Isle Royale National Park
Jason, Mark, Mike and Sam set out for a week of backpacking in what ended up being the worst mosquitoes any of us had ever seen. This is no understatement either as we all grew up in various parts of Minnesota which is home to some of the biggest and worst skeeters this side of Alaska.
This was Jason’s first backpacking trip and we were doing decent miles much to his dismay at first so that paired with the bugs caused a bit of complaining. By about the half way point however he had mellowed out and was actually enjoying himself. He has since purchased a backpack so I think he might be getting into it.
Jason, Mark and Mike (all from St. Paul) drove up to my place in Duluth and then it was off to Grand Portage at the Canadian border. We pitched our tents outside a pole barn next to the boat dock at the ferry terminal in what – as we found out the next morning was apparently the sea gulls toilet – as there was bird shit everywhere.
June 2nd (7.1 mi.)
We awoke early, went to the casino for a some biscuits and gravy before catching the six hour ferry ride out to and around the island where were to dock at Rock Harbor. We arrived late in the afternoon and immediately hit the trail for the Daisy Farm campsite.
June 3rd (8.2 mi.)
The next morning was a nice day with a lot of sun, walking on rocks and the realization that the bugs were going to be horrendous. We headed from the campsite up to the Greenstone Ridge trail and checked out the fire tower at Mt. Ojibway (1135 ft.). From there it was a few mile hike along the Greenstone to the junction trail that took us out to our next campsite at McCargoe Bay. It was here that we became quite thankful for the wooden, screened shelters the Park Service has installed at many of the campsites. There was room for all four of us to spread out to sleep without having to deal with the bugs. Yes we could have handled them without but it really allowed for us to relax.
June 4th (6.6 mi.)
We were now on the North side of the island and took a less used path along the Minong Ridge. The trail was in lesser shape than the Greenstone but had excellent views of Lake Superior and Canada off in the distance. We spotted our first moose aways off the trail in the first half hour of hiking near the old Minong Mine site. Todd Harbor was a nice camp located very near the Lake. Getting expansive views of the harbor and the Lake beyond was well-deserved after some seriously woodsy hiking the previous days.
Deciding that in order to keep ourselves on track to catch the return ferry to Grand Portage we would have to switch our game plan slightly. We had originally intended to continue hiking the Minong Ridge trail Westward, eventually reaching the Windigo port where the ferry arrives. Discussing this harder route vs the easier but more boring Greenstone ridge amongst our group of hikers of varying skill levels we determined that in order to maximize our enjoyment and minimize pain that the Greenstone route was best.
June 5th (3.9 mi.)
Hiking Southwestward from Todd Harbor brought us to our camp at Hatchet Lake. The mosquitoes in this depression were nearly unbearable as if my memory serves correctly there were no bug shelters. The lake however was beautiful and we stopped for a swim along the way.
June 6th (8.1 mi.)
Next morning we were up and at ‘em for a day of hiking through both heat and rain. It rained on us most of the latter half of the hiking day and into the evening. We arrived at the huge South Lake Desor campground and in order to maintain a bit of sanity actually huddled inside the latrines. We strung up a rain poncho as an awning and cooked dinner in the intermittent rain right at one of the outhouses. It is a memory that will stay with me for a long time to come.
June 7th (11.6 mi.)
Leaving camp the next day we continued along the Greenstone Ridge trail which is an absolute tunnel of trees. Very few views are afforded of the surrounding terrain and the Lake is but a distant dream. The mosquitoes were so rampant on this day that we stopped very few times and when we did, actually put on our rain gear with hoods up and sleeves pulled over the hands in order to stave off the dastardly creatures. Throughout the whole trip the mosquitoes were quite bad but it really didn’t get anyones spirits too down. Jason was however exceptionally happy when a fellow hiker gave him his mosquito headnet. I think without that kind gesture Jason may have never backpacked again.
We trucked it back to the Washington Creek campground which is located quite near the port of Windigo. We spread out in the welcome sunshine on picnic tables outside one of the many bug shelters at the campsites and dried all of our gear. Mike and Jason went to check out the visitor center and Mark and I stayed back to hang out in the sun. While the two were gone a moose decided to hang around outside our camp having his/her dinner right in Washington Creek. Mark and I were able to sit and watch him/her for over half an hour as s/he meandered up the creek, snout in the water munching away.
A pleasant morning awoke us and we packed our gear one last time to head down to the dock to await the ferry. It was a pleasant, uneventful ride back to the shores of Minnesota followed by a drive to Grand Marais where we got ourselves burgers and beers at My Sister’s Place.