Part 69: Halfway Dump Side Trail to Little Cove Road
Date: Friday 6 November 2020
Start: Halfway Dump Side Trail, Bruce Peninsula National Park
End: Little Cove Road, Tobermory
Distance Covered: 16.8 km
Total Distance Covered: 882.3 km
867. This penultimate one’s a monster, the hike that finally determines whether Mike and I are genuine End-to-End material or merely vainglorious tenderfeet who have bitten off more than we can chew. We’re facing a 16.8 km hike due west, mostly along the Escarpment above Georgian Bay, starting with 4.4 km of what remains of the “most challenging hiking along the entire length of the Bruce Trail.” Fortunately, the weather is unusually benign for early November. We begin on the same Side Trail as with Hike #68, turning left rather than right when we meet the Main Trail near the beach here at Halfway Dump. A National Park sign reminds us that the waters of the Bay are cold and deep, the waves are strong, the weather is changeable, and emergency services are far, far away. “We do not recommend swimming here,” it redundantly concludes, adding, “Tragically, someone dies almost every year along the Park’s Georgian Bay shoreline. It is usually a young man, 18-30 years old.” Well, that age range certainly rules us two out of danger … but then neither of us fancies a bracing dip this early in the morning.
868. Soon enough we’re high up on the edge of the Escarpment again, rusty needles carpeting the dolomite.
869. The view from Cave Point looking east towards the beach at Halfway Dump at upper left …
870. … and west towards the beach at Stormhaven, where there is a backcountry campground. A sliver of beach at Indian Head is visible at upper right.
871. The hi-tech bear hang here at Stormhaven. For those unfamiliar with the ways of the backwoods, first you stalk your bear, then you kill it with your bare hands, skin it, hang its carcass on this structure, then wait three months for the meat to cure …. Seriously, here backcountry campers hoist their food packs high off the ground on ropes slung over pulleys so that hungry bears can’t reach them. If your pack is dangling up there, a bear is much less likely to come snuffling into your tent in the middle of the night aiming to snarf that aromatic beef jerky you were saving for breakfast.
872. We’re back down at lake level again, Halfway Rock Point in the middle distance. I should have mentioned before now that whether up on the Escarpment or down by the lake, our hike along the eastern shore of the Northern Bruce Peninsula has almost always been accompanied by the sound of cobbles (the local word for pebbles or shingle) being churned by the waves. Not everyone likes this sound …
873. … and two poets, divided by more than two millennia, famously didn’t like it at all:
“Even as some headland on an iron-bound shore,
Lashed by the wintry blasts and surge’s roar,
So is man buffeted on every side
By drear misfortune’s overwhelming tide …”
So wrote the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles (c. 497-406 BC) in one of the choric episodes of his great tragedy Antigone (c. 441 BC).
Then, 2,300 years later, Matthew Arnold (1822-88) stood under the white cliffs of Dover and put his finger to his lips:
“Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
“Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.”
– from “Dover Beach” (1867).
Remembering the passage in Sophocles, Arnold compares the “tremulous cadence” of the pebbles to the ebbing away of comforting religious faith during the later Victorian period …
… but enough of this doom and gloom! Here on this distant northern shore, we find the sound of waves washing over cobbles quite soothing.
874A & B. Here, east of Halfway Rock Point, the Trail, crossing bare rock at the water’s edge, is frequently difficult to follow. (A) Can you spot the next blaze? (Hint: it’s on a tree in the distance.) (B) This formation looks uncannily like a giant chocolate-topped cream-filled layer cake with a generous slice removed.
875. As we approach the junction with the Horse Lake Trail, which is connected to a National Park parking lot at the end of Cyprus Lake Road, we start to meet a few other human beings, such as this young woman. Not the easiest terrain for a morning jog!
876. This area is very popular in the season, as it includes a Grotto and an Overhanging Point, both a short walk from the parking lot. Today there’s a scattering of folks clambering over the rocks, too few to disturb the dignified calm of this craggy shoreline. It may seem a missed opportunity not to visit the popular coastal formations, but we cannot afford to spend time on such diversions. November days are short and for safety’s sake we must finish this hike before nightfall.
877. Honeycomb weathering in a dolomite cobble. No one is quite sure how these tafoni (pits) are formed in such rocks. They more commonly occur in seaside sandstone eroded by salt water.
878. Here at Loon Lake the Trail veers inland for a spell. There’s not a loon to be seen or heard, however, and neither sight nor sound of any other waterfowl for that matter. (But see #881 below.)
879. An elevated hunting blind towers on the edge of woods a little way inland from Driftwood Cove.
880A & B. (A) The beach at Driftwood Cove viewed from the west. The Rover Estate at Driftwood Cove was the largest body of private land on the Bruce Peninsula until 2018, when it was acquired by Parks Canada (with the assistance of the Bruce Trail Conservancy) for more than $20 million. The 1,342 hectare estate includes a 9,000 sq ft “cottage,” a 3,000 sq ft guesthouse, and a 1,000 sq ft stone boathouse. The new owners have not yet decided what to do with the property, which includes a lengthy winding single-track access road running all the way to Highway 6, so in the meantime the Trail keeps its distance from both the buildings and shoreline. (B) The camera’s zoom reveals the objects on the distant beach to be four Adirondack chairs in a state of disarray. The chairs may be the legacy of an open house held in May 2019 when 270 members of the public toured the buildings on the property and came up with a variety of suggestions about what to do with them. They included: tearing them down and returning the site to nature; using them as the base for a Banff-style fine arts school or a science research station; or turning them into a visitor centre showcasing local First Nations heritage.
881. Back on the Escarpment edge on our way to Little Cove, we hear the distinctive, haunting laughter first, then through a gap in the foliage we spot its source far down below on Georgian Bay. It’s a common loon, but an immature one as it lacks the distinctive black and white markings of the breeding adult. The loon’s name probably derives from loom, lumme, or lumb, Shetland dialect words for various diving birds, but it was used in North America as early as 1634, when William Wood in New Englands Prospect wrote: “The Loone is an ill shap’d thing like a Cormorant.” The loon is Ontario’s provincial bird, but all of Canada is fond of it: it not only appears on the one-dollar coin affectionately known as the loonie, but also adorned the $20 bill for twenty years from 1993. In the UK the loon is called the “great northern diver,” and one of these birds is the central element of Great Northern? (1947), the twelfth and last volume of “Swallows and Amazons,” a once extremely popular series of children’s adventure novels by Arthur Ransome.
882A & B. (A) The sun is almost down as we scramble down the Escarpment and find ourselves on the shore at Little Cove. Today’s hike has taken seven and a half hours. Tired but elated to have completed this most challenging section of Trail, we have made it to our endpoint on (B) Little Cove Road with less than half an hour of daylight to spare.