Saturday, August 29, 2020

Marathon to Sturdee Cove ... and back again


This morning seemed to arrive far too early when a group of happy campers woke us up at 6:30 am, after just two short hours of sleep. A group of very enthusiastic Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and White-throated Sparrows were twittering up a storm in the stand of trees outside our tent, adding to the din.

We emerged from the tent to find a beautiful, mirror-like lake, surrounded by trees. It was a still, warm, overcast morning. A small group of Mallards glided silently across the surface of the lake, leaving hardly a ripple behind them. Five Common Mergansers swam among the grasses at the water's edge. Farther around the lake, two Lesser Yellowlegs foraged at the edge of the sandy beach. A Double-crested Cormorant stretched its wings as it floated in the middle of the shallow lake, and as we watched, a group of sixteen Canada Geese floated into view. It was very peaceful.

After breakfast we packed up our day bags and headed out to explore the town of Marathon. This region was originally populated by the Ojibwe people, who lived along the Pic River. The town of Marathon began as the town of Peninsula between 1881 and 1883 during construction of the railway, and it was inhabited by at least 12,000 men and 5,000 horses. When construction of the railway was completed the town essentially became a ghost town until the 1940's, when a pulp and paper mill was opened. Marathon Pulp Inc. is still in operation today. In the 1980's gold was discovered in the area, and three mines opened, two of which housed their employees in Marathon. It is now the largest town between Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay, with just over 3,000 residents.

We walked through several residential neighborhoods and along the main street, which had a community center, hospital, Canadian Tire, and a mall. After a brief tour, we headed back up to the campground and then continued out of town along the Great Trail, which is also part of the Voyageur Trail and the Group of Seven Trail. The Marathon section of the Voyageur Trail is just over 31 km long, stretching from Sturdee Cove, about 6 km north of Marathon, to the mouth of the Pic River, just over 25 km south of the town.


We began by walking north out of town down a wide gravel road, headed for Sturdee Cove. As we hiked along the weather alternated between sunny and very warm stretches, and cloudy patches with spitting rain. Sometimes quite a bit of rain would fall in 10-15 minute bursts. It was an on-again-off-again day for the rain gear.


As we made our way down the road we had rolling, forested hills and the train tracks on one side. Several relatively short, fast moving trains rattled past, going in both directions. On the other side of us was the vast and wild Lake Superior.


Eventually we came to a trailhead with a parking lot, washrooms, picnic tables, and an information sign at Carden Cove. The trailhead was at the end of a long, golden, crescent shaped beach. Bleached driftwood was washed up and strewn along the beach, and dark trees rose up behind the soft sand. As the sun came out it turned the crystal clear water of the bay a bright turquoise. Small waves lapped the beach in the protected cove, which was sheltered by tall, rounded, rocky islands offshore.


As we walked along the shore a group of half a dozen young people, with half a dozen large dogs passed us and disappeared up the wooded trail at the far end of the beach. Otherwise we were mostly alone on the wild, rugged feeling shoreline, free to relax and enjoy the stunning beauty around us.


When we reached the far end of the beach we found a mossy footpath leading up into the trees. As we disappeared into the dense spruce forest we were reminded of the coastal forests of Newfoundland and Tofino. In both places the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the wind roaring in the trees disappeared when we were only a few meters into the dense forest. In all three landscapes the shelter was very reassuring feeling.

As we climbed the mossy trail the forest was mostly very quiet. Occasionally we would pass a pocket of bird activity. The toy-horn honking of Red-breasted Nuthatches followed us down the trail, and we passed groups of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-throated Green Warblers, and Black-capped Chickadees. The raucous calls of Blue Jays occasionally rang out, and at one point we passed a family of White-throated Sparrows. Mostly we just enjoyed the silence, and being out of earshot of the sounds of traffic, industry, and other people.


One of the highlights of the walk was seeing many different kinds of mushrooms. Late summer is a great time to look for fungi, and although I am almost completely ignorant of which mushrooms are edible and which are not, I enjoy seeing the different sizes, shapes, and colours of these fascinating and biologically complex life forms.


Much of the trail was inland, but we did periodically emerge on the shores of Lake Superior to enjoy stunning views of the water and the many small islands located offshore. At times the water was clear and turquoise under a blue sky, at others it was slate grey and the hills disappeared into the misty rain. It felt wild and free and rugged.


As we approached Sturdee Cove we began to climb very steeply, over tight switchbacks carved into the mossy hill. It brought back memories of the Fundy Footpath, but there was no fear of falling off the cliff here, and no erosion, which in my opinion made it a more enjoyable experience.


When we finally emerged onto the rocky outcropping, high above the water, it began to rain rather hard. We didn't hang around or take photos in the small deluge, but instead began making our way back down the 5.6 km trail to the campground. It was a thoroughly enjoyable hike, and the first day in a long time when we've had time to just hang out and enjoy some time in nature, off the road. If you're looking for a trail in the Marathon area, which isn't too challenging and offers some beautiful views, I would highly recommend checking out the Voyageur Trail, beginning at the end of Carden Cove Rd.


By the time we got back to Marathon we were pretty tired, having only taken a short nap last night. We stopped for a pizza and pint at Station Four on the North Shore, popped into the grocery store for breakfast food, and then returned to the campground to take showers and do laundry. When chores were done and the light was beginning to fade we called it an early night.

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