Monday, February 7, 2011



But this trip wasn’t quite over. After returning to Copper Harbor, we had planned to drive to McClain State Park near Hancock for an overnight, then head to the Porkies the next day for some day hiking and an overnight stay at the Presque Isle River unit.

Well…..neither of us was really very anxious to sleep on the ground that night, so we opted for a hotel room in Houghton, and met several other IR hikers we’d buddied up with for pizza at the Ambassador.

The next morning, we headed out in rain and wind for the Porkies. The forecast was for scattered showers all day and into the next.

Our first stop was the Lake Of The Clouds overlook near the Escarpment Trail. Been almost 30 years since my last visit there. The view was clear to LOC, but the peaks of the surrounding hills were covered in clouds and mist. Moody and dark, but just beautiful.

After stopping at White Pine for some sandwiches, we headed for the Presque Isle River for a day hike. More rain, more wind. The river was amazing and we did a couple of miles before the skies really opened up in a steady downpour.

We did a hard assessment of the situation. The campground was thoroughly soaked, with standing water in spots. The forecast looked terrible. We decided that a night in the rain didn’t appeal to either of us and we just called it a trip that afternoon. We decided to shave a few hours off the trip home and drove to Munising for another overnight hotel stay.

The trip back to GR was a mix of sun and rain, but otherwise uneventful. Stopped at Mackinaw for some fudge to treat our house-bound family members.

And there was a big pot of my wife’s spectacular homemade spaghetti in the crockpot when we walked in the door.

Day 7. Daisy Farm To Rock Harbor


The next morning, we both woke up nice and warm. We wanted to be on our way by 8:00 am to make sure we’d have no trouble getting to Rock Harbor by noon. So up and out we went, snacking on pop tarts and such on the way.

At Suzy’s Cave, we veered north to catch the Tobin Harbor Trail to its end at Rock Harbor. What a pretty trail! Though more up & down than the RH trail, the footing was blissfully soft and easy on the feet. Wish we’d taken that path on Day 1, when I was still getting my trail legs.

We arrived at Rock Harbor in plenty of time, rolling in about 11:20 am. We were met by just about everyone we’d seen on the trail in the past week and spent an enjoyable couple of hours around burgers and beers, trading stories and prepping for the passage back to Copper Harbor. It was almost like a class reunion.

This was to be a 100% full ride on the Queen IV. Clear, calm, and easy.


As the boat backed out of the harbor, I was deeply satisfied with how the trip had gone. Yes, I was sore. But if you’re not sore after a trip like this, you didn’t do it. And my pack was still heavy since I’d done the Dad-thing and lightened Pat’s load to protect his knee.

Pat and I are likely going to apply as a tag team for the Artist-In-Residence program next summer at Isle Royale. He for his artwork, me for my songwriting. If we don’t get it, I don’t know when the stars will line up for another shot at the Island. I doubt very much that I’ve done my last trip to IR, but in the next few years it will be difficult to make the return journey.

What an adventure. One year in the planning and 30 years in the dreaming.

Day 6. McCargoe Cove to Daisy Farm


Pat had no problem rolling out of the sack fairly early because he wasn’t all warm and cozy. After a wonderfully misty sunrise and several more pike from the dock, we bolted for the trail by 9:00 am. Hey….that’s early for a 17 year old!

I was concerned that the climb out of Chickenbone was going to be tough, but it wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. Once up on the Greenstone, we caught that first great vista to the north and Sleeping Giant. Wow! But the clouds had been piling up at it was looking like we might get some rain. But it held off and we enjoyed the hike in cool temps. About :45 after hitting the ridge, we came up on some hikers who we knew were ahead of us. They had their cameras out and were giving us the “shhhh” sign. To the right just ahead…..moose! And not just one. There, were a large bull and a cow, just as content and relaxed as could be, poking around and on the browse. We watched them for a good 30 minutes from 60-70 feet away. Got lots of pics and videos. Big, honkin’ animals! The bull was likely 1,000-1,100 pounds and the cow maybe 800 or so. Wow! What an adrenalin rush!

Then, another :45 down the trail, we spotted a cow and a calf! She was a little more nervous and we kept more distance between us. We watched for about 10 minutes before they moved on.

About then, the wind was picking up, the clouds were getting thicker and the sprinkles began. Before long, it was raining proper so we got the pack covers and raingear on. Then, no sooner did we get suited up when the rain stopped….though it continued to threaten. Our plan had been to head for the Ojibway tower before dropping down to Daisy Farm. But with the threat of rain, and possibly a storm while high on the ridge, we thought better of it and took the first opportunity to head for Daisy Farm.

Probably half of Daisy’s 16 shelters were unoccupied so we pretty much had our pick. The weather mixed clouds and sun, cold and wind. I donned a down vest under my shell. We gathered again with several parties we’d met earlier, and traded stories. Just about everyone on the island was now headed for Rock Harbor and the Friday ferry departure the next day.

That evening, the winds died down some and the sun came back out. Delightful, but cool evening. Pat and I decided to see where Ranger Rob lived (and I had a few questions for him). We hiked the 200 yards or so to his residence, a small cabin right on the water. Rob came to the door, invited us in, and we spent the next hour or so in very pleasant conversation about all things Isle Royale. We learned that earlier that day, about 10 am, a wolf had waltzed right in and stood by the sign at the center of camp. Doh!

Back at the shelter, Pat and I heated up some hot chocolate, swapped our sleeping bags and launched into our last night on the Island. But festivities weren’t quite over, though. About 1:00 am or so (I’m guessing), it sounded as though someone was trying to drive a dump truck through the woods right next to our shelter. We heard breaking branches, snorting and whatnot as a moose made its rather indelicate entrance to Daisy Farm. We heard later that it was probably a cow that had recently become a regular at the camp.

Day 5. Lake Ritchie to McCargoe Cove.


Ahhhhh! Sweet, cool morning and another fabulous sunrise. Caught a few more borderline legal pike between cups of coffee from shore. I let our neighbors top off their water supplies with my filter and lent my pot to a couple who’d forgotten theirs. On the trail by 9:00 am this time. The 6 miles and change to McCargoe were very enjoyable and scenic. And gloriously cool. What a difference 20 degrees made! Had no trouble landing a shelter and watched the Voyager arrive at the dock, exchanging passengers and gear. Most were headed elsewhere and the campground never did fill up.

There was a beautiful wood-masted sailboat at the dock, towing a small Zodiac. We’d seen them heading out to the big water 2 days earlier at Chippewa. Nice group of seniors who were fun to talk with. More otters at the dock. Caught several more pike off the shore. Someone had found and left a large single moose antler shed by the fire ring. Quite impressive!

I gathered some wood, started a fire and was joined by a couple campers. One young guy and his wife stuck around with us to enjoy the evening. About 10:30 pm, we were all considering turning in when I noticed a glow to the north. Pretty soon, we were treated to a dandy northern lights display, low on the horizon. It gave us lots of looks before abruptly winking out. Oxcellent!

This night, Pat just about froze! It got down into the upper 40s. I, however, was finally comfortable in my down bag. I offered to switch with him the next night and just layer up.

Day 4. Chippewa Harbor to Lake Ritchie.


Hottest day of the trip. It would be over 90 degrees later that day. WTH?!

Another amazing sunrise and on the trail about 10 am again. This leg is no easier from the other direction. But it was shorter since we were only going to Lake Ritchie….4 miles and change.

When we arrived at Ritchie, several sites were open and we settled in at one of the two group sites, just for the shade. Out came the fishing gear and we headed for the shore. We were camped next to a group of 3 guys who had portaged in a canoe. As we shore fished, the group stopped by on their way to a day hike. They said they had broken both of the 2 filters they’d brought and were drinking boiled water. They offered the use of their canoe for use of my filter. That was a deal I was more than happy to make! So we launched their canoe and spent perhaps 90 minutes on the lake and caught about a dozen pike, and hooked several more that got away. Pat caught several nice 24”-26” fish, and I landed what looked to be about a 30 incher. What fun!

We saw more otters and another bald eagle, but still… moose. But with temps over 90 that day and no cooler than 75 degrees at night, I couldn’t blame the moose for not being a little easier to find. Late afternoon, we heard thunder in the distance and saw clouds rolling in. We’d heard a front was on its way that should produce some rain and cooler temps. About 6:00 pm it started raining pretty good, so we piled into the tent. By 7:30, the storm was spent and we again had a great sunset and clear night skies. It didn’t feel much cooler tho….just muggier. But as the night covered us, the temps finally started to drop and we got some much-needed relief.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 3. Moskey Basin to Chippewa Harbor.

Another amazing dawn of clear skies and too-warm temps. I roused Pat about 9:00 and we were up and at it by 10:00 am. 6 miles and change to Chippewa. Though this hike was easier on the feet, I found it among the most difficult of the trip with a number of significant climbs and drops. We stopped for lunch at the Richey to Chippewa portage and spotted wolf tracks and a blue heron carcass.

While removing his pack for a break, Pat popped his knee out of joint in an awkward move. Heard him say the f-word (he’s 17) for the first time outloud. I’ve popped out both my knees many times over the years and could easily feel his pain. I sat him down for about a half hour, got him an 800 mg whack of ibuprophen, lightened his pack, and kept and eye on him. He was a bit gimpy from there on, but the knee posed no further problems.

We were denied a shelter for the first and only time on this trip at Chippewa. With stay limits lifted after Labor Day, 3 of the 4 shelters were taken by campers dropped off by boat and staying….if you can believe it….for 9 days. Oy. The tent sites were empty and we took #1 for the night. Bushwhacked to the top of the hill for some great views. Then down to the big water shoreline. Saw the old schoolhouse on the way.

Pat caught the first fish of the trip off the Chippewa dock. A northern, about 24”. He was allllll smiles! Caught it on a classic red & white daredevil.

Talked with a very tired hiker who came in later. Said he came from Todd Harbor (I think)…and had hiked 19 miles that day with a 50 pound pack. Made me feel rather wimpy. Or smart.

We took the rare opportunity to have a campfire, but felt nervous because the fire danger was so high and the dry grass so close to the fire ring. We stoked it once at the start, then let it die. The night was very windy but again too warm for sleeping comfort. We slept with the rain fly off for better air circulation, but I kept waking up thinking the wind was bringing in rain. Didn’t sleep very much that night at all.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day Two. Daisy Farm to Moskey Basin.

I was up before dawn and sat on the dock with a cup of coffee and my camera for an awesome sunrise. Quite warm. Even at dawn, it was already in the low 70s. Made for a rather hot and uncomfortable overnight. I let Pat (Mr. Crack-Of-Noon) sleep till 9:00 am and we were off and trekking about 10:00.

This would be a short hiking day (under 4 miles to Moskey) but very rocky and root-laden. And quite hot. 80+ by noon. It was in this stretch that I tweaked my left ankle pretty good, despite constantly staring at my boots as I hiked. Then another lesser tweak. And another. By the time we hit Moskey, my ankle was swollen again….but still manageable. We were the first to arrive at the campground and took the second shelter in (#3, I think). I doused my feet in that gloriously cold water in what was quickly becoming a daily ritual.

Two boats had moored at the dock and the seniors on it had a picnic going on. Pat and I fished at the dock for a bit with no luck. On our way back to the shelter, we were offered 4 large homemade meatloaf sandwiches, which we couldn’t resist. Then Pat was offered a can of pop. And I was offered an ice cold Oberon. Yes, we were weak. And yes, we accepted. I felt guilty….for oh, maybe 2 or 3 seconds.

One of the park rangers showed up to check in with us and we had a brief, pleasant conversation. A solo hiker had shown up and took the shelter 2 sites down from us and he came over the chat with us and the ranger. First, he said he hadn’t known about the shelters and was a little disappointed at having brought a tent. He seemed not to grasp that there’s no guarantee of getting a shelter. He also said he didn’t know he would have to filter his water and was now having to boil it, and with the campfire ban at most sites (which he didn’t know about), was now leaving him short on stove fuel. Oy. I don’t know how anyone can come to this island, especially solo, and not be better prepared. I lent him my water filter so he could at least top off his supply. Had I been thinking, I would’ve also given him my can of sterno, which I carried as a backup to my regular stove.

We saw our first otter at Moskey and I got a real close look as it came right up to the dock, just a few feet away. I also lost 3 lures there without so much as getting a sniff at a single fish. Ouch. Thought we might have heard some wolves that night, but realized later they must have been loons, singing tunes we hadn’t heard before. Yet another glorious sunset under crystal clear skies, but it was another hot, hot night. I sweated my way through a very fitful sleep. Moskey is one gorgeous campground. The shelters are probably no more that 50 feet off the water.