Minong Ridge Trail Hike-July 2-4, ’22

Day One: McCargoe Cove to Todd Harbor

On July 2, 2022, Duane and I caught the Voyageur II from Grand Portage to Windigo where we were briefed on Island safety and proceeded to permitting. I reboarded the Voyageur for three hours to McCargoe Cove, the starting point of the Minong Ridge Trail, to start my three-day hike back to Windigo. A video version of my hike is available here.

Windigo

For several weeks, I had been preparing in earnest for this hike, with hiking and bicycling, packing, weighing, and repacking to ensure that my gear was perfectly suited to the circumstance and the weather, both of which need to be gauged carefully when planning for hiking Isle Royale. You can see my final pack decisions here.

McCargoe Cove

We caught the Voyageur II from Grand Portage as we usually do for the 4th of July holiday. Duane debarked in Windigo; I permitted in Windigo and reboarded to McCargoe Cove, where I set out for Todd Harbor. I had to make it to Todd Harbor on the first night, and to North Desor on my second night, in order to accommodate my itinerary which allowed me at maximum three days to complete the hike. This timeline added a need for caution to ensure I was not delayed because of injury.

Ascending the Ridge from McCargoe Cove
Looking up at the Ridgetop
Hillside Terrain

Much of the terrain on the Minong Ridge Trail vacillates between rocky ridges and swampy valleys. To hike the Minong in mid-summer is to ascend and descend, alternating between baking heat with biting deer flies and chilly dampness in swampy bottoms swarmed by a horde of hungry mosquitoes. For my safety and comfort, I needed both sun block and insect repellent or long sleeves and full legs as well as a bug net. I chose sunblock and repellent.

View of Canada from the Ridge

Reaching the top of the ridge, I was awed by the view of Lake Superior and northward to Canada on the horizon. Behind me, I could see the Greenstone Ridge Trail, as it paralleled the track of the Minong Trail, but reaching greater altitudes. The difference between the two is marked, however. The Minong Ridge Trail alternates from ridge at a maximum of about 1,000 feet to swamp level at about 600 feet in remarkably short intervals, sometimes as short as a tenth of a mile, challenging the hiker’s endurance.

The Greenstone Ridge Trail reaches 1,385 feet near Mount Desor, the Mount itself reaches 1,394 feet, but the trail does not crest it. The Greenstone Ridge Trail has smoother transitions between its heights and depths of altitude, but it does have steep trails descending to the campgrounds on the shores of the inland lakes that serve as water sources for its hikers.

While Minong Ridge Trail’s extremes challenge hikers, its first leg from McCargoe Cove to Todd Harbor is well-traveled and relatively well-marked. Challenges for staying on the trail occur after this first section. Next to the trail, the trees are mixed fir, pine, spruce, cedar, interspersed with a few deciduous trees, the odd poplar, birch, and maple. Along the trail are short hemlock bushes which will be dotted with blue inedible berries later in the summer.

Well-Defined Trail

Of course, as with all trails on Isle Royale, I passed thimbleberry bushes. At this point in this relatively cool season, they were still in bloom along sections of the trail.

Dead Tree on the Ridge

The ridgetops are indeed rugged, exposed as they are to the elements. In winter, of course, that includes the frigid wintery blasts from Canada and the Artic beyond. In the summer, the exposed rocks absorb the sun’s energy, baking the surface and challenging the heartiest vegetation. Casualties of these extremes are evident as dried up trees rest on the ridges.

Flowers on the Trail’s Descent

In spite of the ruggedness and challenges of the trail, there are moments of quiet beauty. The unexpected burst of sunny flowers between the ridge and the swamp is one. The lyrics of the birds residing in the thickets of the forest is another. The surprise of frogs croaking in the beaver dams and swamps and the chatter of the squirrels’ missive that I have entered their spare and bountiful space delight. While I needed to traverse six miles of rugged trail, I found the need to slow and listen to what the trail was saying.

Green Reflection in the Beaver Dam
Lichens

The contrast among the terrain on the ridge and in the valleys becomes starkly visible when setting the lush green of the beaver dam in the lowlands next to the brittle and crispy lichen that adorn the rocks on the ridge. Perfectly, the extremes of the Minong Ridge Trail are clear.

Along the way, I passed through the forests of fir trees, by the dead trees lying as skeletons on the exposed rocky ridges, into the ferns as tall as I, and through the mature birch woods. As I approached Todd Harbor, I passed through a cedar forest in the lowland, and the ascended the ridge again and then finally the long descent into the campground at Todd Harbor.

Mature Birch Trees
A Rock-lined Stream
Cedar Forest

The final mile into Todd Harbor traverses a mixed forest of birch and fir trees. The gentle descent proved welcome after the miles of ascension and descension of the ridge itself, although, my tomorrow’s morning would see me through a highland path flanked on each side by steep declines into swamps. The afternoon’s hike would cross arguably the most difficult section of trail on the island. But this evening, as I approached the water, the mosquitoes became thicker while the temperatures dropped with the coming of evening.

Todd Harbor has one shelter, which was occupied, so I found a tent site. At the furthest end of the campground and on the water of Lake Superior, I set up in campsite one. It was a little secluded, and it is also closest to the trail out toward Little Todd Harbor, in the direction of North Desor and my eventual destination, Washington Creek Campground. For an hour, I sat on a log at the water, reflecting on my day and was satisfied with my progress. I looked forward to my second day, which would take me past Little Todd Harbor and into North Desor campground for a second night on the trail.

Picnic Table at Todd Harbor
Set up in Campsite One

Five hours after I set out from McCargoe Cove, I was set up in Todd Harbor and sitting at the water, ready to enjoy the evening sun. There, I filtered enough water for the evening and the coming day. It was welcome to remove my boots and sit at water’s edge, enjoying the lapping of the waves.

Afternoon Sun on Todd Harbor

2 thoughts on “Minong Ridge Trail Hike-July 2-4, ’22

  1. I’m not a hiker, but I do enjoy the outdoors and exploring nature trails for the adventure and the joy of being outside in any one of Georgia’s State Parks. My name is Rodney Jones I’ll be one of your students during this course. Thank you for sharing and giving us this helpful guide post to use when we begin to write our own blogs, post, or our assignments.

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