Backcountry outfitter opens in Copper Harbor

COPPER HARBOR — A new backcountry outfitter conducted its soft opening Sunday, when the Isle Royale Queen IV made its first trip to Isle Royale for the season.

Wise Old Man of Isle Royale is located in the former Frontier Gift Shop, located at 234 Sixth Street.

The store is a backcountry outfitter primarily aimed at hikers going to Isle Royale or hikers of the Keweenaw Peninsula on extended excursions.

The new shop offers almost anything for the extended backcountry enthusiast, including dehydrated quality “high end” meals, gear and equipment, everything from first-aid supplies to water filtration systems.

Duane L’Esperance and his wife, Beth Virtanen, who own and operate the business, are distributors for Sea To Summit and MSR (Mountain Safety Research), which manufacture products like stoves, cookware, water filters and snowshoes, sleeping bags, pads and liners.

They also offer dehydrated meals from three manufacturers: Packit Gourmet, Peak Refuel and Greenbelly.

“They make backpacking foods,” L’Esperance said.

The shop will also sell grab-and-go sandwiches, soft drinks and the like.

The new shop is an expansion of their Isle Royale hiker guide service, which they have operated for years.

The guide service grew from repeated trips to Isle Royale per year, L’Esperance said, which was becoming expensive. When COVID hit in 2020, he and Virtanen developed some online courses on how to prepare to go to Isle Royale.

“People started calling and asking if we were guides,” L’Esperance said. “Beth asked me what do we do to become guides.”

L’Esperance said they contacted the National Park Service, and obtained the necessary Commercial Use Authorization, the CPR wilderness first-aid training and other necessary requirements to receive a permit from the Park Service to guide, because technically, they are concessionaires, he said.

“In all our experience being on the island,” L’Esperance said, “we’ve always run across people here in Copper Harbor, that say they forgot a stove, or ‘I forgot this, I forgot that.”

L’Esperance said at some point he began carrying extra gear in his car to lend hikers a stove or other piece of equipment.

“I’ve never had someone who borrowed something and didn’t bring it back,” he said. “They always went out of their way to get it back it to us.”

Eventually, the topic of starting an outfitting outlet for selling gear came up. L’Esperance and Virtanen were looking for something to do into retirement.

They first looked at a location in Mohawk, because they wanted to be on the U.S. 41 corridor, but it did not work out.

“Then, this building became available,” said L’Esperance, “and I said, you know, if we’re going to do it, this is the place.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today