On June 11, 2022, I arrived at the Queen IV dock at 7:00 AM and checked in with Miranda at the office. I was excited for my first trip out for the year, even though the forecast was for cold and rain. I felt prepared with my cold-weather gear. Captain Ben and the crew were ready for us to board as you can see above. There is a companion video here.
I had on my bush hat to protect from rain, but I had my sock hat stashed in my pocket in case it was really cold. Under my rain coat, I had on my puffy, a button-up shirt, a tee-shirt, and a base layer as the crossing promised to be cold, and I planned to spend at least some time out on deck to enjoy the fresh air and lake views. I also wanted to be sure to be warm enough in the event that I needed to stand out on deck if it got wavy.
We arrived in Rock Harbor at 11:30 after an uneventful crossing to a relatively nice day, a little cool, but not that cold. I stayed in Shelter 6 as I had a hop planned to Chippewa Harbor for the next day. Looking forward to the first hike of the year, I was asleep early, woke early, and had coffee with plenty of time to be at the dock well in advance of departure. The morning was cold and rainy.
It was so cold that I sat in the cabin of the Voyageur II on the way to Chippewa Harbor. Those who know me realize how unusual this is. Normally, I sit out back, watching the wake and receding view behind. Captain Matt piloted, and Kevin was the deck hand. We departed the dock at 9:00 AM and had another uneventful hop to our destination. At the dock in Chippewa, I was the only one getting off the boat, and I soon discovered that I was on the only one in the campground.
Because of the rain I did not want to hike very far, and certainly not to the ridge as the trail would be slick and treacherous, so I hunkered down in Shelter 3 for a long cold day. The rain did not abate all day, and the high temperature was 45 degrees. After a thoughtful afternoon and evening of listening to the falling water and rustling trees in the wind, I enjoyed a dehydrated meal and hoped for drier weather for my hike toward West Chickenbone campground. The last temperature reading I saw before sleeping was 35 degrees, significantly colder than what I had seen the year before in June on my Malone Bay hike.
As I packed up, I dreaded the thought of the hike in the cold rain, but I hoped optimistically for clearing and a little sun. I watched the sky lighten as I sipped my coffee, but the rain did not stop. The hike would be soggy in the rain and the sodden vegetation. On my way toward Chickenbone, I met a couple and a solo hiker who were happy to hear that shelters were available in Chippewa. Opposite of my hopes, the day got worse. As I got to the West Chickenbone campground, the rain let loose into downpour, and I sought shelter under some broad leaf trees. As I stood there, a fellow hiker sloshed up and paused. “There are open shelters in McCargoe Cove,” he said, moving on. I hollered after him, “there are open ones in Chippewa Harbor, too.”
Given that I was soaked and chilled, there was no point to stand under the trees, so I moved on to warm with the heat of hiking. Arriving at McCargoe Cove to find myself alone again, I had my choice of shelters. I have never seen the island so empty of people and so many open shelters.
At McCargoe, I stopped at Shelter 7 where I could see down the path to the dock. I set up the tent and changed into a complete dry set of clothes to stave off hypothermia. One cannot hike all day in the rain with the high temperature at 45 degrees and not get chilled. In dry clothes, I lay in my tent for awhile to warm up. My 15-degree sleeping bag was perfect for the task, and before long I was toasty warm.
Once I got outside, I realized there was a couple of kayakers in another shelter. They had gotten dropped there by the Voyageur II and planned to paddle to Belle Isle and explore the fingers. When the National Park Service volunteer came into the dock in the morning, he recommended they leave right away that morning to get to Belle Isle as there was a storm coming, and by afternoon there would be waves of seven feet on the lake. Hearing that, the paddlers departed quickly.
I watched them paddle away from the dock as I relaxed with my coffee. The sun pretended that it might peek out, but the grey was refusing to give way. Eventually, I made my way to the dock, taking the opportunity to get a picture of the loons and the moose through the misty morning.
Within a couple of hours, I heard them approach the dock again. Apparently, the waves were already fierce on the lake, and they decided to return to the safety of the Cove for another night. Their good sense prevailed. They caught the Voyageur II the next day to Belle Isle.
At lunch, I made a Mountain House and began to contemplate my own conundrum. If the weather did not improve, I would have to hike 8.2 miles to Daisy Farm in the rain. If I stayed put for a second night in the shelter at McCargoe Cove, the next day, I would have to hike 12.6 miles to Three Mile Campground, leaving the 3 miles for the morning I had to catch my boat.
Or I would have to go 15.3 miles to Rock Harbor with no stress on the morning of the boat. With no hint of let-up in the rain, it would be likely that I would arrive in either Three Mile or Rock Harbor to a full campground, so I would have to set up wet in a tent site in the 45-degree weather.
I thought about hitchhiking, but there is no guarantee that the Voyageur II would come into McCargoe Cove as it is an optional stop that is scheduled on demand. Given it was so early in the season and because of the awful weather, I thought they might not come in. They are guaranteed only when a drop-off or pick-up is scheduled.
As Head Guide for Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services, however, I thought of a better plan. I used my Garmin satellite communicator and called our mainland office in L’Anse, and Beth reached out to Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation out of Grand Portage and booked me a hop. She sent my confirmation to the Garmin, and I was good to go.
In the morning, the kayakers and I were waiting at the dock as the Voyageur II chugged in. We must have beamed at the crew, for they exuberantly welcomed us. In a haze of fog, we left the safety of the cove into the open lake as the rain fell softly. We all stayed inside the cabin to stay as dry as we could, me knowing that we would arrive so late in Rock Harbor that it would be unlikely that I would get a shelter.
On the way, I met a couple of canoeists who were off to Chippewa Harbor the next day on a canoe trip through the inland lakes. That evening, I shared Tent Site 16 with them. They had a nice tarp set-up that allowed us to cook and eat dinner out of the rain.
Before we disembarked, the captain shared the fact that the Voyageur II would depart Rock Harbor the next day an hour early to avoid the gale that was predicted. Of course, this did not bode well for my departure on the Queen IV the next day.
There was no word posted regarding the Queen IV that evening, so I was hopeful when we packed up and headed down to the Rock Harbor dock in the morning, still in the rain. Not ten minutes after we got there, the announcement came that the Queen IV was postponed until Friday, so I set out to find a shelter. With the 49 passengers who were scheduled to depart on Thursday and those who would arrive throughout the day to catch the Friday boat, Rock Harbor was going to be stretched to capacity.
In fact, some people from the Lodge had to be reaccommodated in shelters as their bookings had passed and the rooms were scheduled to other lodgers. The Rangers graciously helped the dislocated to find gear and space where they could.
I ended up with a father and son in my shelter. To the right of me was a father and two children who shared with a solo hiker. To the left of me were the dislocated lodgers welcomed by another couple.
In the morning, Captains Ben and John loaded and unloaded passengers with mathematical precision. In under an hour, they docked, unloaded and reloaded gear as smooth as could be, with National Park staff shepherding passengers to keep the disembarking in line to their orientation and the departing passengers in orderly access to the boarding point. Still with high seas, we cast lines and headed toward Copper Harbor, with maximum haste as the Queen IV and her crew had a second round trip on that afternoon to make up for the one canceled on Thursday. I was thankful for their expertise and professionalism.
And then it was sunny. As I stood aboard the Queen IV, the sun in my eyes, I reflected on my excellent adventure. Yes, I got rained on; yes, it was cold; yes, we shared shelters and commiserated about hikes missed or experiences not had, but this was simply another face of opportunity presented by Isle Royale and the wonderful people who work and visit there. I will be back again soon.