Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Isle Royale Runcation 2018 (First Boat)

Presence is experienced in a particpative way, outside the mind. Richard Rohr. The Naked Now.

Jason Husveth and I had planned to take the first boat from Grand Portage to Isle Royale and base camp at McCargoe Cove, but Isle Royale had different plans. The first boat was delayed a week due to ice on Lake Superior, and we were both lucky enough to have the flexibility to get on the second first boat. When we arrived at the dock, we were told they still couldn't get into McCargoe Cove because of the ice, so we chose to get dropped off at the Windigo station instead and stay at Washington Creek, which still offers lots of running options.

Grand Portage

We didn't realize it until the boat started moving out of Grand Portage, but a thin veil of ice covered the water.

Sleeping Giant

The first crossing is always a festive one. The crowd included researchers (mostly interns), faces familiar from other first crossings, and some first timers. I was surprised there weren't more people on the boat. I imagine the late spring and postponement of the first boat had kept some away.

The crossing
The rangers and researchers had been dropped off (from the Michigan or Rock Harbor side) at Windigo the day before we arrived  and their boats had broken up lots of ice, but I was still surprised at the amount of ice floating in the harbor. A big chunk floated between the dock and our boat and the captain had to maneuver the  boat around a few times to get the ice out of the way. Ranger Val and her husband and Rolf and Candy Peterson and a couple other people met us.

After our "Leave No Trace" talk with Ranger Val, we settled into our shelter. Jason took a nap so I gave him some space and ran a ways up the Greenstone. When I came back, he was waking up, and we wandered up to Grace Overlook. He wanted to look for Fairy Bells. It's a rare plant in our region of the country. Very rare. It mostly occurs in the Rockies. We found lots of them, many in flower already.

Grace Overlook

Grace Overlook

Grace Overlook

Grace Overlook
We also ran the Huginnin Cove Loop that afternoon. It has a mile or so of trail that runs along the north coast that's some of my favorite on the island, so mossy and green with dramatic rock and ice filled views and vistas to the Sleeping Giant and Thunder Bay area.

Huginnin Cove

Huginnin trail

Huginnin trail

On the way back to Washington Creek we startled a moose that had been browsing just off the trail. Without much wolf predation, the moose population is ballooning. So is the beaver population. We saw several moose, more than I have on any previous trip to the island. Maybe it has something to do with being on island so early, but none of them would stick around for photography. Instead, they all ran away like embarrassed teenagers. Ranger Val said the moose would be calving soon, and they all calve at the same time, possibly timed by temperatures and the amount of vegetation there is to eat. I can't imagine what kind of energy that creates, all those moose giving birth at the same time across the island. I wonder if that kind of energy affects people. It must be a palpable thing that is easily felt.

I was tired and had run nearly 20 miles that day. When I use the word "run" here, you need to understand that we are moving quickly along the trail, enjoying our interaction with the landscape, but we aren't in any kind of hurry. We're not afraid to stop and stare in wonder at whatever fancies our attention, passing clouds, the shape of ice, fresh tracks, or orchids Jason points out.

Washington Creek sunset
On Sunday we had a chill morning in camp, then went to Feldtmann Lake and Rainbow Cove. The trail was overgrown with thimbleberry plants that sliced at our shins. We had to climb over and under and around some downed trees. These early season issues that we encounter before the trail crews have cleared trail are an easy trade off for the views through trees that haven't leafed out yet.

Feldtmann Lake

Once we left the main trail for the spur to Rainbow Cove, I figured it would be freezing when we got there. The wind was blowing cold off the lake, like opening a freezer door, but I was pleasantly surprised to find Rainbow Cove protected from the wind and warm, though there were some huge chunks of snow under the gravel. 

Rainbow Cove
It's easy to lose yourself for awhile here. The sound of the waves tumbling rocks. The heat from that sun. The wind whispering trees behind you. Slight fatigue. Soon it feels like a lazy dream.

Rainbow Cove
I chose to run around Feldtmann Lake and up to Feldtmann Ridge while Jason hiked down the beach and bushwhacked back to the main trail. He likes exploring the plant life in those swampy areas. On Feldtmann Ridge, I saw two moose, a shaggy one on my way out and the other on my way back. I enjoyed the open ridgetop running but some of the lower trail wore me down on the way back, climbing around trees and those thimbleberry plants that left my shins bloodied. I hit 25 miles for the day.

Feldtmann Lake

On Monday we hit the Minong Trail. We had talked earlier about the possibility of making it to north Lake Desor but we were actually smart and listened to our bodies and turned around well before that. We started by power hiking and that felt hard to me, but when the legs are tired can be the best time to run so we tried that some too, off and on.

We scared up two moose on the way out. The sun felt nice and warm too, once we got inland a ways.

Mondays are my day to run stairs (I think Jason does this everyday with weights around his neck and rocks  around his ankles), so the up and down nature of the Minong trail was perfect for this day.

People talk about running the Greenstone in a day but I think a really fun and challenging run would be to try the Minong in a day.

Beaver dam

The Petersons were overseeing a group of people studying beavers and they were learning that with so little predation the beavers were wandering very far for food, much farther than they would anywhere else.
Minong Ridge
 I love running the Minong Ridge, going from cairn to cairn, hopping from rock to rock.

Minong Ridge

Minong Ridge
On the way back Jason said he was going to lag. I figured he wanted to do some bushwhacking so I kept running. Unfortunately, he never saw the note I left him on the trail...

For the second time, I heard sandhill cranes on my way back to camp.

Washington Creek

Sock-drying tree

On Tuesday we both got an early start. This would be our big mileage day. We would be doing slightly different plans, both mostly along the Greenstone Trail. Jason was going farther than me. He packed a bivy bag in case he wanted to sleep on the ground somewhere, while my plan was to run about 20 miles out and turn around and make it back with enough daylight to make dinner. I left a few minutes before Jason. I scared a few moose as I ascended the ridge on the way to the Island Mine junction. The leaves on the trail are dry and crunchy and I'm sure many moose around the island heard me long before they saw me. This trail is where I can really appreciate the spring views--at times I could see water on both my left and right. 

At Hatchet Lake I took the spur down to the lake, around it, and up towards the Minong. When my watch hit 20 miles, I saw a stack of boards that had been dropped off by helicopter (I assume) on a ridge and I climbed up there and sat on the boards and ate a candy bar. I saw a moose trotting away on another ridge.

From the Greenstone
Hatchet Lake
I climbed down from the ridge and drank from a fast moving creek, although I could see a beaver while I was drinking. I also refilled my water from Hatchet Lake before climbing back to the Greenstone. I saw a handful of people on the Greenstone, including Jason. Jason was planning to go beyond Todd Harbor before turning around. He gave me some iodine for my water (I know you should filter it too). It was a lift to see him.

I felt surprisingly good on the way back. I met a few hikers who had been on our boat. I saw a lot of ice on Siskiwit Lake. I stopped and called Lisa from Mount Desor--it was so great to hear her voice.

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wolf track
 I saw several wolf tracks on the Greenstone.


By the time I got to the Island Mine junction, I knew it was a downhill slide back to Washington Harbor. My feet were a bit sore but my legs were moving well. This whole trail was so much more runnable than anything else we had done. Despite the tired legs and feet, I felt like I was floating in. There is a place on this trail that's full of spring beauties, as far as you can see, and it's one of my favorite spots.

I often fall when I'm trail running, but I hadn't fallen all day. I don't think I had fallen the entire trip. But with less than a quarter mile to go, near the Washington Creek group campsites, I hit a root and went down hard into some mud. I laughed and when I stood up my watch beeped, telling me I had run 40 miles. I still had plenty of daylight left, so I traded shoes and ate a few ibuprofren and walked down to the harbor to filter water. My feet really hurt, but this walking helped. I was a bit of a mess.

Washington Harbor

Washington Harbor

Washington Harbor
It was about 1:30 in the morning when I heard Jason coming in. He said he was sore. He said he saw a moose's eyes reflected in his headlamp that was really something. He had had an epic adventure, and coming in in the dark had only added to it.

The next day we hung around camp and Windigo. We talked to a bunch of seventh graders from Iowa there on an extended field trip. We visited with Ranger Val. We visited with Eileen, the store lady. The store wasn't officially open yet but she let us in and let us buy snacks as long as we had the right change. We sat on the deck of the store and pounded Pepsi and Pringles. We visited with another hiker. We visited with Candy Peterson and talked about Richard Rohr and what it means to be present. It was a lovely day. I ran a couple miles in the evening to shake the legs out and took a lot of pics of the Windigo area.

On our final day we did the Huginnin Loop again before the boat came. I left a few minutes before Jason and we ran it in opposite directions, so I got to see him halfway.

Then we packed up and crossed back over to Grand Portage. It was a calm crossing. At Grand Portage, Jason took me to see the Witch Tree. Then we hit the gas station for soda, chips, and bratwursts. Then we went to Grand Marais. There we first stopped at Hughie's Tacos for their tacos that are made with a delicious fry bread shell. Then we drove a few blocks to the Dockside Fish Market for chowder and fish and chips. I guess we were hungry. Then on to Lutsen to help out with the Superior Spring Trail Races. 

Once again I feel blessed to have been a part of this place for a brief time. I'll take it with me.

Witch tree