Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Isle Royale, Day 4: Rainbow Point – America Wreck – Huginnin Cove – Little Todd Harbor – Todd Harbor Campground

Total Distance=28.8 miles; Time=11hrs.

Down with the sun and up with the sun. We rose with heavy eyelids for an early start this morning. If all goes according to plan, the most unforgiving section of the trip is ahead of us this afternoon. Not just that, the start of that section is still 10 miles away.

Fortunately, a short hike to the lake revealed that the violent stormy seas of yesterday were gone as if with a swoosh of the magic wand! I mean completely and totally gone. I could swear I still heard the roar of the wind in the trees but there was absolutely no wind and no more than six inches of gentle swell left over. When we ended the day last night the Lady was still cursing like an old sailor. In the morning she was barely willing to move, smiling and lazily yawning like a pampered princess after a good night of sleep. It was hard to believe but, there we were, covering the calmest miles of our entire trip and only a short night's sleep separated us from a day of the most violent weather of the trip. That's Lake Superior at its best!

Even in the lower 60s the day was too warm for comfort at 7am. With the drysuits and skimpy insulation under them we were dunking into the cold 50 degree water often to keep from overheating. Given yesterday's delay, we skipped the scheduled stop in Rainbow Cove and did not do the hike to Feldtmann Lake after all. Bummer.

Instead, a straight line crossing from Rainbow to Cumberland Point was the route. From there we took a turn to the NNE toward 4-mile deep Washington Harbor. A beautiful sight revealed itself after rounding the Cumberland Point. Low shoreline shooting up a couple hundred feet into steep hills all covered with thick lush green trees. Multiple islands scattered at the mouth of this harbor like a crumb trail tempting us to go in. Unfortunately, we lost too much distance yesterday and decided to push on. A stop at Windigo was not in our schedule (or whatever loose structure there was resembling a schedule) unless a need of some sort came up for resupply. What we saw there was seductive. With time to spare, I would have liked to explore that stretch. Secretly, skipping this excursion was also our strategy for having an excuse to come back…

Now that we were travelling to the NNE, a nice half-foot swell funneled into the mouth of the harbor and, along with some wind, it helped push us forward very nicely. It was a fresh and most welcome change from battling the head winds on previous three days.

We passed Grace Island campsite and were glad that we didn't push for it the day before. Multiple fishing boats were moored there and we could clearly hear loud banging of the shelter doors and careless yells of the inhabitants. Then a one of them showed up on the dock with hands full of coolers and other gear and a cigarette in his mouth hanging down to his knees. It was probably one of the accounts of camping on Grace Island that I have read, but from the cockpit in the peaceful water it looked like an epitome of disrespect. Not a pleasant re-introduction to our own species after two-and-a-half days in the wild by any stretch.

Past the mouth of Washington Harbor, right where the shoreline takes a turn from NNE to ENE we stopped to see the remains of sunken cruise ship America. The wreck is marked by a buoy and was clearly visible under our hulls. Former NPS employee planted the seeds of doom around this site in our heads. We were looking forward to this place as a highlight of the trip; however, the ominous words of the ranger echoed in the head and I did feel uneasy over the sunken giant. A single dog perished in this accident but the ghost of drowned victims from other wrecks must travel and change their homes freely underwater. Real or not, I felt them there under the surface. Can't describe in words what it was but something dark and foreboding clearly lurked under the waters.

As we were taking a short break on top of America, a ferry from Grand Portage emerged from behind Thompson Island. I decided to entertain the passengers and test the crew by capsizing as soon the wave from its wake hit my quarter. I was due for a refresher anyway… The ghosts underneath wanted me. I failed two rolls in a row in calm water after practicing all morning long and hitting the one that counted on the previous day. No one on the ferry seemed to notice or care. I felt the chills of the ghostly touch quickly melt away as I saw Russ calmly standing guard a short distanced away. I didn't realize it at the time, but now I recall—I did not roll anymore that day. Or for the rest of the trip for that matter…

We quietly slipped through the North Gap and paddled on to Huginnin Cove. The shoreline on the north side of the island was as predicted—rocky and steep with few landing areas. Huginnin Cove itself was a gorgeous spot for a rest stop! According to the information we had, it was the last comfortable one for the next 13 miles too. We found a sole couple in a campsite on the NE point there. They bent over backwards trying to hurry up and vacate the beautiful site as quickly as they could for our lunch break. Every camper we met on the island without exception was overly nice and congenial. We decided to take a long lunch and cook at the campsite rather than have cold snacks. It turned into a two-hour ordeal. After a short while I began to feel cold. Managing core temperature while paddling and then jumping into and out of the drysuit is a tricky business. A fleece was needed to keep comfortable. A hot cup of tea helped too!

From Huginnin we checked the weather radio and departed on to the 13 mi stretch without much landing opportunity reassured by what we heard. Along the way there were plenty of places to land when the water is calm; however, anything but the south wind can produce significant waves through here and with the waves the landing could become very tricky. Most of the landing platforms we saw were tiny rock beaches with nowhere to go after landfall. They were surrounded by steep rock walls much like solitary prison cells. Land there a kayaker in trouble could but not much else. Not much good standing there and getting hammered by every wave. Good thing there is not much fetch from the north here. Waves from the east or the west can easily build to substantial heights and bend onto shore due to refraction and diffraction.

Steep walls of rock ranging from several to hundreds of feet tall were nice to look at first. After a while the paddle started to drag. Getting habituated to mile after mile of cliffs without much change in scenery is very easy. Flat water is not my favorite pastime. And then, just as I was ramping up the internal complaints, what a treat!

A couple hundred feet in front of us a bold eagle suddenly folded its wings and fell into the water from about 50 feet in the air. Big splash and it emerged in the air with a sizable fish in its talons. It flew to shore to eat on a cliff but abandoned the catch as we approached within about several hundred feet. Very skittish these birds are! The bird flew away and it did not look like it was going to return after we passed. I wish we knew it was that easy to scare—we would have paddled farther from shore. We could almost touch the seagulls with the paddle and really did not expect to scare such a magnificent bird so easily.

Around 6 PM we pulled into Little Todd Harbor. Nice campsites in the aspen forest there with a nice group of campers. There was some temptation to call it a day but we decided to push on for another 6 miles to Todd Harbor. The campers were clearly entertained by our arrival. They even snapped some pictures which I received in the e-mail a week or so later. How's that for camaraderie! Russ was invigorated by their account of a moose sighting at McCargoe Cove. The hikers were not too excited about their hike from Todd Harbor to Little Todd—boring flat terrain in the forest with nothing much to see. And the rain did not help at all.

By the time we reached Todd Harbor the wind from the east was starting to pick up and waves were approaching 6". The scenery between the two Todds was very similar the earlier stretch from Huginnin—steep never-ending rock walls. The harbor was much bigger compared to Little Todd and offered a camping base with multiple shelters, individual and group campsites. Despite all that space, it was quite busy when we arrived just short of the sunset. Two campsites were still unoccupied and we claimed one for the night. Two patches of hard ground surrounded by dense woods less than 100' from the main trail—definitely not something to write home about.

By the time we secured the boats on shore and carried our gear to the campsite it started to rain. Then is started to pour down really hard. The tarp served great for unpacking, changing, and cooking that night. Don't leave home without it. It rained pretty hard all night but I was too tired to be bothered by it much. The last forecast before drifting into the dream world was for building winds and seas overnight and into the morning hours. The wind was supposed to shift more to the north in the early afternoon so there was no rush to push into the NE head winds.

Go to: Day 5Day 6Day 7Reflections

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