TR: McCargoe to Malone Bay, aka The Trip That Almost Didn't

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TR: McCargoe to Malone Bay, aka The Trip That Almost Didn't

Post by fonixmunkee » Wed Jun 17, 2009 7:42 pm

I think I've delayed long enough and now will deliver my not-so-exciting trip report for my first trip of 2009.

Details, details: Via the Voyageur II, four days on IR, four guys, going from McCargoe Cove to Todd Harbor, to Hatchet Lake, ending in Malone Bay and taking the VII back to Grand Portage.

Like Nick, I've hiked most of Isle Royale in 8-9 trips. So this year, we decided we were going to paddle to get a "new perspective" on IR. Unfortunately, the costs outweighed the benefit (we'd have to rent), and we had to scrap our paddle trip. Then, our first hiking plan had to be scrapped until the very last minute due to one of our hiking companion's schedules. Nearly two nights before (at about the precise moment JohnH called me as he came through Duluth back from IR), we figured out what we were going to do: the one place that I hadn't been to that I was tired of hearing people talk about was Malone Bay. I wanted to experience it myself. So we planned on taking a nice, easy 23-mile hike from McCargoe to Todd Harbor, then to Hatchet Lake (three of my favorite places on IR), then ending up in Malone Bay. This was the first indicators that our trip was not destined to go down easily. We left after work on Tuesday, the 2nd of June and headed up to Grand Portage for the night. We were going to stay in the Casino's campground, but a nice lady at the casino told us about the "tuesday night special," which was a double-occupancy room for $39 (if you joined their player's club). We took advantage of this since it'd be nice to not have to setup a tent that was supposedly going to get rained on that night (according to the weather). So we stayed in the hotel.

It was in Grand Portage that the second indication of how our trip was going to fair. We couldn't find beer anywhere! The casino had lost it's evening bartenders and couldn't get anyone to fill in, so the lounge was closed. On top of that, everywhere in Grand Portage only sold 3.2% beer! We weren't willing to make the drive *back* to Grand Marais for spirits, so we just settled for 3.2 and watching Will Ferrell on "Man vs. Wild."

We woke up on Wednesday, June 3rd plenty early to get to the VII dock and chat with Capt Don & Mike. We were surprised to only see 6 other people getting on the boat with us--a light load, to say the least. There was a group of four doing the Indian Portage trail from McCargoe to Chippewa, and a two-some doing the Minong-Greenstone loop from Windigo. It was a pleasant (and quick) boat ride as the lake was calm.

We got our standard-issue briefing from Ranger Val in Windigo (with all of getting LNT cards, because there were so few of us!), and were back underway after leaving the two-some to start their 13.1 mile trek to Desor. The boat ride remained uneventful. It was still so cold out on the north side of the lake, that patches of snow could be seen on the rocky shores in spots.

We arrived at McCargoe to find ourselves completely alone (the foursome took off for West Chickenbone), so we decided to stay in a shelter and enjoy the quiet and beauty of McCargoe. We hiked up to the old Minong mine and explored around. This was my third time in the mine, but the first time I'd ever seen the old rail bed heading to the cove (that they used to use to move copper to the stamp mill), and the old blacksmith's shop. I thought that was very cool. We climbed around and checked stuff out for a bit, then headed back to McCargoe where we ate a delicious Mexican dish one of my friend's had prepared. We read and hung out until dusk, when two younger interpretive rangers and a solo backpacker showed up. We went down to the dock and drank some scotch and watched the loons, otters, and beavers play in the cove. We even saw a loon swim right under our feet off the end of the was like a real-life Mutual of Omaha episode watching the loon swim underwater so close!
A shaft at the Minong Mine
Blacksmith's buildings remains at Minong Mine
On our way back to the shelter that night, we talked to the interpretive rangers and the solo hiker who had started a fire in the community ring (it was getting cold out). The two rangers had just come through Todd Harbor (our destination the next day) and said that there was a bull moose who was bleeding and very spooked in the area. There were blood spots and a lot of wolf scat, but they saw no wolf. They weren't sure if the moose was just rubbing ticks off, or if it had been attacked. We would be on the look out tomorrow as we entered Todd Harbor.

We slept in (like we always do) the next morning, and got underway on our short hike (6.2 miles) to Todd Harbor. It was uneventful hike in cool weather on the ridge. We enjoyed the sunny skys and relatively bug-free conditions all the way to Todd, when it started getting windy and cloudy, and the temperature dropped...sure-fire signs of bad weather on IR. The shelter was taken by the solo backpacker, so we went out to Group Campsite #1 so we could have a better view of the sunset (if any). Rain came in small showers, but nothing terrible. We were expecting weather like our last hike through Todd Harbor: freezing, rainy, thundering, hail storm. Surely the start of the trip would dictate such luck, but by 8:30, the weather cleared up enough for a beautiful Todd Harbor sunset. I sat on the shore and just watched the sun go down.
Todd Harbor sunset
Again, we slept in, as we hand an ultra-short hike to Hatchet Lake the next day. We like Hatchet Lake because both times we've been there, we've been alone. Plus, the campsite is gorgeous, and it's incredibly quiet and isolated there. We passed the twosome who got off the boat in Windigo a few days back and they were in great shape and in great spirits. They also got to see three moose, while we had saw none (another indicator that our trip was going to be lame-o).

We got to Hatchet, set up camp, and relaxed until the sun started going down. At that time, we broke out the scotch to warm us as the temps dropped significantly. We stayed up later than I'd ever stayed up, just to listen to the two nesting pairs of loons coo back and forth at each other. If the loons weren't making noises, the silence was deafening, making my ears ring. It was gorgeous. Although it was cold when we went to bed, no rain showed up, as predicted by the last weather report we had. Maybe good fortunes were going to smile on us this trip after all.

We got up at a relatively good time the following morning to make the final 12.2 mile hike up the Greenstone and back down into Malone Bay. The weather was warm and the bugs were really coming out, including the black flies, which made a brief but brutal appearance the night before at Hatchet. The first two hours up to the Ishpehming tower was unevenful, but that was acceptable as the weather was perfect for hiking. After a quick lunch at the tower, we started our descent into Malone. The trail looked like it hadn't been used at all this season, and we even lost it a few times in some of the more open meadows...having to rely on the remanents of tailings piles left by other hikers to guide us. The hike was beautiful to start out with: tall birch stands as deep as you could see, with lush green ground cover underneath. The canopy of the trees created an eerie yellowish-green glow that could never ever be replicated in real life as we hiked through the birch stands. After a while, however, the trail became boring and repetative until we hit the forever-and-everness of boardwalk going up to and over the Siskiwit River. We had still seen no moose, but we started seeing plenty of indications of some after we crossed the Siskiwit River. We hiked along the Siskiwit lakeshore until we reached the round-about trailhead for Malone Bay. We checked out the river that left Siskiwit for Malone bay, then went to claim a shelter in the campsite. There was no one there, save for one kayaker and some volunteers working on the ranger cabins at Malone.
The trail to to Malone Bay
After getting the shelter organized and having dinner, I went to where the river from Siskiwit met the bay. There was a volunteer fishing for lake trout off the shore there that pointed me to a small trail that goes along side the river. I walked up it a bit and found a beautiful array of little waterfalls and pools. I snapped more pictures on this little trail than I had nearly the entire trip. I enjoyed the river until dusk, when my friends and I went to the dock and sat and watched a Coast Guard ship put in the buoys for the bay entrance. At this time, an older gentleman came down to the dock. He was a volunteer who had been coming to the island every spring to help repair it for 16 years. As we talked, I found it was the man who designed and built the Windigo visitor center along with the Malone Ranger station and many other iconic buildings on the island. It was an honor to meet him, and listening to him talk about how passionate he was for Isle Royale drove me to be sure I would dedicate some of my spring next year to volunteering as well. I thanked him for his selfless work on keeping the island available for everyone to enjoy, and bid him a good night.
Water falls by Malone Bay
Rocks in Lake Superior
Malone Bay dock
Coast Guard ship installing buoys at Malone Bay
Two of my friends stayed up and sat on the rocks along Malone Bay and finished off the remainder of whisky we had with (we bring a lot), while one of them turned it. It wasn't nearly as chilly as I had expected to be on the lake, and as a matter of fact, it was definetly colder the previous night at Hatchet Lake. We stayed up until late, then turned in. We got to sleep in the next day since the VII wasn't expected until around 0945 that morning. The morning was cold and so we bundled up for a cold ride back. The VII arrived in time (navigating the channel thanks to the Coast Guard's freshly-installed buoys!) and we ran into the group of four who were originally on the boat. They had only seen one moose from a distance but got to hear the wolves howl one night. We steamed into Windigo in what seemed like record time and picked up a few more people for the return trip back to Grand Portage...two of them being the twosome who did the Minong and Greenstone. They were still in great shape and simply in love with the island, already asking us where they thought they should go next. We chatted for a while and then I read as we enjoyed calm seas back to Grand Portage.

At GP, we unloaded and I thanked Capts Don and Mike for their excellent service, and we were underway to Sven & Ole's for pizza in Grand Marais. We ran into the twosome again who enjoyed some beers and a delicious pizza.

So what could have been the making of a disastorous trip (no beer in GP!!!), turned out to be an extremely relaxing and refreshing trip. I got to see the Malone Bay area which had been--until now--elusive to me, and I got to meet some great people who volunteer their time to IR.

More pictures from the trip can be found here. Some are even geo-tagged: ... eJune2009#

Also my GPS data (with waypoints, tracks, and elevations) can be downloaded here. Opens with Garmin MapSource, Google Earth, or a few other GPS programs:
McCargoe-Todd-Hatchet-Malone hike GPS data
(271.92 KiB) Downloaded 102 times

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Re: TR: McCargoe to Malone Bay, aka The Trip That Almost Didn't

Post by upnorthjeeper » Wed Jun 17, 2009 9:14 pm

At least for me, having never been to IR that trip report was far from "not-so-exciting" and I sincerely thank you for taking the time to share that. I'm really getting into photography over the last couple years and really enjoyed looking at you photos. I think it is amazing that we can get our own GPS data like that, I have very detailed maps of where I roam thanks to a data logger as well. I look forward to returning the favor when I go this fall, thanks again.
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Re: TR: McCargoe to Malone Bay, aka The Trip That Almost Didn't

Post by johnhens » Wed Jun 17, 2009 11:40 pm

Sounds like a great trip fonix, glad you got to Malone Bay. You need to paddle the inland lakes there and sample some of the great fishing to be had there!!!

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Re: TR: McCargoe to Malone Bay, aka The Trip That Almost Didn't

Post by philranger » Thu Jun 18, 2009 7:08 am

Thanks Fonix, Now after listening to you and John talk about Malone Bay, I want to go there more than ever. The pictures are beautiful, even the ones from the mine. I explored that area back in 2006, but I don't remember it like that. Thanks for the TR.
Isle Royale Trips: 2005-RH to Windigo via Greenstone. 2006-McCargoe Cove to Chippewa Harbor. 2007-RH to Daisy Farm and back. 2008-Feltmann loop. 2009-McCargoe Cove to Chippewa Harbor. 2013-Minong Ridge. 2014-Windigo + Huginnin Cove. 2015-Lookout Louise to LC to DF to MB. 2018-McCargoe to Todd to HL to Malone Bay.

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Re: TR: McCargoe to Malone Bay, aka The Trip That Almost Didn't

Post by Tom » Thu Jun 18, 2009 8:23 pm

Just got back from my pick up at Chippewa a couple days ago, and as we stopped at Malone to drop off a boy scout troup, I looked at my hiking partner and said, "Yep... This is next."

Thanks for documenting that it's well worth the effort. Bummer the canoe trip didn't work out, but it sounds like this was just fine!


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