Isle Royale 2002

Across the Inland Lakes

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Thursday, July 25

8:30a.m. EDT. Flew from Raleigh-Durham to Duluth via Chicago on American. I had sent a box of gear up earlier, so I only had a duffle to carry on. No chance of lost luggage.

12:00 CDT. Arrived in Duluth in a light rain. Brad and Tim were there at the gate waiting for me. Security is a little different than at larger airports. Slipped on the wet metal stairs down to the parking lot and bruised my lower back pretty good. We went straight to the grocery store to provision for the trip.

4:30p.m. Dad and Dan arrived in Duluth. Dad picked up Dan and his canoe in Eau Claire on his way up from Stoughton. Tim and I were already well on the way packing food. Lots of boxes ended up in a pile on the floor as we repackaged everything in Zip Lock bags.

Evening: A later run to the store got the steaks, gas, and a few other things. We managed to get the packs packed, despite the varying opinions on what to bring and how to pack them.

12:00p.m. Finally got to bed.

Friday, July 26

7:00a.m. Got up after sleeping on an air bed that held most of its air overnight. Tim had a phone interview set up for 10:30 so we took our time doing final packing and loading Dad’s van.

11:00a.m. Hit the road. Dad wouldn’t let anyone else behind the wheel, but there were 5 drivers in the car nonetheless. Stopped for lunch at Judy’s Cafe in Two Harbors. Dan and I got the skimpiest BLTs you’ve seen in your life! The other sandwiches had at least a little substance to them, but no one was raving about the food. Stopped at the Baptism River/Tettegouche Wayside and hiked out to Shovel Pt. Some very nice views of the North Shore. Brad and I got a little worried about Dad, as he needed to rest several times hiking up the hill.

4:00p.m. Arrived in Grand Marais ahead of the 6:00 time we were to pick up the other canoe. Bummed around the harbor and downtown area. Brad found his cool hat in the Ben Franklin store.

5:30p.m. Picked up the canoe at Bear Track Outfitters a little early. Nice family that runs Bear Track. There were a lot of expert opinions on how to tie the 2 canoes on. I think the outfitter had the last word, but I was staying out of it.

6:00p.m. Left Grand Marais. Stopped at Naniboujou Lodge across from Magney S.P. to check out the dining room and get info. Looks like a nice place to spend a weekend with the spouse. Brad and Lorenda have eaten there and say the food is great. No wine or drinks with dinner, though.

6:40p.m. Arrived at the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino and checked in. Nice view across Grand Portage Bay from the rooms. Walked over to the marina to get Michigan fishing licenses for the last day at Chippewa Harbor ($7/day + $1 fee), then had dinner at the lodge. Food was pretty good. Discovered the restaurant didn’t open for breakfast until 7am, which is when we were supposed to be at the Voyageur II dock with the canoes.

8:40p.m. Dad, Dan, and I drove about 6 miles up to Ryden’s at the border where they have a gas station, restaurant, and store to check it out and pick up something for breakfast if the restaurant wasn’t going to be open. Restaurant opens at 6, so we were OK. Back at the lodge, the younger boys went down to the casino for a little bit. Brad won $60 off his first $.75. The rest of us blew $5-$10.

10:30p.m. Hit the sack. Tim got the roll away, as he had grabbed the couch (instead of the floor) the night before at Brad’s. Got up a little later when Sherri called to let me know that my credit card was OK, though it had been declined earlier at the restaurant. Of course the switchboard picked the wrong room, so everyone got roused in both rooms.

Saturday, July 27

5:15a.m. Rise and shine! Showered, checked out, and drove up to Ryden’s for breakfast. Good food and decent prices. Definitely a local feel to the place. Stopped at the overlook where you can see Isle Royale and took some pictures. The view is worth driving the couple of miles north for anyone leaving out of Grand Portage and driving up from the south.

6:45a.m. Got to the Voyageur II dock and took some time to get the packs reorganized a little and figure out what we’d need on the boat (more expert opinions). Tied the life jackets, paddles, and fishing poles in the canoes. Met up with Doug and his family from the web board (I guess we weren’t too hard to spot).

8:05a.m. The Voyageur II debarked with some light fog and mist on the trip across calm waters. Made our sandwiches of deli meat and cheese on the way across so we could trash that trash at Windigo.

10:20a.m. Arrived at Windigo. Did the orientation by the ranger on the dock, then got our permit at the ranger station. My dream sailboat was at the dock, a Crealock 34.

10:50a.m. Voyageur II left Windigo. A breeze had picked up, but still a pretty quiet ride. Ate our sandwiches on the boat.

1:40p.m. Arrived at McCargoe Cove. Took about 15 minutes to get unloaded and up to the shelter. A bunch of passengers got off at McCargoe, including Doug’s party and a scout group, but they were all headed out that day. There were still quite a few people there with 3 groups in the group sites, the 4 shelters full, and 3 sailboats anchored in the harbor. Temperature in the mid-70s. A young bull moose came out and fed in the cove for an hour or two. With all the people and boats around it felt more like watching an animal in a zoo, rather than in the wilderness.

Afternoon: Brad, Dan and Tim swam off the dock. Did a little fishing in the creek after being told by a ranger that it was "Park" waters, not Michigan. Dad and Tim hiked up to Minong Mine while Dan went fishing and Brad and I hiked up the Chickenbone trail to check out the portage takeout on the creek. Later Brad and I hiked up to Minong Mine. Some old slag piles, pits, etc. Interesting though nothing real dramatic. Nice view of the North side of the island and lake from the ridge above the mine. Saw what we think was wolf scat, or otherwise a large fox (approx. 3/4 inch diameter). Had some sprinkles on the way back. Shortly after Brad and John got back to the campground a real nasty looking cloud came rolling over the ridge at tree top level at supersonic speed. The wind picked up dramatically and the temperature dropped about 15 degrees, but then it cleared up quickly behind it. The other guys out fishing in the canoe made a beeline for the dock when it hit.

Evening: Steaks for dinner, after dumping them on the ground when the griddle slipped off the stove. The griddle worked nice, but you have to keep a hand on it at all times!

9:30p.m. Hit the sack. Had some rain that night. We figured out who was going to be sleeping by the door for the rest of the trip after being disturbed a few times during the night.

Sunday, July 28

6:30a.m. Got up, had our oatmeal, and broke camp. A pair of beavers were playing and cleaning themselves near the shore.

8:00a.m. We’re off. It’s a short 10-15 minute paddle up the creek to the portage, crossing a beaver dam along the way. The dam was mostly broken down in the middle and they hadn’t repaired it during the night, so they don’t seem too active there. A little pushing and pulling got us through it without too much trouble or getting wet.

8:15a.m. McCargoe Cove to Chickenbone Lake Portage. Tim and Dad took off down the portage first, and took the wrong turn down the East Chickenbone trail. Tim had asked which way to go and Brad and I said "Left", thinking of where the portage first meets the trail to Chickenbone. Tim was thinking of the trail junction farther down, which occurred to me when I got there, so I put the canoe down and went after them. Good thing I did. Made the longest portage even longer for Dad and Tim. We checked out the map before heading down portages after that.

9:35a.m. Ready to put in at Chickenbone and realized we were 1 lifejacket short, so Brad and Tim went running back down the portage. They found it about 3/4 of the way back, apparently having fallen off a pack. Tim figures he did 5 miles on the first portage.

10:00a.m. Finally got onto Chickenbone. Sunny in the mid-70s. Loons along the way. I paddled with Dan in his canoe today with Dad, Brad, and Tim in the big canoe. Easy paddle up the west arm of Chickenbone and then about half way up the east arm to the portage.

10:30a.m. Chickenbone to Livermore portage. Short but steep portage up. Beautiful spot at the end of the portage on Livermore.

10:55a.m. Paddled Lake Livermore.

11:10a.m. Livermore to LaSage portage. The climb out of Livermore made this seem longer than it is, but it’s relatively level once you get up the hill. Our age and sedentary lives are showing.

11:45 (est) Paddled Lake LaSage. DuFresne’s book suggests the point at the narrows as a good lunch spot, but the sun was beating down pretty good, so instead we found a shady spot on the little island for lunch.

1:10p.m. LaSage to Lake Richie portage. It seemed the hardest for me, as it was hot and sunny and the fourth of the day, though it was the last. Paddling across these lakes doesn’t take very long and isn’t quite the break it can be in the BWCA.

2:35p.m. A short paddle on Richie to the canoe campground. We got the last of 3 campsites. After setting up camp we took a little dip, wading through the reeds off the shoreline near our site.

Evening: Went fishing after supper. Brad, Dan, and Tim went off to some shallows back towards the portage and caught several not quite legal Northerns. Dad and I tried the steep shoreline across the lake and both lost tackle to big ones, but didn’t get anything in the boat. Later we sat on the point near the first campsite and watched a couple of otters entertain us off the point.

9:30p.m. Bedtime. Rain that night.

Monday, July 29

7:30a.m. The rain finally let up enough to bother getting out of the sack. Thankful to have the tarp to cook under. Had our oatmeal, then the rain drove us back in the tents, reading, napping, and playing cribbage.

11:20a.m. Finally got on the water after the rain had stopped. Everything’s wet and heavier today. Brad and Dan took the smaller canoe; Dad, John, and Tim in the big one. Skies were clearing and soon the sun was out.

11:35a.m. Richie to Intermediate portage. It really hurt to pick up the pack at first, but once I got going I felt like I was in the swing of things. Ate lunch on the Intermediate side.

1:20p.m. Paddled down Intermediate into a stiffening breeze. The campground looked empty, though we didn’t check it out.

1:55p.m. Intermediate to Siskiwit portage.

2:40p.m. Hit the water on Siskiwit paddling into white caps with a strong wind blowing straight at us down the 7 mile lake. The big canoe slices through the waves and doesn’t have a lot of freeboard, especially with all the human cargoe, so we shipped a few waves over the gunnels on the paddle across to Wood Lake. Dad wished he was in Dan’s more stable canoe. We ducked behind a couple of the small islands, but the waves built closer to shore, so we headed on a more stable and comfortable course that was more upwind and toward the lee of a point on the south shore of Siskiwit. Dan and Brad were wondering where the heck we were going, but decided to follow us anyway.

3:20p.m. Arrived at the Wood Lake campground. One party was already there and another came in later, so the 3 campsites were all taken that night. The choice campsite is separated from the others, but the other 2 campsites are pretty close together so we had some background conversation (as did they).

Evening: The water was warm and the swimming fine. Floated around in lifejackets for awhile. Dan caught a barely legal pike (24") in the shallows across from the campground that supplemented supper. Watched the sun set over Siskiwit and the Greenstone from the ridge behind the campground.

9:00p.m. Hit the sack.

Tuesday, July 30

Layover day at Wood Lake. The other parties headed out in the morning, so we had the campground to ourselves all day, and for the night.

Tim wanted to check out a stream for brookies on the other side of Siskiwit and Dan and Dad went with him. They saw fish in the stream, but didn’t catch any. Sounds like it was some work just to find the stream. They stopped at Ryans Island (the largest island on the largest lake on the largest island on the largest freshwater lake in the world) and made me wish I had paddled out there. Tim caught a nice northern along the south shore of Siskiwit on the paddle back to camp. Add fish to the supper menu again.

Brad and I were pretty lazy, played some cribbage, then paddled over to the next portage and hiked across to Whittlesey, fishing on the way there and back. This is a particularly pretty portage, but that impression may be influenced by the fact that we didn’t have anything on our backs or shoulders. There was a big bull moose feeding in the bay near the portage in Whittlesey that appeared to have a big chunk taken out of it’s left flank, presumably by a wolf. It didn’t appear to be hurting for it, however. We timed him at over 45 seconds with his head submerged under the water.

Tim went out fishing after supper. Bed shortly after sunset as the mosquitoes came out.

Wednesday, July 31

7:10a.m. Hit the water. I paddled with Brad in Dan’s canoe. It’s a short paddle to the portage, taking it easy and enjoying the calm morning. Checked out a cool underwater shelf off a little islet.

7:30a.m. Wood Lake to Whittlesey portage. No moose at the end today. Brad and I tried to get Tim to sit out the 2nd trip for a change, but he insisted on making the hike back anyway, though we didn’t leave much for him to carry. He was the go-getter on the portages throughout the trip.

8:40a.m. Paddled Whittlesey. No one fished it, though it’s supposed to be the best Walleye lake. Cool cliffs along the south shore. Listened to waves breaking on the Superior shoreline, and a couple of boats for that matter.

9:15a.m. Whittlesey to Chippewa Harbor portage. As we were unloading the canoe I dropped the gear pack with my hand caught under the flap and ripped open the side of my finger on a tarp pole. After a few animated expletives and several bandaids, it was tolerable. Nice flap of skin though. Brad was thankful I hadn’t broken it like he first thought. This portage probably has the roughest footing of the trip with more rocks and roots than the others, though not as steep as some. Beautiful scenery at the end of the portage looking up Chippewa Harbor.

10:25a.m. Paddled up Chippewa Harbor. Maybe the most scenic paddle of the trip.

10:55a.m. Arrived at the dock. All 4 shelters were empty, so we took the choice view at the top, though some complained about "another portage." Two kayaking parties and a couple of guys canoeing eventually took the other shelters, and a pair of women canoeists ended up in a tent site. A large family in the group site and a boat at the dock made it popular place. After a sunny morning, it clouded up and threatened rain shortly after we got there. Definitely the coolest day of the trip.

Afternoon: Tim, Dan, and Brad took the big canoe to fish the harbor and brought home a northern, courtesy of Dan. They said you could see the northerns swim under the canoe in the clear water, but they wouldn’t bite on anything. Too early in the day maybe. Fog rolled in the afternoon, then everything cleared again. I cast off the dock a little, not expecting to catch anything, and I didn’t. Later I hiked up to Mason Lake (Dad was wore out by then), found some nice ripe blueberries and saw my 3rd moose feeding in Mason Lake. I took a short dip off the dock, washed up, and put on my clean set of clothes. It was warmer standing wet in the breeze than it was in the water, but it felt good.

Evening: Had a late supper, as the boys had too much fun fishing. Finally remembered to take that group picture.

9:30p.m. A pretty consistent bedtime. A BIG thunderstorm blow through about 4:00a.m. and put on quite a show. Happy to be in the shelter, but wondering if we wanted to be up in the top one.

Thursday, August 1

6:00a.m. Have been awake since 4:00 due to the storm, but it is passed, though still thundering over the lake. Windy and cool, the lake is white with whitecaps out of the east. Big rollers coming into the harbor off the lake, but calmed within a half hour. Packed up after breakfast and ready to go.

8:00a.m. Brad, Dan, and Tim hike to Mason Lake in hopes of seeing another moose. No luck, but they did get soaked from the brush along the trail.

9:20a.m. Voyageur II picks us up. Confused 2-3’ waves out on the lake, as the wind is now south/southwest, though calmer than a couple of hours ago. The wind shifted again to the northwest as we left Siskiwit Bay and it turned noticeably warmer as the air was now passing over the island.

12:45p.m. Stopped at Windigo. A big barge was at the dock unloading gravel and concrete blocks. An NPS guy said they’re building a house. Saw the infamous Jeep. Capt. Ryan said they were predicting 35 kt winds in the afternoon, so the stop was shorter than usual. Looked briefly for Doug, who I knew was leaving on the Wenonah, but they had left a day early.

3:05p.m. Arrived at Grand Portage without any rougher seas than earlier, though the wind really picked up just as we entered Grand Portage Bay.

3:30p.m. Hit the road, then stopped at the Lodge to return a key and use the restroom, as the ones at the dock were out of order. Brad grabbed 3 quarters out of Dad’s ashtray and won another $3.00.

3:55p.m. Finally left Grand Portage. Dad’s behind the wheel again, but there’s still 5 drivers.

4:30p.m. Dropped off the canoe and headed to Sven and Ole’s for pizza (the only place I’ve ever eaten in Grand Marais).

5:45p.m. Left Grand Marais. Made a stop for gas, one to pick up a couple pies at Betty’s Pies outside Two Harbors, and a quick one at UMD where Brad picked up a laptop to download Dad’s pictures. Brad falls out of the van for his only injuries of the trip.

9:00p.m. Back at Brad’s. Of course, Lorenda had a strawberry rhubarb cake waiting, but neither it nor the pies went to waste. Downloaded pics and checked them out (about 250).

Friday, August 2

Dad and Dan head home. Tim went up to Camp Vermilion with his in-laws to see Jan and the girls. Brad and I bummed around town, getting a new watchband for the one I broke on the trip, getting my pics developed, eating lunch, and going to his office to cut a CD with Dad’s pictures.

Saturday, August 3

Tim and Jan came back from Vermilion. Brad, Tim, Jason, Nathan, and I go golfing in the rain. My 58 on 9 holes came in 2nd, behind Brad.

Sunday, August 4

My 12:30p.m. flight out of Duluth left at 3:30. Made a later connection in Chicago and got to RDU about 8:30p.m. Good to be home and sleep in my own bed next to my wife.