Evaluate Your Sources
If your information source can’t pass a CRAP test, it is not a good source. Crap is an acronym for Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose, and evaluating your sources of information using this analytical tool can ensure you have the right information to plan a safe excursion on Isle Royale.
Currency addresses how recently the information was made available. Information needs to be current. Trail maps from the 1970s, for example, do not show current trail configurations or distances and therefore should not considered a good source of information.
Reliability has to do with the credibility of the information. Does it draw from facts and data, or does it depend on opinions and conjecture? A trail map from the park service or National Geographic can be considered credible.
Authority has to do with the qualifications of the source to speak on the topic. People who have hiked every trail at various times during the season under various trail conditions have a greater authority than the one-time visitor or the one who visits at the same time every year.
Purpose has to do with the reason someone is sharing their opinions. Appropriate purposes would be to keep people safe while hiking, to prepare people to make solid decisions about their preparations for hiking, and to share information that prepares people to take an excursion with a guide service. If the source is sharing sensational stories to become a trend-setter, its purpose is not appropriate.
Do Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services and this post pass a CRAP test? That is an important question to ask.
Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services passes the Currency portion of the CRAP test. Our information is up to date. In the 2022 season alone, our guides hiked over 400 miles on the island, starting in June and ending in mid-September. We can speak to the variation of conditions on trails across the whole season.
Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guides pass the Reliability part of the CRAP Test because they make use of information from NOAA, NPS, the National Weather Service, published CDC recommendations, National Geographic maps, contacts with ISRO park personnel, current CUA holders including transportation and concessions services, and more. We also share this information freely on our Blog, our Facebook Group, our Facebook page, our free hiking preparation courses, and on our website. We want Isle Royale visitors to have access to accurate information to prepare for their adventures.
Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guides pass the Authority portion of the CRAP test. The head guide and logistics coordinator Duane first visited Isle Royale in 1983 and many times since, with multiple annual visits for the last eight years. His hiking and logistics knowledge is founded on vast military experience. Other guides have had multiple annual visits for a minimum of eight years, with broad off-island hiking in other remote wilderness areas. Further, Beth holds and earned Ph.D. and the rank of professor in Communication and Writing. Her business is to locate and vet information for accuracy and reliability and to present it in an understandable manner.
Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guides pass the Purpose portion of the CRAP test because of their vested interest in seeing people hike safely and without incident on Isle Royale. People who hire us need to have accurate information to be prepared to hike without incident. If we come across other hikers in trouble on the island, our integrity requires us to help. With a total of 54 days on the island last summer, our guides want to see people enjoying themselves instead of struggling because they did not have accurate information for planning. The fewer incidents that occur on the island, the safer we all are.
Isle Royale is a remote island in Lake Superior, some 15 miles from the Canadian shore, about 24 miles from Grand Portage, Minnesota, and 50-some miles from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Nevertheless, Isle Royale National Park is part of Michigan. Isle Royale enjoys about 20,000 to 25,000 visitors each year with some variation over time.
You can find information about Isle Royale relatively easily. First, you can visit the park service website, which has excellent information and lots of resources. They provide plenty of information for all seasons and all modes of transportation and exploration of the island, all the rules and regulations.
The Greenstone, Isle Royale’s annual newspaper, includes a wealth of information and is a must-read for any hiker or backpacker, boater or day-tripper. Sometimes, though, so much information for so many different purposes is hard to wade through. As well, the information, while all there, is hard to apply to your own situation as you prepare for your adventure without some context or touchstones.
Many people turn to Facebook to seek out information put out by reputable sources, which is possible to find, but sorting through all the information shared by unvetted sources to discern the truth is difficult. Many well-meaning park visitors feel that they’re experts on the matter and share their impressions and opinions freely. On the Facebook groups, the chat provides a wealth of solid information, too. Isle Royale National Park and Isle Royale National Park Community are two groups that share lots of valuable information and insights.
Wise Old Man Guides go out of their way to locate and share information as quickly as possible. Their same-day posts shared information coming from Rock Harbor on the day of the Mount Franklin fire and on the event of the gale warnings that disrupted regular ferry schedules. This information helped people adjust plans prior to departure to the island and kept loved ones informed for those on the island.
Many people know their stuff and share it prudently in the Facebook groups. Unfortunately, pseudo-experts share, too, drowning out the voices of reason. Sometimes real experts overgeneralize what they know, making broad statements that can’t possibly hold true in all cases or even in most cases. It’s on the user of information to vet it carefully.
A common problem is the overgeneralization of an experience shared by a previous park visitor of their individual visit. Other people think that repeated trips to the island give them expert status. However, if a person goes to Isle Royale in the last two weeks of August every year, then they have first-hand experience about the conditions generally on Isle Royale in the last two weeks of August each year. This person cannot speak to the conditions in May, June, July, early August or September.
Also, just because this person has found the weather generally pleasant on the five trips they took in the last two weeks of August for even several years does not mean that there will be no variation in weather this year. Weather varies every year. Average temperatures and conditions are averages and useful in general planning, but they are not not sufficient for planning a specific trip. Consider the averages for August at NationalParked.com, and you would not think a warm coat and hat is necessary, but they are. The National Weather Service is also useful.
Let me illustrate: Duane and I hiked the Minong in early August one year. The temperatures dropped into the 40s while we were hiking the ridge, and a cold, steady rain fell all day. At some points the rain turned to sleet and then back to rain. By the time we got to Little Todd, we were soaked. Had we listened to the group chat, we would have left our insulated “puffy” coats home and not worried about having a dry base layer–after all, it was August. This particular August, however, was not warm. As we hiked, the day got progressively colder until we were hiking in 40-degree temperatures.
Soaked to the skin and in boots that squished with every step, we set up the tent and got out of our wet clothes. We pack a full set of dry clothes–with base layers–in dry sacks for every hike, regardless of season. In dry clothes and sheltered in our tent, we got into our jackets and then into our sleeping bags. Within an hour, we stopped shivering and were able to enjoy a hot beverage. Had we listened to the pseudo-experts who insist that it is warm and even hot all the time in August on Isle Royale, we likely would have suffered serious consequences from hypothermia. But we didn’t listen. We prepared for the extremes we knew were possible.
The issue concerns being able to tell which participants in a Social Media group know what they are talking about. After all, some groups have 15,000+ members, so who can know each member personally? As well, many people who have visited the island once or twice feel that their experience defines everything to expect on the island, and they assert their opinions and cite their experiences as though they have hiked every trail in every season in multiple years and can speak to all possible variations or lack thereof. And when they do, they state that the island is always what they experienced.
Taking advice from a group of one- or two-time visitors can spell disaster for a novice hiker who can’t tell that 50 people asserting incorrect information does not make that information correct. It only makes the incorrect information louder than that shared by real experts who know the facts that newcomers need to learn about to stay safe.
Further, people’s preferences are often presented as facts, which confuses the new park visitors. Because I like the Minong Ridge Trail or the Feldtmann Loop does not make those the best trails on the island, and certainly not the best trails to try first. It just makes them my favorites. I understand that people don’t want to miss out on the points of interest, especially if they plan to visit only once. However, caution should be applied to taking advice on what they should do on their hike. They should plan prudently with extra time in event that they can extend their hikes rather than stressing over an overly ambitious itinerary that puts their safety and enjoyment at risk or causes them to miss their departure boats.
It’s not likely that a first-time hiker on Isle Royale will be happy with an itinerary that starts in Rock Harbor, does the Minong Ridge Trail and continues along the Feldtmann Loop and returns to Rock Harbor via the Greenstone Ridge Trail in 10 days. This proposed itinerary is literally a potential killer, except for an experienced trail runner who is lucky and doesn’t sprain an ankle or need a bad-weather day.
Yet this sort of itinerary is commonly proposed by new visitors seeking affirmation from Facebook group members. Many responders will affirm this awful proposition, maybe because they are maliciously laughing at the absurdity of the proposed hike or because they are as ignorant of the trail conditions and the weather extremes on the island as the person is who proposed the itinerary. Either way, the result can be disastrous. Fortunately, voices of reason will also weigh in, warning of the hazards of this itinerary for a first-timer.
If you can’t hike 20 miles off island comfortably, then don’t plan more than a dozen or so miles for one day on Isle Royale. Isle Royale’s topography is not friendly, and the lack of water sources and abort options available along the ridge trails makes it dangerous to overestimate your capabilities. Solid research of the Island and assessment of your particular capabilities are essential for a successful experience backpacking on Isle Royale.
The Park Service asserts that “Safety is Your Responsibility.” We concur with this sage advice. Once you hike the island, you can make more ambitious plans for a return trip, but start with flexibility in mind on your first time out, and vet your sources of information.
Even sources that are supposed to be experts should be verified. Guide services may assert knowledge or expertise that they do not possess or “facts” that are not true.
Surprisingly, one guide service suggests that there are exit options at Todd Harbor and Little Todd Harbor on the Minong Ridge Trail, but this information is incorrect. Neither water taxis nor ferry services stop at these Lake Superior waterfront locations. On the north shore, the water taxis service as far as McCargoe Cove–weather permitting. The Voyageur II stops only at McCargoe Cove and Belle Isle on the north shore. No boat routinely serves Todd Harbor or Little Todd. Other transportation services, through 2022, were not available on Isle Royale.
The only other boats that can regularly go to these harbors belong to the Park Service, and they come in only for park service business. Other than that, Park Service boats land at Todd and Little Todd harbors for search and rescue emergencies. They do not provide taxi services to hikers who want to “bailout.” If a person overestimates their stamina, they cannot simply choose to “bailout” of their hike by scheduling an extraction from these locations.
If the Park Service comes in to rescue and there is no emergency, they may or may not transport you by boat to the nearest dock served by a ferry or the water taxi where they will drop you. If they do transport you and alert paid transportation services to pick you up, you are responsible for the cost, which will be $71 for the Voyageur II–if there is room on its next itinerary. Because it serves the north side generally every other day in peak season, you may have to wait for more than a day for transportation to Rock Harbor. If that does not work or it causes you to miss your departure from the island, the Rangers can order a water taxi for you, but you are responsible to pay the hundreds of dollars to be transported to Rock Harbor.
No one can actually conduct all the planning for you if you are backpacking Isle Royale. There are Guide Services, but guides who have little experience on the island make mistakes and miscalculations. Again, let me illustrate.
Around 5:00 PM ET in early August one year, Duane and I were completing the hike into Windigo from North Lake Desor on the Minong Ridge Trail. We met a church group, with a young adult male guide leading about eight boys, appearing to between 10 and 12 years old. The guide carried two liters of water for the whole group, and they were setting out to reach the North Lake Desor Campground that evening, some 12 miles distant.
None of the children had trekking poles to assist in crossing the beaver dams. The guide said he was going to pass his walking stick back to the children as they crossed, which underscored his lack of experience with the length of the beaver dams that are crossed on the trail. You cannot pass a walking stick across 50 yards. This group started out too late in the day, did not have sufficient water, and did not have appropriate gear.
Later that evening NPS personnel were dispatched on a Search and Rescue mission to bring the group back to Windigo. Fortunately, the guide carried an emergency beacon and reached out for help when night fell and the group had not yet reached even the midpoint on the hike. All members of the group were dehydrating, and all were scared and cold, but rangers carried in water and helped the group back to Windigo safely.
Proper gear is essential, including outerwear, sleeping gear, safety gear, and more. You can see our required gear list here. This is a guide for minimum requirements if you hike with us. You may have additional items you need, but the balance between weight and gear is crucial for successful backpacking.
Geared up, I am dressed for a cool-weather hike. I am wearing layers, a hat and gloves for warmth. I pack rain gear, a puffy, a change of clothes, food, and a 15-degree sleeping bag with an R4.5 pad.
On my left shoulder, affixed to the strap of my backpack is my Garmin for trail maps, distances, and an emergency beacon. I am wearing stout boots and carrying trekking poles to assist in crossing creeks and beaver dams.
My water bladder contains a liter of water for easy drinking while I am hiking, and I am carrying another liter in a Nalgene bottle on my pack.
You have to research your guide service and ensure that they are knowledgeable. Parents need to ensure that they are sending their children with guides who are knowledgeable about Isle Royale, which is not your average state park. To do that, they have to educate themselves at least a little to be aware of the obstacles on the excursion. They should also reach out to the park service for help in choosing an experienced guide service. Finally, they have to use their good sense to realize the remote nature of Isle Royale and plan accordingly.
Dead giveaways of inadequate information abound. The Simmons Beauty Rest air bed found seven miles out of Windigo on the Minong Ridge Trail is one. The suitcase being wheeled from the dock at Malone Bay is another. Heavy gear dropped on the trailside or at the campgrounds is yet another. The two men heading out with machetes and military entrenching tools who later ditched their gear and aborted their hike is yet another.
Assess your capabilities and the sources of information you are using. If your guide service suggests that you can bailout of a hike at a dock that is not served by any ferries, you need to rethink their credibility. Facebook groups that tell you only what you want to hear are not reputable sources of information. Evaluate negative responses to your ideas and make appropriate choices. Reach out to the park service prior to arriving on the island if you are unsure of your choices. Check the weather for Isle Royale, Thunder Bay, and Grand Portage daily in the week prior to departure.
Whom should you believe?
- People with experience who don’t overstate their recommendations and who converse with you about specifics of what you are planning to do
- Those who are endorsed by the park service and who are respected by other commercial service providers and their colleagues
- Sources whom you can verify and corroborate with other reputable sources
- Those who pass the believability test for credibility, reliability, authority, and timeliness
Whom should you not believe?
- People with single trip experience or limited experience on Isle Royale who think they know about all aspects of the island
- Those who have not visited the island or have stayed only at the lodge and day hiked
- Those who insist their experience on a specific hike applies to your trip, regardless of the time of year or the area of the island you are hiking
- People who become short or angry with you when you question their facts
- People who make overblown claims or are selling something, like guide services
- People who have opinions before they hear what you have planned or agree with you no matter what plan you have
If information sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Recognize when you need credible support and be diligent in finding it.