Friday, September 4, 2020

A Walk in the Woods : Schreiber to Rainbow Falls Provincial Park

As we made our way back through town towards the Casque Isles Trailhead at Schreiber Beach we walked by the school. A school bus was dropping kids off, and a teacher was showing the masked children how to line up 6 ft apart on their way in to class. It is brave new world in which distance seems like it will play a major role.   It is amazing to watch, children are so much more adaptable than adults, Covid, masks, and distancing are just the next new norm that they have quickly adjusted to.  Watching children return to school, cafes open with people sitting on benches along the sidewalk chatting, and seeing the seasons change minds us that no matter what things go on. 

To our delight, the trees on either side of the paved road winding down to the beach were hoping with warblers! We spotted Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Back-throated Green, Black-and-white, Magnolia and Canada Warblers. There were also Comon Yellowthroats, American Redstarts, Cedar Waxwings, and Dark-eyed Juncos. Added to the mix were Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, and Blue Jays. Every shrub and tree seemed to be hopping, and it took us quite a while to make it down the road.

When we finished the descent to the beach we arrived at a small park with a gazebo shelter, a bear box for food storage, picnic tables, and interpretive signage. The crescent beach of grey pebbles gave us a lovely view of the steep, forested hills we walked on the Schreiber Beach Segment of the trail.

It was a cool sunny morning, with a noticeable breeze blowing in off the water. The lake appeared a deep blue, dotted with white caps, and small waves broke energetically against the terraced pebble beach.

We made our way to the far end of the shoreline and then ducked into the trees, following a well-used, forested footpath. As we made our way along we heard the eerie call of a Common Loon out on the lake, and the repeated toy-horn call of Red-breasted Nuthatches followed us down the trail.

Not too far down the trail we passed a side path to a lookout point with two red Adirondack chairs. They were situated on a rock with a beautiful view out over the bay. We've seen these iconic chairs at other Parks Canada locations during our cross-country hike, including at Signal Hill, NL, Cape Breton Highlands, NS, and Fundy National Park, NB. Good memories all.

These chairs were placed in the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, which was established in 2015 and is the largest freshwater marine protected area in the world. It covers approximately 10,000 km² of lake-bed, its overlying freshwater, and several islands. The area is home to numerous species, including Great Blue Herons, Peregrine Falcons, Bald Eagles, Caribou, and over 70 species of fish. The designation prevents natural resource extraction and other operations that might damage aquatic or terrestrial ecosystems within the conservation area.

As we made our way through the tunnel of trees we passed another newer looking footpath, which lead off to a campsite. We went to investigate, and found it was occupied.

For the next few kilometers the trail meandered along beside a creek. At times we climbed up rocky hills and watched the water tumbling down picturesque waterfalls. At others the water babbled along beside us as a small stream. At one point we crossed over it on a narrow, somewhat rickety wooden bridge. On one side was a beautiful waterfall, and on the other was a view out over Lake Superior below us.

For most of the morning we had a very pleasant walk, which was far less strenuous than the terrain we encountered on the Death Valley segment of the trail. This was just as well since our legs haven't yet fully recovered from the steep ascents and descents, and the rock scrambling of two days ago. Maybe we are just getting old, but our legs were definitely sending out urgent protests.

We made our way through stands of birch and balsam fir, which were lit up by the morning sun. Looking up we could see blue sky above the sunlit leaves that were dancing in the wind. The emerald green moss of the forest floor seemed to glow. Old man's beard lichen decorated the denser patches of spruce and balsam fir. Occasionally the song of a White-throated Sparrow would break the silence.

After taking a short break on an exposed piece of lichen covered shield under a stand of spruce we made our way down into the first of the Twin Harbours. It was a deep, sheltered bay with a pebble beach at the end. The beach was only a couple feet wide, which made threading our way around it without getting wet an interesting experience. As we paused before skirting around a shrub, we quickly realized there is no way to predict when a wave will come in.


A short climb over a low ridge brought is to the second harbour. This one had a reddish sandy beach. At the far end was a picnic table and fire pit, and a couple of nice looking sheltered spots to put tents. This would be a very beautiful spot to camp.

A short while after leaving the Twin Harbours behind we came to an inland lake. A gentle breeze ruffled its steely grey waters, and tall forested hills rose steeply around it in all directions. Bleached snags stood like sentinels around the shore, contrasting with the dark hills beyond. It seemed like a peaceful spot.


Another section of forested footpath brought us out to a rocky beach. For the next 1.5 km we threaded our way across the boulders, although this crossing was much easier than the one in the Death Valley Segment. There was also a lot of interesting geology. I am almost completely ignorant of the various rock formations and types, but even I could see there was a lot of variation here. There were also some very interesting depressions in the rock, as well as stramatolites. Stramatolites are sheet-like sedimentary rocks that were originally formed by the growth of layer upon layer of cyanobacteria, a single-celled, photosynthesize microbe. These fossilized stromatolites provide evidence of ancient life and photosynthesis on earth.

Just off shore from this colourful beach was Flint Island, which also looked very geologically interesting. Its slanting, layered cliffs appeared orange. The contrast between the colourful rock, the deep green trees on top, and the bright blue water below was very striking.

Once we reached the end of the beach, we essentially spent the afternoon climbing steadily up and away from Lake Superior. The trail almost constantly ascended, but it was a gentle climb for the most part. At one point we heard a long train passing in front of us. Shortly afterward we climbed an incredibly steep embankment up onto the tracks, crossed over, and continued along the footpath. Shortly afterwards we heard a second train go past. It seems this was quite a busy line.

Two highlights of the afternoon were reaching the Watson and Selim lookouts, which both provided gorgeous views out over Lake Superior and the offshore islands. A stand of Jack Pine at one of these lookouts provided another beautiful highlight. By this point Sean was extremely tired and ready for a break, but we still had a ways to go.


We continued to climb and then found ourselves walking parallel to the Trans Canada Highway. Our forested footpath turned into a wider, flatter, ATV track. As we crossed under a hydro corridor we had another surprise. A gorgeous Black Bear! He was about 200 m away when we first spotted him nosing about in search of blueberries. He made his way slowly towards us, foraging as he went. He was a very large animal, and looked in good health, with a glossy coat and bright brown eyes. We let him get to within 50 m or so and then called out to let him know we were there. Somewhat unfortunately he ran off down the trail, headed in the same direction as us. We figured it was okay to follow since his first reaction was to run.

We followed the track through a lovely stand of trees, and along the highway for a bit.

After crossing the highway we entered Rainbow Provincial Park, where we have a lovely, treed campsite for the night. The campground is full of families, and as we lay here around 11 pm we can still smell wood smoke from the campfires around us and hear the laughter of children. It has been another beautiful day on the trail.

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