Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Glimpse of Heaven

Isle Royale Backpack Trip – Day 2 – 8/31/10 - Feltdmann Lake to Island Mine – 14.7 Miles

Only 10 miles to hike today…or perhaps more? Everyone was up early and feeling better after a good night’s sleep. A nice surprise that we were all totally dry, no rain, no dew, not even moisture underneath our groundcloths. And a blue sky above…we must be doin’ somethin’ right! We ate breakfast, packed up, and left in dribs and drabs for our 10-mile hike to our next camp at Siskiwit Bay.
A rare sighting of the hiking girlz together - Cathy and Kim were usually way out in front of me

After a short steep section, Cathy and Jeff and I strolled on Feldtmann Ridge, easy hiking except for the high weeds. Just as I was wondering if this was the highlight of our scenery for the day, we found a spectacular view back down to Feldtmann Lake. Hikers enjoy looking back from other vantage points to where they’ve been (looking ahead is fun, too).

Jeff the photo- grapher

Grasses bending in the breeze alerted us that it would be windy at the Feldtmann Tower.

Feldtmann Tower

In fact, it was too windy to stay up there more than a minute. We took a snack break on the ground before continuing on our route.

By now Cathy was formulating an alternative plan. The hiking was easy and we would be at Siskiwit Bay by early afternoon. Why not push on to the next campsite on our loop? Although we registered our route as required with the backcountry office, flexibility is tolerated as conditions warrant. After all, Isle Royale is not exactly crowded with backpackers. If we continued on to the Island Mine campsite then our third day could be shorter and we would have time for more exploration of the Washington Creek area. Seemed like a good idea…

As often happens on a long hike, you find yourself walking with different people at different times. I was talking with Neil as he was photographing butterflies when we entered this magical birch forest that took our breath away. Thin white trunks swaying in the gentle breeze, papery peeling bark, knee-deep green ferns, glimpses of Carolina blue sky and puffy white clouds above: surely heaven looks a little like this.

At 1:30 p.m. we all arrived at Siskiwit Bay, a favorite spot for boaters and fisherman, although we were the only souls here today. In addition to group sites, there are three-sided shelters with fully screened fronts and (small squeal of delight) pit latrines WITH TOILET PAPER. You backpackers out there know what I’m talking about. The decision had been made to push on to Island Mine rather than stay at Siskiwit, but we lazed around for a couple of hours with our boots off, massaging toes in those warm red pebbles again, snacking, refilling water bottles and cat napping.

That's me out on the end of the jetty

Exactly why are we leaving this paradise? Oh, yeah, because it’s early…

Nice walk along the beach at Siskiwit Bay - Jeff is happy with his new stick

Beautiful goldenrod

Back into the woods

But who put these mountains here? It seems that Cathy reads mileage but not elevation gain, and we were no better because none of us pulled out our maps to look at topo lines until we were gasping uphill. The 4.3 miles to Island Mine was a killer.

One bright spot: Jeff’s GPS map that he had uploaded showed that there was a cemetery somewhere along this section and we found it. I spotted a chainsawed tree that appeared to be blocking a side trail, and about 50 yards through the woods we found this interesting setup. The graves are outlined in stones, but the fence is quite new. (When I asked a ranger back at the ranger station about these graves, he was very tight-lipped and would only admit that there were “probably” graves around since people did once inhabit the island in mining camps.)

Neil and I were the last to arrive at Island Mine and set up tents. The water source was skimpy, certainly not a big enough creek to dip Cathy’s 4-liter gravity filter bag into, so we dipped water with a cup into the bag. Improvising is part of the fun.

We boiled water for rehydrating meals and tasted each other’s dishes. Jeff finished off my dinner because I couldn’t hold it all and Jeff’s stomach is bottomless. For a surprise treat, I brought a Mountain House mocha mousse pie which we all shared, a few spoonfuls of chocolate heaven per person. At this point in the trip all worries about germs were abandoned and we would have shared one spoon if necessary.

Backpackers rarely build fires because (1) they are a lot of work (2) we are usually tired and ready for sleep and (3) Leave No Trace principles. Fires on Isle Royale are only allowed at established fire rings like the one at our Island Mine group site. On this rare occasion Neil built an excellent teepee fire and for an hour or so we sat mesmerized by the flames, telling stories and drinking homemade cherry wine given to Mike by friends. Cathy hung her jog bra on a stick and held it over the fire to dry marshmallow roasting style.

For the two seconds after I lay down and before I drifted off to sleep, I thought about how varied the day had been: the lookout tower, the birch forest, the beautiful bay, the tough climb, the firelight and the jokes. What a splendiferous day!  

Never know when you’re making a memory; they will wish they was here together again someday ~ Rickie Lee Jones

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