Friday, July 10, 2009
For father's day this year I wanted to have a picnic and hike the Niagara Gorge. The gorge is the area from below the Falls to where the Niagara River ends–flowing into Lake Ontario. We hiked the American side. Haven't hiked the Canadian side. Maybe next Father's Day. They celebrate Father's Day in Canada, don't they?
We start the hike (roughly–there's some backtracking) at the Whirlpool Rapids. It's one of the top ten most dangerous rapids in the world, rated 6 in a rating system that goes from class 1 to class 6, with extreme currents, extreme drop (52 feet in less than a mile) and extreme volume of water (100,000 cubic feet per second). Boating of any kind is prohibited by law.
After that, it's the Whirlpool itself, where the Niagara River takes a 90 degree, counter clockwise turn. Then the river narrows–and the water speeds up–through the Devil's Hole Rapids.
The hike itself along the banks of all this natural excitement is an old-growth forest below the cliffs. The manicured paths are easily navigable and wend their way around boulders and chunks of cliffs that have fallen since the glaciers receded, just a few years back.
Among the man-induced visuals found during the hike are the 1913 Whirlpool Areo Car cable car; the Niagara Power Project, a hydro-electric dam generating a good bit of power for the east coast; the Whirlpool Jetboats and the occasional thrum of helicopters. You never really feel too far from civilization.
We've hiked great trails all over the place–Muir Woods amongst the redwoods in California; the Swiss Alps around Zermatt; the hills above Lake Como, Italy; Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii; Volcanoes National Park, the Big Island, Hawaii; Acadia National Park, Maine; Lands End & Dover Cliffs, England; and all over the Caribbean. From my perspective, this ranks among them as one of the best hiking trails in the world.
And one of my favorite parts? It's only about a 20-minute ride from my house to the Devil's Hole State Park parking lot.
The rest I'll tell in pictures.
Spanish Aero Car cable car, climbing above the Whirlpool. It's an antique. Built in 1913.
Rock-strewn paths are pretty easy to navigate.
Some of the deadliest rapids in the world. When we hiked here last fall, there were three suicidal morons on wave-runners running these rapids. No one died that day. It's not so much the surface rapids that are dangerous, it's the downward pressure created by the narrowing and deep river–and the volume of water–it's been known to keep bodies "tied up" below the water for weeks before giving them up.
Lots of flora along the roughly four-mile trailways.
Yes, that's my daughter, sitting by the world's deadliest rapids.
The Whirlpool Jet fighting the rapids to get upstream. They are allowed to be on the rapids in this part of the river. We've been on this boat three times. It's a blast. Totally safe–not even seat belts are required. But you do get wet. Very, very, very wet.
Coming down the rapids. They were too busy here, screaming, to wave hello to us.
More deadly rapids. This would NOT be the way to swim across to Canada.
Old-growth forests, with groomed paths. It would be great to have tour guides/arborists that could talk about the forest. Without that, it's just enjoyable to walk through.
And 308 stairs back to the top of the gorge. But who's counting?