Getting to the Island
On Sept. 2nd, we drove to Bergland had breakfast and headed into the Trap Hills for a warm-up hike. We decided on Norwich Bluff. The weather was perfect –cool and sunny. There were a number of fairly fresh blowdowns on the jeep trail that intersects with the NCT. After exploring the entrance to the Norwich Mine, we walked to the main overlook on the bluff. There was very little haze and the visibility was great. We then backtracked to the overlooks on the other side of the bluff –flushing a pair of grouse on the way. It was a great hike, and we saw no other people for its duration... On the way to Copper Harbor we stopped visit some friends who were camped for the weekend outside of Ontonagon. Once in Copper Harbor, we checked into the North Port Motel a couple hundred feet from the dock. It was fairly nice with very inexpensive double rooms.
On the morning of our crossing to the Isle, it was unbelievably calm. The captain of the Isle Royale Queen IV asked us to go up to the bow and take photos to send to him since it was such a rare occurrence. As expected with such calm seas (is that the correct expression for a big lake?), the crossing was uneventful. We landed in Rock Harbor, went through a brief orientation where the ranger surprisingly suggested that we store food in our tent to keep it away from the wolves.
After giving our itinerary to the Park Service we set out for Lane Cove via the Tobin Harbor Trail. It was a beautiful walk alongside the bay. This section of trail was the only extended stretch we encountered on the island that I would classify as easy. The rest of the trip was a lot of up and down over roots and rock. In any case we continued on the Mt. Franklin Trail for a fairly easy assent of the Greenstone Ridge and then continued on toward Lane Cove. The descent off of the ridge on the Lane Cove Trail was quite steep, but a flat stretch between two sets of switchbacks made things easier both on the way down and back up the next day. The lane cove Trail was fabulous. The hike to the cove was the only area during the entire trip where we didn’t encounter any other people. We saw lots of wolf sign the entire way (this was the case for the entire trip. We seemed to see wolf scat on the trail every couple of hundred yards.). Lane Cove is a special place. I have had the privilege of camping in some magnificent spots during recent years, but Lane Cove ranks up with the best of them. The campsites are spread far apart and nicely situated near the water. There was one other small group camped at the cove, but other than seeing someone pumping water briefly, we saw no sign of them. While we were setting up camp, Matt saw an eagle soaring above the cove. The sunset that evening defies description and we were entertained throughout the night be a family of 7 noisy loons. The whole area had a true wilderness feel, despite the convenience of a pit toilet.
On day two, we enjoyed a vigorous climb back up to the ridge. On the way we encountered a guy who was staying at the Rock Harbor Lodge and out for a day hike before catching the boat home. He said he was on his way to an overlook that he was told rivaled the one he saw at Lookout Louise. He was wearing shorts and didn’t have any water and said he was thirsty and tired and hoped it wasn’t much longer. There was a small viewpoint several hundred yards down the trail and we thought that was what he meant, although it wasn’t particularly spectacular. It wasn’t until few minutes later that we realized he was probably talking about Mt. Franklin and that he was going the wrong way. I have a feeling he missed his boat. It was still pleasantly cool when we got to Mt. Franklin, which offered fabulous views and a shady place to take a break. The break was much needed as the next 4 miles were hot and exposed. Apparently they have been keeping the top of the old Mt. Ojibway Fire Tower locked up but a researcher was there when we arrived and she kept it open for us. The maples on the south side of the ridge were already at their peak fall color because of the stress of the near-draught the Isle is experiencing. From the fire tower, we descended to Daisy Farm. I was pretty hot and worn out by this point, but was still able to appreciate the magical scenery. We got a shelter on the water at Daisy Farm. From the descriptions I have read, I had expected the campground to be overused and not all that scenic, but we were pleasantly surprised. I noticed throughout the trip that most IRNP visitors are very respectful of such a special place. People were generally quiet and I saw very little trash on the trails or in the campgrounds. There were only a few groups staying in the area and no boaters. During the evening, we attended a presentation on the Moose-Wolf Study, which was a nice counterpart to what we had read before coming to the Isle.
On day three, we climbed back up to the ridge and hiked toward West Chickenbone Lake. It was a fabulous hike –moving between ridge views and quiet woods walking. While hiking between Lake Livermore and Chickenbone Lake, the barrenness of the landscape indicated that the beavers in the area had been busy. The campsites at West Chickenbone were not at all what we expected. They were very dusty and few offered much if any shade. They were also quite close together. We did get a fairly nice site along the water’s edge and spent a quiet evening listening to the loons and the occasional howl of wolf.
We opted for a fairly easy 4th day –hiking to Moskey Basin. The Indian Portage and Lake Richie trails were both beautiful and fairly easy hiking. We took our time –especially around Lake Richie—which I thought was one of the prettiest inland lakes we encountered. We managed to get a shelter with one of the best views of the basin in the campground, and listed to a wolf howling and barking on the bluff across from us as we set up camp. We spent the evening watching the water birds and lounging on the bluff north of the shelters. Blynn and I accidentally interrupted a beaver who was eating from a downed aspen. He gave us a thorough scolding. The sunrise the next morning out of the mist was everything we had been led to expect.
On day 5 we hike along the Rock Harbor Trail back to the Three Mile campground in anticipation of a short hike to the boat dock in Rock Harbor on the final day. The stretch of trail between Moskey Basin and Daisy Farm was one of my favorites on the trip. It offered a great mix of woods and exposed rock. Throughout this stretch we were either following or being followed by a moose as we could smell it clearly every few feet. The final section of trail between Starvation Point and Three Mile was very rocky and quite exposed to the lake. It was especially tough at the end of a long day. When we got to Three Mile –another surprisingly decent spot considering the level of use it receives—the place was hopping. Every shelter and campsite was filled and many were doubled up with more than one group. We ended up in Group Site #1 which would be perfect for a scout troop or other group getting ready to start an adventure on the Isle. It was nicely protected from the wind, fairly scenic and had a small bluff that offered easy scrambling. Luckily I decided to climb the bluff to take some pictures shortly after we arrived because I then realized that I had left the camera at the last break spot –so it was back across the rocks to retrieve it. Luckily it was right where I thought I had left it. It was quite breezy with whitecaps breaking at the entrance to the harbor and during dinner it grew cloudy and dark. We had just enough time to tie everything down and get in our tents before the storm that came along with the season’s first strong cold front blew through.
We stayed dry through the night and headed for Rock Harbor first thing the next day. It was very windy and the waves breaking at the harbor entrance were even bigger. It looked like it would be a rough trip home. We decided to avoid the wet rocks and return on the Tobin Harbor Trail. When we took a side trip to Suzy’s Cave we met a hiker who told us none of the boats or the sea plane were running due to the fact that Gale Warnings and 8-11 foot swells were the order of the day. We arrived to a bit of pandemonium at Rock Harbor. The mad rush to find a campsite was unnecessary since they were all taken anyway. We stayed in the farthest group site with a couple of guys who were irritated at not being able to contact the sea plane operator to find out how they could get off the island. Everyone adjusted nicely to the circumstances, although I was accosted several times on my way back to the campsite from the camp store at the visitor’s center. It appeared that I may have purchased the last bag of Chips Ahoy Cookies for the season. I solved the problem by eating almost the entire bag on my way back to camp. We had a nice afternoon and evening, attending a couple of interpretive programs and eating a nice dinner at the lodge. It was here that I learned the Rock Harbor motto: “Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but cash.” Seriously though, after a week of freeze-dried meals, it was worth every penny.
Return to Copper Harbor
The next morning dawned sunny and fairly calm. The swells had died down to 3’ and since the boat crew had a wedding at 4 PM, they did a quick turn-around and had us back to Copper Harbor by 3 PM. It was a tremendous trip. We now know why so many first time visitors return to the Isle time and time again. Put us on the list because we’ll be back!