Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bruce Trail

Ontario, Canada
September 3 – 6, 2007
Bonnie and Norm Kern

The Bruce Trail Reference Trail Guides and Maps – The Bruce Trail Association
The Bruce Trail by Rich & Sue Freeman – Footprint Press – Describes a hike of
the complete Bruce Trail.
Website for the Bruce Trail Conservancy - http://brucetrail.org/places
Shuttle - http://www.thorncrestoutfitters.com/

The Bruce Trail meanders for approximately 465 miles along the Niagara Escarpment from Niagara Falls to Tobermory, Ontario. Various parts of the trail are within a few hours of Toronto, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York, or a half day drive from Detroit, Michigan. For our four day hike we chose some of the northern most miles on the Bruce Peninsula which extends into Lake Huron. This hike is described on maps 39 and 40 from the above noted Reference Trail Guides and Maps. Our hike started at Kilometer 136.6 and ended at Kilometer 168.4. This stretch is reputed to be the most demanding of the whole Bruce Trail.

Camping is limited to established campgrounds. For Back Country and Group sites within the National Park call (519) 596-2263. For Cyprus Lake Campground booking information and fees call 1-877-737-3783 from 7 am to 7 pm or by internet at www.pccamping.ca (24 hour service).

Side trips before the hike
- We drove to Tobermory from Detroit on Friday, August 31. Tobermory is a very nice little town at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which extends out into Lake Huron. It is a summer tourist town and since this was Labor Day weekend in the US, Tobermory was very busy. We stayed at the Blue Bay Motel which overlooks Little Tub Harbor, all the shops, pubs and restaurants. We enjoyed sitting on the balcony outside our room. Everything is within walking distance in Tobermory. We can recommend breakfast at the Princess Hotel, dinner at the Leeside and Mermaid, and deli sandwiches from the grocery store. On Saturday we walked to the National Park Headquarters. We watched the movie, and stopped to climb the observation tower which affords wonderful views of the nearby islands and the Niagara Escarpment to the east. The Burnt Point Trail gives a taste of what the Bruce Trail will be like and gives nice views of Lake Huron. On Sunday, we took a Zodiac boat out to Flower Pot Island. We were the only people on our boat and there was only one Zodiac ahead of us so we expected to have the Island pretty much to ourselves. As we landed we saw the camp sites of people who had kayaked out from Tobermory. That would be a nice adventure. Unfortunately, a large glass bottomed tour boat had stopped off shore and was transporting people to the island so we shared “our” island with several dozen other folks. We walked north towards the light house which is a very nice walk. The Flower Pots are quite amazing limestone formations from when the lake level was higher. The light house keeper’s house was interesting and included many historic pictures. We had a nice lunch and snooze at the water’s edge. The squirrels were very used to humans and were fearless in their quest for food from our backpack when we left it on the ground for a moment.

To High Dump – The Thorncrest shuttle met us at 9 AM above Little Cove, as arranged, and drove us to our starting point, at the end of Crane Lake Road. The trail seemed to be a logging road and now perhaps a snowmobile trail. The exposed rocks had many scratches or gouges that seemed to be caused by metal. This stretch of trail is a nice shaded walk in the woods. We met a party for each car that was parked at the end of the road. Once we accounted for all of the cars we expected to be alone. The first person we met was a fellow who was running with a pack on his pack and a smaller pack on his chest. He had run from High Dump, our destination. (Dump, in Canadian logging country, is a place where logs were slid down the cliff into Lake Huron, where they were gathered into rafts and transported. Dump does not mean a place for trash as it does in the US.) This stretch of trail is gently rolling but more down than up. The final pitch down to the camp site was quite steep. A rope had been installed to make the climbs down and up a bit easier. We started walking at 9:45 AM and were at camp by 2:30. 8 Kilometers.

At the bottom of the pitch there was a sign but no map of the campground. We just wandered around until we found site number 8 for which we had the reservation. All the sites have large wooden platforms. This is good, because there is little smooth, level ground. The limestone is exposed everywhere. We had the whole campground to ourselves. We enjoyed the “beach” which has NO sand. It is made up of limestone rocks from 3 inches to 30 feet in diameter. We waded and rinsed and then read our books in the sun, enjoying the sound of the waves in the background. Norm went back to the tent to get a snack and found squirrels attacking our packs. We kept the food with us down on the beach. We filtered water out of Lake Huron.

We enjoyed Backpacker’s Panty (blue pouch) Hawaiian Chicken, which has no freeze dried taste. After dinner we hung the food on a bear pole which was provided by the park. It has a nice pulley system. This avoids the hassle of finding that perfect tree with the limb that is low enough, yet high enough, and long enough to keep the food safe from the bears or other varmints. We fell asleep about 9PM but then woke up later and took a walk down to the beach to see the stars. It was very clear so the star viewing was excellent, with the Milky Way, a satellite but no falling stars. We then went to the outhouse by flashlight. We hadn’t memorized the route so finding it in the dark was a humorous challenge.

On to Storm Haven – We enjoyed a pretty sun rise but then nothing but cloudy skies. We were walking by 8:30. The Bruce Trail from High Dump all the way to Little Cove is very rugged. The lime stone is exposed everywhere and is rough. It demands a great deal of attention to choose your footing. There are endless short descents and ascents, many of which are steep. This trail is more rugged than any hikes Norm had done outside of the Grand Canyon, including trails in Georgia, Arkansas, New Mexico and along the Pacific in California. Bonnie first cracked her hiking stick and then broke it at the worst possible instant (of course). Fortunately, she didn’t injure herself when it broke, but it was supporting much of her weight at the time. We learned that once a stick is weakened it should be replaced immediately. We found another stick right away. We saw only 2 backpackers but we saw several day hikers from Cyprus Lake Campground. There are many overlooks where you can see the limestone cliffs both to the east and west. We always like the pictures which show “We came all this way.” We wondered at the trees which grow out of seemingly solid rock and at many strange angles with bends for seemingly no reasons. A sign at Halfway Dump indicated only 2 km to go. We thought it meant 2 km to Storm Haven, but now I believe it was 2 km to the trail head. It was actually over 4 km to Storm Haven. The misunderstanding that we were “almost there” made it seem even further. With about 2 real km left, it started to rain. We put on our slickers and put plastic bags on our packs and then, of course, it stopped. In total this day was 11.4 Km or about 7 miles.

The pitch down to Storm Haven is made easier by some nice wooden stairs. The bear lines and the out house are at the top of the stairs. All the rocks at Storm Haven are flat. Everything is horizontal. At High Dump everything was basically round. One wonders what forces cause these differences. We found our reserved platform and set the tent up immediately. It then started to rain again so we tossed the packs into the tent and climbed in behind them. It felt good to be done for the day and to be off our feet. It stopped raining long enough for us to have Stroganoff for dinner, hang the food on a bear line, and visit the outhouse. We saw a single fellow at another site and a couple frolicking in the lake with their air mattresses. We went back to the tent and read and fell asleep. During one of Norm’s nocturnal walks, he saw some familiar items from his “snacks for today” bag, which he had forgotten to put in the bag on the bear line. Some local varmint must have enjoyed his snacks including the last of the chocolate.

Short walk to Cyprus Lake – Camping on the Bruce Trail is only allowed in official camp grounds, and we were lead to believe that penalties were heavy for infractions. There are few camp sites in this stretch of trail so we had to make a compromise. From Storm Haven to Little Cove is 17 km (over 10 miles) and we didn’t want to have any day that was quite that long. A campground at about 162 km would have been nice. The compromise we selected was to have a very short third day. We hiked only about 4 km (2.5 Mi) into Cypress Lake campground.

We awoke to continued rain complete with thunder. We rolled over and went back to sleep. Norm eventually went up the stairs to retrieve the food from the bear lines. It had stopped raining and there was some blue sky. We had a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. As we reached to the top of the stairs, it started to rain one last time. We ducked into the out house and waited it out. We put the plastic on the packs again, just in case, and started walking about 10 AM. The tree roots, which are exposed on the trail, were quite slippery and even the limestone was more slippery than when dry. We had to watch our steps even more carefully than on the previous days. The trail took us down to beaches twice. It is tough walking on all the loose limestone rocks, since they tend to act like big ball bearings when they move. On the beach there are no trees, so the trail blazes are painted onto boulders or are on short posts. All of the Bruce Trail that we walked is very well marked with 2 inch by 4 inch white blazes that are otherwise on trees. There is almost always at least one blaze in sight. Even where there is not a blaze, there is little doubt about where the trail goes. There are few side trails and the forest is so dense there is little temptation to leave the trail. Again the trail includes many ups and downs. We started to ask ourselves, “Is this descent really necessary?” The day brightened and eventually we could see our shadows.

On the third beach section we were pleasantly surprised to find a sign for the Horse Lake Trail which took us to the Cyprus Lake Campground. We were even more pleasantly surprised that this trail is smooth, level and soft. What luxury. Once in the campground we found no signs or maps directing us to our reserved camp site. We had to impose on another camper, who had a map, to find our way. We were close to our site and had not walked far out of our way. We hung out all of our wet stuff including clothes and the tent. As soon as Norm hung out an empty food bag to dry there was a squirrel sniffing around it. Again we took our food with us everywhere we went. We were visited by a beautiful butterfly that hung around for several minutes and a few pictures. We split a tuna salad for lunch, and found evidence that varmints had gotten into the food that was on the bear line back at Storm Haven. (Actually there were not actual poles at Storm Haven. There was a line stretched between two trees and separate pulleys down from this line. Perhaps the varmint crawled across the horizontal line to our food? Perhaps we should not have pulled the food all the way up to the horizontal line? Good thing we brought enough food to share.) We cleaned up in the nice bathrooms and then went for a dip in Cyprus Lake which has real sand. We enjoyed freeze dried chicken breasts for dinner. How amazing are those things? At first they feel like graham crackers, but after 10 minutes in a little boiling water they become real chicken again! We tied the food up in a tree over a neighboring campsite. We found some fire wood and enjoyed a little fire. We never saw a camp ranger.

Long Walk to Little Cove – No intruders in the food this time. Walking by 8:40. Marr Lake Trail is more rugged than Horse Lake Trail. We were plagued by flies. They definitely didn’t care that we had Skin So Soft on. We had to put our long pants on and keep long sleeves rolled down. There is some private land in this stretch and we crossed a road for the first time in the trip. There were some lakes on the map so we could better judge our location and progress today. We had lunch at the halfway point. The middle of the day included a stretch where the walking was much easier. There is an especially pleasant part that runs through a limestone gap. We saw a large hole that would allow someone to climb down into a limestone grotto overlooking the lake. The climb looked pretty tricky so we just looked. Next to the hole there was a post with a number 8 on it. Attached to it was a special punch. There was a card with several punches in it. Close examination indicated that you could possibly win various things if you could get various numbers of punches, from presumably multiple locations. We laughed when we saw that second prize was 4 tons of, guess what, limestone! Anyone who has walked the Bruce Trail has seen enough limestone for a life time.

We took the side trail to the sink hole. It is about 60 feet deep and over 100 feet across. We took a short nap on the ground cloth. We only saw day hikers today. We saw three loons pretty close up near Loon Lake. We were stopped when we saw a huge poodle come bounding out of the woods. It looked out of place with its traditional hair shaping. It was followed by a party of four. We met a mother and son who hike on the Bruce Trail every year. As the day wore on Bonnie started to suggest that they need to build bridges across more of the down and up places. She even threatened to wait until a bridge was built before she would cross one such place. The closer to Little Cove we got, the happier we got. There were a few people there on the beach when we arrived. One took the traditional “We did it” picture and we walked up to the waiting car. This day was 14 Km or almost 9 miles.

We arrived back at our hotel and found a very different Tobermory. The crowds were gone and already some businesses were closed for the winter. We celebrated our hike with a wonderful whitefish dinner at the Princess Hotel. We gave each other foot massages, watched Peyton Manning play football and fell asleep.


Maple_crane said...

Great, have you ever been Bruce Trail since then.

Norm Kern said...

We have not been back to the Bruce Trail since this trip. We were scheduled to visit those beautiful waterfalls in the Grand Canyon but they had a terrible flood and we were not able to take that trip.

Walter said...

Do you think it would be possible for you to have hiked non-stop from the end of CRane Lake Road where you started, to Cypress Lake? That would be about a 20km day, but then you can do it without overnight gear and packs, using Cypress Lake as your base (with two cars to shuttle with).

Norm Kern said...

A well trained, experienced hiker could do that hike. This trail is as rugged as anything I've hiked. There are endless small ups and downs and the footing is always tricky due to the exposed limestone. Doing this all in a single day would leave me very tired.

BichMac said...

Thank you for the detailed post, I am going to hike the Bruce Trail from Stormhaven to High Dump soon and found this post extremely helpful!

Norm Kern said...

BichMac, glad this was helpful. How did you happen to find me? Have a great trip.

Cristen Carson said...

Can you share any more information about the thorncrest shuttle? I'm looking at doing this very route this summer. Thanks!

Norm Kern said...

Christen, any information from my files would be suspect due to passage of time. You probably already have this but the web site is http://www.thorncrestoutfitters.com/paddling/shuttle-east.htm
Don't let the emphasis on paddlers throw you off.
Have a great hike.

Lily said...

I will try posting here although the post is from quite a while ago.

Great hike! And probably the most detailed information I could find on day sections of the bruce trail. I want to hike the bruce trail also from Tobermory down south and am trying to plan daily routes.
Do you think your trip would have been managable without a tent? Do the campsites have cottages? And I am not sure if I want to carry food for several days with me. Is there possibilities to buy stuff on the way?

Norm Kern said...

Lily, we did not experience any insect problems at the time we hiked. At other times of year that could be a major problem without a tent. There were not cottages at the camp sites. We did not encounter places to buy food. Good luck.