What Success Looks Like

Hiking Isle Royale the First Time

Probably the most fun hike for me is one where newcomers to the sport of backpacking join me for a first hike on Isle Royale and exceed their own expectations–and have a great time doing it. This past weekend Lynn and Gil did just that. They jumped in, got geared up, and mastered the skills that created the possibilities for their great adventure.

Starting Out
Rock Harbor Trail Water View

For a couple of weeks prior to departure, we chatted over Zoom, and they put together their gear, food, and personal items to meet their needs and not exceed comfortable hiking weight limits. For reference, they used our recommended gear list. When we got to the island, they had exactly what they needed and nothing more. We know this because, at the end of the hike, Gil had one extra protein bar and Lynn had one spare dehydrated meal. They did not have extra clothes, nor did they need clothes that they didn’t take. They were warm day and night, protected from rain, and slept in comfort.

Our route was a good choice for first-time backpackers who want to start out learning to backpack on this rugged, isolated, and demanding island, Isle Royale National Park. We chose to do a loop that started from Rock Harbor and extended to Daisy Farm with the option to go up to the Ojibway Tower, over to Mt. Franklin and back down into Three Mile for the return to Rock Harbor. This proposed itinerary allows us to modify the ridge portion to be completed as a day hike from Daisy Farm, rather than hiking with a pack up to the ridge, in the event that the packs felt too heavy.

Geared Up
Happy Hiker

Our first night was spent in Rock Harbor, and we set out to Daisy Farm at 8:00 the next morning, climbing over rocks and treading boardwalks over marshy areas. In an hour and a half, we were resting at the picnic table on the big rock at Three Mile campground, eating snacks and enjoying the exquisite view across the harbor toward the barrier islands. We hiked into Daisy Farm a couple hours later, where they first experienced a plunge into the cold harbor to wash off the trail grime prior to the next day’s hike up the Ridge.

Along the trail to the Ojibway Tower, we climbed over a small ridge to descend into a valley where we crossed over a swampy area on a boardwalk, climbed again for a short way, and descended to cross over another swampy area on a longer boardwalk to the east and south of Lake Ojibway. Then we began our ascent to the apex of the Greenstone Ridge. On the left of the trail, Lynn identified Lake Ojibway which she had seen on the map as we planned the hike.

Lynn at Level 2 Ascending and
Gil at Level 3 Taking Photos

While the 550 feet ascent in 1.7 miles from Daisy Farm to the Ridge at Ojibway Tower can be a struggle for some, Lynn and Gil, who are very fit, managed the climb to the ridge with no difficulty. Their enjoyment of the views from the Tower was evident as they climbed to the highest level accessible to the public.

Reaching the Tower provided a sense of triumph, and the trail across the top of the Greenstone Ridge afforded excellent views. From the top of the Ojibway Tower, Lynn and Gil again observed the barrier islands along the south shore of Isle Royale and beyond to the vast expanse of Lake Superior. Leaving the tower, we hiked eastward along the ridge toward the Mt. Franklin lookout.

Sleeping Giant in Repose in the Distance at Mt. Franklin
Descending Mt. Franklin Trail at Rock Harbor Trail Junction

As we hiked across the ridge, we ate sugar plums and thimble berries, tasted the tart chokecherries, and identified all the berries not to eat, including those growing in the juniper bushes right next to the tiny blueberries that burst with exquisite sweetness on the tongue.

From the Mount Franklin lookout, we viewed Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, across the expanse of northern Lake Superior as well as Amygdaloid Island, Belle Isle, and the other islands along the north shore. By this time, Gil and Lynn’s satisfaction was evident, and I am sure that mine was, too.

Gil and Lynn after Day 2

As we hiked, the serene beauty of Isle Royale permeated our beings. Each evening, we bathed in the frigid waters of Lake Superior and basked in the sounds of loons and other shore birds. In the day, we heard the rattling cries of the sandhill cranes in flight overhead. Mergansers and mallards quacked as they paddled along the shore as we hiked by.

Singular Loon
On the Rail at the Guest House

All throughout the hike, we watched the trail sides and marshy areas for that elusive moose, to no avail. By the time we logged those last, happy miles into Rock Harbor, we had forgotten that we had not seen a moose and were content with the experiences we had enjoyed.

At Rock Harbor, we rested our packs in the line for boarding the Queen IV, and we set off to enjoy cold beverages and burgers at the Greenstone Grill. Prior to boarding, we stopped by and visited the store and savored ice cream bars. Then there they were–the cow and calves who spent their summer days in the sanctuary of the peninsula behind the Rock Harbor Lodge, safe from the predation of wolves and a treat for human eyes as they crossed in front of the grill to retire for a midday’s nap in the protecting woods.

Cow and Twin Calves in front of the Greenstone Grill
Gil, Lynn, and Guide Beth

Each excursion starts with planning and preparation that we hope ends in a successful adventure and a store of memories to last a lifetime for those who venture into this wilderness paradise with us. Our goal is to facilitate the best experience with the utmost possible safety on this remote island. In the end, we want all who hike with us to know the connection with the earth and its landscapes and inhabitants as vitally and alive as we do.

The Faces of a Successful Excursion

We hope they experience the heights of the ridges, the exquisite views, the refreshing dips into Lake Superior, and even the tastes of the natural fruits of this awesome place. Upon return to catch the ferry, all faces should reflect that deeply held satisfaction that radiates from within.

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