Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hike to Lookout Louise

Isle Royale continued.... 

Day two dawned clear and bright. I had spent a rather restless night in my tent, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds. The White-throated sparrows had sung well past 11:00 pm, and started up again before 4:00 am. Loons woke me several times, their haunting calls floating up from Tobin Harbor. My biggest problem, however, was that I was cold most of the night. In spite of having and insulated pad and a down bag rated to 15 degrees, and wearing wool socks, long johns, a mock turtle and hat and gloves, I was uncomfortably chilled. I also kept sliding off my pad, and would find myself either on the ground or with my head up against the tent wall. I had to pull my backpack up against the pad to help hold me on--and to hold some heat in. I don't know how cold it got at night--there was never any frost, but I would guess into the upper 30's several nights.

Our daily ritual went like this: We all met at the Dassler cabin in the morning. Coffee was on by 7:00 am (I don't drink the stuff), breakfast at 8:00. Alan would sit at the table with his walkie-talkie and get the weather forecast for the day. Then we were off to work by 9:00 am. Lunch was at noon, then back to work by 1:00 pm, then we'd be done with work at 5:00. Dinner was to be served at 6:00, then we'd have the rest of the day to ourselves.

Mary was our primary cook, serving up breakfast and lunch, so her work duties were at the Dassler cabin. I was slated to cook the first three dinners, and I had planned three vegetarian dishes that were essentially one-pot meals that cooked up fairly quickly and made a lot of food. The kitchen at the cabin is small but well-stocked, and has a propane refrigerator and stove top with an oven. There is a sink with a drain to an outside cistern but no running water. A full compliment of pots, pans and dishes is available too.

My duties for the day were to work with Liz, another first-timer, and Alan the boat man, picking up trash that had already been bagged at the Kemmer cottage. Kemmer is where the Artist-in-Residence program was first housed. It's a much bigger dwelling than Dassler, with a large living room, kitchen and two bedrooms, as well as a guest cabin and huge boat house in back. There are also solar panels for electricity and a couple of 250 gallon propane tanks.

There were logistical issues with using the cottage due to it's location on the far side of Tobin Harbor. To get to Rock Harbor, one would either have to paddle across Tobin Harbor, which is sometimes impossible, or hike all the way around, which is at least seven miles. The Dassler cabin, on the other hand, is at the end of a two mile trail to Rock Harbor, so residents were much less likely to be stranded.

Kemmer cottage.

I found a better map of the area that shows the entire northern end of the island. I don't know exactly where the Kemmer cottage is located, so this is a guess.

Map of the northern tip of Isle Royale

We made two trips to Kemmer to load trash and then take it all the way around to Rock Harbor, a trip of at least a half hour, so we easily spent two hours in the boat that day. We loaded trash into huge dumpsters at Rock Harbor, which would then be loaded onto the Ranger III and taken back to Houghton. After our second trip we stopped at the store for ice cream.

Dinner went well, and afterwards I walked down to the dock to write in my journal. Around 7:30 four of my fellow camp mates came down to the docks to paddle across the harbor to the trailhead for Lookout Louise. I was exhausted but jumped at the chance to go. I really wanted to see as much of the island as I could. We paddled down past the dock at the trailhead and pulled the canoes up on shore near Hidden Lake (see map inset, above). The trail wound steadily upward, past Monument Rock before reaching the overlook, at about 875 feet.

Zack and Mike take in Monument Rock

As we neared the top the trees opened up onto this high meadow. The moose keep areas like this free of trees, allowing grasses and wildflower to flourish.

Meadow near Lookout Louise

As we climbed up through the meadow movement in the nearby trees caught my eye. I asked everyone to stop so I could get some photos. Turns out the birds were Gray jays, a new bird for me!

Even with all the time I spend in the U.P. I'd never seen a Gray jay before.

The view from Lookout Louise was spectacular and well worth the mile hike, regardless of how tired I was. The small bays and islands on the west side lay sprawled before us, and in the distance, Canada was visible.

Duncan Bay (near) and Five Finger Bay from Lookout Louise.

Duncan Bay in the foreground, with Thunder Bay, Ontario on the horizon.

Lookout Louise is situated along the trail known as the Greenstone, which runs the length of the island. Hiking the Greenstone is a feather in the cap of many backpackers who come to the island. It's a tough hike--distances between campgrounds can be challenging, there's not a lot of water up on the ridge, and when it's wet, the rocky trail can be extremely treacherous.

New leaves on the aspens on Grass Point, across Duncan Bay.

We lingered as long as we dared, knowing we had to return to Dassler before dark. Mike and I talked art and photography, and we all bathed in the warm evening light. Then we hustled back down the ridge to our boats.

Looking at this image makes me want to go back!

As we paddled back across Tobin Harbor the sun slipped below the horizon, and lit the bottoms of the clouds.

Sunset over Tobin Harbor

Then we noticed the moon, just a sliver in the evening sky, and we all decided our first full day on Isle Royale could not have been more perfect.


Next: Days three and four on Isle Royale


  1. I would love to go to a plave that that in like July hahah

    1. The bugs are usually bad in June/July but they were practically non-existent when we were there. August would be a good time to go, but in June you get wildflowers (as you will see soon!).