Let’s Go Back to the Isle: Day Five

Trail/Park: Isle Royale National Park

I want to acknowledge this hike took place on I want to acknowledge this hike took place on the traditional territory of the Métis and Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ.

The day starts with a series of special moments. Squirrels who are looking for me to turn my back on my food so they can have a snack. The loons were still on the lake which was surprising to me since I’d always known loons to be more solitary. Finally, as I was finishing packing up my gear, a rabbit appeared and watched me work.

I headed back to the Greenstone Ridge Trail reluctantly, wishing I could stay here another day. But the nagging about my lost day was still pulling me forward to Windigo. It was another day filled with sunshine, which meant that the mud would be continuing to dry out. A few hours later as I approached Mt. Siskwit I was rewarded with spectacular views. I decided that it was time for a lunch break. The sun was shining, my gear and boots were dry. A light breeze was blowing, cooling me after the hike to the summit.

Spirit Lifters

As I was sitting enjoying the view and my lunch, another solo female arrived on her way north. We talked for quite a while before moving our separate ways. She’d been hiking on the Minong Trail which is considered one of the more difficult trails in the park. She described the mud that she’d traversed, which sounded much worse than anything I’d seen. But she was also so happy to be in this park – it showed all over her face. Her attitude was infectious.

I was making better time now. A little while later I came upon Nick. We happily greeted each other. I shared the adventure of the ferry after we’d left Windigo. He told me about his night camping at Island Mine with an inch of water in his tent. We commiserated over the trail conditions and I lamented my lost day. His presence along with the woman I’d talked to earlier buoyed my spirits.

As we were talking, Nick made an off-handed comment that I was making pretty good time and could likely skip my next planned camping location – Hatchet Lake, which he said wasn’t anything special – pressing on to South Dessor. I’d make up my lost day. I said I’d think about it and we said goodbye. I continued on, now considering if skipping Hatchet Lake was possible. This thought replacing the one of my delayed start. Ultimately I decided that I’d see how I felt when I got to the junction. I’d finally taken a good look at my map the night before and realized that I would have fewer big elevation changes for a bit.

I got to the Hatchet Lake intersection just after 1:00 p.m. and had a snack. I considered my options. I felt really good and the decent to Hatchet Lake looked steep. The thought of starting my day next day heading up a steep climb didn’t appeal to me and I could see another right in front of me if I kept going. Besides, the pull to make up that day was strong. So on I went.

For the most part the trail continued in a rolling sort of way. I crossed paths with a couple from Washington, DC who shared that there were more deep mud sections. I had a guy pass me who I said hello to and received only a grunt in return as he blasted on by giving off an air of surliness. As I neared Ishpeming Point and the lookout tower, the same guy appeared to have dumped his pack and was carrying only his water bottle heading back the way he’d come.

Muddy Miscalculation

It wasn’t long before I hit another huge section of mud, making a rather ridiculous misstep. Using my trekking poles, I was navigating through mud that would wash into my boots if I made the wrong move. I was stupidly using the rocks here and there as stepping stones, until I miscalculated the distance needed and the angle of one rather large rock. My boot slipped, I fell on the rock, mud rushing into my boots, my pack landing squarely in the water. It was only a second later I realized that my phone was in the pocket underwater and unprotected as I’d taken it out of the waterproof container a bit earlier to take a picture. The weight of my pack was holding me down and my arm went almost all the way into the mud before I hit solid earth.

I managed to get upright and get my phone out of my pocket. I sat on the rock on the verge of tears. I hated this place at this moment. I hoped that the surly dude would come back and help me up. But then a moment later my frustration at his rudeness made me realize that no one was going to come along that fast and even if he did, he might just blast on by. So I dug deep for the strength I needed and got my butt off that rock. I knew I’d have a bruise that would hurt – a lot. But somehow I also knew I was ok. That nothing was broken.

A little while later I got to Ishpeming Point, stopping to eat. I’d passed the surly dude’s backpack so I new I’d see him at least one more time before the day was done. I decided to rest in the shade under the lookout tower only to be swarmed by the mosquitos that had hatched from the recent rain. I reach into my pack for my bug goo only to find it missing. That’s when I remembered that I’d been putting some on when I ran into the couple from DC and slid the tube into my pocket. It was now somewhere on the trail behind me. Thankfully I’d also packed a headnet. It would be hot, but at least my face wouldn’t be covered in welts. The rest of me was thankfully covered by clothes treated for the occasion. I snacked and headed out.

Birch Trees, Hammocks and Foot Care

It was early evening when I made the slog through more mud at South Dessor Lake to find a campsite. Then my heart sank. Birch trees. Everywhere. Every single individual campsite. As I was making my way toward the group sites for a look, I again ran into the surly dude. He too was looking for a site to hang. I realized that I’d better get ahead of him if I had any hope of a site with trees I could hang on. There were a few of the group sites open and I found one that had a couple small trees that would work. I set up camp. It was only then that I noticed my feet hurt.

As I peeled off my wet socks, I realized that I’d made another critical mistake. I’d not really stopped long enough anywhere and taken the time to not just “feel” my feet, but to take a look at them. Especially with all the mud and my feet being wet for three days now. I had three huge blisters and two of them were under my toenails. I knew in that moment that I’d lose those toenails at some point and that the next couple of days were going to be tougher for my mistake.

I cleaned my feet the best I could, leaving them to air out and changed into my sleeping clothes. I made dinner and was sleeping before it was dark. This day had given me a boost to my spirits that I’d then allowed to cloud my better judgement. What tomorrow would bring, I could only hope would be more sunshine.

Helpful Hints

  • Pay attention to your feet. Even if they don’t feel like there is anything wrong, take off your boots and socks during breaks and look. Especially if they’ve been wet or cold for a long time.
  • Airing out a wound can be just as important as protecting it. Take a first aid class so you have that skill and can use it. You may need to provide it to yourself or someone else.
  • Don’t hang hammocks in birch trees. Birch is an extremely soft wood and does not support weight of any significance. If you don’t believe me head over to the Isle Royale Forums and search for emergency situations – two hikers had to be airlifted off the island the summer before I visited after hanging hammocks on birch trees that collapsed under their weight.
  • If you plan on hammocking in any park, you need to be prepared to be able to sleep on the ground if necessary. Practice making a shelter from your hammock tarp and how you’d sleep if you can’t hang.
  • Give yourself credit for being able to do more than you think you can. In doing that you might learn you can go farther or take on a challenge you never considered.
  • Be approachable and greet hikers you run into on the trail. You’ll learn from them and might even make a friend or two for the current or future adventures.

Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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