Not as cold last night as at Siskiwet, but maybe we just wore more clothes to bed. The alarm went off at 7:30 and Joey was up and sounding chipper after a solid 9 hours of sleep. Eric was a bit groggier even after almost 10 hours of sleep.
We at breakfast of oatmeal, the last of the dried fruit, and tea on the beach. It was quite pleasant and again a relaxed start. Still we were on the trail by 9:10 with the goal of Windigo by 11, which we made. More up and down on the west side of the loop, but still a very nice hike. I had not planned to photograph any flowers this last stretch so that we could keep moving, but had to when I came across a field of new flowers I hadn’t seen before.
As we walked into Windigo, we met up with a man who had come across to island with us on Monday and was now heading back on the ferry along with his family. I was taking a picture of the dandelions growing up a hill used to process the sewage. They boys and I had just marveled at how well the treatment was being done to fit in with the overall landscape and the man commented that we had an amazingly positive view of something so mundane. Go figure.
This trip has been fabulous for the blooms. Cindy, a National Park Service ranger I spoke with at Windigo said they’re a little early this year, but not much. If you’re measurement of success for Isle Royale is spotting moose, you’ll probably leave disappointed. Most people I spoke with were like Eric and Joey — a quick glimpse, maybe only of the retreating butt, or a distant view through binoculars, is the best you get. (Not that we say many people on the trail — only the one couple — and just a few more in camp.) But Isle Royale has so much else to see, smell, and hear. Tracking the wolves between Lake Feldtmann and the tower, probably only 30-60 minutes behind the duo, seeing all the flowers in bloom, having the sandhill cranes surprise and scold us, seeing an area left primarily to its natural course, these are all good enough for me. I was asked to fill out a sighting report for the sandhills when checking out, learned more about the flora, and in general was made to feel as much a part of the team that studies the island as a visitor to the island. That too was special. Cindy also handed a volunteer form to Joey and recommended he come back to intern while he studies zoology at SIU. He seems quite interested in doing so and maybe that will be the next motivation for our return, this time sooner than it took us since our last visit in 2004.
During our first visit we primarily concentrated on the backpacking and camping. This time backpacking is second nature and we instead came as naturalists. We read the moose and wolf study annual reports in advance, Joey picked up a tracking book, I found a fauna of Isle Royale card, and in general we prepared very differently. How sweet is that! To cover 40 miles in three days plus a couple hours on the 4th day, with the knowledge that we could have kept going, while constantly observing and learning. And now with the new flora and fauna of Isle Royale book in hand, we’ll be in even better shape to observe our next visit.
I wonder if they ever found the moose carcass? We found out today back at the ranger station that they’ve just started a study of the pine martens on the island — they’ve apparently become they’re own subspecies. The park rangers wonder if some day soon they’ll begin a study of the sandhill cranes. A team of volunteers are riding back to Grand Portage with us. A NPS ranger led the team on a beach dig to study the geology of 5000 years ago. So much cool stuff happening in this, the least visited National Park in the U.S.
A bald eagle saw us off as we sailed out of Washington Harbor. The boys went from staring out at the island in reflection to reading a NPS informational pamphlet and studying the island map. Life is good when boots are muddy from a trail well travelled!