​Isle Royale National Park – Day 4

My mornings were now fairly routine as well, wake up around 6, out of the tent by 6:30, breakfast, pack up, and hit the trail by about 8:30.  Was able to add some fresh thimbleberries to my oatmeal since my campsite was completely surrounded by them! This morning I added water filtering to my routine to make sure that I left camp fully topped off.  The nice steps down to the water made that easy.

The hike out of Hatchet Lake starts with a level 0.2 mile section from the campground over to the spur trail up to the Greenstone.  I saw a little garter snake along the trail here.  The spur back up to the Greenstone is only about 0.3 miles but it seems to be mostly straight up, so that was a nice way to start the day;-)

Trail up and out of Hatchet Lake

Trail up and out of Hatchet Lake

The trail started out amongst some fairly lush overgrown sections, that opened up to rocky sections between the trees and finally up to wide open ridgeline with views of the southeast side of the island and out to the open waters of Superior.  It wasn’t too hot, I guess the mid-70s, but after spending time under the trees it felt warm.  Fortunately there was a steady breeze that kept things comfortable.

Early in the morning while pushing through a lush overgrown section of the trail, I could hear some sort of activity in the thimbleberry patch on my left.  I suspected a squirrel, but hadn’t spotted it.  Then all of a sudden about 10 feet in front of me a squirrel popped out of the foliage onto the trail and headed straight at me, a second one appeared in hot pursuit. The first squirrel spotted me after covering about half the distance and jumped back into the bush, however the second’s reactions weren’t as quick and he kept coming my direction.  It finally realized what he was up against and came skidding to a halt seemingly right between my boots – like something you’d see in a cartoon, before jumping back into the bush.  I had a good laugh and then continued on my way.

Found a nice shaded clearing off the trail a little after 11 and decided to have a break and early lunch.  Finally go back on the trail around noon.  This was one of my near 8 mile days and I have been taking it fairly slow as there’s really no rush.  By 3 in the afternoon (Central Time) I hadn’t seen another soul on the trail.  I had stopped momentarily to have a sip of water and from behind me I heard “How’s it goin?” – scared the crap out of me!  The guy was also on his way to W. Chickenbone but had left Lake Desor this morning about the same time I had left Hatchet Lake.  He’d covered about 14 miles in the time I’d done 7 – man I’m slow…

I arrived at W. Chickenbone about 3:45, procured a campsite and proceeded with my evening routine.  Was a good thing I had decided to top off my water this morning as I was nearly dry when I got here.  This is my least favorite campsite so far – it didn’t have anything setup as far as logsrocks for “dining” area or anything and little tree cover so the sun was beating down for a couple hours.  Oh well.  It also was surrounded by thimbleberry pushes that were populated by a number of squirrels and birds that were making noise all evening long.  One of which also decided to relieve themselves on my shirt and pants that I had laid on a rock to dry.  I get it, you were here first, but really that’s just rude.

Some of the flora and fauna that I observed today:


Day 4 map: Hatchet Lake to West Chickenbone

​Isle Royale National Park – Day 3

Day 3 began the same as the previous, rolled out of the tent, made some breakfast and broke camp.  As I was wrapping up, I noticed this spider sitting on some peeling bark:

My camp neighbors, a father and son from Michigan, were the last ones in the campground as I left at about 8:20 (CT). Heading out of the campground is about a 0.3 mile climb.  A good portion of which is through thimbleberry patches like the one shown in the panoramic image in the gallery below.  There were a variety of other berries but I have no idea what kind they are.
Back up on the Greenstone Ridge I had before me my longest day planned on the trail, just over 8 miles to Hatchet Lake.  Roughly midway was Ishpeming Point, the second highest point on the island.  From Lake Desor it seemed like it was mostly uphill to Ishpeming and primarily still below the forest canopy so it was pleasantly cool.

Around 11:30, after 3 hours on the trail, I was more than ready for a break when I stumbled up to the top of the hill into a little clearing which is Ishpeming Point.  There is an observation “tower” built here, but it’s reserved for Park Ranger use and inaccessible which was a little disappointing as I’d had visions of getting a great photo from the top.  Oh well.

Observation Tower at Ishpeming Point

Observation Tower at Ishpeming Point

Being roughly the halfway point between Lake Desor and Hatchet Lake makes this a popular lunch spot.  There were three guys from northern Ohio already having lunch when I arrived.  The first people I had seen since leaving the campground.  They had flown into Rock Harbor from Houghton, MI and were doing the opposite route from mine.  They mentioned that they had also climbed from Hatchet Lake so I should have a mostly downhill remainder of the day (turned out sort of true) and that the last 0.3 mile from the Greenstone down to the lake was particularly steep (definitely true).  My neighbors from last night followed into the lunch spot shortly after me – they were obviously moving faster than me as they had still been having breakfast when I left…

I got the pack back on around 12:30 and started the second half of the day towards Hatchet Lake.  I passed one couple going the opposite direction about midway between Ishpeming and Hatchet Lake.  Passed them in an overgrown portion of the trail so I startled them a bit when I said “howdy” and they hadn’t seen me yet.

I arrived at the campground around 3:45 and think I got the last free site.  Also, by far the nicest site I’ve had so far.  It was a split level plus had a nice “dining” area with a nice big flat rock for cooking and some well supported logs for seating.  The route down to the lakeside (seen in the page header if you’re on the stand-alone page for this entry) was a nice rock staircase as opposed to the cliff at Lake Desor.  It also had a flat area that you could actually get into the water if you chose to.

Campsite at Hatchet Lake - the best so far.

Campsite at Hatchet Lake – the best so far.

My evening has become pretty routine; drop the pack, rest, setup the tent, rest, filter some water, rest, make dinner, crash.  I’m halfway to Rock Harbor, at least by days, mileage-wise I’m still slightly short of midway.  Regardless, it’s the point of no return and I’m having a great time!


Day 3 map

Isle Royale National Park – Day 2

Day 2 started around 6 am (Central Time) and I finally crawled out of the tent around 6:30. I had a relaxing breakfast of coffee and oatmeal and watched as the few other people in the campground hit the trail – clearly operating on Eastern Time…

By the time I had my gear packed and ready to go it was 8:30 which I think is a perfectly reasonable time to hit the trail while on vacation.  Besides today was slated as my shortest hiking day – just 5.5 miles, so there was really no rush.

I made the approximately 0.4 mile climb up from Island Mine Campground back up to the Greenstone Ridge and continued my northeasterly hike.  Once back on the ridge I had 4.8 miles to go to the Lake Desor junction.

Trail heading out of Island Mine

Trail heading out of Island Mine Campground

Yesterday and this morning have been spent hiking mostly under the forest canopy and so it has been pleasantly cool with just some dappled sunlight making it’s way to the ground.  Perfect for hiking!  Especially given that yesterday and day are mostly uphill ascending the ridge – not steep but a steady climb.  Even better is the fact the bugs have really been very mild so far – only around camp in the evening did I need to use a little bug spray.

And the best part of hiking at this time of the summer is that the berries are ripe – in fact the ranger said yesterday that all of the varieties are ripening at the same time this season which is unusual but due to the long spring.  She said that anything that looks like a raspberry is safe to eat and are most commonly thimbleberries.  There are also blueberries and a range of others.  In my haste to get on the trail yesterday I forgot to take a look at the photos of the edible varieties.  In any case, the thimbleberries are plentiful along the trail and you rarely have to reach far to grab a few;-)

At around 11 o’clock after two and a half hours on the trail I was ready for lunch and to get the pack off my back for a little while so started looking for a spot to break.  A short time later I could finally see a clearing in the trees and the next thing I knew I was out in a small clearing along the ridge with an overlook on part of Lake Desor and Superior in the distance.  The perfect spot for lunch!

I ate my lunch and rested for about 30-45 minutes and just enjoyed being in the sun for a short while as I could see the trail headed straight back into the trees.  The clearing was only about 60 feet long with about 20 feet on either side of the trail.  But it was a short rest of the way to the campground.  After about 45 minutes I reached the junction that would take me down to the South Lake Desor campground, 0.3 miles.  I was in the campground at around 12:45.

I hadn’t seen a soul on the trail the entire morning but upon reaching the campground I saw two other groups and a third would arrive later in the evening to take the last of the 4 sites in my area.  There were several more individual and group sites in an adjacent area of the campground.  After dropping my pack I had no desire to scout the other areas. After a short rest I scrambled down the “trail” to the lake to filter some water for dinner and tomorrow.  Carrying my water filter and various bottles was a bit of a challenge given how steep it was, but I made it without injury, but was a bit disappointed.  I had visions of a nice beach to maybe walk out and cool my toes.  However, what I got was a clearing in the trees about four feet wide and nothing but boulders…  Oh well, still a nice view of the lake and I got my water filled.

Lake Desor

Lake Desor

The rest of the evening was just relaxation and making dinner then crawled into the tent around 8 as I was fairly tired despite the short trail day.  Was again hoping to catch some of the Perseid meteor shower as tonight was the last best night for them.  While I had a clear view of the sky from my campground the clouds rolled in and so it was not to be.  I fell asleep early anyway…

Day 2 map

Day 2 map

​Isle Royale National Park – Day 1

Day 1 on Isle Royale started with a boat ride via Isle Royale Boats aboard the Voyageur II.  I had read the boarding pass last month when I bought the ticket but hadn’t reviewed it recently.  The departure was scheduled for 7:30 in the morning and I arrived at 7:15, plenty early.  Well, everybody knew my name by this time as I was the mystery guy they were waiting on.  I was supposed to be there at 6:45 according to the ticket….  Oh well, we still left several minutes before the scheduled time:-)

It’s a two hour ride to Windigo at the southwest end of the island.  The lake was calm so it was a nice smooth ride, a little cloudy and we had a few drops of rain but otherwise a nice cruise.  The boat runs at a blistering 12 mph, so it’s good to be patient.

Orientation at the Windigo Visitor Center

Orientation at the Windigo Visitor Center

Upon arrival we were greeted by a ranger who started by handing out several pieces of paper to various people – including myself.  For the orientation those of us with these papers were identified as the “guest experts” on various topics.  Mine was pertaining to Respecting Wildlife.  After the orientation it was on to the visitor center to obtain my back-country permit for the trip.

Finally after topping off my water supply, I hit the trail at 10:30 – or maybe it was 11:30… This is not the first time during a park visit that time zones have become an issue and this would bug me the whole week.  I left Grand Portage, MN which is in the Central Time Zone while the park is in Michigan and therefore is in the Eastern Time Zone.  I operated the week as if I was at home, but depending on where people were from it could go either way.

It’s about a 0.6 mile hike up to the Greenstone Ridge Trailhead from Windigo.  The Greenstone runs nearly the full length of the island and I would be spending most of the week upon it.  From the trailhead to my first camp, Island Mine, was about 5.8 miles.  Then a few tenths off the Greenstone to the campground.  Total distance covered today was about 6.9 miles.  I arrived at the campground around 4:30 in the afternoon.  Was quite relieved to drop the pack – 45 pounds is way too much to lug around.  I would discover I brought a variety of things I would not useneed.  Oh well, live and learn!

About halfway along the trail I had stopped for lunch when I also realized that my left arm was getting numb.  After taking the pack off realized it was also a bit stiff and swollen. Was a bit scared until the feeling came back and the swelling went down.  Guess I had the pack strapped on a bit too tight.  After getting the pack on after lunch, I made some adjustments and didn’t have that issue again the rest of the trip.

The fortunate thing about waiting for my arm to return to normal, was that I got my first view of not one, but two moose.  A cow and calf to be precise!  I heard something coming out of the trees and grabbed my camera and just sat on the log.  The cow emerged from the forest about 20 yards down the trail and turned in my direction.  She stopped when she saw me, turned to get the calf, then back in my direction.  After realizing I wasn’t going anywhere they continued across the trail and into the trees on the opposite side behind me.

All in all, it was a great first day on the island.  I crawled into my tent around 9 pm and got some shut-eye.  Had hoped to see some of the Perseid meteor shower, but this campground was down in a low lying area and under a fairly heavy canopy – so there wasn’t much sky to see.


Windigo to Island Mine

An evening in Grand Portage

Finally got on the road about 11:30 this morning, had been planning for 10 but it seems there is always one last thing to do.

Had been thinking about stopping along the way to stretch my legs, but I saw the sign for Gooseberry Falls as I was passing – didn’t see any warnings, and it was raining as I passed Cascade Falls which was my plan B. So, just made a stop for gas in Grand Marais.

Pulled into Grand Portage about 4:45 and made a run past the marina I’m departing from in the morning just so that I know where to go. As the boat leaves at 7:30 tomorrow morning I opted to stay at the lodgecasino so that I don’t have to deal with breaking camp in the morning.

Had a nice salmon dinner with wild rice pilaf for dinner. Figured I’d better eat well tonight since the next 6 days until I reach Rock Harbor lodge will be trail food. Took a short walk after dinner and got some panoramic images of the bay the hotel sits along. All in all, a beautiful evening in the arrowhead.

Now back in my room to catch the premiere of the first of the final episodes of Breaking Bad.

I don’t expect to post any further updates till I’m home as there is no cell service even in Grand Portage – aside from an intermittent burst from a Canadian provider, so I’ve turned off my cellular radio to avoid getting stuck with international charges….

Backpacking Isle Royale National Park

Finally completed planning for my upcoming trip to Isle Royale National Park.  On Sunday, August 11 I’ll be driving up to Grand Portage, MN and staying at the Casino Lodge.  If I get on the road early enough and the weather’s nice, I’ll probably stop to stretch my legs at Gooseberry Falls and/or Cascade River.

Monday morning, August 12, the Voyaguer II departs Grand Portage at 7:30 am and arrives at Windigo on the southwest end of Isle Royale about 10 am.  A 6.6 mile hike will take me out to my first night’s campsite at Island Mine Campground.

Over the next five days I’ll average a little over 7 miles per day between campgrounds; most of which lie along the Greenstone Ridge, the backbone of the island.  The last two stops will drop off this main route in order to reach the Rock Harbor location from which I’ll depart back to Grand Portage on Sunday, August 18.

Looking forward to the adventure!

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

I was greeted in Hilo last night with a light rain shower. Several heavy showers woke me up this morning. Another brief, light shower welcomed me back to the airport this afternoon.

While at the park today it was nothing but blue skies! And wind. A lot of wind. Really, it never stopped. Which was probably a good thing as it would have been unbearable walking around on all that black lava rock.

About half of the crater rim drive is closed due to the current eruption causing excessively high levels of sulfur dioxide gas. But the views from the open part were enough to enjoy.


From there I headed down the “Chain of Craters Road” which descends from the caldera rim of Kilauea down to the coast. It’s a stunning view once the ocean comes into view and you make your way down the switchback road.

The road ends, technically it’s still there but under a bit of lava, at the lava flow first created in 1983 and continuing to this day. From here you can hoof it a ways over the lava to get a distant view if the steam plume being created as fresh lava is flowing into the sea. Pretty cool (or hot?)!

All in all, well worth the side trip. As always however, a couple of days would be better in order fully explore the park. Guess I’ll have to make a return someday.

Now it’s off to Kauai!

Olympic National Park Redux

I was back in Seattle during the first week of October and decided to give Olympic National Park another go since my visit in June was a bust. Turns out this time of year is generally dry in the Pacific Northwest, so it worked out well.

On Saturday morning I left my hotel and drove up to Edmonds, just north of Seattle, and rolled up perfectly timed to catch the ferry across Puget Sound to Kingston. I had a spot right on the side of the ferry so had a nice view for the 30 minute crossing. From there it was about another hour drive out to the park. The ferry saved me about an hour and a half that I would have had to have driven south around the sound and across the Tacoma narrows – which is what I did last time.
It was an absolutely beautiful day, in the mid-sixties and cloudless! I drove up to the Hurricane Ridge visitor center which I had also done back in June. This time, the view was absolutely stunning. I made the 3 mile round trip hike from near the visitor center up to Hurricane Hill which overlooks the park to the south and the town of Port Angeles on the coast to the north. Well worth the effort.
After this hike I headed back down the wonderfully twisty mountain road and grabbed lunch in Port Angeles. Then it was on to the Elwha section of the park which I had not previously visited. Unfortunately, the main road was closed due to some serious construction – the Glines Canyon Dam is currently being removed and is the nation’s largest dam removal project currently under way. So I took the Whiskey Bend Road instead. This is a single lane dirt road that heads up to a trailhead.
I took the trail down into Rica Canyon which is just above the dam removal area. It was about a 4 mile hike that led down nearly to river level. Some very nice views overlooking the canyon. Finally down at the river I made it out to Goblin Gates. At this point the river makes a nearly right-angle turn and cuts into the mountain. It is this cut that is called Goblin Gates and it is spectacular – though probably more so from the other side of the river.
After making it back up the trail from the river level it was about 5 o’clock and I called it a day and headed for my hotel in Sequim – pronounced squim for some reason. Got a good night’s sleep and then headed to the airport Sunday morning and was home about 8 o’clock. All in all a pretty good weekend in the park!

Rocky Mountain National Park – Wild Basin

So I ended up “stuck” in Colorado over the weekend on a business trip.  Fortunately Saturday was beautiful and I was free.  Decided I’d head over to RMNP since it was less than an hour drive.

I know I should have checked the park website to see if there were any “conditions” to be aware of, but I got sidetracked on other things and never did…  Driving towards Estes Park there seemed to be a lot of traffic, but I figured “it’s just a Saturday morning and it’s beautiful”.  Then I saw the first sign indicating there might be an issue – something about only shuttle access into the park, uh-oh.

As I got closer, the traffic got even thicker and I saw another sign mentioning the shuttle.  Then I hit Estes Park and it was a mad house!  I turned around and headed back out of town and pulled over to do some investigation.  OK, there is a major construction project to renovate the main road through the park.  Only shuttle access between 9am-4pm.  Expect delays of up to 2 hours!  No thanks.  Checked the map and decided to head to the Longs Peak area about 10 miles south.

That’s when I discovered the real reason for the traffic and crowd in Estes Park – Scottish and Irish Festival days, apparently one of the biggest of it’s kind in the country.  Took me about another half hour to get thru town, but then I was finally free!  Got down to Long’s Peak but given it was already about 10:30 the parking area was filled and the road down the hill was fully lined with cars.  OK, plan C; a bit further south to the “Wild Basin Area”

Finally, no major crowds and parking only about 3/4 mile from the trail head, this’ll work!  Finally got on the trail a little after 11 and made my way out to Ouzel Falls.  The destination was a bit underwhelming but the journey was worth it.  The day was clear and cool with a nice breeze – absolutely perfect for a stroll through the mountains!  On the way back to the car, I decided to take an alternate route based on the park map I had.  It looked only slightly further than the route I had gone in on.


A topo map would have been helpful.  Turns out this route took me up the valley that I had come in on which was great for the views, but I wasn’t prepared to keep going up…  It was worth it in the end – or what I thought was the end.  I reached a distance marker at one point expecting it to be a bit less than a mile further to the car.  Turned out to be almost 2.5 miles!  Oh, well.  I finally made it back to the car around 5 and was beat!  Checked the map and plotted a course around Estes Park and was back to the hotel around 6.  Time to relax!

Olympic National Park

So I had spent the week in Seattle for work and decided to spend the weekend and take the opportunity to visit Olympic National Park.  It’s a large park, so I knew I was only going to be able to get a small taste, but that’s OK.

So after having 3 absolutely beautiful days during the week, spent inside of course, it got cloudy on Friday morning and was raining by the afternoon.  I debated changing my flight and just heading home, but ended up deciding to take my chances (which I knew to be slim to none – OK, none) and drove over to Bremerton.  I took the route over the Tacoma Narrows, which was the site of a pretty spectacular bridge failure in 1940 – the current spans were opened in 1950(westbound) and 2007(eastbound).  My drive was uneventful!

I woke up Saturday morning to a spectacularly cloudy, drizzly day but headed out to the park anyway.   I stopped in at the visitor center and watched a nice 20 min film about the park and then headed up to Hurricane Ridge.  This is a 17 mile drive up into the heart of the park, which on clear days would provide nice views of some of the mountains.  On this day however, by the time I made it up to about 5,000′ the fog was pretty thick and at the visitor center at 7,000′ visibility was pretty much zilch!  On the way down again I spotted a mother elk and very young calf and managed to pull the car into a turnout and jump out of the car in time to snap a couple pictures before they headed downslope.


From there I headed over to the Sol Duc Valley where I planned to take a short hike out to a waterfall.  On a nice day, this would have been a beautiful drive as the route around the north side of the park parallels a spectacular lake shore drive.  This day was just wet and gray…  As I pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead the soft drizzle became a torrential downpour.  I get it, it’s a rain forest!  I took a nap for about 45 minutes until the rain finally let up to a light drizzle again and then donned by rain gear and headed up the trail.  It was only about a 20 minute hike but it was nice and peaceful and cool in the park with lots of water trickling everywhere.  Headed back to Bremerton after that.

Sunday morning I got up early and had been considering another run out to the park as my flight wasn’t until the evening.  However, despite a mostly clear sky in Bremerton the satellite weather mages showed the rest of the peninsula to be under cloud cover again.  So that made an easy decision and I decided to take a tour of the USS Turner Joy, DD-951 a Forest-Sherman class destroyer which is now a floating museum.  It’s moored pretty much just outside of the hotel I was staying at so was a no-brainer.  Never having toured a modern navel vessel, it was pretty impressive to see how everything gets squeezed into place.

Bremerton is home to a pretty significant naval shipyard and at the moment there are four retired aircraft carriers here currently awaiting their final disposition (Ranger, Independence, Kitty Hawk and Constellation).  Very impressive to see those amazing vessels sitting there – a little sad though as they are starting to show signs of rusting…

After all of this I had a nice lunch and then headed back to the Airport.  Caught my 6:30 flight and got home a little before 1 a.m.  The time change was good when I went to bed – not so much when I got up for work Monday morning…