Holiday Hike in the Hiawatha Highland
Dawn White - Client and guest blogger
There are few words to adequately describe winter 2020. The usual blur of shopping, holiday gatherings, school concerts, and family visits are gone. Instead, preparing for the holidays has been about online shopping, virtual events on Zoom, and masked trips to the grocery store. We spend our days strategizing how to stay positive as case numbers rise and a new, stricter lockdown looms.
We are truly blessed in the Algoma region to have plentiful conservation areas, provincial parks, and Crown land within an easy drive of the city. I attribute getting out in the bush to my being able to maintain good physical and mental health during the pandemic. As the holidays approached, I pondered how to ‘modify’ the usual night out with friends...as we all know, restaurants and visits to other people’s homes are off limits. I wondered what we could do outdoors, where it is safe and relatively easy to stay socially distanced.
lBlaq Bear Ecoadventures provided the perfect solution. A local outfitter providing guided exploration of the landscape and trails of the Algoma region, Blaq Bear offers a variety of packages and tours to help locals explore the outdoors in a safe and socially-distanced manner. The perfect holiday outing – four friends and a guided tour in the great outdoors. The tour we booked included a packed lunch from a local restaurant, for us it was from Scott Coffee Co. After months of eating at home and tiring of the same recipes, it was truly a treat to indulge in chicken salad wraps with pecans and maple syrup from Hogan’s Homestead. And the cookies were to die for!
The day consisted of exploring the Hiawatha Highlands. Only a ten-minute drive from the city limits, Hiawatha is a mecca of trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking in the winter. The trails for snowshoes are generally well-packed, as we haven’t got a lot of snow this year. I highly recommend the use of snowshoes, however, to keep your grip on the icy and hilly terrain. We lunched on top of a lookout close to the trails that make up the Crystal system, and were able to see the St. Mary’s River, the Water Tower, and Algoma Steel from our lunch spot. We learned about the different conservation reserves in the area and the unique biology of the forest through which we walked.
All-in-all, I can’t think of a more perfect outing during a pandemic. We were able to support local business and enjoy a fabulous day exploring the forests of the Hiawatha Highlands. Check out Blaq Bear for all sorts of adventures, including a unique hike- or ski-in cabin in the heart of the Algoma Highlands at Bone Lake. A truly unique adventure and another one of many worthwhile local destinations to explore.
Norm’s Cabin – What to expect with regards to COVID19 in 2020
Before you arrive
In addition to the waiver form to fill out and send back, we will be sending a short COVID19 questionnaire and code of conduct to fill in and sign. It is important to note that if you have any symptoms or have been exposed to COVID19 within the two-week period before your stay, we will be happy to reschedule. Although the cabin is remote and relatively isolated, there are still people that clean and maintain the cabin to consider as well as anyone you contact during your travels here.
If you plan on renting the canoe, please bring your pfds (personal flotation device). It is difficult to ensure that pfds are virus free without damaging them.
We also recommend that you bring your own pillows.
What to expect when you arrive
When you arrive at the Stokely Creek parking area, you will be met by either myself (Carole) and/or my co-host and husband (Chris).
After going over our orientation meeting which will be held at least 2m apart, we will be giving you plasticized maps and a spot device. Both of these will have been cleaned and disinfected. We will also let you know when the last guests have left and when the cabin was cleaned.
We will then proceed to transfer your gear into the cargo area of the vehicle. This area will have a cleaned and disinfected cargo cover to place your gear on.
From here you will hike either to the Bone Lake launching area to paddle over, or all the way to the cabin. We will be driving through the gated entrance to the trails and will head over to the boat launch area. From there we will transfer all your gear, supplies and drinking water into the canoe. We will use the same cargo cover to protect your gear in the boat and will use gloves and face masks during the transfer period.
Once we arrive at the landing dock at the cabin, we will place all your gear on the landing again wearing disposable gloves and face masks. You will have to transport your gear from the landing to the cabin. Be aware that the cabin is situated above the lake about 13m (40’) so there is a short climb up some stairs and a slope.
We will then proceed to start up the propane appliances, make the beds and set up other items for your stay. The cabin will have been cleaned up and sanitized the day before.
Cleaning of the cabin will include all common touchpoints such as keys, doorknobs, railings, chairs and table tops, window sills and handles, cabinet handles and pulls, sink and faucet, linens, bed sheets and pillow covers, futon cover, garbage bin exterior, gas light knobs, and some kitchenware. The kitchenware found on the counter has all been cleaned and sanitized. Any kitchenware found in the cabinets are not. Cleaning supplies are provided if you would like to use these items. The porch swings and canoe are wiped down and left out to open air. Items in the wood shed are not cleaned or sanitized.
We will be using the following cleaning protocols.
1. Wearing protective gear while cleaning. Personal protective items can provide additional protection.
2. Ventilating rooms before cleaning. Open outside doors and windows will increase air circulation in the space before beginning to clean and sanitize.
3. Washing hands thoroughly before and after each cleaning.
4. Clean, then sanitize. Using detergent or soap and water to remove dirt, grease, dust, and germs. Once the surface is clean, we will use a bleach solution to sanitize. We will let it stand for a few minutes, and wipe with clean cloths.
5. Avoid touching our faces while cleaning. Paying extra attention to prevent the spread of germs, by not touching our face, nose, and eyes with unwashed hands.
6. Using the right disinfectant. When approve disinfectants are unavailable, both the CDC and Health Canada are recommending at least 1000ppm (0.1%) sodium hypochlorite for disinfecting hard surfaces, ensuring contact time of at least 1 minute. The following dilution guidelines assume a starting 5% concentration: Metric: 20 mL of bleach per litre of water (1000mL) or 5mL per cup (250 mL) Imperial: 5 tablespoons (1/3cup) of bleach per gallon of water; 1 teaspoon per quart.
7. Don’t forget about the futon, and other soft, porous surfaces including throw pillows. Carefully remove any visible dirt or grime, then clean with the appropriate cleaners indicated for use on these surfaces. If possible, we will machine-wash these items.
8. Washing all linens at the highest heat setting recommended by the manufacturer. That includes bed sheets, mattress covers, hand and bath towels, kitchen towels, and blankets. We will be wearing gloves when handling dirty laundry, and take care to avoid shaking laundry, which could increase the spread of germs.
9. We will use items not past their expiration dates.
10. Lining trash cans and recycle bin. Placing bags into trash bins will make it easier to dispose of tissues and other waste. All trash and recycling will be removed from the cabin between guests.
11. Dispose of or wash cleaning supplies. Paper towels, disinfectant wipes, and other disposable cleaning supplies will be disposed of in the trash. Cleaning cloths and other reusable products, will be machine-washed at the highest heat setting appropriate for the material before being used again.
12. Safely remove any cleaning gear. When done cleaning, we will immediately remove any protective outerwear and dispose of them or wash accordingly. Remember to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds afterwards.
Estimated time that the virus is viable on surfaces.
Forbes.com May 24th, 2020 How Long Does Covid-19 Coronavirus Last On Different Surfaces?
In late June we decided to check out Neys Provincial Park. I had been wanting to check out the Pic Island Overlook for the past couple of years and I also wanted to check out the trails in the park for potential future clients.
Neys Provincial Park is about 30km west of Marathon along Hwy17. It is a beautiful place nestled along the shores of Lake Superior with sand beaches that are littered with driftwood. It has sand dunes and a red pine plantation that has to be 50 or so years old. There was an old, Second World War POW camp located here for which the park has produced an interpretive brouchure. The campsites are well located close to the beach and clean. Access to water is plentiful. There is only one comfort station which could have used some maintenance when we were there but there are several outhouses. You can rent canoes or paddle your own boat either on the lake or on the Little Pic River and of course you can hike.
There are 6 official hiking trails within the park. We only hiked the Tower trek(10.5km), Under the Volcano (1km) and the Point (1.5km) trails as a single hike one day. In addition to these there are the Dune Trail (2.5km), Lookout Trail (2.5km) and the Coastal Trail (19km). We started our trek from the parking area just outside the park entrance. The trail actually starts down the hydro access road between the railroad and the park. There is a small sign on a gate indicating the Pic Island Overlook trail.
This trail follows the access road almost the entire way up the mountain to the overlook. It is kind of boring as you can imagine, fortunately it is relatively easy and quick. The 4.5 km trek took us just over an hour. The overlook is well worth the trip with its large seating structure and its "Moment of Algoma" interpretive sign. By far, the best part is the view of Pic Island and Lake Superior. This area is where Lawren Harris (Group of Seven) painted his famous Pic Island painting. Frank Carmichael and Arthur Lismer also painted this landscape.
,From the outlook we decided to take the Kopa Cove Trail back down to the coast where it meets the Under the Volcano Trail. What we did not know (despite having spoken to park staff about our plans) is that this trail is not maintained very well. It could be a great trail with many lookouts along the way but too many trees have fallen onto the trail making the hike extra difficult. This 2.6 km downhill track took us about 2 hours. It was only when we reached the Under the Volcano trail did the trails show signs of recent maintenance and the footing was back to being solid.
The Under the Volcano trail is an Interpretive trail highlighting the geology, glacial and volcanic history of the area. This trail is connected to the main camping areas and Prisoners Cove by the Point Trail. Both these trails run parallel to the coastline often spitting you out onto beaches and rock lands on the shores.
The Pic Island Overlook is well worth going to and if the park staff do end up cleaning the Kopa Cove Trail, I think this would be a great destination trail. If you are in the area or driving through, stay an extra day to check out this wonderful tribute to the Group of Seven and to see all the other interesting heritage the park has to offer. The new Lake Superior Water Trail also follows the coast line along here, wouldn't it be nice if the paddlers could hike up to the lookout?
Voyageur Trail Association and other trail groups
Recently, I met someone new to using trails in the north who explained to me the confusion they felt when crossing a trail with multiple signage identifying it as the Voyageur Trail, the Trans Canada Trail, and even the National Hiking Trail. Was this not the local hiking trail, how many trails are out there and did they inadvertently move on to another trail? After a while they realized they were all the same trail.
The trail system in the north is limited to the trails that can be maintained. Many trails associations aim to link trails with a common purpose to provide a more visible experience. The Trans Canada Trail is an association that promotes a multiuse trail, The Great Trail, that connects Canada from coast to coast to coast. This trail is made up of local trails that are developed by other groups such as the Voyageur Trail Association (VTA). The National Hiking Trail aims to connect wilderness hiking trails across Canada.
The VTA is the association that supports the development, maintenance and promotion of a hiking trail along the northern coasts of Lake Huron and Lake Superior from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay in Ontario. This trail system is made up of local trails maintained by local clubs. Currently, there are four active clubs, Nor’westers, Casque Iles, Saulteaux, and Coureur des Bois, who maintain the 600+km of developed trail. The trail itself is separated into 18 sections, not all of which are active nor have trail. For instance, the section from Sudbury to Elliot Lake does not have trails designated as Voyageur Trail.
In addition, trails will also go through parks, conservation areas and private lands, as well as crown land. Many of these organizations will impose their own naming or blazing conventions, causing further confusion to the mix.
When hiking along the Voyageur Trail, it is important to understand how the various organization influence signage. Inform yourself of the blazing conventions of that area that you are hiking. These can be found either on the VTA website or other local sites. Contacts are listed if there are any questions.
As someone who has come to Northern Ontario as an adult, I believe that this unique landscape shapes everything we do here. To begin with is the sheer size of the place. The region is just over 840,000 square kilometres or 310,000 square miles. This is 87 per cent of Ontario’s land mass. To put this in perspective, France and Germany combined are about 900,000 square kilometres.
The Official Road Map of Ontario, which is widely available in Ontario for free, and has Southern Ontario on one side and Northern Ontario on the reverse side. A common mistake is to assume that both are at the same scale. The Northern Ontario side is more than double the scale yet only five per cent of the population, or 740,000, live in this vast area. Population density is 0.9 square kilometres. Don’t forget that the largest freshwater lake in the world (Lake Superior) forms a large portion of Northern Ontario’s southern border.
What does this mean? Most people are located in the five main cities: Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins. Outside of these main centres are little towns that can be a hundred kilometres away from the next town. In addition, there are numerous communities that are unincorporated townships. The people who live in these areas don’t have any services that are not run by volunteers. Think volunteer fire services. On the other hand, their taxes are a lot less than their town counterparts.
Infrastructure outside of the main cities and towns is limited to highway corridors. This means that cell service is limited in some areas and nonexistent in others. In addition to the highway corridors, there are thousands of kilometres of roads that need regular maintenance. Damages to roads that are not a high priority often take weeks or even months to repair.
Those of us who live here share this land with a lot of wildlife. Beavers, wolves, eagles, moose and deer are all common. We have had to adjust to living with bears, crows and mice. We don’t leave anything out to attract wildlife. Those of us that feed birds, do so only in the winter.
Weather has a huge impact on us. It can be extremely cold or extremely hot in some areas. In other areas, the lakes moderate the temperatures but can dump a lot of snow. Private contractors are employed to clear the roads quickly, but sometimes it is too much and often main arteries are closed in the winter time.
Most of the area is located on the Canadian Shield, a rocky plateau filled with lakes and forests. This landscape is ideal for the outdoor enthusiast. Whether you enjoy your outdoors from the back of a snow machine or hiking along the beaches and outcrops, there is plenty of space here to do it all. There are opportunities for fishing and hunting, paddling and hiking, skiing and snowshoeing as well as motorized sports in this outdoor playground. Whether you play in the coastal highlands or interior lowlands, there is much to explore.