Why Hike Isle Royale?

It does something for each of us.

We all have our reasons. Many people hike Isle Royale as part of their plans to visit every US National Park. Others run the trails because it is their way to experience the outdoors. Yet others want to get away and experience the rugged off-trail backcountry experience. I go for my reasons, and Duane hikes for his.

We like an early hike each year, in early June, whether we are together or with clients. Duane is a great adventurer, so he is always taking mental notes of what is there and what has changed. He knows, for example, how many boardwalks between this point and that point on any given trail, at which miles the beaver dams are, what the condition of each aspect of the trail is. He can tell you any number of phenomenological occurrences with a vast array of exact data.

Lake Superior at Little Todd Harbor

I am not an analytical adventurer. When I work my day job, I spend a lot of mental energy analyzing and thinking critically. Isle Royale is my vacation, –guiding or not–and I spend my time letting the experience unfold. Therefore, I am in the moment, experiencing the trail immediately and via the senses. I can tell you about the feeling of the trail, the pungency of the woods, the crispness of the air, the sharpness of the rocks. My data is sensory and experiential. I know the rock, the decline into the gully, the switchback because of how my physical self takes it in and remembers it. My muscles remember.

Into a Gully
Up on the Ridge

Combined, we know the trails critically and intimately on multiple levels. When we talk about Isle Royale, Duane will supply the facts, the specifics. As I write, I am with a steady stream demands for verification of specifics, for such is his brain. I am fluid and overarching, sketching in the backdrop in broad strokes, then with specific sensations of the experience.

When I speak, I share my experience of the island. I am not connected to four beaver dams. I connect instead with the smell of the dam, the consistency of the mud, that there is birch bark or lichens along the trail, the sequence of feeling and repeated movement. I know that, once I pass the part where I want to pick the thimble berries but do not because of the cliff edge, I will come to the beaver dam where people often miss the curve left in the trail and get lost in the beaver dam to the right.

Beaver Dams

Duane will tell you that this will occur at 5.75 miles southwest of North Lake Desor Campground, heading toward Washington Creek, and he made sure the milage was accurate here.

That is not to say that Duane doesn’t feel the island. He is one who will say he is “in his happy place” when he is on Isle Royale. His happy place is analytical and physically grounded in specific detail. I will not say that it’s my happy place, not because I am not happy, but because I don’t think that way.

Duane and His Camera
The Subject

I can be happy anywhere, for I am made happy from repeated increasingly accomplished experience and rhythm. I am happy riding a bike in a 20 mile loop and up a steep hill if I do it five times each week all summer.

I can see joy in Duane’s face when we are hiking. We stop and take in the views. He tells me specifics. But he loves the campgrounds. He goes through his ritual of setting up the tent, assembling his chair, getting water, cooking dinner, and then kicking back. If there is a social gathering place, he is there taking in the views and the camaraderie of group, sharing adventures on the trail. He sees the sunset, enjoys the communal fire ring, listens for the loons and moose in the morning and evening. His gaze misses nothing.


I am inward. My hike is about finding that rhythmic pace that makes me feel good about walking. I like the rhythm. I like to climb the ridges, up and down, with consistent speed and to stand atop the peaks and open places, sweating and catching my breath. I love the feeling of the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. I like my heartbeat and the feeling of my muscles moving. I smell Lake Superior a couple miles before we get to the shore.

In camp, I will go through the same ritual of setting up, getting water, eating dinner and kicking back. I see the sunset, hear the moose and the loons, feel the chill in the evening air and the relish the setting sun. I hear/feel the lapping of the waves, and I want to sink into the cold water and be in it.

Three Mile Campground Moonrise

Of a specific hike, Duane says this:

On that particular night, I was in Three Mile Campground shelter 11 (I believe).

It started as this really strange, bright orange glow in the night sky. After the constant drizzle of the day hiking from Moskey Basin, it was refreshing to have the rain stop.

The increasing brightness caught my attention, so I dug my phone out to get some pictures, not really sure of what was its cause.

As I watched the clouds glowing, they started to move off, the clearing sky giving way to this gorgeous moonrise.

I have encountered so much natural beauty over the years while visiting Isle Royale National Park.

I hope you enjoy these photos, but the camera on my phone did not do the actual sight justice.

He sees with his eyes and his heart, and he shares the same way. This is the vision he shares with the people he guides and the people with whom he shares the island. I will take you for a swim.

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