The levelness of this hike was a contrast to last week’s up-and-down scramble where we had dizzying, but impressive views over the Bigstone Creek.
This time our destination was Horseshoe Lake, via the Ministik Bird Sanctuary. Gladys, our hike leader, gave us a short background history.
The eleven of us arrived at the lunch spot early. Our efficiency could only be due to the meticulous and thorough maintenance on the trail carried out by crews in the previous week.
Some of the hikers tried to carry on past the lunch spot. But they returned soon after when they ran up against the luxuriant undergrowth—starting exactly where trail maintenance had stopped.
This hike will go down in memory for the number and variety of mushrooms and fungi. (But where—Oh! where did the dickie birds go?) One mushroom we saw is a “wood apple,” aptly named because it looked for all the world like a brightly coloured gala apple crouched on the ground.
Another rare feature we came across was a peat bog inhabited with plant species that were quite different from the surrounding forest.
Altogether it was an excellent hike with ease of travel, plenty of cooling shade, remarkable botanical features and, of course, congenial company.
The hike from Fort Ethier along Bigstone Creek gave us a big taste of agriculture up close, and the opportunity to test our stamina.
The trail starts with a herd of alpacas in the distance, but we held off taking pictures–because later, we would get much closer. Instead, we took the first of many descents to the creek level and climbs out of the gorge. More than half the slopes have rope “handrails”, which if you don’t have hiking poles, you really need.
But we all agreed: the views are worth it.
Along the top of the slopes, we walked next to fields of wheat and rye, the stalks standing like soldiers, uniformly capped with rich full heads of grains. The sight got us home bakers talking about the craft of breadmaking. Perhaps the brewers among us were thinking along those lines too.
We walked along several pastures. In normal years these fields are grazed down to the height of lawn. But with this year’s plentiful rain and sun, the grass has been growing rapidly. It’s like the cows can’t eat fast enough to keep the pastures trim.
“I have a hayfield where I normally get three bales,” the landowner told us. “This year I got ten bales.”
Nature never fails to let us know who’s in charge—and we experienced a jolt of the worst kind. Half the group had proceeded past a log—and a small hole in the ground—when a force of bees rose up out of the hole and attacked. Anita was stung 15 times, Bonnie 4 times, and Rupak once. The victims still felt they were fine to carry on.
We took a good long rest for our lunch, at the confluence of the Bigstone and Pipestone Creeks. On the way back, we were very careful to skirt around the bees’ nest.
When we arrived at the end, we got closer to the alpacas in their pen. In fact, they are such curious animals, they approached us as we came into view. Aren’t they incredibly sweet with their recently shorn coats? You can buy the wool products from these particular alpacas at Fort Ethier Alpaca Beauties on Facebook.
There were 13 of us on the 11 km hike. Here we are at the remnant tower of the old fort.
One cannot hike Miquelon North without being reminded that it was a St. Francis Xavier Biology 30 class that put in the section of Waskahegan Trail from Miquelon Lake Park to just beyond Horseshoe Lake in the 1970s.
To commemorate their hard work the students, under the guidance of their teacher, Vi Sunohara, student Gary Hnatko, and our Pat Bourque, hauled a sharpened 4×4 post to the highest point on the trail. The students skillfully carved into the post “St FX Waskahegan Lookout.” They also had the foresight to bring the tools required to pound that post deep into the ground.
Some 40 years later, the landmark is still there and we talk about the great citizenship shown by the St. FX students and their teacher. (As evidenced by the Waskahegan Trail Guidebook: Our Millennium Edition (2001, p. 136), the students made quite an impression: “In line with the friendly bantering that went on between the class and Pat Bourque, the Waskahegan coordinator, Pat suggests that the sign on the hill should have read “St. FX Look Out!”
As we walked the trail, we imagined what a great education those students had so many years ago as they travelled the same route. Did they notice the standard summer flowers like the goldenrod, asters, sow thistle and yarrow? Or were they really keen to notice the less obtrusive Indian Pipe and Wintergreen? Were they scared silly by a pair of Ruffed Grouse like Anita and I were? Did they look up occasionally, like we did, and marvel at the zeppelin-like pelicans happily swirling with the wind currents above the lake? And was Erickson’s large culvert (a prominent landmark) still channeling massive amounts of water? Or did it look out of place then, as it does now, in the mostly dry, boggy pasture?
Back in the day, Miquelon Lake was much nicer for recreation, and the students likely took less time to eat their lunch and more time to frolic in the lake. We, however, were not tempted to go for a dip in the murky, shallow lake of today. As we enjoyed our lunch at a shady spot near the boat launch, we checked out the pictures that Vivian had already taken and gave our own student representative, Marco, the GPS so he could accurately determine our distance travelled.
The route back was delightful The wide open meadows were teeming with wildflowers. During the hottest part of the day, we appreciated even more so the generous assortment of mushrooms growing in the cooler shaded areas of the bush.
As we walked along the varied terrain we could not help but appreciate the hard labour of our own trail maintenance crew that, like the kids of so many years ago, still battle large trees fallen across the path, dense slough grass, thistles, large boulders, thick shrubbery, cow patties, huge ant hills and plenty of mosquitoes. We were thankful to be able to hike on a very clear and extraordinarily well-marked trail. Total distance travelled, reported Marco, was 9.9kms.