Isle Royale, May 1999

Day 4

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Looking back on our trip, we both agreed that Thursday was our best day on the island. We had warm weather, clear, blue skies and by far, the best views of the entire trip. We were up early, ate, packed up the tent and supplies, and were on the trail by 9:00 am. Most of our trip today would be along the Greenstone Ridge Trail, which is considered to be the "backbone" of Isle Royale because it runs almost the entire length of the east/west axis. This ridge is also one of the highest trails on the island. By studying my topographic map I discovered that we immediately had a step climb, roughly 200 feet, to get from the East Chickenbone campsite to the top of the Greenstone Ridge. The pace up the side of the mountain was definitely slow and methodical and caused us to watch every step so we didn't trip over a rock or an exposed tree root. During our trip we discovered that most sections of trail which required us to hike up steep inclines and expend the most energy were rewarded with spectacular views after reaching the top -- today was no exception! After we reached the Greenstone Ridge we hiked east for a short distance and up another small incline until we came to a spot along the trail overlooking a drop-off which faced Chickenbone Lake. We stood on the rocky overhang and admired the breathtaking view. We were well above the tree tops which a few minutes before had been towering over us. We were able to see a couple lakes in the distance and even saw a few islands in Lake Superior north of Isle Royale. The trail we had just hiked along before climbing up to the Greenstone looked very small from up here. Even though it was still early in day, the sun was bright and the temperature was warming up. We stood at the edge of the cliff for a bit and enjoyed the cool breeze blowing over the ridge.

From here we continued our hike east along the trail and planned to stop for lunch at the ranger tower on top of Mount Ojibway which was a bit past the half-way point for the day. The trail once again led us across quite a few rock outcroppings and through some sparsely wooded areas of spruce trees. We noticed, once again, that the warm weather was bringing out all types of flying insects. If we watched the trail in front of us we were able to see the sun reflecting off the wings and bodies of the insects which hung like clouds over sections of the trail. At one point, shortly after reaching the Greenstone Trail, we observed a cow moose and her calf grazing a short distance off the trail in front of us. Unfortunately, they saw us first and ran off before either of us could take a picture.

We quickly discovered that this was going to be our most grueling day of hiking, not because the trail was difficult terrain-wise, but because most of the 11 miles we had to cover did not pass by any good sources of water. A lot of the trail left us hiking along some of the higher elevations on the island and the sparsely wooded areas left us without protection from the sun, which was now high in the sky and beating down on us. The temperature eventually rose to near 80 degrees and we tried to space out our water consumption so we would not be without water for most of the hike; I was so hot I could have used all my water before the half-way point.

Shortly before we reached the ranger tower on Mount Ojibway we looked up to and saw a bull moose lying in a shallow pool of water a short distance off the trail. The moose heard us approaching and stood up. It was a bizarre feeling to be only yards away from such a large, powerful animal. The moose did not appear to be bothered by our presence and gradually wandered toward us while grazing on the leaves of surrounding trees. We snapped a couple pictures and continued on to Mount Ojibway which was now only about a half mile away.

When we arrived at Mount Ojibway we took off our backpacks and relaxed for a couple minutes in the refreshing breeze which was coming across the ridge. After cooling down we climbed to the top of the tower which sits at an elevation of approximately 1130 feet. The view was unbelievable and we were able to see for miles in all directions. The tower, which was built between 1962 and 1963, was originally used as a fire lookout. In 1987 the tower was outfitted with air monitoring equipment and is now used year-round as an air pollution monitoring site to study how pollution affects the island. We took a few pictures and returned to the base of the tower where we and ate lunch and talked with Glen and a couple other hikers.

We left Mount Ojibway around 1:00 pm and headed for our next stop which was going to be at Mount Franklin. The approximately three mile hike to Mount Franklin seemed to be quite long due to the minimal amount of water left in our bottles and the fact that the sun was directly above us. Now the heat was very intense because the sun was directly on us from above and was reflecting up at us from the rock outcroppings under our feet. The heat was beginning to take a toll on us and that was evidenced by our slowing pace and the increased stops in the occasional shaded, breezy areas of the trail. We eventually made the last tiring uphill climb which brought us to the top of Mount Franklin. At the top was another rocky cliff overlooking miles of forest and numerous small ponds and lakes scattered throughout the landscape below. From the top of Mount Franklin we were able to see the beautiful Five Fingers area and Lane Cove at the east end of Isle Royale and out into the open waters of Lake Superior to the north. I was glad I had decided to bring my heavy 35mm SLR camera and a 200mm telephoto lens (as opposed to the lightweight point-and-shoot) because they came in handy several times during the trip. From our vantage point, high above everything else, we were able to observe a cow moose standing in a small lake below us and to the west. We watched for several minutes as she stuck her head under water and re-emerged a few seconds later with a mouthful of vegetation pulled from the bed of the lake. I took a couple pictures with the 200mm lens which enabled me to get a couple decent photos of the moose. We spent some time here perched high atop the world around us and enjoyed the refreshing wind blowing across the top of the mountain.

After we cooled down and regained some energy we began the last leg of the day's journey. We knew from studying the topo map that we had an easy-going downhill hike. From the top of Mount Franklin we had an immediate 320 foot drop in elevation in the first half mile. It was nice to finally do some downhill hiking as opposed to going uphill. The downhill hike was also easier on my left foot. I had strained my Achilles tendon two days ago and every step, especially going uphill, was not without some kind of burning or pain. The trail led us through some nicely shaded pine forests and over quite a bit of trail covered entirely by exposed tree roots. Another section of the trail was covered by rocks and large boulders. We had consumed the last remaining drops of water and were now parched. About a mile or so after our decent from Mount Franklin we came across a small pond. The pond was not very appealing to the eye because there was green vegetation on top of the water and the water itself had a very rust-colored appearance. By this time we did not really seem to care what the water looked like, we were just happy to have come across a source of water close to the trail. We retrieved the water filter from the backpack and began filling up our bottles. Thank God for simple technology like this! The filtered water still had a slight rust-colored appearance, but it had virtually no odor and almost no after-taste. We had a hard time believing that we had just drank from a body of water which one would practically call a swamp, but the only thing that mattered at that point was that we got our much-needed water.

After drinking our fill and restocking the water bottles we set off again on the trail. The Three Mile site was only about a mile away and we arrived there a short time later. We checked out a couple sites and decided to camp at site #9. This spot was excellent! We had a picnic table, a nice clearing for the tent and a beautiful view of Rock Harbor. Opposite our campsite, across the harbor, we had a nice view of Mott Island and the Inner and Outer Hill islands between which we could see the open waters of Lake Superior. Our campsite was set back in a nicely wooded area which was only about 20-25 feet from a rock outcropping right at the water's edge. We were greeted by another rather friendly chipmunk which had no problem jumping up on the picnic table and exploring our gear and bags of food. This animal actually became a bit pesky, causing us to make frequent trips to the picnic table to keep it away from our supplies. We also had to contend with quite a few flying ants, black flies, and bees until the temperature started to cool down.

The first order of business was to empty our bottles and get some more appealing drinking water. Even though the "swamp" water was refreshing after being filtered, it paled in comparison with the cold, crystal clear water from Rock Harbor. We drank a couple bottles of water and then relaxed by the lake. It was refreshing to stick our feet in the water while lying on the rocks. The view was awesome and it was peaceful listening to the water roll in and break over the rocks. The water felt good on my sore ankle after all the hiking today, but it was cold enough to numb my feet and send a pain up my leg if I kept them in the water for more than about two minutes at a time. I also discovered that my right ear and right leg had become sunburned. Obviously we got quite a bit of exposure to the sun while hiking along the mostly un-shaded Greenstone Ridge. I realized at this point that sunscreen was one item I had never thought to pack, but wished I had thought of it before we left home.

We decided to eat dinner after we set up the tent and unpacked some supplies. We cooked some beef stew and ate on the rock outcropping next to the water. After dinner we cleaned up a bit with washcloths to get rid of the dirt and the several applications of DEET. We noticed that Glen and a couple other people from our boat trip, whom we had seen off and on over the course of our trip, were gathering on a dock a couple camp sites down from ours. We walked over to the dock and all sat around talking until about 10:30 pm. When we returned to our campsite we sat on the rocks by the water. The view and weather were spectacular! The nearly full moon was high in the sky and was reflecting off the calm, waveless water in the harbor. There was no wind, the temperature was just cool enough for a flannel shirt, there were no bugs, and the water was gently lapping on the rocks. If there were a way to capture scenes like this a person could make a million dollars. We talked about the day's hike, the sights and about our plans for tomorrow. We both agreed this had been the best day of our trip.

Miles covered today: 11.2
Total trip miles: 30.0

Day 5

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