Across Isle Royale by Foot
In the morning, after backtracking on Hatchet Lake Trail to the Greenstone, it's on westward. The first couple of miles brings smiles and fine views of Siskiwit Lake. It's interesting to look out over one of the inland lakes and then out further to Superior. The effect is strange, to see water bounded by more water.
There is more up and down as the path leads to yet another summit. Ishpeming Point is the second highest spot on the island at 1,377 feet, but is surrounded by dense thickets of trees providing little in the way of views. From here, it is four miles to Lake Desor along a relatively level portion of trail. This is a good stretch for catching my breath and relaxing a little.
Because I opted to finish the trip in four days rather than the more popular five, the appearance of Lake Desor means that I am in the homestretch. From here, it's a little more than 11 miles to the western end of the island at Windigo, with some good hills still ahead of me.
Two more 1,300-foot peaks guarantee a bit of a challenge on my final day. The climb to Mount Desor, the island's highest point at 1,394 feet, is met with a profusion of sugar maples, whose greenery and growth shunts any vistas from sight unless you are inclined to climb a tree. From the highest point on Isle Royale, the trail descends down to wetter ground and across wooden footpaths, which bypass swamp and muck and lead to yet another intersection.
The Greenstone then meets the Island Mine Trail. Those wanting to stretch out the trip one more day should make the trek to Island Mine via this trail. It's the only sight in the park that isn't close to water and, though it can seem a bit dry, it is surrounded by thick growths of maple, which are beautiful in the autumn months.
Pushing westward past the Island Mine trailhead, I soon encounter the last high peak of the journey. This climb is up Sugar Mountain (1,362 feet), named for the sugar maples that crowd its cap. There are no grand vistas or blatant signs of the summit, only a gradual descending from the peak, the first descent since the intersection with the Island Mine Trail.
The final five miles or so to Windigo go by light and easy. There is more low than high, and the path passes quickly. Maybe too quickly. I try to walk these last miles slowly.
When I reach the intersection with the Minong Ridge Trail, I feel the journey coming to an end. It's only another third of a mile to Washington Creek Campground, the final resting place of many a thru-hiker. A bit further down the trail lies Windigo, where vestiges of civilization such as a small grocery, showers, and laundry facilities await. From Windigo, boats carry hikers back to Rock Harbor or Grand Portage before setting a final course for the mainland. Of course, you can always about face and forward march!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication