Isle Royale June 2015 – Day 1 – Rock Harbor to Three Mile


Trail Miles: 2.7   Total Miles: 2.7

On Thursday, June 11th, Andrew and I took off from work an hour or so early to try and and get up to Houghton as quickly as possible.  After a 6 hour drive, we made it to the Country Inn and Suites in Houghton around 11:30 Eastern time.  To help us pass the time, we listened to the audiobook of A Game of Thrones, which Andrew has read, but I haven’t.  Definitely a good way to pass the time!

We woke up excited on Friday morning and headed out to the dock to board the Ranger III.  Houghton definitely seems like the kind of place you could easily spend an afternoon exploring, which I think would be a lot of fun some time that we’re in the area in the future.  We got to the Ranger III at about 8 AM, an hour before the boat was leaving, so we grabbed our souvenir – a pin to place on our map of NPS locations visited.  We also got our National Parks Passport stamped.  It was chilly and somewhat foggy, but everyone was very excited to get going to Isle Royale.

One thing that was poor planning on my part – your packs get checked into cargo, so if you want to have anything on the boat, you’ll need to pull it out ahead of time.  We grabbed our Kindles, my notebook and cell phone, camera, and Dramamine and we were off.  I’d recommend either bringing a small day pack or filling a dry bag with entertainment, a snack, your camera, a water bottle, and a warm jacket (like a down coat) before getting to the boat.  Lesson learned for next time!


The Ranger III

The Ranger III kind of feels like it belongs in a Wes Anderson movie, if it had a bit more pink.  It is comfortable, but definitely dated.  I was a bit surprised at how many families were on the boat with young children.  It made me super happy to see that there were kids as young as 10 or so who were just as excited as we were to get on the island.  I never went backpacking as a kid, but I hope that eventually when Andrew and I grow our family that we can take our kids into the wilderness as well.  The 6 hour boat ride to Isle Royale includes a LNT orientation and issuing of backcountry permits.  After we boarded, we quickly grabbed a pair of seats by the window and watched the Keweenaw Waterway go by.

I took a Dramamine as a preventative measure and took a nap as my GoPro recorded a time lapse.  Later on in our trip, I read the park newsletter, the Greenstone, checked out the map, and we submitted our intended path for our permits.

Double checking the path we planned to take

Double checking the path we planned to take

At 2:00, we started entering Rock Harbor and dropped off some rangers at Mott Island, the park’s headquarters.  Excitement was definitely growing on the boat – we were nearly there!  We landed at Rock Harbor at just about 3 PM, grabbed our packs and water and were ready to go!  Fully loaded with food, fuel, and water, my pack weighed 34 pounds, and Andrew’s weighed 48.  We didn’t hang around – we were ready to get hiking!  We set off on the Rock Harbor trail at 3:15.

The Rock Harbor Trail looks very flat on a map, but topo lines are deceiving – most of the hiking is done on exposed rock between Rock Harbor and Three Mile.  The trail rarely is more than 25 feet above Lake Superior, but the slanted rocks can be hard on the feet.  The views of Lake Superior and Rock Harbor were absolutely breathtaking.  The lake is extremely clear here, giving it a sapphire blue color where it gets deep.  There wasn’t much wind, so the glassy surface of the lake looked even smoother.

Day 1 on the Rock Harbor Trail

Our route, in red

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Isle Royale June 2015 – Introduction & Planning

Isle Royale National Park is the least visited, but most re-visited, national park in the lower 48.  It covers an entire 200 square mile island in Lake Superior with a very unique ecosystem; at 13 miles from the nearest landmass (Canada), mammals on the island are limited to just twenty species.  In addition to foxes, rabbits, and squirrels, there is a very well studied wolf and moose population on Isle Royale.  Unfortunately, because of a lack of genetic diversity and disease, the wolf population is down to just three wolves from its all time high of 50, but the moose are thriving right now because of a lack of predation.


When Andrew and I started backpacking, Isle Royale came up as a really interesting trip plan – it’s quiet, secluded, and a relatively close to Madison.  You can only get to the park easily between May and Septmeber, and it is one of very few national parks that actually closes.  We started planning out trip about six months in advance (hey, I’m a planner!) and chose to go early in the season.  We hoped we might miss some of the bugs, as they are the worst from late June through July, and had planned on going to Yellowstone later in the season and wanted to do a shakedown trip before then.  Unfortunately, the Yellowstone trip had to get cut with the number of friends we have getting married around the country in the next six months, so five nights at Isle Royale is our big trip for the year.

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I Hate Hiking in the Rain

We will be heading to Isle Royale National Park on Friday, returning next Wednesday.  Weather looks like it could be great!  Hopefully it stays this way.  30% chance of storms and rain on Sunday, but temperate and nice the rest of our time.2015-06-08 10_37_47-Houghton, Michigan Forecast _ Weather Underground

Fitbit Data

Although I’m not particularly interesting as far as my Fitbit data goes, I do enjoy reviewing it after a backpacking trip.  I’ve compiled some of my data so you can see what it looks like if you’re curious about what your data would look like.  I own a Fitbit One, which logs floors climbed, steps, calories burned (estimate, of course), and sleep data.  It does not log heart rate or GPS data, like the Charge HR or Surge.

This is what a normal day looks like for me:



I am definitely not a super active person.  I hang out in my office, walk occasionally for meetings, and move around a bit at home.

However, when I’m hiking, it looks much more like this (some data from our trip to the Porkies) :




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April Porcupine Mountains Overnight

Last weekend (April 17, 2015) Andrew and I each were free on Friday and decided to take a trip up to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It was going to be warm and sunny and seemed like a great way to get away for the weekend.  At almost 60,000 acres, it’s well over 10 times as big as Governor Dodge State Park, our easily accessible Wisconsin state park less than an hour from Madison.  This park is bigger than 15 US National Parks, including popular ones like Acadia National Park in Maine.

Our initial plan was to leave Madison around 9 AM (Central time), get to the Porcupine Mountains around 3 PM (Eastern time) and hike for 3 days.  Our plan was to hike about 8 miles along the Big Carp River from Lake of the Clouds, camp at Shining Cloud Falls our first night, continue along the Lake Superior Trail for our second night, and return to the Lake of the Clouds Scenic area on Sunday.porkiesplans


Our plans definitely changed as the weekend went on.  We got a late start and didn’t hit the trail until almost 5 PM Eastern.  In addition, the ranger who had helped us with our permits let us know that there was a good bit of rain expected on Sunday night and that the Big Carp River had a crossing that may be muddy/unsafe due to snowmelt.  We actually wound up doing an out and back on the Big Carp River Trail to the connection to the Correction Line Trail and did some day hiking and returned to Madison on Saturday night.  Though we didn’t do our intended trip, it was definitely great to hit the trail again!

We started off at the Lake of the Clouds Scenic area around 5 PM.  Our delay was caused by (1) a late start from Madison and (2) a few stops along the way.  Side note – the drive through northern Wisconsin was absolutely beautiful.

Interestingly (to me at least), Porcupine Mountains State Park is partially in the Central time zone and partially in Eastern.  The Porkies are just barely east of Madison and very significantly west of Green Bay, so although we arrived late, we still had a lot of daylight left.  We were still concerned about losing the light and crossing the Big Carp River at sunset, so we decided that we would start off with an easy 5 miles to the first group of campsites actually on the Big Carp River.

The Lake of the Clouds is a beautiful lake over 120 feet over Lake Superior.  The trail starts another 75 or 100 feet over the lake itself on a escarpment.  For the first two miles or so, the trail is exposed the the rocky bluffs overlooking the lake and the valley below and occasional glimpses of Lake Superior.  It was about 60 degrees and lightly breezy as we hiked along, perfect weather for carrying a heavy pack.


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Long Weekend Trip Planning

The weather is supposed to be beautiful and I have Friday off, so Andrew and I are going out of our usual comfort zone and heading up to Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains State Park for a few days!  2 nights, probably 18-20 miles.  5 hours of driving to get up there from Madison.  Can’t wait for our first pack nights of the year!

Yellowstone Permits

We got our Yellowstone Permits last week!  We’re going to go from Old Faithful on the Bechler River Trail down to Grassy Lake – about 40 miles.  We’ll cross the Continental divide twice and see some amazing geothermal features.