It’s been a particularly wet spring. The last two months have felt like one unending rainfall with an occasional sunny break. I started wondering if that is what it feels like to live in Vancouver or Great Britain. The rain has caused lots of trouble but it’s been good for some things. Lush vegetation is one of them. And waterfalls, of course. So no wonder we spent our May microadventures chasing waterfalls around Hamilton.
Getting outside in any season comes with lots of rewards but spring offers a special kind of magic. In the spring, the forest looks like a giant colouring book and every day nature fills it in with more colours. Sure spring adventures can be a messy affair, quite literally. But if you focus too much on the mud under your feet, you risk missing the fascinating transformation happening around. And as we return to the woods every Saturday, I savour the colours splattered around where nothing but grey contours were seen the week before. All to the glorious bird song reverberating through the trees.
Those who have been following this blog are aware of my frustrations with the extremely un-wintery behaviour of this year’s winter, at least in my part of the world, and the extent to which we’d been going to find even a little bit of snow. So you can imagine my delight when we woke up to a major snowfall this past Sunday. We knew this winter spike might no last long so we dropped all our chores and headed outside. It was magical.
I love snow. I love it when it falls softly, inaudibly, in large cottony blobs and blankets the whole world. I love how the world slows down almost to a halt, spellbound, as if trapped in a giant snow globe. I love how it muffles all sounds, softens sharp edges and turns even the ugliest urban landscapes into works of art. I love how the snow cover sparkles and squeaks under my feet on a crisp sunny day. I love to walk through a fresh layer of snow, testing its depth, drowning in its soft whiteness.
It’s hard to believe 2016 is drawing to a close. And it was quite a year when it comes to outdoor adventures, both close and far. With a three-week road trip all the way to Los Angeles, lots of camping with family and friends, my first solo trip and endless microadventures, it is next to impossible to narrow down ten best. But I’ll still try.
Our latest microadventures had three things in common: snow, Bruce Trail and lime (as in construction material, not fruit). Why lime? Well, with easily accessible deposits of limestone in the Niagara Escarpment, the Halton Hills area not far from Toronto became a hotspot of industrial development in the 1800s. At the beginning of the century, the land was surrendered by the Mississaugas Nation (now known as the Mississaugas of the New Credit), and the lime production boom began. It was the remnants of the lime industry that we got to explore during our trip to Limehouse Conservation Area and Hoffmann Lime Kiln Ruins near Devil’s Pulpit.
People sometimes ask me how we choose locations for our microadventures. Well, there are a number of considerations: closeness to Toronto, whether we’ve been to the place before (although we do like to go back to the same places, especially in different seasons), the number and length of hiking trails, etc. The decisive factor, however, is the number of geocaches hidden around.
When people hear about geocaching, quite often they reply with “oh, yeah, it’s like Pokémon Go.” Uh, no, geocaching is nothing like Pokémon Go. Well, there are some similarities: in both cases you are looking for something while using technology. But that’s where similarities end. The geocaching website calls it the world’s largest treasure hunt, and that’s how I see it – a treasure hunt where the biggest treasure you discover is connections (and an occasional trinket that you can swap for something of your own). That means connections to the environment as you need to observe various land forms and natural features, be able to use a compass and read clues. Plus each geocache is a real physical object, not a figment of someone’s imagination on the screen, so by locating it you are connecting not only with whoever placed it there but also hundreds of geocachers who have found it before and will find it after you.
For the record, I am not anti Pokémon Go. At least it gets people outside (although I am not sure if it’s even a thing anymore). I just think geocaching is way more fun.
How we headed for Mount Nemo and ended up at Rattlesnake Point
So a few weeks ago we were all set to go geocaching, and hiking, at Mount Nemo Conservation Area in Burlington. We visited Mount Nemo before but that was in our pre-geocaching days so there were 15 still undiscovered caches waiting. Then, on the way to the park our son realized that he’d left his geocaching pack at home. Going back would’ve taken too much time so we decided to put off the Mount Nemo adventure for next week and go to Rattlesnake Point instead. Sure, we wouldn’t be geocaching but there were other cool things to discover.
We visited Rattlesnake Point last year, but this time it looked completely different, way more festive with most of its fall foliage still in the trees, a lot of it still, surprisingly, green.
We started with the Buffalo Crag Trail, which led us to the lookout over the Nassagaweya Canyon. There is a seven-kilometre Nassagaweya Trail that connects Rattlesnake Point to Crawford Lake Conservation Area but it was too late in the day to embark on that adventure.
So we retraced our steps back to the Rattlesnake Point lookout and then proceeded onto the Vista Adventure Trail. It took us to the Nelson, Pinnacle and Trafalgar lookouts over the Lowville Valley where we could see Mount Nemo in the distance.
Our son tried a bit of climbing, we took a few photos and then it was time to go back.
We took the wrong turn on our way out of the park and ended up touring the campground area. Most of the sites were occupied. They also looked quite spacious and private so I thought with it being only 30 minutes away from Toronto, Rattlesnake Point could be a great spot for a very last minute unplanned getaway.
Mount Nemo, finally
Next week we were back on the road to Mount Nemo, this time making sure we brought the geocaching pack.
It was an unusually warm November day. The ground was covered with a thick leaf carpet, but there was also lots of foliage still holding on to the trees and with sunlight seeping through the forest was glowing.
Albert Camus once called autumn “the second spring where every leaf is a flower.” There were also a few actual flowers scattered between those autumn blooms.
My favourite part was the birch grove: the sparkling white of the bark against the bright yellows and the geometry of shadows.
And, of course, the views: the checked spread of the Lowville Valley down below with Rattlesnake Point on the other side this time.
The park has two loops: North and South. We covered them both, some parts twice, in search of geocaches.
In the end we found seven and also scored a few geocaching firsts along the way, like the largest cache we’ve ever seen.
We also met some fellow geocachers. Let me backtrack a little to explain something about geocaching. Somehow our son believes it is a super secret activity. Never mind that it has its website and lots of places, like the Conservation Halton parks, promote geocaching as one of the activities to try. He continues to insist on being discrete, whenever he is looking for geocaches. Which is not always easy with all the people around and it is often our role to provide distractions. So when we came across a couple looking all shifty and pretending they were just hanging around near the spot where a cache was supposed to be, we recognized fellow geocachers. After about five minutes of our two groups circling around the area pretending we weren’t looking for anything in particular, someone had to finally say: “I think we are looking for the same thing.” Eventually we located the cache, signed in and moved on. We kept seeing their nickname on the other caches we found later that day. As I said, connections…