Am I overreacting about bushwhacking being a bad idea for an upcoming trip?

Questions about trails and campsites on the island.

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Am I overreacting about bushwhacking being a bad idea for an upcoming trip?

Post by MongooseBoxing »

Me and a few friends are doing a 9-day backpacking trip to the island early June. We're taking the ferry into Rock Harbor and are planning on hiking to Windigo via the Greenstone Ridge, then back to Rock Harbor via the Minong Ridge. It'll be around 100 miles total, and I've planned out (potentially) each day and it should be doable with enough preparation. However, my friends are set on bushwhacking each night to find a campsite. While it sounds fun, I've looked further into making that work with our planned route and it seems like a really bad idea, except for maybe a couple nights in some specific areas. Here are my concerns with this:

Looking at satellite imagery of the island, most zones that we'd be near at the end of our hikes are so unbelievably thick that it'd be almost impossible for all 5 of us to find a good spot to pitch our tents. A lot of these areas also look very swampy, and after what was apparently a heavy & late winter, and wet spring so far, I'd imagine that will only be worse. Also, looking at pictures from campgrounds gives me a decent idea of what we'd be bushwhacking through, and it just looks miserably thick in most areas.

A hammock would be a better option than a tent for cross-country camping, but we also plan on staying at campgrounds that have firepits which I've heard hammocks are not at all good for the campgrounds, and I absolutely do not want to take both my entire hammock setup, and my tent + sleeping pad. That's redundant and with as much hiking as we have to do, carrying extra weight like that would just make it unnecessarily more difficult. I also highly doubt everyone in this group has a full camping hammock setup (e.g. rain tarp, bug net, underquilt).

A big reason they want to bushwhack is to get away from the people, and get close to the water for fishing. But with cross-country camping we obviously have to be at least 200 feet from the water, and all the campgrounds on our route are pretty much right on the water. Also, in early June in the least visited national park in the lower 48, I'd imagine we won't have to deal with many, if any, people at a lot of the campgrounds.

Bushwhacking and stepping into a foot deep swamp by accident would also make our footwear absolutely miserable for the rest of our hiking, assuming we're all bringing hiking boots (some may bring trail runners, but most will probably have boots).

We also need to time the first half of our route to be at the Voyageur II dock at 9:30am on either a Monday, Wednesday, or Saturday to pick up resupply packages so we don't have to carry 9 days worth of food. That'll require somewhat careful planning, and the hassle of bushwhacking could easily eat into our routes to the point where we miss the delivery, which would obviously suck.

Am I being unreasonable about any of this? Or do I happen to have any of this wrong? If I can't change their mind then unfortunately I'm considering just doing the route alone, since I want to make this trip as enjoyable as possible and actually complete the planned backpacking loop.
Last edited by MongooseBoxing on Thu May 11, 2023 3:26 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Am I overreacting about bushwhacking being a bad idea for an upcoming trip?

Post by Ingo »

It sounds to me like you have a good handle on all the issues. There are folks that have rewarding bushwacking experiences, but they are already familiar with the island, know what they are dealing with, and are looking for that specific challenge. In the past I think you would have had a hard time getting a cross-country permit, just due to that fact that you'll have five tents (from what it sounds like). But I'm not sure how much they scrutinize these days. One argument you might be able to use is that the shorelines are largely overgrown and inaccessible for fishing (difficult at best) and the best spots are at the campgrounds.
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Re: Am I overreacting about bushwhacking being a bad idea for an upcoming trip?

Post by S_R_L »

Personally I would avoid bushwacking unless absolutely necessary. The campsites are fairly well spaced and in early June you should find them lightly populated. The only reason I would back country camp is if an emergency came up and you couldn't make it to the next site or you were dead-set on taking a long cut between two campgrounds (or lakes) that weren't connected by the trail system.

Bushwacking is the norm to travel sections of the established trails.
This moose is in middle of the trail. Solid chest high grass.
There is a person about 4 feet in front of the camera lens. Most of this brush is 6' tall. (if you click the image it'll be right side up :roll: )
Both these photos were taken in August after 3+ months of people traveling these trails.

Your shoes/socks/pants will be wet when you're there. Just accept that before you go. It rains frequently and the underbrush is wet every morning from dew.
Last edited by S_R_L on Thu May 11, 2023 12:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Am I overreacting about bushwhacking being a bad idea for an upcoming trip?

Post by Bobcat1 »

You have hit on most of the main reasons why cross-country camping is so difficult at Isle Royale. One more reason that you didn't mention is the terrain contours. Because of the underlying geology, IsRo's contours range from ridges to swamps following the backbone of the island, and north slopes are typically steep, even cliffs. Once you're off the trails on the ridges, it's crazy rugged even without all the vegetation. You're right that the forest is relentlessly thick and much of it is swamp. Not knee-deep, try chest-deep in spots. I would wholeheartedly support your idea to do the on-trail trip alone if your companions cannot agree with the plan you're putting together. The basic route you lined out would be a grand adventure!

On the other hand, there are millions of acres of northwoods in Superior National Forest that are available to bushwhack as much as you want in a similar, but less fragile ecosystem. Maybe do a trip on foot or by canoe, that takes you into some of the lake systems where the fishing is great, the campsites are for one party instead of multiple parties, and dispersed camping is allowed.
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Re: Am I overreacting about bushwhacking being a bad idea for an upcoming trip?

Post by dcclark »

Just one more voice to say: You're absolutely right that bushwhacking in that situation is a bad idea, and have identified the key reasons.

If you need one more, I bushwhacked for about 1 mile south of Moskey Basin at around the same time of year -- just to get to an interesting looking spit of rock. It took me 2 hours, and I was well prepared (and experienced with bushwhacking on the mainland). The water table is even higher than normal at that time of year, so what would normally be boot-sucking mud turns into deep standing water.

I'd say that 1/2 mile per hour is about right for island bushwhacking, on a good day.
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Re: Am I overreacting about bushwhacking being a bad idea for an upcoming trip?

Post by jerry »

Getting lost on ISRO/NP twice means you might find L. Superior after awhile. Getting lost in a bog on the Minong Trail was interesting. We back tracked and found the trail. Hiking from Daisy Farm to the Greenstone going NW found myself off trail (believe it or not). The sun was to my south. Bushwacking was interesting and I finally saw L. Superior. Good luck!
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