The Outside World, In and Around Duluth

Isle Royale – Day 5

Wednesday, May 26

Todd Harbor to McCargoe Cove

Todd Harbor was a great campsite. It would be sweet to kayak in to this one and stay for a while. Apparently, otters live in the harbor, although (woe!) we never saw any. There’s also a waterfall that pours directly into Lake Superior, although my little camera wasn’t up to the task of capturing that (low light, too far away).

The bad part of Todd Harbor is that site’s signage. They have a campsite map as you come in, but it doesn’t offer any ‘You Are Here’ guidance. For most of us, that wasn’t a problem. Here’s how it played out:

Tom left at the crack of dawn, because today was our food drop day at McCargoe Cove, and he didn’t want to miss it, because if we weren’t there by noon, and the Voyageur II didn’t have anyone to pass our food to, they would sail on, and we would quickly switch over to the lo-cal backpacking diet. The rest of us all left as we were ready, and two of us (Matt and me) were designated sweeps. Nathan and Rob both left pretty much right away, and the rest of us rolled out by 8am.

We had been hiking along, taking our time, identifying wildflowers. For instance, here’s another nice orchid we found that morning:

Striped Coralroot

So we were ambling along, and after about an hour on the trail, who should come up behind us but Rob. ?! He left an hour ahead of us! it turned out that the poor signage back at Todd Harbor had done him in, and he ended up heading the wrong way, and backtracking almost all the way to Hatchet Lake before he realized that he was on the wrong trail. Then he double-timed it until he caught up with us. Poor guy. I’m glad we weren’t hustling. So Rob got an extra long hike in that day.

We continued on the trail and found ourselves on several ridgetops, which was pretty neat. Every once in a while, it felt like we were in the Southwest. This picture doesn’t quite do that idea justice:

Ridge Top Hiking

We finally pulled into McCargoe Cove with plenty of time to spare. The first and most interesting thing we saw was a huge partial pike skeleton:

BIG Former Northern

The expert-fisherman on our trip said that this fella was probably at least 30 or 40 years old, and would have been longer than four feet. You can only see them a bit in this picture, but if you click on this picture, you can see the sharp backward-pointing teeth that the fish used to keep its prey from getting away. Andrew laid down next to this fish to compare head sizes, and the fish had the bigger head!

While we were waiting for the Voyageur II to make our food drop, we had lunch. Mixed nuts and PB/Nutella-J on Rye-Krisps:


Noon came and went, and our boat didn’t show. Tom wasn’t worried – it’s a big lake, and schedules don’t mean as much out here. So, we ate and waited, and eventually, we could see her coming down the channel. Here she is, just pulling into the dock:

There was quite the exodus of passengers here. People on canoe trips (you can apparently travel by canoe, lake-to-lake, across the beam of Isle Royale, portaging across as needed. Another fun trip idea.) were getting off the Voyaguer II, and several other backpackers were starting their journeys here. It was surprising to me, the amount of action at this middle-of-the-island site.

Our campsite was just a few minutes from the harbor itself. Here we are, tarp up and tents pitched, preparing to head off for more school:

The Minong Mine was close, and boy – what a difference from the Island Mine! First off – on the island, ‘Minong’ is pronounced as ‘mih-nong,’ not ‘MYE-nong,’ as I am accustomed to (the town of Minong, WI is pronounced the latter way, as demonstrated by Miss Pronouncer). After a very minimal amount of investigative journalism, I came across a paper in the International Journal of American Linguistics (wait – so which is it? International or American?), and it appears that the town name’s is not the correct pronunciation. Well I don’t imagine I’ll be calling the Minong mayor anytime soon to complain.

The UP of Michigan is famous for its copper mining – even today, there are active copper mines in Michigan. Isle Royale’s copper deposits are actually a part of the same system:

Image by Norman King Huber, From The Geologic Story of Isle Royale National Park

Billions (and billions) of years ago, lava seeped up (through those spidery magma chambers in the middle of the above image), shmeared over Lake Superior like hot pancake batter, and cooled. This happened several times, and the weight of the new, cooling magma, combined with the empty space left underground, caused the creation of the ‘bowl’ of Lake Superior.

Those pancake layers are the various strata of rock. In those strata were empty holes – vesicles – which got filled with various elements, including copper. And if a layer had copper over in the Keweenaw Peninsula, that same layer had copper over on the Isle Royale side.

Where they found copper on Isle Royale, they dug mines, trying to follow the strata.

This brings us back to the Minong Mine.

I don’t remember how much I’ve mentioned the heat, but it was hot. At least 80°F, almost every day. And it had apparently been hot before we arrived, too. So it was quite a surprise when we entered the mine to find ICE on the mine floor:

Take it from Matt - Ice is Cool!

Now it needs to be clarified – this was no deep pit. In fact, we were at the top of a hill (shown in a picture below) and only about 20′ – 30′ into a horizontal shaft. Really surprising to find so much ice – it was feet thick! – in such warm weather.

But what was more surprising was what we found IN the ice (cue the horror-music screeching violins): AMPHIBIANS ON ICE!

Here are two examples – a salamander on top and a frog on the bottom:

Do you see the circular whitish/yellowish streaks and blobs on and under the ice? I’m pretty sure that those are bits and pieces of the amphibians. Of course, we didn’t see this until the guy with the headlamp showed up. We had been splashing our hands in the water and enjoying feeling the cold ice on such a warm day. Eww.

And dangerous! There was dripping water coming down from the ceiling, and where the water was dripping were holes. Some of the holes were just the size to swallow a foot. You can just see the edge of one in the above picture.  Perhaps if we would have looked more closely, we would have found more than just… amphibians…

While we were in the cave of horror and wonder, we startled a garter snake, who slithered into the watery layer over the ice. Wow – the snake went from a lightning fast slither to super-slo-mo writhing almost immediately. It was surprising to see how fast their cold-blooded system responds to body temperature changes. We fished the poor thing out and placed it in the sun to warm up.

Here is the tailings heap from outside.

These tailings piles were quite long, and the shaft we were in was at the back of the top of one of them.

After we got back from the mine, we had free time – nap, read, journal or explore until dinner. I chose ‘None of the above,’ and found an empty shelter to do some preparation for my presentation about the Civilian Conservation Corp, which I would be doing on Thursday night.

Here’s a picture of all my stuff, strewn around the shelter:

These shelters were a really nice place to sit and read or write, and get away from bugs and weather. My presentation was using living history, so I sat in here and ran through my script, re-wrote several sections, and just tried to get familiar with the arc of my story. This was the only time I wished to have some technology with me. It would have been nice to have a laptop and a printer, so my revisions could have been re-printed and not quite so messy. My final script actually had arrows crossing multiple pages (to read certain parts in a different order than I originally wrote them), new snippets inserted between sections to help improve the flow, and notes and reminders to myself peppered throughout the script.

It was fun working on a script again – I haven’t done that for years.

Dinner that night was – can you guess? Burritos again! This time with Spanish rice, refried beans, salsa, cheese and onions:

Burrito Dinner

After dinner, we had class again, this time talking about the historical human connection to Isle Royale. Another backpacker (Jerry from Michigan) joined the class, and that was fun.

Here’s a picture of the full moon rising over McCargoe Cove:

Marvelous Night for a Moonrise

Boy, that picture just doesn’t do it. The harbor was smoother, the sky was darker and the moon was bigger and more moody. Oh well.

Tomorrow: Across the island to Daisy Farm.


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