It had taken months of studying dark sky maps, searching for trails, and following weather conditions. All in the hopes of finally breaking free of the urban light pollution and seeing the dark night sky by nothing but the light of billions of stars. Many previous plans and attempts had been trumped by overcast skies. However, on this night, the conditions lined up in my favour.
It was a Friday afternoon when my friend and fellow adventurer Justin and I made the decision to take advantage of the night, optimistic to glimpse the beautiful stars and perhaps encounter some friendly wildlife. After months of planning and waiting, the 45 minute drive felt like nothing. We were finally there. We grabbed our gear, shut the car doors, and suddenly we were greeted by darkness and silence, not even a single gust of wind passed through the trees, only the stars guiding our senses.
We turned on our headlamps and proceeded to the beginning of the trail. Although we had hiked this trail before and I could imagine it in my head, the darkness engulfed us and made it difficult to find our way, especially in the dim light of our headlamps. Much of the trail which we had known was now flooded with water as spring was just around the corner. What had once been a barren clearing had now become a stream, too wide and too deep to cross, with no signs of fallen logs or any other way across. We followed the stream away from the main river in hopes of finding a way to traverse the creek. After following the stream east for a few minutes we picked up on the sound of rapids, which we hoped would mean a way across the water. Sure enough, to our luck, a narrow tree had fallen across the stream. We balanced our way across the tree, being careful not to fall in the icy flowing water, and made our way to where the trail picked back up again on the other side.
The trail was getting more and more flooded so we headed to the river, walking along the edge of the ice. As the ice started to thin and crack under our feet we were forced to head back into the forest which was covered in thick brush. As we were pushing our way through the tall grass I lost my footing and my boot cracked through a frozen section of the flooded woods and cold water trickled in. Luckily the swamp was not deep enough to be any big problem so we pressed on. Eventually we came across a sight familiar to us, two Muskoka chairs atop a small hill overlooking a vast opening in the river. We decided to take a short break to have a drink of water and admire the sky. We had been so caught up in trying to stay on the trail that we had forgotten to look up and appreciate the stars. I set up my tripod and took some photos in hopes to share and remember this experience. However, no photo would ever succeed in replacing an experience such as this.
As we continued along the trail we came to an area which had been covered in animal tracks in our last visit. They were now all washed away by the melting snow. My light caught something on the other side of the river as the eyes of a raccoon shone in the darkness, staring back at me. It stood there for a few moments, perhaps wondering who these new creatures were who illuminated the night, before continuing on its way. We were getting much closer to the falls now, with the sound of the rushing water getting less muffled by the trees with every step.
When we made it to the falls we turned off our headlamps and took a look at our surroundings. This was the best view of the stars we had seen all night. Sitting at the top of the waterfall we were able to see the sky in every direction. The powerful sound of the falls engulfed the silence of the night. I told Justin he was going to have to make the decision for us to leave because if it were left up to me, I would stay until my memory cards were full or all my batteries had died. We took one last look at our surroundings before heading home.
We tried to pick up the pace on our way back as it was getting very late and we still had a decent journey ahead of us. We took a small detour around the flooded area where my foot had fallen through and found ourselves on the side of a small cliff overhanging the river. We had to climb our way over and down sections of rock while watching for patches of ice which could send us tumbling. After finally meeting up with the trail again, we struggled to find our way through the disorientating darkness, but eventually found our way back to the car. It had been a successful night whether or not the photos turned out. I’m hoping to go back again this summer to spend a night or two camping on the crown land and to continue exploring High Falls.
Zach is a freelance photographer and currently studies geography at Trent University. He has been exploring the local areas around Peterborough while attending Trent University. His photography shows the pure beauty of the natural areas that surround this great community. Check out his Instagram account or follow him through Facebook.
Information about this High Falls adventure:
High Falls is a fantastic local conservation area that offers great paddling and hiking. This local gem offers a scenic hour-long hike that follows Eels Creek and culminates at High Falls, a beautiful cascade (water flow varies throughout the year). It's a great spot for a picnic and a beautiful area along Eels Creek. Follow Highway 28 north from Peterborough to Northey's Bay Road. Take Northey's Bay Rd to the bridge - parking lot is on the left. If you have time, also check out Petroglyphs Provincial Park just down the road.