Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Isle Royale 2023, Day 2: Windigo to Island Mine

Last time: A very long dayhike around the Huginnin Loop

Washington Harbor from the Windigo dock

Wednesday May 24, 2023: I awoke early in the morning in our shelter at Washington Harbor. I had a nasty headache -- too much hiking yesterday? A cold night? Not enough water? Why not all of the above?

I was fairly snug under my 0 degree quilt, but if I so much as poked my nose out, it started to hurt from the cold. I pulled back under and tried to go back to sleep. But I'd gone to bed when it started to get dark around 9 pm and slept for 10+ hours. Between that, the cold air, and the headache, more sleep wasn't in the books.

We got up, keeping all of our many layers on, and briefly sat at our heavily shaded picnic table. We quickly decided to walk to "downtown" Windigo where the sun was shining brightly on one of the docks. We sat at a picnic table and warmed in the sun, watching mergansers dive and an otter swim along the shore. Then we used the flush toilets, a grand benefit that we would give up for the next several days.

After warming up sufficiently, we went back to the shelter and made hot tea and breakfast (oatmeal), which mostly cleared up the headache. We packed up slowly and finally headed out around 10:30 am.

Today, our goal was the Island Mine campground. We'd get there via the legendary Greenstone Ridge trail.

White violets along the Greenstone Ridge trail

We started by heading in the same direction as yesterday's dayhike to Huginnin Cove, but instead turned onto the Greenstone, and quickly started climbing. We were clearly ascending a ridge, but not the kind of ridge you'll find on the east end of the island. The west end of Isle Royale saw more glaciation than the east end, and as a result the glaciers dropped more "till" here. The end result was that the ancient lava flows that form the many ridges of Isle Royale were covered with a deep layer of dirt and gravel, and then covered with trees. They're more like big forested hills.

The steep climb continued for a mile or so, and then leveled out into a remarkably wide and flat path. We paused, puffing from the uphill with full packs, and looked around. We could see for a long distance through the woods, and we were clearly on a high point, but there was no view to be had: We were surrounded by trees on top of a hill.

At this point, Sarah and I implemented Rule 1: Hike your own hike. We hiked at our own speeds, knowing that we would meet up again at Island Mine campground. The trails were remarkably clear. Very few trees were down, and were easy to walk around. There was no mud to speak of. It was easy, straightforward hiking along the top of a big rounded hill.

Greenstone "ridge" trail: Flat with a slight green haze

The trees covering the ridge were almost entirely deciduous, still mostly bare from winter. May is early spring on the island, and the trees here were just barely into the "green haze" that happens when the first tiny leaves start to appear.

While this end of the Greenstone Ridge Trail lacked the sweeping views of the east end, there was plenty to see if you looked closely. It was easy to see the pleasant shape of the land, including small rocky outcrops that would soon be hidden by underbrush. Tiny violets -- purple, yellow, and white -- were blooming along the sunny edges of the trail. Thimbleberries were putting out their first leaves. Curious fungus grew on logs and in the leaf litter.

And of course, there was the hardiest wildflower of the north: The Dandelion!

Seriously, these guys were blooming like mad

I eventually stopped to eat lunch -- a rice cake and meat stick -- while sitting on a nondescript log next to the trail. There was nowhere more interesting to stop. Sarah arrived just as I finished, and we chatted briefly before I continued on.

A curious fungus along the trail

I met several hikers along the way. The first few were solo hikers, all headed into Windigo, and who must have gotten an early start. One didn't even respond when I greeted him -- hiking with earbuds, I think. Soon a father and son pair overtook me, and also said little. After winding through the only bit of mud I'd seen all day and cresting Sugar Mountain (a mildly high spot on the trail), I met several more groups all standing together and chatting near the intersection with Island Mine trail. Most were heading farther east towards South Desor, while one older couple was heading back to Windigo from that very site. 

I talked with the older couple briefly and mentioned that I was heading toward Island Mine. They were heading back to Windigo, so I asked them to say hi to Sarah when they saw her. We parted ways and I turned south onto the Island Mine trail.

Later, at the campground, Sarah told me that she had met the older couple, and they had indeed greeted her and passed along my well-wishes. Then they had explained just how great it was that we were headed to South Desor, and how much we would enjoy it. She'd spent the rest of the hike wondering if she would even see me at Island Mine!

Very young thimbleberry leaves

The Island Mine trail was as different from the Greenstone as could be. It was basically a long, rocky, downhill stream, followed by a swampy area, and then a long, rocky, uphill through even more running water. I eventually gave up trying to avoid the water and just waded through it with my trail runners. 

I arrived at the Island Mine campground quickly. It's located on a low ridge in open woods, with a (different) small stream nearby for water. I've often heard complaints about Island Mine: It's the only campground not on a body of water, its water supply is unreliable, it's just a boring spot in the middle of the woods.

I can't disagree with any of those, but these things didn't bother me so much. This early in the season, there were reasonably good views of the nearby landscape of ridges and valleys. The sites were spacious. The stream was running well enough for me to easily fill up the 4 Liter dirty bag for our gravity filter. And there was one great advantage: Each site has a fire ring, something that almost no other foot-accessible island campgrounds have.

A trillium at our campsite, too early to blossom

Sarah soon arrived, relieved to clear up the misunderstanding about South Desor. We set up our tents, appreciating that the effort warmed us up a bit. It was a cool day, and the wind had become gusty and biting.

Our dinner was a proven winner: freeze-dried Fettucine Alfredo. Afterwards, we built a small fire in our fire pit and thoroughly enjoyed its heat. This early in the season, there was no shortage of extremely dry down wood, and we kept the fire going for quite a while as the sky darkened and the air grew even colder. We had more freeze-dried cookies and several rounds of hot tea to fight the chilly evening air. 

Sarah with the best fire ever

Several other groups came into the campground, and by nightfall, every site appeared to be full -- even the group sites.

The night was frigid -- again -- under a perfectly clear sky. I went to bed wearing a thermal baselayer, fleece, puffy jacket, long pants and a hat, and slept curled up under my 0 degree quilt.

Next time: Over, under, or around every tree

Miles hiked: 6.9

Total miles: 18.3

Today's route in green, past days in pink

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