the all-seeingeye Isle Royale National Park, 1984

Introduction

This narrative is compiled from two sources-my daily journal, which is the text in roman type, and from notes made on the margins of a map we took with us, which appear in italic type. This was my wife Nancy's first backpacking trip, and the first one I'd taken in almost a decade.

7-29-84

Arrival in Windigo by Dornier, co-opted co-pilot seat before anyone else could claim it. Rather than stay at Washington Creek, decide to go directly to Feldtmann Lake. Long section, perhaps 1/4 mile over boardwalk at the east end of the lake itself. View of the cliff face of the Feldtmann Ridge from a large meadow about 3/4 mile away. Trail at base of cliffs through a talus slope with boulders about fifteen feet across-all covered with moss, making for a very green view.

7-30-84

Awakened to the sound of loud splashing in the lake. Thought perhaps it was another camper. Wrong-three moose, which we scared up. Almost everyone here is catching fish. One person lost two to a fox, very large as foxes go too-saw him. All food inside tent. Nine miles to Siskiwit, most disheartening walk. First half wasn't bad, but second was flat, straight, and almost completely overgrown with thimbleberries. With no landmarks, progress is difficult to gauge, and brushing the weeds aside is terribly tiring. Arrival at patrol cabin cause for celebration. The worst of the trip (I hope) is behind us.

Two items of note marked on the trail for this day. The first is a bald eagle's nest. The trail was moved south about 1/4 mile to get some separation between the people and the birds. There was a small lean-to with an observer watching the birds from the trail. The second item is my notation of a moose. On the map there is a swamp indicated on the hillside. This was formed by an old beaver dam. The trail follows the top of the dam. We were walking along, rather oblivious to everything, when there was this incredible noise from the swamp to our side. A moose rose from the water, dripping weeds, to look at us. A tense moment, at a distance of about thirty feet. Then the moose left.

7-31-84

A much needed day of rest. Sport fisherman tied at dock. A little exploring confirms that the area just 1/2 mile back along the trail was indeed a mine area. A troop of Boy Scouts arrive, at full volume. They can be heard for two miles across the water. Anyone within 100 yards is privy to their every word. The fishermen are not having much luck today. Cedar waxwings have congregated to take advantage of the berry bushes outside the shelter. The beating of their wings is surprisingly loud. Discovered wild peas in quantity along the bank between Siskiwit Camp and the mouth of the Siskiwit Trail.

The waxwings were incredible, the small flock of them managed to completely strip a twenty-foot tree of berries in about a day and a half. I can't remember now what kind of tree it was.

8-1-84

A mist this morning, all the vegetation soaking wet. A bad night as the fishermen returned about 1:00 AM and kept the whole place awake with their talking and door slamming. Took the beach route for the first mile or so, until the Bay turned east again. Pushing through the vegetation-everything is soaked through by the time we head uphill from the bay. The weather clears by the time we reach the Island Mine Camp. The watercourse next to the campsite is almost a linear swamp instead of a watercourse. Best source of water is a pool just downstream of the patrol cabin. Poked into the cabin itself. A lovely and very crude log cabin, with a newly installed skylight and loft.

1984 was the year they first put in the Island Mine camp. Crude would be putting it mildly. The good news is that this means the sites haven't been beaten down. Wood lies everywhere around, much of it freshly cut. This is one of the few places on the island where wood fires are allowed.

8-2-84

Wake to a miserable wet day again. No real rain, but every breeze shakes droplets from the trees. Packed everything damp. A short day, but over the highest point on the island-which is not marked so you don't really know where it is except in retrospect. The sun came out in time for our arrival at South Desor. Everything had plenty of time to dry. Even took baths and did laundry this afternoon. Turns out we actually got here about 1:00, so we must have made pretty good time-although two members of the trail crew who started after we did passed us after the halfway point, moving at a near jog. A couple of real moose types (1 male, 1 female). South Desor Camp itself may be the prettiest campsite on the island. The crew worked all day rearranging the place and levelling new tent sites to give the old ones a rest. We are on a bluff above the lake in a huge stand of birches. The bugs were no real problem until dusk, when the black flies arrived at last. A quick inventory shows that at the halfway point we are still slightly ahead on food and fuel. Just enough to be safe without being a burden. Only some of the powdered milk and lemonade mix need be abandoned.

8-3-84

Desor to Hatchet, passed halfway up Ishpeming by part of the trail crew-doing a steady 4 m.p.h. all the way. I have never seen such a bunch of ground eating fools in my life. At the tower talked to one of them; ten days on, then 4 off, saves about $1,000 a month, with no place to spend it. Eligible for 20 weeks unemployment at the end of the season. Discovered that all of the structures in the interior-including fire towers, are to be destroyed over the next four years.

I was of two minds about the destruction of the small trail cabin. On one hand I understand the basis of the destruction, but I regret the destruction of something which is so appealing as that small cabin.

8-4-84

Somewhere between 11-12 miles today, with severe stomach flu from the halfway point to about 3/4 of the way. Hot bare ridge and loose footing. Re-met a guy from Germany we saw at Lake Desor. I'm extremely glad for the day of rest we'll have tomorrow.

8-5-84

Nancy develops the stomach flu. We are considering taking the Voyager from McCargo Cove instead of walking the remaining distance. A group arrives in camp-the noisiest by far, so much so that I have to ask them (rudely I fear) to shut up. The leader didn't take it well at all. The island has become too popular.

8-6-84

We take the Voyager from McCargo to Rock Harbor. I had not known that there is still one small fishing settlement on the island. We arrive one day earlier than planned, so it is not a great change in plans.


8-7-84

Rained during the night-miserable inside a tent I didn't have the strength to pitch properly. Water collected in the sagging fly and gushed in during the night. A better day with clear skies. The German catches up with us today. He has to borrow boiled water from us as he ran out of alcohol yesterday. Unfortunately his stove won't burn anything else. I remember he talked about hiking in the mountains that bordered East Germany. He told us about the availability of hot showers at the lodge. Nancy and I shared a shower, which was completely against the rules.


8-8-84

An uneventful trip back by boat to Houghton. Travelled north to Copper Harbor and stayed at the Minnetonka. Took saunas and relaxed.