Despite my sore-covered feet, I cannot resist going on one last Isle Royale hike up to Scoville Point via the Stoll Trail while I wait for the ferry back to the mainland. Since I plan to take photographs of the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry arriving at Rock Harbor near noon, I cannot waste too much time along the trail.
The Stoll Trail is a loop, with a spur trail that travels to the very end of the peninsula where the Rock Harbor Campground is located. The loop’s eastern portion runs along Rock Harbor, while the western part hugs Tobin Harbor. A short spur trail connects the two portions about half way, allowing me to bail out on the complete loop if my stubbornly sore feet demand it.
After taking care of breakfast, I return the area around the Rock Harbor Lodge and find the beginning of the trail just beyond the last lodge building, where it enters a coniferous forest. The narrow dirt path is well worn on the surface of hard rock, with spruce and balsam fir trees encroaching on both sides. The trail quickly emerges from the surrounding coniferous forest, following along the more open and rugged shoreline.
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The Stoll Trail’s first half is an interpretive trail. Frequent insightful signs arrayed along the trail describe such interesting topics as how Isle Royale was formed (the ridgelines are the ends of plates folded up, with the valleys being the spaces between the plates), where the plentiful wetlands came from, the origins of the primitive Native American copper pits and so on. Stopping at each of the signs, I take time to read each one, allowing my screaming feet a few moments of respite for the rubbing inside my hiking boots.
Date: September 12, 2011
Length: 4.6 miles (5.8 total daily miles; 128.0 total trip miles)
Difficulty: Moderate (due to sore feet)
The trail does not stay near the shoreline long before reentering the thick coniferous forest. Old man’s beard lichen hangs from the limbs of many of the trees, giving the entire forest a threatening appearance. Given the seemingly impenetrable forest on either side of the trail, it is hard to believe that there is open water a very short distance in almost every direction.
The trail exits the coniferous forest again before reaching the halfway point where a side trail leaves the main trail and connects with the returning portion of the loop along Tobin Harbor. The surrounding area is bare rock, with scattered patches of lichen, brown grass and juniper shrubs, and an occasional small conifer tree. Soon after this point, the trail reenters the area designated as wilderness, where a sign ironically advises there are no more interpretive signs along the trail.
The wilderness area appears much wilder than the non-wilderness area surrounding Rock Harbor, although this may just be a psychosomatic-like effect of the sign notifying its designation. The trail is rockier and rougher, with less forest and more bare rock, lichen and low-lying juniper shrubbery. The trees retreat farther up the ridge, creating open bluffs surrounding the shoreline.
The trail alternates between hugging the shoreline and reentering the surrounding forest. At times, the shoreline is beach-like, except instead of fine-grained tan sand, large gray gravel forms the curving interface between water of Rock Harbor and the peninsula. Other times, the shoreline is gray, craggy bluffs of jagged rock slabs.
Frequently along the trail are shallow pits dug into the gravel rock. One of the previous interpretive signs identified these pits as ancient copper mines, dug long ago by Native Americans from the mainland. It is testimony of the importance of this metal to these indigenous people that they went to such great lengths to excavate it.
Finally, I arrive at the side trail out to Scoville Point, with the main Stoll Trail looping back toward the Tobin Harbor side of the peninsula. The Scoville Point Trail is a little over a half-mile to its terminus, over mostly bare rock and some occasional gravel if the beginning of the trail is any indication.
The Scoville Point trail weaves in and out of the dwindling forest along the peninsula, alternating between open bare rock and gravel, where views of the surrounding islands are plentiful. The flat portions surrounded by gravel are most likely ancient beaches when Lake Superior was higher than today.
During one of those periods of bare rock and large rock gravel, I spot something white lying in the rocks. Without context, it takes me a while to realize it is an intact gull wing laying amongst the rocks, almost entirely intact, but missing the rest of the large bird that was once attached. Poking at the remains with my hiking pole, I cannot help but theorize on the bird’s fate; did it meet its end due to predation, or did some scavenger discover it dead and feast upon all but the bird’s wing? What predator was out here amongst the rocky bluffs and waves of Scoville Point?
The trees become shorter and thinner as I continue along the trail. The trail becomes more difficult to follow as bare rock dominates, and several times, I stop to make sure I am still following along the proper way.
Before reaching Scoville Point, the Albert Stoll, Jr monument stands as a memorial to the Detroit News reporter who campaigned for Isle Royale to become a National Park. The memorial appears constructed out of rock from the actual site, with a brass metal plaque set in its middle. Beyond the memorial is a thin line of stunted trees and a small white building with green trim across a bay formed at the end of the peninsula.
The building is only one of many located along the shore of Tobin Harbor or one its many islands. According to Jim DuFresne’s book, these buildings are the summer homes of the lifetime residents, built prior to the Island becoming a National Park. It must be a prestigious thing indeed to tell people you own a summer camp on Isle Royale!
The official trail may very well end at the memorial, but I hop across the rocks out to the very terminus of the peninsula. The slabs of rock are mostly bare here, with only an occasional small juniper clump or some other low-lying shrubbery. At the very end of the peninsula is a small clump of vegetation, with several small trees, like a final clump of hair on the front of a balding man’s forehead.
The waves crash against the rocky bluffs with such intensity that I am occasionally getting a face full of fine spray, despite never approaching the water’s edge closely. When I turn my back, another wave crashes against the rock shoreline, sending a spray onto my neck. The fine mist of cold water feels soothing on my slightly sunburned neck from the previous day’s long hike along the Greenstone Ridge.
The roar of the whitecaps, as they pound the shoreline, is deafening, drowning out all other sounds. The sense-depredating roar unsettles me. I am frequently looking down the trail, half expecting a group of hikers to join me. None ever does though.
The wind is so fierce, I am forced to fully secure my hat on my head using its lanyard, something I rarely do. As I unpack my backpack to set up my camera’s tripod, I must secure everything to prevent it from being whisked away and probably deposited in the turbulent waters of Lake Superior, and potentially unsalvageable.
Even with the tripod weighted down with its head and camera, I continuously get the feeling it could blown over on the hard, bare rocks. The sunny skies and the bare rock make this a perfect opportunity to take a picture of myself for the first time on Isle Royale. The stiff wind requires keeping the tripod low height, otherwise the wind may knock it completely over.
While nearly on my belly looking through the lens (I do not use the LCD display as it taxes the battery too much), a red squirrel emerges from the tuft of vegetation to curiously investigate my seemingly odd activity. The little rodent stares at me intently, our eyes nearly level as I lay on my stomach while setting up my shot. Apparently, it had second thoughts about me, since in a furry flurry, it turns tail and scurries back into the tuft of vegetation with its species’ typical angry chatter.
After deleting the first few attempts, I get a descent photograph of myself on Scoville Point, with the background of Lake Superior and the scattered islands to the northeast. With the sun rising in the east, the glare causes the photograph to be a little too dark, but one cannot have everything. Even though it would be nice.
The stunning view compels me to stay well past my turnaround time. If I still want to get a few photographs of the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry coming into Rock Harbor from the America dock, I now need to start back. Rushing with sore and blistered feet is not an easy task either.
After retracing my steps along the spur trail, I return to the Stoll Trail and take the way back along Tobin Harbor. This side of the trail is a pleasant stroll in the forest along the edge of a harbor infinitely more tranquil than its counterpart on the other side of the peninsula. Despite the nasty weather forecast, the sky is mostly clear, although darker clouds are far off in the distance to the west. Apparently, the wind is just some foreshadowing of the more turbulent weather yet to come.
Along the trail, a bench begs me to stop and relax while taking in the view. My sore feet agree, as they scream despite the bandages that I painstakingly applied before leaving this morning. Unfortunately, my watch quietly protests, indicating there are few moments to waste before the ferry arrival. The watch wins this disagreement, and I continue back toward Rock Harbor.
As I near returning to the Rock Harbor area, I cannot resist stopping at the remains of the Smithwick Mine along the trail. All that remains is a deep pit, surrounded by a split-beam fence to keep out the dangerously curious. A dirt path circumvents nearly the entire hole, allowing one to get close and personal with one of the more famous mines on the island.
Then suddenly I hear it off in the distance. The distinctive base horn of Isle Royale Queen ferry as it approaches Rock Harbor.
“Oh crap!” I exclaim to myself, nearly aloud.
I hobble along at a hurried pace down the trail back toward Rock Harbor as the horn continues to blow. The trail ends at a paved road, which descends a slight hill back to the marina, ending my last hike on Isle Royale.
At least until the next time I visit.
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