By Judy Gratsch
November 11, 2011
The first National Park I visited was in my own backyard, Isle Royale NP in Michigan's northern most corner. I had one week in June in which to drive the 1200 miles roundtrip to Copper Harbor (with a few side trips to see Michigan's other natural wonders), travel 9 hours aboard the ferry both ways which left me with just two days on this remarkable island. The trip from Copper Harbor began in the fog which amazingly cleared 4 1/2 hours later upon entering Rock Harbor. As we arrived we were treated to the site of a Moose cow and calf swimming from one of the outer islands to the main island. With no vehicles permitted on the island, I chose backpacking as my method of travel. The last in line to register my hiking plan with the rangers left me alone to begin my trek along Tobin Harbor trail as all my fellow hikers quickly dispersed among the various trails leaving the Harbor. My ability as a novice (and out-of-shape) backpacker was not the only reason I chose to go it slow. The day had developed into a sunny and warm (65-70 degrees) magnifying the beauty of the island woodlands and water. From blooming wildflowers to elusive butterflies my attention was only fleetingly on the trail beneath my feet. And it was quiet, so quiet - not a sound of humans anywhere. I found all my senses to be heightened as a hiked alone along the trail wondering what I would see around the next bend or over the next rocky climb. I learned alot on my short trek on Isle Royale. The rangers gave us instructions before we headed out on our relationship with the island wildlife. If you see a moose, especially one with a calf, get behind a large tree to avoid a charge. If you run into a wolf, make lots of noise as they want to avoid humans. Don't feed the rodents or foxes, it makes them less afraid of people. Stay on the trail, carry a map and leave no trace. Previous hikers had left natural trail signs where the trail cut across rocky outcrops. Stacked stones marked the way without being obtrusive. From each tower you could see the next which eventually helped you find your way back to the wooded path on the other side. I chose to setup camp at 3 mile camp which was only 3 miles from the Harbor. Arriving mid afternoon, I didn't want to risk being any farther away from the departing ferry the next day. Plus it gave me time to sun on the flat rocks along Lake Superior's eastern shore and soak my sore dogs in the clear, cold water. I watched loons, ducks and a passing eagle from the shore. It was peaceful. I was the only camper in this area and it felt great. Although I had heard horror stories of mosquitos and black flies that would drive you into your tent, I experienced few. I am not sure if this was usual for mid June but it made the trip even more pleasurable. On the hike back to Rock Harbor the next day, again I never saw another human. Tense from being alone and fearing a wolf encounter, I kept a big walking stick at hand and cautiously surveyed every rock and shadow along the trail. The sound of the underbrush being trampled 25 yards to my right prompted me to pick up a rock and scream warnings to the unknown invader. Eventually out trotted a huge moose cow and calf who took one look back at the crazed human and departed down the trail before I could drop my weapons and grab my camera. Although I never did encounter a wolf pack, I did meet the camp red fox on the trail and a bald eagle roosting in a dead tree along the shoreline. I arrived back at Rock Harbor in plenty of time to catch the ferry home. I had lunch at Rock Harbor Lodge grill and bought souveniers in the camp store before departure. The ferry ride back to the mainland was smooth and sunny.