I recently returned from a week backpacking in Isle Royale National Park, and unfortunately it turned out to be a little bit of a disappointment. The park itself was not a let down, but bad planning and unseasonably hot weather turned it into an Isle Royale National Park misadventure.
Isle Royale National Park misadventure
There are many variables on an adventure that you cannot account for. There are also ones that you can with proper research and preparation. I will break down all the aspects of the trip in hopes that people who read and want to visit Isle Royale can learn from my mistakes.
Lack of sleep
I left Chicago at 6 p.m. I was hoping to be in northern Wisconsin by midnight or 1 a.m. I was going to camp somewhere and sleep for a couple of hours. I had to make some stops on the way up, and I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to stop and sleep. I ended up driving all night and getting to Copper Harbor around 4 a.m. Therefore, I started off the trip already tired and sleep deprived.
I could have booked my departure on the ferry for a day later. I could have either driven 3 or 4 hours the first night and camped in Wisconsin and then driven the rest of the way the next day and camped again or stayed at a hotel. I also could have waited until the next day and driven up to Copper Harbor and either camped or stayed in a hotel in order to be rested for the adventure.
Lack of water
When I arrived at the Ranger’s Station at Isle Royale I was told that they had a tapeworm parasite on the island that had to be treated with a recommended 25 micorn filter. I had a steripen, but they said it would not kill the tapeworm. I then had to boil water to kill the bacteria. Boiling water really sucks, especially when it is hot and you are thirsty because you have to wait over an hour for the water to cool before you can drink it. Plus, all the boiling tapped my fuel, and I ran out of fuel with two nights to go.
It is the height of irony to be on an island in one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world with over 40 inland lakes and be thirsty and dehydrated, but that is what happened. Thanks to Nate, Jamie, and Chris for use of their water filters to keep me going. I eventually had to hike out a day early to get water at Rock Harbor.
Always read up about the water system and if necessary call the park to find out more information, so you don’t end up in a tight water spot when you get to a park. I though the steripen would be sufficient, but a phone call to the park would have let me know it was not. I could have either bought a water filter or brought more fuel if I would have planned better.
Backpack was too heavy
Although I am not an ultralight backpacker, I have taken many steps towards lightening my load in recent years. I have upgraded my tent, sleeping bag, ground pad, and clothes in an attempt to ease the strain on my back and shoulders. This trip I took a step back. I brought too much food, I brought a fishing rod and tackle (which I did not even use due to being too tired after hiking in the sweltering heat), two liters of alcohol, and I brought too much clothes: all rookie mistakes.
My pack weighed in at over 65 pounds at arrival at Rock Harbor and my fanny pack was close to 10 pounds more. All this weight combined with the hot weather really wore me down. This was on top of the fact that I was already tired, and my drinking water situation was not optimal meant I could not hike nearly as much as I wanted. It is important to keep the backpack between 40-50 lbs. and this is completely doable.
The hammock situation
I brought a new hammock given to me to sample by Grand Trunk Goods. The hammock, mosquito netting, and rain tarp are top quality. Unfortunately, the dude in charge of hammock set up was not top quality. I put the blame for this situation squarely on my sore shoulders. I used the hammock twice (Isle Royale also has shelters, which I used the other four nights). The first night the hammock worked great, and I stayed dry in a pretty impressive thunderstorm. This was my first time camping with a hammock.
The next night I used it was a debacle. I used two trees too close together. I slumped in the hammock and kept shifting forward. One time I shifted up and there was not enough fabric at the top to support my legs, and I flipped right out of the contraption on the ground ripping the mosquito netting.
Speaking of mosquitoes, I also did not adequately set it up to make the netting far enough away from my face. The mosquitoes swarmed outside and basically buzzed my ears all night keeping me awake. I did not get bitten even with the ripped netting, but they annoyed me all night. I got only a couple of hours of sleep if even that.
There is an art to setting up a good hammock. You need to put it up and test it during the day as soon as you get into camp to make sure it is comfortable. I was tired and came into camp late this day and set it up quickly without testing. Also, it might be a good idea to test your hammock skills first before setting out on a hardcore hike. Bring some mosquito spray into the hammock with you and spray out around your ears in order to create a buffer zone around the outside of the hammock in order to get some peace or perhaps bring ear plugs.
Beaten by the heat
In my defense, all of these problems that happened or occurred could have been dealt with and easily endured, but the week I visited Isle Royale, temps soared into the mid to upper 80s with high humidity. Without the hot temperatures, the water situation, the lack of sleep, and the heavy backpack would have been problems I could have faced, but the hot weather accentuated them all and made for a tough trip where I was unable to hike as much as I wanted.
Through it all, I still enjoyed myself and loved Isle Royale. My last tip is I would recommend hiking the island either in May or early June or from mid September to the first week in October. You usually do not face such hot weather even in August and July, but it can happen as it did on my trip.
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A 10 pound fanny pack? Good grief! You need to go back and consult Frommers for what those things are really for…losing your dignity!
All right, so I got that from the movie Euro Trip. It’s not really mine. But seriously, 10 pounds? Wow. That’s a lotta weight.
Jason’s Travels recently posted..The Gardens at Chateau de Chenonceau
I have no dignity Jason. Thought you knew that by now. A couple of cameras, wallet, keys, and other odds and ends add up.
I am heading off tomorrow to backpack the coastal trail along the north shore of Lake Superior. I just showed this blog to my friend Ted who is joining me with his wife. They haven’t backpacked before and I am trying to get them to shed stuff and go lighter. I do have a bullet proof filter, I’m hoping mosquitoes are long gone and I’m praying that it doesn’t rain much or freeze at night. Stay tuned next Sunday night or Monday.
Your trip sounds like the trip from hell!! Good on you to have a positive attitude.
I think I was so hot and tired I had no attitude. All the energy I had was geared towards going with the flow and although the flow was not good, it still was a decent trip. The best part about the trip was the swims in Lake Superior and one inland lake. After hiking in the heat it felt incredible.
It has even cooled off down here in Chicago, so I expect you will be fine with the perfect temperatures and the end of the bugs. Been a buggy year, so looking forward to going out with no bugs.
It was unseasonably hot, if I’m remembering the correct weekend that you did this trip. It does seem like everything would have been doable if you would have been able to drink the water. A little sleep probably would’ve helped too.
Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted..Lodging History at Omni Severin Indianapolis
Everything snowballed on me because of the heat setting off a chain reaction of suckiness.
OMG! Talk bout everything going wrong! LOL. Ah well.. learn from mistakes i suppose, but what a challenging trip due to the elements. But the water situation.. even that would have taken be by surprise!
ciki recently posted..Bali Hai Seafood Restaurant @ Kota Damansara
I knew about the water situation, but I did not prepare enough for it. Next time I will have a better water filtration system.
10 pound fanny pack? That is so heavy! Sorry this didnt work out as you wished.. but as you said, lessons learned!
@mrsoaroundworld recently posted..The best airport lounge in the world… does it exist?
The fanny pack weight was the least of my worries. The fanny pack distributes the weight evenly, so I hardly noticed. The heavy behemoth on my back was a different story.
no sleep really catches up with you! at least you walked away with your lessons learned!
lola dimarco recently posted..5 Best Ways to get a Hotel Room Upgrade
Vince Lombardi said it best: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
At least it was pretty?
I’ve had to learn my lesson about mosquito netting this summer. You’d think I could remember that it’s not a forcefield, but I kept getting bit where the netting was against my skin.
Jess recently posted..When Fall Comes to Denali
It definitely was pretty, and that was not lost on me despite the set backs. I enjoyed the scenery and took many pictures. There are ties in the hammock that can be used to pull the netting away from my skin. I never got bit through the netting, but I sure got annoyed.
As much as I love hiking and camping…. I think this is one I would pass on. Tapeworms and all… But Glad you made it back to tell the story.
The water situation is easily manageable with the right equipment. Filtering water is really easy with a good water filter. They do have a resort/hotel on one side of the island with potable water, so that is one way to deal with the water situation.
What a trip, Ted! That whole tapeworm business is a bit scary, and it stinks that you didn’t bring the right tool to fix the situation. The mosquitos would also drive me crazy. Even when they aren’t biting, they can be annoying! Well, at least you learned a few lessons for next time, right? 🙂
Erin at The World Wanderer recently posted..Music Monday: Sweater Weather.
I definitely learned a lot. I sometimes am stubborn and think I can figure everything out by internet research. I could have solved this problem with a five minute phone call to a ranger at the park. Park staffers are always happy to help out, so there is no excuse.
Wow, 10 pounds is crazy! Even my roll on suitcase is not that heavy!
Charu recently posted..Auroville, India: a Barter Town Without Borders
A ten pound fanny pack is not a big deal as it distributes the weight on your hips and legs. It is better to have it there than added to your back. The 60+ pounds on my pack was where I really went wrong.
I am using the same hammock from Grand Truck Goods and yes it’s quite something. On topic, being fully rested before hiking is my no.1 priority as based on my experience not only you will end up dead tired when you reach the camping site also it’s also have quite a psychological effect while hiking hence you won’t enjoy the view and the adventure itself. But overall nice guide and thanks for sharing!
I’ve made a bit of an art project out of making back packing on isle Royale comfortable over the past 5 years, if you would like my gear list I would be happy to provide you with one. I’m at 30lbs before food and water for a 8 day trip
That sounds like a worthwhile project. It is always helpful to see gear lists as a model and also to help me remember to pack things. Feel free to email it to me or post hear in the comments. Whatever is easier. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
My first trip my water filter broke. It was hot and i had to also boil all my water. Really suked.
Yea, it sure is a bummer and puts a damper on what should be an incredible hike.