IRNP Day 5, South Lake Desor to Todd Harbor, 11.6 miles

Learn to recognize good luck when it’s waving at you, hoping to get your attention.

Sally Koslow
My beat up hiker's feet on a private rocky beach looking towards the Sleeping Giant.
My beat up hiker’s feet on a private rocky beach looking towards the Sleeping Giant.

The day starts with loons calling across the lake, mournful, then in that hysterical yodeling which sounds, frankly, loony. I don’t bother packing quickly since the sky is clear and I feel no pressure to move. 

But I’m out before the boys – one of which wanders into my camp accidentally after using the outhouse, apologetic and embarrassed – and the father and son, who I walked in on as they were changing clothes, but fortunately for all of us, strategically placed overgrown ferns hid any private bits. 

The woods are dense and dark, layered with tall, straight trunks. All I can think of are the Knights who say ‘ni’ from Monty Python. No one is here in my green tunnel except a bull moose quietly eating 20 feet off the path. His head follows me as I pass, but he never takes a step. 

I come to an open area of rock and climb to the top with views of Superior down to the jigsaw shape of Lake Desor where I happily swam twice. Back into the forest I go, up and down, through mud and over planks. There are fewer mushrooms here and no berries as I simply move forward, thinking this must be what much of the Appalachian Trail is like. 

The ranger in Windigo warned me about Ishpeming Point, a kind of island joke. The tower sits above the trail about a story-and-a-half with trees towering above it. I don’t bother climbing the stairs for a ‘better look’, and take a pass on the left behind mattress and T-shirt. 

Cauliflower mushroom makes it feel as though I'm under water.
Cauliflower mushroom makes it feel as though I’m under water.
Cloud shapes above a bog.
Cloud shapes above a bog.
The 'lookout' at Ishpeming gets one closer to the leaves.
The ‘lookout’ at Ishpeming gets one closer to the leaves.

I walk over bare rock with obstructed views to water beyond, but mostly clouds building then clearing. The wind is up and refreshing. Walking on and on, mostly easy until a muddy patch slows me down. 

Finally, views open to a magnificent inland lake, the big lake beyond. Two men are coming up and tell me they swam in Todd Harbor and someone was using the one shelter as a base from their boat. 

That’s ok. It’s still a lovely day and I really have no need for a shelter. I just always hope to find a super campsite, so I press on, walking steeply down now to the north side of the island and another inland lake. 

I don’t bother checking the campsites at Hatchett Lake and instead move on, walking a long way through thick green forest. Soon, I come to a beaver dam holding back a pond above me with the crossing below on one rickety board, the other submerged. I was warned about this and carefully cross, knowing the one will hold me. 

But of course, I just have to test the other board and sink right in, my shoe suddenly full of murky water. Serves you right, Ms. Curiosity!

One board will hold your weight, the other, not so much.
One board will hold your weight, the other, not so much.
The view above Hatchet Lake.
The view above Hatchet Lake.
Hamburger buns (Golden Philota)
Hamburger buns (Golden Philota)

This area is lovely and open, mostly huge birch trees with thick trunks or thin tall ones high into the bluebird sky. 

The vegetation is dryer with more autumn reds and yellows. The trail undulates up and down, over a washout before reaching an area marked by pink ribbons. It’s a new dam and these beavers were busy! I can’t imagine how they constructed this marvel, one long enough to stop a river and flood a small forest. 

The ribbons take me on top of it and finally let me out on Minong Ridge. Going east is open, but the other rugged 20 miles is closed for safety. I am clearly on the easy part and quickly arrive at the harbor, a couple assuring me I should camp at the first spot. 

Pink ribbons guide hiker over the massive new beaver dam.
Pink ribbons guide hiker over the massive new beaver dam.
A birch of many arms.
A birch of many arms.
The meadow fritillary stopped long enough for me to snap her picture.
The meadow fritillary stopped long enough for me to snap her picture.

Of course, I like to explore first, so leave my pack to see what else is available. I take a wrong turn and start hiking the trail I’ll walk tomorrow. Not a bad thing since I run into a man who just got off a fishing boat and ask him the obligatory, “Do you have a beer I can buy?” 

He says no, but he has one he can give me. Hooray! Four guys and a boat – one just returning to brag about the best shit he’s ever taken – invite me for dinner when they return with today’s catch.

But first, I need to find the group sites. He sets me straight and I land on fabulous site one with it’s superb view of outer islands with Sleeping Giant and other cliffs in Canada behind. 

I literally snag the best site seconds before two other hikers walk up. What a place it is! A private rocky beach to climb down to on cedar roots and soak my feet and filter water, plus myriad mossy cliffs to park myself and read my book all afternoon. 

As I set up, a stunning snake slithers through, large and bright but too fast for my camera. Mergansers swim past, their heads bent over in the water. They suddenly speed along, beaks agape scooping up fish. A black spider with long dainty legs pulls herself expertly along a filament upside down then disappears into a tree. 

The guys from Duluth shared beer and food with us hikers, and really looked after us.
The guys from Duluth shared beer and food with us hikers, and really looked after us.
Pizza rolls cooked in a smoker as appetizer.
Pizza rolls cooked in a smoker as appetizer.

I keep moving spots for the best view, the softest moss and a bit of shade. I see the guys fishing near the small islands. A ranger’s boat built like a pipe whizzes past just as a search and rescue helicopter flies by low. 

A glorious nap in the alicoop is disturbed by that very ranger coming to check my permit. It’s hard to be too mad at Corey who’s friendly and earnest and happy to answer all my questions like what’s in all those cases on your belt? Handcuffs and ammo. Better not piss him off! 

He loves it here, telling me it was Lake Mead last year and the Nez Perce in Idaho before that. I’m up now, so head back to my perch and read. The waves burble and hoot like an organ pipe against the rocks, the sunset is bright pink before covered in cloud, turning the water a silver blue. Thunderstorms are expected tonight and I hope I chose my tent spot well. 

More people arrive, three couples in all, one bringing foraged chanterelles. We talk and laugh, drink, eat and some smoke. One couple lost their water filter and boat owner Andy loans them his. Another lost his tent and Andy suggests sleeping under his tarp. 

Jake brought a smoker and makes the most tender beef I’ve tasted in a long time. They ensure I’m ok and tell me to ask for anything if I need it. 

Turns out I forgot a light, so Frank gives me his for the night to get back to the alicoop. The air is finally dry and cool, the waves b’plooping against the rocks. Well fed by my generous and kind trail angels, I am feeling beyond good. 

Corey is a police officer/ranger carrying a gun and hand cuffs.
Corey is a police officer/ranger carrying a gun and hand cuffs.
Loving this spot right on the Big Lake.
Loving this spot right on the Big Lake.
The sun sinks behind clouds and turns the water silver. Thunderstorms are brewing.
The sun sinks behind clouds and turns the water silver. Thunderstorms are brewing.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

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