Part 40: Pretty River Valley parking lot to 3rd Line
Date: 8 October 2019
Start: Pretty River Valley parking lot, Pretty River Road, Ravenna
End: 3rd Line at Grey County Rd 19, The Blue Mountains
Distance covered: 11.3 km
Total distance covered: 496.6 km
486. The Escarpment as seen from near today’s start point on Pretty River Road. We have returned here to make up the more than 34 kms of Trail that we omitted after Hike #34 on 24 July. We’ll be covering that omitted stretch in three separate legs, of which this is the first, before returning to where we left off on the west side of Beaver Valley. The fall foliage is at least ten days more advanced than in the Hamilton area, and it’s very close to peak colour here.
487. The main reasons we omitted this section had to do both with our perception that it was uniquely challenging and our (at the time) far from tiptop physical condition. For this is the hike that attains the highest elevation on the whole Bruce Trail. The actual peak (540 metres; 1,772 feet) is 200 m away up the John Haigh Side Trail. Where we’re standing is the highest point (approximately 500 m) on the main Trail. It’s downhill all the way from here to Tobermory! (Just kidding.)
488. This hike is largely forested, but occasionally there are windows that let you see the lay (or should that be lie?) of the land. It would seem that the phrase lay of the land has an American source and a long pedigree, but when the phrase was adopted in the UK in the 1880s it was quickly “corrected” by grammarians to lie of the land. Whatever the case, this is the view north to the tip of Nottawasaga Bay (the southernmost part of Georgian Bay, itself part of Lake Huron) …
489A & B. … and this is the view southeast toward Nottawasaga Lookout, which we passed through on the Trail in late July this year.
490. The weather today is calm and beautiful, with a clear blue sky and the temperature slowly rising to about 18C. On one of the few parts of the Trail that are not forested, we find this eastern garter snake sunning itself. These snakes are not dangerous and this one seemed quite relaxed in our presence. The last time we saw a garter snake on the Trail was in April last year, and now it’s October. So these cold-blooded reptiles must find it warm enough in southern Ontario these days to be out and about for more than half the year.
491. This cluster of white, black-dotted berries on bright red stalks look artificial, like a plastic model of a molecule or some sort of child’s toy. They are white baneberries (a.k.a. doll’s-eyes) (Actaea pachypoda) that grow on a plant native to North America. If you describe something as the bane of your existence, you’re using a word of ancient origin, deriving from Old English bana, “a thing causing death.” And indeed these berries are poisonous, likely to cause cardiac arrest if eaten by humans. Young children should be warned as early as possible to avoid these weirdly fascinating china dolls’ eyeballs.
492. For the most part, this hike at unprecedented altitude is not as demanding as we feared. But there is one short section in the Petun Conservation Area where mountaineering is required. This Conservation area, by the way, is named for the Petun, a First Nation (they called themselves Tionontati) that formerly inhabited this area and spoke an Iroquois language. Pétun is an old French word for tobacco, which is what the Tionontati cultivated in these parts.
493. These bracket fungi are, I think, lacquered polypore mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum), though this set has rather lost its shine. If that’s what they are, they’re also called lingzhi mushrooms, and are used in Chinese medicine. They’re made into a tea that is believed to confer long life, if you can stomach its very bitter taste.
494A & B. Given that the edge of the Niagara Escarpment is riddled with deep crevices along most of its length, it’s unusual to see a sign here in Petun CA specifically warning of one such. But this sign is necessary, as the black hole by the Trail, just big enough to allow an adult body to fall through, seems bottomless and would be very difficult to see in poor light. Once in, you’d never get out.
495. “Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”
— Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” (1923)
You’re not wrong, Bob, but let’s try to enjoy the gold while it lasts!
496. A massive McMansion in a not entirely untasteful boxy Modernist style is under construction at our endpoint on 3rd Line. And right next to it, surrounded by a high fence …
497. … is what appears to be a positively Wimbledonian array of tennis courts, complete with changing room, is being cleared out of the surrounding forest.