I slowly start losing the feeling in my fingertips. My thin “camera” gloves are no match for -35°C temperatures but with a spectacular eastward view right outside our cabin, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to greet the first sunrise of 2018. So here I am watching a new year being born out of the white silence interrupted only by a joyful bird song. Or is it my own joy reverberating through the frozen air?
The first sunrise of 2018
It is the time of the year when we look back at the great adventures of 2017 and start planning for the year ahead. With numerous camping trips, countless microadventures and a three-week road trip to Newfoundland, choosing the most memorable moments wasn’t easy. Every nature outing, no matter how short or close to home, is an opportunity to stop time, breathe deeper and marvel. Some trips, however, stick in your memory more than others. Here is my attempt at capturing ten best nature adventures of the year.
Winter finally showed up in Toronto late on a Monday afternoon. Its arrival was heralded by snow blobs the size of cotton balls tearing through the December twilight. As I watched their graceful dance outside my office window, I could feel familiar longing.
“Let’s go camping this weekend,” I greeted my husband later that night.
“Where to?” he replied without missing a bit.
“Wherever there’s a yurt or cabin available.”
We didn’t hold our breaths since roofed accommodations get booked far in advance. To our surprise, we had several options to choose from. We ruled out Quetico (too far), MacGregor Point (too flat), Algonquin (we camped there a couple of weeks ago), which left Silent Lake. The next question was: a cabin or a yurt? And while we have the best memories of staying in a camp cabin in Killarney, we decided to go with a more rustic yurt, the same yurt # 5 we stayed at a few years ago. It had a wood stove, no electricity and was a walk-in – just the way we like it. That last one didn’t exactly pen out –the park roads had been cleared so we were able to drive right up to our yurt. But the rest was just as we remembered it, except for a new wood shed outside.
We drive through a small fishing village of Trout River, and the paved road turns into packed ground. “Are you sure this is the right way?” asks my husband. “Of course,” I reply trying to sound more confident than I feel. We can’t afford to get lost now. It’s almost six and I know the Tablelands visible from the Trout River campground look best in the late afternoon light. With rain in the forecast for the next two nights, this might be my only chance to witness this sight.
As soon as we check in at the campground, I grab my camera and head down to the Trout River Pond but not without promising to help set up when I come back. I follow a short trail down to a small pebble beach. There are a couple of kids skipping stones, a lone kayaker disturbing the otherwise perfectly smooth pond, and across a long, narrow strip of water rise the golden slopes of the Tablelands. Imposing and otherworldly, they are admiring their reflection. And who can blame them. Bathed in the evening light, they are spectacular.
The Tablelands admiring their reflection in the Trout River Pond
I adjust my camera bag and look up. Gros Morne Mountain looms in front of us, and the only way to the top is via a path strewn with rocks and boulders of various sizes. About a kilometre of a steep climb that will take us an hour to complete. Once we get to Gros Morne park’s highest point, we will trek across the top of the mountain and then come back down via a path clinging to the mountainside. Even before we begin, I know this 16-kilometre hike will not only be the highlight of our Newfoundland trip and the year in general, but also one of our all-time favourites.
Gros Morne Mountain is calling
November is when the restlessness usually sets in. Darkness slowly eats up the daylight hours. Camping trips get shorter and far apart. Even Saturday microadventures are sacrificed to accommodate other engagements. Somehow the month passed by without a single nature outing. I could feel November’s foggy vagueness making a permanent camp inside me. I needed a deep nature therapy. Fast. Luckily we had a yurt booked in Algonquin for the first weekend of December. I was counting days till I could start my morning with coffee and campfire instead of an overcrowded bus ride.
A few years ago, during our road trip across the U.S., we stopped at the Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota. The cave is currently the third longest in the world and is best explored with a guided tour. So we joined one. Following a park ranger through a maze of passages and tunnels, I tried not to think about metres of rock above my head. As our tour was nearing the end, we stopped on a large platform. Our guide explained that she was going to turn off the lights for a few minutes and encouraged us to listen to the sounds of the cave. Seemed like an easy enough challenge. Once the lights went off and we plunged into complete darkness, I could hear a distant drip of the water. There were other sounds close by: the shuffling of feet, the rustling of clothes, whispers and giggles. On our way back out of the cave, the ranger shared her observation: over the past few years those three minutes of quietness are getting louder. It’s as if people forgot how to be still. Continue reading