happy to refind this!!!
I was paging through the guide when I came across a couple of pieces of paper with names and addresses. One of the paper pieces was for a couple I met. We have done many trips together since this trip, including trips with his 2 boys, who have inherited the love of IR, and have become good friends. I called him immediately and we laughed for the nest 20 minutes about this trip and others. Some of my closest friends are folks I have met on IR.
Dave, thanks for sharing your wonderful adventure. I always enjoy reading the TRs and pics from trips. Hope you make it to Mt. Saginaw someday!!!
Glad to stir up some good memories, John. I also could (and have) stare at maps for hours at a time.

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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by dcclark » Wed Aug 21, 2019 2:26 pm

As I promised months ago, I've written up my trip in extreme detail on my blog. I ended up writing 6 posts about my May solo trip to the island. These include a lot more detail than my TR above, and a lot more photos.

The first post is here: Introduction, Travel, and links to posts. There are links to the other 5 entries in that post.


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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by torpified » Thu Aug 22, 2019 9:47 am

dcclark wrote:
Wed Aug 21, 2019 2:26 pm
I've written up my trip in extreme detail
Hooray! Thanks for the headsup.


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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by torpified » Fri Aug 23, 2019 9:01 am

On the camera + poles conundrum: I have no first hand experience, since my "photography" consists in brandishing an iPhone and hoping for the best, but I've seen other bakcpackers use a clever looking gizmo that's like a baby bjorn harness, only what it holds snugly to your chest is not an infant but a camera. The camera's convenient, but both hands are free for hiking poles. (I am a BIG FAN of poles.) No idea what the gizmo's called, though.

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Re: TR: 5/27 - 5/31 2019 [Rock Harbor trail there-and-back]

Post by dcclark » Fri Aug 23, 2019 11:00 am

torpified, I've seen some people with those special pack-holders for their camera. It looks like something that might work.

One of the topics of discussion on our last day was about bringing "The Big Camera" vs. a phone. It really comes down to what the purpose of the trip is: to enjoy the hike, or enjoy the photography. I think that from now on I'll bring a good phone unless my goal is to do a photo-centered trip. If I do that and bring a camp chair instead, I'll still save 2 pounds!

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