Up the Peninsula: Wiarton to Lion's Head A Bruce Trail adventure

The summer was passing quickly. Two weeks went by and I was anxious to get another two days of running the Bruce Trail on the books. As it was almost back to school time, the kids and Aaron were game to make another family trip out of it. I was prepared to run the whole thing solo, but was glad when David Varty, having just completed the 100 K Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race (BMPR) the day before, decided to join me for my first day, knowing it would be good training for his upcoming 100 mile race at Haliburton.

As Oakville is 3 hours away from Wiarton, I set off super early Sunday morning, the kids and Aaron still peacefully asleep as I packed my car. They would join me later in the day at our motel in Wiarton bringing our golden retriever Finnegan with them. Glad the motel was dog-friendly!

David and I met at our end point for the day at Brock Rd near Hope Bay/41.1 k. We left David's car there and hopped into mine heading to our start point in Wiarton at the zero marker of the Peninsula section. As David stayed overnight in Owen Sound, he had already dropped a cooler with water at Coveney's Hill, ~21 k north on the trail.

As David is very familiar with this section of the Bruce Trail, being a BMPR veteran, he warned me about the technical sections that were ahead of us and more that I would face the next day. As two weeks had past, the Palisades and Bug Forest of Doom were distant memories so it didn't really phase me. Sure, I knew from reputation that the peninsula was challenging, but that the views were going to be superb. Totally worth long days of rock-hopping and stump-jumping!

The first memorable ascent would be up the spiral staircase to the Spirit Rock Conservation Area. The stairs seemed a bit worse for wear, but I tried not to think too much about plummeting to my death as I made my way up. As we traveled along the Malcolm's Bluff, the view of Colpoy's Bay was fantastic. It was cool seeing Skinner's Bluff from this vantage point as I'd run that ridge 2 weeks prior and had seen where we were now. Continuing along, we saw a number of islands opening up to the Georgian Bay beyond. Magnificent views - check.

Left: David Varty Ascending the Spiral Staircase. Upper Right: Looking out at Colpoy's Bay. Skinner's Bluff is opposite. Lower Right: Looking at White Cloud Island and Griffith Island beyond from Malcolm Bluff.

After going through Malcolm Bluff Shores Nature Reserve, the trail turned inland as we proceeded to our water drop. It felt like we had to run forever, descending yet another sketchy looking set of stairs as a sort of test to claim our reward. We passed it with flying colours and after another zigzag through the forest, we finally reached our pit stop. I was super excited to see that David had brought chips and a cooler with cold water, chocolate bars (mmm) and fruit. I have to say, I never used a MARS bar as running fuel before, but it definitely hit the spot!

Moss Crevice Ladder, just after 20.6 k marker aka "Sketchy Stairs before our Water Drop"

Refreshed and on a sugar high, we climbed up Jones Bluff to gaze over Cape Croker and the land of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation. Pushing on, we heard what sounded like drumming coming from the valley below. It felt like we were being welcomed as we entered their sacred land. A lush forest lay beneath us stretching out to Cape Croker. We could see Sydney Bay and Sydney Bluff. In an hour or two we would be running there and looking back to where we were now.

Left: David Responding to the Call of the Drum, Middle: Sydney Bay and Sydney Bay Bluff, Right: Cape Croker

We descended the escarpment at Sydney Bay Road, turning left on Park Road toward the Cape Croker Indian Park. Several cars whizzed past, some slowing to take a look wondering what the heck we were doing there. The next thing we knew we were in the middle of a pow wow. A kindly fellow said we could take a look around for free as the festivities were coming to a close, but we decided we didn't want to get waylaid and pressed forward through the campground, emerging onto a nicely maintained never-ending boardwalk at least 2 k long.

Left: Running through a Pow Wow, Right: David on the never-ending boardwalk

Then, up, up, up we climbed Sydney Bluff to gaze over Sydney Bay and see Jones Bluff/Cape Croker where we first heard the pow wow drums.

From Sydney Bluff Lookout: Sydney Bay, Jones Bluff and Cape Croker

Then, we turned inland, a mere 5 k from our finish. While we appreciated crossing the Bluff to see Hope Bay on the other side, we didn't stop to take any pictures at the outlooks as we were ready to be done for the day. Of course, we had to climb down one last rickety ladder to earn our prize. Another 40+ k day on the Bruce complete. (Aside: David's rigorous training paid off as he went on to finish his first 100 mile trail race at Haliburton 3 weeks later well before the 30 hour cut-off time. Congrats David for an incredible season!!)

Ladder at ~40 k Bruce Trail Peninsula Section

The second day, I was up and at 'em early leaving my family sleeping again. My friend Christina was set to meet me halfway to run the last 22 k to Lion's Head where Aaron would be waiting to pick us up. I drove to Scenic Caves Road and Rush Cove Road (60.2 k), dropped water and proceeded to Hope Bay. It was a glorious morning.

Morning at Hope Bay

The first 2 k into my run, I passed a woman with a huge backpack who was hiking around 20 k a day to complete the trail end to end. That pack looked heavy and I marvelled at how she'd navigated on rocky and steep terrain. She was in bright spirits and I took the opportunity to ask her about what she did for water. It was nice to come across a fellow traveler and talk trail talk. Yet, I still had a long way to go and Christina would be driving 3+ hours to meet me so I didn't linger long.

David warned me that it would be slow going once I got around Hope Bay and started climbing the peninsula. I didn't realize exactly how rocky it would be. Needless to say, my well-laid plans to get to Christina on schedule were deteriorating, but I was enjoying the scenery, including the glacial sinkholes, many of which looked like man-made wells. Of course, the view of Hope Bay was stupendous, the water shining like ribbons in a myriad of shades of blue and green. It reminded me of the Caribbean, especially the British Virgin Islands where I sailed years ago.

Upper: Glacial Sinkholes, Lower Left: Me, Smiling at the Beauty of the Water, Lower Right: Hope Bay

The trail was challenging, but the surroundings were breath-taking and I couldn't help but take a few (ok, maybe more than a few) pictures, knowing that Christina, a fellow photographer, artist and incredibly cool person would understand.

Clockwise from Upper Left: Sunshine on Hope Bay • Large Glacial Erratic Suspended in a Crevasse • The Omnipotent Ancient Face of the Escarpment • Lookout over Georgian Bay, Barrier Island, Cape Croker and Jackson's Cove • Sign for Lookout • Jackson's Cove

Although Christina and I were set to meet at the water drop, we revised plans to meet before then so she could run a few extra k instead of waiting around. Thus, we ended up meeting at the parking lot at Rush Cove Side Trail/56.6. I was glad as we started out close to the water and I could share my enthusiasm over it's colour and clarity.

Rush Cove

We made good time, the first 12 k of our run on the road. Then we got to Lion's Head Provincial Nature Reserve. It was time to climb and soak in the scenery, taking photos as we went. At McKay's Harbour, the trail dropped down to the water and we balanced on stones making our way across the beach. It was pretty and precarious. Good for core/stability training, right?

Left: Christina Taking a Picture at a Lookout over Barrow Bay, Center/Right: Cobblestone Beach at McKay's Harbour

Surviving the beach without twisted ankles, we turned inland passing a huge fallen boulder and an harrowing overhanging ledge. Yes, yet another photo op!

Overhanging Ledge

Then up we went climbing to Lion's Head Point and a jaw-dropping view of the Georgian Bay. Of course, I had to sit there and dangle my feet over the edge of the cliff taking it all in. Christina caught me in the act and I didn't realize it until she sent me the photo a few days later.

Photos at Lion's Head Lookout

That said, it seems she took a few more including the ones below which show off her artistic eye.

Lion's Head Lookout

Happy with all the great moments we captured, we continued on. The trail was painfully slow the next 4 k. When we reached the parking area at McCurdy Drive/80.3 k, we were relieved to be back on the road and only had another kilometer or two to the parking lot at Lion's Head Harbour.

All said and done, Christina, who had only signed up to do just over 20 k ended up doing almost 30 k. What a trooper! At Aaron's car, while I had my protein drink and took off my sweaty hydration vest, she went to soak her poor feet in Isthmus Bay. Another long and fun day on the trail complete and only another 84 k to go to complete my end to end journey!

Feeling happy at Lion's Head Lookout - Great view and company


Lori J. Ference, Christina Blackley

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