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Isle Royale National Park, Michigan 2002

Part V

The trail was turning into one ridge after another. We continued on, and then came to a rocky slope that seemed exceptionally large. Slowly, we made our way up, being especially careful to place our feet solidly on the slick boulders. We reached the top and passed through a double rock cairn, one on each side of the "path." But of course, there really was no path up there - only stone, and fresh moss everywhere.

But what a view! We were definitely on the highest point of the ridge so far, maybe the highest point of the whole Minong Ridge Trail, even. Superior was close down to the north, and Canada wasn't far behind it. To the south we could see the Greenstone ridge rambling up & down to the east and west. It wasn't long before we'd had enough of the scenery; the rain was whipping in our faces, and anywhere the rain didn't get to, the bitter wind was happy to oblige, so we figured we better keep moving. But where? We spied another cairn in the distance, so we headed towards it. After that, we saw another. Funny thing, though - this rock pile was perched on the brink of a ledge, with no path going down that we could see.

I imagine at this point I said something like, "Where does the trail go?" I can't remember the exact order of the events that followed, only that they seemed to take forever, and were probably repeated many times. Basically, our question was, if this is not the way the trail goes, why would the rock cairns be here? We backtracked to the double piles where we came up the side of the hill. Could the trail go left instead of right? Good question, because there was no recognizable trail either way. Anyone who's read any books on camping, the outdoors, or whatever has heard the warnings about hypothermia. Like that you don't have to fall in a half frozen lake in the middle of winter to get it. If you're in wet clothing, and there's a cold wind blowing, and you're in an exposed area, you are supposedly susceptible.

Well, after a few trips back and forth atop this lonely ridge in the middle of nowhere, I was starting to lose it. I guess it was the combination of the cold, the wind, the rain, my nagging sinus/chest cold, and my crappy rainjacket, but hypothermia was starting to seem like a definitely possiblility - no, reality! - if we didn't get off that ridge. "We HAVE TO GET OFF THIS RIDGE!!!" I said (insert every couple of minutes.) I was aware of the fact that I was practically running around in a panic, while Andy seemed like he was moving in slow motion. Not really responding to my requests, er, demands. Apparently all the action/problem solving was going on in his head....I hope. The slow, methodical type?!?

We followed the cairns yet again to the end, and stepped down off the edge of the ridge. There was obviously no trail, that we could see, but we were down out of the wind for a bit. We started to get these (stupid) ideas that if we just head (insert direction here) that we would hit the trail. Most likely not a good idea.

Ok, ok, we decided to head back in the direction we came from. What would we do? What if we couldn't find the trail, what then? Head all the way back to McCargoe Cove, give up and catch the boat back to Rock Harbor the next day? Take it all the way back to Windigo on Sunday? What was the alternative - head "cross-country" and hope we hit the trail?

We climbed back up the ridge, followed the rocks back through the wind and rain, passed through the double cairns, and down the other side where we had come from originally. It was obvious the trail only went one way - to the top of Death Mountain...er, the ridge. We stood there bewildered. I didn't want to go up to the top again, but didn't want to go back in the direction we came, either.

It was then that, through my haze of confusion and despair, that I had a moment of clarity....clear as the water from our new PUR filter, in fact...

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