Hiking Lake Superior Provincial Park-May 2010
Day 1--Getting Started
The adventure began, as most of our Canadian ones do, with our assembling at one of my favorite motels, the Voyageur Inn and Cookhouse in Batchawana Bay. Most of the group arrived the night before: Cathy from Ann Arbor, Eva from , Charlie from the Grand Rapids area, Michael from Marquette and myself from Flint. We chatted a bit and I looked over the new pack Michael had brought up for me. Starting a long trip with untried gear is not the wisest thing, but this pack weighed almost four pounds less than the one I routinely used....hopefully it could handle the load.
We awoke early Friday morning and headed down to the Cookhouse to meet the other two trippers for breakfast. Chris from Frankenmuth and Dennis from Berrien Springs arrived as planned and we indulged in a delicious meal with no worries about calories as we expected to be burning them off soon. We caught up a bit on each other's lives and reached agreement about the shuttle plan before departing for the Agawa Trader for fishing licenses and the Visitor Center for backcountry permits. When those had been obtained Chris and I spotted his car where an overgrown logging road intersected Highway 17 so that he could make an early departure. We then drove down Gargantua Road to the coast where the hike was to start. Meanwhile, the rest of the group headed up to Old Woman Bay, spotting Cathy's car at a portage trail on the way and parking the vehicles except for Michael's there.
When the rest of the group arrived at Gargantua, we settled on the cobble rock beach to have lunch before starting out. It was a perfect day for hiking: sunny with just a few clouds and a breeze, temperature somewhere in the fifties. The rocks were warm, the water lapped softly, gulls called, and as we ate, a fishing boat paused in the bay to drop some nets. When the food was stashed, I could have taken a nap, but it was definitely time to get on the trail as we had about eleven kilometers to cover in order to reach Chalfont Cove. The trail in that area is actually a two-track for quite aways so we were able to walk side by side and there was quite a bit of animated conversation as we traveled. As we continued over rocky ridges we enjoyed the many vistas of Lake Superior, the cliffs, and the islands of dark rock offshore. Also to be enjoyed were the many spring flowers in bloom. Many pink ladyslippers and blue bead lilies lined the trail and in places there were star flowers, labrador tea, buttercups, foam flowers, goldthread and Canada mayflower. Nearing our objective we found a sizable stream falling in several steps over the rocks. We dropped our packs and some waded in while others just enjoyed the view or splashed the cool water on face and arms. Chris, however, climbed up to a pool and got right in. in minutes only his bare feet and smiling face were visible in the frothy water.
After that break we covered the remaining kilometers to Chalfont Cove. The water was calm as we set up camp on the beach. Dinner was pleasant, spirits were high after a comfortable day of hiking. We were treated to the first beautiful sunset of the trip, silhouetting the rocky points that outline the cove. This is where the Coastal Trail ends and Michael announced that now the real trip would begin…,
Day 2--Chalfont Cove to Ryan’s Point
Saturday morning we again had bright sun with just a few cirrocumulus moving in. It was warm and a bit mosquitoey. Everyone had slept well, though a couple of people reported being awake around two AM to see the full moon and dark sky full of stars.
We began our hike along the shore and after about a klick of fairly easy travel, we heard the sound of falling water. At the back of a small inlet screened by brush was a pretty cascade over dark rock. We took a break to explore it. It was perhaps thirty feet high and had several other small falls above it. Looking out toward the lake we could see four Islands and decided to call the cascade Four Island Falls. On the topo even the stream was unamed though it drained at least four small lakes several klicks inland.
As we started hiking again Michael turned his ankle-painfully enough to cause an exclamation, but not enough to think about stopping. Hiking along the rocky shore was fairly easy and very scenic. Not being in a hurry, we took a break to cool off in the lake. Soon afterward we reached the end of the cove, turned inland behind the cliffs and began climbing. The air was warm, still and moist: sweating didn’t cool us much and the mosquitoes took advantage of any exposed skin. Working up a draw, Michael turned his ankle again--this time more seriously. We took a break to consider how to deal with the problem. He first thought about turning back, since going farther into the wilderness with an injury is questionable at best. It was mid afternoon though, and our planned camp was not too much farther. Cathy offered to tape the ankle for support and it was decided to try and make it there and reevaluate the situation in the morning. When the tape was on, Michael laced the boot up tight and passed the point position to Chris so he could concentrate on footing. We made it to camp without further incident. I was good to come down to the beach and feel the breeze again. There were big banks of dark cloud hanging offshore which sort of mirrored our mood: no one wanted Michael to leave. Through dinner big shafts of sunshine shone through breaks in the clouds--perhaps a sign? When the sun set, the stars came out, but by the time we were settled in our bags, thunder was rumbling in the west. The clouds moved over the stars and rain soon followed.
Day 3--Ryan’s Point to Red Rock Beach
We awoke to overcast and fog and packed our tents up wet. Though his ankle was somewhat swollen, Michael stoically decided to continue. We hiked north along the shore enjoying the vistas of rugged rock and offshore islands. When we came to Sommer’s Creek, we turned inland. Here, too the scenery was pretty: mountain ash was in bloom and there were many spring wildflowers including lady slippers which are one of my favorites. We hiked upstream in search of waterfalls which the contours on the topo indicated should be there. The stream shrank and became hard to follow. We found the first moose shed of the trip while searching for the stream. Always a Kodak moment… On the track of the stream again, we finally found a hundred foot cascade just below the beaver dam at the outflow of Sommer’s Lake. Somewhere there we had lunch, but soon were hiking again, up from the lake and through a saddle to the close-spaced contours that drop down to Red Rock Beach. Dropping down we made a wrong choice of route which brought us to a dead end: a ledge high above the next one with no way to climb down. Though afternoon was waning, we had no choice but to climb back up and try another route. It was slow going with much consultation of maps and several places where we had to take packs off in order to climb down to the next ledge. By the time we reached beach level, the sun was low over the lake and we still had more than a klick of cobble rock to hike to the campsites. It as definitely a loooong day… Since we were tired and there were no clouds on the horizon, several of us decided to sleep under the stars. I picked a spot covered with purple flowered vines and joked that I was planning to rest in peas… Those who had a choice to what to fix for dinner looked for something simple.
Day 4--Red Rock Beach to Miner’s Lake
In the morning Chris was up shortly after dawn--which at this time of year is really early.
He packed quickly and said goodbye to those who were stirring. He would spend the day hiking solo out to Hwy 17. He hoped the old logging roads that showed on the map would not be so overgrown as to make this impossible. We wished him the best of luck, knowing he would need it. He promised to call the sat phone Charlie carried and let us know when he made it out.
The rest of us dozed awhile and awoke to a small cloudbank which proceeded to sprinkle on us before moving on. After breakfast we took stock of Michael’s ankle which had developed a new problem. The tightly laced boot had abraded the untaped area on the front of his foot, producing a large blister which required debridement and dressing. As each person got ready to hike, they headed down the beach toward the Red Rock River and the large red slab of rock at its mouth that gave it its name. The beach is of cobble rock of many different sizes, colors and composition. One could spend hours just examining them.
Charlie, in particular, had been waiting for an opportunity to fish and the mouth of the river seemed a good spot. We relaxed while he took a few casts, but the only hungry fish was little more than a minnow.
Our goal for the day was the tip of Cape Challion and Michael took the lead heading in that direction. The terrain quickly became challenging. There was a lot of climbing through brush and the undulating ridges made navigation difficult. There was much sign of moose though-clearings of nibbled vegetation, trails and lots of droppings. We found a number of sheds, bringing our count to five. By lunch we’d decided not to try to make the Cape, but to stop at a small hilltop lake which we called Miner’s Lake, since it was on a creek of that name. When we got there, we found a rather pretty little beaver-built pond, complete with a resident beaver that seemed quite curious about the strange visitors.
The beavers hadn’t made any provision for human company though, and we had to get pretty creative to squeeze our shelters into the thick cedar forest. By the time we got them up it was raining. Dinner was peaceful and surprisingly cheerful. We visited each other, redressed Michael’s foot (which looked good, all things considered) and planned the next day’s trip to the Cape. Intermittent precipitation continued through the night.
Day 5-- Miner’s Lake to Cape Challion
After a leisurely breakfast we headed northwest toward the cape, crossing the main branch of Miner’s Creek. Travel was not too difficult as moosey open bogs alternated with rocky, sparsely forested higher ground. By lunch time we had reached Cape Challion Lake, which was yet another beaver creation perched near the edge of the cliffs that dropped precipitously to Lake Superior. We had lunch there and made preparations to climb down to the big lake--a trip made more attractive by not having to take our packs. We followed the creek, climbing down weathered logs, dropping over ledges and scrambling through narrow defiles. Once on the cobble beach we spent the afternoon lounging and exploring. There is a very nice kayaker’s campsite hidden in a patch of trees by the cliff. The rocks of the shoreline are painted with lichens in bright orange, green, black and gray. Some of us climbed a rocky point to look around the ‘corner’ in the direction we’d come from. Some of us napped in the sun. Poking around turned up interesting stuff--polliwogs in a small pool , a snakeskin drying in the sun, butterworts growing from cracks in the rock, an ample supply of driftwood… When it was time to go I could have stayed longer.
We climbed back up the cliff to spend a leisurely evening in camp. Some of us set up on one side of the lake/pond and some on the other. Charlie decided to build a bridge. He gathered a number of logs and dropped them across the narrowest part of the lake( which should give you some idea of the size of that body of water) so that visiting each other would be easier. The resulting structure required the user to have excellent balance, at least one walking stick and a lot of luck. At one point in the evening Michael decided to put it to use. This resulted in some strong language and wet boots, and afterward everyone but Charlie walked around the end of the lake to visit. After dinner Charlie and Cathy turned on the sat phone to check on things back home and to see if Chris had made it out OK. It seemed strange to be conversing with people back in civilization from so far in the bush. Things were good at home and Chris had left a message Monday evening saying he’d made it out to Hwy 17.
Day 6--Cape Challion to Grindstone Point
The day dawned sunny and stayed that way. The temperature was down a bit and we looked forward to a comfortable day of hiking. Michael took the lead as usual and the hike soon became more arduous than expected mostly due to the undulating nature of the terrain. There were a few stretches of beautiful open cedar forest and some areas where the moose had munched and trampled the vegetation down to a manageable density. Mostly ,however, we alternated between higher ground covered with THICK spruce, hemlock and fir. and lowlands filled with tag alders, sweet gale, leather leaf and Labrador tea. At one point Michael commented that the path ahead looked “a little bit wetter.” Upon reaching that point I found that phrase meant “slightly less than knee deep.” After going east for a little over a klick, we turned north, which didn’t decrease the workload much…
Despite the work there were many positives to the day. One of the open boggy areas held hundreds of tiny sundew plants and a little beyond that was wood sorrel in bloom. There was an eagle, sand hill cranes, and assorted ducks. Lunch by a small lake was enjoyable too--I washed my hair which felt great. There were many different dragonflies: red, iridescent turquoise and blue with black stripes. Charlie tried fishing again, but there were no bites. We found our sixth moose shed shortly before beginning the descent to Grindstone Point.
Getting back down to Lake Superior took some time due to the thickness of the brush and steepness of the descent: more than 45 degrees for most of the 200+ feet. We began by following a creek, but it was slick with moss and before we’d gone far, it dropped precipitously over a cliff with no way for us to climb down. We elected to climb down a steep slope which at least had some trees to cling to. There were places where some elected to lower their pack with rope before climbing down.
Once down from the cliffs, we scouted through the area where moose yard up in the winter. A few pieces of trail tape indicated that humans, perhaps researchers, had visited, but other than the many trails through the brush, there was little sign of moose: our shed count remained at six.
The wide expanse of rocky beach on which we planned to camp was littered with huge pieces of driftwood which looked like a sloppily constructed split rail fence. Camping options were somewhat limited since we were not tired enough to want to sleep directly on the large cobble or exposed bedrock. Dennis, Ewa and I occupied one thinly vegetated space and the rest of the group went several hundred yards down the beach to the next one. It was a very relaxing evening. It was too nice to put up a tarp--it was a sleep under the stars kind of night. We rinsed the trail dust off in the lake, ate dinner slowly, had several desserts and were treated to a beautiful sunset over the water. It was after 10PM when Venus finally peeked out above the deepening streaks of orange and purple in the west.
A myriad of other stars soon followed and it was time to sleep.
Day 7--Grindstone Point to Till Creek Falls
Our decision to sleep out proved to be a good one and we awoke to another sunny morning. When I unzipped my bag, Dennis, always an early riser, had already brewed his coffee and was reading. How great to wake up to the sound of water lapping on the rocks and birds singing in the trees. There was a wall of wild roses a few feet from my bag. I ound a “washroom” screened with birches and pines, the floor carpeted with bunchberry and twinflower….it doesn’t get any better than that.
I kept my jacket on against the morning chill and looked out over the lake as my coffee was brewing. Across the bay the rugged north shore stretched blue-gray to the horizon.
After breakfast we packed up as there were more places to go and things to see. Hiking down the beach, we began to encounter huge pieces of wreckage from the Arcadia, one of many ships taken down by Superior’s storms. The rusty beams and large timbers made for quite a few Kodak moments.
Near the end of the beach we moved inland to have a look at the mud pit which is a part of the moose yard. That the area is heavily used is very apparent, as there are open, almost park like sections of woods with ample sign of munching and trampling. The pits themselves look a lot like an overgrown barnyard. We added to our shed count, bringing the total to 11.
It was another day of traveling over “wrinkly” terrain through thick brush. At the end of Bushy Bay we turned away from the lake to climb up behind the cliffs. Our objective was Till Creek Falls, the highest waterfall in the park. By the time we reached the canyon where the falls is, it was late and looking like rain so we went down to the lake edge to set up camp, leaving viewing of the biggest cascade for the next morning.
We were surrounded with beauty again. Till Creek cascades through a gorge, joining the lake through a beach of multicolored rocks. Our shelters were tucked into wooded ledges with a view of the lake or the stream or both. Clouds had been building for awhile and we got set up just before the rain started. The evening meal was pleasant with lots of tarp sharing and visiting.
The showers stopped after dinner and Charlie was motivated to try fishing again. Still no luck…. The rest of us explored the small rocky beach and watched a trio of loons swimming offshore. By the end of the evening it was raining again and I fell asleep to the sounds of water flowing over rocks and rain on my tarp.
Day 8--Till Creek Falls to Alpine Lake
When I woke up the rain had stopped, but the forest was dripping and a dense fog covered the lake. The sky was slowly clearing but we’d definitely be starting out in raingear. Our first stop was the main falls which was not too far upstream from camp. For more than a hundred feet, foamy rivulets of white water cascade over black rock. It brought to mind Oriental paintings of mountain rivers…. We stayed a while to soak it up.
Consulting the map it appeared that the easiest way to get to the top of the falls was to move a few hundred yards upstream on a tributary of the main creek: no point in climbing if there’s more space between the contour lines somewhere nearby. Michael found us a good route and by lunchtime we were along the shore of Till Lake. We were kind of hoping for exposed shoreline on the lake, but no such luck: it was a long brushy walk to the east end. Near the inlet of the lake Cathy spotted an old rowboat stored and likely forgotten many moons ago. We tipped it up and found the usual artifacts, oars and fishing equipment. After a few pictures we moved on, and soon came upon the remnants of a portage trail headed where we were going-Alpine Lake. We got into camp around 4PM-one of our earliest days.
There was an open bit of shoreline and enough artifacts around to indicate that a few fishermen make it in to this lake. Charley soon had a line in the water and this time he was rewarded with a sizeable trout which he cooked up and shared. Mmmm….
The last evening in the bush is always bittersweet. This one was overcast and very windy. We pitched our tarps to block it. There was time for exploring and I rambled in the woods behind camp looking or any other signs of settlement. Found some nodding trilliums but no sign of people. Charlie caught a second fish, slightly smaller than the first and we saved it in the lake for breakfast. The wind continued and we fell asleep to the sound of fluttering nylon.
Day 9--Alpine Lake to Highway 17
In the morning it was still cool and damp but the wind had calmed a bit. We took our time with breakfast, enjoying the fish. Some of us joked that we’d best make it out by lunch as there was little left in our packs…despite the fact that there’s supposed to be an extra day’s food…
Once we were packed we worked our way along the shore of the lake to a campsite at the other end. Remnants of a portage trail would take us from there back to the highway. This site had evidence of recent use such as clear space, logs around a fire pit and a fish cleaning table. It also had some stuff that should have been packed out… We took a break there and looked around. Among other things we found a salamander. When the last granola bar was eaten, we found the trail and headed for home. The word “trail” is used loosely here: it hadn’t seen much traffic and there were “trails” branching off to other lakes, so Michael had to keep a close eye on the map and compass. The closer we got to the highway the clearer the path became and around midday we came out near Cathy’s car. There was still shuttling to retrieve the other cars and showers to be taken, but when those were done, most of us gathered at the Voyageur for a post trip meal--a fitting conclusion to another great trip.