[landscapephotograph description=”Sunrise, Lane Cove, Isle Royale” photo=”http://timmulholland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Isle-Royale2.jpg” photourl=”http://IlluminataPhoto.zenfolio.com/p477058873/e483cc3cd”][/landscapephotograph]
A few years ago, back when I was in gradual school, there was an article in National Geographic magazine (April, 1985) about a place called Isle Royale. I had never heard of it before then, but was quite taken by the story and photographs. My friend Kent and I even talked about heading up there to go backpacking, but it never came to fruition before we graduated. Every once in awhile over the years, I’d look at a map of the Great Lakes and see Isle Royale there, think about it again and tell myself that I’ve got to get there someday.
Over the winter when I found that I’d have several days available in late May (Ačiū, mano meile!) with the opportunity for some travel and adventure I obviously started to think about heading to the southwestern deserts. Since we were planning on going to Utah in April, it just didn’t seem quite right to head back there again so soon (that’s an almost unbelievable thought for me). Somewhere out of the dark recesses of my brain crawled the memory of Isle Royal National Park and it stuck! Oh yeah!
Most people to whom I mention Isle Royale National Park have never heard of it and that’s not surprising. Isle Royale is one of the least visited national parks in the United States even though it’s not too far from many populations centers in the Midwest. The problem is that it’s an island in northern Lake Superior and your only options for getting there are your own boat, ferry service from Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan or Grand Portage, Minnesota, or a seaplane flight out of Houghton. The National Park Service estimates that were ~15,000 people who visited Isle Royale in 2014; there have been a little over a million visitors to Isle Royale since it was established in 1940. Just for a little contrast, Yellowstone National Park had about 3.5 million visitors in 2014, or about 9500 visitors/day, Grand Canyon hosted 4.7 million visitors last year (12,880 visitors/day), Yosemite enjoyed about 3.9 million visitors, and Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska welcomed just 12,700 visitors last year. Isle Royale National Park is most famous for secluded backpacking over its forty mile length, many harbors and coves for boaters, and for the dynamic population of moose and wolves on the island. Unfortunately, it’s now estimated that there are only three wolves left on Isle Royale due to a lack of genetic diversity from inbreeding, and this loss of wolves is creating a quandary for the National Park Service and others who are fretting over whether they should intervene and introduce more wolves. (I’m in the camp of let it be; wolves will eventually repopulate the island again, and this likely isn’t the first time over the past few millennia that the wolf population has crashed due to inbreeding.)
I started preparing for my solo backpacking trip in late winter by carrying a fifty pound load through the neighborhood. The first few times were tortuous, but I slowly grew stronger, a bit faster and more comfortable with the whole idea. While I’ve been on a few backpacking trips before, these trips were always with friends with whom I could share the load of food, tent, stove and so on, but that wasn’t the case this time. I also wanted to carry my camera gear, so my load added up quickly.
Over Memorial Day weekend I was off, driving north to Houghton and its airport for my relatively quick flight to the Rock Harbor Visitor Center on the eastern end of Isle Royale. I arrived there late on Friday afternoon, had a quick orientation with the ranger, and was then off to Three Mile Campground. There, I thought that I’d be relatively alone until Amy (from Madison!) showed up with her bum knee that she had injured a day before. (Yes, Amy made it safely home and the big, bad wolves didn’t catch her.) The second day, it was a couple of hour “jaunt” to Daisy Farm Campground and a relatively warm and pleasant afternoon and evening. It seems that Amy had it a bit rougher at Daisy Farm a few days before because it snowed on her. On my third day, I humped it over the ridge to the other side of the island at Lane Cove when it was quite warm; the bad news is that my water filter broke when I needed it and I stumbled into Lane Cove quite parched. I spent a couple of hours boiling water after that. The last day of hiking saw some cold and rain, and I made it back to Rock Harbor, where I spent most of the afternoon in my sleeping bag, keeping warm and reading a book. All in all, it wasn’t that adventurous of a trip, but it was so nice to get away to the seclusion of Isle Royale – us introverts are into that kind of thing. From the time that I left Rock Harbor until I returned, about three days, I ran into maybe sixteen people. And, I can’t wait to do something like this again – but where?
Finally, here’s my requisite gallery – enjoy!
Another happy camper, signing off…