Saturday. Half way into my Isle Royale hike and I once again awoke to a clear, calm beautiful morning. So far, I’ve hit the Powerball Weather Lottery this trip. I have a short jaunt of less then three miles today so I didn’t get vertical until 8:30. A large grey hare kept a safe distance while curiously observing me break camp. Thought: breaking down in the rain would suck! This fine dirt would be a shallow pool of mud.
Here in the wilderness, a timepiece or even calendar are irrelevant. Except today. Today I arranged to have food provisions shipped to McCargoe Cove via the Voyageur II boat out of Grand Portage, Minnesota. Ten days before my departure from Chicago I went to the post office and mailed a 4 pound 9 ounce package for $11.30. The Voyageur II charged me $10 freight so it was $21.30 to keep that extra weight off my back for the 4 days I’ve already hiked. The boat is due to arrive at 1:00 pm so I planned a short hike to be there when it arrives.
Setting off at 9:55 am the trail nuzzles the west shore of Chickenbone Lake eventually passing a portage marker at a shallow marsh where the lake dumps its overflow into a stream falling off through the woods. I stop at the marker for a few photos and to apply more DEET as the mosquitoes are absolutely vicious: see a recurring theme here? I wonder if the inventor(s) of DEET have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize for chemistry. If not, I invite the Nobel Committee to divide themselves into two distinct groups and come to Isle Royale for a week. Both groups are to strip to nothing more than sandals and a thong (ugly mental image, I know); one half gets to apply DEET and the other doesn’t. I guarantee you’ll hear from the inventors later that year, as they’re standing at the podium in Stockholm, “Firstly, we’d like to thank Lanza Romanza for nominating us for this prestigious award…” The camera pans to the distinguished Nobel Committee, half looking like inside-out pomegranates. DEET is without doubt the most effective mosquito repellent known and despite the reports on possible negative side effects, it has prevented an infinite amount of misery and deadly disease throughout the world.
Arriving at 11:40 am, woods retreat to an open expansive clearing on the shore of McCargoe Cove. Passing two picnic tables and fire ring, I proceed to a long concrete pier hovering over the bay. Love was in the air: hundreds, nay thousands of horny frogs hidden within reeds lining the opposite shore tirelessly croaked their enticing offers to potential hotties, “Hey baby, check out my pad!” Chirping birds joined the medley, shattering the heretofore silence. Most shelters were already taken but I was able to secure shelter #6 high up from the water and only 3 feet from a trail leading to Todd Harbor. Birch trees surround the structure and numerous robins hop from branch to branch. Huge invasive dandelions, with white tuft heads atop elongated necks look odd and alien. Once unloaded, I went back to the pier to await my package. Looking left, far in the distance, the Voyageur II eventually appears, slowly growing as the minutes pass. Once docked, my parcel is handed over the side and I’m almost giddy: within are Spam, canned chicken and sardines. Feast tonight!!!
Recovering from my gut-stretching meal, I heard cannonballs off the pier followed by screams and hollers. Then laughs. Several guys were doing their best to cool down and get clean. Great idea but there was no way in Hell I’m jumping into that frigid water! Then again, I couldn’t deny I was getting pretty ripe after 5 days of repellent, sunscreen, dirt and sweat. I unsheathed a KFC towelette, started with wiping my face, then neck, hands, arms, chest and legs. Finished with the Hoo-Haa and donut hole. Mmmm, fresh as a daisy! Not nearly as clean as those crazy sea otters off the pier but I doubt there’s a defibrillator around here.
Day 5. Chickenbone Lake (west) to McCargoe Cove
Miles hiked: 2.73. Elevation gain: 757 feet. Elevation loss: 772 feet.
The incessant frog symphony continued past 2:00 am. Love songs squeezed past ear plugs preventing restful sleep. Drizzle fell shortly after midnight. Dawn came late this morning exposing a lite fog where steel-grey sky merged with cove. A mournful loon called through the veil. Though the rain had ceased, water still dripped from the overhang and damp foliage. I spoke with several guys yesterday who had arrived at McCargoe Cove by the route I intend to hike today – only in the opposite direction. I plan on an 8+ mile trek to Daisy Farm via Chickenbone Lake east, up and over the Greenstone Ridge. Dire warnings stated the trail is brutal with mid-calf mud and a 60° climb. But the only shorter camp is Chickenbone Lake east and it’s only 2 miles away – not enough. My other option is to hike the trail to Chickenbone Lake west (where I was yesterday morning) then continue on the Greenstone to Daisy Farm. That may ease the steep climb but it adds at least 2 miles putting me at 10+ miles for the day. Contemplating my options over breakfast, I decide to stick with the original plan and will face the dreaded mud and slope.
Damp surfaces and route indecision caused a late start, with me finally setting off under a cool overcast at 11:30 am. After a short time, I come to a fork in the trail: left is the short but steep climb to Chickenbone Lake east, right is the more gradual but longer route via Chickenbone Lake west. Left I go and sure enough the path is soon kicking my ass. Heart pounding in my ears, it’s a slow, one foot in front of the other crawl to the top. But the slope estimates were greatly exaggerated (I’ll call it 40°) and the mud never got above my fourth lace. Continuing the climb upwards, a sign indicates a water source down a spur trail to the right. Chickenbone Lake east campsites are above the lake on a ridge and the spur is used as a water access point for those camping there. Once at the top, I join the Greenstone Ridge to hike along the spine of this rocky island. Traffic picks up and I encounter more backpackers here than I have on all previous trails combined. Despite the elevation there’s also more mud here than any other trail. Expansive overlooks are rare with most views cloaked through green leaves and dense pine. I arrive at Daisy Farm at 5:15 pm totally beat, under deep blue sunny skies. I stagger into shelter #10 then cool myself in the wonderful lake breeze.
Day 6. McCargoe Cove to Daisy Farm
Miles hiked: 8.16. Elevation gain: 2411 feet. Elevation loss: 2442 feet.