Every step sucked at my feet, trying to swallow me. A moist smacking sound followed each step. A wet squelch would come when I managed to pull my rubber boot free each time. It was me versus the mud and I was determined not to lose.
E and I were on an outdoor mission after hibernating for much of the winter. We were chasing waterfalls (did anyone else just hear TLC in their head? No? No?) and we had taken a day trip out to the Hamilton/Stoney Creek/Ancaster area from Toronto.
When people drive by Hamilton, Ontario, they’re greeted by steam belching from the smokestacks of the sprawling steel plant along the highway. But a short drive north sends you into the Niagara escarpment, a remarkably diverse ecosystem that boasts waterfalls of all shapes, sizes, and height, without the tacky glitz of Niagara Falls.
While some falls gush year-round, some dry to a trickle during the summer, and others run more powerfully due to snow melt and rainfall in the spring, so we figured that late March would be prime time to go. When I found out that there was a waterfall called the Devil’s Punchbowl, my 90’s grunge nerd self demanded that we go there.
The drive from Toronto took about 45 minutes. Parking is free, and there is a nice wheelchair-accessible path that goes through a circuit that lets visitors get a panoramic view of Hamilton. When E and I arrived, there were a handful of other cars in the gravel lot. The waterfall was so close that I could already hear the rushing roar.
We did a quick walk around the top, getting a view of the waterfall above. It took all of 10 minutes. But I’d heard that the real epic views are from the lower part of the falls, so down we went.
Within the first few metres of descending to the valley floor, I was full of regrets over my decision to wear my coat and bag. The stakes were suddenly raised for this supposedly-harmless adventure. Not only was it squishy under my feet, the incline meant that every mud-slicked step was a threat to my outrageously urban attire. If I slipped, it would be game over for my clothes.
I hiked up the shoulder strap of my bag and accepted the challenge, grabbing onto any stone, tree or branch available to help keep my footing.
On a beautiful late spring day or dry summer day, the walk would have been pleasant. E and I would swing our linked hands, all 50’s romantic style, admiring the late sun as we skipped leisurely towards the base of the Devil’s Punchbowl. In reality, we were constantly scrambling up and down, looking for less muddy options around waterlogged paths.
We passed by a second set of falls at the bottom of a set of wooden stairs that were eerily similar to the planks that I sprained my ankle on in Hawaii. I could hear the splash of the 37-metre waterfall in the distance. Yes, I thought as I felt the mist spray my face in the wind. My battle with the mud monster would be worth it. And then….and then….
….the trail ended.
We couldn’t find a way to get to the bottom of the falls. The rushing water covered any stepping stones that we could use to cross the stream. And I could see a fraction of the falls, teasing me just around the corner of the cliffs that were IN MY WAY. I got trolled by the Devil’s Punchbowl.
Nobody was around to hear my string of curses.
We had no choice but to turn back around, go over the branches, up the giant wooden stairs, and up the slippery mud back to the parking lot.
Despite the first failed attempt to get to the bottom of the falls (literally and figuratively!) it’s so close to Toronto that there’s a big up side. Devil’s Punchbowl, I’m coming back for you.