Monday, November 21, 2016

Isle Royale 2016, Day 5: Moskey Basin to Rock Harbor

Last Time: Moskey Basin and a rest day in the rain

Moskey Basin sunrise
I sat up in near darkness and saw the faintest hint of a sunrise at the far end of Moskey Basin. My sleepy brain said: Sunrise? Then... That means it's not raining! followed quickly by Holy crap, I can watch the sunrise from my bed!

The sunrise was faint and partly obscured by clouds, so I convinced myself to get up in the cold morning air and head out to our private rocky peninsula leading out into the Basin. It was small, distant, and eventually obscured by clouds, but the sunrise was indeed good, as so many other backpackers had promised us. It was the only sunrise we saw all trip -- I was happy.

After our usual breakfast -- oatmeal and tea while looking out over the most beautiful place in the world -- we packed up, ready for a big day. After 4 days, our packs were getting lighter, so I decided to try packing my pack differently by placing our tent right down the center (rather than strapped crosswise under the brain case as I'd done previously). It took only a few yards on the trail to realize that I should have been doing that the whole time. The belt stopped cutting into my hips -- I felt fantastic!

In addition to my better-packed pack, it was amazing what a day of 100% enforced rest had done for us. We were fully recharged and ready to go. The trails were muddy, the rocks were slippery, and the underbrush was soaking wet (forcing us to put on our rain paints), but the day was sunny and cool. It was perfect hiking weather, and we trucked along at a good pace. Obstacles that had made our knees (and voices) groan two days ago felt like nothing. The constantly-sloping trail back to Rock Harbor felt downright easy and a even bit more beautiful than I had realized. We made great time, but still saw no moose.

When we arrived at Daisy Farm around 10:30 am, we were fully ready for lunch. We sat on the dock, ate peanut butter rice cakes, and enjoyed the quietness. It was late enough that almost everyone had left the campground (because, remember, nobody stays at Daisy Farm -- they're all heading somewhere else), but early enough that few newcomers had yet arrived. We took our time and soaked up the sun.

Then we discussed our plan: Today was our last full day on the island. Our goal was to reach Three Mile campground, which (brilliantly named) is 3 miles from Rock Harbor. That would let us get up early tomorrow and make it to Rock Harbor well before the Queen left in the early afternoon. This had felt like an ambitious plan: It's an 8 mile hike from Moskey to Three Mile -- and our previous 7 mile days had wrecked us. As a contingency, we had considered staying at Daisy Farm and getting up reaaaaalllyy early to hike the 7 miles in to Rock Harbor tomorrow. But we were both feeling fresh, and the 4 remaining miles to Three Mile seemed doable -- in fact, we thought that we might make it to Three Mile early enough to snag a shelter, before the hoards of newcomers arriving on the Queen and Ranger could get there.

With that, we started out on the next leg of our trip. The Rock Harbor trail continues east from Daisy Farm, following extremely close along the harbor that gives the trail its name. We had heard wildly varying accounts of this trail, ranging from "easy and beautiful" to "horrible and rocky". The trail turned out to be lovely. It was by far the most level, flat, and even trail we had seen on the island. There were occasional roots and small rocks, but the flatness of the trail felt downright luxurious. There were nearly constant views of the harbor and equally constant opportunities to pick thimbleberries.

I think everyone who's hiked Isle Royale has a photo like this.
The woods inland from the trail were dense, and the trees were hung thick with old man's beard. But those thick woods sometimes gave way to huge rock outcrops that angled uphill. At one of these, we stopped for a rest break and chatted with a solo hiker also heading towards Three Mile. He had hiked this trail before and warned us that it wasn't all butterflies and rainbows.

Back on the trail, my spidey senses started tingling -- there was a mine around! I mentioned this to Sarah, who looked turned her head and said "Well, sure." I looked left and sure enough, there was a fenced-in mine shaft immediately next to the trail, with an interpretive sign attached to it. In my defense, I sensed the mine first.

This was the Siskiwit mine, one of the larger copper mines on Isle Royale. It was also quite old. There were only a few poor rock building foundations remaining, and several fenced shafts -- plus some scary looking places where solid bedrock was slowly sinking into the long-lost mine tunnels. I frightened Sarah by going off-trail to look down one of these sunken spots. Having scratched that itch, I returned to the trail safe and sound, and we continued on.

As we walked, the park's headquarters on Mott Island -- across the harbor -- became visible, and we were able to track our progress by our position relative to it. The next attraction was a beautiful, flat, grassy, and shady point of land sticking out into Rock Harbor directly across from the headquarters' dock. The point was something we hadn't seen much of: Non-rocky, actual dirt. It was also covered in blueberry bushes. We seriously considered stopping for a rest break or even a nap, but decided to push on to reach Three Mile campground instead.

So far, the trail had been incredibly flat with only a few roots and rocks. But after shortly after the "blueberry point" -- and about 1 mile away from Three Mile campground -- that changed in a big way. We suddenly started to encounter 1 or 2 foot boulders with only a narrow path of dirt running between them. Occasionally massive bedrock outcrops cut across the trail, sloping into the water, and we had to follow cairns across them. One section was even more amazing -- a steep and impassable swath of bedrock cut right down almost to the water level, leaving only a 2 foot wide ledge of rock at the very bottom, almost in the lake. We had to wait as others came through the opposite way, and then walk carefully with waves almost lapping at our feet.

The tougher path and the longer mileage started to wear on us, and we trudged onward.

Blueberries, so many blueberries!
After another enormous bedrock outcrop, we finally saw the trail sign for Three Mile campground. Three Mile was squeezed between the steep bedrock ridges and the water, so it was stretched out into a long line of campsites and shelters. The very first shelter was occupied by none other than our Trail Twins, John and Shelly. They greeted us warmly but warned us that we were a bit late, and the big crowd that had arrived in Rock Harbor on the Queen had already made it to Three Mile -- but that we could share their shelter if we needed.

I raced ahead to check the remaining sites. Nothing was available -- even the tent sites were overflowing with two or three tents per site. One shelter briefly faked me out -- it had no itinerary attached to the door handle, but I soon saw that backpacks were stashed inside. We later learned that some of our fellow backpackers had accidentally left their itinerary attached to their shelter back in Moskey, but didn't discover it until 4 miles into their trek.

We sat on the dock for a while, discussing our options and trying to rest, but bugs chased us away (the only time in the entire trip that bugs were a problem). We decided to check out the group sites, just in case they were still open and reasonable for camping. The group sites were both located far uphill and away from the water. They were wide open, sunny, hot and buggy. Sarah was tired and upset and proclaimed Three Mile an "ugly campground". We sat down at a picnic table in Group Site #1, swatted bugs, and grumped it up.

But, after a bit of rest, things started to look up. We agreed that we felt good enough to push onwards, all the way back to Rock Harbor. We were this close to Rock Harbor already, and there was a huge campground there. It couldn't be more full than Three Mile! We decided to take some advice that we had heard from several other backpackers: Avoid the Rock Harbor trail between Three Mile and Rock Harbor. It was the most direct way "home", but it was supposed to be especially rocky and difficult, much like the last mile of trail that we had been on. Instead, we would cut across the peninsula to the Tobin Harbor trail, which we knew from experience was flat and easy (despite adding an extra mile of length).

We backtracked a short way and, at the enormous bedrock outcrop, discovered that the Mt. Franklin Trail that would lead us across the peninsula went directly up that outcrop. The climb was short but intense, and then the trail became truly beautiful. It wound through deep and dark woods, up and down small ridges, and across wetlands. It was cool and pleasant. We loved it. Soon we found the trail intersection and turned onto our old friend, the Tobin Harbor trail.

Maybe it was just the 8+ miles we'd already done, but the Tobin Harbor trail didn't seem quite as friendly as it did 5 days ago, when were were totally fresh on the first leg of our trip. It had many more ups and downs than either of us remembered, lots more roots and rocks, and it sure seemed long. It did, however, still have gorgeous views of the deep blue waters of Tobin Harbor. We took it slow, trying to enjoy the views and not just stare at the trail in front of our feet.

Tobin Harbor Islet
After what felt like hours we suddenly came upon three backpackers stopped dead in the middle of the trail, staring uphill into the woods. One of them whispered, "there's a moose up there!". We froze and stared into the woods, trying to see its moosey form. They stared. We stared harder. Nothing happened. We didn't even hear anything. Eventually we all started walking again, with the other people talking about how it had been "right there!" Once again, we were late to the moose party. At this point, I was starting to suspect that we actually has special powers to make moose disappear.

At long, long last we saw the trail sign for Rock Harbor, and turned onto the paved trail leading down towards the harbor itself. We turned again onto a wide dirt path leading to the Rock Harbor campground, which was a ways uphill from the main harbor complex.

The trail led past a long line of shelters, all of which were filled. We were trudging wearily toward the campsites when a man walking the other way saw our backpacks and stopped us. "Are you looking for a site?" he asked us. We nodded wearily. "Everything is full here. I've got a site up the hill that you're welcome to share." We were too tired to be surprised that the campground was also full, but we were certainly amazed at generosity. We thanked him and headed the way he had pointed. Sure enough, we found a large campsite with only one hammock and a clothesline strung up around the edges.

We were so tired that we didn't even bother to check out the rest of the campground, but we could still tell that it was filled. There were people everywhere. They were a combination of campers who had arrived today -- both the Queen and Ranger had arrived, an event that only happens a few days per week even in the height of summer -- and campers like us who were planning to leave tomorrow. In particular, the Ranger docks at Rock Harbor overnight and would be leaving at 9 am sharp the next day. Any backpacker who wanted to be on the ship would be in Rock Harbor tonight.

We couldn't believe it -- we had just hiked 12 miles, all the way from Moskey Basin to Rock Harbor, after having our butts totally kicked by mere 4 and 7 mile hikes on the previous days. It was our single longest day of backpacking ever -- and we did it on the butt-kicking Isle Royale! It felt great: We had really accomplished something. It also felt exhausting. But even more important, our early arrival in Rock Harbor opened up some bonus opportunities that we hadn't expected to have.

We quickly set up our tent and then headed back down the hill for the first and most glorious of the unexpected bonuses: hot showers! There is a shower building with hot running water just behind the main ranger station, and we were about to take full advantage of it. The showers are operated by tokens, so we went to the "camp store" to purchase tokens. For $6 each, we got a token for a 5 minute shower. For an additional $2.50 each, we got towels, soap, and shampoo. It was the best $17 I've ever spent.

Well, almost. Sarah started first and literally sang the praises of the hot shower. I stepped into the next stall and got ready (including strategically pre-placing soap, washcloth, etc. so as to waste not a second of hot water time). I put my token in the machine and... nothing happened. I fiddled with the token machine, the water knobs, the shower head... nothing! Resigned, I got re-dressed and went back to the camp store, where the clerk (a very young college kid) gave me another token for free. I tried a different shower, which worked as expected. It was everything I could have hoped for and more. There is nothing better than a hot shower after 5 days in the backcountry -- it was glorious.

After drying and changing into "clean" clothes (at least, clothes we hadn't yet worn that day), we once again went to the camp store and looked at the amazing variety of items for sale. You could almost arrive on the island with a backpack and a sleeping bag, and buy the rest of your supplies at the store. They had freeze-dried food, sleeping pads, stove fuel, rope, water filters, cook sets, and a huge variety of other backcountry essentials.

More important for us, they had ice cream bars and Cherry Pepsi. We bought one of each (for a mere $1 each -- it felt like we were back in 1990!) and sat on a bench enjoying them. They too were glorious.

With our most pressing needs satisfied, we could focus on another of the unexpected benefits of arriving at Rock Harbor a day earlier than we had planned. The Rock Harbor Lodge runs sightseeing cruises on the MV Sandy, a passenger boat operated by the Rock Harbor Lodge. We walked around the harbor to the Lodge's office and found out that there were still spaces on tonight's "Sunset Cruise". We bought two tickets immediately. The cruise left in about 30 minutes, so we didn't have time to make dinner. To tide us over, we bought a few more snacks (cheese crackers and Pringles) and ate them while sitting at Sandy's dock.

Bedrock on Raspberry Island
Only a few minutes before departure time, the captain and his first mate (a young college kid) arrived and helped us onboard. It turned out that there was no urgency in buying the tickets -- there were maybe 10 people on the entire boat. Almost all of us crammed ourselves into two rows of seats in the open-air back of the boat. Most of the passengers were staying at the Rock Harbor lodge, and some of them were strangely grumpy. They complained about the seats, the breeze, the distance they had to walk from their hotel rooms... This made no sense to us, what with the soft beds and running water they enjoyed here on Isle Royale. Whatever its cause, the grumpiness couldn't dampen our euphoria over clean skin and junk food. Other passengers were quite friendly, and we had a fun time chatting with the other passengers.

After motoring out of dock, our first stop was just across Rock Harbor at Raspberry Island, one of the barrier islands standing between Rock Harbor and the open water of Lake Superior. Raspberry Island is relatively small and has a very short loop trail with interpretive signs. The grumpy tourists became extra grumpy when the captain unceremoniously announced that this part of the tour was self-guided, and that we should make sure to be back in 30 minutes or else. A few didn't even bother to look at the trail, instead spending their time trying to get a cell phone signal from the dock.

Sarah and I started on the interpretive trail but quickly took a less-traveled spur that lead off to a rocky cliff. The island is really just the top of one of the unending series of ridges that make up Isle Royale -- but most of this one is under water. The steep basalt cliff gave us simultaneous panoramic views both of Lake Superior and back towards Rock Harbor, and we spent almost all of our time just taking in the views. Well, that, and picking tons of wild blueberries that grew on the island. Due to the lack of constant foot traffic, they hadn't been picked over yet. No raspberries actually grow on Raspberry Island -- but apparently they did 150 years ago, when the island had been completely clear-cut by miners searching for copper veins in the rock. The first plants to grow in the burned-over soil were raspberries brought by birds, but they were eventually out-competed by other plants.

We returned to the dock on time to catch our ride. The Sandy headed northeast around Scoville Point, one of the long, narrow, rocky points that make up the "five fingers" at the eastern end of Isle Royale. Scoville Point separates Rock Harbor from Tobin Harbor, which we now got to see from the water side of things. At this point, the young-looking second mate picked up a microphone and started narrating some of the sights along the way. The main sights were old cabins and other buildings left from Isle Royale's heyday as popular resort destination. Our narrator described the island's history as a resort paradise -- a place for wealthy people to escape from dirty cities and enjoy the pure, crisp Lake Superior air. A large number of resorts existed on the "fingers" and islands at the eastern end of Isle Royale.


The "easy" side of the ridge that forms Raspberry Island. This is what the entire trail from Moskey to Daisy Farm looks like.
When the island became a National Park in 1940, existing resorts and private cottages were purchased by the US government, but the private owners were allowed to keep using them -- for as long as the owner was still alive. Our guide pointed out a few of these leases that were still active, and some which had recently reverted to the park -- and others which had been forcibly returned to the park after shenanigans such as not notifying the park when the owner finally passed away. One of the most intriguing was the Artist in Residence cabin, located right at the end of Scoville Point at an incredibly exposed location. Our guide told us about various Artists in Residence, the requirements for the program, and how great the location was. It got me (and many others!) thinking about how I could possibly apply.

We got a fair bit of gossip from our young guide, whose willingness to talk about anything and everything related to island life quickly endeared him to us. His parents both worked for the park service, while he was a college student back in the UP somewhere. He excitedly interrupted his own string of gossip about leases and lessees to point out a (very distant) bald eagle sitting perched high on a tree, and then turned right around and had us wave at a cabin whose owners were in "town". We also saw quite a few decrepit buildings from long-abandoned resorts -- some wooden shacks, some piles of rubble, and the occasional converted cabin still being used by its old owners.

We turned around and traveled out around Blake Point, the extreme point of land on this end of Isle Royale. We could see Passage Island (the northernmost point of land in Michigan) and its lighthouse in the distance as we learned about Great Lakes shipping paths, lighthouses, buoys, and shipwrecks. The sun began to set as we made our way out into the open lake, hearing about the "Sleeping Giant" and "Sleeping Baby" visible on the Canadian shore. But, there was no sunset to be seen -- it was hidden behind a thick bank of clouds that was blowing in. Nonetheless, our trusty captain had us tread water for at least 10 minutes out in the brisk wind so that we could enjoy the "sunset". Apparently he kept to the schedule no matter what.

It was a long trip back in the dark -- really, incredibly dark. The islands were just dim bulks against the darkening sky, made even darker by the thick clouds. Being out on this small craft on the big lake in that dark evening was a spooky and humbling experience. Thankfully, our young narrator kept us entertained with tales of growing up on the island. I had to admit that I was a bit envious.


The Ranger III at dock in Rock Harbor
When we made it back to Rock Harbor, I stayed put on the dock until everyone had left. The Ranger III was in port and all lit up. It was quite beautiful in the dark.

After that, there was nothing to do but walk the dark paths up to the Rock Harbor campground, crawl into our tent, and go to sleep. We were so exhausted that we didn't even have dinner.

Miles hiked: 12
Total miles: 30

Next time: Riding the Barf Barge



Trail Reviews (based on our one trip as experienced UP backpackers with 40 pound packs):

Rock Harbor Trail (Moskey Basin -- Daisy Farm): Medium. The angled ridges keep your feet (and body) constantly tilted.

Rock Harbor Trail (Daisy Farm -- 3 Mile): Easy! The last mile (into 3 mile) is tough with bigger rocks, but the first 3 miles are flat and have only roots and small rocks. Great views.

Mt. Franklin Trail (3 Mile -- Tobin Harbor intersection): Easy. Twisty and turny with one big uphill at 3 Mile, but the rest is beautiful.

Tobin Harbor Trail (heading east): Easy. As much as I complained about it in here, this is still about as easy as Isle Royale gets. Roots and some rocks, but wide with and rolling hills.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Isle Royale 2016, Days 3 and 4: Daily Farm to Moskey Basin and a Rest Day

Last Time: Lane Cove, Greenstone Ridge, and wine on the Daisy Farm dock

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.
Shelter 7 was fantastic. Its front yard was almost solid bedrock leading to a tiny point of rock that poked out into Moskey Basin. The Basin itself is the western extension of Rock Harbor, the long narrow harbor that stretches along much of the southeastern end of Isle Royale. The Basin is surrounded by high hills on three sides and has only a narrow opening into Lake Superior on the east end, making it extremely sheltered and quiet. From our shelter, we could see a smaller bay opening to our right with reeds growing thickly near the short -- prime moose territory! To our left the coast curved around again, with another shelter just barely visible along a small point of land. The point hid the rest of the shelters -- and the Moskey dock -- from our view. Our shelter felt like it was alone at the end of the world.

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.
When Sarah woke up, it was sunny and looked like a perfect time for a swim -- until we stepped foot outside. A cold front was definitely coming through and there was no way we were getting into the water. Nonetheless, Sarah wanted to wash up but didn't want to wade into the frigid water. She settled on laying down on the small spit of rock in our "front yard" and dousing her head. When you're camping, you'll do whatever it takes to feel clean!

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
As night began to fall, the sky partially cleared and let in a few glimpses of late-evening sun. We stood in our "front yard" and enjoyed the beautiful light for a few minutes, until we were chased back inside by a renewed round of rain. Once again, there would be no star-gazing.

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
Thursday, August 11, 2016: We had planned for our fourth day on Isle Royale to be a rest day. And what better place to rest than Moskey Basin? It's known for glorious sunrises (visible right down the bay) and is 2 short miles from Lake Ritchie, where we could hopefully do some wildlife viewing, or at least enjoy what the guidebook called an "easy hike".

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
Having exhausted all social opportunities (and with the rain starting to kick back up again), we headed back to the shelter. And read. And read some more.

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.