The last vestiges of winter linger here on Cape Croker at the base of the Bruce Peninsula, just north of Wiarton. Snow clings to the slopes, cliffs and brow of the escarpment. The Greenbelt is beautiful this time of year, with snow still dusted over field and tree alike. Signs of spring are just beneath the surface. The trees are still bare, stark but beautiful, revealing the stunning geology of escarpment territory, and subtle rolling hills of the Moraine and Greenbelt farmland.
It was on one of those beautiful, sunny, crisp days of late winter that I decided to go for a walk in the woods of Cape Croker at Jones Bluff, on the Bruce Trail. Preparation is a must for backwoods hiking at any time of year, but in winter it is especially important. Dressed warmly (layers) and armed with plenty of sustenance (trail mix), hydration (yes, even in winter), snowshoes, trail guide and a GPS (and let’s not forget the camera!), I set out with a friend (also important) on the seven-kilometre loop.
Although the snow was still piled three feet deep, we set out with great aspirations of making the trek all the way around the trail that afternoon. With a spring in our snow-shoed step, we started off at a jaunty pace (if you can call snowshoeing jaunty). We quickly realized our mistake however in assuming it would be quick going.
The snow was wet and heavy, and our soft, weak, winter (read: lazy, indoor, out of shape) bodies quickly tired. But the woods were beautiful, deep and peaceful with bursts of colour in the orange from last year’s leaves still clinging to the branches of beech trees, and vibrant green moss peeking out from under the snow in sunny patches.
In this part of the province, the Escarpment forests are part of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest types with a mix of the deciduous forest species of eastern North America, interspersed with red and white pine, spruce and hemlock. The characteristic escarpment cedars also add to the wonderful diversity of this upland and cliff-face forest. There is something truly magical about a stand of birch trees in the deep of winter, set against the snow covered ground and a bright blue winter sky.
After walking about one and a half kilometres, we realized we just couldn’t complete the loop before dusk. It had taken us nearly two hours, which meant we were moving at slower-than-a-snail’s pace, and we were tiring by the minute. Just when we were feeling dejected at our failed attempt, we caught a glimpse of the Escarpment cliff and Georgian Bay through a stand of trees. The sheer magnitude of the view, the exhilarating feeling of looking over the Escarpment edge to see the beautiful Neyaashiinigmiing Territory of the Chippewas of Nawash, and the still-icy waters of the Bay stretched out beyond, was truly worth the effort after all. Our moods were lifted, and we trudged ahead to the first clear lookout.
No, we did not finish the walk. This is not a tale of receiving a sudden burst of superhuman energy from the sheer spectacular beauty of nature and running the last five K of the trail. But as we turned around after the first lookout for the almost three kilometre slog (calling that a long slog might seem hyperbolic, but you try doing it in three feet of wet snow after a long winter of sitting around on your tush), our spirits soared at the beauty of the landscape around us.
We returned home defeated, with sore, heavy legs but lightened hearts. A wonderful winter adventure and a very valuable lesson: stay fit with regular exercise and stretching! Even in winter. Get out and walk, ski or snowshoe. Even better, visit any one of the many Greenbelt trails from beginner to advanced (I recommend starting with beginner if you’re a bit soft around the edges like me), and get active today!
To experience the exhilarating views and excitement of backwoods adventuring on the Bruce for yourself, visitwww.explorethebruce.com for all-seasons fun and activities. For information about the Bruce Trail, more beautiful hikes and where to purchase trail maps, visit www.brucetrail.org.
Karen May, Program Coordinator