On Saturday, October 5, Jim Wilkie led his annual hike to Bald Hill in Riding Mountain National Park. This is my favourite hike for several reasons: numerous scenic viewpoints on the escarpment offer the most breath-taking views of treetops, ravines and creeks, shale hills, and the farmland beyond (especially spectacular when Jim succeeds in timing it to hit the Fall colors); it is a full day adventure, long enough to make the trek out to the park worthwhile; and most important--Jim takes us off the beaten path through uncharted territory, putting that element of unpredictability that makes it more than just a "walk in the park".
This year's hike lived up to expectations. 6 intrepid Wilderness Club members--Jim, Will, Di, Judy, Kari and Michael) braved the cold on Saturday morning to gather for breakfast at Onanole. Actually, i should say 7, since Scottie does more activities than just about any Wilderness Club member (only he doesn't get breakfast). It was still chilly when we finished breakfast, but Poor Michaels was open and we headed over for a real coffee before setting off for the trailhead at the East end of the park.
Rather than taking the conventional route to Bald Hill, Jim leads us up J.E.T. for a few kilometers. I was going to say that this is a relatively easy walk, but then I looked at a trail description and saw that it is rated as "difficult". I guess this is because there is a fairly steep climb up the escarpment, but the path is wide and uncomplicated. Once we emerged from the forest to the edge of the escarpment, we discovered that Jim had, indeed, hit the right weekend to catch the Fall colors. Numerous lookouts offered vistas of brilliant oranges and yellows from the changing poplars and the golden fields beyond. From here things get more interesting, as Jim puts the "wilderness" back in WWC. We strike off through the bush to find our way to Bald Hill. Each year, the underbrush gets a little thicker and the "path" more difficult to find. This year, we are not certain there is a path to find and our leader doesn't seem at all certain as we emerge from the bush frequently to get a bead on the big shale hill and figure out where the forest in between looks the least dense. None of us is can do a better job, though, so we gamely follow up and down the shale slopes and through the underbrush, cross the creek a few times, and finally traverse the final shale slope --where we at last come upon the trail that would have got us there much more quickly. None of us is the worse for wear though, except perhaps Di, who has struggled valiantly to keep Scotty from dragging her down the slopes at "dog speed". Scotty is especially happy, as he has discovered the remains of a moose. There's no flesh on the bones, but it still seems to make for a great chew.
The climbing and the afternoon sun had warmed things up considerably, and we had a pleasant rest and picnic before the climb to the peak of bald hill. i can't remember the vista ever looking more spectacular. Only two things were missing--a digital camera to capture the view to include with this report (yep, Jim's still shooting film) and Bert and the other young people to entertain us by running up and racing down the hill.
By now the afternoon was just about done, so we had to deviate from the usual and more interesting route out, which takes us down an abandoned road, crossing a stream a dozen times or so. The Bald Hill trail leads us back down quickly, and an hour or so later, we reach the car, and head for home.
As usual, a great adventure! Thanks, Jim