Day 42 – 3rd Day on Isle Royale

We decide to hit the trail early. After so many nights in the tent, we are very efficient at packing up. We roll up our mattress pads, sleeping bag liners, blanket and extra clothes, stashing them in stuff sacks and putting them outside the tent when we first get out. I take an extra minute to put in my contacts and sweep down the tent, flipping the edge so the pine needles and most other debris fall out.

I measure and boil water for oatmeal while Walt starts to take down the tent. While the water’s boiling, I help him fold up the tent, then we have breakfast, clean up and re-pack our backpacks. It’s funny to think how awkward this all was in Maine and now when we fold the tent, we both know we’re going to shake one side first and then exactly how we’re going to fold it and who (Walt) is going to roll it up. It’s actually a very comforting ritual and we do it very smoothly, with very little talking.

Our fellow hikers were not exaggerating about the state of the trail. It’s like nothing we’ve ever hiked. The thimbleberries, grasses, ferns and everything else green have just overtaken the trail. We opted not to wear our rain gear even though we know all the foliage would be wet this early in the morning and within half an hour our fronts are soaked from the waist down. The day is warm so we’re in no danger of hypothermia and by the time we stop for lunch, we have dried out.

At many points the foliage is over my head and at one point I stop and ask Walt to fish out his phone for a couple of photos because this is pretty unbelievable. I’m pretty much just holding my hiking poles in front of me to push away the jungle while making sure my feet aren’t hitting any resistance – that’s the only way I can tell we’re still on the trail. Despite all this, we are moving pretty fast, at least at our usual 2 mph pace, if not faster. Looking for the bright side, I remark that at least the trail is fairly level and the ground is dry; if the trail were muddy like La Cloche had been, I’m sure I would have had another meltdown.

As it is, we get through the overgrowth in pretty good time and head into the birch forest that leads us uphill to the fire tower, which is a little more than halfway to tonight’s campsite. The forest is easy to hike and eventually we come out to a pretty rock ridge. There’s no one else at the fire tower, so we pull out our stove and have another chicken-and-mashed-potatoes hot lunch, sitting in the tower, enjoying the view out to Lake Superior and a lighthouse in the distance. It’s lovely.

We continue hiking along the open ridge, with tall grasses that, thankfully, haven’t overgrown the trail until we come to a cliff edge that overlooks the eastern end of Feldtmann Lake. Unfortunately our camp is on the western end of the lake and it’s a pretty good-sized lake.

I’m ready for camp about 20 minutes before we hit the trail junction sign that tells us we’ve arrived. But it’s still early afternoon; we’ve hiked our 10.5 miles in 5 hours plus half an hour for our lunch stop. There’s no one else in camp so we get our pick of sites and choose No. 2, right on the lake. We set up camp. Again, we have a set rhythm and it doesn’t take long so soon we’re enjoying the sunny afternoon reading and dozing.

I hear waves on the shore, which seems odd since this is a lake completely contained by the island – there’s no boaters here and there doesn’t seem to be much wind. Then I hear a splash. Hmmm.

I get up and walk over to the shore and sure enough, there’s a bull moose swimming in the water. I get Walt, who has retreated to the shade of the tent, and we watch the moose take an afternoon dip some 40 yards from us. We really only can see his head and his antlers and our phone cameras are not good enough to get any good pictures but it’s exciting for us. We’ve been in moose country several times on this trip, including in New Hampshire and La Cloche, where we saw lots of moose scat, but this is our first moose. After 10 minutes or so, the moose heads out of the water and into the woods.

A ranger had told us we had a good chance of seeing a moose in this lake but on our first day we ran into a couple who said they had hiked on the island three times and had only just seen their first moose, so we weren’t confident that we would see one. We go to sleep very contented that we have gone through our longest day, the worst of the foliage and seen a moose.

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