A Day From Hell on the Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa National Park
I thought after guerrilla camping on the Coastal trail and backpacking in the dark that the worst would be behind us.
But that wasn’t to be the case.
Our group of three and a dog are on day three of a five day backpacking trip in Pukaskwa National Park in northwestern Ontario. It turns out to be our day from hell.
The plan for the day was to backpack from Fisherman’s Cove to Morrison Harbour – a distance of 15.7 kilometers. According to the downloadable information off the Pukaskwa National Park website it should take us approximately six hours.
By day 3 the dog would rather watch than run
Don’t get me wrong about the day from hell. The scenery for most of the day is superlative – a 9/10 in my books. It’s the trail that is the problem and it’s a twofold one. Finding the trail on occasion takes some time. And it’s particularly treacherous along the coast. Wet, slippery rocks lie in wait to derail the unsuspecting hiker. Take your eyes off your footing for a second at your peril. I have the bruises to prove it.
You must wade this pond through thigh deep water
We start the day by going down a beach looking for a trail and taking tracks through the woods in error. By the time we’ve finally located the real trail – and waded a pond we’re already thirty minutes into the day and we’ve gone all of about 200 meters.
Next is a stiff climb up a stream bed laced with large, mossy boulders. I’m already feeling anxious about our pace by the time we get to the top of the hill but it still takes us another hour of walking through the woods before we reach the lake again. We haven’t even gone a kilometer.
VERY slippery rocks
When we arrive at Lake Superior again we look in dismay at the rocks. They’re full of fractures – and easily capable of causing a leg break or sprain. It’s excruciatingly slow going to get through the rocks and another hour slips by.
I look repeatedly at the map figuring the map must be wrong. (You do need map reading skills out here!) But that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
Beautiful ponds on a ledge above Lake Superior
Not even a ripple
By the time we stop for lunch we’ve hiked for 3½ hours and covered all of about two kilometers. Even the dog seemed disheartened.
By lunch time Keeper can barely keep his eyes open
Hard to even recognize this as a tree stump
After lunch we enter the woods so for a while we make up some lost time. It seems we have an ongoing love/hate affair with the woods when it came to hiking the Coastal Trail. Today with the coast so rugged we were happy to be in the woods – and other times we’re begging for a beach.
These woods are lusher and greener than I ever would have expected.
Red moss was a first for me
The afternoon wears on and we decide by 3 pm that there is no way we can make Morrison Harbour. Even Fish Harbour – 3.4 kilometers closer – doesn’t seem possible.
We set our sights instead on making it to Oiseau Bay.
Rugged coast broken by beautiful beaches
Dampier Cove perhaps
Close-up of Lake Superior rocks
We struggle on in the afternoon – alternating between hiking across slippery rocks, getting down on our rear ends with a heavy pack and sliding down rocks and enjoying the odd easy stretch in the woods.
This would be easy hiking if it wasn’t slick
Eyes down – and full concentration while hiking
Loads of interesting & colourful mosses and lichens
The plants were this bright without a flash
It’s 5:15 pm when we reach Oiseau Bay – and what a wonderful sight it is. It boasts a huge, deserted beach – suitable in places for camping – though the official campsites are in the woods and closer to outhouses and bear lockers. We decide to camp on the beach figuring we could dry out our clothes in the wind and enjoy the scenery from our tents. It’s definitely more of a hike to the bear lockers but I’d always take a beach over the woods for camping.
Dramatic skies at sunset
Looking out to Lake Superior from our Oiseau Bay campsite
This is the only campsite where saw another person
What a scenic spot to spend the night
In the end we hiked all of 7.2 kilometers, averaging about a kilometer an hour – totally disheartening numbers. However, the beauty of the camp site, a hot meal of spaghetti with a glass of wine, and a superlative sunset provided a welcome boost to our spirits.
So the day from hell ended on a good note but as the map reader I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d ever get off this trail.
Have you ever had a hiking or backpacking trip from hell?
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