Lush, green and extraordinary: the North Hastings Hike

Early in the morning, the rain was pounding hard on the roads. For about two seconds we wondered would anyone show up? Well of course they will! Rainy days can have the best hiking conditions: not too hot, always refreshing, and you never know what you’re going to see.Into the woods...

We started on the trail with eight hikers, and were soon joined by a ninth, and after lunch, a tenth. The trail was lush and green, and the path was easy to walk, having been cleared and mown just three days ago.

While we were still in the woods, our guest, Anita, was quick to spot a white tailed deer–just meters away from us, on the other side of the fence.Around the slough

We came out and rounded the slough. Suddenly a chorus of sharp yipping, bright and sassy, rose up in the near distance. Birds? “A coyote family,” said Anita. “Babies greeting their mother.”

A few minutes later, I was leading us through the mown path of reeds. Suddenly I jumped. “A snake!” cried Anita, who was immediately behind me. “You almost stepped on a snake.” Sure enough, a garter snake was lying in the middle of path, absolutely still. We all agreed it was the longest snake we had ever seen in the wild.

Common garter snake

I told Anita she gets the award for being the day’s best animal spotter.

Our hike continued through the Allen Nature Trail. We ate our lunch in the yard of St. Margaret’s church. As we nibbled on our sandwiches, we looked up and watched as majestic white pelicans flew overhead.

After lunch we walked down to North Hastings Lake to investigate. No pelicans here, just plenty of ducks and an unusual flock of waterfowl we couldn’t identify.

Not a long walk by Waskahegan standards (only 8 km), but a day full of surprises.North Hastings hikers

Ross Creek: obstacle hike

Even before we  got to the trail head, we were challenged. Hwy 16 had construction and after pulling off to make a pit stop at a gas station, we were blocked at every entry to the highway! Eventually we circled around following other lost souls and return to our route only to miss the turnoff!

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The forecast uncertain us eight hikers endured the rain and the winds! We thought we were prepared. The first surprise was a recently plowed field crossing where we trudged around and through huge muddy lumps to get to the second stile. At first the trail seemed not too bad just a bit overgrown as maintenance was done last month. Then we got to the open grassy sections where the path disappeared and the long wet grass pulled at our pant legs with every step. Finally deciding that we needed to make this an even shorter hike, we arrived at our recently built bridge only to find we had to swim 20 feet to get to it!

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Our return trip was a little easier on the trampled trail.

We frightened  two grouse and a duck, irritated a hawk protecting it’s nest and enjoyed a peak or two of the sun.

We lunched at the cars, then returned to Edmonton where we warmed ourselves with coffee and laughed about our hike.

Blackfoot Staging Area

When Irene steps up to lead a hike she has a huge following. She is a hiker’s magnet. Thirty-one hikers, from Edmonton, Wetaskiwin, Camrose and points in between met up at the Blackfoot Staging Area under cloudy skies after a week of near-constant precipitation. The minute we stepped out of our cars and took in our first breath, we experienced the rich, earthy aromatherapy that always follows a good rain. A great start.beaver lodge

The Blackfoot Recreation Area has over 170 kilometers of trails and four developed staging areas (one of which is the Waskahegan Staging Area—no relation to us). Some trails are for certain activities only while others are shared trails.

We brought our rain gear, but it was not needed as the clouds kindly chose only to shield us from the sun. We appreciated the crisp, fresh air as we hiked along lush, well-marked trails with names like Whitetail, Buck-Run and Muskrat.lungwort

Although we trekked mostly on trails for hikers only, near the end we briefly shared a trail with a considerable posse on horseback, which kept an eye on us from a respectful distance.swallowtail butterfly

Irene offered us two hike distances to choose from, and on both paths, hikers experienced a cascade of greenery—from the aspen canopy above to the middle tier of dense hazelnut bushes, sweet scented wild Alberta rose, and blooming red osier dogwood, to the ground floor that was carpeted with creeping dogwood (bunchberry), elegant meadow rue, globe flowered sarsaparilla, Solomon’s Seal, vetches (both purple and cream coloured), beardtongue and brilliant blue lungwort (who names these plants??).

Canada toadAlso seen were many ducks enjoying the wetlands, swallowtail butterflies darting about, and frogs hopping everywhere.

Most memorable was the evidence of a beaver’s handiwork on the felling of a huge, expansive and formidable balsam poplar. The beaver must have spent days gnawing on the trunk from all sides before the mighty tree finally toppled. It must have been a little disappointed that the massive project did not fall cleanly to the ground, but instead became stuck as branches tangled in neighbouring trees.

Anyway, this super-hero-class beaver has a lot of work gnawed out for itself this summer. Speculative massive construction projects are obviously being considered in the Blackfoot Recreation Area.

Group May 28, 2016 hike