A Short Hike, a Needed Break : Seven Sisters to Pinawa

We awoke to the sounds of a flock of Canada Geese honking out on Natalie Lake above us. It was a warm, overcast morning. As we climbed out of the tent an immature Bald Eagle flapped slowly past overhead. Just off shore a raft of Scaup floated in the calm grey water.

We packed everything up and continued our trek on the Great Trail around Natalie Lake on the raised berm. The morning was very quiet, with the light grey waters of the lake lying smooth and silent. The pink granite of the rocks around the water's edge, and the rich golden and green grasses lent touches of colour to a landscape that was almost black and white in places.

As we continued around the lake we started to pull inland a little, and the shrubs and bushes that bordered the trail suddenly filled with birds. It felt like a wave of Dark-eyed Juncos swept through the branches ahead of us. Black-capped Chickadees chattered excitedly as we passed. A large flock of Blue-headed Vireos foraged hungrily among the leaves and branches, and White-crowned Sparrows made their way through the undergrowth. A Hairy Woodpecker slowly searched for insects along the trunk of a white birch tree.

As we began making our way back along the length of Natalie Lake towards Pinawa we found ourselves on a wide, grassy path in a forest of very tall trees. The maps and directional signage were still prevalent, and they were joined by well-spaced interpretive signs describing the trees, plants, and wildlife along the trail. There were also a few strategically located benches along the way, confirming our feeling that this was the beginning of an 'urban' trail. 

Although the trail was mostly forested, we walked through stands of trees with very different characters, which kept the walk interesting. Parts of the trail passed through areas of dense, dark green spruce and fir, leaving us in a solid, dark tunnel of needles. In other sections we walked among tall, straight, very dark brown trunks supporting a light, airy, open canopy of bright yellow leaves high above us. In yet other areas wide, horizontal bands of red, yellow, and light green leaves appeared among strong vertical lines of white and light grey birch and aspen trunks. It felt like a spot that painters and artists would enjoy visiting in fall.

At one point the trail took us past the Pinawa wastewater storage facility. This consisted of two small ponds surrounded by raised grassy berms. The ponds were completely full of birds! There was a large flock of Bonaparte's Gulls sitting on the rocky islands, floating in the water, and flying in circles overhead. Greater Yellowlegs foraged along the shoreline. Trumpeter Swans and American Coots paddled through the water. Without doubt, the stars of the show were American White Pelicans!! A group of around 20 of them took flights as we watched. We were also thrilled to see our first ever Lapland Longspur hanging out in the reeds at the edge of the pond! 

After finally pulling ourselves away from the birding bonanza, we continued down the forested track. Soon we passed a campground, and the trail head for the Ironwood Interpretive Trail. This trail takes hikers, cyclists, skiers, snowshoers, photographers, and bird watchers through Ironwood Park, which runs along the waterfront in Pinawa.

The trail was originally created by Alice Chambers, when it was part of the Centennial Trail. It was later renamed the Ironwood Trail by Dr. Janet Dugle, who is a resident of Pinawa and renown botanist. She made the importance of the ironwood trees known to Pinawa, which is at the extreme northwestern edge of their range in Canada.

When we reached the edge of Pinawa we stopped for a few minutes at a bench on the edge of the beautiful Winnipeg River, enjoying the view down the waterfront. A few small islands sat offshore, and docks with small boats lined the shoreline.

As we continued down the gravel path along the waterfront we passed picnic tables and interpretive signs. One of these was a memorial to Private Furey, who was a prisoner at the Niigata-Rinko POW camp in Japan during WWII. He was killed on Jan 1st, 1944 when the building where he was being held collapsed. He came from a community near here. Other memorials to soldiers who fought and died in Japan were also represented.

The trail wound through the treed waterfront which was awash in golden sunlight and fall colours. On one side was the lake, and on the other was a small road. Houses and cottages lined the far side of the road, set well back from the water. It was refreshing to see a community where public access to the waterfront had been maintained, and the land wasn't all privately owned.

The community of Pinawa has just over 1,000 residents, and is located within the Whiteshell Provincial Park. It was established in 1901 to support the operation of a nearby hydroelectric generating station that was later abandoned. In 1963 the town was re-established as a planned community 10 km from it original location when Atomic Energy Canada Limited built the Whiteshell Laboratories nuclear research facility nearby. The region was chosen for its seismic stability. In 1998 decommissioning of the facility was begun, and the local economy now relies more heavily on sports and recreation.

As we made our way into the town we found a small mall with a grocery store, a library and school, a very large and empty looking conference centre, a marina, a golf course, and a motel. At the centre of town was the Pinawa Heritage Sundial. It has a complicated design that allows you to calculate the time shown on your watch based on two sets of hour lines, the date of your visit, and a correction formula. It also has many granite plates that illustrate the history of the region.

Today was just a short walk for us, but we are ready for a break. We have been blessed by warm weather, a beautiful landscape, and a lovely trail. We appreciate our great good fortune, but the constant uncertainty of the past month, and the coming weeks and months is starting to take its mental toll. We chose the uncertainty of life on the trail, and we've learned to embrace it most of the time. This year feels more like playing Russian roulette, where we have to make gamble after gamble based on nothing more than blind chance. The stakes for us are high and the consequences for our hike are lasting. While I do believe The Way provides, and I see evidence of it all the time, blind faith is something that doesn't come naturally to either one of us, even after walking so many Caminos.  For a day or two, perhaps even three, it is time for us to stop moving, catch up and try once again to figure out what comes next.

See you on the trail!

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