Continued from Isle Royale National Park: Day 3
Monday morning Jim and I were scheduled to leave Isle Royale on the seaplane at 11am. We woke up at the Rock Harbor campground, ate some breakfast, and packed our backpacks one last time. We headed to the seaplane dock on Tobin Harbor, and it was immediately apparent that the plane was going to be delayed again.
When we arrived on Friday the plane had been delayed several hours for high winds. On this morning it was some thick fog that delayed our flight. We sat on the dock for a while, but the fog only got worse.
Our appointed departure time came and went, so we took a quick stroll back to the visitor’s center at Rock Harbor and asked if they heard from the pilot. He had told them it would be a few hours, so we had some time to kill. While we were down by the Rock Harbor dock the Queen from Copper Harbor, MI emerged from the fog to unload some passengers.
This ferry was only running twice a week during our visit. On that day only 36 people disembarked, and that gave us a pretty good idea how few people were on the island.
After wasting some time in the visitor’s center and store, we headed back to the seaplane dock. The fog was starting to lift as a breeze picked up and the sun started shining through:
Around this time a couple of friendly Canadian kayakers showed up at the dock. They had arrived on the ferry and were portaging their kayaks to Tobin Harbor to start a four-day trip. We had some entertaining conversation for a while as they ate their lunch and packed all their gear into their boats. They told us about their misadventures in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and we touched on the politics and economics between our countries. All the while humorous banter prevailed. As much as I enjoyed their company, I kept getting distracted by the views and the animals.
As the fog lifted we saw some common loons (Gavia immer, Gaviidae) swimming around the nearby islands. After hearing their eerie calls so loudly on the first night, it was good to finally see some of them:
A stink bug (Pentatomidae) also paid me a visit:
After a while our Canadian friends had their gear packed, said goodbye, and took off in their kayaks.
As they departed we finally heard our seaplane arriving and in no time it was on the water and approaching the dock.
Before we knew it we were on the plane and in the air.
After being immersed in the isolated wilderness of Isle Royale for four days, we looked back at the formidable island one last time.
I thought leaving was bittersweet. My clothes were dirty and damp, my knees and hips ached, and I had blisters on my feet. I had eaten little more than granola bars, sausage, crackers, and dehydrated dinners for days. I was ready to get into some clean, dry clothes, rest in a warm motel, and have a real meal.
By the time we got back to civilization, however, I was already missing the silence and solitude of Isle Royale. At the campgrounds we saw a few people, but as we hiked our 30 miles of trails we never passed a single person. We were alone with the trees, the birds, the squirrels, the hares, and somewhere, the moose. We never did see a moose on the island, but with fresh tracks and scat everywhere, we couldn’t help but feel like we were always right behind them.
Even though we covered 30 miles, there are about 160 miles of trails on Isle Royale. We saw less than 20% of the island in four days, and that’s not counting the shorelines and boat campgrounds accessible only by canoe or kayak.
Before we left for the island I read that Isle Royale has the highest rate of repeat visitors of any national park, and now I see why. Before my blisters even healed, I was ready to go back.
For what it’s worth Isle Royale is only open from April to the end of October. Most people visit in July and August. Outside of July and August services and transportation are limited, but we opted for the end of May for several reasons. We figured it would be mild and not too warm or cold, and we were right. We knew it would rain at least a bit, but we came prepared. We knew the black flies and mosquitoes that can plague hikers during the summer wouldn’t be present in any great numbers. We also knew there would be very few people this early in the season. In the end, visiting at this time of year worked out about as well as we had hoped. Next time I might visit in September for the same benefits, but with the added bonuses of fall foliage and rutting moose that may present themselves more readily.