It has been a hectic nine days since I returned from Isle Royale. The trip was fantastic! The weather was warm - almost too warm at times for backpacking (or running - I was thinking of all the folks I knew running the Fall Superior Trail races as I sweated my way up some climbs the first day on the island).
The plan was to spend a leisurely time on the island. My hiking partner and I had two layover days planned and managed a whopping 45 miles in those nine days. We hiked the Huginnen Cove Loop and then the Feldtmann Trail Loop. See below (and embiggen):
from: National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map - Isle Royale National Park.
We arrived on the island Saturday morning after a very pleasant crossing of Lake Superior (I have issues with sea sickness so was intensely grateful for calm seas). Loaded up our packs, registered our trip with Ranger Val and headed out to Huginnen Cove. It was to be a short hiking day - a bit over 5 miles. But the point was we were on vacation. Plus, at this stage of the trip the packs weighed A LOT! There is a scale at the ranger station and mine topped out at 46 lbs. I know, I will win no awards for ultralight camping, but every trip to the island has involved very cold wet weather so I came prepared with the liner from my winter coat, wool hat, wool/silk blend mittens and liner gloves. Getting chilled means the Raynauds kicks in and I lose circulation to my hands and feet. There are no good options for rewarming, so prevention is the key.
We took the east loop to Huginnen Cove and had a delightful, though rocky, one mile hike along the shoreline of Lake Superior as we need the campground. Along the way we had snacked on thimbleberries, but the shoreline provided us with our first opportunity to snack on blueberries for the trip.
Huginnen Cove - it was raining when we arrived
This trip was to be about mushrooms (and rangers - we saw more rangers on this trip then we have ever seen before!):
I am not good at identifying mushrooms and do not bring field guides along, so you are on your own to identify these, though I can tell you the last picture is of an Amanita species - Fly agaric perhaps. Classic progression of this mushrooms growth. For perspective on the white mushrooms size I stuck my hand in there (measures six inches from wrist to fingertip).
Day 2 we hiked back to Washington Creek/Windigo along the West Huginnen Cove Trail, finding along the way a very confused plant:
Twinflower (Linnaea borealis). This is a summer bloomer, not fall. But there were a few plants blooming out there that should have been long gone (strawberry and bunchberry for example). They respond to day length and the conditions were right.
Spent the night in a shelter at Washington Creek and as an alarm clock the next morning we heard this:
The male moose are in rut! Lots of grunting, thrashing and splashing was going on. Can you see the "decorations" on his antlers?.
We were to encounter this guy later that day on a hike back out onto the Minong Trail. He was herding 3 cows (or was it two and a yearling calf?) alongside the trail. It was in area that the trail looped around, so we very cautiously watched which way he was going and headed in the opposite direction. The moose were about 20 - 30 feet away but hidden by trees so no good pictures. Our main goal at that point was to seem as non-threatening as possible to the male (they are stupid and testy at this time of year) and we cleared out of the area pretty quickly.
I really want to hike the Minong Trail and since this was the first layover day we did a 6 mile scouting trip (out on the trail 3 miles to an overlook for lunch and then back). The trail is rugged (think SHT) and it is over 12 miles from one Washington Creek/Windigo to the first/last campsite. Makes this a challenging route. Maybe in the spring when daylight is abundant?
Looking out towards Canada from the overlook
Typical signpost - only at trail intersections
During the day hike we decided to change our itinerary a bit and leave Windigo via the Greenstone Ridge Trail, hike to Island Mine (6.5 miles) first, then on to Siskiwit Bay ( 4+ miles - where we would spend two nights as previously planned) and from there tackle the two longest sections of our trip - Siskiwit to Feldtmann Lake: 10.2 miles and Feldtmann Lake to Windigo: 8.5 miles with (hopefully) lighter packs. It proved to be a good decision! The climb out of Windigo is a bit of a bear, but once up on the ridge it is pretty easy hiking. We arrived at the intersection with the Island Mine trail to find quite the gathering of hikers! Normally we hardly see a soul out on the trail. Visited for a bit and then on to the campsite. We chose our traditional site (last year good for a wolf sighting), set up camp and went to gather water. Came back and met our first back country ranger. If I had known it was to be the "year of the ranger" I would have taken pictures!
It was an uneventful evening, with some knitting by the campfire (only place we could have one during our trip - well except the community ring at Siskiwit):
The towel on my feet is not for warmth, just trying to dry it. Managed to start that sock on the ferry, knit most of it while camping, and finished it during the drive from Grand Portage to Grand Marias after the trip. Total knitting weight - under 6 ozs and worth it!
The hike to Siskiwit involved some ascents and descents over Red Oak Ridge:
We were rewarded in the hike along Siskiwit Bay with blueberries. Stopped and picked a quart (breakfast supplement) before heading into camp. Siskiwit had been "invaded" by Canada geese, who seemed to use the same trails and shelters as the hikers:
We also had another "camp pet": Snowshoe hare - it seemed to like to join us for dinner (and may soon be someone's dinner if it doesn't learn some caution).
We spent two nights at Siskiwit. The first day we had our second ranger encounter as one pulled up in a boat to check on the supply of toilet paper in the outhouses. Our first reaction when seeing the boat was "oh no - hope the ranger is not coming to find us!". We had a nice visit with him and then it was back to solitude. The second day at the site was spent just sitting on the beach and staring into space. Vacation. Emptying the mind, and replenishing the soul!
The hike to Feldtmann Lake is long and involves climbing up from lake level to Feldtmann Ridge. We needed to get an early start to finish the hike and get camp set-up and dinner done before dark. Staying in a shelter aided the process (no tent to pack up) and we were on the trail by 8:30 am (sunrise was about 6:15 or so). Along the way we hit another blueberry patch and stocked up for the next two mornings:
16oz REI mug filled with blueberries
Better picking than at some commercial growers!
We stopped at the Feldtmann fire tower for lunch, exploring the area for a bit (there is an outhouse that is not listed in any of the guides) and then headed on towards Feldtmann Lake.
The descent from the ridge is a doozy!
But the forest is beautiful, full of mature yellow and paper birch. I had hiked this same section in May before the leaves were out. What a difference! We arrived at Feldtmann Lake with plenty of time to spare and with enough energy to hike the 0.8 mile trail out to Rainbow Cove to sit on the beach, look for rocks, and watch the sun set.
This was to be our coldest night on the island, but we woke to a beautiful scene on Feldtmann Lake:
From here it was 8.5 miles in to Windigo. We stopped by the ranger station to get some water, use a flush toilet and weigh our packs (mine: 39 lbs) - oh yeah and pick up our mail! Half jokingly I had told Wayne to send me a race report. He kept refusing so I was not expecting mail. I think Ranger Val may have been as, or more, excited then I was! It had arrived that morning, on the last possible boat to have made it before we left. There was much anticipation as I explained the letter while opening the envelope to find... three small letters (well, only two at first which was a bit confusing) - D N F. No explanation. Just the three letters. I could sense the disappointment and couldn't wait to hear the story.
The last night on the island was pretty uneventful as was the ferry crossing. Seas were up a bit and I spent my time on the boat perched in the bow, facing forward and watching the horizon line in between finishing up the sock.
Arrived on the mainland refreshed from another wonderful trip to the island!