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TR- 8/9-17, 2019 by kayak Tobin and Rock Harbor

Posted: Thu Aug 29, 2019 6:54 am
by bobcat
Trip Report – Isle Royale 8/9-8/17 by kayak.

Prelude: Left southern Ohio after work on Wednesday and drove up to Gaylord MI for a brief overnight stop at about the half-way point. Storms blew through overnight and rain, maybe small hail, was pelting against the window at some point. I awoke and resumed driving at first light, crossing the Bridge in eerie fog. Arrived in Houghton and proceeded to the Hancock city campground which I highly recommend as a place to stay the night before sailing on the Ranger III. Spent the afternoon assembling my folding kayak and finalizing my packing. Folding kayaks seem to attract a crowd, and my last trip I had a dozen people watching me assemble the kayak, on a blazing hot afternoon in Rock Harbor so I could get started on my trip. This time, I transported my kayak on the Ranger assembled, so I could take off immediately upon arrival.

Friday: Kind of rough crossing, but the Ranger is the best ferry in that kind of weather. I was soon paddling across Tobin Harbor toward the monster portage over to Duncan Bay. My ambitious goal was to get that portage done, and to one of the Duncan Bay campsites, before dark that first night. My first trip up the portage, I really struggled with the weight of the portage pack. On the second trip, I lifted the kayak up to my shoulders and started up the trail, but within the first 50 yards I was exhausted. Hmmm. This was not expected……. I mean, I realize that portage is steep, and the pack had been very heavy, but I had not expected this overwhelming fatigue to hit me! I wonder if this is some kind of low-level motion sickness, or a side effect of the anti-motion sickness drug? Need to rethink this. The course I decided was to return to RH campground, get a good night’s sleep, and come back in the morning. Headed back up the hill to retrieve my pack. Eventually I was back at the portage landing on the Tobin Harbor side with all my stuff. Believe me, it was tempting (and illegal) to just set up and camp there! But I loaded the kayak and paddled back to the seaplane dock. The spot I usually launch and land was about knee-deep this year, as the overall water level is up about 12” past the long-term average. I was wading toward the shore, with one hand holding my kayak, when I slipped or tripped or something and fell in the water. Unfortunately, I smashed my knee into a submerged rock. My first thought was that I may have really hurt myself. My second thought was that I was lying in Lake Superior and I better get up and out of the water regardless of whether I was hurt! My third thought was that my kayak was floating away……. within a few minutes I had gathered my wits, secured my kayak, unloaded and stashed most of my gear, and was on my way to a very full RH campground. I ended up setting up in a tent site where everyone else was already asleep, and they were surprised to find me there in the morning.

From that point forward, I had a great trip and a very sore knee.

Saturday: Limped out of the Rock Harbor campground and back to Tobin Harbor where I had left all my stuff except my tent and sleeping bag. Cooked my breakfast and repacked my kayak. My revised goal for the day was an easy paddle up Tobin Harbor to Merritt Lane campsite so I could rest my knee and re-plan from a very ambitious trip to a more relaxed and easier trip.

Somewhere up past the Hidden Lake dock, I quietly passed a loon family. Suddenly the loons started up with a cry I have never heard before, definitely distressed. I looked back just in time to see a bald eagle attempt to grab some lunch as the loons dove for safety! Quite the sight! I stopped to talk, in passing, with another kayaker, and turns out it was fellow forum member Rafiki who had been kayaking around the Island for three weeks at that point. He was headed into Rock Harbor to finish off his month-long saga, and I hope he gives us a good trip report!

Arrived at Merritt Lane and settled in to the one shelter. Glanced out toward Passage Island and saw a large freighter just off the point, headed into Thunder Bay. I hadn’t realized that the main freighter lane into Thunder Bay goes in between Blake Point and Passage Island. Spent a quiet day relaxing, sleeping, and gently flexing my knee to keep the growing stiffness at bay. That evening, a cabin cruiser full of fishermen pulled up and docked. They were bemoaning the poor fishing, but they were also generous with their beer!

Sunday: day trip into Hidden Lake to look for moose and test my knee for hiking. The dock area and nearby obvious landings were full of rental canoes from lodge visitors when I arrived, so I picked another spot further along, by the picnic table and outhouse. Lookout Louise is such a great viewpoint! A large fox nonchalantly wandered past me seemingly oblivious to my presence. Hiking back to my kayak, I was painfully reminded of how stressful hiking downhill is on the knees! I did see two moose on the fringes of Hidden Lake this time. I took a bunch of pictures and stuffed my camera into my pocket. Unfortunately, the camera fell out of my pocket and died a watery death in Tobin Harbor as I was launching my kayak. That is why there are no pictures with this trip report. I did try opening it up and removing the batteries etc., but I haven’t been able to get it to work yet. Spent the evening chatting with the fishermen, watching birds (osprey, loons, eagles, mergansers), and watching the lighthouse at Passage Island do its thing.

Monday: Packed up and paddled to Rock Harbor campground via Scoville Point and the outside channel. I was able to take good advantage of the carts kept by the visitor’s center, to haul my stuff from Snug Harbor up to the campground. Stopped in at the Lodge office and signed up for the Passage Island excursion on Wednesday morning. Bought a bag of ice at the store, and spent a quiet afternoon reading and icing my knee. Checked the schedule, but no ranger talks tonight. Lots of ranger activity, turns out there was a fatality today as a lodge visitor out on the MV Sandy excursion collapsed and died from a medical problem. Spare a thought for his family!

Tuesday: Mindful of the swelling, stiffness and soreness of my knee, I took a lazy morning and then headed across Rock Harbor over toward Raspberry Island and eventually Tooker’s Island. The wind had shifted to easterly, and there were large swells and rollers blowing in the gaps as well as rolling down the length of Rock Harbor! The Smithwick Gap was like a washing machine, with waves coming from multiple directions at once. I decided to pass up a hike at Raspberry and just get settled at Tooker’s as winds were forecasted to increase throughout the day. Spent the afternoon on the little beach on the outside of Tooker’s, which is a fun place to hunt for greenstones even though you can’t keep what you find. Two fishermen who had holed up from the rough water joined me digging through the rocks. We found one “keeper” that we couldn’t keep, a beautiful greenstone about the size of a dime. We also found a few smaller chips. About then, Ranger Andrew showed up to do a permit check. He is the new resident ranger for Daisy Farm and covers all of RH except the actual visitor’s center area. He had never seen a greenstone before and had not known about the beach being a reliable place to find them. He was as interested as we were and took pictures of what we had found before we threw it all back into the Lake.

That night, the wind and waves seemed to calm down. However, after midnight the wind started howling again. I got up about 2:30 and tied my kayak to some trees where I had pulled it up away from the water. The fishermen re-secured their boat at the dock, and we all hoped for the best.

Wednesday: We were all up by 5am, packing and preparing to make an early run into Snug Harbor in the morning’s calmest conditions. The guys were leaving on that morning’s Ranger III sailing, and I just wanted to get back to the main island and avoid being windbound at Tooker’s. Because I didn’t have running lights, I couldn’t legally be on the water before sunrise. I wasn’t sure what time that was, but at 6:45 it was pretty light, so I took off. There were 3’ swells rolling down Rock Harbor, with 1’ waves on top of the swells. I headed across the harbor, angling to the northeast to manage the wind. Once I got across and out of the main traffic lane (and the main wind funnel), I turned and followed the shoreline up to Snug Harbor. The sun rose in a brilliant orange ball, right in my eyes and I couldn’t get to my sunglasses or sun hat while keeping control of my kayak in the conditions. So, I took a squinted bearing and then kept my head down and used my deck compass to guide me right up to Snug Harbor. Once again, I grabbed a cart to haul all my stuff up to the campground and haul my kayak to the public boat rack. I think this is the earliest I have ever bagged a shelter (7:30am). After dry clothes, breakfast, and packing my daypack, I went over and joined the excursion boat crowd at the MV Sandy dock. As we motored out past Scoville Point, the boat captain pointed out Edwards Island and told us that the Edwards family elders are the last remaining life-lease holders in the park, and they are in their 90’s.

It was kind of a wild ride out to Passage Island, but a fascinating excursion. The dock is in a sheltered cove. The hiking trail to the lighthouse starts with a more-or-less gradual climb through dense forest, and then takes a sharp turn and goes sharply up a zig-zag climb of a rock outcrop to a spectacular overlook of the Sleeping Giant and the Canadian shore. It was gorgeous but much rougher trail than I was expecting. The trail then follows this bluff on up to the high point of the island where the lighthouse has stood since 1876 (?). The lighthouse itself and the oldest building are brownstone, sort of in the style of those amazing stone buildings in Calumet. There are some other more utilitarian sheds and things, the remains of an old cable-car system that was used to haul coal up from the dock down the cliff just below the lighthouse, and, surprising to me, a modern helipad which is how the Coast Guard gets in there to service the modern light in the tower. Apparently, this was a traditional manned lighthouse well into the 1970s. There wasn’t any interpretation at the site; the MV Sandy crew led us up there on the hike, then turned us loose to explore the area and make our way back to the boat within a stated time limit. I found the whole installation very interesting but knew I would be hobbling slowly down that steep part. I was one of the first to leave the lighthouse and start back to the boat, but I soon met several others who had decided not to do the steepest part and were waiting or relaxing along the lower trail.

Back at Rock Harbor that afternoon, my knee was throbbing and painful, so I bought another bag of ice and thought things over while relaxing in my campsite. I came to the difficult decision that I really needed to just shut down, get home, and maybe see my doctor. I went to the Visitor’s Center where a very helpful ranger contacted Houghton and changed my return ferry reservation to the next sailing, and also signed my permit so I could stay in Rock Harbor for an extra 2 days and just wait for the next sailing of the Ranger. The ferries were all full or close to it – the ferry I was originally scheduled on was 100% sold out and I got the last seat on the ferry I changed to! Thus, my two-week plan became a 1-week exploration of the northeastern end of the island. I went to bed early and found myself very cold in my shelter which was catching the wind coming off the Lake through the Smithwick Gap. So, I ended up setting up my tent inside the shelter which solved the problem.

Thursday: Spent a quiet day hanging around Snug Harbor. Twice went past the kayak/canoe rack and found people taking a close look at my kayak. One guy was even bold enough to be trying to open a hatch cover to see how they worked……like I said, folding kayaks attract attention. So, I got one of those handy carts and hauled my kayak up to my camp site to dismantle it. Attracted even more attention up in the campground. Fortunately, three packrafters arrived and their unique watercraft distracted all the curious people! Turns out at least one of the packrafters is from the forums here. Met two kayaking families who had come to RH early for their ferries, due to the conditions being too windy for their kids to handle their boats well. Ranger talk that night was by the current artist-in-residence, who is an acoustic artist and does soundscape stuff.

Friday: spent another quiet day hanging around Snug Harbor. Walked out to the America Dock, to find that the lifeboat was scraped off the dock by ice in 2017 and is now sunken out in Rock Harbor. Since I had stopped hauling gear, trying to hike, etc., the pain in my knee was gradually subsiding.

Saturday: Slept most of the way inbound on the very full ferry. Once we landed, I just started driving. Crossed the Bridge before dark, drove through a torrential thunderstorm in the Flint area, and arrived home in southern Ohio at 4:30 AM.

Postlude: So many aspects of this trip plan went so well! Only thing I would change: my approach to that first portage. Save it for morning rather than rushing it on arrival day, smaller loads and 3-trip that first portage to avoid the exhaustion. The accidental fall that bruised my knee and irritated the arthritis can’t exactly be planned for, but if I had not been so tired maybe it would not have happened. And, I rerouted my trip and got to several interesting places that I have never been to, like Passage Island and Merritt Lane. Fortunately, two weeks later I seem to have mostly recovered, the swelling is gone, and the bruises are fading. I am planning to try again next year with a similar trip plan!

Re: TR- 8/9-17, 2019 by kayak Tobin and Rock Harbor

Posted: Thu Aug 29, 2019 9:30 am
by torpified
Thanks goodness for packrafters! I'm sorry about the knee but glad that it didn't keep you from having an outstanding trip. Can you tell us more about this collapsible kayak of yours? (When I was a kid, my father's standing joke reply to questions about what he wanted for Xmas/bday/father's day was: "a collapsible kayak!" As an adult, I was quite chuffed to discover that such things really exist!)

Re: TR- 8/9-17, 2019 by kayak Tobin and Rock Harbor

Posted: Fri Aug 30, 2019 5:28 am
by johnhens
Too bad about the knee and camera. 3 of us did the Tobin portage ( Duncan to Tobin) with kayaks. Took a while, can't imagine doing it solo. Sounds like you made the best of your time!!

Re: TR- 8/9-17, 2019 by kayak Tobin and Rock Harbor

Posted: Sat Aug 31, 2019 8:27 am
by bobcat
My kayak is a Feathercraft, made by a Canadian company that went out of business when the owner retired and thus parts, repair service etc are no longer available. This makes me very cautious and protective of my boat particularly the fabric hull. The boat, assembled with no accessories, weighs 35 pounds. I have easily portaged it back and forth from Rock to Tobin on previous trips as well as portages at Voyagers NP and other place. My camping outfit was in the range of 35-40 pounds all told, so had I been backpacking it would have been a lightweight load. The catch is, all the paddling safety gear and accessories adds up to more than I had considered, by the time you have a wetsuit, two paddles, spray skirt, sea sock, portage yoke, paddle float, bilge pump, pfd, etc etc there is another 30 pounds or more. The simple answer is break it into manageable loads and 3-trip the rougher portages. Next year, I think I will drive to MN and have the Voyager drop me off at Belle Isle!

Re: TR- 8/9-17, 2019 by kayak Tobin and Rock Harbor

Posted: Sat Aug 31, 2019 11:42 am
by IncaRoads
Bobcat1 wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 8:27 am
... Next year, I think I will drive to MN and have the Voyager drop me off at Belle Isle!
Sounds like a good plan. Thanks for the trip report!

Re: TR- 8/9-17, 2019 by kayak Tobin and Rock Harbor

Posted: Tue Sep 03, 2019 5:57 am
by Duffy Moon
Thanks for the report, Bobcat. Very sorry it had to be cut short - somewhat selfishly, since it would have been nice for us to have been able to meet you in Rock Harbor on the 23rd when we arrived. Hope you're healing up.

Re: TR- 8/9-17, 2019 by kayak Tobin and Rock Harbor

Posted: Tue Sep 03, 2019 2:31 pm
by bobcat
A bit of good news - I finally got back to my camera, and now that it is fully dry I put the batteries back in and to my surprise it powered up ok. I need to try uploading some of the pictures and make sure they are good quality; they looked ok on the small screen display.

Re: TR- 8/9-17, 2019 by kayak Tobin and Rock Harbor

Posted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 8:45 am
by booyah
Hey Bobcat, I wanted to say thanks for the portage yolk!

Hope you are healing up well and it was neat to check out your folding kayak!

Re: TR- 8/9-17, 2019 by kayak Tobin and Rock Harbor

Posted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 10:40 am
by bobcat
Hey you're welcome! I hope you and your daughter and your kayaks had a safe trip home. Hopefully the yoke will be of more use to you than it was to me. The other yoke works much better with my folding kayak, and I hate wasting space to store something that is of value to someone else but not to me.