Isle Royale, May 1999

Day 1

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Our trip began on a cool, overcast, Sunday evening. Due to time constraints imposed by work schedules and the available boat trips, we decided to take turns driving and drive straight through so we could get the Monday morning boat. Almost our entire drive to Copper Harbor was accompanied by a steady rain. It seemed the only time we saw the sun was when we had a break in the clouds while moving out of one storm front and into another. The drive to Copper Harbor took about 10 hours, including a couple stops for gas, coffee, snacks and to switch drivers. When I left my house the weather seemed warm enough for shorts and a short sleeve shirt, however, listening to weather reports on the way up, especially the reports coming out of the U.P., I soon realized my light-weight attire had not been a wise decision. It was during one of our stops for gas in the U.P. that I decided to throw on a pair of jeans and a jacket; I had become very cold after standing in the blowing wind, pouring rain and 50 degree temperatures as I stood at the pumps. The last weather forecasts we heard for the area around Houghton-Hancock and the vicinity was calling for rain, a high temperature of 40 degrees, a low of 35, waves of 10-12 feet on Lake Superior, and gale winds of 35 knots out of the north throughout the night. The forecasts for the next several days were not much more appealing, with expected highs only in the 40's, lows around 35, overcast skies and rain. We had been hoping and praying for good weather for our trip to Isle Royale, but it appeared as though we were definitely not going to start out that way! We arrived at the Isle Royale Queen boat dock in Copper Harbor at 5:15 am. Since we were both working on only 3-4 hours of sleep over the previous 24 hours we decided to set the alarm on the pager and sleep until 6:45 am. We started the car several times and turned on the heat to take the chill out of the car. I remember looking out the window at the still-heavy rainfall and then nervously laughing about how miserable we were probably going to be in this weather.

We woke up to the alarm at 6:45 am and drove around the town. I have never been to Copper Harbor before, and it's not like I expected to see skyscrapers and big, sprawling parking lots, but there was not much here. Copper Harbor is one of those places you could miss if you were driving through it too fast -- it is only about 9 blocks long and 3 blocks wide. We decided to look for a place to get breakfast and stopped in at The Pines Restaurant. During breakfast we couldn't help but laugh at a couple guys sitting across the room from us. We overheard them laughing and talking about going to Isle Royale. We eventually discovered why they were laughing, and determined that it was more of a nervous laugh than one of happiness. It seemed the one guy had been making some preparations in advance and was somewhat prepared for the trip and the weather, while the other guy had thrown a few things together right before they drove up and was in no way prepared for the cold or the rain. This second guy was now asking the waitress if there was a store in town which would open before the 8:00am boat trip because he wanted to buy some Carharts to keep warm, some rain gear to stay dry, and several other supplies. By the end of our breakfast were heard them talking about possibly canceling their trip. As it turns out, they were they only people who did not show up on the boat when the staff was taking tickets and stowing gear.

The next clue that this trip may be off to a less than pleasant start was when the crew began to seal the entire cargo hold door with a couple generous layers of duct tape. After we boarded the boat we took a quick walk around and decided to sit in the smaller, empty passenger section at the front instead of the rather crowded, larger section in the rear. A short time later the captain walked through the front seating area and stopped to talk with us. He said we would probably want to sit in back because the front of the ship tends to be a bit more turbulent and rocky than the back and it would help keep the motion sickness down to a more reasonable level. By this time there were two brothers from Chicago and a female who had joined us. After the captain walked out we talked amongst ourselves and decided to stay where we were. After all, he was only the captain, and what would he know about motion sickness and which part of his boat offered the best ride. Beside, we all had been on both large and small boats in the past and had never become sick because of rough water. Also adding to our feeling of security was the Dramamine we had taken an hour before getting on the boat.

After all the passengers boarded and the gear had been safely stowed away, the captain got on the p.a. and introduced himself. During his short speech he made the comment that only the hardy visit Isle Royale in May. He also mentioned that there was a group already on the island and that they were waiting for a trip back to the mainland. He said he was glad the weather was not much worse than it was or else the people would be stuck on the island. Apparently he would not be making a trip there on Tuesday because of the forecasted north winds and 10-12 foot waves. He said the trip today would be rough because of the north winds and 5-6 foot waves, but assured us we would all make it. Next stop, Rock Harbor at Isle Royale!

The first few minutes were not bad, but that was before we left the sheltered waters of Copper Harbor. As soon as we entered the open waters of Lake Superior I began to feel like a passenger on the S.S. Minow from the T.V. show Gilligan's Island. The waves, as we found out at the end of the ride, were 5-6 feet with an occasional 7 footer thrown in for some excitement. And, according to the captain, the ride was a bit more turbulent because the boat was being hit by waves from both sides, instead of from just one direction. It wasn't long after leaving Copper Harbor that I learned why some have affectionately nick-named the Isle Royale Queen the "barf barge"! Later we discovered that there were only a handful of people who did not lose their breakfasts during the trip to the island. Fortunately, I "passed out" for most of the four and a half hour ride and woke up only occasionally when I was hit by water forced into the cabin from the driving rain, or when I was tossed up off my seat as the boat dropped from the top of a large wave and struck the bottom of another.

When we arrived at Rock Harbor we were greeted by an overcast sky, light rain, and a group of backpackers clad in rain gear, huddled together under the overhang at the information center. After the gear was unloaded we gathered our belongings and carried them to the information center and waited to register with the ranger. During registration you need to have one person from your group act as a representative for the other(s). That person tells the ranger the proposed itinerary, including where the group will be hiking and how many nights they intend to stay at each camp site. After registration the ranger spoke to the entire group of backpackers about hiking on Isle Royale. He talked a bit about the leave no trace concept of hiking, what to look for (and what to stay away from), the kinds of animals we may see and where we were most likely to see them.

We left the information center at 2:30 pm and headed west on the Rock Harbor Trail. It was still raining but it had slowed down a bit. A friend of ours who has been to Isle Royale several times told us the Three Mile and Daisy Farm sites usually fill up quickly since they are closest to Rock Harbor and are frequently the first campsites used by backpackers just arriving on the island. With this in mind we wanted to make sure we were one of the first to make it to the Daisy Farm site to get one of the first picks at a shelter.

Most of the trail from Rock Harbor to Daisy Farm followed the shoreline and often provided a nice view of the water. The trail consisted of several different types of terrain which changed from one to another along its length. There were small inclines and descents, rock-type "steps", marshy areas, planked walkways over large areas of water, rock outcroppings, and areas where exposed tree roots criss-crossed the trail. At times there were fallen trees which covered all or part of the trail and required us to either crawl over or under the trees. The couple days of rain prior to our arrival had made for a wet hike through the vegetation which grew close to the trail. The rain also caused us to be a bit more cautious when crossing the rock outcroppings because the water made the rock very slippery in spots. At times the trail took a short jog away from the shoreline and into the woods. There were several different types of trees including spruce, birch, aspen and cedar. After a couple hours the rain stopped and we arrived at the Three Mile campsite. We decided to stop for a short break so we dropped our backpacks, ate bagels with peanut butter and drank some water to wash them down. By this time the temperature had risen from 40 to 45 degrees (Ken had a small thermometer) and, it was hard to believe, but we were actually getting hot and sweating. We took off a couple layers of clothes and started back down the trail. Our next stop would be Daisy Farm which is where planned to stay for the night.

About three hours later we arrived at Daisy Farm. The first order of business was to locate a shelter to stay in for the night. Many of the campsites here have shelters but they are first-come, first-serve. We looked around and decided to stay in shelter #9 since it was close to the water. Being close to the water meant having a nice view and, at the same time, we didn't have far to go for cooking and drinking water. The shelter was closed in on three sides by wood sheeting but the fourth side was sealed off from the elements only by screen and a screen door. After throwing on some dry clothes we ate dinner. Nobody says you have to eat bland, untasty food while being in the great outdoors so we made sure we packed some good food. We cooked up some beef stroganoff, Velveeta shells & cheese, and topped it off with some trail mix, bagels and hot chocolate. We were thankful for finding an open shelter because the temperature was forecasted to drop to 32 degrees overnight. We got to bed early and fell asleep listening to birds singing and water rushing over the rocks in a nearby stream.

Miles covered today: 7.3
Total trip miles: 7.3

Day 2

This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:21 AM