Saturday, July 31, 2021

A Return to Concessions...lots of Concessions : Asessippi Valley to Roblin

Last night it gently rained on and off, and at one point we heard the sound of coyotes howling in the nearby Asessippi Valley.  I didn't get up when the alarm went off at 5:30, hoping the rain would stop, and thankfully it did.  When I finally stepped out of the tent to make the coffee the sun was turning the dark clouds pink, and a White-tailed Deer with a budding set of antlers was standing tall atop a sand dune in the hay field outside the tent.  A steady stream of American Crows was flying by overhead and complaining loudly, and as I waited for the water to boil a huge Red-tailed Hawk swooped low over the field, giving its iconic screech.

When we headed out we found ourselves on a gravel concession, which was wonderfully shaded by two rows of trembling aspens.  Even in their shade it was already hot, but the cool breeze and the sound of the leaves rustling made for a beautiful morning.

In some ways there is little to say about today. We essentially walked straight north for 30 km, with only one tiny deviation around a field.  We could see the white ribbon of the road stretching out ahead of us, and no matter how far we walked, it always continued straight on to the horizon.  We also steadily climbed all day, the road appearing to rise in large undulating steps ahead of us.  Unfortunately the concession was newly resurfaced with about 4 inches of fresh gravel, and the effort of pulling the carts up the hills soon became very tiring in the summer's heat. 

The highlight of our day occurred when a wonderful local lady pulled up alongside us on the concession to encourage us and wish us well on our travels! Her pure kindness and supportive words helped energize us throughout the day and over the long dusty concessions. Thank you so much!

Although we couldn't see it, we were walking along the eastern shore of the Lake of the Prairies all day.  This 56 km long lake, which is also known as the Shellmouth Reservoir, is Manitoba's largest reservoir, and it was created in 1968 as a provincial flood control measure, by damming the Assiniboine River.  The $10.2 million Shellmouth Dam is 21 meters high and 1,300 meters long and can help store 480 million cubic meters of water behind the spillway.  Today the lake has been developed into a premier spot for anglers that offers walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, common carp, rock bass, mooneye, and many others.  It is lined with cabins, lodges, campgrounds, and cottages and is a popular spot for vacationers.   

The only hint we saw of this large Lake today was a sign for the Prairie Lake Lodge, which is a golf course, and a few large and odiferous fish that were spread out on the road and being devoured by small groups of very large American Crows.  It looked like some strange kind of roadkill.

About half way through our hike, in the vicinity of Tummel, we came across a plaque for the Brooks House Historic Site.  The house which used to occupy the site was built around 1881 and was owned by Robert and Jane Brooks.  They ran a halfway house for travellers on the Pelly Trail, which connected Fort Pelly, Fort Saskatchewan, and Fort Ellice, near St. Lazare Manitoba.

The Pelly trail was an important 19th century route that was used by fur traders and early settlers.  The trail ran diagonally from the Fort Ellice Trail, which was farther south, to Fort Pelly, which was the administrative center of the Hudson's Bay Company and was established in 1824 north of Kamsack, Saskatchewan.  In 1874 the newly formed North West Mounted Police used the Pelly Trail on their way to establish Fort Livingstone near Fort Pelly. 

As we continued to climb the stair-like hills the trembling aspen corridor gradually gave way to open countryside.  The lack of shade made the climbing hot, but it was a beautiful landscape of green and yellow rolling hills.  About half way to Roblin we noticed a brownish haze setting in, caused by smoke from forest fires west of here, which gradually thickened throughout the afternoon.

As we continued along the concessions we seemed to be walking in a cloud of butterflies.  They danced around us in a cloud of delicate white wings, occasionally joined by jewel-like orange individuals and some velvety brown ones.  To add to the romantic setting we passed several lovely wooden barns, evoking thoughts of past eras.

As we approached the outskirts of Roblin traffic began to pick up.  We were walking parallel to a paved provincial highway, but for reasons that were unclear to us there were still quite a few very large trucks passing us on the steep hills.  Despite the best efforts of their drivers these large vehicles left us absolutely covered in dust.  Added to the smoke this was rather unpleasant.

At the edges of town we passed several pothole lakes.  The first one had a family of Buffleheads paddling about in it.  They took fright as we passed, the babies scuttling across the surface of the pond, desperately wind milling their wings to propel themselves away.  The next pond had a lone Double-crested Cormorant swimming in it, which looked strangely out of place to me.

Eventually we ducked into a small trail that led into town.  We threaded our way through a treed tunnel which looked kind of magical, but was quite overgrown.  It brought us out to a large baseball diamond behind the community center, where we gratefully took a break under the shade of the trees.  From there it was a short walk around Goose Lake into town.

The town of Roblin was settled by European grain farmers and cattle ranchers in the 1880s.  It was originally called Goose Lake, but was renamed in 1904 after the Premier of Manitoba, Sir Rodmond Palen Roblin.  It is located on Goose Lake, which offers world class Trout Fishing, and was home to the 2010 Canadian Fly Fishing Championships. 

The town also claims the title of 'Jewel of the Parkland.'  They have constructed a large revolving jewel that symbolizes this motto, which has a time capsule at its base.  Roblin is situated at the western gates to the Parkland region of Manitoba, being close to Riding Mountain National Park, Duck Mountain Provincial Park, and Asessippi Provincial Park, which explains the other part of its name.

We took a walk through town, stopping at the Millennium Park to check out the Trans Canada Trail Pavilion and a large Sundial.  We were surprised to see that the last pavilion in Manitoba had been taken apart and only the frame had been left.  Somehow standing empty the green frame which traditionally holds the regional map and names of donors seemed a sad way to conclude the province after enjoying almost 1400km of trails. 

Afterward we made our way across town to check out the jewel.  We were delighted to find a large Co-Op Grocery store in Roblin which had far more choices than the smaller cousins we've been re-supplying from up until now.  This will serve us well in the coming days, when we will have 3-4 days of wild camping with no possibility of resupply.  Depending on trail conditions we should cross into Saskatchewan in two days!

Friday, July 30, 2021

Letter of Support from the Trans Canada Trail!!

Very honoured to receive such an generous and supportive letter from the president of the Trans Canada Trail, Eleanor McMahon!  We have been so fortunate to have received such great support and kindness from the Trans Canada Trail and Great Trail staff since announcing our intention to hike and photograph the entire length of the TCT pathways in 2018 while promoting diversity in the outdoors and encouraging youth to get back outdoors, become involved in Citizen Science and discovery.  We have enjoyed every moment so far (even the tough ones) and love making Canada better known to Canadians.  We received this letter today, a day away from the Saskatchewan border - which will be our 8th province and 1st with as a flag carrying Royal Canadian Geographical Society Expedition!  When we cross the border we will have trekked almost 8000 km from Cape Spear Newfoundland to Duck Mountain Provincial Park, Saskatchewan - and while it has been wonderful so far, these is still so much further to go and so much more to discover! The praires are only 1/3 complete, the Rockies and west coast are yet to be trekked and Canada's north are waiting!  We are grateful to everyone who has followed along, supported our trek and learned more about this country in the process!  We hope you all continue to 'Come Walk With Us' as we continue west!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Mountain Bike Paradise : Inglis through Asessippi Provincial Park

This morning we headed out of Inglis on the Marsh Boardwalk and Interpretive Trail.  This charming little forested track took us across a small field, along a short section of railway where the ties and rails hadn't been removed, and through a shady aspen forest to a small wooden lookout over a tiny marsh. 

There were interpretive signs along the way describing the importance of wetlands, native plant species, and invertebrates among other interesting things.  In the unfortunately dry marsh we spotted Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs foraging in the mud, Red-winged Blackbirds calling from the cattails, and a Cedar Waxwing uncharacteristically perched on a post in the midst of the marshy area.  Otherwise it was pretty quiet.

At the edge of town we walked past a small school with a colourful mural showing the children and their parents, and then headed north on a gravel concession in a bright and sunny morning which was already turning hot.  About 3 km later we turned onto a mowed grassy track that took us along the treed edge of a hay field to the trailhead for the Bear Creek Model Watershed and Interpretive Trail.  The sign suggested we were about to begin a 5.5 km hiking trail through the Bear Creek Valley, that would connect the landscape bordering Riding Mountain National Park with the Shell River Valley.

As we passed the trailhead we saw a stunningly beautiful forested valley stretching out before us, the sun lighting up the tree canopies on the sides of the incredibly steep, deep, and winding valley.  We paused to enjoy the view for a few moments, then focused on the trail ahead. 

The first 20 m or so were straight down the side of the valley on a loose dirt ATV track.  After being pulled down it in a somewhat terrifying and completely uncontrolled slide, I decided to transfer as much weight from the cart into my pack as I could fit.  Unlike the last mountain biking trail in Tinkers Creek, where the straight ups and downs were about 10-15 ft high, these were more than twice that high.

We soon found ourselves climbing back up a very narrow, steep track, and then sliding down a slope of shale.  It was loose, sharp, and there was no way to stop, slow, or direct our descent.  We must have looked like cartoon characters trying to get back up the other side - taking one step up and sliding backwards down.  Taking two running steps and sliding backwards down, because there was no solid ground to get a grip and the carts pulled us backwards.   To add to our difficulties, a little ways in we became lost in a network of criss-crossing mountain bike and ATV tracks, and we were no longer confident we were following the right track.

We struggled along like this for just over 2 km, winding up and down the sides of the valley.  Even without gear, I would rate this trail as 'Difficult' or 'Very Difficult' for hiking on account of the steep slopes combined with the loose soil and shale.  To my uninitiated eyes, the constant and winding ups and downs looked like a fantastic trail for mountain biking or fat biking, and this was confirmed by a very friendly cyclist we met halfway through who warned us to be careful, that cyclists wouldn't expect hikers and they could be coming very fast in some sections where they wouldn't be able to stop. 

At one point the trail took us all the way up the side of the valley to its lip, and we walked down a forested field edge to the road and out to the highway. 

 We felt utterly defeated and discouraged that once again we were walking a road instead of enjoying a beautiful greenspace, but on the eve of our departure from this province it confirmed something we've been feeling for a while.  This landscape and its trails are places of extremes.  We've walked flat, straight, gravel concessions with no technical challenges at all and we've hiked extreme mountain biking courses in steep river valleys.  Outside of Winnipeg and the municipal and provincial parks, we've found little in between.

Having trekked the roadway for 2 km we relocated the other end of the Bear Creek Valley trail which we trekked 1.5 km eastward along only to find knee and waist deep grass with few indicators of any recent use. 

Feeling somewhat redeemed for having trekked the majority of the Beer Creek section we crossed the  road and came to the boundary of the Asessippi Provincial Park.  This 23.2 square kilometer park is named after the town of Asessippi, which was established in 1882 on the edge of the Shell River.  Asessippi is a Cree word meaning 'clam shell river.'  The park was established in 1964 as part of the creation of the Shellmouth Dam and its reservoir, the Lake of the Prairies.  This lake now offers anglers opportunities to catch walleye, northern pike, and yellow perch among other things.

The park is situated where the valley of the Assiniboine River meets the valley of the Shell River.  The landscape was shaped more than 10,000 years ago by the melting of the Keewatin Ice flow, which was part of the Laurentide Ice Sheet.  The modern versions of the Assiniboine and Shell rivers are examples of 'misfit rivers' because they are much smaller, and meander far more than the large river valleys in which they are located.

The Asessippi Valley is now also home to the Asessippi Ski Resort, which offers mountain biking in summer and 23 ski runs, a downhill snow tubing park, and a terrain park that are serviced by 3 chair lifts.  There is a large chalet and a ski village located nearby as well. 

After the brutally exhausting hike this morning, we were delighted to find a wide, closely mowed grassy trail under a canopy of shade trees at the edge of the park.  The trail led us down to the shallow, meandering river at the bottom of the forested valley. Along the way we passed several picturesque abandoned wooden buildings, as well as a couple interpretive signs.  There were a few muddy, uneven patches, but overall this section of trail was beautiful, and it offered stunning views down the valley and across to the ski hills.  Unsurprisingly, we passed a few other people enjoying the sunny afternoon on the banks of the river.

Eventually the hiking trail led us out to a gravel road that ran along the bottom of the ski hills. We passed all three chair lifts, seeing a couple mountain bikers as we went.  As we approached the chalet the trail was supposed to pick up again, and take us back down to the river, but the signs seemed to disappear, and we failed to find the trailhead.  We asked one young man working on the winter grooming machines where the TCT was he responded that they had "sold the land and that the trail was gone".  Undeterred we continued down the winding road, which was quite hot now in the bright afternoon sun.

At the far edge of the park we came out onto a gravel concession road and wound back down to the river, where we passed a floating dock with several colourful boats at the Cottage Cove Marina.  As we passed the other end of the trail we were originally unable to find we saw a notice saying the trail had been rerouted, and hikers should check at the ski chalet while another posting told trekkers to take the road to Inglis.  There had been no such notice on the other side.  Hmm.

It was then time to start making the long, steep, climb up out of the river valley.  Part way up the hill the trail led off into the woods along the forested river valley once again.  It was a multi-use ATV track - with the entrance blocked by a parked truck and presently filled with a number of ATVs who could be heard racing along the pathways.  While this pathway was in good condition, the fact was by this point we were too hot and tired to enjoy weaving our way up and down the sides of the valley while also regularly diving off the trail to avoid the motorized traffic for another 10 km.  One thing we learned today - although we haven't met any hikers so far outside of the beautiful trails running through Winnipeg, Manitoba hikers must be really hard core!  By the end of this short day of trekking we were bone weary.  No wonder our hosts had suggested crossing the three sections of this river valley would take several days!

At the far edge of the park the trail emerged onto a mowed grassy track that ran beside a hay field.  Although we had only covered 23 km today, and it was only 4 pm, we were too exhausted to continue.  The weather network indicated it was 31 °C, but the sun felt scorching hot.  We sat down in the shade of the trees along the trail edge and listened to the rustle of the wind in the aspens.  We decided we'd come far enough today, and this peaceful spot would be our home for the night.  By 3pm Sean was asleep on a tarp next to the trail and I spent the rest of the day resting, drying out our gear and writing.