Sunday, August 15, 2010

Isle Royale

After going to a wedding in St. Joseph, MI, I picked up Kristin in Chicago and we made the 7 hour drive to the Upper Peninsula for an overdue backpacking reunion trip (we did the Maryland section of the AT 5 years ago). Our destination...Isle Royale National Park!

There were a few reasons for choosing Isle being my mission to see all 57 National Parks of the US (this made #33), and two...wolves and moose! Of course we didn't really expect to see wolves. But the island is rather famous if you are an ecologist.

Isle Royale is an island of the Great Lakes, located in the northwest of Lake Superior, and part of the state of Michigan (but not far from Canada). The island and the 400 surrounding smaller islands make up Isle Royale National Park. Obviously the only way to get there is by boat (or seaplane)--and ours took 9 hours because a draw bridge was broken. But, it was a nice ride anyway. The remoteness of Isle Royale leads to it having fewer visitors in one year than Great Smoky Mountains National Park has in just one day!

The island is well known among ecologists as the site of a long-term study of a predator-prey system between moose and eastern timber wolves. In general, as the moose increase in population, the wolves increase. (And the island creates an opportunity with a closed system to study this.) Eventually, the wolves kill too many moose and begin to starve/lower reproductive rates and the moose increase again.

After we got off the boat at Rock Harbor, Kristin and I hiked 3 miles to a campground along the coast. We were attacked by caterpillars of some kind (they just covered our tent) and it rained overnight. But we did awake just before dawn to moose munching right outside the tent, which was pretty awesome.

On Day 2 we hiked 11 miles by going further down the coast and then up over Mt. Ojibway to a nice ridge trail with great views of the island. Then finally we went back down to the other side of the island to Lane Cove. On Day 3 we hiked another 7 or so miles back to Rock Harbor and hung out until the boat picked us up again. At Lane Cove we both heard howling in the night.

The island was beautiful and it was nice to get out on the trail again -- it felt good to hike all day until I was dead tired and fall asleep by 9pm. And of course it was great to spend time with Kristin!

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