THE DEVIL’S PUNCHBOWL

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I found an obscure path leading from the corner of the lookout platform. Since I was determined to explore the area at the bottom of the falls, I was willing to try it. Helen joined us from where she had been taking pictures of the urban scenery laid out before us. The path was ruggedly difficult. I even had to carry Tessi from one section to another. Just as I was getting worried about her paws finding one of the numerous pieces of broken glass littered about, which worsened as we descended, we reached an abrupt edge. Helen proceeded for a few feet along what appeared to be an overgrown bush-covered pathway tightly clutching the edge. She yelled back to me that the drop-off continued. She discovered a pile of junk - computer pieces and such - scattered at the bottom. I was feeling disappointed as we worked our way back to the top. The description I had read stated the trail descending to the bottom of the gorge was difficult; however, this seemed impossible. Searching for the Falls and Its Trail Numerous waterfalls dot the Niagara Escarpment as it runs through the Hamilton area. I had enjoyed our day trips to Webster's Falls and Tews Falls and was ready to explore another. From my research, the Devil's Punchbowl is said to be one of the nicest and according to MapQuest looked easy to find on the outskirts of the busy city. The ribbon-type cascade measures 37 m (121 ft) high. The wall behind it is filled with coloured layers of Silurian stratified rock. As interesting as it was to view the falls and Hamilton from above, the depths of the gorge beckoned me to explore further. I had to find the trail I had read about. My usual pals, Tessi and Helen, were along for the ride. Getting to the falls proved a challenge. The directions on the map I found on MapQuest seemed simple. The problem was I didn't look beyond the area we were headed for. Further west, where we decided to turn to connect to the needed Mud Road, we passed over the four-lane Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway. Not knowing this highway changed into Mud Road led us to travel to the northern edge of the city and back again. When we finally arrived at the falls, I wanted to make the most of the visit to make up for the hassle of getting there. After we returned to the top of the cliff from that difficult path, of which I decided must be someone's party area, we reluctantly started back to the car. I first decided to walk along the edge of the treed area to see if a route to the gorge would appear out of nowhere. Sure enough, I chanced on a partly hidden opening with a sign indicating the way to the Bruce Trail, which would take us to our destination. A Little Poison in the Mix The forest floor was a stunning sea of green. When I looked closer at the plants bordering the trailhead, they looked suspiciously like poison ivy. I have read that sections of the Bruce Trail are covered in the nasty plant. At first I thought all the foliage was poison ivy, but on looking closer, I realized most of the plants had more than three leaves on a stem. We could steer clear of the threatening ones as the path was wide at this spot. I had to be careful with Tessi. Though she wouldn't break out in a rash herself, she could get the oils on her fur and transfer it to us when we touch her. We would have to watch where we walked since there would likely be more. The fact that Helen has easily suffered from several rashes in the last few years suggests she is very susceptible. (She figures they've come from tents she has fixed as part of her sewing business.) I once suffered such a rash as a child, so I wasn't sure how my body would react. The steep trail narrowed. Plants came up to our waist and higher, crowding us as we walked. The route widened as we joined the Bruce Trail at the bottom of the hill. I tried to keep a lookout for more poison ivy, but only glimpsed one patch. I warned Helen, who lagged behind while taking pictures. Other Visitors I let Tessi loose once we came to a set of widely spaced steps. She led us down to the swiftly moving Stoney Creek, where she immediately stepped out on the multi-level flat rocks for a drink. Fortunately, the current wasn't strong. I grabbed and held onto her when a man appeared with his leashed dog until they disappeared up the steps. We followed the route along the water, passing the 6 m (20 ft) Lower Punchbowl Falls. Tessi stayed on the pathway, which was close to a somewhat short drop-off. I made her heel as we skirted a spot where the edge had eroded away part of the path. Back at the steps, we had passed a photographer, who had been carrying his professional-type camera and tripod. (I remember when I was so disciplined.) I next saw him at the base of the lower falls and wondered how he climbed down there, especially as I know the difficulties of carrying photo equipment while climbing. As I moved on, I eventually lost track of Helen, so I sat on a rock and waited. Soon she and the photographer showed up. At this point, he followed the trail as it turned away from the creek and headed to higher ground. Helen, shadowed by Tessi, crossed the ankle-deep water, where it was easier to continue to the falls. I caught up to them after pausing to enjoy the deliciously cool water on my feet. We took pictures of each other and Tessi in front of the falls and the distinctive bands of coloured rock. I would have preferred standing closer to the cascade or even under it for fun, but we couldn't tell how much ground the plunging water had carved out beneath the cloudy pool of water at its base. At one point, we were distracted by a disturbance coming from the intensely steep gravelly slope on one side of us. We spotted the photographer, who almost went for a tumble as he lost his grip on the loose stones. Besides my struggle to cross back over the creek in a difficult spot, where its rocky bed was unstable, our return to the car was uneventful. Once we were topside again, we saw our photographer friend for the last time appear above the falls. He obviously managed to climb that precarious slope. We came through our adventure unscathed - no cuts from broken glass, no falls in the creek or poison ivy rashes - or so I thought. The next time I talked to Helen, she informed me she had poison ivy covering her legs, arms and face. For More Info
  • The 800 km (500 mi) Bruce Trail follows the Niagara Escarpment from the Niagara region to Tobermory. Googling “bruce trail” will bring up a selection of sites to check out.
  • Go Waterfalling 
  • City of Waterfalls 

 (c) Cheryl Smyth, 2008

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