The boat ride from Grand Portage to our drop-off point on Isle Royale was no fun, but once we got off the boat and got settled, we immediately started enjoying this back-country adventure.
The heavy rains came overnight as predicted and we were glad we weren't in a tent. The motel electricity went out and the clock on the nightstand reset. Fortunately, I had set an alarm on my cell phone.
So, we got everything together, packed up the Jeep and made the 45-minute drive northeast up Hwy 61 from Grand Marais to Grand Portage.
We made one last stop in Grand Portage to pick up some breakfast making our way to the ferry dock. View from the casino gas station parking lot.
After going to the marina nearest the casino and finding it was the wrong place, we eventually found the ferry dock a couple miles outside of town. We parked the Jeep and hauled our gear down to the dock where there was already a line.
We had made an advance reservation a couple days ago, so they just checked us off, confirmed where we were going, and took our backpacks to be stored up on top. We knew our packs would be stored, so we had taken off the removable tops and used them as carry-ons for our food and anything we might need on the boat ride. Though it's only a 2-hour ride to Windigo on the western end of the island, we wouldn't reach our destination of McCargoe Cove until 1:00 p.m. or so making it a five and a half to six hour ride.
Now the Voyageur II is a silver, metal boat clearly designed more for function than aesthetics or comfort.
After getting instructions from the captain regarding life jackets, the heads (bathrooms), and where to go if you start feeling sick, ....
we were allowed to board.
Most people went to the back cabin where there are windows to view the surroundings while you ride. Then there is a mid-cabin behind the helm which is a step-down. There is no view at all from the mid-cabin while sitting. Linda & I claimed a couple of seats in the mid-cabin and boy are we glad we did.
You see, this boat is extremely noisy .... I mean uncomfortably LOUD. The door to our cabin helped with some of the noise, whereas those in the back cabin with the views got the full brunt of the loud engine.
And today, the remnants of last night's storm had Lake Superior rockin' and rollin'. So the trip out to the island was quite unpleasant because of both the noise and the rolling waves. Fortunately, I've never gotten seasick, but Linda and, apparently, several others are not quite so lucky. She was able to snag a motion-sickness pill from another passenger and staved off the queasiness, while many stayed on the back deck of the boat to try to "keep things down".
Once we got to the shelter of Isle Royale's surrounding islands, the trip was smoother, but the engine was no quieter. At least it was comfortable enough to get out on the front deck and watch as we closed in on Windigo.
It had turned into a beautiful morning. We pulled into the dock at Windigo around 9:30.
At the dock, we all had to unload and go through a brief orientation from a ranger.
After the obligatory "leave no trace" talk and the warnings about camp foxes that will steal your stuff and squirrels that will chew through your packs, we were dismissed. Those of us camping on the island had to walk up the hill to the Visitor Center to get our camping permits.
There is a $4 per day per person use fee which they prefer that you pay in advance .... which we did. The campsites are free, but you have to have a permit which you display on the door of the shelter (if you are lucky enough to get one) or on your tent. The shelters and tent sites are all first-come, first-snagged. There is a definite possibility you could arrive at a camping area to find all the spots taken, but you then just politely ask if you can share a site.
Once we got our permit, we headed back down to the dock.
Some folks were staying at or starting from Windigo, while the rest of us climbed back on the boat for future stops.
We left Windigo and headed around the north side of the island. It was pretty, but not worth sitting out on the uncomfortable deck for the next three hours. So, we hunkered down in the mid-cabin, had some snacks, met some of the others getting off with us at McCargoe Cove, read our Kindles, and tried to take strange-position naps.
There were times all of us wished we had sprung for the $300 per seat seaplane rides.
Finally, we entered the mouth of McCargoe Cove.
We were very glad to see the dock.
Soon, we were off the boat with our packs and waving goodbye to the Voyageur II while feeling sorry for those that still had three hours to go to get to Rock Harbor.
The other hikers that got off at McCargoe all had plans to hike to other campsites in the interior of the island. Linda & I were staying right here at McCargoe for the night. There was a metal map of the campsite and shelter locations.
We checked out the three tent sites and all were vacant. They all had picnic tables and were sufficiently private and level. But before we set up, we decided to see if any of the six shelters might be available. Shelter #6 was vacant and we snagged it.
That shelter was an easy walk to the dock, the group firepit, and one of three latrines (pit toilets).
Many of the Lake Superior shoreline camping areas have these wonderful shelters that have three solid sides and a screened front. They have plenty of room for all your gear, you don't have to worry about foxes and squirrels, you can stand up and move around easily, and they eliminate the need to set up a tent (unless it's really cold in which case people set up their tents inside).
We put our packs in the shelter, ....
and then had some lunch at our picnic table with somewhat of a water view.
After lunch, we set up our sleeping pads and packs, and I fetched a bucket of water to filter for drinking and cooking.
Shortly after we were all set up, we took our Helinox chairs and table down to the lake for some afternoon reading and relaxing.
We watched butterflies, ....
and loons, ....
and met several of the other hikers. One couple was from Tennessee while almost everyone else was from the upper Midwest.
We were visited by a curious gull, ....
and a gaggle of not-so-wild geese.
The dock was the gathering place.
Some fished, some sun-bathed, some washed clothes, and many collected water.
A couple of hardy souls got in the frigid Superior water .... but only for a very, very short time.
Eventually, everyone dispersed to their campsites to prepare dinner. We did the same. Tonight was Fiesta Chicken. We used our wonderful MSR Windburner stove system that boils water in about two minutes.
Linda LOVES the combination of our "just boil water" meals (from The Yummy Life blog) and the MSR Windburner. We get healthy, tasty, hot meals in minutes and there is very little clean-up. Plus we carry no pots or pans or plates or variety of eating utensils. Everything is eaten from the Windburner pot, or its included cup, with a long spork.
After dinner, Linda & I gathered wood for the community firepit. We nursed the fire while others did some after-dinner fishing on the dock.
As it got darker, a park ranger that was staying in the group section with a trail-clearing crew joined us. And then the Tennessee couple and some guys from Michigan came as well.
As we talked, the full moon rose above the tree line illuminating the night.
I took this shot of the moon with its reflection on the water and moon shadows being cast from those still on the dock.
After a couple hours around the campfire, we let it go out and we all went back to our shelters and campsites for the night.
The not-so-fun travel part of the day had been forgotten, and our first day on Isle Royale was pretty magical.
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