Sunday, August 11, 2019

Isle Royale 2019, Day 4: Daisy Farm to Three Mile via the Greenstone

Last time: The Daisy Farm loop with MOOSE!
Shelter #4 at Daisy Farm

Thursday May 30, 2019: My early bedtime on Wednesday meant that I was up and at 'em nice and early on Thursday. The morning was cool but sunny. (Are you tired of hearing that yet? Every day except Monday had been perfectly clear and just the right temperature.) I had a quick breakfast and headed out as early as possible, eager to enjoy the trails during my last full day on the island.

My plan for the day was to go to Three Mile campground via the longer and more scenic Greenstone ridge route. The direct route is a flat 4 mile trek along Rock Harbor, which I had already covered on my first day. I didn't want to repeat that segment of trail -- I wanted to be up on the ridge, enjoy the views, and take my time. Plus, I was last on these trails on my very first trip to the island. On that trip, I felt like the Greenstone and Mt. Franklin trails were ridiculously hot and difficult. I wanted to see them with a (slightly) more experienced eye.

Looking up towards Mt. Ojibway's fire tower

The Mt. Ojibway trail was beautiful in the golden morning light. I had a well-rested zip in my step as I climbed the Greenstone ridge, keeping my eye out for moose (none) and lovely sights (tons). I climbed the tower again (why? because it's there!) and then turned east to continue along the Greenstone. The morning light lent the views a special magic. That, and the absolute silence of the trail, made this some of my favorite hiking of the trip. There were views both north and south, made possible by the lack of leaves on bushes and trees.

View from the Greenstone ridge
The beautiful scenery reminded me of my first trip to the island. On that first trip, in August, this same trail had felt incredibly hot and hard. I nearly ran out of water, and by the time I had completed a short segment of the Greenstone, my legs were crying out in pain. This time I was better prepared, and flew along.

Lost in my thoughts, I unconsciously picked up speed, marched around a brushy corner, and nearly ran into a moose happily munching on brush right next to the trail. The moose calmly stepped into denser brush and kept eating. A couple passing in the opposite direction stopped as I waved them a warning and we watched the moose silently for a while, standing just a few feet away. As we passed, they warned/enlightened me about a similar situation up ahead. Sure enough, another moose upped my count to 5.

A somewhat scruffy moose on the Greenstone

After a few more miles of beautiful ridge-top trail, I arrived at Mt. Franklin. On my first trip, the Lovely Sarah and I climbed out of Lane Cove, turned along the Greenstone towards Mt. Franklin, and stopped to have lunch at a nice open grassy area with mild views of Canada. Everyone said that we had to stop and see Mt. Franklin, but we didn't see what the big deal was about. Well rested and fed, we discovered the real Mt. Franklin and its spectacular views just a few yards down the trail -- but we'd eaten and rested and it was full of other people at the time, so we didn't stop.

Today, I had Mt. Franklin all to myself, so I sat back and ate up every bit of its vast views and deep solitude. I also ate up a well-earned meat stick and some gorp. The "mountain" (only by Michigan standards) is a clear area on the rocky and steep north side of the Greenstone ridge. It has a panoramic view over the Five Finger region at the northeast end of the island, and distant views of Thunder Bay's Sleeping Giant and other interesting bumps on the Canadian shore.

View From Mt. Franklin north over Lane Cove, with Canadian bumps on the horizon. Click to enlarge.

When my snacks were done, I set about some photography. I twisted myself into knots trying to get a selfie with my Big Fancy Camera, and totally failed. A snowshoe hare watched me impassively, but I could sense that it was laughing silently at me. Eventually, Dave and Lindsay of Chicago arrived to save the day. They had just hiked up from Lane Cove and enthusiastically helped me out in exchange for taking a photo of them. Dave in particular was inordinately excited to meet another "Trail Dave". I didn't have the heart to tell him how many people I've met with my exact same name.

Pseudo-selfie at Mt. Franklin

Thoroughly rested and photographed, I left Mt. Franklin to Dave and Lindsay and headed towards the Mt. Franklin trail junction. The trail down to Three Mile was as beautiful and varied as ever. There were more hikers here than I'd met on any trail so far this trip. One group included a 70+ year old woman who was trucking it right up the Greenstone, excited about the views ahead. I also ran into Nicky (who I'd first met at Moskey Basin) and discovered that we'd had essentially the same itinerary since leaving Moskey, even including the Mt. Ojibway loop yesterday. She had taken the direct route from Daisy Farm to Three Mile, and was now on a "day hike" from Three Mile to Lane Cove and back, for a daily total of something like 13 miles.

The trail runs through this photo -- can you see it?

I strolled the Mt. Franklin trail down to Three Mile at a slow pace, soaking up the gorgeous views and extremely varied terrain. The trail passes through open rocky ridges and over dense swamps. A particularly fetching beaver pond between ridges caught my eye for a while, as did the long boardwalk and stream at the end of Tobin Harbor.

Boardwalk over the Tobin Harbor swamp

The half-mile stretch of the Mt. Franklin trail between Tobin Harbor and Rock Harbor may be my favorite trail on the island. The rocky trail winds through cool, dark evergreen forests. The trees cast a mottled, filtered light onto the trail. The woods are filled with rocky cliffs as you climb over the ridge that eventually forms Scoville Point. Of course, I found it impossible to take a good photo of all of this.

I was especially taken by an open glade on a ridge just before the final descent into Three Mile. The ridge was sunny and warm and perfectly still. I could hear birds warbling, bees buzzing, and trees swishing. I closed my eyes and enjoyed a moment of pure, quiet bliss. After so many cold nights, this felt like summer.

Stream along the Mt. Franklin trail, heading towards Tobin Harbor

Three Mile was a new campground for me -- I've passed through, but never actually camped here. The campground hugs the Lake Superior shore for a surprisingly long stretch of shoreline. I arrived at the first site, Shelter #12, which was unoccupied. I was afraid that the campground might be filling up with others who, like me, were leaving on the Queen tomorrow, so I immediately hung my permit on the shelter door and dropped my bag. As soon as I did so, I noticed the couple who was already occupying Shelter #11, immediately adjacent. They looked a bit off-put by my sudden presence. I couldn't blame them -- I was basically moving into their front yard.

I said a slightly abashed "hi" and took a quick tour through the rest of the campground. I was completely wrong: Despite my scenic tour of the Greenstone and afternoon arrival, only one other site was taken. I had my choice of any number of other shelters. I went back, picked up my back and permit, and moved along towards the unoccupied end of the campground.

I almost took Shelter #4, but noticed at the last minute that there were square nail heads (?!) sticking out of the floor, just waiting to puncture my tent's floor and delicate sleeping pad. I suppose that says something about the age of the shelters, which seemed older and more venerable here. Instead, I set up in Shelter #3 after careful consideration of the fact that a cool lake breeze was blowing directly into most of the other shelters. Unlike Shelters 11 and 12, the lower numbered shelters are separated by stands of evergreens and have quite a bit of privacy.

I had just started to get settled in when I was joined by two rangers doing repairs to shelters. They caulked up some holes in the shelter and installed a whole new seat on the picnic table. One of them had had hip surgery a few months ago and was still walking with a cane -- all over Isle Royale! I don't know how she did it, but her good humor and stories of ranger life kept me entertained. I shared my spicy meat sticks in thanks for their work (and, honestly, to reduce tomorrow's pack weight a bit).

Shortly afterwards, I heard an odd twitter from above my head. I looked up to see this fluffy beastie looking back at me:




At first I thought I was looking at a baby falcon. But no, this was just a fluffy, inquisitive, and enormously cute bird called a Gray Jay (or Canada Jay), which is not found in other parts of Michigan. Their method of survival appears to be begging for food in such cute ways that hikers can't ignore them. Two of the Jays hopped around my table and kept me company with their chirps from the nearby bushes.

I also met my site's resident squirrel, which was at least as inquisitive as the Jay, and more willing to climb right up on the (newly repaired) picnic table with me. I tossed a pebble at it, trying to scare it away -- instead, it ran over to sniff at the pebble, in hopes that it was food.


Once I was all set up, I grabbed my Kindle and headed down to the dock. I sat in the wonderfully warm sun, reading and soaking my sore feet. A couple from Chicago -- names unknown -- were laying in the sun at the end of the dock and declared, repeatedly and loudly, that I was absolutely crazy for soaking my feet in the freezing water. I tried to convince them that the water was bathtub warm and that they should jump right in, but to no avail. The wake from a passing boat splashed frigid lake water right onto the dock -- and them! -- somewhat undermining my credibility.

I enjoyed watching the comings-and-goings of people at the dock. A ranger boat arrived and dropped off four people, who walked a few feet inland, separated, and sat down in four slightly different locations. Soon another boat arrived, and the first group came back together to greet the new arrivals. They all seemed to be national park employees or interns. Soon they were all standing around some brush near the end of the dock, examining it intently. Shortly thereafter, they separated, some by water and others on foot. I never did learn what they were up to.

Not long afterwards, another couple arrived to filter water and relax. I recognized them from the Queen: They had been the ones sitting uncomfortably with the four unprepared college students on the Queen. I soon learned that Brian and Allie from Chicago were totally unconnected with the "bros" (their nickname for the students) and they were quite delightful company. Brian was carrying a massive camera setup that made my back hurt sympathetically -- a huge Canon plus a cannon-sized and shaped lens that must have weighed 4 pounds on its own. (I later learned that this was just one of the lenses he'd brought.) He repeatedly swung this enormous camera around like it was made of styrofoam, capturing birds, flowers, distant views, and everything else in sight. Brian's 7+ pound camera setup made me feel quite happy with my mere 3 pounds of camera gear.

Sand Hill crane on the sunny ridge
Throughout all of this, the wonderfully warm sun had gradually disappeared under a thick layer of clouds, and the cold lake breeze had picked up. This caught me unaware, and soon I realized that I was chilled to the bone.

I left the dock and tried all of the usual ways to warm up. Hot tea and a few additional layers did nothing. Even after I crawled into my sleeping bag (in the middle of the afternoon!), I was still shivering. So I did the only thing guaranteed to warm me up: I put on my boots and started hiking. As soon as I got inland, the lake breeze stopped and I was even a bit too warm. I explored the peaceful glade (and made it somewhat less peaceful by accidentally stirring up a Sandhill crane). I hiked vigorously back through the breezy campground, headed east, and climbed around some of the ridges above the Rock Harbor trail. The rocky ridges held heat and blocked the breeze, and scrambling over them helped me pass a warm and pleasant hour.

Blueberry flowers in the peaceful glade

Thoroughly warmed, I returned to the campground. On the way in, I passed a familiar-looking college student sitting on a ridge, listening to his mp3 player with unfocused eyes and a slack jaw. Sure enough, the bros had made it in to camp and managed to set up their tent in the lowest, coldest, most exposed campsite in the entirety of Three Mile. Nonetheless, I counted all four of them still alive, if not necessarily happy.

Down at the dock, I discovered that Doug and Steve (who I had met on the Queen on the way over) had also made it into camp and were chatting with Nicky, lately returned from her huge "day hike" up to Lane Cove and back. Seeing these three cheered me up much more than pondering how cold the bros would be tonight.

Rocky ridges and "steps" just outside of Three Mile campground
Doug and Steve had quite a story to tell. After I left them at Rock Harbor on our arrival day, they had spent the evening with "the old college roommate" (and all of the associated beer and cigars). Their huge group packed up even more beer and somehow made it to McCargoe cove with 50 lb packs, where they made vigorous use of the beer, cigars, and the communal fire pit. They also met, at various times, Nicky, Brian, and Allie, all of whom were traveling through McCargoe at that time.

After a sleepless night due to the loud partying, Doug and Steve split off from the (still sleeping) main group, took a 14 mile "day hike" along the Minong Ridge Trail to Todd Harbor and back (what is with these crazy-long dayhikes?), and decided to dirty camp up on Pine Mountain rather than spend another sleepless night in McCargoe. Steve spoke in awe of how they saw both the sunset and sunrise from the top of the high cliff. Today, they headed off on their own again and made it all the way to Three Mile, planning to head in to Rock Harbor tomorrow to catch the Queen back to the mainland.

It was clear that, despite the difficulties, they had thoroughly fallen in love with the island.

A citadel of rock rising about Three Mile campground

After dinner (Chili Mac... eh, it was warm), the whole crew assembled at Doug and Steve's shelter (#4, with the nail heads -- yes, I warned them), including Nicky, Allie, Brian, and myself. We spent a wonderful evening drinking apple cider (from a mix); trying out each others' camp chairs, or in my case, trying everyone else's since this seemed to be a standard item that I'd missed out on; talking gear; being amazed at Nicky's hand-assembled "Thanksgiving dinner" freeze dried meal; and having a grand time.

Doug, Steve, Brian, Allie, and I were all heading back to Copper Harbor on the Queen tomorrow. Nicky was near the end of her trip, but had a few days left and had yet to decide what to do with them. As often happens near the end of a trip to Isle Royale, everyone was thinking about their next trip. I was already dreaming of an end-to-end hike along the Greenstone (or maybe Minong?) ridge. All of my non-Michigander hiking friends had been suitably impressed by the beauty of up north Michigan, and as the only Michigander in the group, I fielded a lot of questions about where else to go. I did my best to sell the backpackers on my favorite Michigan state park, the Porcupine Mountains. I suspect I did a decent job of it.

We stayed up until well after dark, at which point the cold lake breeze was starting to chill even the hardiest of us. We headed to our separate shelters with promises to come back together in Rock Harbor the next day. As I walked back to my shelter long after sunset, I thought about the amazing trail community that had come together, spontaneously, over my four days on the island. It was a warm and, frankly, surprising feeling.

I fell asleep in the cold night feeling quite happy indeed.

Miles hiked: 6.7 + 1 (trying-to-get-warm-dayhike)
Total miles: 28.9

Wildlife seen: One Sandhill crane, one snowshoe hare, and two moose!!

Next time: The Case of the Missing Doug, or, how to make the most of your last day 

Day 4's hike is in orange




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