Solo Backpacking Trip in the Bruce Peninsula

A couple weekends ago I went up to Owen Sound to deliver work for a show at the Owen Sound Artist's Co-op. It's almost a 3 hour drive each way from my house, so I figured I'd make an extended stay of the trip and take myself out on a date.

Although I love people, I am most definitely an introvert, and I find time by myself incredibly fulfilling, refreshing, and rejuvenating. After a couple busy months in the store and teaching classes three nights a week, I was really looking forward to some time alone with my thoughts, or simply some moments of silence.

The Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON

I decided it was a good time to go on my first solo backpacking trip.

I've camped by myself before, and I've backpacked before, but I've never done both, together. Our usual backpacking trips are portage excursions, so we travel most of the distance in our canoe, and other than our Grand Canyon hike, I really have not done a lot of long distance hiking. This was an opportunity for a lot of "firsts".

I picked up the Bruce Trail at the end of Crane Lake Rd, just south of Tobermory, and hiked the 8km trail to the High Dump sidetrail leading to Georgian Bay. The trail started off relatively flat and gravelly, with markers along the side of the path counting 1, 2, 3... I thought "Wow, I've gone 2km already? This is a piece of cake!"

That was until I reached "8", and there was no sidetrail to be seen. So I kept going. 9, 10, 11.... The trail became more rocky and undulating. I passed three lakes and crossed a river over a log bridge. I had to slow my pace to avoid slipping on patches of ice, and to clamber under fallen trees. By marker 13 I started to wonder if I was lost. "Did I miss the sidetrail?" "Did I even take the right trail to start with?" "Worst case scenario, I will set up my tent in the middle of this trail and sleep here."

Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON

Turns out those numbers were 1/2 km markers, and the trail was not quite the "piece of cake" I had thought. But I still made it, albeit with a couple blisters on the bottom of my left foot.

By the time I got to the side trail (a steep, ice covered scramble down a rocky cliff) and made it to my site, I was beat, and ready for some dinner. I set up camp, sat on the beautifully white stone beach, and listened to the waves while my dinner cooked on the campstove. I sat there watching the sunset, reading my all time favourite book "THE ROAD", and then zipped myself up into my tent with my raincoat on. (Note to self: buy a one person tent for the next solo hike - the two man tent loses too much heat). I slept relatively soundly through the night, listening to the crash of the waves on the smooth rocks. I wondered about bears, but I had my hunting knife and bear horn next to my head if needed.

Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON
Georgian Bay, High Dump
Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON

It's a really interesting feeling - to be a little nervous, a little scared. I've felt this way before, on many occasions walking alone through the city at night. It's not like watching a scary movie, where you know something is going to pop around the corner but you just don't know when. It's less knowing than that. It's quiet. You know the likelihood is that all will be well, and you'll wake up in the morning and pack up and watch the squirrels and birds and walk back to your car without seeing a soul.

But there is a sense of vulnerability being out in the woods by yourself. And I kind of love it.

Georgian Bay, Tobermory ON

At 7am I was up, packing up my tent, sleeping bag and ground pad, and setting out for my car. It was a beautiful weekend for a hike, and just 2 hours later I was back at my little Toyota, stripping off my stinky sweaty clothes and tending to my blistered feet.

It was a successful first solo backpacking excursion, and the only thing I forgot was my toothbrush.

Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

Page AZ is a wee little city with an incredible number of places to visit. Between the lakes, canyons and hiking spots, you could spend several days in this one city and keep yourself entertained. We only had the morning to explore, so we decided to splurge and take a tour of Upper Antelope Canyon.

Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics

Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are exclusively visited through tour guides, for a number of reasons. Located on the Navajo Reservation, the canyon (sometimes called "Corkscrew Canyon") is a quarter mile long and 130ft deep. Like Jesse mentioned in his blog post about Spooky Gulch - slot canyons are Dangerous with a capital D, in rainstorms. With the volume of visitors that Antelope Canyon gets every year, you wouldn't want to be trapped in a 130ft deep canyon with dozens of people when a flash flood hits.

Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics
Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics

Visiting in the winter time meant that we didn't get the same bright colours or light beams that a summer visit would provide - but there were fewer people, and for a cold January morning there were still more people than I really preferred.

Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics
Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics

Antelope Canyon is the most photographed slot canyon in Arizona - photographers travel from all over the world to spend time in this canyon and capture its beauty. And for good reason - it makes for remarkable photographs! National Geographic once asked to capture the flash flooding in the canyon and secretly bolted their cameras to the (millions of years to carve out) canyon walls. When the flash flood came through, it ripped their equipment off the walls and carried it away - the cameras (and footage!) were never seen again. (Karma's a bitch, National Geographic.)

Upper Antelope Canyon | Emma Smith Ceramics

We got some spectacular photographs, but to be honest, the atmosphere was a let down. I can imagine the canyon would be a very spiritual, serene, and moving place to be - if you were alone. But we weren't. We were shepherded along in a group of 6 (we were told this was a small group) with a tour guide chattering on about all the different rock formations, where exactly we should aim our cameras, and what filters to use. We got some great photos, but the photos are much more incredible than the experience was. There was no time to quietly enjoy, reflect, or wander off on your own.

If you're going to visit Arizona, Antelope Canyon is worth visiting - but only if you have extra time. There are so many other sites to see that (for an adventurer) would be more rewarding.

On our way to the Grand Canyon, we stopped at Horseshoe Bend - another famous landmark where the Colorado River (the same river that carved out the Grand Canyon) makes a sharp horseshoe curve. The short hike to the bend brings you to the cliff's edge where you can look down and see the river wrapping like a snake around the rocks below.

Horseshoe Bend

And then we were off to the Grand Canyon - the highlight of the trip (for me) and a place I will go back to, MANY more times.
That's up next, and until then, thanks for reading!

Zion National Park

Day 10 Soundtrack:

Morning - Vaudevillian, Salty Dog

Late Morning - The Beatles, White Album

Evening - The National, Boxer

When we do this trip again (because we plan on it.... maybe in the spring though) we will give ourselves more time to get to the Grand Canyon.

In order to stay at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the GC, you need to book your trip well in advance. We were lucky, and due to the time of year, we were able to get a cabin with only two months notice. But if you were going peak-season, you'd need to book 6-12 months ahead of time.

Our trip-planning process was looser than most - we booked our stay at GC for January 10th, giving ourselves 12 days to drive down and make some stops along the way. Other than our first stay at Starved Rock State Park (because the friendly border patrol guards want to know you're not just gallivanting around the States with no itinerary), we didn't book a single thing the whole trip - we would spend each day of driving looking online or phoning parks to make sure we could stay there for the night. If we couldn't get a hold of them, we just showed up, and hoped for the best (this only backfired on us once... stay tuned for another blog post).

Canyon Overlook Trail Zion National Park
Zion National Park

The only problem with this plan was that we quickly ran out of time to see all the things we wanted to see. We could have spent all 12 days at any one park!  (Except maybe that night in Brush CO - no offense, Brush)

And so it was that we had 48 hours to get from Escalante UT to The Grand Canyon AZ, with about a billion things still on our list. No surprises - there were things we didn't get to do, and places we didn't stay long enough. This is where the "when we do this trip again" comes in...

En route to GC we were within a stone's throw of Zion National Park, so we decided to take a slight detour and spend a few hours there (not nearly long enough!) before continuing to Page AZ where we would spend the night.

Zion Canyon
Scenic Drive Zion Canyon

With only a few hours in one of the most well-known and beautiful parks in the US... what to do? You ask a ranger, and follow their suggestions.

First we drove the length of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (normally a shuttle-bus-only road in peak-season, the SD was open to personal vehicles for the winter). We were able to take our time, stopping at the scenic views and lookouts along the way, and finally ended at Temple of Sinawava where we took in the waterfall view while snacking on smoked oysters and trail mix. I half expected to see a pterodactyl come sweeping down from the cliff tops, or a tyrannosaurus come barreling through the trees. There was something especially prehistoric and grandiose about this place. If there is another Jurassic Park movie in the future - they should film it here (but don't, you'd ruin it).

Canyon Overlook Trail
Checking out the view
Canyon Overlook Trail
Zion Canyon

After driving back up many switchbacks, and barreling through the Mt. Carmel tunnel, we parked and hiked up the Canyon Overlook Trail which, SURPRISE, overlooks the canyon. It was a slightly treacherous hike up, with spotty sections of ice, loose rocks and steep drop-offs, but we made it to the top and were thrilled that we did (Thanks ranger!) The view was astounding - red cliffs stretching out into the distance as far as the eye could see. And though there were spots with railings for the folks with height-related fears, there were lots of perching opportunities for those without. But please, don't fall!

The Edge

Wecontinued on to Page AZ where we quickly lost cellphone reception (thank you, all of Northern Arizona, for your terrible cell reception) and wandered around for a bit looking for an appropriate place to camp for the night. In our wandering, we discovered that you can easily get McDonalds WiFi from the parking lot, and returned to the parking lot on 3 separate occasions that evening after finding that the sites we looked for no longer existed (or maybe never did?), were closed, or were merely a patch of dirt at the side of the highway.

We finally found a nearby RV and tent park that accepted late arrivals, and set up camp.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park
Canyon Overlook Trail
Zion National Park