Four Days Across Isle Royale - Part 2
I have yet to really figure out the key to sleeping well while camping. I am a side sleeper, and my thin foam pad doesn’t quite protect my shoulders and hips against the hard ground, which I think is its the main issue. Either way, I’ve never been a morning person, so I was quite groggy taking down camp in the morning. Luckily, we had our shortest hike on our second day on the island. We were hiking to Hatchet Lake, the next lake on the Greenstone Ridge Trail, 8.1 miles away.
We knew we’d be almost halfway done with our day when we arrived at the (surprisingly short, and disappointingly inaccessible) fire watchtower at Ishpeming Point. As it turned out that meant it was almost entirely uphill for the first 3.5 miles. To help deal with this challenge, the Greenstone Ridge Trail started to give us more of its personality. We got to hike over exposed-rock balds, which gave us more outlooks over the island and Lake Superior. Deep in the forest, we had to climb over trees that beavers had downed into the path of the trail.
Despite these exciting features, Cassi was still under the weather and even this shorter trail was taking a toll on her. When we arrived at Ishpeming Point (yes, lunch!) I presented her with a tough choice. We could continue to our campsite, four and a half miles away—but if we did that, we had no option but to push on and continue to the other end of the island to catch our ferry—or, we could take the trail junction we were at and head to another campsite where we could stay at for the next couple of days and catch a ferry from there. The only problem was that campsite was a seven mile hike. After giving it some thought, Cassi decided we would press on with our original itinerary. So push on we did. Other than a couple more scenic overlooks, we mostly continued on in the shadow of the dense trees, having trouble figuring out any sense of distance.
Eventually, we reached the trail sign pointing us to our campsite, a half mile away. And it was a half mile steeply downhill. We immediately thought about how rough the climb was going to be the next morning, but we were eventually presented with the best campsite of our time on the island. The lakeside camp was absolutely beautiful. The lake was slightly smaller than previous camp’s, and although there were more fellow campers, it felt more “our’s” to me. Most importantly, right on the lakeshore there was a very comfortable rock to sit on and contemplate our hike, our life, and the beautiful nature surrounding us. We chatted with a fellow camper for a bit before cooking dinner and turning in again.
Throughout the first two days we had seen many moose prints, and occasionally heard in the woods what we were certain was a moose. Never, however, glimpsing anything more than a distant rustled of branches out of the corner of our eyes. I had forced myself to not hope too much about seeing a moose—that seemed a way to set myself up for failure. As we were prepping our breakfast and taking down camp, the camper from the night before stopped by our tent and told us if we made our way down to the lake, we could see a young bull moose on the opposite shore. Obviously, I dropped everything I was doing and quickly made my way down the path to the lake, and there he was! We took a couple pictures, but his stately visage looks just like a spec in them. In person, though, he was king of that lake. I’m sure he noticed us, but he was unperturbed to the point of aloofness, taking a leisurely drink in the lake. After two days of often monotonous hiking, this moose made the entire venture worth it.
We finished up tearing down camp and set up the steep hike back to the Greenstone Ridge Trail. It was not quite as bad as we had anticipated the day before, since we were fairly well rested, but it was still not an easy way to start the day.
We heard that moose sightings on the trail are most common in the morning, and that moose will often run when they hear people—well before you can see them. So we started our morning with a silent “moose mile.” Having already seen a moose, I didn’t expect to see another, but it would be silly to have come all this way and not set myself up for success as best I could, and it paid off! I don’t know how far down the trail we had gone, but I heard a slight bellowing, and saw a dark black shadow on the trail. A few hundred feet in front of us, was a moose, the size of a cargo van. I froze in the trail (partially blocking Cassi’s view, which I am deeply sorry for). My heart jumped into my throat, as I took in the sight. I knew moose were big and powerful, but seeing one so close and without a lake in between us, was an unexpected thrill and far more thrilling than I had expected. We stood there for maybe 10 seconds before the moose took notice of us and vanished into the woods, a disappearing act that would make Houdini jealous.
Nothing could ruin this day now. The trail became bucolic as we passed charming springs and groves of paper birch. The day was a bit grey, and Cassi was still a bit under the weather (and running out of medicine in our spartan first aid kit), but we enjoyed walking over exposed rocks, forcing us to search for cairns to find our way. (PSA: Cairns are only for navigation and if you build them for any other reason you are vandalizing the trail and wilderness). The trail went through hallows that seemed out of a fairy tale, and we crossed through more beaver territory, forcing us to walk over their dams to keep our feet dry.
When we got to our halfway point, a junction that we would take off of the Greenstone Ridge Trail and down to the shores of Lake Superior to take the Rock Harbor Trail. We stopped for lunch, and Cassi was finally starting to feel better, which was very good because I was about to start feeling worse. No, I wasn’t getting ill and didn’t hurt myself. But halfway through our longest day, it started to rain. And I shamefully admit that I am an absolute baby when it comes to being damp. We threw on our rain gear, and the rain was thankfully rather light. But it was constant. I quickly wetted out, and gave up on the rain jacket that was causing me to overheat. Cassi took the lead, and I tried to stay positive.
I must point out that we walked through some beautiful spots while it was raining. I was able to notice how lovely they were and enjoy them. But eventually my boots became soaked beyond any chance of keeping my feet dry, and I knew the blisters would form soon. My only hope was that when we got to the Moskey Basin campground there would be some shelter’s available so that we wouldn’t need to set up our tent in the rain. Of course, when it started raining, hours ago, everyone in the vicinity of the campground had claimed the shelters. My feet were hurting, my mood was sour, I was hungry and I was cold. Luckily, I had Cassi, who basically told me to huddle under a tree while she got to work setting up the tent. I did, and took off my boots to let my feet breath. My feet, so wet and hot from hiking, were literally steaming in the cold evening air.
Cassi successfully set up the tent, and we tried to figure out where to put all of our things so that they could stay dry overnight, but not bring our wet stuff into the tent. We were BOTH a bit crabby at this point, and were doing our best not to argue with each other. Rather than cook in the rain, we ate the next day’s lunch for dinner, and did our best to get comfortable in the tent. I earnestly hoped the weather would be good the next morning and that my boots would dry.