Mishaps and Lessons

Over our decades of hiking Isle Royale, both as park visitors and as guides, we have learned from our mishaps and inconveniences, and we actively apply the lessons learned.

  1. Mishaps happen, so try to minimize any risks.
  2. Plan for a zero day to accommodate weather so you don’t have to hike when you shouldn’t.

Tuck and Roll

We had been hiking all day, coming from Daisy Farm and were planning to camp at West Chickenbone. The cold driving rain continued all day, a medium drumming on my rain gear as I went sliding down the hill where the portage from Chickenbone Lake to Lake Livermore crosses the trail between West and East Chickenbone Campgrounds. As I made my way down the hill, my feet slipped out, and I partly rolled and partly skidded down the greasy slope dotted with large sharp rocks.

The Trail
The intersection

Astounded by the tumble, I lay crumpled for a few moments, flexing parts to see that all worked. Duane came jolting down the hill behind me on his feet, shaken by my mishap and trying to help me get up. Of course, I was a bit grumpy. I need a moment to collect myself after an event, but Duane didn’t know that back then. He does now. Then, the rain pelted my face as I rolled to my feet and uncurled from my tucked position. It wasn’t all that much fun then, but it makes a good laugh now.

As I got back to my feet and reassembled my dignity, Duane scraped the mud from my pack and my arms and rear end. Of course, I don’t go down easy. From there, though, we trudged into West Chickenbone with the rain continuing. The only place that was dryish was the where someone had set their tent and left apparently only a short time ago. The rest was sodden. Instead of setting up there, we pushed on to McCargoe Cove and found a shelter. We ended up staying an extra day there, just hanging around and drying our gear.

It was heaven to have that extra day to account for bad weather in our itinerary.

What’s in a Name?

Rain seems to play a major part of mishaps and misadventures. Take Duane’s flirt with a thunderstorm on the Ishpeming Trail from Malone Bay. It was his fourth hike of 2022, and the whole of it was strange.

The night before the departure, when his client had cleared the TSA checkpoint, Duane left for Copper Harbor. Before he rounded the head of the bay in L’Anse, he got a call. His client’s wife had an emergency and had to cancel the excursion. Disheartened, Duane came back home, and we chatted about it. Even while he had no client, he decided to go and check out conditions on the island and shoot some video of current trail conditions, so he resumed his plan and headed to Copper Harbor for the night.

The next morning, he caught the Queen IV and set off with high energy for his excursion, even though he was solo. The crossing was uneventful, and he landed in good time and met with Rock Harbor rangers to have his first aid gear inspected and to catch up on conditions for the season.

Fog at McCargoe Cove

After the overnight in Rock Harbor Campground, when Duane was boarding his hop to Chippewa Harbor, he tried to address the captain to tell him that his client had canceled, so it would just be him. The captain, busy with boarding the boat, interrupted. “You can catch me up en route, Duane. You can board.”

The crew was loading half a dozen or more canoes bound for Malone Bay. They were portaging into Siskiwit Lake for an extended fishing trip, so they had a lot of gear and supplies.

Satisfied that he could brief the captain when they were under way, Duane boarded. He was looking forward to the hike from Chippewa harbor into Lake Richie that afternoon. As the vessel got underway, a fog drifted in, obliterating the view of the shore.

Foggy Lake Superior

As the fog lifted, Duane stepped onto the walkway going to the captain’s wheel house, but the shoreline was not right for approaching Chippewa Harbor.

“I was supposed to be dropped in Chippewa Harbor,” he said to the captain.

“What do you mean?” responded the captain. “Beth had a party of two for Chippewa Harbor, but they were a no-show. Anyway, we are past Chippewa.”

“Oh, no! Beth made the booking for me and my client. I have the confirmation right here.”

Apparently, the name on the credit card appeared on the manifest and not the names of the passengers who were listed in the reservation, so the captain did not realize that Duane was the passenger who was supposed to be dropped in Chippewa Harbor. The next available stop was Malone Bay, so Malone Bay was Duane’s starting point.

The next day was beautiful. Duane started started out at daybreak and had a leisurely hike up the Ishpeming Trail to the Ishpeming Tower at the intersection with the Greenstone Ridge Trail and on into Hatchet Lake where he enjoyed a relaxing evening.

Ishpeming Tower in the Sunshine

Around 3:00 a.m., his sleep was arrested by a close lightning strike with an almost immediate boom of thunder. By 4:00 a.m., he was filming in the tent, realizing that there was a serious issue with any Malone Bay hike planned for a six-day and five-night excursion. If he did not hike to West Chickenbone (8.1 miles) on that day, he would have to hike almost 17 miles into Daisy Farm the next day to make up for the weather day. Given that the trails are treacherous when they are slick, any rushing is not a good idea.

Spiderweb in the Rain

By 9:00 a.m., however, there was a break in the weather, so Duane packed up quickly and set out for West Chickenbone campground, 8.1 miles distant. Crossing the wet whaleback rocks as quickly as possible, he arrived by midafternoon. He ate quickly and set up the tent before the next storm was atop of him.

We know that the down day in the itinerary is essential for days like this one. Had the lightning not let up, Duane would have had to hike in the storm to be able to make his departure boat. Lesson learned.

Face Planting

Hiking out of Malone Bay is one of the most grueling trails on the island, especially as a first hike for the season. In 2021 Duane set out from Malone bay to map the last few waterfront campgrounds on the Garmin in preparation for our circumnavigation by kayak.

The hike from Malone Bay to Hatchet Lake is 13.1 miles, with a significant length going steadily uphill. Debarking at 11:00 a.m., Duane opted to stay overnight at Malone Bay and set out at first light, so he enjoyed the solitude of an empty campground.

Curious Moose watching me hiking in the rain

At dawn, he set out toward Hatchet Lake. By 9:00 a.m. he slogged along under a steady rain. By 1:00 p.m., he was climbing steadily up the slippery rocks and muddy trail to ascend up and over the Greenstone Ridge. About a half-mile before the Ishpeming Tower, he quickened his pace to get to the tower to get out of the rain. His feet came out from under him.

Splat! He landed his face on the slick whaleback so hard that he couldn’t move, his glasses smashed against his face. Shaken, he lay there for some minutes, groaning.

The rain pelted his pack. It was cold on his face. Once he sat up, he realized he was bleeding, and swabbed his face with a hanky.

Then he regained his feet and trudged up to the tower and sat out of the rain. Apparently, he looked pretty rough as a couple passing by along the Greenstone inquired, asking if they could help with anything.

Eventually, he he got up and made his way into Hatchet Lake by evening. He set up in the rain and quickly got inside to dry off before hyperthermia set in. Without a mirror, he couldn’t see the damage, but his glasses were twisted, and he had blood on his sleeves, likely from wiping his face.

Wet Tent Viewed from under the Guide Tarp

He rested the next day at Hatchet Lake, thankful for the leisure built into his itinerary that allowed him plenty of time to continue mapping the remaining lakefront campgrounds.

Three days later, after mapping Chippewa Harbor and Moskey Basin, he ran across a ranger at Daisy Farm.

“What happened? He asked, and Duane explained. “You could have hit the emergency beacon,” the ranger said.

“I could walk,” Duane replied.

Lesson reinforced: Always make sure to have an extra day so you don’t have to push through when you should wait out the weather.

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