Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Isle Royale Backpack Trip – Day 1 – 8/30/10 – Windigo to Feltdmann Lake – 8.5 Miles

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?

I guess that's him...although he looks more like Captain Ahab.

(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.
Loved these intertwined roots

Moose antlers beside the trail

Feldtmann Lake, an interior lake on an island in a lake

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 learned how to work Cathy’s gravity filter and enjoyed that chillin’ lake water.

We uncorked the bottle of wine that Kim had carried and toasted the end of our first day in such good company on an awesome adventure.

to choose a favorite sunset photo

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

More On The North Shore

Isle Royale NP & Apostle Islands Trip - North Shore Minnesota – Day 2 – 8/29/10

No sleepin’ once the sun is shining. We ate a quick breakfast, packed up wet tents and set out on our Sunday explorations. We figured if we went a hundred miles an hour we would fit in everything that Cathy suggested for the day. First stop: Tettegouche State Park. FYI, all state parks in Minnesota have an entrance fee but you pay just one time per day. Good luck seeing how many you can tag in 24 hours.

Anyhoo, our first focus was on Shovel Point, a teaser from yesterday’s walk on Palisade Head. The unnamed short scenic trail took us past several awesome overlooks. As on most hikes, it takes a while for it to sink in that if you think the first view is great, just wait till the second and third and tenth views.

BTW, I am known for my camera troubles – well, the last time I lost a camera I replaced it with the latest version of my others, a Nikon Coolpix S3000. I was very disappointed with the picture quality and felt that only a little bit of the poor performance was due to operator error. So…before this big trip I invested in a Canon PowerShot SD1300. Operator error is still a factor, but I am much happier with the quality of photos, especially the macro shots. Tell me what you think.

Cathy chose a second route in Tettegouche SP featuring waterfalls along the Baptism River. First we checked out Two Step Falls.

Rose hips


We climbed up to High Falls, a spectacular gusher. Neil removed his boots and splashed around, but I learned my lesson yesterday in Lake Superior.

A springy metal bridge crosses at the top of the falls, fun for shaking and swinging.

Although I can’t find a name for our route on the park map, we saw a sign indicating that we were occasionally on the Superior Hiking Trail. A little research back home revealed that this is a 277-mile trail that follows the ridgeline above Lake Superior on the North Shore from Duluth to the Canadian border. There are parking areas spaced easily for day hikes and many backcountry campsites.

Backtracking to our cars, stomachs were growling, so we opted to eat lunch at a picnic table near the parking lot. Someone had the brilliant idea to spread out our wet tents in the sunshine while we ate. Backpackers are very resourceful people, always thinking about how to get chores done.

No, I don't think this looks odd

My lovely fuschia tent

Afternoon adventures commenced at Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte, MN, where we rented bikes for some cruising on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. I was a little nervous about this – I purchased a bike recently in anticipation of road biking the eastern part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, but my time in the saddle so far is limited. Today we had the opportunity to ride about 24 miles but I wasn’t sure I could stand that. But it was great fun to pedal along on the paved trail, stopping often to see the local sights. We crossed Highway 61 and coasted down to see Father Baraga’s Cross overlooking Lake Superior, a monument to the Slovenian priest who lost his life trying to travel in a small boat across the lake to help an Ojibwe tribe dealing with an epidemic.

Crossing the Temperance River, we saw the awesome hidden watefalls that have carved deep into the rocks as the water makes its inevitable journey to Lake Superior. I don’t think my pictures convey the power of the water.

The rest of the bike route paralleled Highway 61 going out and back to Sawtooth Outfitters, so I turned around early. Everyone else was stronger than me and some things you should quit while you are still enjoying them. I was cautious that for the next three days I had to hoist a backpack and didn’t want my legs to be all trembly.

What’s next on the list? Cathy's meticulous planning even tagged the best places to eat on the North Shore. We had dinner at the Angry Trout Cafe in Grand Marais, a fun-looking little place with absolutely fabulous food. Just hours earlier my lake trout had been happily swimming wild and free. I think it looks very good on my plate.

Our last adventure of the day had to be scratched because of the lateness of the hour (blame it on the wine at dinner) as we made our way to our campground for the night at Judge C.R. Magney State Park. We were a bit panicky as we set up tents because daylight was waning and we all had to prepare backpacks to meet the ferry at 6:45 a.m. for our Isle Royale backpack trip. It was about 25 miles to the ferry dock, so our departure time from camp was 6:00 a.m. – that means the rooster would crow at about 5:00 a.m. Yikes!

How much food? How cold will it be, enough for fleeces? Should we pack a bag with extra clothes and food to leave at the camp store for night #3 back in base camp? Will it rain? Should I put everything in ziplock bags? Can I just eat a cereal bar in the van on the way there in the morning? As I struggled with my own decisions, muttering and thumping and steam emanated from Mike’s van. He eventually emerged, declared himself ready, and we all crawled into our hovels to chase a little sleep.

At about 4:00 a.m. the pitter-patter of rain began.  

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving. ~Albert Einstein

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Big Lake They Call Gitche Gumee

Isle Royale NP & Apostle Islands Trip - North Shore Minnesota – Day 1 – 8/28/10 

Members of the Carolina Berg Wanderers, a hiking group in the Charlotte, NC area, are adventurous souls who like to hike, bike, paddle and play both locally and globally. While our backyards of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia have enough outdoor adventures to last a lifetime, occasionally someone gets a wild idea to go farther. I confess I had never heard of Isle Royale National Park before Cathy tossed it out as a destination, but I knew that big fun was likely to ensue, so I signed on literally sight unseen. Over several months we planned different aspects of the trip, with Cathy taking the lead since she was familiar with the area.

And that’s how I found myself in the Minneapolis airport with Cathy, Jeff, Kim and Neil, stuffing duffel bags into a rental van for a two-day drive up the North Shore of Minnesota. First stop: Target for a food supply. We would be camping and backpacking for the next eight days.

En route we stopped in Duluth, MN (cute town!) supposedly for a visit to a local outfitter shop, but the Portland Malt Shoppe ruined us right off the bat. For the rest of the trip when food was scarce, we daydreamed about these malts.

Our first adventure stop was at the Split Rock Lighthouse to meet up with our friend Mike, recently retired and meandering across the country in his customized van (aka “home”). At Mike’s invitation, I jumped ship from the rental’s back seat to his front seat for the next few days.

I expected Split Rock Lighthouse to be a lonely, brooding place, but there was quite a lively park atmosphere on this Saturday afternoon, lots of families and children. We walked on several short paths up high on the cliffs and down to the shore of the much-anticipated Lake Superior. The big Gitche Gumee will be our focus for the rest of our trip. (And "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" was in our head for days.)

Southern innocents, we took off our shoes and plunged right in – but this ain’t Myrtle Beach! Our feet were numb within seconds. I had to hold onto Cathy to keep from falling.

Cathy got the scoop on another overlook point a few miles further up the coast, so we headed for Palisade Head, which is part of Tettegouche State Park but not contiguous with the rest of the park. Here are Mike and Neil on the huge rock outcropping of Palisade Head.

View of Shovel Point from Palisade Head. We'll be looking from there back to here tomorrow.

The view looking straight down: a hardy ash tree holding on for dear life

At last we headed towards our first night’s home that Mike had reserved for us at Eckbeck Campground in Finland State Forest. I have a brand new tent from my friend Judy Gross (Heartfire) of LightHeart Gear that uses only my hiking poles and stakes to set up and I was anxious to try it out. I was also anxious to eat supper. In my haste to set up camp, I tripped and fell out of the tent opening, catching myself with my left hand and bending back my left thumb at a very unattractive angle. During dinner I held onto a glass of ice water and watched my thumb swell up impressively.

At the Northern Lights Roadhouse we had an excellent meal. We chatted with the waitress and asked her a question about some of the local sites, to which she replied that she was new here herself, she had just moved from Charlotte, North Carolina. Ha!

A slightly restless first night’s sleep in a new state after a long, long day. And my thumb hurt. (Postscript: when I got back home to Charlotte I had my thumb x-rayed ~ broken.)
Never do anything that you wouldn't want to explain to the paramedics. ~Author Unknown