Lake Superior Coastal Trail Backpack Day 1
Monday, August 3
For the all stories about the ferocity of the waters of the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior had been a tame kitten overnight, with barely anything more than a very gentle lapping at the sand near our campsite. After a relaxing sleep in these calm conditions (and very comfortable temperatures, too), we awoke with the sun at about 6:30 a.m.
Today we would start our real journey: the hike south-east, down the coastline. Our group had been primed by various trip reports, some written in such a way that gave an impression of extreme difficulty and exceptional dangers. I myself was quite curious... to see the route myself, from my eyes and against my own experiences.
Morning, Day 1 of Backpack
After a fairly leisurely breakfast and pack-up, we headed out of camp, and... nearly immediately were back at the parking lot and our cars (remember, we had camped north of the parking lot along the Coastal Trail, only a few hundred metres away, so our journey south along the trail naturally took us back to the cars). At the cars, we stopped to unload a few bits of garbage we'd so far generated (no sense in carrying it in our packs for many days when we didn't need to), did a final rationalization of what we were to carry, then locked things up and once again hoisted packs for the journey south.
One final reconciliation
This was also Chris's decision moment. His back had really bothered him the day before, and he had mused about possibly dropping out if he thought he couldn't make the potentially arduous multi-day walk. We could see the wheels turning in his mind, see the scales being weighed. He really didn't fancy the idea of just sitting around in a motel somewhere for days on end, whittling away the time by himself. On the other hand, he surely was concerned that doing the backpack might irreparably damage something. In any case, this final rendezvous with the cars was his last chance to bail.
Chris chose to forge on with us. With a generous helping of analgesics, mind you. The adage of working through an injury with exercise had won today. We would remain the [non-artistic] Group of Seven.
It was 9:20 a.m., and we were standing at the big blue Coastal Trail sign at the Gargantua Parking lot. Off we went!
Immediately the trail descended to a nice footbridge that spanned the little creek draining the land on this side of Gargantua Bay. Beyond that, we started along a very nice section of path: flat, smooth, soft. Along the way, we passed a few more of the Gargantua Bay backcountry campsites, one of which even had a cute "Adventure" written out in large pebbles at its entrance.
The flat trail went on for a ways longer than I expected. The anticipation for the "challenging" trail that we'd read about was, I think, a bit heightened as a result.
Finally, about twenty minutes after starting out, and probably at least a full kilometre from the parking lot, the trail suddenly reached the end of the flat terrain at Gargantua Bay and made a sharp left and began an abrupt ascent. Up it went, quite steeply (certainly steeper than the previous climb out to the lookout at the other end of the bay), winding around boulders and roots and twisting and turning in unexpected ways. It reminded me of a steep ascent trail in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, but in a much less eroded state.
The steep climbing (unlike an Adirondack ascent) did not last long, however. Within about 15 minutes we had climbed up to perhaps about 150ft above lake level, and the terrain, grade and the roughness of the trail started to tail off. And we arrived at our first trail lookout, where Lake Superior's waters ran straight, true, and blue to the horizon. We could look north towards the islands and islets of Gargantua Head, in a similar view to what we'd seen on the previous day's day-hike. It would also probably be the last view of the Gargantua area, for we were about to cross a headland and begin a more south-easterly course, which would hide the Gargantua area from view.
Backpack Day 1 first lookout
Now that we were essentially on top of the headland south of Gargantua Bay, the trail soon flattened out -- and smoothed out. The next kilometer of trail primarily involved hiking over smooth slabs of unbroken bedrock, across numerous little open areas with lots of lichen and moss, and in general, easy and trouble-free hiking. We were a little ways inland as we crossed the headland, so we lost sight of the lakeshore at times. Still no sign of the promised trail-hell.
Continuing across the headland
Final view of Gargantua Bay
Shortly the headland-crossing section came to an end, as the Coastal Trail bent westward to meet the tip of the headland we were crossing. As we descended towards the final cliffs leading down into the water, we were treated to a fabulous, expansive walk down an open stretch of bedrock, with the wide and seemingly infinite waters of Lake Superior stretching far away into the distance. Because we were still about 75 feet above lake level, we could see quite far (nearly 20 kilometres, almost four times farther than if we were down at lake level). Given that the far shore was hundreds of kilometres away, the fact that we could see nothing but water was completely unsurprising. Truly an inland ocean, this thing is.
Nearing Beautiful Promontory
Jennifer at beautiful overlook
Coastal Bedrock Navigation
Apart from giving us some great views and opportunities for photos, this hike down the descending promontory also marked a big shift in the hiking environment. From this point on (for quite a long ways), the Coastal Trail began to utilize the actual coastline. And in these environs, the coastline was bare, craggy, rugged bedrock. Down we went, scrambling slightly in a few places to pass short steps and slopes, looking to find the best path up and down and across the ancient Canadian Shield granite.
This was also the first time on our hike where we really noticed how awesomely clear Lake Superior's waters were. We could easily see deep into the water, following the lines of rock structures as they continued downward into the depths. The color was often azure, aquamarine, and various other shades of blues and greens.
Although the Coastal Trail was now primarily on the coastline, there were still little exceptions. From time to time, we'd see a blue diamond trail marker indicating a section of route that led up off the coast and into the trees. Often these treed sections were very short, sometimes lasting no more than a few yards, before they deposited you back onto the coastline. They were also frequently quite rough, climbing up boulders and over roots and requiring the occasional awkward move. Occasionally the forest sections were longer, and the sunny day and lack of wind had us pretty sweaty and hoping for a return to the slight breeze near the water.
As we moved southeast across the headland, we started to encounter little mini-coves with big, blocky boulders. Hiking poles were quite useful stablizing tools when making one's way across these sections.
In the trees but near the water
Lots of little downs and ups