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.
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.
Despite the biggest snow year in my 18 years of living in Truckee, I’ve managed to put together a pretty ridiculous racing schedule – three 50 milers and one 100 miler over the next four and a half months. The only way I’ll survive that is to run no matter what winter brings. Sometimes it’s beautiful and fun and I love it, and other times it’s more… challenging. But the challenge brings a sense of adventure, and I’m hoping the combination of shoveling and slogging through miles of snow and ice is making me stronger.
Saturday morning, I chilled in a snowbank watching the clouds whiz by overhead, while Avian and our Airbnb guests sledded and the dogs played.
I knew the window of clear weather wasn’t going to last, but my only opportunity for a long run would be Sunday, right in the middle of the next big Winter Storm.
The forecast called for 1-2 feet above 7,000 feet by Sunday afternoon (with 10-18″ at lake-level, where we live), but consistent with the weather-forecasting lately, this turned out to be grossly underestimated.
Sunday morning, I rushed to clean the house after my guests checked out, watching the snow pile up outside the windows and thinking “maybe it will lighten up a little if I wait”.
It didn’t, and when it was time to either go for it or chicken out, I went to the garage and gave the treadmill a long, hard look… maybe I should stay inside? Nope, this was my only chance to get out so I was going to have to make the most of it.
I set out on the un-plowed roads, heading up Palisades towards Schaffers Mill. Almost immediately, the gusting winds and blowing snow made it a challenge to breathe. I had to stop several times during the first climb to cover my face and catch my breath. There is a short connection between my neighborhood (Ponderosa Palisades) and the streets of Schaffers Mill. I was happy to see a backcountry skier and 3 dogs had already broken trail.
Schaffers Mill and Martis Camp (where I was headed) are both gated communities, and their streets are usually better maintained (with less traffic) than the ones in my neighborhood.
One lane had been plowed on the streets in Schaffers Mill, but at the rate it was snowing, it was quickly filling in.
I continued on to Martis Camp, and enjoyed checking out the beautiful homes buried in snow.
About an hour in, the snow stopped and the sun almost came out. I thought the worst of it had passed.
The sun disappeared, the snow was back, the winds picked up, and white-out conditions resumed.
One of the great things about running in areas with lots of home construction taking place is the abundance of outhouses. It was time to find one, but I was faced with a recurring problem –
They were all buried.
At long last, I found shelter in a porta-potty that had been shoveled out.
My feet were starting to cramp up badly from the microspikes, so I had to remove them for a mile, march along the super icy roads until I couldn’t take it anymore, put the spikes back on, and do my best to make up the time. After 3 breaks from the spikes, they stopped hurting, and running with traction became fun again.
I’d only seen 3-4 cars during the first 3 hours (one of the other reasons I like running in gated communities), and most of the houses looked to be snowed-in. I pictured the Martis Camp residents cozy in their mansions drinking hot chocolate and watching it snow.
Turns out, they were skiing. After not seeing anyone outside since the skier in Schaffers Mill, I came across a very crowded ski lift line that takes residents from their neighborhood directly to Northstar. It made me feel better to see other people braving the elements.
During the run from the lift down to the gatehouse, I saw more cars (as in, 10 total), and even a snowplow here and there. It was a bit unnerving to not hear the cars coming behind me, due to the snow and winds (and my hat and hood) muffling all sounds. A kind woman actually stopped her car and called out to me as I was running “Are you OK??” It was hard not to laugh when I said “yes, I’m fine”.
Just after the gatehouse, I saw a warning sign about the Icy Roads – they were not joking.
It was time to head back to my neighborhood. All evidence that I had been through these parts earlier was now buried under the fresh powder.
The connector path back to my neighborhood was filled back in, and the sign marking the spot seemed appropriate:
It was comical to be trudging through this stuff, but at the same time scary, realizing that if I stepped off the somewhat beaten path (that still had 1-2 feet of fresh snow on top of it), I could easily fall in three or more feet of snow, and get stuck. Alone. In a blizzard.
Alas, I survived, and after 20.5 miles with 2200′ of climbing on snow-covered, icy roads, I rewarded myself with a beer in the hottub.
That evening, the snow continued, the Winter Storm Warning was extended overnight, the freeway closed, and the next day it was a snow day. Shocking, right?
After working from home all day Monday, I took a break to go for a shake-out run into town, to see how it looked after the latest hammering of snow.
The Truckee Hotel on Bridge Street
Casa Baeza on Bridge Street
Totally Board on corner of Bridge and Jibboom
The snow stopped by Tuesday morning, and I was greeted to spectacular sites on my early-morning run.
I hear we are in for a dry spell soon… I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then, I’m confident we will survive. And I’m definitely not letting a little snow get in the way of my running.
It’s Wednesday of “Ski/Skate Week” in Truckee, CA – this is normally a week-long break from school for families to take advantage of winter recreation, but since the kids have already had 12 snow days since January 3, the school district decided to schedule some make-up time Wed-Fri. In true Truckee fashion, a massive, 3-day storm system came through and wrecked havoc on the district’s good intentions.
The freeway has been closed intermittently for the past couple of days, many neighborhoods are without power, most of the schools had a 2-hour delayed start this morning, and one of the schools is closed due to power outage. Not many people got to ski/skate yet this week, as the mountains were closed off and on due to insane winds (Squaw clocked wind speeds over 190 mph Monday night!)
This morning we woke up to another 9″ of fresh powder since last night, which brings our 3 day total to about 3′ at the house. I went for a run this morning to check out the scenes around town, and make sure the office had power before going into work- it did, temporarily anyways.
Despite the inconveniences, we’ve been graced with the most spectacular bluebird day… and the power’s out (again!), so it’s time to head outside and play.
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!
My kids, Avian and Stephen, age 11, are currently taking a one-year sabbatical after being on ski team at Squaw since they were five. I am a beginner compared to them, but they still humor me once in awhile and agree to ski with me. I love watching them on the hill- so carefree and happy. And I learned some of their tricks, including how to avoid long lift lines, how/where to get free cups of whipped cream (yes, full cups of whipped cream), how to make boring runs a lot more interesting, and I got some tips on how to improve my skiing.
You know it’s bad when your sixth graders say “I hope it’s not another snow day tomorrow”
The record-breaking snow continues… Not sure how much we got last night, but I can tell you that my car wasn’t able to leave the driveway so I had to run to work. Wearing knee-high gaiters and spikes on my shoes, of course (the roads were somewhat plowed but I needed the gaiters to get out of my driveway). Today was Snow Day #10 for the kids…
We have no heat in our office (but the power works, so Mone’ brought us a space heater). My neighbor had to crawl out her window because the plow guy sprayed snow on her front deck and blocked her door from opening. I can’t find my mailbox.
It’s crazy here, but we love it. Here are some pics from my run to work this morning.
And there we were, at work, huddled around the space heater. None of the HVAC people could get to us, so I called on a friend, and JP (Prince Electric) made a special trip over to fix the furnace. As the office began to heat up, the sun came out, and my run home was even more spectacular…