Our boys are always up for a challenge, especially if it involves the outdoors. But we tripled checked that they really wanted to go and hike the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park. We tried our best to paint a realistic picture of just how difficult it would be. Little did I know that even I had underestimated the challenges that lay ahead.
After a 14 hour drive north we pitched a tent in Hattie Cove for the night and woke at a painfully early hour to catch our boat shuttle with Keith and Melissa from McCuaig Marine Services. We were dropped at North Swallow River in a steady rain to start our hike back. Note to self, the end of May is black fly season.
The trail was a very rugged constant gain and loss of elevation. It was rocky and dense and we relied heavily on our hiking poles for balance and grip. There was a substantial amount of rock-hopping to avoid any number of hazards, and felled trees to climb under and over and around. There was never a moment of tedium as a constant stream of obstacles kept us on our toes at all times. We were rewarded for our efforts with some of the most beautiful and breathtaking backcountry that I’ve ever seen. Lake Superior stretches on forever and truly resembles the sea. The sandy beaches sweep out like private playgrounds to explore and enjoy at the end of a long day. Almost all of our campsites landed us smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous beach with sunset views to die for. Even after hiking an eight-hour day, the boys ran out into the sand to dig and build and explore.
I admit that at times the terrain was so demanding and exhausting that witty banter fell by the wayside and was replaced with rhythmic pants of exertion and the sounds of heavily weighted boots drumming against the rock. There were a couple of tears of frustration and “somebody” collapsed at camp one night leaving the burden of set-up and cooking to the others (yes that was me). But with the effort, we could see the confidence growing in the boys. Their steps became less timid and their placement more precise. They called out warnings of upcoming hazards to the group and held back branches and offered a steady hand to each other. They leaned into headwinds and wiped the rain and bugs from their faces. Despite the formidable demands there wasn’t one whine or complaint or outright tantrum. Still they ended every day with hugs and kisses and smiles and thanks. For possibly the first time in their lives our guys faced real adversity. They learned that by not giving up even when things got exceedingly difficult, they could achieve their goals. They proved to themselves just how strong and capable they really are. It also made it impossible for me to complain. If they could do it with such grace, then so could I.
Our original plan was to hike the trail in seven days. In the beginning we found that our family took about one hour longer to hike each section than was suggested in the Coastal Hiking Trail Planner. The further that we went on the trail though, the better time we made. On the sixth day we completed our section one hour ahead of schedule and the kids asked if we could push on and finish our journey that day instead of making camp. We decided that it was doable and agreed.
After more than 16km on that sixth day, we made our way back into the Hattie Cove campground giddy with the exhilaration of our accomplishment as well as the prospect of a fast-food dinner with all of the fixings. After gorging ourselves on poutine and root beer floats, we rolled back into camp and were treated to a night in gorgeous teepee courtesy of Bonnie Couchie from the Pic River Guest Suite. Even though we arrived earlier than planned, Bonnie had our night’s accommodations waiting for us and we had the warmest and most comfortable night’s sleep in a week.
Before we left on our adventure the possibility existed that we might not be able to finish and that someday we would need to return and give it another go. I know now that regardless of having realized the goal of hiking the entire trail, we will definitely be returning to Pukaskwa. Not out of an obligation to complete unfinished business, but rather for the love of a newfound gem. One visit to this magical park simply isn’t enough. Our Ontario Outdoor calendar didn’t steer us wrong when it suggested that we visit. That leaves 11 more months of inspiration hanging on my wall.
To see more of our trip pictures, check out the Pukaskwa National Park set on Flickr!