With groggy eyes and stiff legs I slowly made my way down to the dock at Todd Harbor and set up for breakfast. There was water to pump, oatmeal to make, and coffee to brew. The rest of my gear was already packed - I wasted little time once I woke up and saw that I had slept in an hour past the sunrise. While today was technically a rest day I still needed to get to Little Todd today, some seven miles away, and there were plenty of camp chores to do this afternoon.
As I alternated between drinking instant coffee and cold water from Lake Superior, waiting for the oatmeal to soften up, I wondered about my camp companions. There were at least two people over at the shelter that I had only seen from across the harbor and a solo hiker who had camped at another one of the group sites. Part of me wanted to wander over and visit someone, share a few friendly words, and the rest of me was enjoying the solitude. I hadn't talked to a single person since early yesterday afternoon.
It was almost nine before I left that dock. I felt like such a slacker. And I also had a comfortably full stomach and a full liter of cool water. I slowly walked along the shoreline, stretching out my legs to work out the soreness of yesterdays twenty mile day, and soon bumped into the inhabitants of the shelter. Stretch of solitude was broken. We had a short chat and they recommended checking out the Haytown Mine a few hundred yards up the shoreline.
Now, I held the assumption that the Minong Trail went right through the old mine. It doesn't. A simple glance at my map would have shown the incorrectness of that assumption and that Haytown Mine is just a short spur trail.
Thanking the couple at the shelter I bypassed the trail marked for Hatchet Lake and headed along the shore on a brushy path and soon bumped into a deep pit surrounded by a cedar fence. And nothing else. Compared to the Minong Mine I had found yesterday this was a humble little mine. I poked around a little, looking for poor rock or more pits or foundations and didn't find anything.
Beyond the mine was a waterfall, though the trail really started to degrade out this way. It split a few times and I had to duck under scratchy pine branches. I had heard that the Minong Ridge Trail was rough so I didn't think too much of it. Stepping over rotten logs, zig-zagging through hungry brush, and navigating around with my still-heavy pack was really starting to annoy me just as I bumped into a happy little waterfall half-covered with downed trees.
There were several drops to check out, the tallest being under the downed trees and the coolest falling right into Lake Superior. I couldn't quite catch that one without jumping down to the shoreline, something I wasn't willing to do with my heavy pack. Instead I picked a questionable way across on slick, dark rocks and started up the other side. And the path quickly died out.
This worried me. I didn't have a GPS and, with partly cloudy skies today, was having a hard time telling direction in the woods. Following the shoreline would have worked, but my trail was supposed to be on a ridge. Was my route finding skills that bad? I couldn't find a footpath anywhere in this thick stuff. The morning was heating up, dew slowly steamed around me, and freshly woken mosquitoes were buzzing around my neck and hands. It was time to check the map.
Duh. The trail I had bypassed earlier near the couple, the one marked for Hatchet Lake, is what I wanted. Sure, it does go to Hatchet Lake and Greenstone beyond, but there is a fork that cuts off towards Little Todd a mile or so into it. I was hunting for a trail beyond the Haytown Mine spur that didn't exist. Chagrined I headed back, all to aware of the wasted thirty minutes I had spent walking around a damp and dripping forest.
The trail led uphill and was downright pleasant to walk on. Hard-packed dirt lay underneath and the brush was trimmed back from each side, making my walk simple and my poles easy to use. I cruised right along. Part of me still wanted to reach Little Todd before noon even after sleeping in and having a troubled start.
With the muggy temperatures, misadventure at the mine, and quick pace on the trail I was soon sweating like the dickens. And then I bumped into the couple from Todd Harbor, the ones in the shelter. They had left shortly after I headed over to the mine spur trail. They politely volunteered to step aside and let me pass but I decided to slow down for a bit. A slower pace wouldn't be a bad idea and the thought of having a decent conversation was pleasant.
They were from Oscoda, just downstate, and this trip was a bucket list item. From here they were heading over towards Hatchet Lake and Lake Desor before finishing their trip at Windigo, a nice half-Minong, half-Greenstone thru-hike. I did some math in my head and realized that we would both be in Windigo on the same day… If we all made our destinations over the next few days. We chatted about McCargoe Cove, about the Grand Canyon (they had backpacked it a few years ago), and on some random other things before the junction showed up. We wished each other happy trails and went our separate ways.
While it was brief, that thirty-ish minutes of human contact had been rather enjoyable. Solitude is nice on the trail, sure, yet having no one to share an adventure with, no one to sit around at the end of a day and talk about that one tough climb or that sloppy creek crossing is hard. Last night was really lonely, and the next few nights would probably be just as quiet, so that short time with the couple from Oscoda felt wonderful.
Once we separated my trail made a quick climb, enough to get the heart pounding and the sweat pouring again. I stopped at the top and took a quick twenty minute break. Day three and the humidity was still hitting me hard. Either that or I was still being a wimp about my pack weight. Sipping some water and munching on some snacks I looked around at the green forest around me. Everything was so quiet now, so lush and so quiet. Those hikers had taken the Hatchet Lake Trail, and the more I thought about the more I realized how popular that option must be for hikers going through McCargoe and Todd Harbor. Would I even see anyone else today?
I pushed myself back up and started down the trail again. There were low rises along the path, little hills that barely bumped above the nearby swamps, and I kept a close eye out for moose below that never showed up. Around me was a surprising mix of vegetation. Brushy stretches of half-rotten birch, dark clusters of pine, and a few thick cedar swamps. And not that many ridges. For being the Minong Ridge Trail I didn't see a lot of views of either Lake Superior or Greenstone Ridge on this segment.
When I finally came upon a decent-sized creek I got pretty happy. It was a hot day and there was little breeze on the trail to keep my sweating at a comfortable level. I crossed over cracked logs, sped along for another ten minutes, and then came upon a trail junction. Part of me was tempted to continue on, to push all the way to Lake Desor and make tomorrow an easier hike, but the thought of an entire afternoon to relax pulled at me. I turned and headed down the spur trail to Little Todd Harbor.
Now, for much of my hike today the trail had been pretty good. Sure, there was the mess around Haytown Mine, and that was my own fault. The actual Minong Ridge Trail had been easy to make out and hike along. This short thing, the spur trail to the campsite, was a mess. Long sections of stinking black mud lay hidden under chest-deep brush and I almost slipped on half a dozen slick logs and rocks. The path is .6 miles long, and I could feel the breeze from Lake Superior along most of it, yet it stretched out and felt even worse than the long climb in and out of Lane Cove.
There was no one else at camp. I made a quick walk down past all four sites, scouting out things, and decided to take Site 1. It was the first one off the trail and had lots of bonuses, including nearby trees for hanging a clothesline, a large tent footprint, easy access to the cobble beach, and a bare hint of trail leading to the west for sunset. It did not have a lot of shade. I shrugged off my gear and spilled out the contents of my pack.
I made a mental list of the chores I had to do today. So far I had not been eating all of my food for each day and should divide up the leftovers for some of my longer days coming up. Almost everything I had was a little damp and needed to be dried out. Socks and shirt from yesterday to be washed. I needed a good swim myself. And my boots, soaked with dew from the morning, really needed to be dried out. Taking advantage of the empty campsite I hurried up and took care of laundry and bathing before sprawling out on one of the benches for crackers and tuna.
The rest of the warm day was a lovely, slow crawl. Dragonflies and hummingbirds droned nearby as I read my book, checked on the drying clothes, and then read more of the book. Only two events interrupted the slow afternoon: Voyageur II passed by just in earshot on its way around the island and another hiker came into camp. The solo hiker, a young woman, the same person who had spent last night at the other group site at Todd Harbor. I meandered over and we had a brief chat, where I learned she was also doing the Minong but would only be going as far as Lake Desor tomorrow, and I returned to my little site. She seemed like she would rather be on her own this evening.
When the sun began to die down I finished packing up camp and slipped on my mostly-dry boots. The only things that had not completely dried out were my boots and one pair of socks. Not bad for my first attempt at laundry. I would later learn that hot rocks and benches work much better than hanging things up on a line. Grabbing my water and a few cookies I slowly headed out on the bare hint of the trail leading to the west.
As I walked out to the point of Little Todd Harbor I thought about that other hiker, the one going to North Lake Desor tomorrow. She was probably doing things much smarter than I, only doing one leg at a time, yet seemed unsure of her hike tomorrow. Quoting Jim DuFresne's book on the island she had stated that the next five miles was the toughest out here, the same five miles that I planned to do early tomorrow morning. And then I still wanted to do ten more miles after that. If she's unsure of her hike should I scale things back? I could always claim to be a gentleman and see if she wouldn't mind a hiking partner tomorrow. Someone to talk to out there would be nice.
The sun drifted behind more dark clouds before the final sunset, the second fizzled evening show I had seen in a row. I relaxed on the rocks at the point and made my decision. Today had been okay, three hours of hiking followed by a lot of sitting around, but that's not what I came out here for. I came out to Isle Royale to hike. I would wake up early tomorrow and start hiking and not stop until I reached Huginnin Cove. My legs were rested, my gear was ready, and there was no reason to cut my route short. I was ready for my next twenty mile day, Minong style.