Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, 2002 – Part VIII


When out in the middle of the woods, where your feet are your only mode of travel, I have a motto. Maybe it was originally someone else’s motto, but I think it was one day in the Porcupine Mtns. that I thought of it, and now whenever hiking, I repeat it to myself quite often. “Every step is a (potential) risk.” When you’re miles in, and no one really knows exactly where you are, what you’re doing, and whether or not you’ve actually made it to where you said you’d be, or if you’ve fallen over the edge of a cliff after the very first mile of your hike, every step matters. It seems to be part of a heightened paranoia about pretty much everything that comes with backpacking. Whether it’s bears, lightening, hypothermia, or whatever, in my opinion there are different dangers that you should really be aware of, paranoia or not!

This afternoon, we had a new enemy – the trees. Well, not an entirely new enemy. We had read stories before about rotten trees falling in the middle of the night, killing campers sleeping soundly in their tent. Now we always check our sites for anything suspicious looking. In fact, just the other night, at Moskey Basin, we set up camp at the last available spot, which unfortunately was under a pretty wicked looking popple. Skinny and taller than anything around. So, with the skies looking like they could bring night time storms, we pulled the picnic table up close to the tent, between it and the potentially offending tree. Stupid? No, kind of smart. Necessary? Not this time. Borderline obsessive/psychotic? Probably.

Today the trees were not planning sneak attacks in the dead of night, but instead were coming at us from all sides! The wind was incredible, whipping them around like blades of grass. The low areas were the worst. They were filled with huge (and many half-dead) birch that just didn’t seem too stable. When the wind would die down, we could hear the branches and debris falling all around us. Many times the wind would come up so strong that we’d stop and wait. We’d look up to make sure nothing was going to fall on our heads, but were instead blinded by the overhead sun. This was the one time we were actually enjoying walking atop the ridges, because we were higher than the trees! We heard a few huge CRACKS during our walk. We knew then that if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, it does make a sound. We might have been there to hear it, but felt like insignificant ants in the vast forests of birch, where you could see forever into the trees.

Eventually we began a half-mile gradual descent into Little Todd Harbor, and it wasn’t long before we could hear the familiar roar of Superior.