Our trip to Isle Royale National Park did not disappoint. My goal was to see at least a single moose. I saw five and heard some more in the distance. Four of the moose that I saw were not far from me, however I didn’t feel threatened by them. That wasn’t true for the first moose I encountered. It was a close encounter that I don’t want to experience again. It was frightening, yet memorable.
Before we even got on our seaplane to journey to Isle Royale I had decided I wanted our family to hike up to Huginnin Cove. The Hugininn Loop is 9.4 miles. I didn’t know if my kids could make the entire look in a day, but I thought we could do one portion of the trail. The journey up to the Huginnin Cove using the west side of the trail is only 3.1 miles. That would be 6.2 miles round trip. The plan was to take several hours hiking up to the cove at a slow enough pace for the kids. Then we would have a meal up at the cove where there is a beautiful outlook over Lake Superior. Then we would take a few hours hiking back before dark. We set out at noon. After about a half hour of hiking Alex decided that he was done. He is six and is usually a good hiker with no complaints. I am not sure if he wasn’t feeling well or was over-tired but he was in a mood and was done with the hike. He wanted to return to our shelter.
We hiked back. I was disappointed I was going to miss the hike I had most wanted to take while at Isle Royale. We decided that I would stay with Alex and Justin would take the other two kids hiking. They were gone for an hour and a half. When they returned just before 2:30 Justin told me I should go hike up to the Cove. I didn’t hesitate. My backpack was still loaded with food, water, a pocket knife, raincoat, camera, and water filter. I was still wearing my hiking clothes too. I looked at my watch and having studied the map and the time it has taken other people to do the trail I announced that if I could make it up to Huginnin Cove in less than 2 hours I would continue the rest of the loop and would be able to make it back before dark. Some guide books said to allow 4-6 hours for the 9.4 mile trek. Others said allow 6-8 hours for the journey, I am not a slow hiker, so I aimed for 4-5 hours, so that I wouldn’t be out on the trail after dark.
It was a serious hike, especially since I was doing it alone and had no idea what to expect. I also had no cell signal on the island. I don’t think anyone does. Hugininn Loop is listed as a moderate hike with a good potential to see moose in the marshy areas. I would say that it varies from easy, to moderate, to strenuous on various points on the trail. This would make the average of the loop trail to be moderate. However, there were steep grades, places where the trail disappeared because it hadn’t been well traveled because of just recently reopening and the only visitors coming had to get there by seaplane. This made the trail barren of people. I didn’t encounter another person while hiking the trail. When I got to the top where Huginnin Cove campground is located I saw two men. As a woman hiking on my own, I decided I wouldn’t be stopping to introduce myself. Not after listening to the podcast called “Park Predators” that featured a story about a serial killer in National Parks. My bad for listening to such a thing just before our trip. I am sure they were friendly enough young men, but I was already a little on edge from walking three miles through the woods on the lookout for moose and wolves. I clearly saw tracks for both.
I wasn’t worried about my safety while out hiking. Although, I did move the pocket knife to a front pocket of my hiking pants. Really, from all the reading that I had done about Isle Royale my biggest concern was tripping or falling and not being found until another hiker came through…hopefully the next day. With this knowledge and the awareness of the unsteadiness of the boardwalks that run all through this hike to keep you just above the muck of the marshes, I concentrated on my footing. Sometimes the plants on the trail were up to my shoulders and I could not see my feet at all. I proceeded slowly with caution. The trails were not groomed trails. More like a path through the woods that sometimes disappeared and I would have to search for it further ahead. Lots of rocks, boulders, fallen trees, and tree root filled this trail through the deep woods, across creeks, and through marshes. It was beautiful. And peaceful.
A few times, as I passed though marshy areas I heard the squish of a foot lifting from the mud or muck of the marsh. It sounded large like a moose. I stopped and scanned the area where the noise came from each time, only to see moving tree branches or bushes and no moose in sight. They are elusive and good at hiding in the marshy areas.
After I passed the Huginnin Cove campsite the rain began. I stopped to put away my camera and put on my rain coat. I walked the shoreline of Lake Superior and it was a gorgeous view! There were breaks every now in then in the rain and I would pause and pull my phone out of my pocket for some quick photos.
I was still on a schedule and needed to keep a good pace to get back before dark. I made it up to the cove in less than two hours. However, it was almost 4:30 pm with six miles to go before dark and I had no clue what the terrain was like. Even when the sun was shining some of the wooded areas were dark because of the deep forestation and plant life. It was kind of eerie in some places. Below are some photos of my hike, so you can get an idea of the trail. Every hike is unique and this one did not disappoint. It was neat to see some moose antlers on the trail too. They shed their antlers every year.
Just after the shoreline hike portion of the trail ended, I turned once again back into the woods to head south on the eastern part of the trail.
About a half a mile after entering the woods the rain picked up. My shoes were squishy. I was focusing on my footing, now that the ground was wet and slippery on rocks and on the planks.
I almost ran into a moose. It was a bull moose located about four feet or so to the left of me on the trail. I scared the moose and it scared me! It was a large moose. Standing next to one showed me very clearly how I dwarfed the beast in height by at least several feet (including the antlers). It jumped and so did I! It moved so fast that I felt my motions were in slow-mo. The ground literally shook as it ran in front of me. I was in shock, but I knew I needed to move behind a tree like the ranger had told me to do. The moose jumped onto the trail in front of me and then it sprinted ahead down the trail. I backed up while still facing the trail and the moose ahead of me and I got behind a large tree. The moose then stopped a ways down on the trail and stared at me for several minutes. After watching the moose watch me for about two minutes my breathing started to come back to me and it dawned on me that my phone was still in my pocket. I pulled it out and took a video. My video isn’t the best, as you can tell I am watching the moose more than I am looking at my phone screen, but eventually the video does focus in on the moose.
The moose was standing on the path that I needed to take. I was not about to turn around and go back on the path where I had come from. I needed to keep moving forward on the loop. I was also afraid of this moose that was staring me down. Eventually it ran into the woods. When it did I wanted another five minutes or so and then I proceeded. It sounded like it had gone far enough into the woods that it was done with me and decided I wasn’t a threat. After about a half hour of speed hiking to get beyond the woods where the moose was located I then decided to start singing. I sang a lot of Sound of Music songs, with my own personal lyrics, since I couldn’t recall all the words. I didn’t want to surprise another moose on my hike and didn’t want one to surprise me either. I didn’t see another moose and I made the trek back in personal record time. I hiked with greater speed on the way back. It took me about 4 hours and 15 minutes to do the entire 9+ mile hike, which included stopping to put on rain gear and stopping for the moose. I was back before dark and Justin was cooking a hot meal over our camp stove. I was happy to be back at our campsite safe and sound. It was a good lesson on why you shouldn’t hike alone. But it was a great hike regardless.