Winter Hiking – Hell and Heaven Has Frozen Over

“Why would any one want to go for a walk in winter?”  That was the question I was recently asked by a friend as I announced my plans one afternoon.  Now I should have prefaced this statement with the fact that she was born in Columbia and only recently made her way to Canada.  As I explained to her, unless you want a severe case of cabin fever and be stuck inside for half the year or more, when you are living in Canada you figure out how to get outside and enjoy yourself, in any weather.

My better half and I are known for spontaneous, small excursions, hiking through any wilderness we can find.  Not just April through to October either.  We do it all year round.  Winter provides a beautiful backdrop for photography, bird watching and of course exercise.  If dressed appropriately, I’m certain I could even have a picnic in the snow.

This past weekend we decided to head to Point Pelee National Park in Leamington, Ontario.  Parks Canada calls it a lush Carolina forest oasis.  It also happens to be a migratory path for many bird species.  In winter, boardwalks, paths and roadways are maintained for walking, cross country skiing and the park is where many joggers prefer to run.  I plan on touting all the wonderful things about Point Pelee.  This is NOT that post.

We decided to begin our journey at the farthest end of the park.  After parking the car, we met up with a stranger returning from a path further than the one we elected to take.  He smiled and said “Hi”.  “Good Morning”, we cheerfully sang out.

Beginning the long crawl through crotch high snow, we were thankful the stranger must have had taken the same path earlier and left his foot craters for us to follow in. It was exhausting navigating the snow drifts to the point where the Detroit river and Lake Erie meet, fondly referred to as “The Point”.

point pelee ontario ice lake river snow winter land sky

This picture had to be underexposed and cast with a blue hue to emphasize where land, lake and sky meet.

Although a physically demanding jaunt, the view was worth it.  Ice frozen so far out it was hard to see where land, water and sky all met.  I imagine this is what the arctic must look like.

We took a couple of pictures, marvelled at the sight, then moseyed along to a second path we knew would circle us back to the parking lot, but through the other side of the forest.  Then, there it was!  To our surprise, there the second path lay, cleared of snow to allow for easier hiking. Bastard!  Of course this was the path we saw the stranger returning from and the bugger let us crawl through 3 foot deep snow!

42nd parallel barcelona rome snow winter

42nd Parallel

Any way, we kept on and found this lovely plaque.  It states that this location in Canada is south of the 42° parallel, the same as Barcelona and Rome.  Hmmmm…. I wonder if they looked like this on February 21st, 2015?  If you are from either place, let me know in the comment section below.

Continuing on our journey we decided to do something we had never done before during winter.  We decided to leave the comfort of the path, and head out into the unknown where beauty and splendour must be waiting within this forest.  A light snow had started which made the old barn and house we found that much prettier.

point pelee park ontario leamington snow winter barn wood

Point Pelee National Park – Leamington, Ontario

Apparently there was once a bustling community where the park stands today.  These buildings and some farm equipment are the only remnants left of a once busy town complete with hotels, schools and cottages.

point pelee leamington ontario fence snow winter

Point Pelee National Park – Leamington Ontario

We kept trudging towards the lake.  Up hills, down hills, the snow got deeper and deeper.  The three foot snow drifts we had encountered earlier were a cake walk compared to the waist high snow we now waded in.

deep snow ice winter ontario canada

blowing winds off the lake are blocked by the trees in this small spot and show how deep the snow is in the surrounding area

Of course we had no snow shoes… who would think to bring snow shoes?!  Who would think the most southern tip of Canada would have this much snow?  The wind blowing off the lake had caused the snow to accumulate in the trees along the shoreline, making it much deeper than the actual snow fall amount.  The snow was so deep at one point we needed to make a decision.  Do we head back to where we came from which was far, in knee high snow all up and down hills?  Do we continue to the lake knowing we’re really close to it, but it will double our hike?  Or do we now veer off towards the side where we know the ploughed road is close, but the snow is waist deep to get there.  The answer seemed obvious.  Veer to the side.

I swallowed hard knowing that my green smoothie at breakfast may not have been a wise choice to feed the energy I was about to expend.  I’m not going to lie, it was so strenuous!  I was sweating – like actually sweating.  In the dead of winter at -8° C, I was sweating.  My legs hurt, my ass hurt, my upper body hurt.  I thought I lost my boot when I sank so deep in the snow I was given a frozen wedgie.  I was huffing and puffing.  I collapsed at one point, asking God to take me quickly.  I cried out to my husband to just leave me and come back for my body in the spring.  I tried to muster the rest of the strength needed to drag my sorry old ass out of the bush.  I contemplated walking out on my knees.   Surely the length of my legs would support me like a snow shoe.  But that would take me three times as long.  What if I placed my camera above my head, I could lay down and roll across the top of the snow!  That would work except the damn thorn and thistle bushes that keep poking out all over would tear my face apart!  My husband called back, “Get up, you’re making a fool out of yourself!”.  Damn him!  Damn if I look like a fool.  I was an idiot for going off path and now here I was going to have a heart attack or freeze to death, all 20 feet from the road!

creepy sleepy hollow tree point pelee park snow ontario canada

creepy sleepy hollow tree

But obviously you know the end of the story.  After digging deep inside of me and finding the will to live, I kept forging ahead and finally made it to the edge of the road.  As we were walking out of this particular area of the park we saw this tree.  I then remembered the sign to this area of the forest was called “Sleepy Hollow”.  Ah, it all made sense.  I was to be another victim sucked up by the ghosts of this famously named forest!

I barely made it back to the car and one thought kept repeating in my mind.  Mental Note – DO NOT leave a cleared path for the unknown in the dead of winter without SNOW SHOES!

~True North Nomad

Have you ever hiked in the winter?  What did you take with you?

 

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11 responses to “Winter Hiking – Hell and Heaven Has Frozen Over

  1. I think you’d find Pelee more congenial and interesting in summer or fall. The Carolinian forest is quite interesting, and there are coyotes and deer you might come across. In the fall, the colors are beautiful and then there’s the butterfly or bird migration. Try again!

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  2. It’s the old story that warms the heart. We men set impossible goals but we never give up. It’s per ardua ad astra – through Adversity to the Stars! In this case the men had a difficult objective in our Canadian Winter Wonderland. As they pressed on becoming stressed, fatigued and frozen, their objective remained inviolable, and even though the ladies they loved were in dire straights the ladies had to be discarded for the greater objective! TIC! Loved it, and I know the Ladies loved it too. Thanks for a great post. Peter

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  3. Pingback: St. Patrick Day River Hike in Northern Ontario | True North Nomad·

  4. Hi Lily , love yur pics. our family has been thinking about traveling to Canada, but have never made solid plans. We just can’t make up our minds where to go and what to do there, summer/winter east/west.

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