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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Isle Royale, Minong Trail, First Boat 2014

Richard Templin and I took the Voyageur II's first trip to the island on May 14. Most of the passengers were MooseWatch volunteers. We had a nice visit with Candy Peterson, who has spent many many summers on the island studying moose and wolves. She was such a kind and gentle lady. No one was at the Windigo Ranger Station yet, so we stayed on the boat while some passengers unloaded. 

We were curious to see if we would get into McCargoe Cove, our dropoff point. It was ice free and a beautiful day full of blue sky when we landed there.

Aboard the Voyageur II
McCargoe Cove shelter

We took a nice long run on some trails (see previous blog). We saw a fox who posed for us and we saw some great views of southern lakes and the Greenstone Ridge.

It got cold that night, as it did the rest of the nights too. Brr-three-pairs-of-socks-and-don't-get-out-of-your-sleeping-bag kind of cold.

McCargoe Cove evening

The next day we started our journey westward down the Minong Trail, but this would be our shortest mileage day so we took our time getting moving. My legs weren't completely there yet.

Minong Mine
Minong Trail
Group site at Todd Harbor

Stream beyond the Haytown Mine at Todd Harbor
But his eyes look so serious.
Near the Todd harbor group sites. I love this tree.
Shoe drying. I accidentally burned my Montrails.
Todd Harbor sunset

We had Todd Harbor to ourselves, except for a fox, some loons, mergansers, ducks, squirrels, etc. Probably some moose we didn't see. We explored the Haytown Mine area and the shore around the group camp sites in the afternoon while the sun tried to come out. We had a fire and tried to dry our socks and shoes. It was a lovely spot to sit and watch the sun go down, and once Rich got that fire going, we didn't stray far from its heat.

Friday's hike from Todd Harbor to North Desor Lake got long. The first half to Little Todd Harbor is mostly a straight line and we made good time. 

Evil creek crossing just east of Little Todd Harbor.

Rich was waiting for me at the Little Todd junction with rice and beans cooking.

The second half of Friday's hike, Little Todd Harbor to North Desor Lake, is my favorite section of trail on Isle Royale. Most of it travels the top of the Minong Ridge and the views of the Greenstone Ridge and the Canadian shoreline are dramatic and beautiful, with cooling breezes, but it's an up and down hike that will grind your legs down and make you question those luxury items in your pack. It's one of my favorite playgrounds.

Minong Ridge, hat head

Minong Ridge
Canada from Minong Ridge

That walk into the North Desor Lake campsite is a lovely and welcome one. It's so different with no leaves on the aspen trees.

We tried to dry our clothes. The wind off the lake was cold, of course.

Filtering water, I watched otters swim by and poke their heads out of the lake. Neither Rich nor I made it to nightfall awake.

Saturday morning was our last day of hiking, the long haul to Windigo. Again, Rich took off well before I did--I'm a slow riser when the only source of heat is myself and it's cold out there. But once the sun came out, Saturday gave us perfect hiking weather. About a mile from the campsite, I (and Rich before me) came across a moose. She didn't seem concerned at all by my presence, and I slowly made a wide circle around her.

The hike to Windigo was good. Rich and I both fell backwards into the mud at different times. It happened to me crossing one of the beaver dams. We were grateful for pink ribbons the rangers had tied to trees in the fire damaged section--without them we would most likely still be there. Even more trees have blown down here over the winter.

Fire damaged section

After a dam crossing I followed a moose trail instead of the Minong Trail and found myself in a slough, jumping around to keep my feet dry. I backtracked and covered the moose trail with sticks and downed shrubs so others wouldn't follow. We met a couple groups of eastbound hikers as we got closer to Washington Harbor--they were the first hikers we had seen.

The end of the Minong. Yay!

We had plenty of time to explore before the Voyageur picked us up on Sunday. Sunday morning Rich went for a run and I chose a slower paced walk and took lots of pictures.

Scarlet tanager

Snowshoe hare changing into its summer outfit


A class of seventh graders from Iowa was staying in the group camp sites and rode the boat back with us. One of my current goals is to get people who are alcoholism and drug addiction survivors like myself to places like this to experience the healing and transformative power of nature and magic places and self-sustainability and all that stuff. It was fun talking to the organizers and Ranger Val about this. I'm grateful they got to experience the island. I'm also grateful I got to experience it, and grateful for the company of Richard. Can't wait to go back, as always.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Trail Run on Isle Royale

Isle Royale is a US National Park, a forty-mile long island in Lake Superior designated as a United Nations biosphere reserve. Except for visits by a very few researchers who study the island's wolf and moose populations, the park is closed in the winter. Rich Templin and I took the first boat from Grand Portage, MN to the island on May 14, 2014.

Most of the passengers on the Voyageur II were MooseWatch volunteers and scientists. After dropping some people off at the Windigo Ranger station, the boat took us around the north side of the island and dropped us off at the McCargoe Cove Campground. We were happy to be there--the captain had asked us for an alternate drop-off location in case the ice stopped us from getting into McCargoe Cove, but the water was open all the way to the campground dock. On the map below, the McCargoe Cove campground is the tent symbol that says "no alcohol" just east of the Minong Mine.

We set our packs in a shelter and changed into our running clothes. We had some idea of what we were going to run, but didn't fully commit to our loop until halfway through the run. The loop we ran started at McCargoe Cove campground, went south through West Chickenbone and Lake Richie, east through Moskey Basin and Daisy Farm, up the western leg to the Greenstone Ridege, and back through East Chickenbone. It was roughly 21 miles through awesome trail that no one had yet traveled for the season, trail that had not been cleared, through patches of snow, mud, and water and lots of blown over trees. It was amazing.

McCargoe Cove shelter

After throwing some water and snacks in a backpack, I decided to leave the pack in the shelter and run free. After a mile or so, we realized we had too many clothes on and left our sleeves and jackets on a tree limb at the Chickenbone portage.

Skunk cabbage was abundant, sometimes even pushing up through the snow.

Trail with boardwalk

Boardwalk selfie

We were running in the shoes we would be hiking in (although I had a backup pair), so keeping them dry was important, and eventually impossible. We were grateful for boardwalks when they were there. These boardwalks are used by more animals than people--we often saw fox, rabbit, even wolf scat on them. 

Trail without boardwalk (normally dry here, I imagine)

Some snow in spots

Lake Richie
Lake Richie
After Lake Richie, about six miles into the run, we both seemed to be feeling looser, and somewhere between there and Moskey Basin, at a water crossing, we committed to doing a full loop instead of some kind of out and back run.

This turtle was kind enough to move off the boardwalk for us, so Rich returned the favor and helped him back up. We also scared many snakes sunning on the trail, often just hearing them moving away through the grasses.

Between Lake Richie and Moskey Basin
Moskey Basin
I love Moskey Basin and it was a real treat to get that lovely view.

Between Moskey Basin and Daisy Farm we saw a fox just before it saw us. When it realized we were there, it sat down. It made a point of showing us that it was looking away from us once it realized what we were. At the Daisy Farm junction, we decided to move on and avoid the short leg to the campground. We were starting to worry about beating nightfall to our shelter.

Now we were running on more rock, less mud and water (although we still found plenty of those). As we climbed up toward the Greenstone Ridge, we scared off a couple of Sandhill Cranes. What huge wingspans they had! Somewhere on the climb to the Greenstone I asked Rich for water. At the shelter, I had packed water and snacks, a headlamp, even a filter, but then decided to leave it all and run free. I felt bad asking for water I wasn't carrying.

We made it to the Greenstone Ridge.
Sargent Lake and Canada in the distance
The running was, for the most part, smoother and faster on the Greenstone Ridge. The trail was more level and we were moving now, very aware of the setting sun we were running toward.

We saw lots of moose antlers.

It was a steep but welcome climb off the Greenstone Ridge. Snow made it slippery in spots. We ran some rolling terrain around the arms of Chickenbone Lake, then backtracked some to get our clothes. We made it back to camp with time to filter water and start a fire. We were thirsty, hungry, cold, and sore and it felt great. We ate our dehydrated dinners while enjoying a lovely sunset and moonrise.

McCargoe Cove evening

McCargoe Cove evening
McCargoe Cove moonrise
It was a mighty cold night, but the fire was helpful. We tried to dry our shoes over it. The next day we would start our backpacking journey west over the Minong Trail. Over the campfire, we agreed that we would both like to run the island end to end sometime soon. But this run, being the first over these trails for the season, was a magic one.