Winter seemed to sneak in and pounce a little early this year. A couple of significant dumps of snow during the past few weeks seemed to bring us that mid-winter, snow and cold everywhere feeling in what seemed like a blink of an eye.
My reaction to all that was to snap into hibernation mode, something I’d expect to happen in February, not November or December. Because of that I really hadn’t ventured out on any substantial weekend hikes yet this winter season.
This weekend I was determined to snap out of hibernation and get out on some trail, somewhere. The Ministik Bird Sanctuary is always a good choice because there are options for long, or short hikes and you never really know what you’re getting yourself into when you tackle one of them: trails might be frequented by snowmobiles, skiers or… no one.
I started out from what I call “Ministik South Parking” near Mandy Lake and was aiming to explore a branch trail where a couple of geocaches have been hidden for years and where I hid one recently. I was boldly going where I hadn’t gone before.
Although my snowshoes where in the back seat when I started out, I decided to tackle the trail without them. I do find them a bit cumbersome and it’s always a trade off between how much I’m going to have to fight with them as opposed to how much they’ll help me navigate through the snow. Today, for the first leg of the trail anyway, I really doubted my decision to leave them off: there was no trail to speak of, only a consistent deer track, so the trail breaking really put my heart rate up for the first half hour or so.
Once I reached the junction of the main trail and the side trail I wanted to explore I was so grateful to find that a snowmobile had traveled the trail in the not too distant past. While following the side trail, the going was tough in sections, but the sled track helped a lot, making it easier to make good time down the trail and lose the energy-sapping “drunken sailor” method of walking that one gets into while slipping and sliding through soft snow.
Soon I was in what seemed like new territory. For me that’s where the fun starts because the senses start to get a workout, something they don’t always get in the city. Now that might sound strange: out in the “middle of nowhere” the senses get more of a workout than they would on a city street?
I’ve just been reading a photography book where the author, Ben Long, talks about “seeing” the world around us. The brain, out of necessity, filters out a very large amount of what we see around us; most times we’re in familiar territory and the data we bring in isn’t a threat or isn’t relevant so it’s filtered so that we can concentrate on what’s at hand, like not hitting other cars or people while driving, for example. He notes that when traveling to new, unfamiliar places, a person’s senses tend to perk up so that suddenly rich details seem to pop out of what would be common, everyday experience for the locals. In new and different surroundings, so much of what is around us isn’t “common” anymore, so the brain doesn’t have the experience of knowing what is safe to filter out. The scenes in front of us seem richer with detail, more alive and more interesting because we’re evaluating more of the details we’re experiencing.
One aspect of this is that the animal part of our natures are awakened and we’re a little more aware of the threat of dangers. In unfamiliar territory, the brain hasn’t learned what is a threat and what isn’t. I find that the awareness that danger could be lurking, maybe around the next bend in the trail is ever present when I’m on new trails in the wild. It’s not a fear, or dread by any means, but when I’m in places that are new to me, the awareness of possible danger is definitely present.
This maybe explains why I was suddenly constantly aware of the noises in the thickets around me and constantly scanning the trail ahead for other creatures. For me, this is part of the allure of exploring new places. There’s the experience new places, but there’s the constant feeling that danger could be lurking, and puts me just a little bit on edge, providing a bit of thrill as new trails are traveled.I had a cache container with me ready to hide somewhere along the trail today, and once I made it to a clearing absolutely packed with cattails, I thought I’d hide the cache and call it “Cattail Cocktail Party”; that’s just what the mass of swaying cattails looked like: a crowd mingling at a party. I couldn’t find a good spot though and had no way to simply hang the cache in a tree, so I gave up on the idea of hiding one today.
Once I’d made it to a waypoint I’d called “EastWestCutline”, sure enough there was a definite cut line that would have taken me to new places to the east, but it was fenced off and not knowing the area well, nor where the southern boundary of the sanctuary really was, I decided to backtrack instead of exploring it. I see now that the cutline is well within the sanctuary boundary so I could have made my way along the cut line without any guilt. Some day that will happen.
After considering simply returning along the path and calling it day, I decided I had more gas in the energy tank and decided to follow a well-worn snowmobile track leading east. I had plenty of waypoints loaded that would keep me from wandering too far east and perhaps making it tough to get back to the parking spot, so I felt confident I could bail off of this eastbound track anytime. In the end the track took me in a very nice loop around to the old abandoned cabin on shoreline of Mandy Lake.
This winding leg of the trip offered up a lot of open expanses that in warm weather would be boggy or full of water, making them difficult to reach in summer. These were prime spots to capture with the sweep panorama feature on my camera, so I ended up with far more panos today than usual.
It was a fun trek. The snowmobile packed trail made for relatively easy going and finding traffic signs for snowmobiles in what I considered to be deep in the bush was pretty amusing.
In the end I found myself walking across Mandy Lake itself; if a sled and driver had made it across, I thought I was safe enough to venture there too.
I stopped for a rest and bite to eat at the shelter near the old cabin. That was a welcome break, but I found that after sitting around and then standing still to take a few pictures, I’d become quite chilled. The warmth that comes from moving along the trail wasn’t being generated and the sweaty layers under my jacket were starting to cool down my core in an uncomfortable way.
I had to get moving again so I gladly donned my pack and made my way back towards the parking spot along what is familiar trail in warmer seasons. A snowmobile had traveled this way in the past as well, although the track was quite old, so I was happy again to mostly be walking on the snow instead of ploughing through it. The movement helped though, and very slowly I warmed up again.
After a few full stops for rest along the trail – my legs, especially my calves, were really feeling the effects of this snow trudge by this time – I finally spied the gate near the parking spot again, and soon enough my parked car too.
It was a fun trek to new places today. I look forward to trying to follow a similar path in warmer weather and exploring new trails I only spied for the first time along today’s walk.