Through Death Valley : Les Petits Ecrits to Schreiber
We arose to a dramatic looking morning, with pale yellow sunlight sneaking in under layers of dark cloud that were racing across the sky over the lake. As we made our way down onto the beach we noticed that the couple from Ottawa had gone to considerable lengths to collect large rocks to tie down their tent in the night. They had done a good job, and it remained standing despite the wind.
After a breakfast of bread, jam, and coffee we bid our fellow campers goodbye and set off into the forest. The trail took us straight up, following what seemed to be a small streambed. Sadly, it was still functioning as a stream, so it was rather wet - from the ankle down.
Although the wind was still blowing with conviction, the sun was out and the morning was relatively warm. As the leaves danced in the wind their shadows brought the forest around us to life. We were once again surrounded by a fresh smelling forest of balsam fir, spruce, and birch, with thick layers of moss covering the rocky and uneven forest floor.
For the first part of the morning the Casque Isles Trail followed the shoreline, out past the Les Petits Ecrits Islands. A stretch of forested trail would bring us out onto a small, bright pink rocky beach, and then we would duck back behind the trees. As we got closer to the headland, where we were no longer protected by the offshore islands, the wind increased dramatically. We watched as waves gathered and then broke in huge eruptions of white foam against the islands and smaller offshore rocks. The sun turned the water a bright blue and made it sparkle.
As we rounded the headland we had yet another steep climb up a rocky slope. Huge granite boulders rose out of the ground on either side of the mossy trail. A particular highlight was sliding through a narrow, slanted, moss covered crevice on the trail. There were lots of very colourful mushrooms in this section, as well as deep, soft, moss. The cool, damp air smelled of balsam fir, and the dense coniferous forest provided welcome shelter from the wind.
When we emerged from the forest, still rather high above the crashing waves of Lake Superior, we began one of the most difficult stretches of trail we've encountered so far on either Casque Isles Trails or the The Great Trail. The next 1 km involved rock scrambling along the shore over huge boulders that were separated by very deep crevices, while huge waves crashed beneath us and strong northerly winds pushed against us.
The wind gusts coming in off the water were extremely strong, and our packs acted like sails, pulling us off balance when they were caught in the wind. In some areas the trail markers were very close to the water, well within the spray zone from the crashing waves. In these areas the rocks were extremely slippery. When we got close to the water's edge we could feel the solid ground beneath us shaking and vibrating from the impact of the pounding waves. It felt like shock waves from an explosion.
Over the 1 km stretch of coast we wove back and forth, climbing up to the tree line, then descending back down to the waterline. The rocks were large, very steep, and in places extremely slippery. Falling would have been disastrous in more than spot. As someone who is afraid of heights, I stayed on my butt for much of the downhill sections. Leaping from rock to rock over the crevices required all the courage I have. I think that on a calm day, without carrying extra weight that put us off balance, this section might not have been as difficult. Under the current conditions, it took us just over an hour to crawl that 1 km. It felt like it took an eternity. By the end Sean's legs were cut and bleeding and we were both trembling with exhaustion.
Finally, the trail headed inland slightly, and we crossed the last rocky promontory behind the treeline. Being sheltered from the wind and out of the spray of the waves was sweet relief, and we soon descended onto a small, sheltered sandy beach with Crooked Creek running across it. A conveniently placed log helped us cross the creek without getting our feet wet, and ultimately brought us to the end of the Death Valley Segment of this trail. Whew - that was a challenging section!
On the far side of the beach we climbed a steep bit of forested trail that once again resembled a creek bed. Although the climb felt long, after the boulder beach it wasn't too bad, and we soon found ourselves descending again onto Worthington Beach.
This beach was visually unlike any of the beaches we've encountered so far. The sand was light grey, and had a much courser grain than what we've seen so far. It also had ATV tracks imprinted on it, reminding us that this an access point for the trail.
There was a nice but somewhat exposed campsite located on the beach, complete with a picnic table, fire pit, and some windbreaks fashioned from sheets of corrugated metal. There are also pictographs located at the beach, but although we looked, we failed to locate them. Later we learned that directional signage hasn't been provided because the site isn't protected and people have come close to defacing some of the pictographs.
This isn't the first time we've encountered the dilemma faced by site managers wanting to protect something. In Newfoundland signs were put up asking people not to ride ATVs on certain beaches to protect Piping Plovers that were nesting there. All those beaches were covered in ATV tracks. It might have been better for the birds if no signs had been put up, but the educational value would be lost, as well as some level of possible protection from well-meaning people. I find this type of thing extremely frustrating.
In any event, we proceeded up to the parking lot and read on the information sign that we had a 300 m (900 ft) climb in the next 2 km. The elevation chart on the sign made it look steep enough to require ladders or possibly ropes, but it turned out to be okay. We followed a badly washed out logging or mining road up a long and relentless climb, but although rocky, it wasn't bad.
After the washed out trail we diverted onto a narrow dirt footpath, and continued to climb up to the Junction with the Mount Gwynne Trail section. When we finally reached it, we found a picnic table up there! How the dedicated group of volunteers (who are clearly more hardy than we are) managed to get it up there we don't know.
At this point we had the option to take a 300 m detour to a lookout that offered a 360° view over Lake Superior and the surrounding shore. I climbed almost to the very top, but in the end was intimidated by the extremely high winds and small waterfall coming down off the rocks above me when I reached the exposed tip. Where the water was coming from I don't know, but ultimately I turned back without enjoying the view. Ah well it has never been about the destination.
We continued on, past another side trail for a lookout. The trail here was mostly flat, but very marshy. I managed to keep my boots dry as we squished along in the sponge-like moss, but Sean sunk in over his ankles on more than one occasion. Finally he gave up and just ploughed straight through the water and mud, singing his wet show song.
In this section we passed two other hikers, headed towards us. They were another couple who had started hiking in Rossport yesterday, and were heading for Les Petits Ecrits campsite tonight. They were enjoying the hike, but finding it more challenging than they'd anticipated. They warned that the section ahead of us was distinctly wet and marshy. We wished them well and continued on, hoping they make it over the boulder beach safely.
A short while later we came to Fourth Lake. This beautiful lake was surrounded by tall forested hills, and seemed very peaceful. It had a picnic table, bear box for food storage, and fire pit located out on a exposed rock. There was also a small wooden structure that looked like the remains of an old cabin tucked back into the forest where campers could pitch their tents in the event of bad weather. We took a short break at the lake, enjoying the view.
From there it was a relatively easy 2 km walk to the Schreiber Beach lookout. The trail was relatively flat, and although still rather marshy, easy to navigate. We came out to the lookout and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the lake, and the forested shoreline we will be walking along towards Rossport. There was yet another picnic table at the lookout, and a hiker log book. In flipping through the pages we found an entry for Jusi Adventures! Julie and Simon are also walking across Canada on the Great Trail, having started out a year before we did.
One of the highlights in the final stretch of trail before reaching Schreiber Beach was finding a Hobbit home! This cute little structure was carved from the stump of a tree, and came complete with Henry the Hobbit.
We made our way down from the lookout, descending only slightly down a forested trail before we came to the A6 access trail that would take us into the town of Schreiber. We decided to take this access road instead of the one from the beach below. At first it seemed like a nice, wide ATV track, we soon saw the bright orange diamonds of Construction signs. Really? Here in the woods?
We'd seen a few Great Trail signs telling us that great things were in progress along the trail. It turns out they've invested in making improvements to this access road. There were a couple extremely nice and friendly construction workers out with backhoes, chainsaws, and rakes, creating a new, wide, flat, easily accessible trail. They were really nice to us, but the work in progress they were doing turned the trail to ankle deep mud. In a few months this will be a gorgeous route I'm sure, but we were a bit early to enjoy it.
We emerged at a water treatment plant and then made our way into Schreiber. We had intended to visit the town to resupply and explore, but this morning we noticed high winds and a lot of rain are predicted for tomorrow. While in town we chatted with a couple of people from the Casque Isles Trail Association. They advised us against going out on the trail tomorrow, given the predicted weather. Several locals who stopped to chat outside the grocery store gave us the same advice. The last time we were advised to stay off a trail due to weather was on the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland. We didn't listen then, and found ourselves rappelling down a slope in a snowstorm, with 90 kph winds trying to peal us off the cliff. We decided to listen to local advice this time and sit this one out. Tomorrow we will spend in Schreiber, catching up on the blog and editing photos
See you on the trail!
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