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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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the report Kevin. Looking forward to the rest. Mike T.