Mouth of Baldhead
The mouth of the Baldhead River marked the end of what I'll term the "remote" part of our backpack. A car access parking lot was now only a few kilometres up the Orphan Lake Trail, and the Coast itself was rapidly angling inward to meet the Trans-Canada highway, which makes a very close approach to the coast at the Coldwater River, now only a few kilometres ahead of us.
But first, our lunch, taken at a nice sandy campsite just a few metres away from the mouth of the Baldhead River. We could tell from the map and from various trail descriptions that we'd tackled the hardest terrain of the journey, and I think the apprehension (again partially sourced from particularly-worded trip reports on the internet) was starting to fade. We had this. I mean, sure, it was strenuous exercise, but really, we were doing fine.
With our more relaxed attitude to the terrain ahead, we had an especially long lunch at the mouth of the Baldhead - well over an hour of luxurious lounging. When we eventually realized that time had slipped well into after noon (around 1:40pm), we quickly made ready to continue south. We at the very least wanted to improve on yesterday's mileage, and also hopefully be able to snag a nicer, more spacious campsite than last night.
Baldhead R Bridge
A long, delicate arc of beach came toward us from the far side of the Baldhead River. We could see the end of it only about 30 feet away from us. The river's water, however, looked dark brown and murky, and it seemed like it was quite deep. Although we possibly could have forded it, we didn't feel like disrobing, wading, measuring, and then possibly abandoning the idea because of depth (we had no way to seal our packs). Instead, we followed the Coastal Trail, which bent inwards (much like at Buck Creek) and headed upstream to a few sturdy bridge crossings - then came back down the other side to join the Lake Superior Coastline once again.
Once on the Beach, we turned south and continued. Ahead, at the end of the wide, pebble-and-sand beach, we could see a tall forested hill - the tallest hill along the coast we'd seen so far. This was Baldhead Hill (which frankly, didn't look that bald), and we knew that it represented the next difficulty of our hike, for the map showed that the Coastal Trail went directly up and over the top of it and then back down the other side.
After briefly accidentally heading up the second Orphan Lake trail (I saw a trail marker in the trees but there was no indication of the junction itself), we continued along the beach and entered the forest on sloping slabs at the base of Bald Head. The trail wasn't hard in terms of roughness, but it was fairly steep, and it did climb fairly relentlessly for about 300 vertical feet, making it the biggest climb so far along our backpack. And though Bald Head is most definitely not bald, there were a few very nice views looking back north, up the coastline along which we had just spent so much energy hiking. It was a nice satisfying overview of what we had done.
Beachwalking towards Baldhead
Even though the park topo map showed the Coastal Trail going over Baldhead's highpoint, it turns out that the trail does not go over the actual height of land, but rather traverses around it. The middle section of the Baldhead traverse is therefore rather flat and easy, with stretches of easy, pine needle-strewn path. And an occasional view off to Lake Superior on the right. Since we were now 300 feet above the lake level, we once again got some nice, far-reaching views.
Soon the trail gave up the 300 vertical feet we had gained and we were back at shoreline. After a short bit of rough-ish trail and coastal scrambling, we emerged onto a mostly soft-sand beach not far north of the Coldwater River. And as far as we could tell from the map (and from looking ahead with our own eyes), this was the beginning of a nice stretch of beach-walking.
Descending back down to the shore
Descending back down to the shore
Coldwater River Beachline
View back to a Hilly Coastline
A half-kilometre of easy shoreline walking (best accomplished by hiking on the damp sand as close to the water's edge as possible without actually getting wet from waves), brought us to the mouth of the Coldwater River. We had half-expected another situation where we would have to hike inland a bit to a bridge, but upon seeing the actual river's mouth, which appeared to be nothing more than a four-foot wide, one-foot deep channel, we decided to just wade it.
After drying off our feet and putting our hiking shoes back on after the ford, we took a small break and assessed our progress. It was now about 4:30 pm, and we had already covered more distance than we had the previous day. It was good that we had achieved that goal. We were now examining the park map and noting that the official backcountry campsites for the next little while were sparse. There were only a few campsites in the next kilometre or two, and then there was a large stretch where official campsites were absent, and we would likely have to hike many more kilometres before reaching an area with a higher concentration of sites. So, after a bit of consultation, we decided that we should probably find a campsite as soon as possible, and work to leap-frog over the campsite-poor stretch in the morning, and aim for the campsite rich areas at the end of the day.
We immediately noticed that we were on an exceptionally wide and flat section of beach here, south of the Coldwater River, and that others were already camped a little further down from us - AND... there were some campsite-ish looking spots just a short distance from where we were standing. We looked at the map again, and no - these weren't official sites. But they were big and flat, had lots of space for us, and we were a bit fearful of getting to the three remaining official sites a little ways along and finding them full. The park literature does say you can camp in reasonable non-official spots, and, well.. this looked pretty reasonable. So, sold. Even though it was before 5pm, this would be our home for the night.
Such an early camp meant extra time for doing nothing, and that's just what many of us did: lie down in the soft sand, listened to the wind rush by (after a couple of calm days, a decent breeze had finally picked up), and let a few hours tick away. Then a 7pm dinner and a post sunset fire to round out the evening.
On the injury front, Chris' back was definitely getting better. The grimaces had mostly gone and the amount of rock-skipping and tower-building had gone way up. And on the food-hanging front, we had worked out most of the kinks in our workflow and were now setting things up in literally a quarter of the time.
Although it still felt like backcountry here, we knew that we were within only a hundred metres of the Trans-Canada highway, and there was always the occasional sound of a heavy transport truck using its jake-brake on a long downhill. In fact, if we looked north, we could see a glimpse of the highway itself as it curved down to the coastline.
Pre-sleep fireside chatting
We had hiked for about the same amount of time as we had on day 1, but today had been less hard. It wasn't that there weren't bits of trail or coast that had been as difficult as the first day, but overall, there was less of it. And larger stretches of flat, level beachwalking in more spots. It seemed (as expected) that the terrain was gradually getting easier the farther we walked south.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Backpack day 2 - click map to view
Lake Superior Coastal Backpack day 2 - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet