Saturday, September 19, 2020

Wild Geese in the Autumn Sky : Rennie to Cabin Lake

Last night was interrupted by the sounds of six trains passing through Rennie, two of whom blew their whistles repeatedly. Otherwise it was a quiet and peaceful night under the stars, and thankfully the temperature only went down to about 8°C, so it wasn't too cold in our spring sleeping bags.

We packed up the sodden tent and headed back towards town, hoping for a hot breakfast at the restaurant. On the way we stopped at the Alfred Hole Goose sanctuary. The lake was smooth and calm, reflecting the trees from the far shore, which were lit up by the early morning sun. There were about 50 geese out on the water, as well as a pair of Green-winged Teals. In the distance we caught a fleeting glimpse of something very large and white, that may have been a Great Egret. A couple people were at the observation platform, and a young photographer was on the far shore.  This seemed to be a great number for the facility as a gentleman who appeared to work here kept commenting that it 'was crowded this morning'. 

When we reached town we discovered to our dismay that the restaurant wasn't open for breakfast today. Thankfully we were able to purchase hot coffees and pocket pies from the convenience store across the street though. By comparison the other customers seemed to be buying beer to load onto their ATVs and into their fishing boats. One thing we've noticed in Manitoba is that the covid 19 'norms' set up in Ontario and Quebec don't exist here. Restaurants don't seem to be operating at half capacity, although there are limits on the number of people allowed in stores at one time. People look at us like we're crazy for wearing a mask into a store, stay 6 ft apart, and use hand sanitizer. We do it anyway, just to be on the safe side.  Similarly in this region there are more license plates from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario than there are from Manitoba - clearly inter regional and international travel is far more acceptable here than in other provinces. 

As we set off out of town on the trail we were delighted to find ourselves on a wide, grassy track that was well mowed. It was well signed, and took us over two wooden bridges that crossed small streams. 

The landscape was varied and beautiful. We walked through stretches of birch forest, where the tall, straight, white trunks seemed to form a solid wall. Above them the golden yellow and light green leaves were set aglow by the sun.

In between these stands of trees we crossed stretches of bright pink exposed shield. This seemed like a very dry landscape. Spiky golden, red, and green grasses filled cracks in the sharp and gritty rocks. Crunchy lichen and moss lay like a carpet on the precambrian shield. Deep red blueberry bushes, wild strawberries, and other groundcover contrasted with the hardy, sharp, dark green ground junipers. Above us the resinous red pines stood like subjects from a Group of Seven painting. In places eskers sat on the shield like large, lichen covered dragon eggs.

We stopped for a few minutes on a patch of exposed rock to dry out the tent and our sleeping bags. It was only 9:30 am, but the sun was already very warm.

The wide, well-marked trail continued to the edge of Brereton, which is a small resort town stretched out along Brereton Lake. We crossed the road and then continued along the trail, which ran parallel to the road and the town. It took us up onto a narrow ridge of exposed granite that undulated like a backbone. From there we had a panoramic view out over a treed valley below us. 

As we walked the ridge we could hear people laughing and joking as they played tennis on a court that backed onto the trail. We could also smell delicious food being cooked somewhere close by. However, we continued along, eventually descending to the bottom of the valley.

On one side of the trail a tall wall of granite rose up, with the cottages and houses of Brereton perched on top. On the other was a golden, grassy, bog, with a forest of grey snags rising up out of it. We spotted quite a few Northern Flickers flashing their white rumps as they busily moved between snags.

The trail was flat, mowed grass and as we walked a sea of small frogs jumped out of our way. Although it was perfectly dry as we walked through the morning, we are pretty sure that section of trail would be very wet in spring as it was precisely level with the marsh waters around us. There were also quite a few blackflies out, and we could only shudder at the thought of the swarms that must exist in spring.

When we reached the end of town we had a moment of frustration. We had phoned earlier to ask if the grocery store was open, and been informed that it was open and located right on the trail. When we reach the end of town we realized it was on the trail, but not where we could see it, and we had walked right past it. Since we are travelling blind right now, with no idea of trail conditions or resupply points, we decided to walk back the 1.5 km to the store.

When we reached the store and restaurant we were in for a bit of a shock. Two iced teas and two ice creams cost $28! The supplies at this location were definitely out of our price range, and when we looked at the restaurant we quickly realized lunch would have cost over $100. We were definitely in a resort town!  

As we made our way back to the trail we passed a large group of motorcyclists who had stopped at the beach for a picnic. We walked by the campground and a row of affluent homes and cottages stretched out along the lake, many with personalized addresses out front. Expensive cars, motor boats, and seadoos were parked outside many of them. A very friendly resident of one of these homes stopped and asked us about our hike, wished us well, and promised to follow our journey.

When we reached the trailhead we set off down the Amisk trail, which was filled with people in very clean, designer clothes, many with matching accessories along with white socks and clean white tennis shoes. We suddenly felt very dirty and out of place, even though we were on the trail.

We followed the well groomed trail for about 4 km, enjoying the warm, sunny afternoon and the brilliant fall colours. A short stretch of trail lead us to a winding, cottage lined gravel road that we followed for several kilometers. This lead us to Inverness Falls, where there was a cluster of cabins at another resort. Many occupants seemed to be out walking and paddling on the lake.

The next section of trail was gated, and we could see an effort had been made to keep motorized vehicles off it. An increasingly wide row of boulders had been placed on each side of the gate, but the ATV tracks kept going around in ever wider arcs. Nonetheless, the trail was in good condition for the first stretch, taking us through beautiful deciduous forest.

A few kilometers in we met a couple who were riding their bicycles back out towards us. They asked us if we'd come from the road, and how far it was. We gave them our best estimate, and they said they'd been trying to ride a loop, but had crossed a bridge and then the trail has turned into a marsh and gone underwater at a beaver dam. They figured they had gotten lost, because the trail network wasn't marked back there.

Somewhat discouraged we continued on, through the warm and sunny afternoon. Eventually we came to a picnic table at the edge of a beautiful lake with a large metal bridge across it. It was very picturesque, with the dark pines and spruce and golden reeds and grasses reflected in the water. We took a break at the picnic table, and as we were sitting there a man rode up on his bicycle. He stopped at the bridge and then rode back with a cheery greeting.

We crossed the bridge and continued on down a beautiful grassy track. Just when we were beginning to think that the other couple had been on a different trail, we came to a large beaver dam. The trail did indeed disappear into a muddy marsh. The water varied between 6 and 12 inches deep on the trail. The dam was an impressive 100 m or more long, and it was taller than us.

Sean decided to take off his shoes and socks and wade along the muddy, rotted, track at the bottom. I was more stubborn, and decided to walk the top of the dam. This turned out to be a questionable decision, because I was threading my way along the back of the dam, where the steep mud wall, with its many logs and sticks, was covered in sharp, waist high grass. I could walk along the sloping wall on the logs, but I couldn't see where I was stepping, and it was easy to fall through. 

The view from the top of the dam was amazing. The lodge, the snags standing in the water, the trees around the edges, and the golden grasses were reflected in the pond. As we were standing there admiring the view, a beaver in the water below the dam that we didn't know was there let out a loud SMACK! with his tail. He was likely objecting to us walking on his dam, and it startled me so much I almost toppled into his pond!

Eventually we made it to the far end of the dam. We were feeling good about ourselves for passing the challenge, and I was happy not to have gotten my feet wet. We trucked along at a good pace down the forested track, until ... we came to a second dam, which was just as long and impressive as the first.

As we made our way laboriously along the second dam we got to see four beavers in the pond on top! There were two adults and two baby beavers, although the babies were quickly sent into the lodge upon our arrival. We watched one of the adults swimming in slow circles and checking us out. It had a great, shiny, black nose! Eventually the adult reared up, dove head first, and with an echoing smack of its tail on the surface of the pond was gone. 

After the second beaver dam trail conditions began to rapidly deteriorate further. At first we continued to follow a grassy track, but it was a bit more overgrown. Gradually it got narrower and narrower as we threaded our way through dense spruce stands, pine plantations, and stands of trees.

We came out at a power corridor, and continued to follow the track for about a kilometer. When we looked at the Trail Forks App to see if we were close to Cabin Lake yet we realized we were walking up the wrong side of the lake! We backtracked about a kilometer to the power corridor and looked at the App. Using it we found a small gap in a stand of dense saplings. After pushing through and climbing a small incline, we found a single TCT marker and a line of faded orange flagging tape weaving into the dense trees in front of us.

Somewhat wary, we followed a path that went from grassy track that had clearly been trimmed recently, to overgrown grassy track, to footpath, to a line of orange flagging tape leading through the bush. In areas of exposed shield it was relatively easy to follow the flags. In areas of dense saplings it was rather challenging to do so.

At one point we were walking across a beautiful stretch of shield that reminded us of a Savannah with its golden grasses and pines. The sun was directly in our eyes, which made it difficult to see the flags, but it was easy enough going. Then without warning the trail dove into a mossy marsh. It was lush and green and wet. We bushwacked through it, following the orange tape and balancing on slippery logs, until we came back up onto the shield a few hundred meters from where the trail had descended into the wet. Why on earth couldn't we have stayed up where it was dry and we could see?

A short while later the orange flags took us down into a marsh that was partly cattails, a lot of blackberries and wild roses, and huge thistles. Then the flags disappeared. There were several tracks leading through the sharp and thorny mess, and absolutely no indication where to go. We finally found a path through that had a small log to ford the stream in the middle, and then climbed back up onto the shield. 

We found no trace of a trail or any markers. We wandered around for a bit and then decided to head over to the lake, because the trail was supposed to follow the edge of it, we needed water, and it was starting to get dark. We bushwacked around for a bit, and used the App to try to find the trail. Eventually we stumbled upon a footpath and followed it. It seemed to lead us to the campsite we'd been aiming for, but there was a boat parked offshore and a large group of teenagers unloading cases of beer onto the shore.

We continued around the shore and soon came to another arched wooden bridge with fire engine red railings and sides. At the edge of the bridge was a small spot to camp with access to water from the lake. We set up camp just as the sun was setting over the lake. It put on quite a show, and Sean waded out into the icy water to take photos. When he returned to the campsite he discovered he had leeches on his ankles and legs! 

As we were cooking dinner and watching the sunset a couple crossed the bridge carrying backpacks that looked as large as ours. We could hear them coming, because they were wearing bear bells. While these may be a good idea for safety reasons, I think the noise would drive me crazy. As they passed by we flagged them down and asked about the trail conditions ahead.  The young lady of the duo turned to us, clearly very shaken, very wet, and very cold and told us while holding back the tears - 'there is no trail that way!  We have spent the entire day walking the 5 km Jenny Lake to here!  There is no path, there are no signs and we have walked into the marsh, into rivers and scrambled over the rocks!  I am never going hiking again!'  The two then marched off down to the nearby roadway tired and weary.  My heart went out to them.

After they left we settled down to have diner, write our journals and relax for the evening.  It is another crystal clear night, and we can see the milky way above the tent. The stars are very bright, and a White-throated Sparrow is singing occasionally nearby. We can hear a beaver splashing in the pond by the bridge. It seems that all is well that ends well.

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