Ganaraska End to End Challenge, Margaret O’Dell


The idea of hiking the Ganaraska Hiking Trail came on the heels of completing the 900Km Bruce Trail in September 2017. What were we going to do next? My long time friend and hiking partner Wendy Manning and I were enthusiastic to begin a new challenge together and made a plan during the winter of 2017/18 to hike one one of the most popular trails in England, the Coast to Coast Path, a 305Km epic adventure which we would complete in 12 days in May 2018. The GHT fit right in with our plans, offering a not only new challenge but a commitment to hiking as much as we could ahead of our trip. Being that it was also the 50th anniversary of the GHTA, it also made for a significant achievement to undertake.

With member, guidebook, and maps in hand, we exuberantly began in Port Hope on March 3, 2018. Pine Ridge was interesting with it’s rolling hills and unique landmarks; the rail trail through Kawartha took us through the towns of Lindsay and Fenelon Falls, along its scenic lakes and streams,  very picturesque, but the cool north wind chill and wintery conditions well into April made for challenging hikes. We ran into some trouble in the final section of Kawartha though, painstakingly trudging through very deep snow and had to bushwhack around impassable water crossings in the north end of Corben Lake to get back to the trail; one of many exhausting hikes!

Ahead of our trip to England in May we successfully completed 198Km of the trail, including two of the three hikes in the Wilderness section, but due to the water levels, the crossover would have to wait until we returned.

We planned to hike the Wilderness crossover in one day. There was little support for this giving the distance, and most people would backpack over a few days. Yet we were determined. We cancelled twice due to conditions, but finally got the opportunity on June 23rd. The beaver dams were all passable, as water levels had dropped, but blazes were almost impossible to spot in places, completed shrouded in growth; as was the trail, overgrown with ferns above our heads and thorny shrubs that left our legs shredded and bloodied. The going was slow, stopping often to consult the maps; each time I removed my head netting, the insects would attack with a vengeance. It took 13.5 hours to hike from Devil’s Lake to Victoria Bridge. Our nerves were rattled, and our minds to the point of breaking, but we did it! We got through the most difficult hike ever!

By mid July we were back on the trail again, having a renewed interest in continuing now that the worse was over, or so we thought. We took advantage of the two hike weekends by camping: Bass Lake PP,  for the Orillia section, Awenda for the Oro-Medonte/Midland/Tiny sections. Over Labour Day weekend we took a cottage for the Wasaga section. We still had the insects to contend with, but we also started notice an abundant varieties of interesting mushrooms in the Simcoe Country Forest Tracts. In mid-August we coined our hike of the Tiny section a “Hike with Monarchs”, such a joy to have them fluttering everywhere around us!

Every hike had its challenges: a lot of bushwhacking in very rough terrain and high grasses; heat and humidity that zapped our energy; navigating around countless fallen trees; and of course finding blazes to keep us on course. But with every challenge there were numerous surprises too, always an element of discovery: interesting landmarks, historical areas, beautiful scenery, and quaint communities.

Our final weekend of the GHT on September 8 and 9 proved no less of a challenge. We had 57.3Km to cover to get to the Western Cairn. The last section of Barrie had us crossing a vast section of high grasses for over a kilometer with very difficult to spot blazes. We eventually reached the forest, and to our excitement we finally find our very first Giant Puffball mushroom. The reward was a total thrill. The Mad River section followed a disused rail bed for 10K to New Lowell, interesting at first as it crossed both the Nottawasaga and the Mad Rivers. But it was so overgrown and challenging, we had to continually divert to road to get through it. But then at the end, we discovered a beautiful little trailer park (with facilities!) in New Lowell that brightened our spirits.

On the final day we ambled through the very scenic town of Creemore, stopping at a café, visiting Canada’s smallest Jail, and admiring a beautiful church; delightful! We knew the challenge was not over. After climbing the 400m Ten Hill with its spectacular views, we descended to an un-blazed field on Concession 6 S. We had to find our way to a tree-line, crossing a creek hidden by the high grasses; it was tasking and slow but we eventually found a place to cross the creek and head to the trees, fallen trees, everywhere. The challenges just kept coming. We did manage to find the blazes and continued through the forest. We would lose the trail once more in this final 5K stretch, but we found our way to Glen Huron, with only the victory climb up McKinney’s Hill to the Western Cairn. We made it! We popped open the champagne, sat on the Cairn and celebrated! We fought this challenge with courage and zest right to the end. There’s no reward better the feeling of accomplishment that comes with having worked through some really tough challenges.

507Km, 18 hikes! An extraordinary journey!

Leave a Reply