In my previous post on ‘Planning for 2017’ I wrote briefly on going back to Isle Royale. I find this desire to backpack here very humorous because the last time I did this with the rest of my family I was adamant that backpacking was not for me and I would never do it again. I was glad to have experienced it once but that was enough. And now I can’t wait to return and hike further and for more days. What happened?
Either I’ve gone crazy or have gained more knowledge on backpacking. First lets figure out why there was no desire to backpack again. Most of this came from hiking with a lot of extra weight on my back causing pain in my shoulders and back every time my pack was hoisted back onto my shoulders. The second reason is that sleeping was cold and uncomfortable leaving me tired much of the time longing for a good nights sleep. Other than that, I enjoyed the time on the island.
So what’s different now? A number of things have changed my opinion of backpacking bringing on an excitement to do it again. First is all of the information and experience I’ve gained since then increasing the confidence to be able to hike with extra weight and actually enjoy it. I now have a good idea of what is involved in preparing for an extended hike which includes hiking locally with a heavy backpack for a couple of miles each time along with biking a couple of days a week for several miles putting me in better shape. Also I have a nicer camera that I really enjoy using and Isle Royale is a great place for beautiful photographs adding to my excitement to be there.
If I do this right the training backpack will be heavier than my actual pack making it seem like no big deal to carry all day long. Add to this increased muscle strength to be able to carry the weight while working around rocks and tree roots, using trekking poles to keep better balance and weight distribution, and bringing fewer items reducing my overall back pack weight should combine to make a fun hiking experience.
A few weeks after returning from Isle Royale the last time I began to go through our supplies and determined how I would pack differently another time to reduce the weight I was carrying. It was amazing how much different things felt for each pound we removed either in food or water weight making the pack lighter. We definitely brought too much food last time and heavy food at that. That is an easy place to reduce weight by several pounds. Also, sleeping gear last time was heavy lugging small air mattresses, cotton sheets, and blankets. This time a sleeping bag, light sleeping pad, and maybe a small pillow which should eliminate more weight. My only concern is increased weight in camera equipment so I will have to watch that part. As far as sleeping goes, I know there won’t be great sleep so I’m prepared for that so it should be less of a concern.
Training for hiking in the Rocky Mountains in 2016 and how successful it was and I was at completing a couple of 10 mile + hikes at higher elevations has proven to me that I can adequately train for this trip and go the distance with my backpack. In fact, at times I would even forget I was carrying my backpack loaded with clothing, food, and water all as a result of training before hand. The pack will be heavier this time as it will include more food, a tent, sleeping gear, and probably more clothing so I understand what I need to do to prepare. I’m so looking forward to this but there is much to do before then.
Canadian Geese should be expected this close to Canada so not a big surprise.
This is a caterpillar of a Luna Moth. I’ve only seen one other caterpillar like this and still haven’t seen the moth itself.
I believe this is the Painted Lady Butterfly. Fairly common in this part of the country.
Somehow squirrels made it to the island. They were always eager to help with meals. Unfortunately for this one we didn’t leave anything behind as feeding the animals in a national park is not allowed.
Seagulls are fairly common. I just liked how this one was posing appearing very proud.
There are a multitude of ducks around Isle Royale. I believe this is a Mallard enjoying the morning sun.
Another animal that I can’t quite grasp how they got to the island. They must have stowed away on a boat at one time.
We enjoyed watching this group of ducks. When we first saw them we could only see the mother swimming. After watching for a few minutes one of the babies popped up from under the surface of the water, then another, and then the other 3 or 4. It was entertaining to watch as they would swim on the surface for a minute or two and then dive into the water staying under until the surface was calm and there was no sign they were there. All of a sudden they would begin reappearing in the blink of an eye.
Of course one of the more popular animals on Isle Royale are moose. We were fortunate to see this mother with her two calves stroll right in front of our campsite. There was another moose with her calf that met us on one of the trails causing a slight delay because those who know understand that the moose owns the area they are walking on. It is not considered a good idea to confront a moose, especially one with a calf. Some of the other wildlife on this island include foxes and wolves. We did not get to see either one. It is my understanding that the foxes are sneaking creatures finding creative ways to steal campers stuff so it may not be a bad thing that we did not see any.
The typical first reaction to this photograph is “What a beautiful sunset or sunrise!” People are never fully sure which one it is. Once it is explained to them that this was taken at night, they are often shocked. This photograph was taken at the same time of night as the one below showing all of the stars and the Milky way. Isn’t it amazing just how much light a city the size of Thunder Bay in Ontario Canada can give off? This photo is taken from one of our campsites on Isle Royale.
One of my expectations when traveling to Isle Royale National Park was that the nights would be extremely dark especially when there is no moonlight. I was very surprised to find this much light in what was suppose to be such an excluded location. The photo below shows how clear the stars can be when looking straight up into the wondrous night sky. There are so many people that never get the opportunity to see all of the stars and everything that is going on above us. It was incredible to see just how many satellites there are orbiting the Earth. As a bonus we were privileged to see some of the Perseid Meteor Shower while gazing into the twinkling lights above.
-Take a moment to realize how little you actually need to live while you’re hiking and surviving on only the things you can carry on your back. There are so many distractions in life that we begin to believe are necessary filling houses with so much stuff to occupy our time. It’s nice to live in a simple manner if only for a few days. These few days of simple living can also serve as reminder to appreciate the comforts of home.
-One aspect of taking a backpacking trip that no one mentioned to me ahead of time was training for it. Adding a 40 pound backpack to your weight instantly puts a lot of stress on your body especially while walking up and down hills, over rocks and trees, and any other obstacles on the trail. Some methods of training include putting on the pack and running, using a Stairmaster while wearing the pack, or just go hiking on local trails with your pack on. You make think this is not necessary or be a little concerned about what people are thinking as they see you training with a backpack but it will make a huge difference on how much you enjoy your backpacking experience. After completing the first hiking trip I entered a conversation with more experience backpackers on what they do to get ready for the physical endurance required. Two of these included ex Marines that agreed backpacking is tougher than the training in the military regarding carry packs. In the military training may include running with a 40 pound pack for 10 miles but these miles are on flat, smooth surfaces. The trail is very rarely flat and smooth!
-Take a few moments and just be. What does this mean? Sit or stand still and close your eyes to listen to all the activity that is going on around you. The breeze moving leaves, critters rustling around, birds fluttering, a deer off in the distance. After a few minutes open your eyes to the amazing vista you came to visit. Just listen and feel yourself breathing: your heart pumping, lungs inhaling and exhaling the fresh air, your muscles aching reminding you of the feats your accomplishing. Realize how few people actually get to experience this solitude of the wilderness. People call these the simple pleasures in life. I believe these are reminders of the great and necessary things in life.
I hope these tips help you understand what is involved in a backpacking trip so that you are better prepared and most of all enjoy your first experience.
To read more about my first experience check out these articles:
An Easy National Parks Trip?
Isle Royale Preparations Update
A Night on Isle Royale…or Three
If you’ve never been on an overnight backpacking trip before but have the urge to see what it’s all about like I did, here’s some tips from my first experience.
-Every backpacker is looking for 3 things from their gear:
1. Quality to last
2. Lightweight for easier carrying
Pick 2 out of 3 because getting all 3 is very unlikely
-Realize that for your first time out your are going to be carrying a lot of weight for a couple of reasons. First, you will most likely over pack for your trip simply because you have never done this before and are unsure of exactly what you will need and what you can live without. Being caught in a rainstorm without rain gear or running out of food during a hike are not going to make your trip fun. Second, acquiring lightweight gear is something that takes a number of trips to accomplish due to the expense of it so for the first time you will likely have equipment that is reduced cost but heavier to carry. Some options for finding good lightweight gear include borrowing it from someone you know that has it or renting gear from an outfitter.
-bring a partial roll of duct tape. This stuff comes in a variety of colors and patterns now instead of just the good old grey to make it a little more fun to use. Ultimately you want this as it can be a versatile fix it tool. If something breaks or rips on your tent, clothing, or hiking boots duct tape can get you through your trip. In a pinch you could make a rope out of it by twisting long pieces of tape together or use it as a medical bandage.
-when planning your meals, try to plan a couple of meals that don’t require cooking each day especially if that day requires a lot of hiking. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, you save on fuel. Second, and probably more importantly you save water and time. Cooking a meal requires water to cook with and clean with. Cleaning is the more water and time intensive task. Once everyone is finished eating a warm meal the dishes need to be washed with the wash and rinse water needing to be strained away from water or trails in an effort to leave no trace for wildlife and other hikers to find. This requires filtering more water to clean with. All in all cooking a meal requires time and energy that can be spent on the trail. I took the time to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for my first backpacking trip. Next time I will plan on more breakfast bars and snacks with a warm meal only once a day for some of those days. In addition, food to be cooked generally adds more weight to your pack.
-Plan a practice backpacking trip a few weeks before the real thing. Go to a nice campground that’s not to far from a store or restaurant in case you forgot to pack something preferably with a river or lake so you can test out your water purification methods. Your back yard doesn’t count because it is to easy to go in the house to get stuff. This accomplishes a number of things. It forces you to have all of your equipment you think you’ll need with enough time to make adjustments before going somewhere with nothing available except what your carrying. This gives you practice in real conditions with your equipment to make sure it all works the way you want it to and figure out how to best use it. Also, this is on opportunity to figure out how to pack your backpack and how much it’s going to weigh. The most important thing this does is give you confidence in your ability to successfully prepare for a backpacking trip in the solitude of the wilderness.
The first portion of this trail follows the shoreline of Lake Superior giving amazing vistas demanding a moment of your time to take in all the sight has to offer. There are many places along this trail begging you to stop and see what nature has created. Unfortunately this also means more time with a full backpack strapped to you each time you give in to natures majesty. Each ache and pain in your body asks that you keep moving so that this heavy load can be taken off. Each person has to decide which portion of this battle will win. I gave in to the natural creations knowing that the pain will go away but the memories will be there for a long time. I would have regretted not taking in this part of the island. As the trail turned inward to cross the island we began to ascend up a long hill being greeted with a light rain shower. This was no real surprise as we could see the clouds off in the distance while walking along the shore.
Near the top of this hill the rain subsided but the mosquitoes began targeting us for lunch. These mosquitoes where persistent for much of the trail encouraging a faster pace. Our group split into two during this trail: a faster group and a little more relaxed pace keeping in contact with the use of two-way radios. Each group continued on the trail going up and over rocks, around water, and on to our final destination taking a moment to explore an old copper mine along the way. The first group reached Washington Creek and secured the same shelter we used earlier. Our second group had a little more interesting trek. After stopping to explore the Wendigo Mine, they came upon a moose blocking the trail. Slowly backing away as anyone who has encountered a moose knows that they own whatever territory there on. After backing away it was decided to remove the packs as who knows how long the moose would be here and it would be easier to blend in to the trees without the additional weight if that need should arise. After about 15 minutes the moose moved on along with her calf allowing this group to continue towards and eventually reaching Washington Creek.
Everyone was glad to be back at this first campsite quickly removing the packs and resting a few minutes before setting up camp for the last night. The night was cool and again treated us to a sky filled with stars. Our next morning consisted of eating and packing up getting ready to board the Sea Hunter III for a return trip to the mainland. Once again the morning was beautiful and sun drenched giving us one last day with amazing weather. Our younger participants became Junior Rangers once again and where ready to shove off after four days of extreme camping. If you can believe it, this was done with children from 7 to 12 years of age who all carried at least some items as far as they could. A learning experience for all. Just imagine how little we can actually live on and how little we need to survive compared to everything we desire in everyday life. Even living on this little, there were and are people who live on less!
We were off to the next destination which was just over four miles away while carrying 40 pounds or more of camping equipment and food. While researching backpacking it was recommended to carry a maximum of 20% of your body weight in your pack. Ours seemed slightly higher than that which appeared to be more common amongst the other hikers on the island. 20% would certainly have been more comfortable and easier on our bodies. The scenery was quite nice and changed along the way however after a couple of miles of walking up and down hills with all this weight the scenery became less important. Finally after five hours of hiking we arrived at our destination and where able to take the packs off for an extended period of time. This did include stopping for lunch and a couple of other snack breaks so it was not constant walking. After some recuperation it was time to set up camp for the night and enjoy our surroundings.
Huginnin Cove was without a question worth the hike. We had Lake Superior on two different sides of us with trees and rock formations everywhere else along with plenty of peace and solitude. The landscape was spectacular even when you’re exhausted from getting there. Listening to the waves of the lake crash against the rocks surrounding the shoreline while taking in the surroundings was an amazing experience. Off in the distance we could see the shores of Canada and at times see the city of Thunder Bay. At this camping area there was no pre-built shelter, running water, or flush toilets so it was more extreme camping. Our evening meal was prepared while watching the sunset across the water. As we finished cleaning up for the evening the stars light up the sky with no moon to interfere. This happened to occur at the same time as the Perseid Meteor Shower was winding down so not only did we get to star gaze but we were treated to shooting stars and numerous satellites crossing the sky. This was the experience I was hoping for!
Our next morning was beautiful and sunny giving some incentive to get up and enjoy the day. We were much slower in emerging from the tent even with this nice sunny day as there were many sore muscles and joints along with the knowledge that it was another day of hiking with all this extra stuff strapped to our backs. Eventually we made breakfast and cleaned the dishes and packed everything away into our packs in an effort to head back to Washington Creek. There are two ways to get from Hugginnin Cove to Washington Creek. We explored one of those the previous day so decided it was time to take the second trail today. A very good decision as the scenery was much better and the trail slightly easier.
For the conclusion of this post click to continue…
A trip to Isle Royale National Park is different than many other parks. It is one of the least visited parks for good reason… getting there is a little more difficult because you can’t drive there. This national park is on an island located in Lake Superior and is at least 15 miles from shore. There are only two ways onto this park: boat or airplane. We chose to take a 1.5 hour boat ride from Grand Portage, MN on the Sea Hunter III to the Windigo side of the island. Now once you get to the Island what are you going to do? There is the short day trip that many people utilize and spend about 4 hours exploring Isle Royale before returning to the mainland. If you decide to stay longer you will need to spend the night. Be prepared as there is only one small resort area which is likely booked and requires getting on the right boat to get there as it is on the opposite side of the island from Windigo. The last option is camping. We chose to camp for three nights allowing us the opportunity to explore the island a little further.
Our first night we decided to make it relatively easy and stay at the nearest camp area known as Washington Creek. This location is easy as there where shelters available which are enclosed on three sides and screened on the forth side allowing for air movement while keeping out bugs and other curious critters. Also, water suitable for drinking is nearby and a short distance away there are bathrooms with running water. Our shelter was right on the banks of Washington Creek giving us a relaxing view when waking up. One of the only downfalls of this camping area is the noise coming from boats, airplanes, and a higher population of people than most other areas. Well, a lot of noise compared to the solitude experienced elsewhere but substantially less than even a small town.
The next morning involved grabbing some oatmeal for breakfast then cleaning up and packing it all away in preparation for our hike to Huginnin Cove to spend the next night. Did I mention that you need to bring in all of your supplies and bring them all back out with you again as this area is designated as ‘Leave No Trace’? That means backpacking all of your necessary items if you do not have a boat of your own docked somewhere around the island. We could have spent three nights in Washington Creek and just did day hikes without all of our gear but our purpose in traveling to all these different parks is to experience new and different areas so we decided to try our hand at real backpacking. Thankfully we did a trial run a few weeks earlier allowing us to be more prepared for multiple nights living out of backpacks.
For more go on to part II…
We are down to the last month of the summer season and only a few weeks away from our backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park. While in Northern Minnesota for this experience the thought of also visiting Voyageurs National Park had crossed our minds however that has been dismissed due to the distance involved. Voyageurs is about 4.5 – 5 hours drive time from where the boat picks up for Isle Royale in Grand Portage, Minnesota. That would be about the same distance from our house so we will have to look at that another time. Much of the spring and summer has been spent getting ready for our backpacking trip to Isle Royale and the time is near for all that planning to be put through the test. Often you hear that you should step outside of your comfort zone to experience life and find out more about yourself. This trip is doing that for us.
Over the past 5 months we have been researching the gear necessary along with the cost for that gear and possible alternatives and procuring that gear. This being the first backpacking trip, most of our camping equipment does not work due to weight and size. We are restricted to 40 pounds of gear for each person contained in a backpack for the boat ride to and from the island. This should be easier to accomplish on the way back as much of the food weight will be gone. There is a lot of stuff to carry on your back while hiking for miles and most of that is all in an attempt to sleep as comfortable as possible such as tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and a tarp for under the tent. Keep in mind there are 4 of us to accommodate with one of them unable to carry their weight worth of stuff so the rest of us have to pick up that weight. All of this for 3 nights camping on Isle Royale.
In an effort to be prepared for this backpacking trip we embarked on a trial run this weekend. We stayed at a county park with numerous short hiking trails in a mock hiking trip. It was a mock trip because we had our car with us and some extra camping equipment just in case. We tested our 4 person tent, sleeping pads which were made out of foam mattress pads, blankets, cooking equipment and mess kits, etc.… The tent was really tested because there were 5 people and one golden retriever. One person and the dog will be absent on Isle Royale. Surprisingly we all fit however there wasn’t much room. Our sleeping pads work well for adding warmth but offer little in the way of softening the ground. The blankets we brought didn’t keep us warm enough during a summer night and the nighttime temps on the island are expected to be a little cooler so there’s one area we need to improve in the next couple of weeks. Fortunately we had sleeping bags in the car so warmth was found.‘
On the cooking and eating front things look good. Backpacking stoves were tested in an effort to learn how to cook different foods as well as how much fuel we will need. We found foods that will work well and some that we should stay away from. There are two types of stoves in our arsenal: a gas stove and an alcohol stove. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. The gas stoves are adjustable so you can use that for foods requiring different temperatures in order to cook thoroughly or keep from overcooking. Alcohol stoves are either on or off more like a candle. You light it and it heats or the flame is out. They tend to have a wider flame to heat more evenly so are good for boiling water as long as you add enough fuel. Our alcohol stoves come from bottlestoves.com and are quite useful and durable along with made from recycled materials. The mess kits include plastic ware and storage containers that are lightweight and pack together fairly tightly so they don’t take a lot of room. They seem to fit what is needed for backpacking. We did also bring a steel knife, spoon, and spatula for cooking purposes since plastic will melt. One of the things learned in this area is to use a different metal spoon and spatula since the pots being used are Teflon coated and metal can scratch that off.
During our time camping we took 1 1/2 mile hike with backpacks loaded just to get a feel for what we’re in for on Isle Royale. All things considered, this hike went well. We traveled at about a mile an hour on average over uneven terrain. Not bad considering there are two younger kids traveling with us carrying backpacks. I’m glad we did a practice trip as there are a number of things we learned and need to make some adjustments before getting to Isle Royale. All of this for only 3 nights on the island. This better be worth it!
The planning for this summers Monopoly National Parks board trips are in full progress. Our destinations include Yosemite National Park which includes a stop at Ahwahnee for dinner and Isle Royale National Park. These were expected to be fairly easy trips to plan because we’re meeting some friends in California and then heading to Yosemite for a few days. This is a somewhat familiar area for us as we have been there visiting various friends and relatives so we have a good idea of what we need to do and where to go. Isle Royale is the closest park to us on the Monopoly Board so again should be fairly easy to plan for.
As is often the case, what should be the easiest may turn out to be one of the biggest challenges. The challenges with Yosemite come in from finding a suitable place to stay. We questioned camping however that idea came a few days to late as it was a few days after campsite reservations became available. Apparently campsites fill up minutes after becoming available. Who knew? Certainly not me. A good learning experience. There’s a few options left but we probably should get it nailed down soon or there may be no more options left.
Isle Royale is one of the locations I was most excited to see since it is practically in my own back yard and yet provides a very different atmosphere than I am use to. Since this is within a few hours drive time (~5 hours to be exact) we could take a quick trip to Northern Minnesota, hop on a boat for a couple of hours, tour the area close to one of the visitor centers, and get back on the boat for a return trip to our car and be done. Did I mention that this park requires special transportation since it is on an Island in Lake Superior? Interestingly this is the one place where Minnesota and Michigan border each other.
I have wanted to camp in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a number of years and have not fulfilled that desire. Camping on Isle Royale would qualify in my opinion. Unfortunately we are restricted to 40 pounds of gear each on the boat without further costs. The boat ride already is getting more expensive than I was counting on at $67 per person per way bringing a total for 4 of us to $536 just to get there. That does not include a fuel surcharge, parking, and park fees. In order to camp on the island we are going to need full camping and hiking gear including a tent, backpacks, food, water, cooking supplies, etc.…
I don’t’ think my 10 person tent is going to work very well on this trip. It could very well weigh 40 pounds all by itself. When the realization of what we are up against hit me it was very daunting and exciting. Never camping while hiking before makes me a little nervous. Now add that I’m going to be going with my wife and two younger children really added to this nervousness. I’ve been spending countless hours researching Isle Royale and what is needed in order to make this a great experience for all. My nerves have been settling after reading and looking at necessary equipment. The excitement is returning for mid-August when this trip is planned for. Fortunately I started planning for this early enough to locate what we need and practice a little before we go. Now the big question is – can I carry 40 pounds of gear while hiking for several days? Also, can we fit everything we need into the packs for me, Karen, and the kids? Okay, so there are more than just one question at this time. In addition, we are hoping to include Voyageurs National Park for a few days. This also presents challenges since much of this park requires a boat. Still much to learn and prepare for.