Women Breaking Out

on Isle Royale National Park

In 2022, I set out to prove that women can solo the Minong and senior women can, too. For a long time, the Minong Ridge Trail has been my favorite trail on the island, partly because of its mystique, but also because of its terrain. Only 10 days prior to my 63rd birthday, I soloed the Minong Ridge Trail on Isle Royale in three days because I could. A month later, I completed it again with Duane in four days, which is a much more reasonable pace.

Rock Harbor Trail
Near 3-MIle

The Minong is slightly lower in altitude than the Greenstone Ridge Trail, but it has steep ascents and descents in rapid succession in certain segments that intensify its difficulty. In other sections, swamps and beaver dams provide hazards to the uninitiated who can get lost in unmarked areas or confused by moose paths that obliterate the trail. In addition to the ruggedness, however, there is beauty in the exceptional beaches and spectacular views. Two of the beaches are located on Lake Superior at Todd and Little Todd Harbors, one on the inland lake at North Desor, and another along the pristine McCargoe Cove. Through its length, the Minong Ridge avails incredible views of Canada. It has spotty cell service from Canada, usable by those with international plans. Don’t if you don’t have such a plan–it’s expensive.

Traversing the Minong Ridge
On the Minong Ridge

The Minong Ridge Trail is the most difficult on Isle Royale. While other trails are also difficult, the Minong accounts for the most Search and Rescue operations because the trail is less evident and less traversed to be made more evident than many of the others, and the hazards occur distant from sources of help.

Top of the World
Getting into the Water

These features contribute to its fabled status, which only part of why I took up the challenge of soloing it in my 60s. The other part has to do with overcoming the dismissive attitudes of those who discount senior women out of hand, the nay-sayers whose eyes pass right over senior women, even when women speak directly to them–because the nay-sayers don’t recognize the power senior women represent or the capability they possess.

Descending along the Minong Ridge
At Little Todd Junction

Traditionally, people have been conditioned to think that women enjoy activities that highlight ease and comfort (think of hotels, spas, and resorts), rather than emphasizing physical endurance, adventure, and challenge, such as what is experienced in backpacking on Isle Royale where amenities are nonexistent. Sometimes, women don’t think that the wild outdoors are places they could enjoy. Yes, some women do think of themselves as viable outdoors women, but they are generally the exception, not the rule. My point is to break through and help women to imagine themselves in the backcountry, backpacking, challenging themselves, and meeting or exceeding those challenges.

Little Todd Harbor
Sleeping Giant from the Monong Ridge

Further, I want women to know themselves as strong, vital, and engaged in exceeding in the challenges they choose to take up–intellectually and physically. After all, women are strong. Women are capable. Woman are exceeding boundaries. That’s why women are clamoring for avenues to challenge themselves and prove that they can do whatever they choose to do.

Descent into the Forest
Up on the Ridge again

This Wednesday, I turn 64, and I will solo the Minong Ridge Trail again at 65. I can’t this summer because of my work schedule, but I have a women’s-only hikes of the Minong Ridge Trail planned for 2024. I also have breakout hikes where beginning women backpackers can try the adventure to see if it is something in which they want to excel.

Greenstone Ridge View–Breakout Hike
Mt. Franklin View–Breakout Hike

If you want to pre-register for a breakout or a longer hike, email us at wiseoldmanofisleroyale@gmail.com and let us know which month (June, July, August) you would like to join a women-only hike. Remember that the Wise Old Man is sometimes a woman and Wise Old Man of Isle Royale is owned by a woman.

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