Isle Royale, September 2001

Day 5

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Saturday morning arrived and I was awake by 7:30 a.m. We planned on getting an early start on the long hike so we stood a better chance of finding a shelter at Washington Creek. I figured we may not get one because Washington Creek is so close to Windigo and people just arriving may spend the night before departing on a long hike, or hikers from the Feldtman Loop, the Minong or the Greenstone Ridge may spend the night there before catching the boat back to the mainland.

Last night's rain had soaked everything outside of the tent, but we were glad to see that it had finally stopped because we did not want to hike all day in the rain. We packed up, ate a granola bar and were on our way by 8:40 a.m. We had only made it a couple hundred feet away from our campsite when we began to hear rain falling lightly on the dense tree canopy above. For about the first half-mile or so we had only light rain. By the time we reached the Minong Ridge the light rain had changed to a slow, steady rain, the kind that looked like it may last all day. As we approached the first of many high points on the ridge we discovered that there were clouds as far as the eye could see, and any hopes of a reprieve from the rain quickly faded away. By the time the first mile was behind us my shorts were soaked as well as my boots. With every step I took I felt cold water squishing out of my socks and boot linings, and when my foot left the ground I could feel all the water seeping back into my socks and boots. Until this point I was still attempting to walk around puddles and muddy areas. However, it wasn't long before I resigned myself to the fact that even if the rain stopped and the sun came out I would still be completely waterlogged for the remainder of the hike. It was this realization that brought me to the point of not caring anymore, all I wanted to do was cruise down the middle of the trail, right through the middle of the mud bogs, puddles, and swampy areas so that we could quickly get to the end. The onslaught of water became relentless. In spots the vegetation was so close to the trail that it became difficult to see the trail, and the water would saturate my clothes and drip into my boots as the plants brushed against me. If I slipped and grabbed a small tree to steady myself I was immediately pelted by hundreds of additional water drops streaming off the leaves above. On certain sections of the trail it was almost as though we were hiking up a waterfall. The sheer volume of water falling from the sky caused the water to cascade over the rocks near the tops of the ridges and form small rivers flowing down the middle of the trail. Even with all the rain and water I felt that today's hike was still easier than yesterday.

We stopped briefly for a bagel and some summer sausage part way through the day. My hands were so wet and cold that it was hard to move my fingers or do anything that required fine motor skills; it felt like I had been out playing in the snow without wearing gloves. I decided not to take off my pack and just eat under a large pine tree, but the tree was so wet that it did not offer much shelter from the rain.

We came to our first of two beaver dam crossings at what I believe was the halfway point for the day. In order to cross the first dam we had to carefully balance on two half-submerged, slippery logs and take very slow, deliberate steps. I managed to make it across without falling, however, when I turned to watch Ken, my foot lost traction and before I knew it I was in thick mud over the top of my boot. When I pulled my foot up the top of my boot acted like a scoop and forced mud into my boot -- it was not a pleasant experience. The second beaver dam is the one I've read about numerous times on the internet; it has earned quite a reputation! When we reached the bottom of the hill and were able to see the entire dam we just looked at each other and laughed. It was huge! We estimated it to be a couple hundred feet across. There was a lake on one side and brush, trees and swampy muck on the other with only a couple logs to walk on the entire way. And, to top it off, the logs were covered with mud and algae. I began to walk across the logs but had to turn back for some kind of stick to help keep my balance. Ken managed to find two sturdy branches to use as hiking poles. We took the crossing very slowly. Falling off to our left would have left us knee-high in muck and water, while falling to the right would have plunged us into water up to our necks. I remember putting my hiking stick in the water to my right and not being able to feel the bottom. Ken had a close call about halfway across this beaver-made atrocity. I looked behind me in time to see Ken's stick break. His foot slipped into the mud just like mine had a short time before. Luckily, he managed to grab a hold of the bottom half of his hiking pole just below the break, otherwise he would have fallen face first into the deep side of the pond. Just after the beaver dam, as the trail began to head back into the woods, we discovered a pile of long sticks leaning against a tree apparently left by previous backpackers after their trips across the dam.

Another interesting point along the trail was the very long plank walkway across one of the marshy areas. My guess is that it was roughly 1/8 mile long and elevated approximately three to four feet above the ground. It seemed like it went on forever. The steady, non-stop rain gave way to a clear, sunny sky sometime after roughly five hours/ten miles into the day. The last 1 1/2 to 2 miles to Washington Creek was a bit more pleasant with the sun shining, even though we were completely drenched. It was a relief to finally see the sign for the Washington Creek campsites. There were only two unoccupied shelters out of the ten at this site. It was now a couple minutes after 3:00 p.m. We made the 12.6 mile hike in a quite respectable amount of time (just about 6.5 hours) especially considering the inclement weather. The first order of business was to unload our backpacks and assess the damage. I unloaded all the contents of my pack and quickly discovered, much to my dismay, that everything was soaked, with the exception of a couple items of clothing in zip lock bags. To make things worse, the sunshine was now masked by a thick blanket of gray clouds, which shattered any hopes of hanging things out to dry. I had no choice but to accept the fact that it was going to be a long, cold night inside my waterlogged sleeping! We strung out our makeshift clotheslines and hung up as many items as possible. We couldn't help but laugh as we watched the excess water drip off the items; it looked like we had just pulled them out of a pool. As soon as our camp was organized we made some hot tea, warmed our hands over the camp stove and played cards at the picnic table.

While we were sitting at the picnic table, Valerie, one of the NPS Rangers walked by our camp and stopped to talk with us. Valerie told us she was going to be giving a presentation on loons at 6:30 p.m. at the ranger station and we were invited to attend. She then asked how our hike was today. No doubt she noticed all our belongings, still dripping with water, hanging over the clotheslines and strategically placed on tree branches, in our feeble attempt to dry them out. Valerie said she did not want to see us sleep in wet clothes and sleeping bags in the cool night air so she offered to let us borrow two sleeping bags and a couple blankets. All we had to do was pick them up at the ranger station after her presentation. After she left our site we threw together a quick dinner of beef stroganoff and trail mix. We finished just in time to make it to the presentation at the ranger station. Valerie gave a really informative and interactive presentation on loons and the effects of pollution on their habitat.

Before we went back to camp we picked up sleeping bags and blankets. It was a very gracious gesture by the park rangers and a wise move on our part not to turn down their generosity. By the time we made it back to the shelter it was almost dark and the temperature had fallen quite a few degrees. I put on my last couple pieces of dry clothing and jumped into the sleeping bag. This was our last full day on the island and I was a bit disappointed. It rained too much so I couldn't take any good pictures and the only real wildlife I saw were three ducks that visited our site shortly before dinner. I managed to coax one of them close to me because it thought I had something interesting in my hand. The other animal we saw was a Pileated Woodpecker that was busy drilling holes into a tree about 30-40 feet away from our site. Unfortunately, every time one of us tried to take a picture, the bird would see us and scurry around to the opposite side of the tree. A couple people we spoke with on the trail managed to see moose around the Washington Creek site but we didn't see any. One thing was certain; a warm sleeping bag was the perfect end to a cold, wet, strenuous day of hiking.

Miles covered today: 12.6
Total trip miles: 32.0

Day 6

This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:23 AM