Ferry 6/22: Took the Voyageur II Ferry from Grand Portage to RH. Departed at 07:30am and arrived to RH at 3:45pm. Recommendations: Stay in the lower cabin portion on the ferry, it is much quieter and right next to the free coffee! The ferry to RH is about 8 hours long so the quiet space is much more conducive to napping and reading. Make sure to go out on the deck to watch the scenery. Lots of loons to look at, neat island features, the lighthouse, and ship wrecks. Bring your camp cup on the ferry to fill up with coffee, otherwise you will be getting up a lot to refill the cute little 2oz dixie cups they provide. The coffee is strong and tasty. Bring a lunch and snacks as an 8 hour boat ride is very long, I was starving the whole time. Also, in the cabin they have two copies of the Isle Royale Manual from some guy who has been there a lot, it has all sorts of interesting information, definitely peruse it to get excited about your trip, learn fun facts, and to gather any last minute details. Lastly, if you don’t get a spot in the lower cabin, you will be sitting next to the engines and they are very loud, earplugs would mute the sound and assist with a more enjoyable ride. The ferry makes a stop at Windigo and everybody must get off the ferry to complete the Isle Royal Orientation with a Park Ranger, then you reboard. The ferry also makes a quick stop at McCargo Cove to drop off visitors, and then it’s on to RH!
Arrived at Rock Harbor at 3:45pm 6/22/19. Got our stuff off the boat in a timely fashion. Repacked, filled up our water containers and checked in with the Rangers with our itinerary and then it was straight to the trails! Isle Royale trail system is very well marked and the best part is that we literally got off the boat and were able to get on the trail in no time.
RH to 3 Mile Camp 6/22: Easy hike in. We had calm water for the ferry ride but I’ve heard it can be very rocky with the waves so I would imagine that if the boat ride wasn’t smooth, the 4 mile hike to 3MC instead of the other popular option of Daisy Farm would be the perfect amount of hiking on a queasy stomach. The trail was easy going. Spotted a Bald Eagle, Bunny(prettiest bunny I've ever seen), and got excited about all of the Moose prints and moose scat spotted on the trail. At 3MC we were lucky to nab a shelter. Perfect way to start the trip so we didn’t have to unpack the tent and everything. The shelter helped us organize our gear and get us in the right mindset for the long trek ahead.
3 Mile Camp to W Chicken Bone 6/23: Initially we were going to hike to ECB however after consulting with a friendly Ranger on the trail we decided to hike the extra 1.6 miles to WCB as the Ranger indicated this was the nicer campground on the lake. This day was much hillier and muddier, long hiking day. About a mile into the hike there was a pretty wretched stench in the air, likely of a large mammal decomposing in the forest nearby. Take note, when you come to the creek crossing about ½ mile before you get to the Trail Post for the campground you will see a P Sign with arrows, the trail literally crisscrosses with a Portage Trail, you will want to take the trail to the right after the creek crossing to get to the campground (this is not marked). Hardest part was the steep hike down to the campground and knowing in the morning we would have a ½ mile straight uphill hike to start our day. Wildlife sightings on the hike: 1 Moose in the morning, 2 Bunnies, 1 Woodpecker, 2 Snakes, 1 Red Frog. The trail is full of wildflowers in bloom which made the air sweet and aromatic.
As we entered the campground the folks in campsite #6 welcomed us as we were hiking in and invited us to watch the moose that was swimming across the lake (Moose sighting #2!). Note: Campsite #6 is the cream of the crop, right on the lake and large, get to this campground early to try and nab it, if you get it, invite those not as fortunate to watch the wildlife.
Due to the confusion around the criss cross with the portage trail and then stopping to enjoy the swimming moose, we got to camp right as the rain came in. There was a 70% chance of rain for the day so we appreciated the fact that it held off until we got to camp. Luckily we got the tents set up quickly and our gear did not get wet. It was very rainy but stopped for a few hours so we could cook dinner. After dinner wildlife sightings: 2 more Moose (that’s #3&4) in the water happily eating in the water and splashing around, 1 Turtle, 1 Bald Eagle, 2 Loons making beautiful music. Overnight, we heard what sounded like a distressed Loon call which was quite the sound in the middle of the night. In the morning while filtering more water another Moose sighting (that’s #5)!
Recommendation: Don’t forget that if you aren’t using the designated latrines at the campground, that you need to dig a hole 6 inches deep! We were setting up our tent and we found a rock right next to our tent that had been used to cover human feces. We were disappointed about this since it seems like the folks on the Island are backpackers and general enthusiasts of the outdoors.
W Chicken Bone to Hatchet Lake 6/24: I call this day “the fern hike” as the ferns were practically shoulder height, very fun to walk through. It had rained all night long, pretty heavily, but luckily by daybreak it stopped raining and we were able to quickly shake off the tent to pack and go. Because of the rain, the trail and surrounding vegetation appeared to have transformed overnight. This stretch felt more like hiking in the Pacific Northwest due to the lush vegetation and moody overcast sky. No Moose sightings today. Upon arrival to the campground there were already two sites taken, went to site #1 which is slightly higher up on the hill and it was completely in mud and we determined it would not be best to set up our two tents in a mud pit. The sites that were already filled didn’t have space for two tents and therefore we had to set up shop in a group site. Stayed in Group Site #3 which is the best, overlooks the lake with direct access to the lake. This site was very well maintained. Many hikers came in after us and the entire campground ended up filling up. There was a 30% chance of rain today and once again it held off until we were already sleep.
Hatchet Lake to S Lake Desor 6/25: Got used to the fact that everyday we would be starting with a ½ mile hike straight uphill from the campgrounds to the trail, good way to get those tired legs moving and warm. We had perfect weather today, sunny with a breeze. The trails were very muddy. I was thankful that we had been hiking in gaitors all week because more than once I would find myself accidentally stepping in that perfect mud spot that would swallow up my boots. Very cool Beaver House in a pond on the trail. Spotted another Moose (that’s #6)!. The campground is great at SLD. The lake is massive and the site we found had direct access to the lake. It was so warm out that we jumped in and swam for a bit, it felt great to be in water, definitely rejuvenated those muscles. After the swim and dinner it got very very windy outside and the lake filled with waves. A fellow hiker indicated the waves on Lake Superior were pretty high and there was some concern that the ferries may not be able to travel (Apparently the Voyageur II can travel in waves up to 6feet high but that’s the limit), something we hadn’t even thought about before. Light rain overnight, once again held off until we were asleep.
Tip: We didn’t even think about how the weather / waves could potentially impact us getting off the island at the end of our trip. I was scheduled to work the day after our planned ferry ride and some concern arose over the potential of not being able to get off the island and finding a way to notify “The Man” that I would be getting some extra days of vacation due to weather. If you can, make sure you have a day or two as a cushion in case the ferry can’t pick you up and you get to extend the vacation on the isle.
S Lake Desor to Washington Creek / Windigo 6/26: Another perfect weather day. I have to laugh because this is a big hike day, the route takes you to Mount Desor and Sugar Mountain, both of these make it sound like the hike is going to be a grueling uphill process but that was not the case at all. Note, you don’t actually go to the top of either of these points, rather you are on the side of them. This hike was a great way to end the trip, it was long and rolling with a beautiful setting within the trees. This hike was a very different environment than the fern walks, much more forest with the earthy smell of a forest floor full of decomposing leaves that makes you feel like you are taking a Fall walk in the woods as everything turns for the season. While walking on the boards with a pond nearby, a Momma Moose and Calf (that’s #7&8) intersected with us. They were very close to us, a quick photo and it was obvious that Momma Moose was in protection mode with those ears flapping back so we quickly hid behind some trees and enjoyed watching them and snapping photos from a safe spot. The Moose then walked off and we continued on our journey. There was about a ½ mile stretch after this which was the first time we experienced the swarm of mosquitoes we were expecting all week. Our group contemplated putting on our head nets but it seemed to be more of a hassle to get them on by stopping then just trying to hike. As soon as we hit an incline in the trail the mosquitoes were gone. At about 12:45 we saw an onslaught of hikers who all looked cheerful and fresh, it was great to see because one, it meant that the ferries did indeed make the trip, and two, it meant I was about an hour from the finish point and a shower.
Got into WC and were very pleased to see that we would get to camp in style with a shelter for our final night on the island. Put our packs in the shelter and headed to Windigo to get the scoop on showers and snacks. Celebrated with a cold local beer and chocolate, couldn’t believe how cheap the items in the store were since it is really the only access point for goodies. Paid the $5.51 for the 5 minute shower, which was more than enough time to enjoy scrubbing down with some soap in some warm water. We all felt that 5 minutes was too long, it would be nice to have a 3 minute option. At the shelter while eating dinner a Moose (that’s #9!) was splashing down the bay and appeared to be having the time of his life. We enjoyed watching ducks with their ducklings, geese with their goslings, and a beaver play in the water. All in all it was a relaxing evening of commiserating on the thru hike and we talked more that evening than I think we did all week due to a renewed energy of knowing our trip was over and there was no uphill hike in the morning to get back on the trail.
Windigo to Grand Portage 6/27: Spent the morning packing up and headed up to the Ranger Station. About an hour prior to expected arrival of the ferry, the Rangers do one of their Ranger Talks, we went to it and it was on “The Lifecycle of the Moose on the Island”. I’m a sucker for these Ranger Talks and this one did not disappoint. Learned a few things, enjoyed listening to the experts on the island, and the Ranger stayed afterwards and was pleasant as she engaged in conversation with us for another 30 minutes about all of our thoughts, questions, and random musings. The ferry was ahead of schedule and they were quick to get your packs on and board. We sat outside in the back the entire way to Grand portage, cutest thing is the Rangers waving you farewell as the ferry takes off. I spoke with the Captain's First Mate about the waves earlier in the week, he shared with me that yes indeed the Ferry made the voyage where there was 4-5 foot waves with sometimes 6 foot waves. The First Mate said when the waves are that high, almost the entire boat is out on the deck "feeding the fish"!
This trip was amazing, the best part was that I got to do it alongside my dad, sister, and spouse. My dad was the one who planned out the entire trip to the precision of what was like an REI Guided Trip. My dad's last visit to the Island was in 1976, for the rest of us it was our first experience with Isle Royale. It was great getting to leave the kiddo at home and enjoy some good grubby hardworking fun with adults for a week.
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I'm confused and disturbed that somebody could decide a cathole was in any way better than using the outhouse just down the trail.
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Kudos to your dad for a well-planned trip. I'm glad that you enjoyed the island.
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One of the questions referred to changes I noticed on the island fro 1976 to this year’s trip. Here are three that come to mind:
1) Gear: What we thought were lightweight frame packs, coated rip-stop nylon fabrics, leather boots coated in “Sno-Seal,” raingear that got you wetter from sweat than rain, cook kits that included a coffee can to boil water and tents that seemed like they were designed to funnel water to the inside make today’s gear seem like science fiction. Thank goodness for water filters and reliable stoves.
2) Fires: On the island we were able to build a fire every night. Thank goodness, since we had to fill our coffee cans from the lakes and streams to boil every day over a smoky fire that permeated skin, clothes and gear. Not having fires and using stoves and filters have made the campsites a lot cleaner by eliminating fire scars, mangled trees and half burnt logs laying about. Good move NPS.
3) Electronics: Not in existence in ’76. To those who listened to podcasts and radios on the trail, please give it a rest. Your ears and eyes will hear and see more when you allow the environment to speak to you.
4) Trail conditions: This year when we talked about muddy conditions it was due to short hops and an occasional boardwalk that was a bit off kilter. 40+ years ago there were long sections of mud and boards that needed more boards. In ’76 we used a map and compass. The updated trail markers are great, but being able to determine where you are and find your way about without outside assistance is an important skill. Once again, thanks to the NPS and those who dedicate themselves to trail maintenance.
5) Wildlife: 40 years ago we saw 2 wolves and a handful of moose (the wolf population was around 50 back then). Seeing a wolf or moose doesn’t compare with the thrill and anticipation of hoping to see them, but it sure adds icing to the cake.
NPS staff and fellow backpackers: Although there were more people, some rule changes and new requirements, the experience was like a broken drum – dang hard to beat!!!!. Park rangers were helpful, fellow packers were friendly and taking care of the environment seemed to be at the forefront of people’s minds (yeah, there was the poop exception). Keeping long term preservation and leave no trace ethics are critical not only on the Island but in all of our natural areas. I have been lucky to introduce my daughters to many wonderful places over the decades and look forward to doing the same with our grand daughter. Accept the changes and requirements that come as more and more of us venture out to the back country knowing it will keep the wilderness alive for generations to come.
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MikeT who is active in this forum will appreciate the shout-out! He's put together an awesome guide.GreenstoneGreenhorn1 wrote: ↑Sun Jun 30, 2019 4:50 amAlso, in the cabin they have two copies of the Isle Royale Manual from some guy who has been there a lot, it has all sorts of interesting information, definitely peruse it to get excited about your trip, learn fun facts, and to gather any last minute details.
Hopefully you're already planning your next trip - And then I think you'll get to drop that "greenhorn" moniker.
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Amen!Rockin Chair1 wrote: ↑Mon Jul 01, 2019 4:34 pmNPS staff and fellow backpackers: Although there were more people, some rule changes and new requirements, the experience was like a broken drum – dang hard to beat!!!!. Park rangers were helpful, fellow packers were friendly and taking care of the environment seemed to be at the forefront of people’s minds (yeah, there was the poop exception). Keeping long term preservation and leave no trace ethics are critical not only on the Island but in all of our natural areas. I have been lucky to introduce my daughters to many wonderful places over the decades and look forward to doing the same with our grand daughter. Accept the changes and requirements that come as more and more of us venture out to the back country knowing it will keep the wilderness alive for generations to come.
I remember the sno-seal days. I also welcome most of the gear evolution. But I keep wishing external frame packs will come back, just at a fraction of their mid 20th century weights. I think people don't really look like backpackers without them.
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