Thursday, September 17, 2020

Sometimes I ache in my bones : Falcon Lake to Bear Lake

Last night the temperature dipped down below freezing, but the sun began warming everything up almost as soon as it rose into the clear sky. We made our way over to the Falcon Beach School on a short forested trail. We were slightly nervous, since we didn't know what to expect, and we'd never spoken to an entire school at once before. 

We ended up talking with a fantastic bunch of about 30 kids ranging in age from kindergarten to grade 10. We stood outside in the schoolyard, being very careful to stay physically distanced from everyone. The students had lots of very pertinent questions about our hike, and it was clear from the beginning that they all knew a lot about hiking, camping, and nature. They shared stories of bears, coyotes, and wolves with cubs that showed up in their backyards. Some of them, despite their youth, were already experienced hunters and trackers as well, with a very well developed knowledge of wildlife.

Afterwards we learned that the students go on a week-long horseback riding trip each year, and that they get to go up to Churchill, Manitoba to visit other classes up there, compete in intramural sports, and learn about polar bears. They also do a lot of hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, and trap-line checking. This sounded like the coolest school ever, and I am certain we could have learned a lot from those students!

After our presentation we also got to meet Barb, who is a member of the South Whiteshell Trail Association, and was instrumental in getting the trail established throughout the region. We only had a few minutes to chat, but it sounded like the trail association here is well supported by the Provincial Park, local politicians, and the chamber of commerce, who recognizes the trails as being a source of revenue to the area. It was very refreshing to hear from a trail builder and a trail group that was well-supported almost right from the beginning. Unsurprisingly - based on the amazing conditions of the local trails - such grassroots support shows in every aspect on the pathway, from its cleanliness, to its signage, to its high usage. 

After our presentation Stephanie very kindly offered to give us a ride back to Hawk Lake, where we turned yesterday at the trail fork to head towards Falcon Beach. Before parting she left us with several delicious homemade banana chocolate chip muffins, and sent several more with us for snacking. This was a huge and much appreciated treat!

She dropped us off at the parking lot for the trailhead, which also happened to be the location of the Nite Hawk Cafe. This looked like a fantastic restaurant, with breakfast food to dream about, but we figured that since it was rather late by this point and we wanted to limit contact with others as much as possible, we'd best be on our way. The amazingly friendly staff gave us coffee and tea to go, as well as several delicious cookies. With that we were on our way once again.

We were thrilled to discover that the immaculate trail conditions and beautiful scenery of yesterday continued on as we headed towards Rennie. We began by walking past a small beaver pond which boasted a huge beaver lodge. The lodge and the tall, dark, conical spruces surrounding the pond were perfectly reflected in the chocolate brown water.

Next we came to a brand new section of trail running along the banks of West Hawk Lake. The gravel path kept hikers and cyclists off the road, while giving us a view of the cottage lined shores of the lake. It reminded us a lot of Muskoka.

Along this stretch of trail we enjoyed the yellows and reds of the fall colours. The white birches were starting to turn a light yellow, and in many areas the birch stands had an understory of bright red. Their straight white trunks seemed to stand our amidst this blaze of colour, and against a blue sky it was very striking.

The wide, grassy track was easy to walk, and left us free to enjoy the forest around us. We spotted a Ruffed Grouse on the trail, but as we approached it fluffed up its ruff and strutted haughtily into the underbrush. A flurry of feathered wingbeats in the trailside shrubs turned out to be a flock of White-throated Sparrows. Among the small flock we also spotted Ruby-crowned Kinglets bouncing around with excessive energy, and one slightly more sedate Northern Parula.

When we got to the parking lot for Caddy Lake we took a break and enjoyed our muffins. They were a very welcome treat! As we sat there a couple approached us and asked about our hike. We chatted from a distance for a few minutes and then they wished us well and went on their way.

When we headed back onto the trail we found ourselves weaving through a very well-signed network of mountain bike trails. We began on a narrow, winding, switch-backed trail of crushed stone dust that led us up and down through a golden forest that was bathed in light. 

This led us up onto the bright pink shield, where we followed a series of arrows, rock cairns, and signs through the network. Ground junipers, red shrubs and golden grasses, and light green lichen covered the rocks, and red pines and spruce stood tall above us. It was a pleasant hike, but I think it would have been difficult to ride a bike through the rocky and uneven terrain. We were passed by one person who was doing so and seemed to be enjoying it.

At this point the trail was following parallel to a deep gorge. We couldn't see or hear water at the bottom, but we could see the steep granite cliffs plunging straight down into the trees on the far side. Occasionally we would hear the high, plaintive call of a Bald Eagle, or the insistent protests of a Red Squirrel. Otherwise all was quiet, until we heard the barking of a small dog. The dog passed with a thoughtful sniff, and the lady walking it cheerfully explained that this was the perfect day for hiking as she jogged past. She was right.

As we made our way through this section of trail we realized we are likely very lucky. The landscape looks like it would be marshy and boggy at certain times of year, but right now it is bone dry. There are no mosquitos or other biting insects so far. The uneven footing is neither icy nor wet. It is pretty much the perfect time of year to be here, and the perfect day for hiking.

Eventually we made our way down to a bridge over the base of a completely dried up river, and then began the somewhat steep climb back up onto the ridge. The trail climbed beside a rocky streambed with huge boulders, which we assumed would have been McGillivry Falls at certain times of year. It was almost completely dry, with only a tiny trickle of singing and babbling water at the very top.

We took a break in the sun on the warm rock of the shield and admired the view. A large floodplain stretched out before us, with a small pond covered in lilypads in the foreground. The golden grasses, red blueberry bushes, dark green pines, and blue sky, with its wispy, painted looking clouds were stunningly beautiful. As we sat there, taking in the beautiful, rugged, colourful landscape, we watched a small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging in the treetops above us.

After McGillivry Falls we spent the afternoon walking a pine covered ridge. It was quiet and beautiful in the afternoon sunshine. As we walked across the shield the thick light grey lichen and pine needles crunched under our feet. In the exposed stretches of rock we could see wide veins of sparkling white quartz. The red pines and short dark junipers lent a spicy smell to the air. A few groups of Canada Jays glided smoothly through the pines.

The trail was well signed and relatively easy to follow. Although there were almost constant ups and down, none of the sections were technically difficult to navigate at all. However, each step was uneven and none of them were level. After a while our legs got tired, simply because we weren't used to the terrain yet. Regardless, we were happy to take breaks and enjoy the scenery.

We had been intending to camp beside Bear Lake tonight, and we thought we'd need to get there, because we weren't carrying very much water. However, around 5:30 pm we came to a fast flowing stream, with a nice spot to camp on top of the ridge nearby. We were only one kilometer short of our goal, so we decided to stop and enjoy the evening.

After pitching the tent we filtered water and made a dinner of basil and tomato macaroni from Happy Yak. It was pretty good, and we enjoyed watching the sun set behind the ridge opposite while we ate. Now that it is dark the temperature is beginning to fall again. It seems like it will be a cold night, but we are happily tucked up in our warm sleeping bags under the stars, listening to the sounds of the nearby stream and hoping no bears come to visit us tonight.

1 comment:

  1. Hello from Cindy, one of the caretakers of the Centennial Trail. We wish you a warm welcome to the Centennial Trail. We hope that you enjoy your travels on our unique trail. It has been purposely left as natural as possible so that you may feel you are wandering in the forest without the fear of getting lost.

    We wish you both health, safety and enjoyment as you continue your journey across Canada. We were saddened to hear of the many challenges you have encountered.

    A bit of history on the Centennial Trail for you.

    In 1970, a group of Scouters headed up by Vern "Skink" Dutton discussed the idea of creating a trail as a way of celebrating Manitoba's Centennial. As a result, the Centennial Trail became a reality. Over the past years, members of Scouts Canada and Girl Guides of Canada have continued working on their trail. In 2003, the Centennial Trail officially became part of the Great Trail (formerly known as the TransCanada Trail). The Great Trail is the world’s longest network of recreational trails - uniting all of Canada and travelling over 24,000 kms from the Atlantic to the Pacific and to the Arctic oceans. Scouting members completed their last section of the Centennial Trail circling Ross Lake in 2016. Under the 2016 Borders to Beaches Project (Trails Manitoba), the Centennial Trail was extended to Rennie, Manitoba to complete the linking of the Great Trail through the Whiteshell region.
    The Centennial Trail begins on the south west side of Hwy 44 shortly before the junction of Hwy 312 and winds its way west past Caddy Lake Resort, McGillivray Falls, Hanson’s Creek, Ross Lake, Jean Lake and exits at the Alf Hole Goose Sanctuary. There are numerous access points to the trail from Hwy 44 allowing hikers of all skill levels to enjoy this trail. Access points with parking are located at Caddy Lake Resort, McGillivray Falls Trail, Bear Lake Hiking Trail, Telford Pond, and at the Alf Hole Goose Sanctuary. There is limited parking at Telford Communications Tower.
    We are celebrating our 50th Birthday this year in conjunction with Manitoba’s 150th Birthday. Our major signage project is underway with plans to be completed in 2021. This will consist of 6 kiosks with maps and info, mileage, trail junction and highway access signs.

    This trail travels through some of the most beautiful area in the Whiteshell and is marked by a series of cairns or inukshuks. The cairns are piles of rock used by the Inuit people to serve as directional markers to guide those who followed. They were often erected in the shape of a human and as such are powerful symbols of the importance of friendship and remind us of our dependence on and responsibility to one another. The cairns were would withstand fires and were part of the natural surrounding material. It is with deep regret that we learned in July of 2019 of the possibility of petroforms in the area of our trail. We have great respect for Indigenous cultures, traditions and their sacred areas and hope that we haven’t disturbed any petroform. I am open to doing whatever will help reconcile this situation. All of our kiosk signage will reference the importance of petroforms and a direction not to move rocks. As trail caretakers, we are abiding by this as well. We designed a new logo with the white spruce, Manitoba’s provincial tree.
    Occasionally, you will see an original Scout sign marking the way through the forest. These are orange with a black fleur de lis emblem. The emblem stands for "true north” and is universally used on maps and a symbol associated with Scouting. Great Trail / Trans Canada Trail signs and arrow directional markers signs will also guide your journey.

    Cindy Bell Caretaker


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