Saturday 8/3, Windigo to S. Lake Desor: Arrived in Windigo after an uneventful ferry on the Voyageur II from Grand Portage. After the ranger talk & getting our permit, we headed out on the Greenstone, where we leapfrogged with three other hikers throughout the day, feasting on thimbleberries and watching for moose. Our efforts paid off as we descended the last quarter mile into camp and spotted a young bull right beside the trail. He let us pass and we were rewarded with a nice little camping spot a short stroll from South Lake Desor, where we enjoyed a sunset and a night spent being serenaded by loons (took a couple minutes to discern that we were actually hearing loons and not a lonely wolf howl).
Sunday 8/4, SLD to Todd Harbor: This day was tough on our morale! The trail was dry and overgrown with very few visual payoffs other than the "green tunnel". The humidity was high, and we were all drenched with sweat as we pounded out the miles through head-height ferns and berry bushes. About halfway through the day, we left the Greenstone and took the detour trail around Hatchet Lake to the Minong Trail into Todd Harbor. We (wrongly) assumed we'd have another access point to Hatchet Lake along the trail, so didn't refill our water at the trail junction, which ended up being a mistake, as we didn't really have another good place to gather water (other than two beaver pond crossings, which seemed less than ideal for water collection). Sore, hot, thirsty, and hobbling on a couple new blisters, we were more than relieved when we finally made it to beautiful Todd Harbor. Morale greatly improved with a freezing cold lake “bathing” (and no leeches at this one!), and by dinner time, we’d worked ourselves into a giddy frenzy, where we surely alerted any nearby wildlife of our presence with our hilarious stories and crazy laughter!
Monday 8/5, TH to McCargoe Cove: We started our day by strolling out to the rocks by IR Mine to watch the sunrise before having breakfast and packing up for the day. We then set out for a much needed mental break, as we left the Greenstone Ridge Trail behind in favor of the much more visually pleasing Minong Trail. A short day, we made it to the popular McCargoe Cove just in time to secure our first shelter of the trip, right before a long thunderstorm that would have drenched us otherwise. We napped and read in our shelter while it rained, and were refreshed and happy by the time the storm passed and the afternoon turned out to be beautiful. Making full use of our "short" hiking day, we threw on our camp swimsuits (basically just our underwear and shirt/shorts) and headed for the dock. There, we made our first camp friends, a group of retired couples working on trail maintenance with the Sierra Club. They watched and cheered us on as we took turns jumping into the ice cold water. After our swim, we relaxed in a field of rosemary and salivated over the smells from the docked boaters grilling their dinners. After three nights of dehydrated meals, all we wanted were their steaks and beers!
Tuesday 8/6, McC to Moskey Basin: Early in the morning, a member of our party excitedly woke us all up, telling us to quickly throw on our shoes and follow her. She led us down the path from our shelter to view a large bull moose casually strolling through the campsites. After a few quick pictures, we left him alone and went to the shore to watch the sun come up. After that, we returned to the shelter to eat our breakfast (supplemented by wild raspberries we picked right beside our picnic table). It wasn’t long after we began to eat when the same moose walked right up the trail and wandered past us! With all the relaxation from the evening before and all the excitement from that morning, we hurriedly packed up our things and set out on the trail again...
Within a mile or so from camp, we startled a cow and calf moose (and possibly another bull) as we made our way up the trail past a thick swampy area. They crashed through the brush around us for a bit before finally popping out and giving us a look at who we’d been startling. Larger than any of the bulls we’d seen so far, our nerves were on edge as she crossed in front of us with her 6 week old calf, but in no time, they continued on and we were able to pass.
Before long, we came to another swamp at the head of Chickenbone Lake and spooked another young bull, who we ended up getting to watch eat in the lake from another point along the trail. We thoroughly enjoyed this stretch of trail, as the varied terrain and frequent scenery changes made the hiking less monotonous than days before.
We broke for lunch at Lake Richie, but didn't linger long, knowing that we were on our way to a popular camping area and wanting to get there in time to score a lake-front shelter. From LR on, we took advantage of our "trail legs" and made exceptional time on the easier trail, passing 14 hikers in the span of about 2.5 miles! Once our entire group made it to our shelter, we excitedly stripped down to our undies and headed for the water. Our camp had a private walk-in rock entrance to the lake, and we took full advantage. We "cleaned" ourselves & our clothes as best we could, and splashed around and swam until our body temps had cooled off (hot trail days + freezing lake endings are the best). After swimming, we warmed back up by relaxing in the sun as we slowly went about our usual camp chores of setting up our beds and filtering water. By dinner time, we’d made the decision to head to the busier dock area, where we ended up making and eating our dinner between another group of retired friends, this time in two sailboats. We joked with them and were surprised that we even had a mutual acquaintance, which was surprising for our Pennsylvania group to discover in the middle of Lake Superior with people who hailed all the way from Northern Montana! Small world! While we chatted, one of the boaters shared with us plates of fresh caught northern pike and lake trout! They then shared a beer with, us and all was right in the world! Thankful and content, we headed back to our shelter for the night, where we were “lucky” to have a beaver swim right up to us. He climbed up onto shore right where we’d been drying our laundry, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo before he hopped back in and swam away. The rest of the night was peaceful as we fell asleep to the gentle shore sounds and the calls of loons.
Wednesday 8/7, MB to Rock Harbor: We watched the sun rise from the large rock formations near the dock area of Moskey Basin, but soon after, the sky turned gray and cloudy, and it was sprinkling by the time we were packed up and ready to go. Our longest day yet, we weren’t excited to face it under rainy skies, but we had no choice. The heavy rain held off until shortly after our first snack break, which luckily we were able to spend on the huge dock at Daisy Farm. While eating, we gleefully watched as our sailboat friends from the evening before cruised past us on their own journey to Rock Harbor. We joked about flagging them down for a ride, but then saddled up our packs anyway, and headed out again on foot. Not long after we left Daisy Farm, the skies really opened up with a drenching rain that didn’t relent for the entirety of our hike. Nothing makes you eager to just be done like a cold, soaking rain for miles on end. We took the Tobin Harbor trail into Rock Harbor, and despite the rain and the fog, still enjoyed the beauty of the harbor as we hiked, agreeing that we were disappointed to have not had the chance to see it under better conditions. Freezing cold, one of our party sped ahead of us to arrive at our final destination slightly ahead of the rest of us, just in time to encounter “Bruce the Moose,” the unofficial Rock Harbor pet/mascot. While watching him, she also encountered the same friendly ranger we'd met the evening before, and he helped her secure us a shelter and escape from the rain. (A party of 6 had split up and were taking up two shelters, which the ranger caught on to while everyone was watching Bruce.) Once we'd all settled into our shelter, the relief and joy of completing a successful backpacking trip came over us quickly. We celebrated with halfway decent warm showers, beer, and finally a restaurant dinner, compete with bowls of the oft-longed-for-on-the-trail “Moose Tracks” ice cream!
Thursday 8/8, Rock Harbor back to Grand Portage via the Voyageur II: We awoke before dawn to the quiet crunches of Bruce the Moose eating directly in front of our shelter. He was a welcome alarm clock before we began our loooong journey back home. After feasting on blueberry pancakes at the Rock Harbor Grill, we boarded the ferry for our 7 hour ride across Lake Superior and back to Grand Portage. It started out fine, even a little fun, as we sat on the bow of the Voyageur as it went from harbor to harbor, picking up passengers and spotting bald eagles. However, things quickly went south once we hit the open water. With several warning splashes and increasingly large waves, we were forced to retreat to the interior of the ship. The next several hours passed while the boat was thrown from side to side by the rough water. Several people flocked to the rear of boat and were seasick, but somehow, all of our party escaped “chumming the water” (Thanks, in part, to taking Bonine before boarding, I'm sure!) Finally, we arrived back in Grand Portage, thus beginning the first leg of our 20 hour car ride back home.
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I've heard that the rangers in Rock Harbor keep a recording of loons handy, to play for visitors who think they've heard wolves. Apparently it's a common confusion.
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