Jakub's vacation in Bruce Peninsula National Park and hike from Cyprus Lake to Crane Lake Road, August 2013
If you like shipwrecks, flowerpot-shaped rocks or stony beaches with cold blue water, Tobermory Ontario is the place for you. Beyond that there really isn't much to justify a 12 hour drive from NYC. So why did Jakub completed his fifth visit to that small fishing village? Find out more about Jakub's Canadian adventure below in his own words ...
"Tobermory, Ontario is located at the end of the Bruce Peninsula, an hundred mile long piece of land that separates Georgian Bay from the main body of Lake Huron. For me it serves as a base camp for exploring the Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP). By Canadian standards BPNP is a small park of about 60 square miles (150 km2), 150 times smaller than Kluane NP in Yukon, but it is home to the most spectacular fragment of the Niagara Escarpment (a kind of cliff) which goes from Rochester, NY under the Niagara Falls and continues for another 2000 miles via BPNP to Madison, Wisconsin. In Bruce Peninsula NP, a 250 feet tall vertical rock walls rise from the turquoise waters of Georgian Bay, a view that I could not shake since my first visit here 20 years ago. This time my plan was to observe these geological wonders at sunrise and sunset. To do this, I needed to hike the Bruce Trail (BT) and stay overnight on the Georgian Bay shore.
I decided go on a 3 day hike and stay at the designated backcountry campsites named Storm Heaven and High Dump. When packing, I counted every ounce carefully until it came to the photographic equipment. f/2.8 glass from 16 to 200mm, fisheye, full frame camera with 4 batteries, filters and tripod tipped the scale just over fifty pounds.
On August 5 at 8:00 AM I took off from Cyprus Lake heading northeast towards Storm Heaven. The first few kilometers were easy and the backpack (let’s call it Bob) held nicely to my hips and shoulders.
At some point, distracted by the creativity of hikers who left behind some amazing cairn, I missed an inland turn and continued my hike along the beach, unknowingly off trail.
This is when Bob first came alive and begun jerking me sideways as I was trying to maintain balance over large stones. Bob was a big boy, about 90 liter top heavy with camera stuff. Whenever I stopped, he gave me a violent push forward, then painfully resisted my efforts to get up and continue the hike. Some flat rocks ahead seemed a perfect place for timeout with Bob. The flat rocks soon turned vertical with passages only several inches wide and openings just large enough for Bob and me to crawl through, one at a time.
Those tight sections were spaced by small coves so strikingly unreal, I wondered what it would be like to spend several days here. I gazed at Bob laying on the ground and seriously considered this option for a while. (Today it still is an invigorating happy memory that in an instant, I had the option to abandon all the plans and everyone was ok with that. An uncommon moment of near perfect freedom.) The temptation to see the rest of BT was too great so I slowly moved on. A disturbing thought suddenly dawned on me: what if the next opening or passage is not large enough? Would I have to turn back looking for the missed turn or … swim? Neither option appeared attractive as the continuing wrestling match with Bob was beginning to take its toll.
You can imagine how relived I was to find myself, quite unexpectedly, at the western end of a half mile long, wide open stony beach. My joy was even greater when I saw a young couple ahead cooking. This meant that I could already be at the campsites, but there were no signs or tent platforms in sight to confirm this. I really didn't want to admit that I was lost (GPS did not make the cut during the ounce count) but had no choice and asked: “Hi, is this Storm Heaven?” They nodded and followed with a concerned stare. I felt like I just asked “Excuse me, is this New York City?” while standing next to the Empire State Building. “You look dry” - said the woman with polite smile and offered me water.
“Where did you come from?” asked the man. I explained how I followed the shore as if this was the plan. “You were lucky. When the trail goes up to the ridge, the section under along the shore is not passable” said the young man. Whenever people tell me that I was LUCKY I respond: no I was just SMART. This time I did not say anything. He was right, I knew nothing about this trail.
The Storm Heaven camping is impressive. My 12’x12’ wooden platform #3 is about 150 feet up from the beach. There are food hangers made of steel and concrete, so massive, the food was safe even from elephants and giraffes in case some escaped from a local ZOO. There is also an ecological outhouse amazingly clean and odorless.
My tent went up quickly and I had the whole afternoon to look around. I went back west to the Indian Cove and the Grotto. Leaving Bob in the tent and staying on the trail made the hike very pleasant. The Indian Cove and the Grotto are the main attractions of the BPNP. They are a short hike from the parking lot, it was the Civic Holiday weekend and it was a beautiful day so there must have been 500 people at the Indian Cove area. I left quickly and on the way back to Storm Heaven I really began to appreciate the beauty of Georgian Bay and the cliffs painted with the late afternoon light.
I had a solid dinner and used the last hour of daylight to take some more pictures and to hang the food.
Open fires are prohibited in BPNP. Since it was a clear moonless night, I pointed a wide angle lens at the North Star and opened the shutter for 45 minutes night sky shot. It was almost midnight, I plugged my ears and slept like a log.
The morning was cloudy and foggy so the morning light photography was cancelled. After two cups of coffee and two Nature Valley bars, by 10:30AM Bob and I were on our way to the High Dump. This time there was no “along the shore” option, the trail climbed to about 230 feet above the lake and according to my map, should remain flat for the next 10 kilometers. Instead the trail consists of nearly one hundred steep descents on wet mossy rocks interlaced with roots, dead leaves and mud slides. The descents are only 50 to 150 feet long but every one is followed immediately by a similar ascent. On each descent, in spite of using my hands and knees or crawling down backwards, I imagined Bob and myself plummeting down to the bottom and waiting there a day or two for a park helicopter.
After two hours I reached the first mile marker. I was moving at the pace of one mile per hour. After that mile marker the trail got much better for about 100 yards and then it got much worse. I don’t remember much of the next four hours. At some point there were several flies sitting on my right forearm. I noticed them only because one of them started to bite. Still, any attempt to chase them away seemed like a waste of much needed energy so I just kept moving. Then I saw, right next to the trail, some abandoned pieces of camping equipment. There were propane canisters, a duffle bag with pots and pans, towels and other stuff. “This cannot be good” I thought but finding safe footing between wet roots and rocks seemed much more important than any research on what happened to the owners. Every hour I rested for 15 minutes at overlooks that offered some of the most beautiful views in North America.
They were breathtaking even though I was trying to catch my breath. After seven hours I arrived to the High Dump camping area and found that to climb to my platform, the park service provided 50 feet of rope. In the next two hours I used that rope at about ten times to get water, to hang the food, to go to the bathroom and to take pictures and watch a pair of Loons on the lake. I don’t remember being this exhausted and sore all over my body ever in my life. The entire High Dump camping area was posted with new signs: “USE CAUTION, BEARS IN THE AREA” but I only wondered, what is the next ten kilometers of BT going to be like. As soon as my head touched the pillow I lost consciousness.
I woke up to a light rain and it was getting heavier. Every minute of precipitation could be adding an extra ounce of water in my backpack. That thought got me out of the sleeping bag in an instant and fifteen minutes later I was holding the rope, climbing back to the rim of the Niagara Escarpment. Fresh rain added a nice slick touch to the trail that never dries anyway. From the rim I moved inland.
The sky cleared, the birds were singing and the trail turned into a fairly flat snowmobile path that took me to the Upper Andrew’s Lake. Another spectacular example of unspoiled Canadian backcountry.
Before the hike, on the front page of the local paper I saw a warning about their increased activity in the Park and now here she was, only four feet away resting on a lilly pad a young Mississauga rattlesnake. I never heard of rattlesnakes in water before but apparently the Canadian Mississauga is a good swimmer.
An hour later I stopped at Long Marsh lake, a shallow, overgrown body of water. Like everything in Canadian wilderness the vegetation was greener, bigger, more diverse and out there to you eat you. Trying some low angle shots, for the first time on the whole hike I slipped and fell in the water.
Guarding the camera with both hands I got soaked from waste down. It was ok though because at this point I was only an hour away from the Crane Lake Road parking lot, the end of my hike.
Bruce Peninsula National Park is a wonderful place to hike. It has perhaps the most beautiful lake coasts east of Mississippi. And even though to book a platform at Storm Heaven or at High Dump you may have to give your mother’s maiden name to the Canadian Government, it is well worth the 12 hour drive from NYC.
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