Monday, November 15, 2010

Moose On the Loose

Isle Royale Backpack Trip – Day 3 – 9/1/10 - Island Mine to Washington Creek + Huginnin Cove Loop Trail – 16.4 Miles

“There’s a mama moose and two calves in camp!” Mike whispered outside my tent.

I scrambled into clothes and Crocs, unzipped my incredibly loud zipper door and stepped out. There were Jeff, Cathy and Neil each standing by their tents and staring into the woods. Kim was sitting in the doorway of her tent and Mike was standing nearby. In the dim morning light (where the heck are my glasses?) I saw the dark outline of a very large moose and two smaller versions, standing still and eyeballing us right back. Mama moose was no doubt wondering why we were in between her and the creek. Had she ever seen a bright fuschia tent before? The calves were nosing around, tentatively taking a step or two from Mama but no further. We all held our places and our breath for about ten minutes and then suddenly…they were gone. Mama moose and her calves slowly turned and melted back into the woods, no sticks cracking, no leaves rustling, no sound at all. What a moment of reverence and grace! No wonder we haven’t seen any moose until now. I did not realize how quietly these magnificent animals move through the trees. Probably 50 moose have seen us pass, but this was our only sighting of them while on Isle Royale.

That makes two amazing wildlife moments that I’ve had while camping with Mike – the other one in the Grand Tetons last year. I think I’ll stick around him more.

Well, now we’re up, so let’s start the day. After eating and packing up, I followed Kim and Cathy out of camp. A half-mile away was our intersection with Greenstone Ridge Trail. Greenstone Ridge runs nearly the entire length of Isle Royale, 42 miles from Washington Creek campground east to Lookout Louise. We turned left and followed this easy boulevard of a trail back to Windigo and Washington Creek. Along the way we met a few day hikers. Eventually I dropped behind and was caught by Neil and we chatted about our kids, their good choices and bad choices and what they are doing these days. We marveled at the selection of fungi on the island. Before I knew it we were strolling by the turnoff to Washington Creek.

Here we had some options for accommodations. There are secluded small tent sites or group tent sites or shelters with wire screen fronts. Jeff and Mike chose to pitch their tents again, while the rest of us chose the shelters (hey, no wrestling with unpacking and repacking tents). Jeff and Mike put all their food and extra stuff in our shelter. Now for the most important business of the day: going back to the Windigo store to retrieve our duffel with clean clothes and to purchase tokens for the hot showers. One token costs $6 for a five-minute shower – I bought two just in case. And we remembered the delicious sandwiches from our first day, so we eagerly ran to the fridge to get some more…well, the selection had dwindled to cream cheese and jelly on white bread, but it’s amazing how good that tastes after a few days in the woods. The store lady was waiting on the ferry to bring food supplies. As we ate on the porch overlooking all of Windigo, I wrestled with the idea of doing another hike that afternoon versus, say, taking a nap. In the end we all opted to hike to Huginnin Cove via the loop of Minong Trail, East Huginnin Cove Trail and West Huginnin Cove Trail.

Once again I did not check the map to see for myself, so the 6-mile hike that Cathy advertised was really 9 miles. Huginnin Cove is on the northern side of Isle Royale and as it skirts the shoreline you can wave at Canada. This shoreline is more dramatic than what we had seen thus far on the island, high cliffs and pounding waves, a prelude to what we would see later on at the Apostle Islands. Again I was with Kim and Cathy as we arrived at Huginnin Cove campground and picked our way among the slippery rocks down to the shore. The water that had been so chilling all week felt downright therapeutic today and we sat with submerged feet for quite a while. The guys eventually caught up and we enjoyed another “sigh” relaxing interlude in the solitude that is Isle Royale.

From here on back to camp I walked with Jeff, who thankfully kept up a steady conversation about other hikes and future plans. By now I had caught on that this would be a 16-mile day and I was tired like a horse headed for the barn.

At long last: hot showers! There are three showers at Windigo, one of which was not recommended, so we lined up for the two good ones. Each is just a big concrete room with a door, no dividers, maybe a chair to put your clothes on. The idea is to get naked and be completely ready before you put in that precious token to start the water. One woman came out proclaiming that it was the best five minutes of her life…and I concur. And I didn’t even use my second token.

Jeff went in after me. Cathy and I were standing around talking and waiting for Kim to finish up. Suddenly Jeff popped his head out the door and said, “My token doesn’t work.” He looked like someone had just told him there is no Santa. I have never seen such disappointment on an adult face. Was it the shower or the token? I had just used it myself with no problem.

Jeff waited for the other shower and I gave him my second token (see, there is a God, right?). I am pleased to report that it worked fine and Jeff was a happy camper.

Kim and Neil

We had clean bodies, clean clothes, a little more food and a bottle of Red Guitar wine that had been squirreled away in the extra duffel bag. After dinner, we toasted another wonderful day in the backcountry while perusing my National Parks Passport map, telling stories about places we’d been (Mike: everywhere; Kim: only one state to go and she will be done with all 50 before her 50th birthday) and places we want to go next. Night fell, the temperature dropped and we snuggled way down in sleeping bags while visions of hot showers and ferries danced in our heads.  

In the woods we return to reason and faith. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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