The goal of hiking all the Bruce Trail Side Trails has been on my list since I completed my first Bruce Trail End to End two years ago September 10, 2017. I really wanted to explore it all! The whole trail! We passed so many side trails on the way to Tobermory. Where did they lead? How did they get their names? What great geological site is waiting for me on the blue-blazed trails? What are they all about?
I started discovering them through the Side Trail Challenges starting with the Dufferin Section, then Toronto, Caledon, and Beaver Valley. Just shy of Christmas in December 2018, I completed Looping through Sydenham, finishing in a winter wonderland on December 8th. Peninsula would be the last challenge to conquer, but winter came and it would have to wait.
Finally, in May 2019, with my hiking partner and life-long friend, Wendy Manning, the wheels were set in motion to get this project off the ground. With a caveat, I’d almost completed a second End to End of the Bruce Trail, with only two sections left, so this challenge would encompass every inch of the Peninsula section of the Bruce Trail.
Project code name: Peninsula Blue & White 2019!
Plan: North to South E2E of the Peninsula section covering the 168.90K white-blazed trail and 101.24K blue-blazed trail.
Team: Margaret O’Dell (Master Planner, Chief Web Breaker) and Wendy Manning (Willing Accomplice, Mushroom Fanatic, Keeper of the Kendal Mint Cake)
Number of hike days: 14; shortest 7.3K, longest 32.49K
Number of Side Trails: 78; shortest 10m, longest 4.9K
Total mileage: 310.72K; included 40.58K of extra mileage to get it all in! Number of photos: 1,433! Yikes! (still to be sorted and processed)
The project started the Friday of the July long weekend. I planned 3 days of hiking, giving us time to travel and set up camp on the Friday. Had I known then how logistically challenging this project would become, I would have made better use of the Friday to squeeze in several more hours of hiking. But instead, it was a day to visit Tobermory, buy a couple of PBTC t-shirts, watch the ferry come and go, and enjoy a short 7.3K hike to get us from Tobermory to Little Dunks Bay via our first Side Trail, Burnt Point. This would reduce the cost of parking and the holiday traffic in Tobermory Village.
We camped at Summer House Park in Miller Bay for the weekend, and with a very cute little site right on the water’s edge, enjoying great sunrises over the water.
The section from the Grotto to High Dump is rated as the most technically challenging section of the entire Bruce Trail. Compared to the logistical challenge of hiking Blue and Whites, I would now say this was the most straightforward section of the hike.
On our last day, I schedule a hike focusing mostly on the side trails in Dyer’s Bay; I calculated it wrong. What was supposed to be a modest 10K hike actually ended up as 16K. I learned that I had to be very detailed in my calculations, otherwise we might end up biting off more than we could chew. We completed 74.5K over the weekend and headed for the long route home (4 hours) to get home.
We were able to get another three-day weekend on July 19th. This time, learning as we go, I planned a full day of hiking on the Friday to get us from Cape Chin North to Cape Chin South. We checked into lovely accommodation at Taylormade B&B. Doug and Diane were such warm hosts, it was wonderful. Saturday would be a long day of 28K while we hiked a number of Side Trails at the north end of Whippoorwill Bay. It was on this day that we met our first and only Massasauga Rattle Snake curled up in a sunny spot on the Forty Hills Side Trail; I almost stepped on it! After backing up and getting my breath back we took a very wide detour to avoid her, and continued onward (albeit a little rattled). The final stretch along Isthmus Bay Road was exhausting; it was hot and humid. We got some relief from the weather going up the Bannister Hill Side Trail, just past William Caves. We found a nice cool spot by a rock and just sat for a bit. We managed to finish up that day at McCurdy car park, getting us to Lion’s Head. After a little break we walked the Lion’s Head Village Side Trail, learned all about the pride of this quaint little village with the million-dollar view, enjoyed a nice dinner and called it a night. Lion’s Head was going to be a challenge. We had one day left to hike, and we would either do White or Blue, but either way, we’d be doing it twice. We opted for White and completed another 15K from McCurdy to Cemetary Rd; 63.8K completed.
It was a few more weeks until we could return; family and work commitments got in the way. While I was busy with a family camping trip in Killbear, Wendy took to the trails in Lion’s Head and completed the side trails on August 10th. I headed up early on August 16th, and did the same. By the time we met up on Friday evening at Hope Bay Campground, we had made it to Barrow’s Bay. Saturday was to be an exciting day for me. I was pumped to hike the very recently opened section of White and Blue in Barrow’s Bay, including the Beth Gilhespy Side Trail. I was feeling a great sense of honour and respect for Beth’s work with the Conservancy and dedicated today’s hike to her. We even explored some of the area that would eventually meet with the Barrow’s Bay Side Trail, and enjoyed that we would never again walk the 9K stretch of road to Rush Cove. Hope Bay was a great spot to camp, incredible scarp views and gorgeous sunrises. After our 26K hike on Saturday we returned to a community BBQ and enjoyed a delicious Après Hike meal. The weather was perfect and after 3 days we completed another 60.6K of our journey.
I spent a lot of time between hikes studying the maps, trying different configurations, and putting together the next series of hikes; it was challenging. By my estimates, we still had 110K remaining, and one final weekend to hike before the fall hike schedule took over. I knew we had to make every moment count to finish this project by the end of Labour Day weekend. I scheduled 4 hikes totaling 89.5K and left the remaining 21.4K to chance; chance being weather, technical difficulty, time and wellness. It was an aggressive goal given that we also had 3+ hours driving (one way) on Friday and needing to return Monday.
Planning was everything, so before we we headed home from Hope Bay two weekends before, we stopped at Cape Croker to see what was available. We found a gem of a site right on the beach with gorgeous views of Sydney Bluffs (site #191), so wasted no time booking it!
Friday: I left Pickering well ahead of the morning rush at 4:45am and met Wendy in Hopeness at 8:30am; we had 21K to do, linking back to Jackson’s Cove, and finishing at Brock St. in Hope Bay. A very cute story along the way as we hiked from Jackson’s Cove Rd to Jack Poste Side Trail, I discovered a 4th Instar Monarch caterpillar on my sleeve; I must have picked it up at the road. I have a very intimate affiliation with Monarchs, having raised many over the years, and a dedicated Milkweed garden on my property. This little one, needed to get to some milkweed! I carried it on my sleeve for 8K until we finally found Milkweed and other 5th instar caterpillars at the car park on Cathedral Dr. I was happy to return her to feeding and since we were continuing on, checked in twice more to see that she was eating well on the milkweed. We got our hiking done and headed to our campsite at Cape Croker to set up. I shan’t say we lasted long once we had dinner and a short fire we were spent!
Saturday: The scheduled hike was 26K and included all of Sydney Bay Bluffs including Hart’s tongue and Boundary Bluffs Side Trails, as well as Jones Bluff; all very challenging. We also needed dinner, and being so close to Wiarton, we wasted no time making a reservation at our favourite restaurant, The Green Door. After dinner, we decided we would tackle the Gravelly Point Side Trail, an out and back 4.5K hike with a beautiful cobblestone beach at the end and a nice meander along a cart road to get there. We finished in the dark, but the extra effort got us 32K closer to the goal. No fire tonight!
Sunday: I had scheduled 24Kto cover the whites and blues from Jones Bluffs to Malcolm Bluff, but because we did extra mileage the day before, I had a great feeling we’d be able to cover more today. We did 4 hikes in one, extending our hike to 32.5K, getting to Crawford Drive Side Trail in great time, and driving into Wiarton to finish the day with Spirit Rock/Wiarton Side Trails; we were focused and the end was in sight! We actually had time to return to camp, cook dinner, and enjoy a lovely sunset over Sydney Bluffs. As I worked on recalculating the final day, I knew we could get this done; we had only 26K left. We could do it!
Monday: I was up at 5am. It was Monday and my work alarm was going off. I got up, made tea, and started to strike camp. Wendy got up at 6am, a little disoriented, but between us, we got packed up, shuttled a car to Bluewater Park in Wiarton, and drove to Colpoy's Bay to hike from Km 6.6 to Crawford via the Blues and hit it home on the Whites from Km 12.8 to Km 0. Whicher and Colpoy’s Bay Side trails were an easy cart track, so we moved fast, but once on the Whites, we had to deal with a lot of Poison Ivy. I took it slow, careful with my steps, but we got back to Colpoy's Bay and the rest was just awesome. The trek past the stone silo, crossing over Bruce Rd 9, paying tribute to the Peninsula Pioneer, and of course the Spirit Rock Spiral staircase. We arrived at Km 0 in good time! Back up and over to Rural Rocks for the final Blue. I’ve hiked this loop several times, and become very good friends with the lovely landowners. For some reason, this time, the rocky side of the loops, and Obese just seemed insane! We couldn’t fit through the narrow passages with backpacks, and it was work to navigate the big rocks! “Last but not least!” as the saying goes. We came out to the car park at 3:30p. We had done it! Chance was on our side; focus and determination paid off. With the return trip home lingering, we visited Tom and Dee quickly for hugs, and set off to get Wendy to her car and get home to the city. We had fortunately missed the rush, and our return drive was great. Home by 7pm!
And that my hiking friends is how to complete a goal! Idea >> plan >> action >> focus >> discipline>>perseverance = success!! Peninsula Blue & White 2019 complete.
Side Trails pay tribute to all the generous landowners, volunteers, pioneers, and contributors to this wonderful ribbon of wilderness. They preserve the trail in perpetuity, and lead to some pretty awesome geological points of significance. Geology and history is so important in the ongoing efforts of the Bruce Trail Conservancy. I’m so proud to be a member and contributor of the Bruce Trail. It doesn’t happen without passion and effort. On the trail we met other hikers enjoying the challenge, couples and families taking time out to enjoy a day in nature. We met volunteers, taking time from their day to maintain the trails, and the evidence of all the wonderful work of the Peninsula Bruce Trail Club. Thank you! And Thanks to Lloyd Hayward for meeting us on the roadside days after we finished to present us our badges; great chatting with you Lloyd!
And finally, a big hug to my dear friend and hiking accomplice, Wendy. I couldn’t ask for a better team!