Thursday, August 17, 2017

Isle Royale 2017: The Saga Begins

To read the whole series, follow the link at the bottom of this post.
You can view all photos from this series in my Isle Royale 2017 flickr album.

Indian Portage trail from Chippewa Harbor to Lake Richie

"I'm sorry, I don't have any reservations under the name 'Clark' for tomorrow night."

Thus began the "adventure" part of our Isle Royale Adventure, 2017 edition. I was on the phone with the King Copper motel, our (supposed) lodging for the night before our departure on the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry. The King Copper is a pretty old-fashioned affair: No web site, no confirmation numbers, and apparently no records. I'd had an itch in the back of my mind that I should call to double-check our reservations. Gone was the lake view room I'd reserved back in January. "OK... do you have any rooms available?" "Yes, we have one room left... queen bed with a lake view. Would you like to reserve it?" OK, maybe I was just living in a weird time loop. I reserved the room and crossed my fingers that they wouldn't lose my name again.

At the end of our 2016 Isle Royale Adventure, Sarah and I were already planning next year's trip. Isle Royale got its claws into us, and we couldn't not go back. Isle Royale has a way of doing that: It is one of the least visited national parks (averaging around 20,000 visitors per year, "What Yellowstone gets before noon", as one ranger told us), but visitors stay much longer (3-4 days) and revisit more often than any other national park. The remote beauty of this rugged island in the middle of Lake Superior is hard to describe unless you've seen it for yourself. Even after 10 years of living and backpacking in Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula, surrounded by untamed natural beauty, I am completely smitten with Isle Royale.

Along the Stoll trail on Scoville Point

For this year's visit, we wanted to see new parts of the island, hike new trails, and climb new heights of laying-around-enjoying-it. I spent the winter designing itineraries, debating their relative merits with Sarah, and repeating until we had just the right plan. I re-read Jim Dufresne's guide book from front to back (worth every penny!), figuring out just the right balance of trails and rest, figuring out good day hikes, and generally daydreaming about our week on the island. I read a handful of books and web sites that helped me figure out off-the-beaten-path places to visit. In the end, we didn't set any records for speed or distance -- in fact, we ended up hiking fewer miles than last year but taking one day longer to do so. But that's not the point. We enjoyed ourselves, relaxed, met new people, and soaked up the beauty. By the end, we were once again hunched over the park map, planning out yet another trip for 2018.

One of my goals for the trip was to lighten our packs. To that end, I thought long and hard about each item we had taken last year. Some stayed in the pack, including my heavy camera setup -- being able to take the photos that you'll see in this series is a lot of fun for me. But we cut some other items that might surprise you: No GPS (the trails are well marked, and we had a paper map), no weather radio (it only worked from the high ridges anyhow), and fewer clothes (we could wash them in the lakes). As a result, we brought fewer batteries too -- in the end, we saved a pound or two each. But, it was well worth it, and we didn't miss any of the items that we left out.

We agreed on another goal as well: We wanted to see moose! Last year, we hadn't seen a single moose -- but people who left camp earlier than us saw more than their fair share. Moose like cool mornings and hide during hot days, so we planned to get up early every day and get on the trail promptly. We would not be out-moosed by our fellow hikers -- and as it turned out, we succeeded in some spectacular but unlikely ways.

Looking out from inside the Minong Mine

But, back to the beginning. The second mini-adventure started the very morning we were to leave for Copper Harbor. Having averted a lodging disaster the day before, Sarah instead woke up with a runny nose and a sore throat. A last-minute video visit with a doctor confirmed that it was not strep -- that would have killed the trip -- but most likely a virus. The doctor instructed Sarah to take it easy, get extra rest, drink lots of liquids, and not exert herself. "We're going backpacking for a week," Sarah informed the doctor. "Oh. Well... have fun."

Sarah refused to give in to the virus, so we forged boldly northward. I drove, Sarah napped, and the UP blurred past. After a 9 hour drive, we pulled in at the one absolutely required stop of the trip north: The Michigan House in Calumet. This is one of my absolute favorite restaurants of all time, and the Gipp Burger with a Cold Hearted Ale did not disappoint.

The old schoolhouse at Chippewa Harbor

We arrived in Copper Harbor around 9 pm and "checked in" to the King Copper by following the directions on the sign taped to the office door: "Clark: Key in room #1." We have stayed in the King Copper twice, but have never actually interacted with an employee -- the rooms are always unlocked, we always arrive after the office is closed, and we always leave before it opens. Our card gets charged and everyone is happy. Such is life in Copper Harbor.

Once again, we found ourselves in a 50's era room that had never been updated -- not that its spectacular view of the harbor would ever need updating. I watched the Isle Royale Queen IV arrive in from a sunset cruise while trying unsuccessfully to do a last-minute weather check on the spotty wifi. Giving up on that, we fell asleep and dreamed of moose and thimbleberries.

Next time: Day 1: Strawberries, blueberries, and a tiny bit of moose

Pink: Our backpacking route. Blue: Dayhikes.


Jacob Emerick said...

"Oh. Well... have fun." - ha ha ha

Your route from Chippewa to McCargoe looks solid. Looking forward to reading about the connecting boat trips.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous photos, can't wait to hear about the rest. Thanks for sharing! Isle Royal is on my list of places to backpack with Torin before he goes to high school and gets super busy. So next year, lol.

DC said...

@Jake: We took it seriously easy. (I think our total mileage was about the same as your daily mileage...) 100% worth it though. And the ferries were great, even if ours did have to outrun a once-in-a-decade storm warning.

@Summer: DO IT. I can't believe I lived in the Keweenaw for 10 years and never went to the island. It's worth the hassle to get there.