Thursday, August 20, 2009

Isle Royale, Day 5: Todd Harbor – Hawk Island – Birch Island Campground – McCargoe Cove

Total Distance=13.2 miles; Time=5hrs

After going at it all night, the rain has slowed down and stopped as we were eating lazy breakfast and drinking hot beverages to shake the damp blues away. Sufficiently emancipated from the lethargic claws of the night, we decided to take a hike to Hatchet Lake. The gear would get some chance to dry and we would get some workout for our legs and feet after a long day of paddling. Of course, we also wanted to see some of the island interior.

Or so we thought… Little past half way to Hatchet we decided to turn back. The whole hike all we could see was aspen forest and undergrowth of all sorts. Abundance of fat ripe thimbleberries was the only prize worth claiming on this hike. The rain came drizzling back and by the time we were back at the campsite it was raining full steam again. We missed our window to pack the gear without rain. Packing the wet stuff away and putting on the wet paddling clothes was just not all that much fun. Be that as it may, we paddled out to the northeast into some strong northeast winds well past noon. Protected inside the harbor at first and then fully exposed within a couple of miles.

This was the day when reflections started. Not the deep introspective kind, three-to-five foot waves amplified by the vertical shoreline stayed with us for the next three days. The waves coming with a northerly flavor made for very interesting and lively paddling conditions. I've paddled in reflecting water for minutes at a time before—never for hours, leave alone, days after days. To be fair, there were long breaks in the chop as we hid behind large off-shore isles. Otherwise, staying in the confused water close to shore offered some protection from the winds which were partially blocked by the island. Just off shore, the land quickly ascended up to the maximum elevation of about 800 feet above the lake level. Paddling out to avoid water moguls was not going to make forward progress any easier. With all this unanticipated excitement, it wasn't long before I needed to answer the nature call as well a little rest in the rain on the naked Hawk Island. Getting used to constant unpredictable rocking from all sides takes nerve and time. In spite of the novelty, though, the urgency with which the nature call came did not feel quite right. I have a stretchy bladder; we left Todd Harbor merely an hour ago, and I don't remember needing to go that badly since I was a child.

After the welcome break on the inhospitable rocks of the Hawk, we were promptly back at it again. Paddled in the lee of this small island but before long the going turned into a grueling push in confused waves and into the strong wind that was backing to the north. After about an hour of this struggle we decided not to push for the shelter-less Pickerel Cove campground we had indicated on our trip plan. Instead, we would seek shelter on Birch Island just inside the McCargoe Cove. The thought of erecting a wet tent and spending another night in the damp cold rain was not very appealing to say the least!

What luck! The only shelter on Birch Island is unoccupied, carefully cleaned by whoever camped there last and what a beautiful view of the Cove from the "window!" There was also a campsite on this Island just up the hill from the shelter and a lonely outhouse after another short climb. We had the whole island to ourselves. The shelter itself is a thin-walled wood structure about 20'x12' and 10' tall in the front sloping down to about 8' in the back. Back and side walls are solid wood boards while the front wall is fine bug-proof screen. The whole structure is built a couple of feet off the ground. There was nothing on the inside except for a broom and a small dust pick-up as well as nails randomly pounded into the walls and the rafters. Oh, yes, and some graffiti—mostly tasteful.

We quickly dropped all the heavy gear out of the hatches into the shelter and set out to explore the McCargoe Cove. What a difference paddling an empty boat on flat water when compared to one bursting at the seams with gear in waves and wind! I never thought paddling flat water can feel that good.

The cove proved to be absolutely pristine. A couple of sailboats kindly left the shelter to us. They were gently swaying in the calm waters of the bay. Loons and a curious playful otter greeted us from the water. At the southern tip of the cove there is a small stream running to the Chickenbone Lake. We followed it in hoping to catch a glimpse some moose. The underwater kitchen was fully stocked for these majestic animals. Moose like to munch on water vegetation. We saw plenty of paths leading form the banks to the main river channel. These channels looked like likely moose entry points but, alas, there was no moose for us on that day. I can't blame them either—in the non-stop rain like this, who thinks about eating?

The little river drastically reduced in size at the site of the portage to Chickenbone Lake. It's quite possible that the wider river bed is a man-made artifact. We turned around. To our surprise, the playful otter was waiting for us back at the entrance to the Cove. So we played with it for a while. Subsequently, we paddled by McCargoe Cove campground where several shelters were clearly occupied and two large sailboat were moored at the dock.

The day was quickly drawing to a close so back to the shelter on Birch Island for dinner it was for us. Then all we wanted to do was dry and dry, and dry out, and dry off, and dry any way possible. It was till raining outside so we cooked our meals inside the shelter. There are no bears or raccoons to worry about at Isle Royale. The shelter walls are strong enough to protect us against squirrels and other rodents.

  Go to: Day 6Day 7 Reflections

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