La Cloche Silhouette Trail: Day 7 (You Live and You Learn)
I could glimpse the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise through my tent.
I willed my eyes to open, and went out to take in a glorious view of the grey clouds, tinged with pink, over a placid David Lake.
It was 6:30 am and chilly, enough for a toque. Last night had dropped down to 10 degrees, the coldest it had been all trip, and I had buried my head under my sleeping bag to stay warm.
By the time I packed up though, the skies were completely clear. I was so grateful for the calm after the storm (literally)!
Life on the Granite Highway
The day was off to a wonderful start, as I hiked the first section of the “granite highway” on the La Cloche Silhouette Trail.
I was baking in the sun, but every so often, a cool breeze would sweep through and cool me down, as I walked along the exposed ridges.
Along the left side were panoramic views of the lakes, mountain ridges, and Kirk Creek valley. All varieties of bright, white clouds dotted the baby blue skies overhead.
Since today’s intention was “learn”, I decided to take my time on the trail to observe what was on it.
Day 7 Intention: Learn
Take the time to understand the things you’ve taken for granted around you, so that you develop a deeper appreciation for, and more meaningful relationship with, them.
The La Cloche Silhouette Trail Guide is an awesome book. I enjoy bringing it on my trips, not just for the detailed descriptions of the trail, but for the context it provides on the history, landscape, and animals of Killarney Provincial Park.
I wanted to learn more from the book about what I was seeing on the trail. Things that, over time, had simply blended into the scenery.
Day 7 Route (David to Little Mountain) = 6.4 km
For instance, the book had mentioned that many types of lichens grew in the park. And here I thought there were only two kinds — the green kind and the sunburnt variety.
But as I roamed about, I noticed there were some lichen that looked like tiny, sprouting starbursts of green, while others seemed to grow in velvety patches.
Others yet appeared dry and crunchy, their colour faded to the shade of celery.
It was pretty incredible to read that lichens only grow two to four millimetres each year.
All that work, yet they could be wiped away in an instant by rain, snow, animals, and, of course, unmindful hikers.
I tried to sidestep as many of the delicate lichen as I could, as I went on my way.
Continuing onward, I snapped photos of various things I had been curious about while hiking the trail the past few days, but hadn’t taken much time to stop and observe closely.
I admired the various trees and shrubs growing high up here. I felt like an aspiring scientist or — dare I say it — like the little kid who once poked at potato bugs in her backyard in wonder.
Up here, on the exposed ridges, only certain plants could survive.
The book mentioned that many of the trees here had become “stunted and twisted from the force of the prevailing west winds; a process known as ‘flagging’.”
Indeed, the leaning, wind-swept tree seemed to be an iconic emblem of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail, reflecting the trail’s oftentimes rough, unforgiving terrain — for both plants and hikers alike.
I suddenly stopped as the view abruptly changed. A section of forest on the far, southeast ridge looked as though its trees had all burnt down.
I rifled through the guide, recalling something I had read previously about this area. The book explained that this forest had been destroyed as a result of the hungry Hemlock Looper worm.
Sadly, this disease is spreading throughout Killarney Provincial Park, as the worm continues to feed on the needles of the hemlock trees.
I stood on the ridge, in a moment of silence for the befallen trees, and hoped that most of the park would be safe from destruction for a long time to come.
This Is Bear Country
After a slow stroll of curiosity and wonder, I took one last look at the bright blue skies, and disappeared into the forest.
I continued taking photos of the different plants blooming on the trail, then came upon a pile of what I was sure was bear scat.
I snapped a quick photo, then got on my way. Not a second later though was another pile. Then another.
“Shit,” I said. Literally and in every other way.
I started walking faster, clanging my hiking stick against a rock with each step. The trail was narrow and twisting, making it difficult to tell what lay ahead at each curve.
At some point, I came to a small clearing and instinctively felt a hint of relief. But soon enough, I was back in the forest with yet another pile of scat in sight.
Part of me wanted to take the ignorance is bliss approach, but my scat senses were already honed to high alert.
By the time I had clanged my way through that stretch of woods, I had counted seven piles.
Unnerved, I walked through the next piece of granite highway for a bit until I found a spot to sit and take a breather.
I could see many metres in each direction. If a bear was coming, I’d be the first to know.
Suddenly, a figure appeared to my right. It was another solo hiker, silently drifting along the path. He was super slim, perhaps in his 30s, and was wearing a Patagonia t-shirt and shades.
I called out a greeting, relieved to see another person after my scat-sighting marathon.
He drew closer, and I learned that he had come from H31.
“Was it was a nice site?” I asked, figuring I could also learn about the hiking sites I hadn’t camped on yet.
“Yes,” he replied. “But when I got there, it was cold. So, I couldn’t really enjoy it.”
Quite frankly, he didn’t look like he was up for conversing.
“Anyways,” he said, and I took my cue to say goodbye.
With that, he vanished as soon as he had appeared.
I decided to also get going and came upon the next stretch of forest. Today’s section of the hiking loop definitely felt like the most isolated I had been on so far.
Earlier on, there had been connecting trails and portages for people to day hike the Crack and Silver Peak. But if you were on this forest trail or the granite highways, you were not just out for a stroll in the park.
Even for the backcountry, this felt eerily quiet. The wind had finally decided to take a break from the last two days of wreaking commotion throughout the park.
Aside from seeing the ghost of Patagonia, running into other hikers seemed highly unlikely up here.
I never did see another soul for the rest of the day.
I continued to clang my way through the forest. This was a much longer stretch and the narrow path continued to weave through the trees. And then I saw it.
Another pile. And another. Clang, clang, clang!
This was also the part of the trail that I remembered the least from my past two trips on the La Cloche. It definitely wasn’t helping to not know when this path of pooh would end.
This was all a reminder that I was indeed in Bear Country.
Although the chances of running into a bear out on the trail was slim, I knew that if I should ever encounter one, it would be a decisive moment where I’d either spring into action and spray that bear down, or simply crumble apart in fear.
Finally, the trail widened out. I plunged into a spacious part of the woods, glistening with green all around. The portage to Little Mountain Lake ran through here.
I carried on and came to a steep ascent, which I welcomed whole-heartedly, deducing that most bears wouldn’t want to attempt the balancing act here on the sideways slope.
I hit my first views of Little Mountain Lake and cheered inside.
Finally, I broke out to the viewpoint that spanned Little Mountain Lake, Great Mountain Lake and the Northern Ridges.
Onwards was more forest, so I decided to take off my pack, rest and regroup before dealing with any more woodly adventures.
As I gazed out at the beautiful landscape, and snacked on a Probar, I asked myself what I had learned from the whole scat escapade.
It had been reinforced that out here, fear did not help.
Fear made you seize up, paralyzed, as when the Mystery Creature had paid a visit to my tent the first night I ever went solo camping.
Fear reduced your knees to jello, as it did the first time tackling the Descent from Hell.
And fear — as I felt it when I saw the first few piles of scat today — put you into panic mode, which would not have helped in going all Revenant on a bear’s ass should it have appeared.
Being aware, calm, alert and using logic is what had helped me to not be afraid out in the backcountry, especially on my solo trips.
Satisfied with my reflection, I put on my pack and descended once again into the forest.
A few minutes later, I arrived at the hiking site sign that signalled the beginning of the 600 metre side trail to H33.
Right at the entrance of the side trail to greet me was — you guessed it — a pile of scat.
“Really?” I asked it.
It silently stared back up at me.
I sighed and moved past it, traversing the path that took me along sideways slopes, littered with giant, fallen logs.
It looked as though, with enough push from a storm, the logs could be sent sliding down the hill, straight into the campsite below.
I half expected to find a family of bears hanging out at the bottom, but when I arrived, all was quiet and empty.
Instead of setting up my tent right away, I decided that a fire was in order. If there were any bears around, the smoke would hopefully tell them that I had staked my territory.
I certainly couldn’t stand there and clang my hiking stick on a rock forever.
I had forgotten how comforting the smell of a campfire was. It was the first fire I had made since the fire ban had been lifted.
Later, I went out to the rock by Little Mountain Lake to give my brain a rest. The bright sun illuminated the clarity of the water and its aqua blue and emerald green hues.
The day had been both wondrous and perplexing. I had made it halfway around the La Cloche Silhouette Trail and had a lot to be proud of.
But I had also experienced my first real moments of feeling isolated and vulnerable on the trail.
And while I was now settled at camp, I wasn’t sure I had completely settled the fear that had been brewing inside me.
>> Read the next post in the La Cloche Silhouette Trail solo adventure series!: Courage in Fear
>> Map screenshot from Jeff’s Killarney Map