Isle Royale National Park Greenstone Ridge Trail Part 8
Hike from Hatchet Lake to Washington Creek
Approximate miles hiked- 20 miles
Here’s our driving route- Michigan Road Trip- Summer 2012
We had been backpacking on Isle Royale for 6 nights when we woke up to the sound of rain at Hatchet Lake Campground. The weather had been sunny and warm throughout our stay and we had no indication that it was going to change when we fell asleep. In fact, neither of our tents had the rain fly on when the skies opened up. The rain started to fall around 4 in the morning and I jumped out of our tent and put the rain flies up then ran around gathering all of our boots as well as the clothes we had left out to dry. I pulled our packs inside too so I could pack them up inside the (relatively) dry tent. In fact, both of our cheap Target tents were leaking a bit so I pulled everything to the middle of the floor to keep away from the growing puddles. We huddled in our tents until the sun started to rise and then decided to brave the rain and get moving. The change in the weather was pretty dramatic as not only was it raining, it also was pretty chilly with temps in the 50s. We all put on our warmest clothes and tried to stay as dry as possible as we packed the tents and supplies scattered around the campsite. Breakfast was Clif bars eaten while we started hiking and we were all cold, wet and miserable as we got on the trail. The half mile spur trail from Hatchet Lake is quite steep so we were climbing first thing with the rain pouring down on us. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most fun morning we’ve had while camping.
Up until this point we had been very lucky on backpacking trips to have not ever faced heavy rain. This of course is wonderful but combined with my optimistic (naive?) attitude had made me under prepare for inclement weather. I didn’t feel the need to buy expensive waterproof jackets or pack covers since I was pretty sure we would never need them. We had purchased our cheap Target tents to take with us to camp in the Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef and Zion and they had worked great out there so they would be fine in Isle Royale, right? The problem is that many of our other trips were in arid climates where waterproofing is much less necessary and this clearly was not the case on this day. So we all were wet and cold with no way to get dry and we also had no idea whether it was going to rain for an hour or for days. So we hiked on and hoped for the best. I have no pictures from this day of hiking since it I didn’t want to soak the camera. Maybe it’s for the best since there is no doubt, we didn’t look pretty.
After hiking up the Hatchet Lake spur we turned on to the Greenstone Ridge Trail and right away were climbing again. The cold rain was pouring down on us and the kids were miserable. On the other hand, there was a mist all around us and it actually was quite beautiful. I worked hard at being a cheerleader to the kids and encouraging them to remain upbeat. I talked about how this was a once in a lifetime experience, about how cool the mist looked and how we could enjoy it or hate it but we still had hiking to do. The kids really handled themselves amazingly well and before I knew it we were having fun even in these conditions.
We hiked for about 4 miles and suddenly we came upon the Ishpeming Point Tower. It was a welcome sight because the large tower was a perfect protection from the rain and we could shelter under it while we regrouped. The family we had met back in West Chickenbone Camp had left a while before us from Hatchet Lake and were there sheltering from the rain as well. It worked out great that we all were together as our family felt the need to maintain our composure in front of them and they later told me that they felt the same way. My main concern was the cold and Maya seemed to be the most uncomfortable so I pulled a warm jacket out of my pack and put it on her. Naomi also was really uncomfortable so I gave her my dry hiking pants since her pants were soaking wet. This meant that I only had shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt on and I was pretty chilly but I knew that when we started hiking again I would warm quickly. We also hadn’t had much breakfast in our hurry to get moving so Dave set about making grits and coffee which tasted like heaven and worked wonders to warm us up. Once warm and fed we all started talking about our plan for the day. Our initial destination for the night was South Lake Desor which was a 4 mile hike away but when we arrived we would have to put up wet tents to sleep in and stay soggy since some of our clothes were wet from the rain. Another option was to pass South Lake Desor and hike to the next campsite which was Island Mine, about 5.2 miles further. This would make our day’s hike 13 miles but we would still have the problem of wet gear. The third option sounded ludicrous. We could hike all the way to Washington Creek Camp at Windigo which would make our hike about 20 miles. The benefit of this option was that Washington Creek has shelters so we could handle any bad weather. The drawback was that it was a FAR hike for all of us, but especially the twins. We decided to play it by ear. We would see how we felt at Lake Desor and decide there.
The pouring rain had turned into a misty drizzle by the time we got back on the trail and this combined with the warm food and dry clothes improved everyone’s spirits. The drizzle would continue for most of the day. We hiked hard and before we knew it we had made it to the South Lake Desor spur trail. We all took a vote and decided to keep going and take another vote at Island Mine. The kids all ate from their snack bags stowed in their packs while they hiked since we wanted to keep moving. As soon as we kept hiking, the trail climbed again and we powered up it singing camp songs to keep the momentum going. The hike was pretty hilly with many ups and downs and culminated with a steep climb to the top of Mount Desor. Not far from here was the spur trail to Island Mine. Time for another vote. Sophie, Naomi and Garrett were set on hiking on to Washington Creek and Dave was leaning that way too. I was worried for Maya since she was already pretty tired and we still had over 6 miles to go if we were going to keep hiking. She said she could do it so it was decided- we would be hiking the whole way. Our friends were there as well and they thought they would be hiking all the way as well but they wanted to take a long break first. We decided that we were already risking having to hike in the dark since it was about 4:30 at this point and if we were hiking the rest of the way we had no time to waste. And so we hiked on.
Concerned that after hiking all this way we still might arrive in Washington Creek to find all the shelters full, Dave, Sophie, Naomi and Garrett decided to hike at a faster pace and get there as soon as possible. Maya and I would hike at her pace and just get there when we could. Off they went up the steep incline of Sugar Mountain. Maya and I passed the time talking about everything there is to talk about and singing her camp songs again. Even though the terrain was pretty easy, the hike felt like it would never end and I was acutely aware that the sun was starting to set as the woods were becoming darker and darker. I definitely felt afraid of the possibility of running into wolves at this point. Maya was a champ through all this and never once complained. All of a sudden we saw Dave walking back up the trail without his pack. They all had made it to Washington Creek and had found a couple of empty shelters and it was just a 20 minute walk away. I was so relieved as it was right at dusk and the sun was setting, leaving us in the dark! We left a note at the campsite map for our friends so they would know which shelter was for them to use and we all pulled out our sleeping pads and bags. Dressed in our dirty hiking clothes, we all crawled into bed. I vaguely remember Garrett saying that we hadn’t eaten dinner and I responded that they should “eat a snack from your snack bag.” We later joked that child protective services could have been called on us that day! I can imagine the charges- 4 kids on a forced march of twenty miles through a dark wolf infested forest with only snickers and candy to eat all day had to sleep in dirty wet clothes outside in the rain. Sounds bad right? It was definitely one of those experiences that felt very difficult at the time, but later is an amazing memory. All of my kids rank this as one of their favorite hikes ever and feel a definite sense of pride having done it. This had been a hard hiking day and we all slept deeply- dry and warm in the Washington Creek shelter. I was so proud of the kids!