Friday, August 17, 2012

Forest Strangers

I'm still working out the intricacies of our new Cybershot, but the timer pic I shot on the beach at Slave Lake turned into an underlit silhouette.  Thankfully another beachwalker saw our struggles and graciously offered to take a picture of us sitting on a large piece of driftwood.

The strangest thing about camping, for me at least, is that if it doesn't rain, you almost feel like you wasted your money on the tent.  On our second night, a hot day at the beach swiftly transformed into threatening looking clouds and a severe thunderstorm warning, so rather than racing back to camp, we dashed into town, grabbed a couple of pizzas, and after returning to our campsite, ate them in the station wagon while watching X-Men: First Class on my iPad while it rested on the dash.  We had to turn it off periodically when the tiny speaker was overwhelmed by hailstones pelting the roof and windshield, but made it about halfway through the film before the storm let up and we could make a break for the tent.

The next day was bit cooler, so we arranged to hike from Mt. Marten (don't mock, at 400m, it counts) down to Lily Lake.  It's about a 200m elevation change, but since there are uphill portions both coming and going to this tiny lake, I don't know if that figure is net or what. I certainly felt like more.  Shortly after starting out, Fenya spotted a flying squirrel, which made me intensely jealous.

From the summit, which doesn't have a lot of top cover due to past fires, you descend into what is practically a rain forest, which makes sense, given how much moisture gets dropped on the mountain.  Moist air blown off the lake quickly cools as it crests and then swiftly precipitates.  Thick grass, lush trees, raspberry bushes growing right up against the narrow trail, and a plethora of creeks which sometimes made the footing treacherous permeated the hike.  The previous night's storm didn't help either, and had loosened some roots and broken some branches off as well.  We passed a number of gents from a helitack team toting chainsaws back up from the lake, where they had just finished clearing the trail of deadfall that morning.  "You've got a clear path now," they assured us.

It was a demanding but beautiful trail, and while we hoped to spot some wildlife, the only ground animal we came across was this somewhat large toad that the girls named Herbert.  We took care to treat him gently and returned him to the soft and mossy forest floor, but he was the noisiest amphibian I had ever come across, making a series of squeaking noises like a pet's chew toy, so we made sure to keep Nitti at a distance.

After spotting this mess in the middle of the trail, I exclaimed, "I can't believe people don't pick up after their pets!" Audrey sidled up to me a ways down the trail and murmured sotto voce, "You know that had to be bear shit, right?"

"Of course I do," I hissed back,  "I've eaten pancakes with less blueberries in them than that scat stack."

"No reason to panic Glory," she said.

"Absolutely," I agreed, partially wishing for maybe just a bit of ignorance and a family marching towards us with a blueberry eating dog.

After 2.5 km and a few bridge crossings, we encountered this stump with its hopeful message.  We had no real idea how long the trail actually was (2-4 hours round trip, according to the sign at the top), so we were a little disappointed that we had over a half kilometer to go.  Eventually though, we got to Lily Lake, helpfully decorated with a sign advising us not to set it ablaze.  Perhaps there was trouble in the 80s with action movie heroes that necessitated this, but with no matches and less desire, we were no threat.

It's a grand little lake, warm and stocked with trout we occasionally saw breaking the surface to snack on insects.  I couldn't imagine hauling a rod and tackle box down the trail, let alone the thought of hauling a fish carcass back through the bear country jamboree.  I like zip-loc bags as much as the next fellow, but I'm not sure how far I would trust them with my earthly safety.

On the return trip (which, make no mistake, was a bit of a chore for the token middle-aged fat bloke in the group), Fenya and I startled a pair of grouse that were resting right beside the trail.  I was past the first one when it broke cover with a furious THUMP-THUMP-THUMP, and was turning around when the second one took off, so I got to see Fenya's priceless expression.  According to her, mine was pretty good too.

Eventually we made it back to the car and tore into the cooler, having foolishly neglected to bring food and drink along with us.  The beef jerky and juice boxes gave us the energy boost we needed to return to camp and prepare supper.  We had purchased a portable propane barbecue the week before and were marinating some sesame ginger pork chops since we'd left.  

As a parent, one of the things I appreciate most about camping is that everyone gets to help out.  Fenya volunteered to heat the beans on the camp stove while I grilled, and Glory got the water for clean up and drinks.  We travel a little heavy, but it all stows away pretty neatly at the end, again with a little help.  The barbecue is a little ungainly, but definitely worth bringing.

Honestly, I would love to get a small tent trailer once we have a vehicle equipped to haul one, in order to make set-up and take down a little faster, to say nothing of the Olympian Tetris shenanigans we need to go through in order to fit everything into the wagon.  Still, I'm grateful for any opportunity to do a little outdoor living, and to see a little more of the province I've lived in most of my life and still have so much to learn about.

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