Zero fun to get up at 5:00 a.m. and pack up wet gear – much yawning and little conversa- tion. We drove to the ferry at Grand Portage, MN, watched our backpacks get tossed onto the pile, and took a few “before” photos.
Let's see...Mary Ann, Ginger, Gilligan, Mr Howell, Mrs Howell, and the Professor... where's Skipper?
(Ask Jeff to tell you his pirate joke. It was so good that we asked him to repeat it every day of the trip.)
The two-hour ferry ride was chilly and bumpy and packed with passengers. Some stayed at the front of the boat, some stayed inside, and I hung out in the back for a while before sitting inside to warm up. Similar to mingling at a party, we met new folks and discussed plans and swapped stories. Several people had been to the Great Smokies, i.e. Cades Cove, and I encouraged them to go back again with a more varied itinerary. At last we cruised into Washington Harbor.
Some background on Isle Royale National Park: Some animals that made the 15-mile commute from Canada to this island left behind by melting glaciers were moose, beaver, foxes, and wolves. Notably missing are black bears, raccoons and white-tailed deer. Its history of human habitation includes Native Americans who were regularly mining for copper by 2000 B.C. White explorers discovered it in the late 17th century and by the 1800’s mining was in full swing. Fishing camps were also big business on the island until the beginning of the 20th century, when tourism became an interest. Then in 1931 Congress passed a bill creating Isle Royale as a national park. A great resource is Isle Royale National Park Foot Trails & Water Routes by Jim DuFresne. He says, “Today Isle Royale is one of our smallest national parks and one of the most costly to visit. Special transportation is needed to get there…and numerous backpackers give the park one of the longest visitation averages (the amount of time a visitor stays) in the country; on the average, tourists spend only a few hours in Yellowstone National Park, but they will stay 4 days at Isle Royale.”
At the ferry dock is the “town” of Windigo, in reality the Park office, a camp store and a bath house with hot showers – no roads, no swimming pools, no movie stars. Our backpacks were tossed off of the boat and I discovered that mine was thoroughly soaked, possibly from someone’s leaking water bottle. I pouted for a while, but was soon distracted by the mandatory ranger orientation which was superbly done, including audience participation. We learned to always keep our possessions in our tents, including food - no hanging bear bags, but sneaky foxes will take anything, including your boots so they can lick the sweaty salt.
Welcome to Windigo!
Our backpack route consisted of a three-day, two-night loop ending in a third night back at the Washington Creek camping area (near Windigo) to await the ferry on Thursday morning. The ferry doesn’t come every day – a sneaky way to extend your visit time. At the camp store we deposited a duffel bag containing a change of clothes and toiletries for each person, a little food for the third night, and an essential bottle of something to celebrate. We grabbed some sandwiches and ate lunch on the deck, admiring the unseasonably warm weather and our good fortune at being in such a remote part of the world.
We set off on our 8.5-mile hike to the Feldtmann Lake backcountry campsite. But…why were we all so tired? We had to stop and regroup every hour. This was not difficult hiking by any means – after all, we were veterans of the Great Smokies and all points of western NC – but we were dragging. It must be the lack of sleep the night before and the early departure. But we pushed on, becoming engaged with the character of the trail, noting familiar and unfamiliar plants. Canada dogwood (aka bunchberry) grew in masses across the forest floor, little red berries peeping out everywhere. There were lots of planks over marshy areas. We would see these features in our wanderings all over the island during the next three days.
Moose antlers beside the trail
At the Feldtmann Lake group site we chose an area and set up tents. We lightened our packs and followed another trail for a mile to the southern shore of Lake Superior at Rainbow Cove, known for its beautiful sunsets. We carried all our food and cooking supplies and settled in at the lakeshore to await the evening’s show.
The beach is all red pebbles, no sand at all, a little tricky to walk on but a great massage for tired toes.
We hiked back to camp in the fading light and as the guys settled down to shoot the breeze, I crawled into my tent and popped a Tylenol PM to calm my throbbing thumb. Cathy and Kim called us to the shore of Feldtmann Lake just a few yards away to look at the emerging stars, but after a short time I had to lie down and let exhaustion take over. I missed the moonrise, but that was okay.
At some point during this day our mantra for the remainder of the trip was born. I believe it was Kim that commented on getting something way down in her pack and what an effort that would take, to which Mike dryly replied: What else you got to do?
Ah, the pleasures of the back- country: no phones, no internet, no TV, no watches, no jobs, no responsi- bilities, no way to tackle any of the daily chores even if you wanted to. Just lean back, relax, raise your cup and make a toast. What else you got to do?
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. ~Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher