Adventure begins with the planning of a trip. Poring over maps, planning routes, and selecting gear usually begins weeks in advance, watching the weather as the date approaches to fine tune clothing systems. For me at least, this anticipation is the glue that connects the last trip to the next.
Anticipation has a dark side though, and that is expectation. When researching terrain and weather conditions, it’s hard not to imagine what it will be like to trek in those conditions, what views may be offered, what wildlife encountered. With the internet availability of satellite images and photographs, it is easy to create a vivid mental impression of the ideal trip. Although the reality often exceeds these expectations, some trips suffer from the comparison.
Earlier this winter, I’d had a fantastic trip on the Coastal Trail in Ontario, one that I was eager to experience again. When two days presented themselves this month, I headed for the northernmost terminus of the trail to immerse myself once again in the wonders of the Lake Superior shoreline. I planned to ski in along the snowed in access road to Gargantua Cove then head northeast along the rugged coast to Devil’s Chair. I’d spend the second day exploring Chalfant Cove, then return to Gargantua Cove that night in preparation for an early morning departure on the third day.
Following my typical all-night drive, I arrived at Gargantua Road at about 10:30 in the morning. Heading out, I was surprised to see that no one had been on the trail in recent times. Deep powder covered the road and I set out, breaking trail through the fresh snow.
Taking a look back. At first I enjoyed the solitude, but after a few hours, breaking trail at a snail’s pace was growing tedious.
I had expected to coast through the road section, leaving ample time to make Devil’s Chair by nightfall. Three hours later, I hadn’t even hit the halfway point. I was ski-walking more than gliding, pushing a foot of heavy wet snow with each step. As the day warmed, the snow grew even stickier and the monotony of plodding on began to wear at me. To make matters worse, my synthetic ski boot had developed a crease that was cutting into my big toe with each stride, adding injury to insult. I was quickly realizing that my itinerary would not be realistic at this pace. Worse still, I’d have to start back on this road the next night rather than camping at the cove if I was to make it back home in time.
It was almost 5 pm when I finally made it to Gargantua Cove. The last hour had been miserable, and with little chance of completing my trek, I was thinking about bailing. I had planned to spend my days exploring the coastline (I had also somehow convinced myself I was going to see a moose) and here I was, not likely to see much more than a snowy road through the woods. Still, it didn’t make sense to bivy on the road, so I pushed on. The shoreline was stark and beautiful when I arrived, almost immediately boosting morale.
I knew I couldn’t make it to the next cove by nightfall, so I explored the Harbor, then headed back to a perfect campsite I had found overlooking Gargantua Island
Home for the night
A good night’s sleep in a beautiful locale was restorative, and as I ate breakfast the next morning, I sagely told myself, “If you quit now, the trip is guaranteed to be a failure. Continue onward and something unexpected may yet happen.” I headed up the trail, hoping to make Devil’s Chair by midday. I planned to turn back at 1 pm and push as far as I could back up Gargantua Road by nightfall.
Moose tracks meandered aimlessly from side to side along the entire length of the trail, like some drunkard staggering home after a few drinks too many. I felt the old anticipation brewing. Just one sighting and my trip would be saved. I never would see him though.
Three more hours and I was again regretting my decision. I had long since put away my camera. This was a trip best forgotten. The snow was rotten and deep, collapsing beneath me after each step or two. Stride, stride, thunk. Stride, stride, thunk. I was still far from Devil’s Chair but reluctantly turned back.
“No Way, Dude”. Looking up, I immediately recognized Rog’s green nanopuff and carefree grin. His climbing plans had changed and he had come out to spend the night. Quickly doing some calculations, I figured that with an extra set of tracks laid down, I’d be able to make much better time up the road and could afford to spend the night by the water. Rog had been gathering wood and I looked forward to a relaxing night by the warmth of the fire.
An unconventional approach to clearing the table
As the sun set over the water, I basked in the warmth of the fire and the good company, enjoying a huge bowl of pasta.
Rog was eating some concoction of rice and beans with canned chicken that smelled pretty good.
Collecting water at dusk.
We skied out the next morning after an early breakfast. Conditions were better, but not great, and we finished in 4 hours what had taken me 6.5 two days earlier. The biggest difference though was attitude. On that day, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be and enjoyed the challenge and camaraderie created by the snow conditions. High points included hazelnut chocolate, shooting through the downhills, and an otter on the ice
Rog goofing into an unconventional tele turn.
Surveying the damage before heading out for second breakfast.
Post trip thoughts: I was right in the end. Unexpected things do happen. At the time of this writing, I have only fond memories of this trip-gone-wrong and a strong sense of accomplishment for having pushed through some pretty challenging conditions. There’s a lesson here somewhere, and I hope to one day have the sense to learn it; to see that which is and not that which I would have it be.