It was day 4 at Isle Royale National Park, a trail running mecca spread over 400 islands with over 165 miles of trails and 99% designated wilderness, and my sister Lynette (the Ecologist for the Park) and I had plans for a 21 mile loop on the main island.
Monday morning, August 14, 2017, Lynette and I set out in her boat, the Universal Special, to head from Mott Island to the big island, for our “big” run of the trip.
We discovered that the Universal Special was capable of going faster than 7 miles per hour when not loaded down with 5 people! We easily skimmed across the channel towards Daisy Farm, our start/finish for the run.
From Daisy Farm, we took the Mt. Ojibway trail up 1.8 miles to the fire lookout. It was a surprisingly good climb to start the run.
Just after reaching the Greenstone Ridge Trail, we heard a terrible racket from some sandhill cranes:
From Mt. Ojibway, we headed west on the Greenstone Ridge, the trail that bisects the entire island, about 44 miles across (that Lynette and I plan to run next summer).
We followed the Greenstone Ridge Trail for about 6 miles to the East Chickenbone Trail, which we would follow down and around Chickenbone Lake.
Around mile 9.5, our halfway point, we turned left on the Indian Portage Trail, which led us back down towards Chickenbone Lake again.
The Indian Portage Trail led us along two more lakes, Lake Livermore around mile 11.8 (as we crossed the Greenstone Ridge Trail), and then LeSage Lake at 12.5, before reaching Lake Ritchie (where we would filter our water), at mile 14.3.
Before Lake Ritchie, each time we passed water, I asked Lynette if we should stop, but she insisted on Lake Ritchie (there is now an algae bloom at Lake Ritchie so the water is no longer safe to drink).
At mile 15.3 we left the Indian Portage Trail for the Lake Ritchie Trail, which would lead us back down to Daisy Farm, our starting point.
We completed our 21 mile loop, which had about 2600′ of climbing, and some fairly technical (rocky and/or overgrown) trails, in 5 hours.
No speed records were broken, but we took our time, running casually and stopping frequently to enjoy berries and scenery.
We had a celebratory beer with our sandwiches on the dock just as the raindrops began and the glassy lake became covered in perfect little ringlets.
After returning to Mott Island, my mom and I went out for a hike, and saw our friend the bull moose. I chased him down the trail for quite a ways but couldn’t get any clear photos. Lynette and my dad went fishing, after making ice cream with Avian and her friends. Avian said “thanks, I’m out” and didn’t come back until after 10pm.
It was a beautiful end to an incredible day on Isle Royale.
Next up, Part 7- Edisen Fishery, Bangsund Cabin, and Rock Harbor.
(for more stories on my visit to Isle Royale, see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5)
(for more stories from my trip to Isle Royale, see parts 1, 2, 3, and 4)
It was Day 3 on Isle Royale National Park and although I’d already had 7 moose sightings (on solo runs), my parents and daughter were missing out. Lynette took us by boat to Three Mile, where we tied up to the dock, and headed out on a 3-mile loop.
We reached an inland lake, and the whispering ceased. We would need to be really quiet if we wanted to see a moose.
I heard a distinct sound – like something heavy moving through the water. I waved to Avian and Lynette to stop – shhhh – look – Lynette led us very quietly down an animal trail that led to the water, and sure enough, Avian saw her first moose, standing next to an island in the middle of the lake, taking a drink. It probably goes without saying that we would have missed this moose entirely if we hadn’t been very softly creeping through the forest, on full alert.
My parents also saw the moose, before it got in the water and swam across the lake (I later learned that moose can swim at a pace of six miles per hour for 2 hours at a time!). I took about four pictures of the moose and then my camera battery died before I could get any more. Technology.
We continued down the trail, frequently stopping to check out sounds, hoping for more moose. The entire length of the lake, we were serenaded by the haunting call of the loon, which became louder and clearer the closer we got to it. This peaceful one mile walk along the lake was one of my favorite hiking experiences ever.
We returned to the boat and headed back to Mott Island.
Lynette and I had big plans for the next day – we would boat to Daisy Farm, then run a 21 mile loop. Avian would get to hang out with her girlfriends, and my parents would have some down time for hiking and relaxing. Next up: Isle Royale Part 6 – 21 mile run on the big island
(for more information on Isle Royale, see parts 1, 2, and 3)
Sunday morning, my parents, sister, daughter and I set out in the Universal Special from Mott Island to Raspberry Island.
The old boat was taking on a lot of water, and the bilge wasn’t really working, so my dad and I took turns using a hand pump to bail out the water, then racing up to the front of the boat (where I took this pic) so the back wouldn’t sink. The boat could only go about 7 MPH with all of us in it. All of this made for a bit of an exciting trip to Raspberry Island, which my sister had said was her favorite place in Isle Royale.
We pulled up to the dock, and it was apparent we had the entire place to ourselves. We set out at a very leisurely pace, thoroughly enjoying and appreciating the diversity of the island.
After checking out the rocky shoreline, Lynette led us up the trail and into the Boreal forest.
My dad went missing for a short time, but we soon learned what he had discovered. The name of the island doesn’t lie.
After wandering around the perimeter of the island, we took an inner loop trail through the bog.
We regrouped with my parents and decided to head out for a Mott Island Loop in search of moose.
my dad with his hiking stick
picking wild blueberries
Ave enjoying the blueberries
my mom hiking along Lake Superior
Ave and my dad
running through a smooth section
boardwalk through a marshy part
It was great fun; however, no moose. After dinner, I decided to try another loop. This time, heading out solo, I focused on treading as lightly as possible, and just listening to the sounds… Isle Royale is so peaceful and quiet, you can distinctly hear my favorite sound: the call of the loon.
About 1.5 miles into the run, I heard a soft crunching noise down a ravine – I stopped, and crept to the ledge – to my absolute delight, there was a moose, standing about 20 feet back from the water, snacking on some brush.
The trail would lead me down near the moose. I contemplated this, and decided it was still best to continue, but as I went down the steep embankment, I saw that the moose was not alone… there was another one, much smaller, but still quite huge. Lynette had told me there was a mother moose and her twins on the island… and yes, there was the other kid! I crept down the trail towards them.
The sweet little (huge) family seemed to realize I was there, and ran off through the woods.
It was then I realized that moose, despite their enormous size, can run pretty fast. I looked it up – moose can run 35 miles per hour. They can also swim 6 miles per hour for two hours at a time.
I was feeling pretty high on adrenaline- I saw not one, but three moose!
I continued on my way and soon after came across a huge bull moose, standing right in the middle of the trail.
Whoa. Ok, so the mama and twins didn’t scare me too much, but after seeing how fast they could run, I started wondering what kind of damage this Big Guy could do. Lynette had told me moose don’t usually charge people until Sept-Oct, and she had mentioned climbing trees as a way to safety. I was surrounded by trees, but none looked very climbable.
I decided my only option was to keep going, so I talked to the moose and walked towards him, hoping he would move over. He eventually did.
The run back to Lynette’s was accompanied by a gorgeous sunset, and I couldn’t wait to tell my family what I’d just experienced.
After the best night of sleep in a LONG time, followed by coffee and a quick breakfast, Lynette and I packed our running gear in dry bags, and walked from her place across the island to set out on our adventure.
Our goal was to beat the Ranger III before it came back from Rock Harbor to Mott, so as to avoid the wake. It worked, and we were treated to glass-calm waters.
Once on the big island, we stashed the boats and transitioned into running gear.
As Lynette had warned me, nearly every backpacker we met looked stunned to see us running- they thought we were studs, and told us as much. What they didn’t realize, was how easy running was compared to what they were doing; we were carrying minimal gear- just water and a few calories, not to mention the fact that we were sleeping in real beds at night with indoor plumbing, electricity, a kitchen, and so on. But, we enjoyed the praise and didn’t correct them.
It was pretty special to have a running tour of the island with The Island Ecologist as my guide. Lynette pointed out flowers, plants, and my favorite, raspberries and thimbleberries, which we gobbled up along the way.
She also introduced me to some of the island’s carnivorous plants.
From the boat, we followed the trail along the lake about 3 miles to Daisy Farm campground (a walk-in or boat-in rustic campground), then continued up to Mt. Ojibway (1143′ above sea level), which has a fire lookout to climb (and guess who had a key?)
From Mt. Ojibway, we followed the Greenstone trail to Mt. Franklin. Along the Greenstone Trail (the 42-mile trail that crosses the entire island), Lynette pointed out a plant that is endemic to Isle Royale- it only grows in one, 8-foot long section, on this one part of the island.
From Mt. Franklin, we went down to the Three Mile Trail which eventually led us to the water.
We reached the boats in about 3 hours- our loop was 12.2 miles with 1,234′ of gain, and lots of stopping and exploring along the way.
We put the boats away and headed back to find our family.
Isle Royale National Park (pronounced “I’ll Royal”), a pristine (99% wilderness) archipelago comprised of 400 islands and 200 inland lakes, is located way up north of where I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the “U.P.”), in a very isolated section of Lake Superior. Isle Royale is the least-visited National Park in the lower-48 – only 3 parks in Alaska have fewer annual visitors. Isle Royale is a trailrunning mecca, with 165 miles of pristine trails throughout the 45-mile-long island. The park is also ideal for backpacking, hiking, camping (accessed by boat or on foot), kayaking, and fishing.
The rest of my family has spent significant time in the park- my brother, Marcel, helped with wolf-moose research under Rolf Peterson during grad school, which is where Marcel met his future wife, Anne, who was also doing research for her Phd; my parents have visited several times, and my sister landed her dream job there last fall, as the official Ecologist for Isle Royale National Park. Thanks to a Christmas gift from my sister (tickets for the Ranger III, the ship that takes visitors from Houghton, MI to the island), I was ready to finally make it happen.
Part 1 – Getting to Isle Royale
Isle Royale is only open to visitors from April 15- October 31 – it’s the only National Park in the U.S. to completely shut down in the winter. From what I gather, late June through August seem to be the most ideal time to visit: the trail crews have had time to complete their winter clean-up (the trails can be obliterated by the harsh conditions of snow, ice, and wind – more than 1,600 trees had fallen across the trails this season), and the moose generally don’t start charging people until September-October.
Isle Royale is in a very remote location – for Avian and I, travelling from Truckee, CA would take more than 20 hours – including 7 hours of air travel, 7 hours of driving, plus 6 hours on a boat (we could have increased the air travel and decreased the driving time, but more than half of the flights going into Houghton are delayed or cancelled, so it seemed more logical to fly to Milwaukee and have my amazing parents pick us up there instead).
Since my sister is a park employee, and my dad is a senior citizen, we were given a state room on the ship, which was truly a luxury, considering how long the journey was.
The first couple hours were fairly smooth, but as we got further out into Lake Superior, the waves picked up, and I was grateful for the Dramamine AND the state room, where we all hunkered down to sleep it out.
After a few hours, Avian excitedly announced that she could see land again- we’d arrived at Mott Island, Isle Royale!
Most visitors would continue on the Ranger to Rock Harbor (on the big island of Isle Royale), but we got off at Mott Island, where my sister (and many other park employees) live during the season.
The park employees were wonderful with unloading our luggage and later delivering it for us – we were really treated like royalty (thanks, Net!)
We walked across the small island, and through the charming cluster of park service buildings, which Lynette had accurately described as a summer camp for adults.
Lynette took us for a walk to see her boats – she had a boat for personal use (thanks to Uncle Dick and Aunt Sharon; she had a lender for the island) AND she was captain of an official park service boat!
Lynette blew us away with her new knowledge and expertise.
We crossed the island (about 1/2 mile from the boat dock) and reached Lynette’s summer residence- a beautiful duplex, surrounded by wildflowers, raspberry and thimbleberry bushes, and right smack on the shore of Lake Superior. She had electricity (thanks to a generator across island that we couldn’t hear), running water, a huge kitchen, an electric PIANO, a deck over the water… does my envy come across?
After a snack Lynette and I headed out for a lap around her island. When she’d first told me the island was only 3 miles around, I wondered if I’d feel a little stir crazy. That wasn’t the case at all. The Mott Island trail itself is a 2.4 mile loop – right out her front door. The trail is very technical, and broken up into very diverse, spectacular sections. At first, we were running on a narrow trail through thick thimbleberry bushes, then the trail climbed a quick hill and we were high above the rocky shoreline, then a quick up and down and we were running through a dark, mossy, quiet and creepy section of the forest, another turn in the trail and we were running across smooth pebbles on a different, more spectacular shoreline, then another quick up and over and this time high on a ledge above the water with wild blueberries along the trail… the scenes went by so quickly, it was impossible to get bored.
I really believe I could run this loop all day long, repeatedly, and not tire of it.
Before bed, we discussed the plans for the next morning- Lynette and I would take kayaks from Mott to the big island (about a 20 min paddle across), and venture out on a 12 mile run. I was nervous (scared of crossing the water!) but excited (going running on the big island!). Avian was looking forward to spending time with her new girlfriends, who she’d met as soon as we got off the boat (kids of park employees). My dad would accompany a park service employee on an all-day boat journey around the big island, delivering groceries to other park camps. My mom was looking forward to relaxing and hiking.
I fell asleep listening to the waves crash against the shore, so grateful to be in this magical place.
The Truckee area has a variety of town-maintained trails for winter running. Plowed trails in Truckee include the Truckee River Legacy Trail (5 miles one-way), the Trout Creek Trail (1.5 miles one-way), the Brockway Road Trail (1 mile one-way), and Martis Dam Road (1.5 miles one-way). In nearby Squaw Valley, we have 2.3 miles of paved trails.
Truckee River Legacy Trail
The longest stretch of plowed trail is the popular Truckee River Legacy Trail, which connects Truckee Regional Park with Glenshire, five miles one-way. Free parking is available in the following locations: 1. near the Ice Skating Rink (10100 Brockway Road Truckee),
2. near the pedestrian bridge at the end of East River Street, downtown Truckee, and
3. in Glenshire, just before the Glenshire neighborhood on Glenshire Drive, approximately 4 miles east of Donner Pass Road.
Trout Creek Trail
The Trout Creek Trail connects Northwoods Boulevard near Coyote Moon Golf Course to Downtown Truckee at Bridge Street just north of Highway 80. This beautiful stretch of trail is approximately 1.5 miles one way, and also provides access to the trails leading to the Pioneer Center (not currently plowed all the way to Pioneer Center, but there is a foot path). Free parking is available at the trailhead on the East side of Northwoods Boulevard, just north of Coyote Moon Golf Course. There is limited paid-parking at the Trout Creek Pocket Park on the north end of Bridge Street in downtown Truckee.
Make it longer: From the Pocket Park on Bridge Street, you can continue south on Bridge Street, cross the railroad tracks, turn left on East River Street, and cross the pedestrian bridge to access the Truckee Legacy Trail (it is about 1.2 miles from trailhead to trailhead). If you start at the parking area in Tahoe Donner and run out and back to Glenshire (or vice versa), you can get about 15 miles in.
Brockway Road Trail
This shorter section (approx 1 mile) of plowed trail links Truckee Regional Park with The Rock (11253 Brockway Road). To make a 2.5 mile loop, start in the Truckee Regional Park, head south on the Brockway Road Trail, turn left on Reynold Way (a residential street, so use caution here), turn left on Martis Drive, then turn right on Ranch Way to access the Legacy Trail under the 267 bypass. Turn left on the Legacy Trail to make your way back to Truckee Regional Park and complete the loop.
Martis Dam Road
Martis Dam Road (located in Martis Valley, less than 1 mile south of Schaffer Mill Road on Hwy 267) is closed to cars in the winter, and is currently plowed 1.5 miles one-way (they sometimes plow 2.25 miles one-way). This full-sun road has sweeping views of the Martis Valley, with Northstar to the south and the Sierra Crest to the west. Free parking is available on Martis Dam Road off of Hwy 267 before the gate.
Squaw Valley Bike Path
The bike path in Squaw Valley, with 2.3 miles of plowed trails, can be accessed from a couple locations during the winter:
Free parking is available at the east end of the parking lot at Squaw Valley Ski Resort. Note- the first ¼ mile from the resort to the start of the bike path is along the heavily-used Squaw Valley Road, so exercise caution here.
From the parking lot at the Resort at Squaw Creek, 400 Squaw Creek Road, Olympic Valley.
Trails are plowed once after each storm, but some remain snow-covered and icy in places, so use caution. Have other plowed options for running to share? Please comment below!
The following is a photo essay from last weekend’s adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail.
We later (Sunday night) found out the boys had all stopped at Barker Pass. Even though they were capable of running the entire thing at least 7 HOURS faster than us, on this particular day, considering we were the only ones who “finished”, we beat the boys. 😉
I’d like to thank Peter for putting this crazy idea into my head a few days ago, when I mentioned I wanted to do a 40 mile run somewhere (he said what’s 20 more?!), Stacie for being an amazingly fun and positive companion on the trail, Kathy for sharing the first 6 miles with us, Helen for being the best friend ever to give up most of her Saturday to cater to us at 7,700′, Julia for kicking ass at The Bear and then texting with me for company on my way down to Echo Lake (and celebrating with me on Sunday), and Lucas for the support throughout the endeavor from across the Atlantic. XO
This past weekend, JP took me on a surprise trip to a beautiful mountain lake. After a two-hour drive on a super rough, winding road, we arrived at our destination lake at midnight Friday night. Under a full moon, we paddled by canoe to find an island to call home for the weekend.
Skimming across the glassy water, I tried to make out the surroundings, but the reflections on the lake made it difficult to distinguish where the water ended and the mountains began.
Saturday morning, I awoke to find myself in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places imaginable.
After breakfast, we paddled over to the East shore of the lake to set out on a “run” which turned into a hike with no trails or map.
It was fun and challenging, until my greatest fears were combined – fear of heights, and fear of drowning, as our route took us down a creek which contained many series of waterfalls. I fell behind and got lost, finding myself in a creek with steep walls on either side, not sure how to get out. I blew my whistle frantically for about 15 minutes until he came back for me, and after about a 20 minute temper tantrum, I calmed down and was able to enjoy the rest of the hike, and didn’t even freak out when we found ourselves in further precarious situations.
After the 5 hour, 6.5 mile “run” turned “hike”, we went swimming, took a nap, and chilled out.
JP made us a delicious dinner of salmon and various salads, which we ate on my favorite rocks next to the only grass on the island.
After dinner, we went for a paddle around the entire lake, checking out the shoreline and meeting some of the other campers.
JP did the dishes and we settled down to watch the sunset. That evening, thunder, lightning, and rain kept me up for most of the night, terrified. I was convinced the lightning was going to strike the metal pole in our tent. We survived though, and after another morning paddle around the lake, we packed up our things and headed back to Truckee. It was the perfect vacation spot, and I can’t wait to go back and bring my kids next time.
In my preparations for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 on July 18, I was supposed to run 35 miles on Sunday, wrapping up an 80 mile week- my biggest week in the training cycle. Gretchen agreed to join me, and we planned to run on the TRT course. However, the day before I came down with a bad case of pink eye – so we had to change plans, as we couldn’t ride in the same car together, or risk making any contact.
We decided to do a loop from Gretchen’s house instead – we could meet outside, and run together, hopefully without me contaminating her. We had each previously done a similar version of this run, Gretchen wrote a great post about it in 2011. I was grateful for 1) her wanting to run 35 miles with me 2) being totally flexible with changing the plans and 3) not being afraid of being around someone contagious. All characteristics of a true friend.
We headed North out of the Armstrong Tract towards Tahoe Donner, to catch that trail system up to the Donner Lake Rim Trail. We paused at the overlook to 1) enjoy the view 2) check our friends’ status who were still on the course at Western States 100.
climbing up the Tahoe Donner Trails
Donner Lake Overlook
Gretchen on ultralive checking the stats at Western States
The turnoff to the DLRT
As we descended into Negro Canyon, we were treated to a hillside covered in pretty manzanita. The only time I have ever found manzanita to be “pretty”. It even smelled good.
We followed the trail about 1/2 way down the canyon, until the right turn to head up towards Summit Lake. We were surrounded by a mixture of lush ferns, wildflowers, the buzz of happy bees, birdsongs, and butterflies as we made our way up to Summit Lake.
the trail down through Negro Canyon
We made our way to the Pacific Crest Trail, with a stop at the rest area off of I-80, at mile 13, to refill water (and clean my eye and scrub with soap). Continuing South on the PCT towards Hwy 40 (“Area 60”, as a friend calls this (in between 40 and 80), we came across many thru hikers and day hikers alike. We had both forgotten how busy this trail gets in the summer.
Gretchen heading down the PCT towards Donner Pass
We stopped at Hwy 40 (mile 18) to top off our water, as this next stretch on the PCT to Coldstream Canyon would be about 15 miles before hitting water again. We made our way up the PCT towards Anderson Peak, and were blown away by the wildflowers. We seemed to have hit this at the perfect time. In the week leading up to this day, I felt like I “had” to run on the TRT course for this long run, but I completely changed my mind when I was reminded of how incredible the trails were, literally, right out our door (or out Gretchen’s door- I live about 5 miles away).
We paused a couple times along this high ridge to look back at how far we had come. That is one of the best parts about this loop- you can see, from many vantage points, where you have been or where you are headed. And it looks really, really far away.
just below Mt. Lincoln, on the PCT
looking south towards Anderson Ridge
pausing to get a snack and take in the view
the climb to Tinker Knob
At Tinker Knob, we stopped to talk to a thru hiker, and had fun watching his reaction to describing the food he could find in Truckee. Gretchen thru-hiked the entire PCT years ago, and said she forgot how excited you get at the prospect of “real food”. I said I feel that way every time I run…
just below Tinker Knob, looking towards Squaw Valley
Gretchen on the PCT
our left turn down to Truckee
We reached the left turn down to Truckee at mile 25. The trail down through Coldstream Canyon is steep in places, with some loose rocks that doesn’t allow for the smoothest running. We made our way down, with hopes that we would find water at the Lost Trail Lodge. We started feeling raindrops on the descent, and even though I should be getting heat training in, I was grateful for the drop in temperatures and the gentle rain.
We reached the beautiful Lost Trail Lodge and to our relief, the water was on, and nice and cold. The last miles through Coldstream were fairly flat and runnable, and we cruised along pretty easily, ready for the run to be over. The road seemed never-ending, but when it did, we were dumped out into civilization again and the cars, freeway, and pavement were a bit shocking after spending most of the day in the tranquility of the trail.
The final 1.5 miles up to Gretchen’s house was a climb, runnable, with the rain coming down more consistently now. It was the absolute perfect way to conclude our day.
When we reached the car, I realized that both eyes now had pink eye- joy. Gretchen and I typically hug at the end of a run but today was an air-high-five. “make sure you scrub your hands just in case”.