Friday, September 30, 2022

What monster?

 Tanker and I got to spend some time last week at one of the most enchanting places I know.

If you've ever been there, you know exactly where this is - and what I mean

Bon Echo Provincial Park will hopefully eventually host the Monster of Mazinaw trail race, but it seems that the third time was not in fact the charm - originally scheduled for September 2020, it was cancelled twice by Covid. This year was looking like it would finally be the one, but then powerful storms ripped through the park in late spring - first a derecho in May, then a tornado in June. We heard from another camper that the Hardwood Hills campground - the one closest to the Abes & Essens backpacking trail that was to comprise 17km out of the 30km course through the park - was hit so badly that there were more than sixty 911 calls in thirty minutes after the derecho struck. For the first time in its lengthy history, the park was evacuated, with people forced to abandon their equipment and belongings - those with working vehicles fled with only the clothes on their backs, and there were so many automobiles damaged by falling trees that it took days to muster enough tow trucks to remove them all, then weeks before campers could return to retrieve their boats, trailers, bicycles, and other possessions. The Hardwood Hills campground remains closed for the rest of the 2022 season, as does the Abes & Essens backpacking trail: a park staff member who had been out helping to start clearing the trail said it looks like clear-cut forest in places. The damage will take decades to fully resolve. 

This photo from a walk on the Shield trail demonstrates how large a root system the storm was capable of tearing from the ground - Tanker for scale (he's 6' tall/183cm)

When we heard the race was cancelled - about a month before it was set to happen - we decided to keep our Wednesday to Sunday reservation anyway, and we'd just go have fun in whatever in the park was open. Our drive up was uneventful, though we could see a heartbreaking number of broken, mangled trees and buildings as we got north of Kaladar on Hwy 41. The weather sure didn't look promising, either - there were thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon and evening, and it looked like we'd be setting up in the rain.

At least it was warm - 25c for the high for the day

As we got closer, a nasty cell came banging through almost directly over the park.

Yikes - we were only about 15mins away!

Miraculously, though, it blew through and the rain stopped just as we reached the park - the sun even came out while we checked in at the main gate, and shone beautifully through the trees as we drove on to our site!

Nice of the forest to have a bit of a wash up before our arrival

We pitched camp on our spacious site just across from the boat launch, pleased to be able to do so while dry.

The same could not be said for the picnic table at the site, but we could work around that

With responsibilities taken care of, we wandered down to the boat launch itself - mere metres from "home" - to drink in the incredible views of Mazinaw Rock.

Rising 100m/330ft from the water, the colours seem to shift with every subtle change of the light

There was very little wind and no sign of any incoming weather. With camp all set up, we had no reason not to go for a sunset paddle!

I'd hardly dared hope we'd have time and weather, but here we were!

The evening light is so enchanting on the imposing cliff

We paddled lazily until the sun began to drop behind the treeline.

Just a perfect evening

Soon the darkness would engulf the whole of the face

We had made a plan before we left to try for a sunrise paddle, and with some very chilly nights predicted it looked like Thursday morning was our best bet. I dearly wished to drift lazily through the pre-dawn mist on the water, so we got a pretty early night on Wednesday, and I set an alarm for the wee hours. Awaking at 5:40am, I threw on a sweater and went to look at the water.

On the down side, there was no mist. On the bright side..

This view was 100% worth being up before dawn

Now, I may not be a bright human, but occasionally I have a great ide - in this case, it was getting up with enough time for Tanker to brew up a thermos full of piping hot coffee (with some non-dairy milk already added so it only needed to be poured off) and bringing it and a couple of mugs with us out on the water.

..because while it was the warmest morning we had, it was still only 11c

Just barely warm enough in neoprene shorts and footwear (and a neoprene hoodie for me), we drank coffee, and waited, and watched.

The breeze blew some clouds through, which caught the first of the light


While the views were delightful, we were starting to get a bit cold from sitting still on the water (not to mention a gentle swell occasionally washing over the side of my board, chilling even my neoprene-clad bum) - the sun stubbornly refused to peek above the rock, despite the forest behind us already being bathed in light.

I don't even know how this is possible, but there it was

Finally, at long last..

The breeze faded to nothing as the sun peered over the cliff

So we finished our coffee and paddled back in, then I made us a massive brunch to warm us up.


While we ate, the wind shifted direction and freshened significantly - by the time we'd filled our bellies and Tank had done the dishes, it was practically a gale and the lake was looking decidedly tetchy!

Nope - not going to be paddling again today!

We walked over to Greystones - the cottage converted into a gift shop by the site of the long-gone Bon Echo Inn - and had a browse. Their cafe actually had (relatively) locally-roasted coffee for sale that is entirely produced off-grid by solar power, in a waste-free process and packaged in a fully compostable bag, so we picked up some of their Starter Fluid blend; partly for the name, and partly for the tasting notes included on the bag. We dropped off our purchases at our campsite, then went and hiked the Shield trail, while the occasional rain shower swept through.

It wasn't supposed to rain past Thursday morning, but forecasts are fickle things

There was lots of evidence of damage on the trail, despite all the work done by the park to clear it.

This massive treetop was just spiked upside down into the ground

The matted roots of 5 trees all shorn off the underlying rock

The pine forested section seemed to have been hit very hard

We were off the trail and over to the woodyard to resupply with firewood around 3:30pm: due to several park staff members being out sick with Covid, the woodyard (for which you needed to purchase vouchers at the main gate) was only open from 2pm-4pm during the week. With the trunk full, we headed back to our campsite and built a fire against the chill and wind. By 6pm I had a good bed of coals, and started cooking up dinner on the blaze!

That's me in wool leggings, a wool dress, and a puffy jacket - it was only about 8c, maybe 5c with windchill

This would help warm me up, though!

I'd had an idea about a week before we departed for something I wanted to try - we have a cast iron dutch oven that I've used to cook all kinds of things on fires in the past, and I thought I'd try a boxed mix to see if I could pull off dessert.

Campfire cooking is an imprecise science

Well, there was some charcoal production...but if you broke off the blackened bits, you got perfectly delicious brownies!

Nice and fudgy in the middle

We'd realized that - with our close proximity to the boat launch and the perfect view over Mazinaw Rock that we had from it - there wasn't really any reason we needed to be out on the water to enjoy the sunrise. So, we made plans to get up early again and just go sit on the bench on the tiny point to the north of the launch while bundled up in warm clothes, armed with another thermos of coffee. I set an alarm - for a little later this time, given how late the sun actually crested the rock - but awoke to the wind still sweeping through the campground. I needed to use the loo anyway, so I went down and had a look at the water.

The tiny, upturned crescent moon was lovely, but no mist - instead just a bitter wind sweeping right across from the north, with the whole lake to pick up speed before hitting the tiny point


I went back to bed.

Back up at a much more human hour, we had glorious sunshine, but it was still cold and blustery.

Neither of us had any interest in paddling

So, we lit a fire for both heat and cooking.

Going back to the very first thing I ever cooked in this dutch oven

Sausage and egg biscuit bake is a solid start to a cold day
(We may have snacked on leftover brownies and had a cup of coffee while waiting for the coal bed to establish)

 With it now being Friday, the Visitors' Centre was open, so we went to have a look. They had some wonderful displays about the history of the area, extending back long before the park's inception, but I was disappointed that there was no longer any information about Mazinaw Lake itself. They used to have a really neat layered model that gave an incredible insight into just how deep it is compared to its overall size, which was now gone. We wandered back toward camp as the wind blew up whitecaps on north Mazinaw Lake

It's the 3rd deepest inland lake in Ontario (average 41m/134ft, max 144.8m/475ft) - 7th overall if you include the Great Lakes - and it seldom loses its deep chill, despite looking like a lovely place for a dip here

We also walked out to the Narrows that divide the north and south portions of the lake to have a look, while the waves washed through the shallow waters between the point and the rock face.

Impossible to capture the scale of the cliff

Looking up the whole length of north Mazinaw

We hoped the wind would die and a colder overnight temperature would generate the misty sunrise we sought, so we started the fire by 4:30pm or so and I toasted us up a couple of marshmallows.

While watching the red squirrels scurry around, stowing away endless pinecones against the coming winter

We had dinner by 6:30pm and wondered what we'd become?

Turkey sausage Alfredo pasta - I eat directly from the pot with my spatula to save on dishes for Tank

I was a bit late popping down to the water - which I'd do several times a day, just to look - and missed the full glow of evening sun on the rock face.

The shadow of the forest had already begun to creep up

The wind finally died, but clear skies let the meagre warmth of the day's sun float away as soon as it dropped. As night fell and the cold deepened, we sat by the fire and chatted, but by 9pm we had brushed our teeth and were ready to trade the chill night for the warmth of our cozy down sleeping bags. 

Apparently I turn into an 85 year old when I camp

Up at 6:20am the next day to calm conditions, a quick check confirmed that the temperature differential of the frosty morning was sufficient from the water.

The mist machine was up and running

It was go time!

I woke Tanker up, and pan-toasted us a blueberry bagel to split between us to get something warm into our bellies while he brewed up some delicious Starter Fluid. We were down to the water - and a dew-soaked bench by which we elected to stand - by 7:10am to watch the show.

While thoroughly bundled up, in my case - mittens and all!

..with good reason, I might add!

And from here, I'm just going to shut my mouth and show you.

It was absolutely everything I had hoped for

Then it was back to camp for another pot of coffee and a solid breakfast.

Blueberry bagel with honey, shoulder bacon, and eggs with mushrooms, broccoli, and dairy-free cheez

With this being the day originally intended to be race day - and with temperatures predicted to climb to 18c - I figured I might as well get out for a run on the open trails in the park. I gave myself a bit of digestion time, and set off in shorts and a longsleeve at 12c to ramble around and explore.

Out to the Narrows

Shoreline trail along south Mazinaw

Around the Lagoon, with a huge line of people waiting to rent canoes, kayaks & paddleboards

South Mazinaw Lake from the main beach

This fallen log looked like a real fun guy!

Remember - you choose to read this

The Bon Echo Creek Trail - probably the most gorgeous for the least effort of the whole park

The short - only 1.4km - but gnarly High Pines Trail.
Its loop was the far point of my little wander

Gorgeous sugar maples by the dog beach

Back across Bon Echo Creek on the footbridge

Sandy-bottomed south Mazinaw from near the main beach

Looking north from the Narrows - neat cloud formation framing Mazinaw Rock, and dozens of watercraft along its foot

Calmer waters and rooty shoreline trail back to camp

Happy girl 9km later!

I got changed out of my sweaty clothes and made myself a bowl of oatmeal, then fixed us some egg salad sandwiches that we planned to take with us for our afternoon venture - it was finally good paddling conditions (as evidenced by the dozens if not hundreds of people I'd seen out there), so we wanted to take advantage after 2 days of cold and wind!


Tank's kayak was laden with drybags full of gear

We first paddled through the cove to the north of our site where the walk-in campsites were located, then struck due east across the water to the northern end of the true rock face. Turning south, we lazily floated and paddled along the foot of the cliff, looking at the thousand-year-old pictographs painted by ancient First Nations people.

Visitors and locals alike have been awed and inspired by this place for millenia

We might have also had a bit of fun with some of the natural formations..

"You sure must be strong to hold up that giant rock"

It was delightful to feel the warm sun on us with no frosty gale to blow the heat away.

Shorts! Exposed skin!

..and of course, it is always worthwhile to simply gaze upon the natural wonder of the towering shore.

If you haven't been, go - you'll never forget it

Having had a good look, we headed for the Narrows - with me hoping I'd have enough draught for my board's 10" fin.

We stuck to the channel and I was fine, with some room to spare

We moored up at the Mugwump ferry's dock - the ferry is also out of commission for the rest of 2022 - and I pulled my running shoes out of one of the drybags, putting them on while Tank slung another bag (with a convenient shoulder strap) with our sandwiches and an extra nalgene of water on his back.

We just had to trust that no-one would touch our gear while we were gone

The Cliffside Trail is one of the most spectacular features of Bon Echo. While only a 750m long stretch (for a 1.5km return journey), it climbs 100m straight up to the top of Mazinaw Rock via stairs and the natural stone.

This is why I needed to bring my trail shoes

The mouth of the Lagoon is visible on the far side of the lake

Going up..

At least they provide variety?

South Mazinaw Lake

Some people were hiking the trail in flip flops - I was happy I didn't have to

There are a few observation platforms - some of which have wooden benches - at the top of the trail.

We sat on one of those benches and ate our sandwiches - I've had worse lunch views!

Then we took one more good look, and began our descent.

I love that Tank is always up for this sort of thing!

On the way down we saw a tiny kid being carried, and joked about piggyback rides. Well..

We found a flat dirt trail section to try - I could walk ok, but was NOT about to attempt the rocks or stairs!

Back to our watercraft - gratefully untouched - we set off and took a turn around the Lagoon before heading back through the Narrows.

A bit more impressive view in this direction!

Then we paddled back to the launch, popped the watercraft on the racks there, and walked back up to our site.

I love the light in this shot

Tank had got all sweaty while climbing up the cliff, and I'd been sweaty all afternoon as I'd left to run before 11.30am, so we both decided to hit the showers at our local comfort station. We just had time for a quick snack and to get changed before heading out for one last paddle to watch the sun set.

Back in my neoprene gear as the day's warmth was already slipping away

I will never tire of this

We actually had to paddle about halfway across the lake to even see the sun by the time we hit the water.

So peaceful

The breeze was blowing off shore, too, so as we sat we drifted ever closer to the rock.

Practically incandescent in the honey-coloured light

Soon, though, it was time to head back.

We hadn't brought lights, so needed to get off the water before dusk fell

..just as soon as we finished our beverages.

Since we'd be leaving the following day and rain was predicted to start early in the morning, we finally brought our watercraft back up to our site instead of leaving them on the racks at the launch. Tanker got to try out the kayak cart I bought him with this trip in mind - we'd hoped to go paddle on Joeperry Lake (which has a 500m portage from the parking lot to the water access), but it lay beyond the closed gates that protected the devasatated Hardwood Hills campground and Abes & Essens trail, so we didn't have the chance. 

At least it got used once, and works great!

Looking back out on the water, it almost looked like mist was drifting across the lake again..

..but it was actually just smoke from all the campfires around us.
The park had filled up dramatically for the weekend!

We lit our own fire, and sat by it until rolling into bed around 11:30pm - our latest night of the whole trip.

Party animals, I tell ya

I actually ended up setting an early alarm, as the forecast for 5am-8am was now for fog - I wondered if I'd get to see any more mist. I popped down to the water at 7:05am, and caught a hint of beautiful sunrise colour.

It winked out less than 30 seconds later, leaving nothing but dull, grey skies

I went back to bed, but when we rose at around 8:40am Tanker brewed up coffee and we took a mug each down to the water just to sit quietly in the peace of the morning.

It was nothing spectacular, but having expected rain, it was nice just to sit comfortably

It was also much milder - I was fine in just my wool leggings, a wool longsleeve, and a sweater.

100% success rate adhering to my "no pants before coffee" rule on this trip, despite the chilly starts!

After finishing our first cups of coffee of the day, it was time for a good breakfast and to pack up camp.

Thankfully, the rain held off until after we got everything loaded up!

Before departure, there was one last trip down to the water to say au revoir..

..but not goodbye, because I can't bear the thought of never returning.

We pulled out around 12:45pm, just as the first rain began to fall. It rained - torrentially at times - the whole way home, but stopped again while we unloaded boats and gear. 

When all is said and done, I'm still hoping that Monster of Mazinaw happens some day, but I wouldn't change a single thing about this trip. So grateful to be able to spend this time in one of the places my soul calls home!