Sunday, August 30, 2020
Marathon towards Lunam Lake ... and back
This morning was chilly - only 8°C! We were certainly glad to have our warmer sleeping bags, as the first nip of fall was in the air. The cooler temperatures also meant that everything was soaked with morning dew. Although it started out as an overcast day, thankfully, as the morning progressed it warmed up a little.
After a breakfast of bread and jam, coffee and tea, we made our way around the shallow, smooth, Penn Lake. The Common Mergansers, Mallards, and Canada Geese we saw yesterday were still hanging out in the water. However, this morning we also spotted two Lesser Yellowlegs, a small group of Least Sandpipers, and a Pectoral Sandpiper foraging along the sandy beach. As Sean was photographing the Least Sandpipers they were making their way along the shore towards him, and they didn't stop until they'd nearly run over his feet!
Today we hiked 20 km of the Voyageur Trail between Marathon and Pic River. As we headed out of town we found ourselves on a sandy, forested ATV track, which was well hiked. During the first kilometer we met a couple people out enjoying the cool, sunny morning with their dogs.
Before long the trail diverted onto a small, winding footpath through dense forest. Although not too difficult to navigate, this section of trail was much more overgrown than the part north of town, and there were a few spots with downed trees. It had a much wilder and less travelled feel, allowing the imagination to stray back to the time of the voyageurs and fur traders that once frequented this region.
In some areas we found ourselves in dense, almost silent spruce stands. A thick layer of moss covered the ground, and tufts of old man's beard lichen decorated branches and snags. The occasional song of a White-throated Sparrow broke the silence.
In other sections of trail we found ourselves under a lighter canopy of deciduous trees. A thick layer of ferns covered the ground in some of these areas, and the songs of Black-throated Green Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Blue Jays could be heard.
One of the highlights of the trail was passing Craig's Pit Nature Reserve. From our perspective this reserve appeared to be a huge, steep, sand dune that towered over the trail. The path took us along the bottom of the dunes, and we realized we were walking along the old train tracks. The rail lines were half buried in the sand, but still visible. It is always exciting to see these traces of our past in the forest, and somewhat comforting to think that nature will take over once again when our time has passed.
We enjoyed the fresh, sweet, forest air, and being out of earshot of any noise from traffic, industry, or other people. It seemed wild and remote, and we loved feeling like we were back in the wilderness. However, there wasn't too much variation in the scenery, and no views of the lake on the section we hiked.
After heading out for 15 km we turned around and hiked back to town to make it a 30 km day. One of the highlights on the way back was watching a very industrious and paranoid looking red squirrel stocking up on spruce cones for the winter. It was almost fanatically collecting the cones from the trailbed and stashing them in three separate holes. It didn't stop as we approached, and only paused briefly to vigorously scold us when we leaned in to take a photo of its cache. We were amazed to see that the industrious little squirrel had lined up its cones perfectly within each hole!
When we got back to the edge of town we decided to take a side trail down to Marathon's pebble beach. The trail branch that headed towards the water was very wet and muddy, although a huge effort had been made to place boards across the worst of it to keep hikers out of the mud. We continued cautiously along until we crossed a sandy track.
Suddenly we found ourselves ducking into a low metal tunnel under the train tracks. As we were threading our way through, a train rumbled by overhead!
On the other side of the tunnel we found a large, metal, half pipe that looked like a drainage pipe. This lead to the edge of a sandy cliff, and then angled steeply down to a pebble beach on the shore of Lake Superior. This wasn't what we'd been expecting, and it is possible we accidentally lost the trail and took a drainage pipe by accident, but it did the job. We reached the beach, even if we had to use an awkward backwards crab crawl to get there.
As advertised, the beach was a long crescent of small rocks and pebbles that had been polished almost to the point of being shiny. Many were light grey, but there was a huge selection of interestingly patterns ones, with pink, black, and green bits thrown in for variety. It took some effort not to collect the most appealing ones. As we made our way along, we marvelled at the size of the driftwood and rocks that Lake Superior had tossed up on the shore. There was no doubt of the power of this inland ocean.
Many people apparently visit the pebble beach in Marathon in the evenings to watch incredible sunsets over Lake Superior. We were there a bit too early to watch the show, but there were a few intrepid souls going for a swim in the crystal clear but frigid waters of the lake, and a few families were heading down the steep slope from the parking lot to hang out on the beach.
Having explored the beach we walked back through town, paid our respects at the beautiful and unique Veterans memorial.
When we returned to the campground the lake was like a mirror, providing near perfect reflections of the trees and rocky outcroppings around the shore. As Sean waded out into the shallow, sandy water to take some photographs he discovered there was a large leech swimming around his ankles. To his credit, he photographed it too upon request.
While settling in the for the afternoon we chatted with a local resident who had been following our trek. They offered us a ride to Pukaskwa National Park to make another attempt and see if there was any chance for us to get on the Coast Trail section there. We were soon whisked off in his truck to the National Park! Once there we finally got to talk with a ranger face to face who was very nice until finding out who we were and that we were the couple travelling across Canada on the Great Trail. At this point the conversation quickly changed and we were abruptly given 5 reasons why we would not be able to hike the Pukaskwa Coastal Trail throughout the duration of the season.
(1) All front country campsites were full.
(2) All back country campsites were full.
(3) Given the size and weight of our backpacks (53 lbs each) it was unlikely we would be able to complete the trail without assistance.
(4) Our planned itinerary of 6-7 days to complete the trail was unrealistic and demonstrated that we lacked the necessary hiking and backpacking experience to trek the coastal footpath.
It was clear to us that this segment of the trail was going to have to wait for another time and another ranger. Dejected we thanked the ranger for their time and piled back into the truck for the drive back to Marathon. Ah well, somethings just aren't meant to be.
Back at the campground we took the opportunity to follow the local trail around Penn Lake enjoying the hobbit homes, rock art, and inspirational messages (as well as the amazing views) along the way.
As the evening progressed the campground began to fill up. Our neighbour in the next campsite introduced himself and was a very friendly Irishman who had become stranded in Canada when covid 19 hit. He had decided to ride his motorcycle across the country, beginning in Toronto, and was camping for the first time in his life. He invited all the campers in the vicinity to come join him for a drink around his campfire, and soon a small group of people from a variety of nationalities had gathered to exchange stories. It felt like a Camino moment.
When the sun set a large and nearly full moon rose above the far shore of the lake. It threw the tall spruce trees into silhouette, and created a trail of silvery light across the water. It is a magical night, but since it was a long day and we have to get up at 2:30 am to pack up camp and catch the Ontario Northland bus to Terrace Bay, we are heading to bed around 11 pm.