This trip has been a year in the planning. We wanted to go last year, but by the time we tried to get boat reservations there were not enough spots for the amount of people we had in our small group. Also, last year I had planned us to do the Greenstone west to east, but I changed our course for this year understanding the the Feldtmann Loop was a great intro to the island. This year we were on the ball early and got our reservations in Feb. I specifically chose the dates of 8.4 - 8.8 because there would be less bugs and it was statistically the driest part of the summer on IR (we seem to have a knack for getting poured on so I wanted to reduce those chances as much as possible.
The proposed itinerary:
8.3 (Fri) - Drive from Minneapolis to Grand Portage. Find someplace to sleep and rest up for the night
8.4 (Sat) - take the Sea Hunter III to Windigo
Windigo --> Feldtmann Lake
8.5 (Sun) - Feldtmann Lake --> Siskiwit
8.6 (Mon) - Siskiwit --> Windigo
8.7 (Tue) - Hugginnin Cove Loop
8.8 (Wed) - hang around Windigo and wait for our boat back
Some things went to plan, others did not, but we all had a great time
Left to right - (1) Ian, who made this his first backpacking trip ever (notice the Vibram Five-Fingers), (2) Chris and (3) Bob, my usual backpacking companions, and (4) myself, off-camera.
On our way up we begin calling places to find a room for the night. First we called around Grand Portage, then around Grand Marais, then Two Harbors, ... you get the point. Every single place was booked, apparently there were festivals in Two Harbors, Grand Marais and Grand Portage this weekend (what luck!!) and to make matters worse there was a hell of a storm blowing in later that night that we wanted to avoid.
On our way up we stopped at our usual dinner spot, Blackwoods, and started sifting through the local papers to make sure we tried to contact every establishment we could. We ended up contacting the Gunflint Pines Resort & Campground and they happened to have one more cabin left, and for $95 ($65 base + $10 per person) it seemed a steal. The catch? It is located 45 miles up the Gunflint Trail, northwest of Grand Marais. We took the cabin, finished our meals and continued our drive up the coast.
We found the place without incident and pulled in around 11PM. It was right at this point where two of us in the car got to see our first black bear. Right when we pulled into the resort he popped his head out of the main office and trotted on down the trail. Very funny. We all got to bed and soon after the rain and hail hit. We were lucky to have found a place.
I don't think I have ever spent a night in a room that echos sounds so much with two other guys that snore so hard in all my life. It was certainly funny
We arrive at the dock early and drop our packs off for the voyage.
Chris gets motion sickness pretty bad so he used some motion sickness bands which according to him worked like a charm.
Once we got to the island and checked in we hit the trail, which as you can see is pretty packed with raspberry bushes. They were a great addition to our trip.
About 40 minutes into the hike Ian finally calls it quits on the Five Fingers. He really wanted to give them a shot, but the rocks on the trail proved to be too much for his comfort. He switches out to a pair of Salomon XA PRO 3D MID 2 GTX, which seem to do the trick for the rest of the trip.
The rest of the walk to Feldtmann is pretty uneventful. We hit camp and find group #2 to be perfect for our hammocks. Shortly after that we head over to Rainbow Cove, enjoy some bourbon and relax on the beach
There are no water sources on the Feldtmann Ridge Trail, so be sure you are carrying enough when you head out from Feldtmann Lake.
We head out and tackle Feldtmann Ridge, which I have to admit is an absolutely fantastic site.
Between here and the fire tower we run into a batch or two of wild blueberries, which are a treat to us travelers.
... and after a good long walk we hit the fire tower for some relaxation and sightseeing. They happened to leave the gate open to the walkway at the top, so I took some pano shots.
It was at this point that it occurred to me that my hot-spots had turned into blisters. Normally I hike with sock liners and the Smartwool Mountaineering socks, but this time I had opted for just the hiking socks. Big flippin' mistake. I now had blisters on the front of some toes and a mother of one on my right heel. I used some moleskin and tape to try and alleviate the issue for the moment.
On our way to Siskiwit I came across this little guy. I'm absolutely terrified of spiders and this guy was a good 5" across, so I gave him lots of room
We rolled in to Siskiwit around 3PM. Ian needed to cool down a bit so he did a cannonball off the dock. For completely selfish and comedic reasons we didn't warn him about the water temp beforehand, and we were not disappointed with his "OMFG this is cold" type of yell when he came up.
Group site #2 was again the winner for us at Siskiwit.
Our plan today is to hike to Windigo, so we head out early knowing we have 12 miles to cover, and would like to get to the Windigo store before it closes. But I also wanted to make some stops (Powder house, cemetary and steam engine) on the side. Before heading out I play "bronze my feet with some duct tape", which really did the trick.
I thought the Sentar Point Powder House (N47 54.073 W88 59.935) was in an odd location. Considering the time period a building at that location would be hit with everything the elements had. All four walls were still standing to some degree, and it's full of tree, as would be expected.
It was at this point that we could have bushwhacked it to Hay Bay, but the sat images I saw before did not accurately reflect the real vegetation that is there today.
The cemetery(N47 54.980 W89 01.069) wasn't much, but it was still interesting to see. You can easily walk right by it if you didn't know it was there since there are no trail markers, and you wouldn't be missing much.
The steam engine was very impressive, and you'd have to be blind to miss it on the trail
We knew that once we hit the Greenstone it was downhill the rest of the way.
We rolled into Windigo around 4, feet and shoulders hurting pretty good, and again found group site #2 to be our best bet and some big *** spiders hanging out in the outhouses. We relaxed for a bit and eventually headed to the store, only to be rudely reminded that IR is indeed in Michigan and therefore on EST and not CST. Long story short: nobody got showers or yummies from the store that evening. We made the final decision at this point that hiking any further was not going to be happening and our wives would all appreciate us back home the following day (Tuesday) rather than our schedule day back (Wednesday). I planned to talk to a Ranger the next morning about the protocol for doing such.
It was this night that the most humorous part of the trip occurred. Ian wanted to try a different dinner than the one he had so I offered him my Backpacker's Pantry Organic Black Bean Chili Pie. The previous night he had looked skeptically at my Coleman Trailfoods Southwest Chili, but when he tasted it his eyes went wide with utter delight, so he figured this would be just as good, and so did I. To the surprise of the entire group the Black Bean Chili Pie smelled like vomit. Just like stomach acid. The parmesan cheese in it did not react well as a dehydrated material and made the whole dish taste awful. He passed it around to make sure everyone agreed, and I boiled him up some more water for some Beef & Broccoli but it wasn't until he tried to eat that when he realized his tastebuds for the evening had checked out and he couldn't eat anything. I was laughing so hard I was crying, though I felt terrible about the situation.
We all crashed hard, looking forward to the possibility of going home the next day.
Showers. Not walking. Laughing at Ian still not being able to eat anything.
Most of the day was spent hanging out on the dock or talking to some of the rangers. Ian lamented on how the trip kicked his ***, but he really enjoyed it. Around noon Captain Mike, of the Voyageur II, allowed us to board and get back to shore a day early. We we stopped at our usual dinner spot in Two Harbors and all got home safe by 10:30.
We had an absolutely great time, and I'll be sure to come back.
(1) Sock liners are a must. I usually have them, but just didn't bring them this time
(2) skeeters were really spotty and really light when they were around. I brought spray with me, but I only really used it once or twice. I didn't even bother with a head net due to the reports from others earlier this year.
(3) Keep in mind that IR time is EST, so adjust your thoughts and clocks accordingly.
(4) Don't bother with zip-offs, just bring long pants and a pair of shorts (for camp)
(5) The Greenstone from Windigo to Island Mine must suck. That'd be 6 miles uphill.
(6) Make sure to make some reservations at a local hotel/motel if you're going up there and you don't want to sleep outside. You never know what festivals are going on.
I think that's about it. If you have any specific questions let me know.
I should mention that the pano shots won't render their full awesomeness through your browser, so download them to view them better