An Adventure on the Big Island – Part 2

Picture of sunrise on Isle Royale


The Isle Royale Adventure Continues

by Mike Ostroushko

We awoke Sunday (day 2 on Isle Royal) to pack up and get on the trail no later than 7:00 a.m. I had backpacked this trail section between Hatchet Lake and Todd Harbor in years past and knew that our chances of running into a moose would be quite high along the planks we had to walk to keep our feet dry from the swampy muck below.  For this reason, and to increase our chances of sleeping in one of the limited shelters at McCargoe Cove, we opted to wait until we reached Todd Harbor to eat and I’m glad we did.

It wasn’t too many miles of majestic tall ferns, birch, and black spruce forests before we reached the swamp I had been eagerly waiting for. I heard some sticks breaking in the trees far to our right as we approached the wooden plank path. Danny was ahead of me by a short distance when I heard a crash and then watched as a large female (cow) moose trampled trees a mere 20-30 feet from us to get her and her calf as far away from us as she could. I knew this was just the beginning of a grand day on the trail.

The thick Sunday morning dew soaked us as we trekked through tall ferns. We crossed a few small streams before we began to feel the cold fresh Lake Superior air blowing in from beautiful north-facing Todd Harbor. We sat at a picnic table beneath tall black spruce overlooking Lake Superior, Ontario shorelines, and the islands scattered throughout Todd Harbor. This was indeed a great place to enjoy some rest and relaxation before making our way onto the islands northern rocky Minong Trail.

Of all the trails I enjoyed on Isle Royal, my favorite was this small segment between Todd Harbor and McCargoe Cove. In this six mile section we hiked along grassy fields over lichen covered rocks, along cliffs overlooking the Great Lake, through black spruce forests and thimbleberry bushes, and over many Isle Royal garter snakes as they soaked in the sun on the open trail. We climbed a rocky moss-covered hill overlooking the shores of Canada’s Ontario for a much needed break. We were surprised and slightly disappointed to see no wild blueberries in this area that seemed to perfectly mimic blueberry habitat.

It wasn’t even noon when we arrived at beautiful McCargoe Cove to set up camp in our lean-to shelter near the Lake Superior dock in this over two mile long cove. Here we laid out in the sun for a while, filtered water and rehydrated, dried out the tent from the dew that soaked us the night before, soaked our sore feet in ice cold water off the dock, and gathered wood to enjoy a fire in the community fire pit by the water later that night. It was a clear night and we had some guests at our fire who arrived to camp long after us. We shared stories of moose and wolf prints and the adventure to come as we gazed upon the brightly lit starry canopy above. The stars seemed extra bright on this night as they reflected off the glassy frigid waters below.

We slept in until 9:00 a.m. on Monday (day 3). It was to be our final day on trail–an estimated 12 miles from incredible Chippewa Harbor where the Voyageur II was to meet us on Tuesday morning for our voyage back to Grand Portage. Bodies now sore, we made our way along muddy West Chickenbone Trail on the shores of Chickenbone Lake. Being that Chickenbone Lake lies at about Lake Superior elevation, and being that we had to cross the Greenstone Ridge, which is substantially higher than the lake below, we knew we had a steep ascent coming up after passing through West Chickenbone campground. A much needed break was had following the arduous climb back to the top of the Greenstone.

Monday proved the hottest of our four days on the island so we were already soaked from head to toe in sweat, mixed with morning dew. It was four to five miles of walking on boards and muddy trail through large cedar forests over swamp and through jurassic-looking growths of large bog-loving plants we simply dubbed “elephant ears.”

Danny and I dropped our packs on a beautiful flat rocky area overlooking Lake Richie’s big island. It was here where we excitedly found some of the few straggling blueberries of the island.

After Lake Richie and as we got closer and closer to Chippewa Harbor, the air thankfully began to dramatically cool. Here we trekked through more birch and black spruce forests as we moved up and down hills and along ridges toward Chippewa. We exhaustedly arrived at Chippewa by 2:00 p.m. and set up camp in a lean-to shelter that rested atop rock near the harbor shores.

Chippewa Harbor provided some of my favorite scenic views on the island, making for a perfect panoramic sunset photo of Lake Superior and the inner harbor. I had stayed here before and knew that the old cold climate apple trees down trail left behind by settlers might contain ripe fruit for the picking. Along the way to gather much-needed delicious apples, we discovered a field of thimbleberries which quickly took precedence over the apples we sought. This was a peaceful cool night, with a nice breeze blowing into the shelter from the harbor.

We awoke on Tuesday morning sad to leave so soon and packed to board the boat to continue the longer ride back. Chippewa Harbor was on the southeastern shores of the island and the Voyageur II had to pick up more adventurers on its way to Windigo on the far west end, so this boat ride ended up being four to five hours long. We both enjoyed our sun-covered seats on the bow again as we skirted the shores of the island. By the time we reached Windigo Danny was understandably inside, staying dry while trying to catch some shut-eye, whereas I was eager to ride the waves and get soaked from the frigid northern Lake Superior splash on rougher waters. I returned to the shores of Minnesota soaked and frozen with another grand adventure behind me. Isle Royal will always hold a place in my heart.

Picture of tent on the lakeshore, surrounded by moose antlers, on Isle Royale

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