The fox stared at me with alert eyes. It was a beautiful creature, sleek red fur and a fluffy tail too large for its body, and seemed complacent about my presence. I tried to take a few photos and grimaced as I noticed the rising sun washing out most of the details. If I tried to get closer it would probably run off so I decided to merely continue on with my morning. Walking down the dock I swung my pack off, took out the water filter, and pumped. On the beach nearby the fox trotted down to the beach's edge and lapped. Together we drank our fill and, when we were both done, headed back towards the woods.
Well, the fox headed off into the woods. I turned west and followed a grassy clearing next to Lake Superior that would meet up with the Feldtmann Loop. It was shortly after sunrise and long past time that I left the campground at Siskiwit Bay. My plan had been to leave at least an hour earlier, in time to catch the rising sun from the far beach a mile north.
It had not been a good night. Even after six nights on the island I still found it tough to sleep out here, and with my sunburn and tender heels I had difficulty finding a position that was comfortable for more than an hour at a time. And then there was a nightmare, a terrible nightmare about my youngest son getting hit by a car, that had woken me up with a pounding heart. If I left my thoughts drift too much I could still see him… Man, being a parent sucks sometimes. Even more so when I had no way of checking in on him or even calling Katie to see if he was okay.
Add the rough night with somehow sleeping in and I had left the shelter in a sour mood. I wanted to make breakfast this morning, to have hot coffee and oatmeal before walking down a dim beach and catching a sunrise over Lake Superior, and now the sun was already up. When I stormed down to the dock and came upon that fox all those frustration melted away. Sure, there was a late start, and skipping breakfast seemed like a necessary and disappointing way to make up lost time, but I was still on a beautiful island. You can't stay mad on an island like this.
The spur path to the campsite met up with the Feldtmann Loop and was swiftly overgrown with thick green brush sparkling with heavy duty. Oh man, not this again. I was wearing my rain pants and figured that there would be wet sections of this trail yet didn't want to deal with it so soon. A confirming glance to the right and I headed over to the beach and was welcomed to a wide, easy path over cobble rocks. Walking on a beach beat fighting wet brush in my book.
Today's hike was a long one - twenty miles, to be exact. And the first leg would get the heart pounding. After a mile or so along two beaches on Siskiwit Bay separated by a rocky Senter Point the trail would start a climb up to the ruins of Island Mine, about four hundred feet above Lake Superior. Then it suddenly jumps up Red Oak Ridge, a quick three hundred feet, before dropping down a few creek gorges around the Island Mine campground and meeting up with Greenstone Ridge. That's a gnarly way to cover four miles of morning hiking.
For now I was on a flat beach so I tried to make the most of it and walked with a fast step. Four sets of tracks were visible, two adults and two children, from yesterday's family who had hiked this leg yesterday. And there were moose tracks and no others. That large party, the seven or eight older hikers who had come down this way yesterday, must have stuck to the trail. No wonder they warned about thick brush.
Too soon a river crossing showed up - the Big Siskiwit River. I could make it out ahead of me and saw that there was no way to cross the wide mouth from the beach. When a path led left I took it, re-entering the woods, and quickly met up with the main trail. The trail led to a boardwalk that crossed a grassy swamp before heading up and over an oddly leaning bridge. The bridge felt solid, though with that heavy lean in the direction of spring melt I had to wonder how many more seasons it would last.
On the far side of the bridge undergrowth took back over and I was soon fighting through a soaking, clinging mess to gain each yard. As soon as the beach was back in view I lunged for it and left the nasty trail behind. The beach was loose rock that gave underfoot, sure, and it was a hundred times better than the overgrown mess. I walked quickly over the loose rock, enjoying being able to stretch out my legs, and soon came upon Senter Point. I took one last look back south, trying to make out the campsite or dock back there, and saw nothing. Then I entered the woods and left the first beach behind.
It was more than a campsite I was leaving behind. Over the last two days on the Feldtmann Loop I had met a lot of hikers heading the same way, staying at Feldtmann Lake and Siskiwit Bay, and I was going to miss them. These people had made for great conversations, sharing stories and advice and laughs, and it was tough knowing that I would probably never see any of them again. As disappointing as it had been sleeping in this morning I did hope that someone else would have been awake, maybe even been willing to hike up to Island Mine with me, but there had been no one. Only the fox and I stirred with the sunrise and now only I walked the beach.
These hikers would probably be the last people I'd really get to know out here. My next few days were long hauls east, enough mileage to leave more leisurely groups behind, so if I met anyone heading in the same direction there was little chance of us ever reuniting down the trail. Guess that's kinda the point of hiking solo, to spend time on the trail and campsites alone. I just never expected to miss being around other people so much.
Senter Point was easy to walk on. The trail was open so that I didn't have to fight brush and peninsula narrow enough that I was never fully in the woods. When the trees blocked the view of water behind me there were glimpses of the second beach ahead. I came out on Carnelian Beach, again dropped down to the water's edge and left the trail, and set a quick pace over loose rocks.
Once on the other side of Caribou Creek, about halfway down the beach, the rocks began to grow in size and pile up higher until I was walking on sliding hills of skipping rocks. Still better than battling wet undergrowth. I did glance more to the left, though, and grew worried that I would miss where the trail left the shoreline. As I walked the sun rose, reflecting hotly off the cove. I wasn't wearing my gloves this morning, thinking that sunscreen and the last few days would be enough to keep my hands from worsening, but was starting to rethink this strategy when an obvious sign showed up above me. A wooden post on the trail not ten feet away from the beach pointed towards Island Mine up through the woods. It was time to leave Lake Superior behind.
The land rose up from the bay, climbing through a young scrubby forest before leveling out on boardwalked swamp. There were a few patches of overgrown brush with heavy dew, nothing as bad other areas of the Feldtmann Loop, and I thought about changing out of my rain pants. They were not breathable and it was warm enough for me to start sweating. Eh, I'd be on the Greenstone soon enough and could change then. The grassy swamp stretched out for a long distance, little twists and windings keeping my focus ahead, before a second more steady climb showed up. It was time to climb up to Island Mine.
Slow and steady I headed up the rising hill. I didn't want to stop, didn't want to waste the time taking a breather, so I leaned forward on my poles and climbed doggedly. A bubbling creek followed me for a time and tempted me to stop for a water break, an open clearing under large cedars called to me, but I kept moving up. I wanted to know how hard it was to climb up the Greenstone Ridge with seven days of hiking behind me and a thirty-odd pound pack on.
It wasn't terribly hard. When I started to feel my legs heating up I would slow down, and when the warning signs passed I sped back up. Even though the climb felt like it took forever I didn't stop until I reached a little spur trail off to the right. Finally, the mine. Or at least I thought it was. The path led over to a rock well that disappeared in darkness. A well seemed a bit odd out here, with how many running creeks and ponds and lake there were on the island. Maybe the workers at Island Mine wanted something a bit more dependable during dry spells.
Near the well the trail leveled out under a calm birch forest and I paused to fish out breakfast. I still didn't have time to make oatmeal and was going to try something different, something I had lying around the house for a few weeks before this trip. It's called an Omnibar and had beef, almond butter, flax, potatoes, and all sorts of good stuff packed in. It tasted wretched and was more dense than a Clif Bar.
I walked along the level trail with quick steps, doing my best to down the bar, even as I felt it sitting angrily churning around in my stomach. A few gulps of water helped settle things. I'm glad I tried it, and would be glad of the calories later today, it was just a harsh experience. Maybe oatmeal would have been worth the stop. Soon I came upon a second spur and there was no doubt on where this one led. I had to be at the old mine itself.
There wasn't much time to explore. I've heard that Island Mine has a lot of stuff to find, shafts and poor rock and foundations and equipment, I just didn't leave the time to play around. The only thing I set out for was the old boiler. The trail led over to some poor rock piles, little hills of crushed rock with well-traveled paths leading up and down them, and behind the second or third rise was a huge rusty boiler. I couldn't even imagine the effort needed to haul this thing up from the lake below.
Around the old boiler was plenty of forgotten things, gears and tools scattered about, and a handful of pits sat with ugly dark water. This close to the boiler and I guessed that the pits were the remains of the building foundation. With the abundance of poor rock, though, there had to be shafts close by. I didn't go any further from here, didn't try to follow the paths into the woods to find more. It was time to return to the trail and finish the climb up Red Oak Ridge.
Those last three hundred feet were brutally steep. Climbing it knocked the wind out of me several times and forced me to pause to slow down my breathing and sweating. There was wind up here, a slight breeze that rattled leaves and cooled me down, a welcome relief from the warming forest below. When the crest finally arrived I was a hot mess. There was no view, no open ridge to look upon Siskiwit Bay below, though the trees were thin enough up here to probably grant spring and late fall visitors partial vistas down.
Beyond Red Oak Ridge things calmed back down. There was the campground at Island Mine, which had a deep creek gorge on either side, and the Greenstone beyond. Neither creek was running with much commitment. If you found a deep pool off trail there may be enough to pull from, but I held doubts. At the campsite I caught a glimpse of the family from yesterday and we exchanged brief greetings. I was surprised at how close to the trail these sites were. Between the lackluster water supply and minimal privacy here I'd consider Island Mine campground an unappealing stop.
And then there was the Greenstone. I stepped out and stood in the middle of the junction, slowly turning around to get a good view of it. The Greenstone Ridge Trail is often called the highway of the island, the most direct way to get from Windigo to Rock Harbor, and it is a common thru-hike for many hikers with inland lake campsites along the way. I saw no one on the highway this morning. Dropping my pack at the junction I quickly changed into loose pants, dry socks, gloves, and my baselayer shirt. It had taken me just over two hours to hike up from Siskiwit Bay. Now it was time to chew through some serious miles on the long trek east.
The second leg of the hike would be interesting. East of the junction with the Island Mine Trail there was a steady climb up Mount Desor, the highest point on Isle Royale at 1394'. Then the Greenstone Ridge dipped down close to the southern shore of Lake Desor, which sat at 894'. Beyond the lake the ridge picked back up to a lofty 1377' at Ishpeming Point where I had a decision to make. For now all I had to worry about was the five miles to Lake Desor and the half liter of water I had left. There was no water between me and that lake.
Walking on the Greenstone Ridge was strangely easy. After the steep climbs on the Minong and the muggy forest of the Feldtmann I sped down the wide dirt path. My poles were completely unhindered by brush, the climb up to Mount Desor was so gradual I barely noticed it, and the prominence on the ridge allowed a cool breeze to filter through the woods. There were several points I forced myself to slow down in order to conserve energy for the rest of the day, worried that I was burning through calories too quickly, though I'm not even sure if that was a valid concern to have on a trail like this.
Mount Desor's peak somehow slipped past me during a group of little rises and dips. The feeling of generally walking downhill just came to me and, after looking around, it seemed pretty obvious that I was on the east flank. There had been no views to speak of anyways and without a GPS it would have been difficult to confirm where the actual highest point was. A young couple showed up then, walking from Lake Desor to Windigo, and asked me how the view from peak was. I told them not to get their hopes up for any grand vistas.
Minutes after leaving the young couple I came out upon a partial view down on Lake Desor. It felt good to see that expanse of water again. It had been a good three days since I sat on its northern shore and had breakfast with ducks and snakes as companions. It looked pretty far down there, still quite a bit of a haul, so I pushed on and looked forward to getting some fresh water.
I re-entered the green forest, cruised along for some time, and started bumping into more and more groups. They were all coming from the Desor campground and were either heading to Island Mine or all the way to Windigo today. Windigo is a bit of a haul, some eleven miles away, and there really isn't any water up on the ridge. Today was shaping up to be a bit warm for hiking that long of a distance. I begun asking people if they had enough and, if they hesitated, suggested a quick jaunt down to Island Mine. There wasn't much to filter from but it's better than going dry for too long.
More open ridge showed up and gave me fantastic views north to the Minong Ridge and ahead at Ishpeming Point. The rises of the Minong looked so tiny from here, so tiny yet so welcoming. I already missed the open views and variety of that trail. If I ever returned to this island, even if it is only for a few days, I'd be back over there. The Minong is something that you can't stay away from.
This open rocky ridge seemed to stretch on for an annoying distance and I baked in the open sun. I had no idea of knowing just when the trail to the South Lake Desor Campground would show up or, when it did, how much of a hassle it would be to drop down to the water's edge. One of the past groups had told me that skipping the lake and hoping for a creek further along was not a good idea - there was no pump-able creeks this side of Ishpeming Point. Licking dry lips I dropped down another rocky thrust, pushed forward a few steps, and almost ran into the sign for the trail junction. Guess the rocky ridge was the very end of this section.
Green birch and low undergrowth surrounded me as I walked to the north. There wasn't much elevation lost, maybe a hundred feet or so over a quarter mile, and I knew that would not be hard to gain back. The trail slowly wound a half-circle before a metal camp map gave me an idea of how things were laid out. It looked like there was only one path to access the lake without tromping through a campsite, the same path where four of the sites had to access it, so I assumed that there would be easy pumping from it. When I dropped down next to the water I found out that I was wrong.
I wasn't expecting a dock but the large, unsteady rocks and shallow water below made it difficult to get a filter hose into the water. At least the view over the lake was pretty and the nearby air still cool from the chilled water. As I struggled to keep my hose from clogging on bottom rocks and pump a few liters to quickly drink I began to understand why I saw so many other hikers with water bags. It would be easy to fill up a bag with unfiltered water and then pump out of that than just do it from the source. Oh well, maybe next time.
Once I had downed two liters and started my coffee boiling I reviewed my progress. It was shortly after noon and I had already covered half of the distance for the day. Not bad. If I kept up the pace there should be no problem reaching Malone Bay before nightfall. If I still wanted to, that is. Malone Bay added fourteen miles to my hike, seven in and seven out, and it would make a lot of sense to spread that out.
My biggest problem right now was the last day. If I stuck to my current route I would need to hike twelve miles, from Moskey Basin to Rock Harbor, before the Queen left for Copper Harbor in the early afternoon. I shouldn't be so worried about it - the couple from last night had told me that the worst that could happen is that I would spend an extra night on a wonderful island - yet I was. If I missed the ferry I would miss my flight, have to find new places to stay in Copper Harbor while stuck waiting for a new way back to Phoenix, and not hear confirmation from Katie that my nightmare was moot and the youngest son was just fine. Twelve miles wasn't that big of a deal with the distance I had been clocking… If the weather held out. And the more people I talked with as this trip went on the worse the forecast sounded for Sunday.
There were options. Instead of wasting miles going down to Malone Bay I could push on to Hatchet Lake or even Todd Harbor tonight, then make it all the way to Daisy Farm or Threemile tomorrow night, and then have only a few miles to skip along to reach Rock Harbor on that last day. Shoot, I could even sleep in on Sunday and wait for a break in the storms before skipping in. If I went to Malone Bay, though, I was sentencing myself to a twenty-four mile hike to Moskey Basin tomorrow and those foolhardy twelve miles on Sunday, regardless of the weather.
Enough with the worrying. I finished my coffee on the scenic and silent Lake Desor and jotted a few more thoughts down in the trail log. Lake Desor is an interesting little piece of Isle Royale. It doesn't have a dedicated outlet. There is a swampy inlet on its northern shore that could flow the other way if the waters got to high, sure, but for most of the year those wetlands drain into the lake. With its high elevation and no easy access I wonder how many canoes or kayaks touch these waters. The thought of boating from the north to south campgrounds was rather appealing, as was visiting some of the large islands dotting it, and I'm sure the deeper waters hold many untouched fishing grounds.
Belly full from water, coffee, and a large lunch I lurched back to my feet and headed back towards the Greenstone. I had spent over an hour resting and thinking about my route options here and it was long past time that I got moving. Twenty feet from the edge of the lake and the temperature was noticeably higher and after another twenty I was converting my pants down to shorts. This was going to be warm slog up to Ishpeming Point. On the way I passed a single occupied campsite, one solo hiker that appeared to be resting for a full day at this campsite, and we exchanged polite nods. Then I was back on the trail through the birch forest.
A short distance later on the Greenstone and I already had views back west, amazing views at that. Not only was both Mount and Lake Desor visible in a single shot but the entirety of the lake spread out far to the north and west. Even the open ridges on Minong didn't offer this expansive of a view. It came with a cost, a quick three hundred foot climb over ten minutes, yet it was well worth it. The only thing I missed was a view of Canada's distant shoreline. It was still too hazy over the lake to make that out.
The trail continued to climb at a slower pace after the open ridge, moving out of the open ridges into sparse forest and then the deeper woods that only allowed slight breezes in and no views out. I didn't mind too much, confident that there would be plenty to see once I reached the observation tower at Ishpeming Point. There are three fire towers on Isle Royale - Mount Ojibway, Feldtmann Ridge, and Ishpeming Point - and if I followed through on going to Malone Bay then I may end up eating breakfast at each one. A small but unique goal to reach for, at any rate.
Even though I tried not to I did end up drinking water during this climb. My legs felt so energized after the long lunch break that I couldn't slow them down. I passed woods and a swamp and then more woods, zipping along quickly, sipping water as I burned through calories. It wasn't until the final climb that I slowed down, a sudden steepening that dipped and then grew again, and I looked forward with high hopes. There just had to be an awesome tower up here with great views down towards the great Siskiwit Lake. All I saw was a thick and brushy forest with a tower too short to offer any views.
So the third fire tower, the one that sat two hundred feet higher than the other ones, was a bust. My excitement went out like a punctured balloon. I circled around slowly, gazing up at the disappointing tower, before leaning against the wooden tool box underneath. It was decision time.
I had no information on the Ishpeming Trail down to Malone Bay. After the first few days on the island I had learned how valuable trail information was from other hikers. There were tricky areas to explain, flowing creeks to advise upon, and thick overgrown sections worth bypassing. The only thing I had know about this trail is that the ranger at Windigo advised checking out Malone Bay and that no other hiker I had met on Isle Royale had been there. In fact, I hadn't even seen anyone out today after the solo camper at Lake Desor. I stood alone under the tower, unsure if I was about to head into a Feldtmann-level mess of growth or a Minong-level series of cairned rock bluffs or a Greenstone-level easy and wide trail, when I thought again about what that couple from last night had told me. Even if this decision backfires and I run out of time and don't make it to the ferry in two days the worst thing that would happen is I get to spend another night on Isle Royale. I turned off the Greenstone and headed south.
My choice was instantly validated. A few minutes on the trail and a great view opened up to the southern shoreline and a few distant islands. I couldn't quite make out Siskiwit Lake, though didn't think much of it at the time. All I had to do was reach that shoreline, some seven miles away, and the campsite would be there.
And so began the third leg of my hike, the long descent from Ishpeming Point. The first half would dump me off of the Greenstone over multiple steps, quick drops separated by long flat stretches, and then I would be on the far west end of Siskiwit Lake. Siskiwit Lake is huge. It would take at least three miles on the southern shore of the inland lake before I reached the campsite, and even those three miles would barely get me halfway across it. When I first started down the point I assumed that my hike would be over as soon as I saw the open water of the inland lake, likely from an overly optimistic memory of the map, but I would soon learn just how massive Siskiwit Lake is.
For some time the trail traveled over a series of open rocky bluffs sprinkled with tufts of dying grass and a few cairns. Between the rocky bluffs was the low, brushy forest that tended to cling onto the thin soil and harsh conditions of Michigan mountains. A surprise swamp showed up next to the trail in one of the deeper sections of forest and I took some time to examine the softer earth underfoot. Maybe, just maybe someone else would be at Malone Bay tonight. If a hiker was coming from either Lake Desor or Hatchet Lake they could be hours ahead of me. The only footprint I found was softened by time and rain, and the last rain was some three days ago. Well, at least there'd be more solitude down here than at Lane Cove.
A few more rocky declines and then I was walking along a huge swamp that stretched a long distance west. I looked around in hope for some water and only found a few stinking puddles. So far I had passed two trickling creeks, one tainted a weird orange color, and a few swamps, yet had found nothing worth filtering from. This was disappointing. Not only was I running low on water today, I would have to retrace my steps back up this trail tomorrow morning and would love to refill on the way up to Ishpeming Point. Hatchet Lake was only three miles east of the point, but I really didn't want to have to stop at Hatchet Lake.
Below the huge swamp the trail began to alternate more dramatically between grassy slopes and green birch forests. Both of these would hold onto plenty of dew so I made a mental note to wear rain pants tomorrow morning. My boots were completely dry by now due to the rain pants and sock change this morning (and the hot temperatures of the day), and my heels were very thankful. My hands, though, were not as content. There were fewer breezes along this trail and the sun baked down on me. Tonight would warrant a long soak in Lake Superior.
Even with a few sections of overgrown brush the Ishpeming Trail wasn't bad, it just was obvious that few people walked it. Seven miles to a dead-end campground just wasn't appealing to most thru-hikers on Isle Royale. There was enough of a packed footpath and cairns over the rocks to guide me down with minimal route finding and that was it. No prints, no flipped leaves, no broken twigs, only me and the lonely trail.
With little fanfare a brand new boardwalk showed up just as the trail entered a thick swamp. This was a surprise - I expected that the park rangers would give up on this sparsely traveled trail. The walk was two board wide, high above the sucking mud, and brush was pushed back. I felt like I was walking in luxury. I had to be close to the lake and campsite now.
Sure enough, a sturdy bridge over a swampy inlet showed up around the curve. It had taken me an hour and change to reach the west side of Lake Siskiwit. I paused and looked down at the water below - yeah, I could pull from this tomorrow morning. It would probably plug my filter after a liter but that's a problem for future Jacob. I thought about getting fresh water now and decided to hold off. I couldn't be far from the campground and cool Lake Superior water now.
As I stood and inspected the water below some loud noises crashed through the forest ahead. Startled, I shifted and almost knocked my poles down into the water below. Two large moose were coming towards me from the opposite bank. There's no way they would cross the bridge, right? I waited for them to make their move.
One of them turned around as soon as they saw me, making twice as much ruckus going through the swamp beyond my view, and the other one stood their ground. A cow, I guessed, staring at me with big eyes and firmly planted feet. While she was still distant and no threat I did notice that my path circled around right next to her. If she wasn't going to move I would have to walk past her.
So that's what I did. With slow, non-threatening steps, I moved forward and walked within a few dozen feet of the large animal. She watched me for some time and then, as if I was just another tree, coolly looked around as if searching for her mate. The other moose had escaped across the trail, meaning that I had a moose on each side of me here, a fact that I tried to ignore. Being surrounded by moose didn't sound like a fun adventure.
Up to seven moose now. I wondered if I could bump into nine moose on this trip, nine moose over nine days. I had only gotten clear views of five of them, only captured four on camera, but had in some way bumped into seven so far. Wolves would be more exciting. There are only a handful of wolves left on the island and I had seen plenty of their sign left behind - week-old scat near East Chickenbone, fresh stuff on this trail, and at least a dozen prints scattered around the island. Maybe this long detour to Malone Bay would pay off with a good wolf sighting.
Some views of Siskiwit Lake began to show up through the trees. It looked wide and dark blue, even though I didn't know at the time that this was one of the more narrow sections of it. It would have been easy to take a quick break to filter water and eat some food yet I pushed on. There were four hours until sunset and I wanted some time relax once I reached camp.
The trail spent a mile along the lake before ducking into the woods for a few hundred yards. Just like before, there were a few sections of overgrown brush and route finding, just nothing as tough as Feldtmann or Minong. It was still easy to follow and I had no qualms about hiking this tomorrow with heavy dew or, depending on when I started, dark skies. When the trail slowly curved back out and views of the lake showed up again I was surprised to find a moose skeleton next to the trail and, beyond that, a much wider Siskiwit Lake ahead.
I was starting to question what I got myself into. The seven miles from Ishpeming Point were really stretching out and I was beginning to drag. With a start I realized that I hadn't had any food since starting this leg of the trail. I pulled out my water and a few snacks and munched away, downing all but a few sips as I chewed on jerky and sucked on peanut butter. Afterwards I felt a bit of more lively, though what I really needed was a few liters of water and a good hour of rest.
Grassy, rocky bluffs began to show up on the trail. I traveled over a few before realizing what they were. This, this was another ridge. If Lake Superior was a hundred feet higher these bluffs would be little islands like the dots that rim Rock Harbor. Isle Royale is just a bunch of parallel ridges that are connected by the eroded remains in between; Feldtmann, Greenstone, and Minong just happen to be three of the larger ones that earned names.
Thinking about the geology of this island, and also thinking about how Siskiwit Lake had probably just been a large cove of Superior back when Feldtmann Lake wasn't an inland lake, helped pass some time. The grassy bluffs kept coming, worn paths showing a way through the dry grass, and little sections of forest in between. I passed over some boardwalks, some paths of rock built by hand, and then suddenly came upon a trail sign. Finally. I had to be close to camp now.
It was a bit of a junction, though I think it was mostly for people portaging up from Lake Superior. A small spur trail led over to Lake Siskiwit and a handful of canoes. The campsite was a few hundred yards to the south. I dropped my pack at the sign and headed down next to the canoes and plopped down. I was close enough to the end. It was time to get some darn water.
Filtering was a bit difficult in shallow water, though I pulled two liters and drank one. I was drained on this hot afternoon. I looked across the lake and tried to understand how big it was. A ridge was far to the north, hazy with distance, either the Greenstone or something in the way. A few islands sat out there though I couldn't tell which was which. One was probably Ryan Island. The sounds of rapids filtered from the nearby outlet. With all these distractions it was hard to force my legs to stand back up and to pull the pack back on. I was almost there.
Plodding downhill along the path took no time at all, not with the water break and all. When I came out upon a rocky bluff with shelters below I headed over to the first one I saw, which was already covered in shade from the lowering sun and promised to be nice and cool, and plopped down my gear. Right away I set out some of my damp clothes to dry, pulled out my sleeping bag to loft, and checked the time. I had three hours until sunset, plenty of time for a quick swim and dinner. First I wanted to check out the ranger station.
When I had walked into camp it was obvious that no one else here, and when I remembered that Malone Bay had five shelters and a few group sites for camp I was shocked. Five shelters, all to myself? I didn't feel like hunting for the best one, though looking back I wish I would have taken Shelter 1, which was perched right on the shoreline. I think I took Shelter 5, a whole fifty feet away.
As I walked on the path to the ranger station a surprising sound filtered over - voices. I thought I was the only one here tonight. A group of four people stood on the bridge over Siskiwit River and they were no hikers. The women looked comfortable in clean clothes and light makeup and the men had shorts and cotton socks. A few words later and I learned that they were boaters and were docking over by the station for the night. Guess I wouldn't be as alone as I had first assumed.
There wasn't much to see at the station, just locked buildings and a large boat docked, and I soon turned back. I passed the boaters on the way and politely exchanged another greeting. To be honest I was a little thrown by them, had been hoping to spend a silent night at the empty bay, even though they seemed quite friendly.
Once I returned to camp I headed to the lake for a long swim. There was a bit of a crushed beach on the far eastern end of the little cove that was enough for me to walk out on without sandals and get hip-deep in water. Beyond that was large slippery rocks I didn't want to try treading on. I brought my water filter and drank another liter or two, letting my feet soak in the cold temperatures, before diving in and swimming around. When I finally stepped out to make dinner I felt like a brand new person.
Dinner was a short affair, rushed by the coming dark, though I did run into the boaters again. As I ate they wandered over to check out the shelters. I asked them if they knew what the weather would be like and we all headed back to the boat to check the NOAA forecast. Slight chance of thunderstorms, not enough information to know how tough my hike would be. They saw the worry in my face and volunteered to radio in and get me a boat ride if things worsened, a very polite gesture, but I declined. I had been very lucky with the weather so far, and if things were going to change on my last day then I'd deal with it then.
Back at camp I watched what I could of the sunset. If I would have headed back to Siskiwit Lake there was probably a better view, though not by much. Plus the thought of pulling my boots back on and walking a mile or so back on the trail did not sound appealing. Instead I jumped out on a narrow little point, filtered and drank more water, and slowly chewed on a Snickers bar. I wondered about my hike tomorrow, the twenty-four miles I'd have to cover, and if there was any way to push further east towards Rock Harbor. I could push on to Daisy Farm another four miles, or even Threemile for another four beyond that. Thirty-two miles seemed excessive even if it would make Sunday a breeze. Or, or I could bushwhack.
When I got back to camp I pulled out the map and looked at this option. The outlet between Lake Richie and Chippewa Harbor was some six or seven miles away. If I could reach that I'd be a mere three miles from Moskey Basin. Bushwhack for six or seven, hike for another seven, and I'd be at Daisy Farm, which beat hiking twenty-eight. Plus it wouldn't be all bushwhack. There were portages between some of the inland lakes on the way, a mile or two all together. Five miles of bushwhacking with a pack on. That, that was tempting.
I slowly settled down to sleep, weighing my options. It would be neat to bushwhack on Isle Royale, to go off the trails and see some new stuff, though the trails tomorrow over Mount Siskiwit and around Lake LeSage also promised to hold good views. Plus I had no compass, no GPS, and no idea of the vegetation I'd be hacking through. I weighed the options, eventually deciding to stick to the original route, and outside the sky darkened and the waves shushed against the shoreline. I had tossed the dice and made it to the remote Malone Bay. Now I just had to make it off the island.