The Indians called it the ‘Floating Island’ because it seemed to float above the water on the morning mist. We observed this phenomenon as we approached Isle Royale from the deck of the Isle Royale Queen III. The 4-hour ferryboat ride out of Copper Harbor, Michigan was coming to a close and our weeklong backpacking adventure was just beginning.
Isle Royale began 1.2 billion years ago during the Pre-Cambrian period. Lava seeped up through the cracks of the Superior Basin and formed basalt, which is the bedrock of Isle Royale and the surrounding islands. The island has a washboard appearance, which was caused when the Superior Basin began to subside. This resulted in a landscape with steep northwest ridges and a gradual southern slope. There have been four glaciations that have pushed their way down from Canada and scoured the land as far south as the Ohio River Basin. The last glacier receded from the Superior Basin about 11,000 years ago.
Copper occurs naturally on Isle Royale and there is evidence of copper mining as early as 2000 BC. The Chippewa Indians would pound the copper out of the rocks and then mold it into knives, arrow points, and other artifacts.
Four of us were traveling together for our backpacking trip. Dan Procise, Paul Eaggelston, Boyd Tarney and myself. Dan and Paul had backpacked here before. After we got ashore, we gathered with the rest of the backpackers and listened to an orientation from the park ranger. There are no automobiles on this nine by forty five-mile island and the ranger’s job is to keep the island as prestine as possible.
Most of the backpackers loaded their packs and began their hikes to various points on the island. We decided to camp the first night at the Rock Harbor campground. We set up our tents and did a 4-mile hike along the Stoll Memorial Trail. It took us across the southeastern edge of the island to Scoville Point. Lake Superior was calm that first day with a heavy fog that gave everything a mystical feeling. We sat on a rocky point overlooking Scoville Point, and as the fog began to lift, other islands appeared out of the haze recreating the same phenomena that we observed as we first approached Isle Royale.
The next morning dawned bright and crisp. Each of us loaded our gear on our backs and headed off cross-country to a place called Lane Cove. The trip from Rock Harbor to Lane Cove takes you over the backbone of the island, which is a rocky crag called the Greenstone Trail. Because everyone hikes at a different pace, most of the journey finds you alone with nature. The wilderness experience is a great change from our normal world of automobiles, TV’s and jobs.
Following the overnight at Lane Cove, we all went off in our own direction. Boyd did a 10-mile hike to Ojibwa Point and Dan hiked back up the Greenstone Ridge and then over to Lookout Louise.
The following day we broke base camp. Dan and Paul planned on meeting back at the Rock Harbor campground while Boyd and I hiked to a place called Three-Mile. Dan ran out of daylight before meeting up with Paul and ended up camping with Boyd and I. Later that night, I headed out of camp to find a clearing to look for Northern lights. The lights were not visible, but I did come face to face with a very large cow moose. Dan brought his flashlight out and we watched as the moose continued to munch on foliage and slowly wonder away.
After a week on the trail our hike back to Rock Harbor was no problem. We had experienced a great week of hiking with perfect weather and more trails than we could possibly hike.
Friday as we waited for the ferry to take us back to the mainland, a squall blew onto shore and wet everything down. The wind picked up and as we began to board the Isle Royale Queen III the captain suggested that all passengers take Dramamine.
There were 8-foot seas as we left Rock Harbor and before we entered Lake Superior there were people at the rail tossing over their breakfast. The rain came in torrents and those who headed for the rail came back drenched and green. They donned raingear from their packs and floundered their way back to the rail as the ship tossed and rolled through the rough Lake Superior swells. It was an exciting four and a half hours back to Copper Harbor, but by the time we arrived, the weather had abated to a slow drizzle. We said our farewells and settled in for the long ride back to Fort Wayne, to jobs, automobiles and Sunday night football, but for one week, we got our chance to be captivated by Isle Royale, the mystical floating island of Lake Superior.