Adventure Journal

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Bruce Trail - One Year Later

The Bruce Trail
One Year Later

Bruce Trail Documents

October 31st, 2010 marks one full year since I completed the 880km journey up the Bruce Trail from Queenston, to Tobermory, Ontario.

Reflecting back on the trip, it was the most challenging and beautiful trips I have ever taken. Wrought with danger, peril, and harsh conditions the Bruce Trail left it's mark on my life more than I could have imagined.

During the four month journey I met some really great people, including a couple of other end-to-enders as well as some questionable folks whose motive was not quite clear.

As the summer rain beat down on my head, and my feet beat down on the trails, I fell in love with the giant moss covered rocks, the sheer cliffs, and beautiful scenery of the trail.

The trip would not have been possible without my friends. They were the ones who provided unfettering support and countless rides to and from trail locations in some of the worst summer weather we've had in decades.

Learning first hand about the poor camping conditions of the Bruce Trail, I would never recommend anyone attempt a thru-hike of the trail. I can advise you this the trail is not designed for more than simple 15-20km day hikes. The Bruce Trail Conservancy will concur.

Above all else I proved that modern people can walk barefoot hundreds and hundreds of kilometres without the perceived injuries and certain death as touted by the narrow minded. I received quite a lot of media attention through the hike, as well as some interviews which were a lot of fun.

The Bruce Trail experience left a deep mark on my psyche which I don't think will ever go away. Each time I do short day hikes on the trail, I still remember when it was just myself and my husky Luka. I frequently find myself talking to people about the experiences on the trail. Although not the longest or most difficult trip, the Bruce Trail experience seems to dominate my thoughts.

The question I am asked frequently is “what's next?” The answer is I am currently working on a college diploma with an outdoor education focus, and will hopefully get some more long distance travel in during the summer months.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Worst night on the Bruce Trail - June 2009

Worst night camping on the Bruce Trail
Summer 2009

It has been almost a full year since I have completed by epic Bruce Trail trek. There are many things in the work as a result of the trek including a book and possible film documentary. My time on the Bruce Trail made a mark on my life in ways I could not imagine. Breaking the world record for completing the trail barefoot was just a small accent to the trail experience.

By the third week on the trail, It had started to rain. I was in the upper sections of the Iroquois section which runs through Hamilton, Ontario. I was dressed in my favorite British Camouflage DPM pants, a black shirt which I had gotten as a gift from some girls at work, and of course my rain poncho.

The rain had started during the day, and I plodded along surefooted with hiking poles in hand. Both Luka and I had heavy packs on which slowed us down. There was no traffic sound, just the gentle patter of rain all around me. Wet as it may be, it was beautiful. The colours around me of the plants and trees seemed more vibrant. The mud of the trail squished up between my toes on each step.

I came over a small hill and surveyed the trail ahead of me. Someone had taken the time to line this section of the trail with small rocks to give it a very artistic look. Vibrant wildflowers glistened in the rain on both side. As I passed through this section, it looked like I was walking in someone's private garden. The rain had made the flowers release their scent and it was truly a pleasure to be there.

At that moment I felt a oneness with the world and myself. It was a certain calm, tranquility that non-spiritual people have difficulty comprehending. The sensations of the wet mud beneath my feet,
the steady calming sound of the rain, the vibrant colours, and the scent of the wildflowers is difficult to describe. It was like I was connected to creation itself, and could feel the pulse of nature.

I moved forward and came to a small, country road. I leashed Luka and checked for traffic. I stepped out onto the asphalt road. It felt completely different than the trail which I had been walking on all day. It was hard, and rough, like sandpaper. Across the road I could see something in the distance. Something bright white – A waterfall.

Stepping back onto the comforting dirt of the trails, I unclipped Luka from her leash and she joyfully went bounding off into the distance.

The large waterfall loomed over me. Sherman falls is one of the largest waterfalls in Hamilton, standing at over 17 metres tall. With the heavy rain, this curtain waterfall was at full flow this time of year. Of course I could have been standing under the waterfall for the amount of rain that was coming down on us. Stopping for a few moments to take in the beauty of the waterfall, I moved along the trail.


Passing into the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, the trails surface changed. They went from dirt, to stone packed trails. These are a great advantage for high use trails as they are inexpensive, tough, and long lasting. They don't get ruts like dirt trails from overuse.

The problem was the rain. Water softens even the toughest of bare feet. The trail soon presented a challenge as my waterlogged feet had little protection from the stone packed trails. It felt like rough sandpaper at first. Then I felt a bit of a burning sensation as the trail surface ground away at my feet. Shortly after almost each step was agonising. A few kilometres of agonising, sharp burning pain with each step, I saw a blue sign which advised me I had reached the Merrick Side Trail. Only 800 metres to camp.

Merrick Side Trail - Bruce Trail

Turning off the brutalising stone packed trails, I arrived at the campsite. The cut lawn felt so good underfoot. As I looked around to find a nice spot to pitch my tent, I saw a picnic table. I walked over to the picnic bench and removed my heavy, 27kg pack and left it on the table. I removed Luka's pack so she could flop down and have a rest.

The sun came out for some time, and I enjoyed the beautiful warm summers evening as I wrote in my journal, had some freeze-dried chicken, and relaxed.

Food on the Bruce

Nightfall came, and I climbed into my tent with Luka. I could hear the rain start again on my tent fly. It's a beautiful sound to fall asleep to, especially after a hard day on the trails. I slowly drifted off to sleep.

I was awakened some time later to a terrible, blood curdling scream. I peered through my tent fly to see that high winds had moved in and it was “blowing a gale” outside. The dark, stormy, wind swept night started making my mind play tricks on me.

“What was happening out there” I thought. Visions of a serial killer torturing his latest female victim ran through my mind. “What if he sees my tent?” I thought. “What if he comes after me?” I wondered. I took a deep breath and assured myself it was just my mind wandering and the scream could have been anything. Thankfully I heard some laughter in the distance shortly after. “They must have just scared one another” I thought as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Some time later I was awakened by Luka who was shivering as she cuddled me. I saw a flash of light. The light was so bright it lit up the entire inside of my tent. I could even make out the dark blue of my sleeping bag. The wind was blowing viciously, the rain was pouring down in buckets.

I have never been camping with lightening so intense it clearly lit up the inside of my tent. I thought of how I had pitched my tent under a tree to protect from the rain. My mind started to go a little crazy again thinking of “widow maker” branches falling and crushing me, lightening striking the tree and all kinds of other things. I wrote in my journal “what the hell was I thinking by doing this trip?” in scratched writing.

Camping on Merrick Side Trail

Luka stood up and wanted to outside. “You crazy dog” I said outloud. I unzipped the tent and she darted out into the vicious storm. The trees seemed to bend over and touch the ground. The lightening lit the area up brighter than daylight! The rain was so hard that it seemed to come from all directions.

“If I have to chase after you half naked through this storm – I am not going to be impressed” I said outloud. Thankfully Luka did her business and shot back into the tent so fast and hard she crashed into the back wall.

Bad bad weather is no surprise to me. In the military you spend more time in the rain than in dry conditions. I've been around the world, and been in some strange places. I've been stranded on an island due to bad weather, and even been camping in the wilderness during a hurricane. Nothing has ever been this bad. It was the first time in my outdoor career I was scared.

At some point I must have fallen asleep, as the next thing I knew, it was daylight. I unzipped my tent and looked wearily outside to see bright sunlight. I squinted. The air was still and calm. It was as if nothing had happened. Luka was still sleeping.

I stumbled out of the tent and made my way to the bench with my pack. I left the tent door open and let Luka sleep while I prepared breakfast.

A lady came by with her dog and asked me if I had slept outside that evening. I said “Yes I did.”

The lady's eyes went wide and said “The news last night told me that it was the worst storm we have had in a century here – and you were in that little tent?” The woman explained how her daughter was in the park just before midnight and had seen my tent, and told her about it.

At least that explained the screams, I thought to myself.

“I sat up through the storm wondering if you were going to be okay out here” she told me. She also said she had thought about seeing if I wanted to sleep on her couch out of the rain, but was a little afraid to go out in the bad weather to find me, in case I had already sought shelter.

I thanked the woman for thinking of me. I was really moved by the fact that this woman, a complete stranger had thought about me during the bad weather. It was very uplifting to think that there are still such good people in the world.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Creating a Primitive Bowl

Creating a Primitive Bowl

The article below shows us how to create a primitive bowl using fire, a knife, and a piece of deadfall log. The article is illustrated with photographs. This project is designed to be reproducible in a survival situation. This project is also part of Wolfmaan's primitive living and survival course.

The first part of the project is to find a piece of deadfall log. You are seeking a log without too many splits in it, as the bowl may need to hold water in the future. Choose a log that is oval shaped if possible, and fairly short. If necessary, you can use your knife to saw through the log and cut it to it's desired length.

You want to ensure use of a deadfall log as a live log will not properly burn and the project will take days instead of just a few hours.

Selecting the Log

[select a deadfall log]

Next, select the spot on your log which will be the actual bowl. Inspect your log carefully to ensure you use the “worst” side. Small splits, cracks, or other imperfections are okay as they will be burned away.

Take your knife and chip away a small spot in the surface of the log. This will hold your embers and prevent them from rolling around off the log and potentially burning you badly.

Carving the log
[carving the center of the log]

To be neat and appealing to the eye, I took my knife and whittled the edges of the log on the top, to make it look a little bit more finished. This is optional and will have no effect on the usefulness of your project.

[whittling the edges]

Start a small fire. This will provide you with burning embers which will be needed for the project. If in a real survival situation the fire will need to be constantly tended to. For this project, the fire may burn itself out after you have created it. I used scrap wood for my fire as the intent is to create a series of hot coals.

[creating a fire]

Once the fire has a bed of coals, *CAREFULLY* obtain some small embers. This can be done by using a long stick to knock the embers onto your knife, or if you have one, a shovel or other instrument. Be careful when handling embers as they can cause serious burns.

Place the embers on your log, and gently blow on them to make them glow red. The point is to get the log itself to start to smoulder and ignite in the center.

[embers carefully placed on the log]

As you can see by the following photo, a small fire may erupt on your log. This will simply accelerate your progress. Beware if the fire starts to get too large, your bowl will not grow deep, but large and shallow. This will not be as useful when it has been completed.

[embers burning the log]

When your embers have burned themselves out, return them to your fire pit. While there, use your knife to dig out the log. Dig only the center of the log, and leave the charred edges intact. This will encourage your log to burn deep, rather than wide.

Load your log with new embers, and allow them to burn. Help the process by blowing air onto the embers and ensuring that they glow nicely.

[removing burnt embers from log]

By now you should see a clear round or oval shape of your bowl begining to come to life. The embers will start to sit in the log, rather than on the log. This means the project is coming along.

[burning embers in log]

To ensure your log burns deep and not wide, ensure that the edges of the log are kept damp. In a survival situation cat tails will act like a sponge and hold water in, to be smeared around the log. Avoid pouring water on the log as it will undoubtedly be drawn to your embers and attempt to wreck your project. Wipe the edges of the log frequently to ensure your bowl becomes deep.

[using cat tails as a sponge]

[using cat tail sponge to apply water to the log]

After several replacement embers, and scrapings, your log will start to take shape. When feel the bowl is deep enough, dispose of your embers into the fire pit and scrape the bowl out completely. It may take a bit of work to get all the pieces of burnt log out of your bowl. Be careful not to scrape too hard or you will have ruined the afternoons work.

[embers burning through the log to create a bowl]

Scraping the log
[scraping the log]

Your completed bowl should look similar to the one below. A nice, deep hollow should be in the middle of your log. This can take several hours to accomplish and gets better with practice.

Completed Bowl
[completed bowl]

Once you are satisfied with your bowl, fill it with water to ensure it will not leak, and to ensure that there is no smouldering still taking place.

Filling the bowl with water
[filling the completed bowl with water]

There are many things you can do to finish your bowl. You can use a rough rock to grind out more of the inside and make it smoother. You can even use natural resins to put a finish on the bowl so it can be more useful. If you have the time you can whittle the exterior and make it more bowl shaped. The possibilities are endless. This is only a beginners guide to creating primitive bowls.

Once completed, this bowl may be used for dozens of things around your campsite. It can be used for holding drinking water. It can even be used for transporting embers to a new campsite if you have no way of starting a new fire.

The log bowl takes a lot of time to make. In a survival situation this is a good thing as it helps occupy the mind and keep it sharp. Boredom in can be your worst enemy. Please comment on this article, and “Digg it” if you feel it may be of use to others.

PLEASE NOTE: There is a possibility of cuts from your knife, and burns from fire embers. Please use caution and care when using sharp objects, and working around fire! If you choose to use any methods in this article – and it's affiliates are not responsible for damages caused directly or indirectly from use and misuse of this article and it's directions.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Rock Chapel Falls

Rock Chapel Falls is nestled in North Hamilton on Highway 5, near where it crosses Highway 6. Getting there is relatively easy from the QEW highway.

Pulling into the parking lot, the park seems uninteresting. A small gravel lot with a dozen cars, and of course a ticket wicket to pay for parking. There is also a sign which states to keep your dog on a leash at all times.

This small conservation area is crossed by the world famous Bruce Trail. The Bruce Trail, however does not dare venture into the gorge itself. Too dangerous. This conservation are has three distinct habitats located within it. The trail starts at the upper plateau. This area has a Cliff face habitat, followed by a Talus slope.

My goal was to reach the base of the waterfall. This could not be accomplished by simply following a trail. Most main trails have a habit of keeping you away from the fun, in order to ensure your safety. I would be sure to seek a side trail which would lead me to the base of the gorge, and follow it to the waterfall.

A steep, windy pathway led from the upper plateau past the cliff face. The path was narrow and damp. There was a lot of broken glass which slowed me down with bare feet. The base of the gorge revealed a large series of boulders, rocks, and trees cut in half by the river. This would be the pathway to the base of Rock Chapel Falls.

Rock Chapel Falls River

I love waterfalls. I especially love standing at the base of a large waterfall and enjoying the mist spraying in my face, and the feeling of wellness from being exposed to the negative ions which are released as the water tumbles. Rock Chapel falls is an 8 metre high horsetail ribbon waterfall.

The riverbed was strewn with giant boulders, and dead-fall which made navigation a challenge. My husky Luka had to be lifted over several sections. My two Jack Russell Terriers Merlin and Morgana also needed some assistance.

Looking around, the area was stunningly beautiful. Like nothing most city dwellers ever experience. Giant trees lay across the river, some with root systems still intact. These trees have managed to weave chunks of rock into their complex root systems. Boulders re-route the otherwise straight path of the river and create dozens of small rapids, and waterfalls. Some as large as 2m in height.

Tiny waterfalls at Rock Chapel

There was little evidence of human intervention here. Only a few pieces of scrap metal, and an old bicycle were visible. Nature had removed the rest and swept it somewhere downriver.

The terrain presented quite a challenge. The boulders were tough to negotiate and some were covered in slime which made them very slippery. Going barefoot is the best way to scramble the large, porous rocks. My hiking partner Tori sustained quite a few scrapes and bruises. The Jack Russells also received quite a few bumps, and scrapes.

Two hours of rough, battering terrain led to the base of Rock Chapel falls. The narrow, tree covered gorge expanded out into a rocky area with a large talus pile edging it. There was little sound other than the splattering of water. The water poured effortlessly over the edge of the falls and plummeted the 8 metres to the shallow basin below.

I took some time to relax at the base of the falls and get some photographs. I also ate lunch which consisted of some power bars which I had purchased at Mountain Equipment Co-Op en-route to the falls.

Rock Chapel Falls

Leaving the basin was easier than expected. A small pathway led up the talus pile to the cliff face. There was a thick, but damaged rope hanging from a tree. The rope led to the plateau of the escarpment, a few metres from the roadside. I helped the dogs up the cliff face, and hoisted myself up with the damaged rope. It was an easy exit.

Luka near the Rock Chapel Basin

The pathway from the exit point led to the parking lot where the car awaited. I removed my pack, and headed home. It was a fantastic waterfall to visit.

Remember to keep your dog on a leash. Locals say that Royal Botanical Gardens park wardens will cause a real headache for you if your dog is off leash. They will sometimes ask for your dogs vaccination and registration tags. Failure to have these on your dog can result in confiscation of you pet on the trail.

For a slideshow of the trip, click here

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Frontenac Provincial Park Visit - May 2010

In May of 2010, my doctor recommended I take a few months stress leave from my office job in order to deal with a lot of stuff that has been going in in my private life.

I took a trip to Frontenac Provincial Park for a short, four day backpacking trip.

Frontenac Provincial Park, just outside of Kingston, Ontario is one of those “best kept secret” places. There are few visitors. This is mostly because there is no car camping available. All campsites are classed as “Interior”, meaning you have to backpack into the campsite.

Wolfmaan at Frontenac

The park has a lot to offer those seeking a wilderness experience but don't want to drive ten hours north of Toronto. The park is only about three hours from Toronto and can easily be reached by taking Highway 401 towards Kingston.

A word to the wise, obey the speed limit signs of the area. The sharp curves are posted at 30km/h. I was going a little fast, and was quickly forced to slow down to avoid hitting a guardrail.

Park Staff are friendly, and helpful. Registration was quick and easy. Frontenac Park is truly a wilderness environment. Be sure to go prepared with proper equipment for all weather. Everyone knows it always rains when you go camping.

Long, compacted dirt trails are easy on bare feet, and there are few steep hills heading to the campsites. There are a few low lying muddy areas scattered across the trails. Few of them have bridges to keep you dry.

Wildlife is everywhere. On the hike to the campsite, I was lucky enough to see deer, snakes, frogs, tadpoles, chipmunks, and even large snails. There are a multitude of small lakes which are host to beaver dams, and the occasional beaver sighting. Be prepared for bear encounters.

Beaver dam at Frontenac

Divided into “clusters”, the parks campsites were clean, well maintained and fairly distanced from each other. There was a good sized throne room a few minutes walk away from the campsite. The view of Little Salmon Lake was spectacular. A small sand filled pack was installed to give even ground on tents and minimise environmental impact. My campsite even had wood sitting by the steel firepit.

Myself and Luka were the only people at the campsite for the three days we spent there. We didn't run into anyone else – except chipmunks and dragonflies.

Little Salmon Lake

Surrounding the campsite are networks of trails. Some of which lead to abandoned mines, old homesteads, and panoramic views of the wilderness.

The day of departure, I awoke to the sound of rain on my tent. Packing up and leaving camp is always a bit of a challenge when it's raining.

Well planned trails made travelling in the rain easy. The boggy areas could be a bit of a challenge for the shod, as wet shoes and socks can create blisters. Barefoot travel through the mud is always easy and bare feet dry quickly.

Frontenac Provincial Park is worth the visit if you are seeking a quick get-away into the wilderness which is close to home.

The complete photo slideshow can be found here

Saturday, 27 March 2010

First barefoot hike of 2010

First barefoot hike of 2010

It was an exciting Friday. The day started out with a pitch for an outdoor tour business, which ended up with me being featured in a local newspaper.

My friend Chuck picked me up from the business meeting and wished me well. “I want to relax, and it's a beautiful day” I said.

“Let's hit the trails and visit the Niagara Gorge” Chuck replied.

Crossing over the St. Lawrence Seaway bridge into Niagara-On-The-Lake, I stopped off home and picked up my CADPAT (Canadian Disruptive Pattern) backpack and my husky Luka.

It was a strange kind of day. Bright, sunny and beautiful, yet fairly cold. It was 0C outside, but it felt much warmer with bright sunlight shining down. The ground was cold, and the wind cut through my clothing to chill to the bone.

Inside the car, however the bright sunlight kept me warm in my jacket, and Luka started panting until I rolled down the window.

After navigating a traffic circle (an unusual road feature in Canada) Chuck pulled up at the Niagara Gorge in Niagara Falls. It felt warm, until I stepped outside to feel the cold start to cut through my gear. The ground felt warm under my bare feet. The sun had been beating down on the asphalt for most of the morning and heated it up.

Kitting up with my nylon pants, thick t-shirt, hat, glasses, backpack, and winter jacket I hit the trails. It was time to start training for hiking this summer. I decided to stow my black Vibram Fivefingers in my backpack and hoped to make this my first barefoot hike of the year.

Winter softness had crept into my normally tough, leathery feet. I was surprised how much I could feel the small pebbles beneath my feet. The mulch covered trails felt a little sharp and cool as I walked towards the grey metal stairs which would lead to the bottom of the Niagara Gorge.

The Niagara Gorge which is down stream from Niagara Falls is an environmentally significant and sensitive area. There are species of moss and fern as well as some small salamanders which are found nowhere else in Canada. The unique features of the gorge, which include high, sheer cliffs and the thunderous Niagara River have created a unique, sheltered, Carolinian forest environment.

The massive steel steps take me below the hustle and bustle of Canada's largest tourist area of Canada. (also home to one of the Wonders of the World - Niagara Falls)

Stepping off the unforgiving steel stairs, I was met with a cold, harsh stone packed trail. The wind was ripping through the gorge and right into me. I pulled up my hood to help block out the wind. I headed South toward Niagara Falls and a section known as the whirlpool.

I was walking along a smooth stone ridge scattered with small pebbles. I was surprised how liberating it felt to go barefoot, even in the cold. It felt so natural. It made me feel connected to the land, and the Great Creator. The valley below was filled with trees devoid of leaves. I could see the trees themselves. Birch, Cedar, and pine. Up above in the bright blue sky, Turkey Vultures soared on the thermal turbulence created by the Niagara River. Below I could hear small creatures scurrying about.

As I was contemplating how liberated I was feeling, I rounded a bend in the gorge and was met with beautiful sunlight. The sunlight had warmed the rocks beneath my feet.

“Perhaps this is what shod people feel” I thought to myself. My body was freezing cold, and I was bundled up, but my feet were warm!

Large sheer rocks towered overhead, and the trail followed a small pathway deeper into the gorge. Giant boulders were strewn about haphazardly over hundreds of years. Mosses grew on some of the rocks, while others had trees struggling to survive growing on them.

The familiar earth smell permeated through the air. The musty, almost sweet smell was very soothing.

Descending further, the trail made it's way to a set of giant, house-sized boulders which had rolled into eachother many moons ago. The boulders were only touching at the top. This created an arch which you could walk through. The stone had retained winters wrath and it was noticeably colder passing between them.

The pathway, cut out of stone led to a surprising sight. Patches of ice lay before me on the trail. Chuck went ahead of me and took some photographs while I walked barefoot over the ice. Surprisingly it did not feel very cold. The spring sun was slowly eroding it's power.

Barefoot on ice

The ice quickly gave way to more flat stone, polished by thousands of hikers moving through this area over the years. Some areas felt cool, others felt warm. The texture of each rock was unique. Some were smooth like a hardwood floor, others were porous like a cement sidewalk.

Evidence of beavers in the area became evident. Several of the towering old growth trees, mostly birch, had an hourglass shape gnawed into them near the base. The Parks Commission had made short work of cutting down the trees that were victim to the beavers work. Possibly to prevent the trees from toppling over on unsuspecting hikers.

Birch Tree

The birch trees have a beautiful white bark which curls slightly off the tree as it ages. The beavers work had exposed the trees inner wood. Glistening in the sunlight, an array of colours could be seen. The white exterior contrasted bright oranges, yellows, and even reds of the trees inner wood.

I decided to head up the trail, towards a small beach which led to the edge of the Niagara River. The river, is a massive torrent. Unbridled violence, Class 7 rapids, undertows, submerged rocks, back eddies, and whirlpools make this an extremely dangerous waterway.

This entire area is dangerous. Each year, inexperienced and unprepared hikers end up either dying or getting severely injured in the area. The area is so dangerous that a new helicopter rescue pad was build several years ago to extricate injured hikers.

Approaching the beach, I was surprised at the sight. The sun-bleached beach had a unique feature. About 2m from beach bottom, was a distinct dark coloured line which encompassed everything in the area.

“Holy Crap!” Chuck exclaimed “Look how low the water level is!” Chuck fumbled for his camera and started snapping pictures.

I made my way from the dirt and rock floor of the forest, to the normally submerged section of the gorge. I was surprised to see the unusual rock formations, fossils and glacier potholes that were visible. Over the thousands of years this massive, violent river has flowed through the area it wore smooth most of the rocks. Other areas were jagged and looked like pieces had been ripped away.

Low Levels Niagara Gorge

Many of the rocks looked like the surface of a sponge. When glaciers receded in the area about twelve thousand years ago, small hard rocks spun around in the torrent of the water and ground into the softer rocks, leaving amazing formations.

Of course, the low water levels also revealed scrap metal, beer cans, life jackets, and other human rubbish.

The terrain was varied as I made my way across the bare stones. Some felt warm and smooth, others were somewhat sharp and jagged.

Looking around at the low water levels, it was amazing to think I would be standing in water over my head if the river had returned to it's normal levels. To my left, something caught my eye.

Someone had taken the time to create two small Inukshuk's. Small stone structures made without any clay or bonding agents, that represent a human figure. Created by Native Americans in the north to as a representation that human settlements were nearby. I took some photos of the Inukshuks and noticed Luka had gone missing.

Inukshuk Of The Gorge

Off in the distance, Luka had found some new friends. A group of young people hiking in the opposite direction had come across her and was giving her attention. As usual, Luka enjoyed it very much.

Steep hills and a few flat areas left me wanting a rest. A large flat rock jutted out into the air over the raging river below. I removed my pack and enjoyed the beauty of the bright blue skies, sheer canyon walls, and raging river below.

Chuck dug through his pack to find a zip top bag full of mustard pretzels which he offered to me. I had several and a raspberry chocolate bar. The area felt so serene.

The sunlight warmed the rocks, but the air was still cold enough to see your breath.

Finishing my snacks, I put on my backpack, and headed up the trail. Steep hills covered in smooth rocks, pebbles, and of course mulched forest floor.

Each texture on the ground has it's own distinct temperature, and feel underfoot. Something shod hikers cannot begin to understand. From sandy, to sharp, to crunchy, the ground provides the barefoot hiker with an amazing experience.

Rounding a large bend in the trail, the new concrete heli-pad came into view. The large steel cables of the cablecar could be seen high above me anchored into the gorge walls.

The elbow in the mighty Niagara River creates a huge whirlpool surrounded by magnificent rapids which throw the water up to a metre in the air. The area is spectacular to behold.

“May as well head back” I said to Chuck. “At least we proved that it could be done, and the trail does exist between the two stair wells” Chuck agreed.

The walk back seemed to go faster, as there were few photo stops. With the exception of short rests at the top of hills.

The long climb up winding switchback paths took me to the giant cold steel stairs, which led to the parking lot. I took some time to relax, and enjoy the beautiful day.

It was a fantastic day for my first six hour long barefoot hike of the 2010 summer season!

End of Barefoot Hike

Complete photoset can be found here.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

First Encounter With Wild Wolves

First Encounter With Wild Wolves

My first encounter with wild wolves was back in the 2004 in Ontario Canada.

Tori, Lupis and I packed our bags in our Jeep and headed up the highway to a remote park just north of Kingston Ontario. About a six hour drive from where we lived in Niagara Falls.

The drive up the 401 Highway in Southern Ontario was thankfully uneventful. Arriving around 09:00hrs I unpacked the gear.

I checked into the ranger station and got the usual “You aren't seriously going out there for two week without shoes are you?”

“Of course not” I lied. “I have them in my pack for later”.

The morning sun shone brightly through the bright blue sky. Sunglasses protected my eyes and my black boonie hat gave shade to my shaved head. The powdery ground felt soft under foot. The heavy pack held me fast to the ground with no chance of floating away.

“Wruff”, “Wruff” Lupis barked, with a glint in his eye, and large green pack strapped on his back. He was raring to go as it was only the second long trip of the year.

Leaving the security of civilisation behind, the area quickly led to beautiful wilderness. The trail led me to a large canyon with fragrant mosses, and giant boulders strewn about. Trees jutted up along the moss-covered canyon walls.

The canyon gave way to a boardwalk as the ground started to feel soggy. The old, worn wood felt cool under my feet. Up ahead along the trail, a giant rock, the size of a pickup truck sat near the trail. The current trail, curled around it.

Approaching the large boulder, Tori remarked “Look at that!” pointing to the base of the rock. “The old trail is still under that rock!” she examined bunch of boards stuck under the rock. Some time ago this large boulder must have come loose from the canyon walls and rolled into place overtop of the trail. “Imagine how cool it would have been if we were near here when it came loose” Tori said.

The trail snaked through more lowland swampy areas which felt cool to the touch, and somewhat squishy between the toes. There was a unique aroma of cedar from the area.

Large birch trees reached for the sky from the damp, forest floor. Several of the trees looked like they had an hourglass shape cut into them – beaver marks. Very common around swampy areas. The air was thick and warm.

During long hikes, one of the more fascinating things to notice is changing terrain. Starting out in large forests of poplar, larch, and pines the forest give way to open grassy fields. These led into canyons filled with large rock crevices and moss.

Trees and forest changed again to a large open field with a giant rock sticking out of the countryside. After a long, 6hrs of traversing valleys, moving through fields and climbing hills, I decided it was time to stop for lunch.

The afternoon sun had warmed the giant rock, which was covered in thin, multi-coloured mosses and gnarled trees devoid of leaves. The silence was beautiful. No cars, no aircraft or farm equipment, just total silence except for Lupis's panting and our own movement. I removed my and Lupis's pack, then sat down to relax. Tori prepared lunch. The scenery from the large rock was incredible. Vast forested areas dotted with small lakes were all that could be seen, right off into the horizon.

With Lunch eaten, I packed all my gear, put Lupis's backpack on and hit the trails. The other side of the hill led to my first glimpse of a large, clear water lake.

Approaching the lake, I realised that it was actually two small lakes which lay in the middle of the woods, and came together in a small area like the silhouette of a young couple kissing. The clear water was beautiful to behold, and shimmered in the afternoon sunlight.

A plank bridge had been built over the narrows between the two lakes. The water looked fairly deep and was still. I took my first step over the wooden plank, and to my surprise the plank sank beneath the surface of the water! The floating plank bridge could not support the weight of a fully equipped backpacker. I had hoped that it wouldn't sink too deep during my traverse.

My thoughts on the predicament were interrupted by a loud splashing sound as Lupis jumped headlong into the water beside the plank bridge and swam across the narrows. His tail moving like a rudder to keep him straight, while his backpack and it's contents flooded.

I stepped onto the plans and they sank down a good 40cm into the water and thankfully stopped there. I waded across the bridge hoping I wouldn't fall in and waited on the other side for Tori to attempt her crossing.

Tori completed the crossing and the plank bridge bobbed back to the surface, sending ripples into both lakes. The bridge lay in wait for it's next victim like a crocodile. Silently hoping some unsuspecting hikers will come close enough and haphazardly step onto the bridge and go for a dip.

The long days hike came to a close as the forested, sandy pathway led to a large open area with a small diamond shaped plastic sign with the outline of a tent on it. “We're here” I said out loud. “Good, because I'm beat” Tori remarked as she dropped her pack onto the picnic table.

I set up the camouflaged dome tent with the door facing the beautiful, calm lake. The view out the door was breathtaking.

The sun was starting to set and night began to envelope the land. Tori was watching the sunset on a small piece of land jetting out into the lake, and I snapped a photograph of the Sunset at Frontenac, shortly before the campfire and then bed.

Morning came and bright sunlight shone through the thin nylon walls of the tent. I opened my eyes, and smiled. This is the perfect place. So quiet, so calm, and so breathtakingly beautiful.

Unzipping the tent, Lupis rushed out to do his morning business and I climbed out and had a stretch. Tori was still passed out in her sleeping bag from the night before.

I wandered over to the picnic bench and sat on the top, with my feet on the seats, looking out across the bay. I never tire of the beauty of nature.

Lupis hopped up on the table, and I put on his collar and long 3m lead for the morning.

Lupis's ears came to attention, his mouth closed and he took a very alert posture. I looked out to see what had caught his attention to see the most unusual thing I have ever encountered.

Across the bay, as silent as the sun hangs in the sky, six wolves appeared. They were all large, with mostly grey fur which glistened in the early morning light.

Seemingly oblivious to our presence, they each moved silently to the waters edge and took a drink. The water ripped across the small bay and each wolfs tongue lapped up the clear, cool water.

I sat in total silence in awe of their magnificence. I didn't move, I didn't breathe – I just watched.

One of the wolves looked up across the bay and caught sight of Lupis and I sitting on the picnic table. As quick and silently as they appeared out of the woods, they were gone. In the blink of an eye they appeared and disappeared. Ghostly apparitions representing the essence of the wild. The experience lasted no more than a minute at most.

Sitting in awe of the experience was almost mystical. They moved as a group with such grace. They made almost no noise.

Tori had just poked her head out of the tent to see the last wolf leave the bay and disappear into the woods. She said “Was that a wolf just drinking across the bay?”

“Yes” I quietly replied still trying to compute what I had just witnessed.

The rest of the two weeks in the wilderness of Frontenac Provincial Park were uneventful compared to the first morning. Encountering wild wolves a very, very rare occurrence. Hikers and outdoors people rarely get a glimpse of these magnificent and awe-inspiring creatures of the wilderness. It was an experience that few people are fortunate to have in an entire lifetime.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Tornado Alley

Tornado Alley - 2001

“This is not good” I said to my dog, Lupis. Looking out the large glass windscreen of my Suburban, I could see that it was dark. Very dark.

The day had started out with nice, sunny skies just outside of Denton Texas. There was no sign of storms as we passed through Oklahoma. Then everything changed.

I was Just outside of Wichita, Kansas. Out of nowhere, wind blew viciously across the highway. The big, blue truck swayed in the wind, and I had to constantly correct it's direction otherwise I'd have been blown right off the road. Small pieces of debris had taken flight and were carried across the highway like small fighter aircraft.

As with most of my long distance trips, Tori was resting in the back seat of the truck. She had sat up to see why the truck was swaying so badly. “If it gets too bad, just pull into a rest area” she said. I nodded silently, keeping my attention on driving.

Small wispy white clouds started form into little streams. Most of them high in the sky, they stood out from the dark blue background.

I decided to turn on the radio – static. I pushed the scan button to try and lock onto a local radio station. Nothing. I listened to channel 19 on the CB radio – also nothing. There was only one or two cars on the road, mostly because of the vicious storm.

“Breaker one-nine” I said into the CB Radio. “Anyone out there?” No response.

Electricity filled the air from the violent storm. I could feel it passing right through me. It made me feel a little nervous and on edge. It felt like a constant shiver up my spine. Coupled with the flying debris and black clouds, it was not the most pleasant experience.

Out of nowhere I heard a loud sound inside the truck which made me jump. The radio had picked up a local station and locked onto it. I quickly stopped it from continuing to search for a station.

The strange sound, like a high pitch hum I had heard in the past, but had difficulty remembering where from. Pondering the strange sound, a voice broke in and said “Tornado warning, seek shelter immediately” a stern voice said. The tone was part of the Emergency Broadcasting system which I remember hearing on television in my youth during Doctor Who re-runs on channel 17.

WHUMP! I heard over the sound of the radio broadcast. I felt a gentle rocking of the truck. It had felt like someone kicked the truck while it was cruising up the road. Looking in my mirrors, I tried to see what happened. As near as I could tell the truck was hit by a piece of flying debris. Hopefully I didn't get damaged too badly.

Cruising up the road beside me, I could see a strange sight. The flat bottomed cloud started to get a small funnel shaped dip in it. I watched as carefully while driving. The little funnel shaped dip got longer and longer, and started to twist around. The hairs on the back of my neck started to stand up as I realised I was watching the formation of a tornado! Shortly after, the twisting and pulsating mass touched the ground. “You'd better sit up and look at this” yelled to Tori.

“What!” she snapped back at me as she rose from the long bench seat of the truck. Her brown eyes widened as she looked out the window.

Lupis, Tori and I watched in amazement as a large white funnel cloud kept speed with us on the road at around 80 kilometres per hour. Tori snapped a photo. The tornado dissipated less than a minute after it started. Thankfully it didn't change direction and head for the road.

My attention turned back to the road ahead of me where it was now starting to rain heavily. I slowed the truck down to about 60 kilometres per hour to ensure I could maintain safe control of the big, heavy GMC Suburban.

Ahead of me dark blue clouds started to form. As I approached, I was surprised to see a white cargo van on the road. Possibly storm chasers. I hit the brakes and slowed down. Now battered by wind, rain, and the odd piece of debris which had taken flight and made its way across the road.

The wiper blades made a rhythmic thump-thump-thump as they tried in vein to remove the torrential downpour from the windscreen.

The dark clouds started to separate. Wispy, light grey clouds started to form under the dense dark blue. Wispy clouds started to form a spiral – directly in my path. I snapped a photograph, just incase I didn't survive this trip.

I had a really bad feeling about those clouds. It didn't take long before the wispy white clouds started to spin and form into a massive tornado. Shortly before the tornado touched the ground, the van ahead of me disappeared down a side road. I stopped the truck and pulled off to the side of the empty road.

People say that tornadoes sound like a freight train. Although I had seen them on television before – nothing could prepare me for the sight of a giant, massive tornado. They do indeed sound like a freight train. Tornadoes are miracles of nature which demand respect.

Sitting at the side of the road with my hazard lights on, I watched large pieces of barn board, shingles, scrap metal and other debris fly through the air like leaves on an autumn day.

A kilometre or so up the road, the massive tornado dominated the otherwise flat landscape. With a ground-shaking rumble, The tornado changed course. It made its way over the road and through the countryside off into the distance. A large path of uprooted trees and debris lay behind it.

The sight of a giant, towering tornado crossing the road and heading towards me really shook me up. I couldn't wait to find a rest area to wait for the storm to pass through.

I put the truck into Drive, and headed up the road. Fighting gallantly against the wind and rain, the truck cruised up the empty highway with its engine whining. Off in the distance, a small set of white blocks came into view. Approaching the blocks, I could see it was a rest area. The white blocks were the swaying trailers of tractor-trailers huddled together.

Pulling into the rest area, away from the tractor-trailers, the wind howled as it blew the Suburban around. The wind was so strong it felt like it would push the truck over. Whirling around was also debris from houses and barns destroyed by tornadoes.

Surveying the parking lot, I noticed a space between two of the swaying big trucks. I drove the Suburban between the two tractor-trailers for some protection from the wind, rain and flying debris.

Stretching out across the bench seat in the Suburban, I took a deep breath. I hoped that none of us would need to goto the bathroom until the storm passed, as it may be dangerous to be out in the open with the raging storm.

Safe and secure I huddled in my sleeping bag, and listened to the howling wind outside. Even with the protection of two large trailers on each side, the Suburban was blown around in the wind. I truly love being out in bad weather. Tornadoes, however were a new and challenging experience for me. I closed my eyes and drifted of to sleep.

Friday, 15 January 2010

A Trip Through The Salt Flats

One beautiful autumn morning in September, I found myself cruising up Interstate 80 in Utah back in 2002. The sun wasn't visible. Only a faint orange glow crept over the horizon behind me. The whine of the engine was locked into place using the cruise control. Air made a roaring sound as it swept over the Jeep and the tyres rumbled as they clawed the road. Warm winds pressed against me and set my shirt flying, trying desperately to break free. Around me, the long expanse brown nothingness edged with flat topped mountains surrounded the narrow stretch of black road. The thin black ribbon of road seemed to dip into the dessert like the spine of an open book laying on the table. The road looked wet from the autumn heat in the distance. I hadn't seen another car on the road in almost seven hours.

Lupis, my husky sat buckled in the passenger seat with his tounge hanging out. He was panting lightly as his hair was blown around in the open air Jeep. Gazing into the distance, he admired the vast beauty that surrounded us. His big brown eyes fixed on the mountains reaching up to scrape the clear blue skies. In the back seat sleeping peacefully was Tori.

The large expanses of beautiful, featureless brown dessert started to give way. A strange white substance covered the ground. Looking like glistening snow on a cold winters day, my mind couldn't quite comprehend the scene.

“Salt” I said outloud to Lupis. This area of the United States was covered in a deep layer of salt. It looked identical to fresh snow. An hour or two of of white nothingness cut by the black road became quite hypnotic. The sun was shining brightly in the desert as I passed through the outskirts of Salt Lake City. For the first time today other cars and trucks came into view. I knocked off the cruise control and slowed down my big black Jeep and it's powerful v6 engine. The small black trailer swayed gently as the vehicle coasted and reduced speed.

Salt Lake City is a beautiful city. Like most metropolitan areas it was filled with tall skyscrapers and glass-walled buildings. Only a small part of the city was viewable from the highway. Passing through, a very strange sight crept up beside me.

To my right, a large lake known as great salt lake came into view. Temperatures outside were in the 20C range, but the edges of the lake looked like large chunks of ice had formed and deposited around them. Salt deposits!

The warm autumn day and the ice and snow like salt deposits gave the area a unique feel. My body said it should be winter, but it was warm. The Jeep top should be on to protect from the cold, but only warm, dry air circulated around us.

As quick as it came, the good sized metropolis of Salt Lake City disappeared into my rearview mirror. Ahead lay large expanses of white, baron nothingness. Some small mountains could be seen in the distance. The sight of other cars became less and less. Soon Lupis, Tori and I were alone again on the open road. Nothing around us for kilometres in every direction.

Off in the distance what looked like a giant tree rose up out of the ground. A short time later, a large brown pillar rose out of the salt-desert floor. The top of the pillar had large green orbs attached to it, and something on the ground beside it.

As the object grew near, it looked like a giant telephone pole with tennis balls attached to it at the top. I pulled the Jeep over to have a closer look. I unbuckled Lupis and Tori arose from her slumber to see why we had stopped.

I stepped barefoot out of the Jeep to have a very unusual experience. This was the first time I had stepped on a desert of salt. The salt beneath my feet felt rough, like sandpaper. Somewhat sharp on each step, I approached the large sculpture. The salt crunched at some points underfoot.

The large brown pole shot up out of the desert what looked like 60m! Around the top, large spheres coloured green and striped in yellow and red, identical to a massive tennis ball. To each side of the giant structure, large potato-chip shaped pieces of the sculpture lay beside it. In the distance, beautiful mountains edged the dessert like the crust of a giant white pizza.

“What is it?” Tori asked. “I don't know” I replied. “It looks like it must be broken as there are two pieces lying around on the ground over there”.

Lupis ran to the concrete base of the structure and relieved himself as Tori and I looked in awe of this giant piece of art standing in the middle of the desert. “There's a plaque on it over there” I said out loud, and walked towards the structure.

The plaque read “The Tree of Utah (Metaphor) by Karl Momen Completed January 1986” Under that was the phrase "A hymn to our universe, whose glory and dimension is beyond all myth and imagination"

I called Lupis, took a couple of photographs and returned to the idling jeep. “Wow” I said as I fastened Lupis into the passenger seat. “Such an unusual thing to see in the middle of a desert”.

Climbing back into the Jeep, Tori settled in to resume resting in the back seat of the Jeep. I pushed the shifter into first gear and pulled away from this magnificent sculpture.

Reaching fifth gear, I engaged the cruise control and settled in for another long ride. Our destination was Los Angeles, California. We had tons of time and no real agenda.

An hour or so after passing the Tree of Utah, a small exit came visible on the side of the road that read “Bonneville Salt Flats” I had to stop.

I geared down the Jeep and pulled into the small strip parking lot on the side of the road. “Hey! Wake up!” I exclaimed. “This is the Bonneville salt flats, Look!” I pointed to the sign “This is where cars break the sound barrier”. Tori seemed less than enthused.

I suggested that since it was still light, we should go for a walk into the dessert. Tori said that the mountains in the distance didn't look far, and maybe we could climb one, and make it back before dark.

After letting the Jeep idle while we grabbed out backpacks out of the trailer, we shut the Jeep down, and I placed Lupis' green pack over him, and we headed out for a short hike into the desert, passing the large concrete sign stating we were in the Bonneville salt flats.

I was surprised how rough the salt on the ground was. Infact, I wasn't sure it was salt at all. I was sure that it was some kind of sand. With the Jeep and trailer shrinking on the horizon, and my feet tingling from the salt beneath me, I grabbed my Swiss Army Knife and knelt down on the ground.

Taking a deep breath, the warm dry salty air filled my lungs. I looked out and could see the layers of salt which had taken form in the wind. I dug my knife into the ground. It was surprisingly hard. Hard like asphalt! A few moments later a small chunk of the white desert floor flicked off and I picked it up.

“Please don't tell me you're going to eat that” Tori remarked with a scowl. “I don't believe it's really salt” I replied. I examined the small white, crystalline rock in my hand. It had a few specks of dirt on it, but otherwise looked like a small piece of snow.

Opening my mouth, I popped in the chunk of desert floor. Not surprisingly the taste of salt filled my mouth. “Well?” Tori asked with eyebrows now raised. “Salty.” I stated. As nonchalantly as possible I grabbed my water canteen and drank some water to get rid of the taste. I could have sworn Tori was smirking at me.

A few hours later the mountains came into view. Far behind me was the small black speck which was my Jeep. It looked like a tractor-trailer had pulled into the parking area as well. My feet were starting to feel a little raw from wandering over the course salt barefoot for the last three hours.

“It's starting to get dark, we should head back to the Jeep.” I mentioned. Sadly, the mountains were very close but we didn't want to leave the open Jeep by itself for the night. I snapped a photo of the area and we headed back to the Jeep.

Arriving just after nightfall, My feet felt a little raw from walking over the rough, crunchy salt for almost six hours. Looking up, the stars above us were spectacular. Millions and millions of stars hung so low it looked like we could touch them.

“We'll sleep here for the night” I said. Tori dug out the sleeping bags and curled up in the back seat of the Jeep. I slept in the open trailer with Lupis, admiring the beauty surrounding me.

As I drift off to sleep under a canopy of countless stars on a cool autumn night, a shooting star cut through the cosmos.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year 2010

As I waken to the dawn of a new day, dawning also is a new year, new decade, and new hope for the future...

Happy New Year from Wolfmaan