Thursday, August 10, 2023

Isle Royale 2023, Day 6: Feldtmann Lake to Windigo

Last time: So many moose! So many bros!

Feldtmann Lake in the morning

Sunday May 28, 2023: The bright morning brought two things: bugs and moose! The bugs weren't exactly bad... it's just that we hadn't had to deal with bugs at all on the trip so far. Luckily, it was mostly non-biting flies, but with the occasional mosquito mixed in just to keep things interesting.

The moose on the other hand, were everywhere: walking along the beach, through the water, and... what's that sound? Oh yeah, moose walking right through our campsite. By the time I got out of my tent, there were hoof prints just feet away from my tent. The moose had judged us harmless, and acted accordingly.

We had tea while sitting on a bench that moose had recently stepped over (they were far off on the other side of the lake now, so it was safe). Then we had a second round of tea to help Sarah with her self-described "hangover" brought on by too much sun and fun on yesterday's Rainbow Cove trip.

Morning also brought a surprising lack of bros. The bros must have gotten up earlier than us and headed out, because we couldn't hear them anywhere. And if they'd been around, we definitely would have heard them.

After our quiet breakfast, we packed up and headed out on the final leg of our week-long trip. Today, we would take the Feldtmann trail back in to Windigo and relax. We were in no rush: Our plane left tomorrow, Monday, at 5 pm. This oddity in our timeline was due to staying our first night in Windigo to avoid rain.

The first few miles of this part of the Feldtmann trail were quite flat. The trail runs just below a bluff that marks an ancient lakeshore, and as a result, we were basically walking on a flat and shallow ancient lakebed. At one point, the trail led through a lovely opening filled with grass and low-growing evergreens. In that grassy field, the trail was made entirely of bare red cobbles, just like the ones at Rainbow Cove. It was a bit tricky to walk on, with ankles threatening to roll. Plus, walking on beach cobbles was very strange in the midst of the grassy field. We were truly walking on the ancient shoreline!

We ended up eating lunch next to a lovely little stream that didn't even appear on any maps. We continued to stop every hour for a short break and snack, a practice that worked so well that we'll likely do it in all future backpacking trips. 

As with most other trails we'd been on, the trail crews were ahead of us. There were many downed trees that had been cut clear and pushed off of the trail. Each time we saw one, we said in a chorus: "Thank you, trail crew!"

We had expected to meet a bunch of people on the trail, since it's quite common for hikers to arrive at Windigo and immediately hike to Feldtmann Lake -- the opposite direction from what we were doing. But we only met a few people on the trail: first one eager solo hiker, followed a little while later by a couple with brand-new gear who looked like they were slightly shell-shocked. We were sympathetic -- that's exactly how we felt on our first trip to the island.

Soon, we started to make the only big climb of the day, up a large ridge near the entrance to Washington Harbor. The day was already getting a little warm, and the climb heated us up. Soon enough we were walking on the exposed ridge top, with the sun beating down on us from a clear blue sky. We were hot! I have always been amazed at how different things can feel at the top versus bottom of Isle Royale's ridges.

6-days-with-no-showers selfie at Grace Creek overlook

The ridge had one big upside: A beautiful overlook of the interior of the island, highlighting Grace Creek and the wetlands it winds through. Better yet, there were also some shady evergreens nearby under which we could drop our packs, have a seat, and cool down.

We spent quite a while resting at the overlook before we packed up again and started the last short leg to Windigo. Along the way, we heard the Voyageur's horn sound in Washington Harbor. A few minutes later, the horn sounded again. This sparked some debate: Was that horn the boat's arrival and departure sound? They sounded too close together unless there were remarkably few passengers. Our only experience with the Voyageur also involved a horn, calling some tardy (actually, just not early enough) backpackers to come running. We also wondered if this meant that the Voyageur had dropped off a crowd of hikers who would be taking up spots in the Washington Creek campground tonight.

The trail quickly came down off of the ridge through deciduous forest. As with everything else on this trip, trees were just starting to leaf out, and we had great views through the bare forest. The trail soon came to run right alongside Washington Harbor, giving us both a nice lake breeze and great views across the harbor. We could look straight across to Beaver Island and see shelters set right on the water, of which we were immediately envious.

Sarah with Marsh Marigolds

We walked through "downtown" Windigo, where Sarah stopped to enjoy the use of running water. I continued the quarter mile to Washington Creek campground, which was largely empty (we later decided that the Voyageur must have been heading back to Minnesota, which had probably removed campers from the campground). I decided to claim shelter #1, at the far end of the line. Like the other shelters, it was set right on the creek, in deep shade, and was nicely private.

While waiting for Sarah, I wandered around exploring the vicinity of the shelter. The campground's path continued beyond the shelter, so I curiously followed it. This led me to a lovely meadow on the point of land where Washington Creek meets Washington Harbor, with a conveniently placed picnic table right at the shore. It was a beautiful sight and a beautiful location, and I spent a good while enjoying it.

Eventually Sarah returned from Windigo, and we set about arranging our air pads and sleeping bags, resting for a while, and getting quite chilly in the shady late afternoon. So, we walked back to Windigo. It was like a magnet, always drawing us in, despite the fact that we'd already hiked almost 9 miles today, and added an extra half mile every time we went back and forth!

At Windigo, our first order of business was to figure out what to do with our gas canisters. Gas can't be brought on the seaplane, so Sarah was eager to figure out what we should do with them. We found a milk crate outside the old store, with a small handwritten sign that said "free". Several gas canisters were in it, all of them empty.

Crossing Grace Creek on a two-lane bridge

Next we walked down to the seaplane dock, where Sarah remembered seeing some gas on the way up. Indeed, a few people had left empty gas canisters on top of a larger housing for airplane fuel. Plus, somebody had put an unopened package of blackout curtains on top of them. Perhaps the seaplane made a drop-off for park employees?

Our third priority was to inspect the "new" store, whose construction had been a topic of discussion for several years on the Isle Royale Forums. Rangers had promised that it should be open in a few days, but still too late for us to enjoy. While the building was finished, it was still being stocked and set up with merchandise. We stared in through the windows and drooled: There were snacks of every imaginable kind, kitchy souvenirs, and best of all: an ice cream case. Not that it was hot out, but every single piece of junk food sounded amazing.

We decided to have our dinner on the big Windigo dock, where the sun was shining brightly to warm us up. We enjoyed freeze-dried Fettucine Alfredo, always a favorite, to the accompaniment of seagulls, an otter, many many mergansers, and a camp fox that fearlessly trotted right through the middle of "town".

Eventually we couldn't keep our eyes open. We took advantage of the running water one last time, then headed back to Washington Creek campground. We slept curled up against the cold and clear night air.

Next time: How wild is it?

Miles hiked: 8.8 (Feldtmann to Windigo) + 1.5 (back and forth to the campground)

Total miles: 47.5

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