Backpack Day 2: North Swallow Harbour to White Spruce Harbour
Tuesday, July 27
A few sprinkles of rain fell on our tents during the night, but by morning, the skies had cleared off and it was looking to be another mostly sunny day. It was still hazy and humid and still, however, so it was likely to be a sweaty one, too.
Today was to be our first day of real effort. We had a campsite booked at a place called White Spruce Harbour, which looked - according to our guidemap - to be a little over ten kilometres away. That seemed eminently doable in one day, and we were looking forward to perhaps arriving at camp shortly after lunch.
We were slightly rusty in our campcraft skills, and we only managed to get started after 9 a.m., despite getting up at 7. Still, with only ten kilometres to do, we were feeling unrushed.
We clambered along the bouldery shoreline for a few tens of metres before arriving at an impressively-large park sign proclaiming "congratulations" (if you had arrived here after walking south along the whole length of the coastal trail) or "welcome" (if you were like us, and had been dropped off at the far end and were ready to start your journey north). Our initial thoughts were that the park must put a lot of effort into signage to put such a big installation here, way at the remote far end of this trail. The sign is nice and all, but we did have one particular nit with it: it proclaimed that the trail was "60km (linear)", which we found to be... well, ambiguous and vague. Firstly, the word "linear" is not clear: did it mean "as-the-crow-flies", or did it mean actual on-the-ground trail distance? And multiplying the ambiguity factor was the choice of listing the distance as exactly 60 kilometres. Doing so gave the sense that it was a rough estimate, further compounding the uncertainty. One comes away not really having good confidence of how long the trail actually is. Very poor wording.
Off we went along the trail - our first few steps back towards civilization. The trail wasn't prominent, that's for sure: just a faint path semi-obscured by bushes. It certainly wasn't heavily-travelled.
The trail parallelled the North Swallow River for a few minutes (much more of a brook than a river), and then the trail turned northward, across its waters. We had our first brief off-trail excusion here: a faint footpath appeared to continue along the south bank - and there were no markers indicating the turn and brook crossing. It was only careful spotting that showed the faint indications of the trail crossing the brook. The lack of a marker or sign seemed a little weird for a national park trail.
Crossing North Swallow River
After crossing the river, the trail generally headed north, climbing moderately through a forested saddle of land. Presently we came to an impressive and fresh beaver dam, and shortly beyond that steeply up and over a shoulder to a sideslope traverse above a long and narrow un-named lake. This would be one of many innumerable lakes we would encounter along our way, lakes that dot the Canadian Shield Bedrock that underlies much of Pukaskwa.
After about an hour of hiking, we stopped at a limited lookout at the north end of the long, narrow unnamed lake. As we sipped our water and munched our granola bars, we reflected on the hike so far. We'd seen enough of the Coastal Trail to make some initial observations:
1. The trail is very lightly used. There is very little trail erosion.
2. The trail is generally fairly rough. Although there is little erosion, there are still irregularities to keep your feet busy (roots, rocks, etc).
3. So far, the trail was basically all inland and forested. In comparison, by this point on the Lake Superior PP Coastal Trail, we had already reached some prime coastal hiking
4. There are absolutely no trail markers! This one was a bit of a shocker, really. Especially considering the fact that the trail is quite faint in spots and considering the fact that this is the signature long-distance trail in a National Park.
Continuing on after our first morning break, we soon came to a large open area of rounded, grey rocks. This we were familiar with, for we encountered much the same thing last year in Lake Superior Provincial Park: we were crossing the remnants of an old beachline, now elevated well above the lakeshore of Lake Superior by the forces of landmass lift over eons. The roundedness of the boulders was a giveaway - there is not other way to form these except in a lakeshore erosionary environment with a vigorous and active surf.
Jenn crosses raised beach
Two hours after setting out from North Swallow Harbour, the trail finally wandered back down to the Lake Superior shoreline at English Fishery Harbour. It was a beautiful scene - a calm sunny day, clear azure waters, and several rocky islets and headlands visible. A fine spot for our second rest break (and water filtering stop).
Still waters near Fishery Harbour
Heading off, we enjoyed a little bit of coastal scrambling, as the trail stays near the waters of Lake Superior for a few minutes, giving us some additional views. We then climb up some slabby bedrock and over a mossy, forested saddle before descending to another inland body of water, this one with the name of Hideaway Lake.
First bit of infrastructure
A little bit of coastlne hiking
A little bit of coastlne hiking
Andrew and clear-watered coastline
Hideaway Lake sits very close to the shore of Lake Superior - so close, in fact, that the elevation difference between it and Lake Superior is only a foot or two. We notice that, combined with the slight tides of Lake Superior, this creates a sort of "reversing falls" sort of effect at the little neck of water separating the two.
This spot is also where Jenn, Brian and I get briefly separated from the rest of the group, who have unknowingly (to us) decided to turn off at the Hideaway Lake backcountry campsite for a break. We did not see them make the turnoff to the campsite, and as a result we continued straight on by, assuming that they had continued on. Eventually we realized we were separated. I decided to just plunk down on the trail and wait. Jenn, however, dropped her pack and ran back to locate them.
More Hideaway Lake hiking
Eventually all eight of us are re-united and ready to continue our journey north. At this point, we are about five kilometres into our hike and we expect that we are roughly half way to our destination campsite. And it is only 12:30pm. Doing pretty well!
The trail makes a steep and puffy climb up some impressive slabs of bedrock to a local high point, giving us a nice lookout over the fairly hilly landscape of the inland of Pukaskwa. We can see that this area has a lot of steep, rugged, up-and-down terrain.
The trail then takes us down an equally steep but very mossy descent, bringing us right back down to a brief visit to the Lake Superior Coastline. Then once again it is back uphill on bedrock slabs. We begin to notice a pattern (in this up-and-down), one that will be repeated many times along this coastal trail. Although sweat-inducing and effortful, these ascents up from (and down to) the shoreline usually give a great eagle-eyed view to the expanse of Lake Superior.
Brian and Pukaskwa Landscape
Andrew and Pukaskwa Landscape
Back down towards the shore