15 October 2015
We’d had a great evening with Maggie, Alan and Marina, reminiscing until long after dark. Sadly, Katie wasn’t well enough to join us but we did get a few moments to visit with her. She was frail and tired, so we didn’t stay too long but there were hugs and she seemed in remarkably good spirits, surrounded by beautiful things to make her smile. It seems she’s a girl after my own heart in that respect. The sky was filled with stars when we left and Alan explained Gravenhurst is a dark sky area. The street lights here face downwards, not out or up allowing a fantastic starry view.
A late night meant we woke later on our last full day in Gravenhurst. The sky and Gull Lake were already bathed in a golden glow. By the time we’d showered and dressed there was blue sky, soft, creamy clouds and those breathtaking autumn colours. Commando was off for another run and my plan was to explore a trail we’d seen from the road. Alan said it was only a couple of miles long and easy going so I figured I’d get back long before Commando did.
Outside the chalet we went our separate ways. Commando ran off up the road and I followed at a more sedate pace heading for the start of the Hahne Farm Trail, on Bethune Drive. The map on the sign told me the trail ran roughly parallel with Highway 11 and then turned back towards our motel. It began with a steep climb but it was a short distance and it warmed me up. At the top I looked back the way I’d come and was glad I’d be leaving the trail by a different route, it looked harder going down that up for sure. The reward for my work was a glorious view.
The trail followed a narrow rock ledge looking out over Bethune Drive towards Muskoka Road and Tim Hortons. For a moment I wondered if I might spot Commando running but of course he was long gone. The trail continued as a narrow line between a ridge of rock and tall Muskoka pines hiding the road from view. After a couple of minutes I came to the massive Inukshuk we’d seen from the road. These tall, cairn like figures originate with the Inuit, Kalaallit, Yupik and other natives of the North American Arctic. They were used as navigation aids in areas that have few natural landmarks and are found on many Canadian trails. This one didn’t look very ancient.
Then there was more climbing over humps of rock. The steep drop down through the trees reminded me of Maggie and her tumble down the mountain. It occurred to me I could be in big trouble if I slipped but at least Commando knew where I was going and I wasn’t too far from the start of the trail. Even so, I was careful of my footing as I climbed and the vista of red and gold leaves was worth the effort.
On I went over undulating terrain that went from rock to leaf covered dirt and back skirting gigantic erratic boulders and meandering between the trees. In places the trail was worryingly indistinct for someone as good at getting lost at me but the thought of climbing back down the rocks at the start stopped me from turning back, along with the beauty of the place, the scent of pine and decaying leaves and unexpected patches of brilliant sunshine amid the dappled shade. From time to time there were gaps where I could look down on the road and the wetlands beside the slip road to Highway 11 so I was fairly sure I was on the right track.
The soil over the bed of ancient granite is very thin and in places I saw fallen trees whose roots had been just too shallow to support the weight above. Seeing how little soil there was it seemed a wonder any of the trees had grown and managed to stay upright at all. At one point a tree blocked the path altogether and I had to clamber over to get past. A few minutes later I passed under a tree that had fallen but been stopped short of landing by those around it. It had died, trapped forever mid fall.
From time to time I came across trees with markers, blue and white triangles or little snippets of orange ribbon. The ribbons were harder to spot in a wood filled with autumn leaves but I was glad to see them and know I was on the right track rather than wandering aimlessly in circles. The wide expanses of rock were hardest, with no tell tale tramped down soil or broken branches and it was always a relief when I reached a stretch of leafy soil.
The fallen trees continued. One had ripped up a triangle of soil like a toupee flapping on a bald head, another formed a low bridge across the trail that I had to duck to get under. Further on the rootball of a tree had taken several boulders the size of giant pumpkins with it as it fell. Then there were the two trees, one on top of the other, on a bed of jumbled granite. That me had be scrabbling about on hands and knees but I got past, even if I did have to go back to retrieve my hat which had caught on the jagged bark.
After that it was fairly plain sailing and it felt as if the trail had turned away from the road. Being further from the road had me thinking about bears again but Alan had told me they were more likely to run away than attack unless they were mothers with cubs. A little while later I came upon a man walking a dog. He came from the right, smiled and said “beautiful morning,” then disappeared off the the left. The trail had divided and I didn’t know which way to go. After some dithering I chose to go left, reasoning this was the direction of the cabin. The climbing and the fallen trees had taken longer than I’d expected and I’d lost all sense of distance but I was aware of passing time and didn’t want Commando to finish his run and be locked out. In hindsight I should probably have given him the key.
The left path turned out to be a mistake. It was merely a side trail leading to a street but, as I didn’t recognise the name of it and had no idea how to get back to Pinedale Drive where our motel was, I had to turn back. Google maps would have been useful round about then but, unlike America, I couldn’t use my data roaming in Canada. The path heading right took me to a small wooden bridge over a stream. This turned out to be more of a trickle and it was filled with boulders and criss crossed with fallen trees.
The trail carried on for a while through the trees and I walked through a haze of colourful leaves with puddles of blue sky above. A chipmuk dashed in front of me at one point but I was too slow to do anything but stare. Maggie says her garden is often full of them but it was the first I’d seen. Now and then I saw a marker telling me I was going the right way. After a while I came to more granite and then a steep incline. For a moment or two I wasn’t sure which way to go but eventually I spotted an orange maker almost hidden amongst all the orange leaves. Maybe purple would be a more sensible colour for them. It took a while to inch my way down the granite slope but I made it safely to the bottom.
Now the path had moved away from the high granite ridge the trail seemed clearer, although I kept my eyes open for any markers. Of course, this meant I was probably missing all sorts of interesting fungi but time was getting on and I really couldn’t afford to go astray and get lost. One particular fungi was such a contrast to my surroundings I couldn’t miss it though. In fact there were two of them, one a frilly curl of a thing the other a mass of beautiful white fronds like a fern, it may have been a Hericium but I couldn’t be sure, I’ve never seen anything like it before.
It was easy going after that and pretty soon the trail came out on Pinedale Road. At least I hoped it was Pinedale Roard. I headed off along it in what I hoped was the right direction walking as fast as I could and looking out for familiar landmarks. By this time I knew Commando would have finished his run. The road went on and on and there were no road signs so I began to worry I’d gone wrong somewhere. Then, just as I saw the motel sign, a pick up truck pulled up. There were two men inside.
“Do you know how to get to Bethune Drive?” one asked.
“Actually I do,” I said and directed them. For someone who’d been completely lost a few moments before it seemed a stroke of luck they found me when they did.
As they drove off I turned down the pine needle covered road to meet Commando who was sitting outside the chalet in the sun.