Five stand-outs from Pukaskwa’s Coastal Hiking Trail

Pukaskwa National Park

By Kat Trivers

My first trek down Pukaskwa’s Coastal Hiking Trail was in 1995. Two decades and two kids later, I set off down the rugged coastline of Lake Superior again. It was a trip I will never forget. My reasons for hiking the trail then and now were quite different.

Fisherman’s Cove campsite at sunset.
Fisherman’s Cove campsite at sunset. © Parks Canada

In 1995, my trip was through Outward Bound, the outdoor leadership school. For me, it was a life-guiding adventure at the naive and hope-filled age of 15. This past summer, I hiked the trail for work! I am the Internet Content and New Media Officer Parks Canada in Northern Ontario. We’re always looking for new content for Pukaskwa’s website. So, my boss suggested I tag along as the photographer on the annual Park staff trip. I jumped on this opportunity – what computer geek mom wouldn’t? Right? I assumed this would be a total breeze, having done it before. It wasn’t, at all. As soon as we hit the first river crossing, all the hard work it took in 1995 came flooding back.

The Coastal Hiking Trail is a difficult hike, to put it lightly.

Our Coastal Hiking Trail Trip Plan:

  • June 9, 2014: Boat shuttle from Hattie Cove, drop off at North Swallow (58.7 km), hiked to White Gravel River (13.9 km)
  • June 10: Fisherman's Cove (7.1 km)
  • June 11: Fish Harbour (12.3km)
  • June 12: Willow River (9.0 km)
  • June 13: Hiked out to trail head, Hattie Cove (16.4 km)

I don’t have a long list of epic adventures to my name. I’m not an adrenaline junkie or huge outdoor recreationist. I’m not expecting a knock on my door from Red Bull anytime soon. I day-hike as a weekend activity. That said, I’ve had plenty of set-backs and triumphs in life to prepare me for this hike. So I went for it, boldly, knowing I’d be with a good team and that I had a lot to offer.

The backcountry changes you; it becomes a part of you and changes your perception of everyday things. You forget about the bugs, bone chilling shivers, blisters and massive rock faces you think you’ll never conquer - because the reward is so great. I reread my journal from 1995, and reflected on the 2014 trip. Here are my top five stand-outs of the Coastal Hiking Trail.

1. Light in the dark.

My whole life I have feared the dark. But in nature, darkness never feels like its definition – the absence of light. Sunsets, stars and the moon. There is always a source of natural light, even in the darkest sky. Let’s be real; sleeping under the natural night sky! How can that not be amazing?

The natural light of the night sky.
The natural light of the night sky. © Parks Canada

2. Flat Terrain.

As a metaphor for life, you don’t realize how thankful you are for flat terrain, until you’re so desperately out of breath because of a massive hill you just climbed. But, without having climbed it, you would never come to appreciate the rest. These moments on the trail, when you know you have two kilometres ahead of you with no elevation, are priceless. Moments filled with the most ridiculous jokes, absurd stories and memory making laughter.

Inland, on the Coastal Hiking Trail.
Inland, on the Coastal Hiking Trail. © Parks Canada

3. Ego in check.

At the risk of sounding like a quote from a Facebook meme: to stand immersed in something so vast makes you appreciate how small we really are. It’s being at the mercy of the unique and profound natural world, a world more powerful than you’ll ever be. Everyday life has a hard time recreating this deep sense of gratitude and reward.

No walls out here!
No walls out here! © Parks Canada

4. Community.

The backcountry bonds people. You depend on one another. Everyone contributes; sometimes in big ways, sometimes small. Nothing you do for someone else on the trail is taken for granted. It can be as simple as holding back tree branches, cooking dinner, pumping water, or offering encouraging words. The community bond you create on the Coastal Trail is one you never forget. Thank you to my co-workers who made this experience a community. Moreover, thank you for your friendship.

Our community: Courtney, Jenni, Annique, Serafina, Joshua and Kat
Our community: Courtney, Jenni, Annique, Serafina, Joshua and Kat © Parks Canada

5. Dry hiking boots, and warm dry socks.

Nothing compares to this feeling. NOTHING. Enough said.

Hiking boots. It’s all about the base.
Hiking boots. It’s all about the base. © Parks Canada

The connection I made with Pukaskwa in 1995 stayed with me and was the underlying reason I accepted my job with Parks Canada in 2010. It is an honour to be part of a team protecting our natural world and sharing its humbling beauty with Canadians.

This hike was my boss’s idea; and it was so worth it.

Bug jacket yoga!
Bug jacket yoga! © Parks Canada
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