It’s April 30th, and if they haven’t already booked-up, then the summer months are at least in full-on scheduling mode for most of us. Be it weekend weddings, mid-week day camps, week-long cottage trips, off the grid, back-country excursions, backyard barbecues, or reserving yourself a weekend just to recoup, cut the lawn and finish the laundry, it fills up quick, and it fills up early. As we plan out this year’s adventures, I can’t help but think back to those we got to enjoy last year, and one of them seems to be sticking out more than others right now, which was when Alison and I ventured out on a backpacking hike in Tobermory.
We are fortunate that such beauty is only a stone’s throw away; something I think that can be said for most people living in Ontario who are willing to travel, give or take, 2-hours in any direction. I had been to Tobermory a handful of times before, but I’d never fully experienced it like this, and I can’t recommend it enough. With a little bit of planning, a few basic supplies, and a confirmation that the grandparents are wiling to watch the kids for a two nights, this is a journey we are eager to take again. While we are by far the first or last people to have walked these footsteps, because I am enjoying the reflection and memories, I thought I would share our experience of what went well, what could have gone better, and what to be prepared for in case you, too, are up for a little walk in the woods.
To start: in order to embark on a successful journey, one should first execute a successful plan. One does not simply walk into Tobermory. Just as you would not dig for treasure without a map; and one cannot create a map without some knowledge for the lay of the land. Unless, of course, you’re lucky; that happens too. But not here. Here, you need to plan.
Very specifically, you need to book your day(s) and your site(s) well ahead of time because a permit, both for parking and camping, are required and space is limited. Trust me, you do not want to embark on this hike only to discover that, because you didn’t book the site there is no platform for you to sleep and now you’re trekking all the way back, or creating some make-shift sleeping pad in the middle of the bush. Be respectful of others and book your site ahead of time. Here is a handy link for you:
So, first and foremost is where to park, which direction to walk, and what to be prepared for. When we planned our trip, we had it mapped for a two-night stay. I will spoil the ending for you now and admit that we bailed on the second night after we got rained on for a solid 10-hours. Thankfully we had our tent set up before the rain truly started to fall, but carrying wet gear is far heavier than dry gear, and we reached a point on our return hike when conversation fell to a haunting quiet, and we recognized that we were on the brink of no longer having fun and decided to call it a day. As a bonus, however, the kids still stayed that second night at the grands, so we just took it as a win to have the house to ourselves for a night. Not a bad thing to incorporate into your own plans…
That said, here is the route we started along and I would still recommend:
Park at Halfway Log Dump
Hike to High Dump camp site (~7km)
Hike from High Dump back to Stormhaven camp site (~9km)
Hike from Stormhaven to Halfway Log Dump parking lot (~2.5km)
Now, 7km may not sound like a great distance, but note that this trail is not a path. It is technical, slippery when wet, and requires a fair amount of both lower and upper body work. Strap a 40-pound backpack over your shoulders, and it gets even more challenging. Be prepared for a workout, and know that this is not a trek for the young or the frail.
That said, it will reward you with some of the most magnificent and peaceful views, as you hike high up along the coast line, immersed in quiet and serenity. Once you reach your destination, there is a final challenge of descending down to the rocky shores, at which point you will be provided with a view and experience that I honestly can’t put words to. Beautiful, calming, quiet, natural and refreshing. It’s an experience that you need to acquire for yourself.
The journey back from High dump to Halfway Log Dump was both better and worse all at the same time. Better because we knew what to expect and what our destination would look like. By contrast, on our first days’ journey, because we had never done this before, we kept wondering if we had passed our camp site, a feeling that was heightened by the fact that the trail markers are every 500ft, not every km, and so when we thought we were making killer time, we were only ever halfway to where we thought we were; shame on us for not researching that first. Worse because, as mentioned, our bags were soaked, heavy and uncomfortable. Don’t let that foil your plans of going. We would and will do it again; and the beauty of this route is that in order to get to your second night campsite you have to pass by the car again anyway, so you can make a game-time decision to bail if you end up in the same position we did.
There are essentials, and non-essentials to consider when planning your journey. Given our experience, I would recommend you focus on the essentials and treat this as a one or two night exercise in self-discipline. The, no joking, 3-pounds of peanut M&Ms that we packed along for example? You don’t need those. The 2 bladders of wine? Save them for when you get back home. The extra pair of dry socks? That’s where your energy should be focused.
With consideration for your own needs in mind, here is what I’d recommend:
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- While this seems excessive, I strongly recommend you bring this. There are plenty of lightweight versions nowadays, and given that you will be sleeping on a wooden platform after a very long walk, this is a life saver, especially when you’re over 40.
- Compressible Pillow (optional)
- Small stove & Fuel (don’t forget the matches / lighter
- Campfires are not permitted, so if you want hot food and coffee/tea, this is a must
- Small Pot
- Water Filter
- Spork & Bowl
- Freeze-dried meal
- there are so many options to purchase from MEC, SAIL, etc. or you can make your own!
- Coffee Thermos
- First Aid Kit
- Wool socks
- Rain Jacket – lightweight
- Playing cards…or Monopoly Deal
The food, drink, and snacks you bring are obviously of your own accord and taste, but pack light and easy. It’s about sustenance, and not about collecting your next Michelin star. Also, I cannot stress this enough: whatever you carry in, you are carrying out. There are no garbage bins, and please, please, please do not litter or burn your garbage. Ever. In life.
I use the word ‘amenities’ with a little tongue in cheek. You’re not going to a hotel. There is no sauna, shower, or, frankly, running water. You are off the grid and you need to accept and be comfortable with that. Amenities in this context, refers to the fact that there are bear poles to secure your belongings, which you must use. I don’t say that to scare you. Bears aren’t interested in people, they are interested in what people have, which is food. Leave your food up high and they will have no reason to tread closely to you or your precious peanut M&Ms.
As mentioned before, there are no fire pits, chairs, picnic tables, or volleyball nets; this isn’t that type of camping.
There are, however, rather nice compostable toilet facilities, wooden platforms for your tent/sleeping quarters, and, if I haven’t said it before: the most remarkable and breathtaking views. That’s about it. If that’s not enough, then this is likely not the trip for you.
My wife and I both described our experience as challenging, rewarding and positive, but we agreed it wasn’t what we would label as ‘fun’. It was something we are proud to have done, and we are looking forward to going back to explore the leg of the journey we had opted out of. It’s one I would even enjoy doing solo some day. The venture may not be for everyone, but I promise all those who take it will have an experience like no other.
That we can escape the hustle and bustle of our front yards to a completely serene locale in only a few hours is remarkable, welcomed and precious. Enjoy it.