Saturday, September 5, 2020

A Day of Gratitude and Reflection : Rainbow Falls PP to Rossport and on the Nipigon

Today we were given one of the best gifts a thru-hiker can receive - the opportunity to slack-pack part of the trail! At 8:45 am Matt and his lovely dog Briar showed up at our campsite in Rainbow Falls Provincial Park to collect my backpack and some of the contents of Sean's pack. When we reach Rossport this afternoon, his wife, Sue will meet us and take us to Nipigon, where we will begin the next section of trail tomorrow. We would like to send out a HUGE thank you to Matt and Sue, and the Casque Isles Trail Association for their amazing, kind, and generous help!!


The morning was very chilly and damp, but as we set out the sun began to warm and dry everything out. Our first stop on the way out of the still-sleeping campground was Rainbow Falls. The water flowing over the narrow rocky channel comes from Whitesand Lake and drains into Lake Superior, accounting for quite a large drainage area. As we watched, the early morning sunlight lit up the red rocks of the shield, turned the forest above them to gold, and created glowing, shimmering, living reflections in the pools of water below.


There was a bench for viewing the falls, an information plaque, a trail sign, and a rock painted like a mushroom. The rock art was done by Thunder Bay Rocks, and seemed highly appropriate to the season. We've been seeing some really interesting mushrooms along the trail recently.

 
As we began the McLean's Segment of the Casque Isles Trail we found ourselves walking a beautiful forested footpath. Sunlight was streaming through a canopy of yellow birch and silver maple, which was interspersed with balsam fir and black and white spruce. The emerald green moss was glowing, and it felt like we were wrapped in golden light.


As we walked the forest seemed to be filled with Dark-eyed Juncos moving in a wave through the undergrowth. The non-stop honking of Red-breasted Nuthatches could also be heard, mixed with the excited chatter of Black-capped Chickadees. An Ovenbird gave two plaintive calls of 'teacher-teacher-teacher' and then fell silent. When we reached the 11 km marker three Ruffed Grouse strutted across the trail, one a youngster with very short tail feathers.




Although there were a lot of ups and downs on this section of trail it wasn't overly strenuous or technically difficult, and the terrain offered a lot of interesting variation in scenery. At one point we descended from the bright upland forest down into a dark river valley whose steep sides were covered in dense spruce forest and shaded from the sun. It felt like a whole different world.

 

A little ways after km 9 we came to a long, narrow lake with a small flock of diving ducks at the far end. The trail followed the shoreline around, and partway along we found a newly constructed campsite with a picnic table, fire pit, and bear box. It looked like a lovely place to camp, but it may have been a bit tricky to get water, because the shore of the lake was pretty marshy.

 




After another stretch of meandering forested trail, we crossed a wide and newly created or resurfaced dirt road. A little while later we descended into another deep, forested ravine with steep sides. At the bottom was McLean's Creek, which we crossed on a narrow wooden footbridge.




As we climbed back up and out of the ravine Sean spotted two Canada Jays moving through the hemlocks. They seemed quite curious and answered the playback call once or twice. In the same spot we watched as a large group of Blue Jays moved through the treetops high overhead. The birds are definitely on the move southward.



When we emerged onto a hydro corridor we saw a Bald Eagle circling high overhead. Its bright white tail and head flashed in the sunlight, standing out against the clear blue sky as it turned. It was missing a few feathers, clearly in the process of molting. Although we scanned both directions, hoping to see another bear, the soaring Eagle and a couple of Common Ravens were our only companions.


After this the trail changed somewhat. We climbed up to a series of lookouts that offered beautiful views out over Lake Superior and the cluster of islands below us. The water was a deep, bright blue and we could see light blue trails created by the wind and currents snaking playfully among the islands.


The trail in this section took us over exposed pink granite shield covered in delicate greenish grey lichen, ground junipers, and cotton Easter-like shrubs. Large angled boulders were strewn about, also covered in lime green lichens, some of which made very artistic patterns. Jack pines and spruce dotted the hills, adding texture and a spicy smell to the warm air.


After a few kilometers of hiking up and down between lookouts we began to descent again into forest. We crossed several boulder fields, and then found ourselves in a forest of very tall trees, many of which were thickly covered in tufts of old man's beard lichen. It felt like we'd entered a magical forest out of Lord of the Rings.

We emerged from this wonderful place onto a small boulder field, and on the far side we spotted a small Ribbon Snake. This was the first snake we've seen on this trail, which kind of surprised us, because we thought the rocky, juniper covered landscape would have been perfect for snakes.




















After this we very unexpectedly found ourselves on an inland beach! Flat, smooth expanses of golden sand covered the ground, as we walked under a canopy of pine trees. It was yet another beautiful and unexpected surprise on the trail.


After this change in scenery we came to the train tracks, and the km 0 marker for the trail. The train tracks seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, and we suspected the trail couldn't just end there. We spotted a rock cairn a little ways down the tracks and started towards it. As we walked along the tracks Sean joked that this was all well and good unless a train was coming. At that moment we heard the loud, repeated whistle of a train approaching! We hustled along the tracks to the cairn and dove into the shrubs just as a train came roaring around the bend. It was quite a long one, so we were lucky to have crossed before it got there. Serves us right for joking about it.


A few meters after our dramatic crossing we came to the Rossport Trailhead for the Casque Isles Trail on the edge of Highway 17. We had officially completed this beautiful, 53 km trail. In our opinion it should be recognized along with Canada's East Coast Trail, the Fundy Footpath, and the Bruce Trail as a world class hiking destination. The trail was well marked, well maintained, and supported by an enthusiastic and extremely helpful trail group. It was challenging, rewarding, and stunningly beautiful, and we are sad to be leaving it behind.


After completing the trail we walked down into the small community of Rossport. This picturesque village, once a bustling fishing port and whistle stop on the railway, is nestled in a protected harbour. It overlooks the largest island archipelago on Lake Superior, and is considered to be the gateway to Parks Canada's National Marine Conservation Area. It supports a community of potters and artisans, some of which are located on their own island, and its protected waters offer fantastic kayaking and boating adventures for visitors.


We stopped at a small park on the edge of town, which was another stop on the Group of Seven tour. In 1921, Harris and Jackson walked the rails from Schreiber to Rossport, looking for inspiration. The beauty of the offshore islands at Rossport inspired several paintings, and also attracted several other high profile visitors, including the Prince of Wales and Ernest Hemingway.


We also passed the tiny railway museum, which was located on the shores of Lake Superior, and walked down to the local cafe, which sadly was closed. Sue picked us up from there, and then very kindly gave us a ride to Nipigon where we will pick up the next section of trail.



She dropped us off at the marina, which offers camping. The campsites are located in a lovely treed area on the shores of the Nipigon River, and are equipped with picnic tables and beautiful fire pits. However, we've come up with a theory that the cleanliness of the washrooms in a campground are correlated with the price of the campsite. If the campsite is $30-$35 per night the washrooms are usually very clean and nice. This site cost only $11. We'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.


After drying out the tent and setting it up, we explored the town of Nipigon. This community is located on the Nipigon River, which became famous when J.W. Cook caught a world record breaking Brook Trout weighing 14 lbs 8 oz. in 1915. Anglers from around the world still travel to Nipigon to catch 5 - 8 lbs trout every year. These large fish are becoming rare, so a rehabilitation program is now underway in the river.

As we walked into town we passed the Paddle to the Sea Park and Splash Pad. This small park, located beside the Parks Canada office for the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, invites kids to follow the playground stations that tell the story of an Indigenous child who dreams of paddling from Nipigon through the Great Lakes to the Ocean. The story is based on Bill Mason's Oscar-nominated film, which was a retelling of the story 'Paddle-to-the-Sea' written in 1942 by Holling C. Holling.



As we made our way up into the town we saw many interpretive signs and colourful murals describing the heritage and history of the town. The murals told the story of log drivers sending logs down the Nipigon River, and of Zechner's, which is a grocery store that has been serving people since 1937. Although the Nipigon Historical Museum wasn't open, it seemed to tell the story of Nipigon's Railway Heritage.


The part of town we visited was stretched out along several small blocks that ran along the railway tracks. We walked from one end to the other, and then made our way back to the campground on the river. Tonight was Parks Canada's last bonfire of the season, and as we made dinner we could hear the cheerful notes of Canadian folk songs filling the campground form the gazebo beside us.


After dinner we walked the footpath along the river bank, enjoying the reflections of the breathtaking landscape of cliffs and red sibley rock surrounding the river. The three white towers of the Nipigon River Bridge, which take Highway 17 over the river, were reflected in the waters of the river.


As we reached the end of the marina we spotted a Lesser Yellowlegs foraging along the water's edge. Sean was photographing it when we were approached by a small group of people who were carrying large birding scopes and cameras. They were searching for an American White Pelican that had been spotted in the area, but we had no luck finding it. We began chatting, and they asked us if we were staying around for the Bald Eagles. Apparently several hundred congregate at one of the dams on the river in fall, which would definitely be a sight to see!


 As we chatted with one of the ladies, we had another lesson in perspective. She asked if we were scared walking across the country, and said she was too chicken to do anything like that. However, she also described running away from home when she was 15 years old, and living on the streets of Toronto. Perhaps that experience taught her the things to be afraid of, but I think she is much braver than we are.


As we fall asleep the stars are extremely bright in the night sky, and we can see the milky away above us. We can hear a flock of Canada Geese honking and fussing out on the river, and the sounds of other campers, trying to keep warm around their campfires. It is a cold, crisp, fall night with the smell of wood smoke on the air, and the whistle of a train periodically echoing among the cliffs.


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