Moskey Basin to West Chickenbone

Trip Start Sep 02, 2011
Trip End Sep 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
In a tent in campsite six

Flag of United States  , Michigan
Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 3: approximately 7.7 miles

This is a day of reunions. We cross paths with 33-pound guy. He's on the final day of his hike down to Chippewa Harbor, we pass him as he’s heading south on the Indian Portage Trail while we head north. We all welcome the break to lean on our poles and swap stories about our experiences. He’s planning on coming back with a friend and doing a longer trek. Julie and I have already been talking about what we will do differently when we come back. The top item on the list is to carry less weight, but at the same time have thicker, more comfortable sleeping pads.

A few miles on, we run into the father/son canoeists while they are portaging from Lake Livermore to Lake LeSage. The son had been to Isle Royale last year, when he’d hiked from Rock Harbor to Windigo with friends, and then back to Rock Harbor by himself. This was the father’s first time on the island. On the ferry, I’d had a rather interesting conversation with him. After he told me a story about how he’d watched a wolf chase a moose into the water, I asked, "Oh, did that happen on Isle Royale?"


“How many times have you been here?” Many people we met had been to the island before.

“This is my first time.”

He’s a sweet man, I just wonder if he’s losing his mind.

At the end of the day, as we are settling into our campsite at West Chickenbone, the young Greenstoners come through. They wave, but we don’t chat.

Chickenbone will be our first interior stay on the island. Until now, we’ve been hugging the Southern coast of the island. There are a number of inland lakes between Moskey and Chickenbone, and I have high hopes of seeing a moose as we set out on our daily trek. Maybe a mile in, I realize I’ve lost my brand new Buck knife. I feel sad because I really liked it, but I console myself with the knowledge that I must not need a knife since now I don’t have one.

We stop at Lake Ritchie, a little more than two miles into the hike. The lake is much larger than I expect, and the surrounding area is more rocky. There are no moose hanging out along the shore, but we do see our first moose pellets. They are very similar to those left by white-tailed deer, but rounder and larger. These do not look fresh.

Julie casts a line while I lounge on the rocks, eating my second breakfast, keeping my eye on a red squirrel that has no apparent designs on our packs, but you just can’t trust a rodent.

The pit toilet doesn’t have a latch, nor is it stocked with toilet paper as Three Mile and Daisy Farm were. That’s okay, because I’m prepared with a roll of biodegradable TP in my cargo pocket (and hand sanitizer—what a great invention). Julie speculates that they only supply toilet paper for sites located on Lake Superior, and this theory is supported by our experience on the island. What I don’t understand is why they don’t bother putting latches—just a hook and eye—at these sites as well. Just because you aren’t on Lake Superior doesn’t mean that someone won’t forget to knock.

The fish don’t rise to Julie’s bait, and soon we don our packs and continue. The stretch between Lake Ritchie and Chickenbone has a number of what I call fairylands. These consist of moss and ferns and very tiny little plants, often spreading across the surface of a fallen tree or large root. We see these as we negotiate the longest boardwalk yet over a muddy morass decorated with moose prints. I stop and peer into the woods, hoping to spot a moose. “A moose could be right over there watching us and we’d never know it,” Julie says, “the undergrowth is just too thick.”

It’s only our second full day of hiking, but I haven’t slept well for two nights, and already I stink, and I’m perpetually hungry. My back is killing me again by the time we reach West Chickenbone. When we check the map that is posted at every entrance to a campground it shows there are no shelters, only tent sites, and only two of them are on the lake, numbers one and six.

Site six appears to be taken, though the inhabitants say they are packing up to move on and we can have the spot if we want it. It is just across the trail from the pit toilet, so I’m wary about the potential stench. We check the remaining available sites, but for the most part, they are just clearings in the bushes with no lake view or access. Eventually we go back to six and claim it. The exiting hikers warn us that there is a bee hive in a tree in the NW corner. Though I don’t see the hive, I do hear the bees. I figure that if I don’t bother them, they won’t bother me. At least that’s always been my experience.

We set up the tent. It’s much smaller than a shelter. I’ve gotten used to indulging in pack sprawl, where whatever I pull out of my pack can stay out of my pack until I need to put it all back together again. After getting our pads and bags and nighttime accessories set up in the tent, we toss the food in. Our plan is to sleep with the food between us to reduce the likelihood of some animal chewing through the tent to get a late night snack. Julie doesn’t want to put the fly up, but after last night, I want as much heat to stay in the tent as possible.

Julie goes fishing while I get water from the lake. Even after it is filtered, it is yellow, and that makes me worry it isn’t safe to drink. I drink it anyway. What choice do I have? I don’t want to end up as a cautionary tale told by Ranger Lucas to newly landed hikers.

There are no moose in sight, though a rabbit visits the camp. It’s larger than a cottontail and just doesn’t look the same. I later learn it is a snowshoe hare. When Julie returns from fishing, her finger is bleeding. She’d forgotten to take her Leatherman tool, and when she caught a Northern Pike, had had to pry it off the hook with her fingers. Northern apparently have sharp teeth.

Though it is only late afternoon, I have to put on my polar fleece jacket. It’s going to be another cold night, so when I go to bed I start out with the space blanket over me. Even with the warmth, I toss and turn all night, as I have every night on the island so far. My dreams are vivid and frequent. I’m not sure I get much deep sleep at all. Tonight, during one of my periods of wakefulness, I hear a jet overhead, the first I've heard since being on the island. Later, leaves rustling outside the tent, just on the other side of the fly from me draw me out of a dream. Footsteps, gently padding alongside the tent. Another fox, I think, and I move my feet. The ensuing crackling racket from the Mylar causes whatever is out there to jump back. I can hear its weight landing in the leaves. The beast is persistent, though, because it comes right back to the tent. I wish the fly weren’t there because I’d love to see a fox up close, but I settle for rattling my feet again and chasing it away.

The next morning we are woken again by loons on the lake. I’m surprised at how many different calls they have, all of them sounding equally mournful, at least to my ears. Perhaps the loons think our voices sound sad. There’s a fresh urine stain on the ground outside the tent on Julie’s side. What is it with wild animals? Don’t they have any manners?

Julie has a blister on her little toe and she’s trying to figure out a method to get moleskin to stay put in that tiny, sweaty crevice between her toes when a hiker comes by and tells us that a moose came out of the lake at site one at around five in the morning. “Did you see it?” he asks, excited. “No,” we reply, depressed. But I vaguely remember hearing some snorts, and there was a big wet spot just at the top of the slope leading to the lake. Maybe it was a moose.

“Temperature last night was 37,” he tells us. No wonder I was so cold!

Suggestion for improving the park: Flush toilets at each campsite.

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