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I had been planning this trip for years but for some reason or another, things got in the way. I even went to Michigan Tech, which is within 40 miles of the Isle Royale Queen Ferry that goes to Isle Royale, but finally I made the Trip the Summer of 2002 with my sons Boy Scout Troop with 1 team of 6 in June and 2 teams of 6 in July, of which I was a member of the latter. As we called the trip IR02
Planning is how you make a trip like this successful. We formed our teams a year in advance and planned our trips, ours went something like this.
Our trip plan was from Rock Harbor we took the water taxi to Chippewa Harbor, portage to Lake Whittlesey for 2 nights, then portage to Wood lake for 2 nights, Portage to Lake Richie for 2 nights then portage and paddle back to Rock Harbor and spend last night there before heading back to Copper Harbor, the other group was similar except they went to Malone Bay then portage to Lake Siskiwit and then paddled to Wood Lake where we meet them.
We drove to Copper Harbor and stayed at Lake Fannie Hoe Resort for the night before the trip to IR. Nice place but small campsites, but they do have a hotel for the ones that want a soft night before the trip. Fort Wilkins State Park is also available for camping along with several other hotels and lodges to stay at.
Day 1: Morning happens early as we all head down to dock to get ready for the trip over. (Remember to have your cooking fuel tanks in a separate bag as they are kept in a different part of the ship than your gear), it takes time to get loaded up…anticipation…excitement…
The trip over across on Lake Superior can be in different ways, we were lucky with light wind and 2 foot waves. It’s time for thought and mental preparation…all the planning is coming to fruition as we are on our way to IR02…
We arrive in Rock Harbor and we unload and check in with the rangers and get a small presentation on the island and what to expect, but through all the reading, preparation, and day dreaming, I think any one of us could have made the presentation.
Finally we head to the water taxi service to take us to Chippewa Harbor, another long ride but anticipation is building as we head down the harbor thinking that at the end of our trip we must make this 8 mile canoe ride to get back, hope the wind is with us. We finally get there and the taxi drops us off and as the taxi heads back out into Superior and we are alone. Wow. We are here, a beautiful place. I think next time it may be nice to spend a day here as there is a shelter, so tranquil. We load up the boats make some water (remember you must filter all water no matter how clean it looks) and head out. Do a little fishing on the way, but finally comes the first portage, a hilly rocky 0.6 mile grunt. My son takes off down the trail and with his dry bag. I catch up with him down the way with the 17 foot aluminum Grumman canoe on my back. He was laying on the ground as he left his hooded sweatshirt on from the chilly boat ride, but now it is hot in the inland area.
We finish the portage and go to Lake Whittlesey, a long thin lake with a long thin Island in the middle. Camp is 2/3 the way across the lake just past the island, 3 campsites. Nice. We fish and catch pike and walleye, great eating…man I am in paradise. Bugs are not so bad during day but after dark beware as they buzz all night, but it stays day light ‘til 11 pm, and most are tired by then and bed is a great place to be with the bugs out. We rigged up a large bug net under our rain tarp and it was enough we could all fit in when we ate and cooked. The cooking draws the bugs, improvise and overcome - we are Scouts!
Day 2: Our second day on Whittlesey we caught more fish and explored this beautiful place, you can go on the island its pretty rocky, how do those trees ever grow in it?? The other island is really just rocks sticking up with a loon trying to nest on it.
One Pair from our other group portaged over from Wood Lake to visit us, wow an extra 2 portages just to see us. Okay to fish for walleye as Lake Whittlesey is the main lake that has walleye in it. Fog came in that night and late at night we heard our first moose, tramping around in the brush and came near the tents and snorted and talk about nerves. Fortunately he walked away.
Day 3: The next day we packed up early and headed to our next 0.6 mile portage to Wood Lake, another beautiful spot, and meet up with the other group. Wood Lake holds some nice fish, one youth and I caught a 31 and 30 inch pike, try landing that without a net - oh my gosh - it was good.. The boys did some jumping from some downed trees into the water, cold but refreshing (watch for leaches).
Day 4: The next day the other group left and we stayed and went into Lake Siskiwit and paddled to Ryan Island, the largest Island in the largest lake (Lake Siskiwit) in the largest island (IR) in the largest lake in the world (Lake Superior). The beauty and ruggedness of this place is awesome.
Day 5: We pack up and head through Wood Lake that connects to Lake Siskiwit and then to the 0.4 miles portage to Intermediate Lake, a nice lake but not enough days. We paddle through it to the next 0.6 mile portage to Lake Richie, the best fishing on the island, one day I caught 24 keeper pike, course you only keep what you can eat. After time you get them to the canoe and try to unhook next to the canoe, have some cheap pliers as you do not want to loose your expensive multifunction tool. Our other group is here too and they have done well.
Day 6: The next day during mid day we were doing some relaxing and the sun was behind us and we spied a canoe coming up with a guy in the back and a girl in the front. Well they must not have seen us as she was paddling there kind of natural, if you know what I mean. Well then they saw us and some might say she got embarrassed – ahh Mother Nature. Did some paddling to see a moose feeding in the water head go down eat the fresh water plants, must be very tasty as she did it for about an hour, then she got annoyed by our canoes and headed out of the water , man she was huge, and disappeared into the woods. More loons, their haunting calls at night.
Day 7: Packed up and headed to the west end of Lake Richie and made the final 2.6 mile portage. Wow, remember its 7.3 miles by the time you make the trip back for the rest of your stuff. And then if you miss the put in and carry down to the dock and a few more tenths of a mile. Ha ha, we ran into a group of youth who were doing the round tripper in two weeks of hiking 100 miles. Many of them were looking a little grubby by the end of their trip. Well we got all down there and then it was time for the 8 mile or so paddle back to Rock Harbor, fortunately the wind was with us. We had heard from group one that went in June that they had a head wind and that was tough, but it was with us. We made it back for dinner at the lodge, the kids opted for ice cream, cold sodas, and junk food, while the adults, well we went and had a nice steak dinner and a beer - ahh what a way to end the trip. Went for a walk that night and saw some mine tailings and a moose along the trail, ahh Isle Royale at its finest..
Day 8: The trip back is a time of thoughts and contemplation. Planning for so long, we enjoyed it, and now it’s over. The memories will last forever and hopefully all the pictures will come out. It’s what I read once as poking at the embers, thinking, planning the next trip already…IR06 will soon be here.
Bent Shaft Canoe Paddles