|Wildflower, rainy day, Isle Royale|
Wednesday, August 10, 2016: Our third day on Isle Royale began wonderfully. Our sleep in our awesome shelter was restful and calm. We woke up (relatively) early feeling refreshed ready to go.
After our normal breakfast, we took down our clothesline and our luckily dry clothes (the thunderstorms had stopped well before sunrise). We packed up, swept out the shelter, and got started.
Our goal for today was Moskey Basin, which we had planned as the high point of the trip. Moskey was hailed by all as a beautiful and quiet place with gorgeous sunrises and shelters right on the water. We planned to stay an extra day and rest, or perhaps do day hikes to some of the less-visited sights of the island.
After a quick jaunt up the Daisy Farm trail (and a few stops to pick thimbleberries), we turned west to follow the Rock Harbor trail towards Moskey Basin. The trail started out rocky but not bedrocky -- in other words, lots of small, pointy "killer rocks". We passed a short spur to an overlook that both Jim Dufresne (author of the classic Isle Royale guidebook) and many hikers we met described as "beautiful", and also as "your last chance to see Rock Harbor all day". I hopped up the spur and was unimpressed. It would turn out that neither statement was true.
The trail itself quickly became like an old familiar... well, friend is a bit strong of a word. It quickly became solid bedrock, following one of the endless low ridges of Isle Royale. However, this bedrock wasn't like the Greenstone flow -- we were essentially following along the side of a long sloping ridge leading up to the Greenstone. As a result, the trail was consistently slanted to the south -- even our feet were slanted. My left elbow started to hurt from using by walking stick too much to support my left (downhill) side. The trail occasionally ran up long uphills, down steep downhills, and through low wet places. It even changed between ridges on occasion, since there are so many parallel ridges.
The ups and downs wore on us both quickly after our Greenstone Ridge day. My backpack's hip belt continued to dig into my hips, which were already sore. But, the trail was as ruggedly beautiful as everything else on this ridiculously gorgeous island. So, with tired legs and sore hips, we trudged on through the beautiful and cool morning. Blueberries, thimbleberries, and the occasional juniper berry gave us fuel. We watched carefully and quietly for moose hiding in the dense growth just off the trail. Both of us repeatedly thought that we had heard a moose moving in the woods, or seen a glimpse of one wandering through the grasses -- but we never actually saw anything.
After what felt like an eternity (but was actually about 3 miles), the trail started to flatten out. We met a few groups heading back from Moskey, who confirmed what we had heard: Beautiful, quiet, sunrises. Got it. Around that point, with only one mile to go, Sarah and I again parted ways, and I raced full steam ahead. With rain in the forecast, we wanted to make sure we had a shelter.
I crossed a steep rocky stream that had to have gorgeous waterfalls at the right time of year -- probably early spring, when there are no humans on the island. The trail became almost Porcupine Mountains-like -- wide, flat, running through relatively open woods. I raced through several narrow swamps over long bridges, up and over long low hills, and passed just inland from a tall ridge separating me from Moskey Basin itself.
I found the traditional metal campground map and immediately got confused. Moskey has trails going every which way, and I chose the wrong one. After wandering around near the group campground for a bit, I found my way back and tried the next trail -- this time successfully finding the shelters. As it turns out, Moskey's shelters are all strung out along the solid bedrock shore of the bay. Through an enormous stroke of luck, there was exactly one shelter still available. I immediately hooked our permit on Shelter 7, our home for the next two days.
|Shelter 7: A little slice of heaven at Moskey Basin.|
A tiny bit of dirt clung to the bedrock near the shelter, which allowed a few raspberries to grow. Behind us and on all sides of the Basin, the woods rose up quickly and ridge lines rose beyond that. Wildflowers poked their heads out here and there. A picnic table sat in front of the shelter, so Sarah and I set up shop immediately for a lunch of rice cakes with almond butter (Justin's All Natural Almond Butter, to be precise -- we found it bland and lacking salt).
After unpacking, Sarah decided to take a nap. I did camp chores -- pumping water and doing laundry in our foldable bucket. As I did the chores, the sky started to cloud over, a breeze sprang up, and a few raindrops fell. I ignored them until the rain got too strong, then ran inside -- only to see the rain stop. I went back, did more chores, got chased inside again, over and over as the wind blew quick-moving rainstorms through the sky.
|Think this is funny? Don't knock it until you've|
been backpacking for 3 days.
We both went back to take (another) nap -- or try. I became aware that our neighbors in Shelter 8 were extraordinarily noisy. Shelter 8 was the very last one on the Basin, and although I hadn't noticed it yet, it was almost immediately next to ours -- but well hidden by a few trees and the curve of the bay. The neighbors just plain talked loud and didn't let up on their constant stream of commentary, yelling back and forth while banging about pots and pans.
Instead of trying to get to sleep, I put on my raincoat and went for a walk instead. Close to our shelter were two campsites -- Site #6 was deep back into the woods, and I could just barely see a tent down a long and narrow path. Site #5 was right next to the trail and had 4 tents packed into it, all trying to avoid the light rain that was still falling. I was once again extremely thankful to have a shelter.
As I passed some more shelters, out popped our trail-doubles, John and Shelly. I waved "hi" and chatted briefly. I learned that they too were planning to stay here for a rest day. They also had photos and even video of a moose they saw on the trail, just an hour or two before we had passed through. Dangit!
|Late October in the Keweenaw, or early August on Isle Royale?|
Without any particular plan, I wandered through a light mist to the main trail intersection, from which I could see Moskey Basin's main cement dock. It wasn't quite the social center that Daisy Farm's dock was -- possibly because of the crappy weather -- but something caught my eye. Between the dock and the rest of the campground, a huge arm of bedrock extended out into the slate gray basin. It was the tail end of one of the zillions of parallel ridges of Isle Royale, making a long slow descent into Rock Harbor. I made a short bushwhack up the side of the rock and was completely entranced. It was as if I were transported directly back to a late fall day in the Keweenaw. The bedrock was steep on the dock side and long and sloping on the opposite side -- just like all bedrock outcrops on Isle Royale. It was covered in the dead grass, juniper, scraggly balsams, and low bushes that I know and love from my copper country days. The wet and cool mist heightened the already-changing colors of the small trees and bushes, giving a wet sheet that felt exactly like late October. The slate gray lake surrounded the rocky outcrop. Once again, I knew this scene -- I had hiked this exact kind of place hundreds of times on hundreds of identical fall days while I lived in Houghton. It was thrilling and bittersweet, all at once.
With nobody else around and nothing more to see, I wandered melancholily back to the shelter. Sarah was awake and the rain was slowly letting up, so we made dinner. We chose Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce as a break from the chicken themed dinners of our last few nights. It was pretty good (although it did live a bit in the shadow of the Chicken & Dumplings from last night). It definitely scratched the need for a hot meal on a cool and damp evening. We also made AlpineAire Cinnamon Apple Crisp for dessert, even though we didn't really need that many extra calories. Its warmth and sweetness was also delicious.
|Sun and clouds over Moskey Basin|
We made some hot tea and curled up inside our shelter, reading and enjoying the feeling of glorious aloneness in the wilderness. All night, loons called in the basin as a steady rain kept falling.
|Moskey Basin, as we saw it for most of our stay|
I knew from the moment I woke up that a hike of any length was out of the question for today. A soaking rain had fallen all night, occasionally waking me up with rolls of thunder. There was no sunrise because the sky was completely covered with thick gray rainclouds. The rocky trails had turned into a water-logged mess. After a long dry period, Isle Royale was making up for lost time.
We made breakfast in the shelter -- oatmeal and tea again -- and then we sat in the shelter and read. We snacked on gorp. We watched the sky and took turns commenting "I think maybe it's letting up a bit" followed a few minutes later by "never mind". We paced around the shelter and read the walls, which were covered in graffiti. Some was fascinating, some amusing, and some was neither. We read some more. Lunch passed -- rice cakes, meat sticks, and cheese -- and we read even more (I finished an entire book on this day alone). At one point, I looked down and discovered that my bag of gorp was completely empty -- yet I was still hungry. The peak of our entertainment was a crazy squirrel trying (and succeeding!) to climb the screened front of our shelter.
|At least we didn't have to deal with mosquitoes like Brady and Dan.|
In the middle of the afternoon, we looked up from our kindles and saw... a break in the rain! No sun, mind you -- that would be too much to ask for. But the rain had definitely stopped. We put on raincoats (we weren't that confident about the change in the weather) and headed outside for the first time all day. We weren't alone: everyone was heading towards, returning from, or at the dock.
At the dock, we met our next-door neighbors in Shelter 8. The noisy people had left yesterday, and were replaced by a middle-aged woman and her husband. The woman was, well, a bit odd. She was very enthusiastic about backpacking and clearly belonged to that breed of people who really like to talk about their hobbies. She had been very athletic in high school, then stopped (apparently) all kinds of physical activity for 20 or 30 years. After deciding to get in shape again, the first thing she and her husband did was come to Isle Royale. Whoa.
Not only that, but this was their 10th of 15 days on the island. Not only that, but they had planned to bushwhack for most of those days. That's right -- they weren't even going to hike or camp on trails. While this is tough but reasonable in some places (ahem: my Bushwhacking Adventure in the Porcupine Mountains, just 3 months earlier), on Isle Royale you must get special permits, commit to a definite schedule, and (I expect) have your head examined if you want to go off trail. The dense undergrowth, rocky ridges, and constant swamps between ridges kept any desire for bushwhacking out of me. I asked the obvious question: If you're bushwhacking, why are you staying in a shelter at Moskey Basin? It turned out that the island had indeed shown them who was boss, they were now taking several unplanned rest days, and the remainder of the trip would be entirely on trails. They were discovering just how unforgiving the island can be. She did share the knowledge that there had been moose sightings right next to our shelter... 2 days before. Dangit, again!
We hung around, hoping that someone might show up who had knowledge of a recent weather report. It didn't really matter, because we didn't have much choice -- we had to leave the island in two days and so we had to make it back to Rock Harbor by then. We couldn't easily sit around in Moskey Basin for another day. But, we at least wanted to know if we could look ahead to good hiking, or miserable hiking.
A ranger boat was tied up at the dock, but nobody was in it and nobody seemed to have seen a ranger. (We later heard a rumor that the boat belonged to what must have been the most miserable trail repair crew in existence -- camping out in the rain while trying to repair flooded trails.) Several other hikers came and went, alone and in pairs. We asked all of them if they had heard a recent weather report -- except when they managed to ask us first. It seemed that everyone had heard one of two stories, always secondhand: The rain would let up tonight, leaving a beautiful day tomorrow -- or it would keep raining through the weekend. That about covered the possibilities. But, nobody had any definite, recent information.
A water taxi appeared down the bay and gradually drew closer. Four very unhappy hikers wearing ponchos got out and headed off for the trails immediately, not saying hello to anyone. The pilot took the time to chat with us, but had no idea about the weather either. As he said, "I run rain or shine, so I don't pay much attention to weather reports."
|View from inside the shelter|
Dinner -- made inside the shelter -- was Backpacker's Pantry Chicken Alfredo. We were back on the Chicken Dinner track again, but it was (again!) delicious. We really lucked out with freeze-dried foods this trip.
As night fell without a sunset, or even a clearing of the clouds, I tried the weather radio. I was (miraculously!) able to pull in several stations -- In fact, every single nearby weather station, with one notable exception: the Marquette station, the only one that includes an Isle Royale forecast. But extrapolating from the Minnesota forecast, my best guess was a dry day tomorrow. I hoped.
And with that, we went to sleep, and slept amazingly well for having done almost nothing all day long.
Next Time: A slightly longer hike than we expected
Miles hiked: 4
Total miles: 18
Trail Reviews (based on our one trip as experienced UP backpackers with 40 pound packs):
Rock Harbor Trail (Daisy Farm -- Moskey Basin): Medium. Almost all solid bedrock except for the last mile to Moskey. You're following along a ridge, with all of the unevenness that implies. Even your feet will be tilted to the left. Tons of small ups and downs where there are breaks in the ridge. Last mile is easy and beautiful.