Expedition to Oak Island

Just about every day since my return I have made a different start at writing this. Never quite satisfied with the result. Here goes, again.

Friday, June 2nd

One way or another I and all of my stuff were on the dock at the marina by 9 am, and the passage to Oak Island was quick; lake conditions allowed Captain Chas to come in close to shore and drop me off on the beach near my campsite, saving me a lot of walking!

Left to right: Osprey Talon backpack full of radio gear; bag of food; bag of papers and electronics; duffel bag with tent, blanket, & clothes; big fleece jacket; bag of Nalgene bottles full of water (a bit more than 2 gallons); spare shoes; and not sure what was in the blue one, more miscellaneous, I suppose.

I found the trail to my campsite and started to move in; also, start to apply bug spray to repel the mosquitoes, black flies, and gnats who were my constant companions throughout my stay. I seem to have forgotten just how much work is involved in wilderness camping; when I break for a quick lunch about 2:30 everything is just barely in order and there is still lots to do! I don’t have the tent set up yet! And what about firewood? Intentionally scary notices on the picnic tables about bears prompt me to go through all of my pockets and extract anything edible, resulting in a bag containing a remarkable quantity of Larabars, starlight mints, and other hiking snacks which all go into the locker. Nevertheless, somehow it all gets done, and after dinner and a quick swim in the lake it is campfire time.

The beach, near sunset.
Idyllic (but chilly!)

It was getting chilly by then, I was glad that a last-minute inspiration made me grab my winter fleece jacket to bring along “just in case”! I was even gladder as the night passed; I woke up about 1:00 just on the edge of shivering, the temperature was 41 degrees. I quickly retrieved more clothing from the bear locker and added my rain poncho as another layer over the blanket and caught another hour or two of sleep before dawn.

Saturday, June 3rd

Up at dawn, chilled and sorely in need of coffee and a hot breakfast! The fire was all burned out, so it was the faithful Esbit stove that stepped up.

titanium cup full of water heating on a small camping stove
Making (instant) coffee!

Coffee first, then instant oatmeal and a hardboiled egg kept body and soul together for another day. As long as I’m up, gonna make an early start and get up to the summit before the mosquitoes and flies wake up! Start packing!

Um, yeah, about that … . The QRPguys EFHW antenna needed a little work; the wire had pulled out of the little PEX “insulator”, and I wanted to add a 1/2″ steel nut to the end of the mason’s line. Last time I used it I trimmed off a few inches, hoping to improve the SWR (it made it worse); today I stripped the end and added about a foot of wire from the repair kit, which actually did get it below 2:1 across the 20 meter band! No problem, but there goes, what?, 45 minutes? an hour? more? Sandwich, bottle of water, battery, logbook, pencils, knee board … wait, knee board? Oops, when I sized the knee board I was thinking of the Osprey backpack for some reason, not the little bag that is my usual radio pack. It is not going inside there.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. I use a knife point to “drill” a hole in one corner of the knee board, big enough to admit a mini-carabiner so it can hang on the outside of my pack.

And by now it’s after 8:00 and what was that about an early start again? Clean up (gotta do the dishes, such as they are), pack everything back into the bear locker, it must be after 9 before I actually hit the trail for the summit.

(a side note on the subject of bears: Captain Chas told me that he has heard it said that Oak Island has the highest population density of black bears in the country; 17 bears in however-many square miles. We succeeded in avoiding each other.)

Updated 7/8/23 to add a link to an NPS article on the bear population of the Apostle Islands; Captain Chas was not far off!

trail marker sign against a background of trees
Trails on Oak Island are pretty much average for real wilderness trails in National Forest lands; they are there, but they are not usually heavily trafficked or particularly well marked. Every few hundred yards I would need to slow down or stop to consider where my next step would be in order to stay on the trail. This was not a problem, just an observation; the Wisconsin DNR trails I mostly hike on see a lot more traffic, and are much more heavily worn into the terrain. If the bugs were annoying by the shore, they were far worse once into the deep woods! Next time I come up here, I bring a head net!

I started toward the summit of Oak Island via the “overlook trail”, whose trailhead was adjacent to my campsite, following my position on GPS until I reached a likely-seeming spot, then turning more-or-less northwest and going up the less-steep slope until the ground kind of leveled off, as shown on the USGS topo maps that I had printed. I found the nearest thing to a clear area in the forest, well within the contour line, and set up; the QRPguys EFHW went into a tree, propelled by the nut tied on the end of the line. Knee board, stool, battery; ready to go.

Every contact required a distinct effort; there were plenty of signals on the waterfall but many were faint and uncopyable, there were a lot of stations with pileups that my QRP signal could not penetrate, but enough park activators heard my tiny call of “park-to-park” and worked with me to get my 10 for a valid activation. Stations CQing for the Kentucky QSO Party got me a few, and I worked a Museum Ship, the lightship Huron in Port Huron MI. Four contacts accepted my SOTA summit number in addition to the POTA park number, which qualified my activation and got me my first point for activating a summit! About 2:30 I decided that 13 was enough and went QRT; packing up took only minutes (winding up the 28 feet of antenna wire took the longest) and in moments I was going back down to my campsite, arriving a bit after 4. I think I was lucky in finding the trail again without too much trouble.

a map with pins and lines showing the location of the contacts I made
I added this map over Labor Day weekend, when I noticed it was missing!

I went to bed early, after only a sketchy dinner eaten directly from the pouch; fortunately the temperature remained warmer than Friday night and I got a better night’s sleep. For all of that, I was still up about 4:30!

Sunday, June 4th

Moon setting in the west in the twilight before dawn.

Coffee! Breakfast! Pickup at 10, must pack up and get it onto the beach!

The bear locker giving up its contents.

I was very careful to Leave No Trace of my stay on the island.

Every. Single. Bit. of trash of any kind went into this bag to be carried out, both for good wilderness ethics and for sensible camp hygiene in bear country.

Captain Chas was right on time, or even a few minutes early, and soon I was on the water, heading back to Bayfield!

Once back on the mainland, after unloading and getting back into the Harbor’s Edge Motel, it was lunchtime, followed by an event that I have heard of but never seen: The Blessing of the Fleet, a traditional observation in almost any coastal fishing town. After a short non-denominational service in a park gazebo, we all went out on the breakwater where about 25 boats passed in single file to receive a quick blessing and a sprinkling of water from a long leafy branch, wielded in turns by a team of 5 clergy.

It was interesting to learn that Lake Superior still supports a fishing fleet!

Took a nap, had dinner, went back to bed. Left for home on Monday morning. Wisconsin is full of parks that I haven’t activated yet, and I considered doing one en route, but I in the end I preferred to keep moving.

There’s probably another post coming up, strictly about how some of my new equipment performed.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped me along the way to having this wonderful adventure, and thank you for reading about it at driftlessqrp.com!






One response to “Expedition to Oak Island”

  1. B.A. Perry Avatar
    B.A. Perry

    Enjoyable and detailed read! Great job on your goal! Just as Captain Chas gave you some good motivation to clear any gum wrappers out of your poncho, you too have probably given a few of us some motivation to prepare and plan for any outdoor extended visits or QRPing. If that’s the jingo. My brother used to do this but from the comfort of his attic bedroom!

    And a question to other contacts that you made, why are you not dropping a line to Phil who is the nicest guy you could ever meet over the radio waves??? Brothers of the Radio Window, come forth! Unite!!

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