In 2016 my friend Katie Bovee and I took a 9-day journey across Isle Royale, predominantly on the Greenstone Ridge Trail.
July 9, 2016
Day 1: Windigo to South Lake Desor
Our journey to Isle Royale couldn’t have gone more smoothly. We camped at Grand Portage so our early-morning commute to the boat was all of five minutes. We loaded onto the Voyageur II and snagged seats outside on the back of the boat.
After we landed at Windigo and went through an obligatory orientation, we hit the trail around 10:30. Although the Greenstone Ridge Trail heads uphill for awhile, it was only a big climb by Isle Royale standards – easy compared to most long trails.
The bugs were pretty bad, which made stopping for breaks challenging. We started slowing down around Mount Desor, but luckily it was a lot of downhill to get to our final destination.
I was pleased that we made it that far, especially given that we were carrying nine days of food. Our packs got much lighter after we’d eaten our peaches, peas, and blueberries that we packed out. First day out = food party.
Other: wolf scat, 2 snakes
July 10, 2016
Day 2: South Lake Desor to West Chickenbone Lake
I awoke at dawn but went back to sleep. There were half a million mosquitoes outside the tent and only a few were inside. There was also a tarantula in the tent which Bovee claimed was a wolf spider, but I was pretty convinced it was a tarantula. We got a later start than I’m used to, but we were on island time — what did it matter?
Bovee and I never realized how much we both scan the woods for bears until we came here, where there’s not a single bear. Still I found my eyes surveying the woods for a telltale animal rump.
This was a long but good day with a sprinkling of great discussions, songs, and some alphabet games (What does Olga the Overprepared Hiker Have in her Pack?).
We lunched at a rock with views of the Isle Royale lighthouse, far away. At the cutoff down to Hatchet Lake we kept going, although we knew the day would get long. It sure did. It was buggy, and I got water from a mosquito-infested creek, but it was all worth it for the views from Siskiwit where we could see how far we’d come. The combination of juniper and strawberry, lichen and small oaks was tremendously appealing.
We descended into the moosiest moosehole that ever moosed, yet somehow managed to avoid seeing a moose. It was 6:20 before we pulled up at West Chickenbone, which was already nearly full. We got a tent pad which was merely okay, but the water source was great. I stuck my feet in and promptly got a leech and ended up bleeding all over. Adventures.
People: 2 on trail, many in campsite
Other: wolf scat, peregrine
July 11, 2016
Day 3: West Chickenbone Lake to Threemile
My feet were sad but it was a great day. The first miles were muddy and gross but after that there were many landmarks to guide the way and make things go faster.
We ate lunch at Angleworm Lake just as it began to rain. It was a pleasant ridgewalk to Mount Ojibway where we rested and Bovee climbed. The wind was fierce — as we left, thunder rumbled. The two miles over to Mount Franklin were long, but the sweeping views from Franklin made it all worth it.
We departed from the Greenstone Ridge Trail shortly thereafter and headed down off the ridge — the weather looked unpromising. The descent down the ridge was steep and dramatic. At Threemile we found an empty shelter to call our own. Shelters like these are not built up on the ridge but are on some of the shore sites. With weather blowing in, we rejoiced in having one.
In our enclosed shelter we were safe from bugs and we soon saw two moose poking around just outside.
People: 26 (large groups)
Other: wolf scat, bunny, ranger
July 12, 2016
Day 4: Threemile to Moskey Basin
Last night was amazing. After our moose sighting it began to rain, then to pour. The thunder and lightning were incredible, but I slept through most of it. Having a shelter was rarely as important as it was last night.
I woke up to a yearning little grunt. I opened my eyes to a moose ten feet away. It was busily munching on leaves, making it very difficult for me to go pee.
Once Bovee and I had taken our obligatory photos of the moose butts, we debated our plans. I had planned to hike out to the northeasternmost tip of the island, but it no longer seemed worth it: the bugs up on that ridge were terrible, whereas down by the lake they were better. Also, the lakeshore had shelters and moose. Therefore, the lakeshore won.
The eight miles to Moskey Basin should have been easy, but the first four were underwater thanks to the deluge of the night before. We ate lunch at Daisy Farm and from there the trail improved. We also met a scout named Dakota, who warned us about all the danger spots. The kid was all alone, so we hiked with him until we found his troop. “If you kill a mosquito that’s just flying, you gotta eat it. That’s what Dominic did. He could use the fiber.”
Moskey Basin is a paradise. This evening while trying to fill my waterbottle I slid into the lake here — I needed a bath anyway! The water is cold but delicious.
Moose: 3 (Bovee says 1 because the mother and baby were likely a duplicate sighting. I say it counts.)
July 13, 2016
Day 5: Moskey Basin to McCargoe Cove
These short days are spoiling me. We left Moskey at a decent hour and meandered to Lake Richie for our first break. Indian Portage Trail was wet and muddy, but it was very cool to pop out onto the intersection we’d been at a couple of days ago.
We arrived at McCargoe Cove around 1:00 and got a shelter — a nice view of the Cove but we were spoiled after last night. In comparison, this one was so far away from the water! Three consecutive shelters: unbelievable.
I drank a liter of water, submerged myself into water that might have been fifty degrees, watched loons, and read a book.
People: Lots, but no one from between Greenstone and McCargoe
Other: Eagle, loons, fox
July 14, 2016
Day 6: McCargoe Cove to Todd Harbor
This was a short day as we started thinking about real life again. It rained — I awoke and couldn’t summon the energy to get up, so I slept more. Then it stopped and we still were on trail before 9AM.
I’d heard a lot of rumors about Minong Ridge Trail. Today we did 6.6 of it and it didn’t live up to the scary stories I’d heard, although we had to crawl under trees a few times. No big deal.
We arrived at Todd Harbor by lunch time and claimed the only shelter. I never guessed we would get it, especially because it was sprinkling and I would expect someone to want to hole up under a roof.
Moose: 0, but antlers
Other: wolf tracks, bunny, merganser
July 15, 2016
Day 7: Todd Harbor to Hatchet Lake
We slept in today because we had no plans to actually hike until afternoon. This was a beautiful spot and we wanted to enjoy it. Due to our pickup location at Malone Bay, there was nowhere we could comfortably go today besides Hatchet Lake, which was not quite four miles away. And so we rested.
And we mocked how few miles we’re going today.
July 16, 2016
Day 8: Hatchet Lake to Malone Bay
And… done?! Weird.
The hard part today was getting up and over the Greenstone Ridge. We backtracked four miles between Hatchet Lake and Ishpeming – interesting to see it coming from a different direction. The Ishpeming Trail was overgrown but not scary. We descended from 1377 feet to lake level at about 601.
We ate lunch along Siskiwit Lake and saw the largest island in the largest lake in the largest island in the largest lake in the world. We arrived at Malone around 2PM, lucky for us, because there were only two shelters remaining. We got a nice one, tucked away. I swam in the mind-numbingly cold water.
July 17, 2016
Day 9: Malone Bay to dock, to Windigo, to Grand Portage, to home.
Coming to Isle Royale was like traveling a long way to go home.