Distance Training in Ontario Provincial Parks and Conservation Areas

Over the past few weeks, in preparation for my travels to Japan and the Kumano Kodo trek I am planning for, I’ve been hiking every weekend.  My goal is to push myself to 25km however with friends joining me, I’ve ended up only achieving a little over 20km — usually because while I am training for distance, some friends are still getting accustomed to hiking.
Some days we got a little too friendly with the mosquitoes (or maybe it was the other way around), and fortunately on other days there was a solid breeze and the pests just seemed to vanish.

A nice view of a lake in Forks of the Credit Provincial Park
A nice view of a lake in Forks of the Credit Provincial Park

Some of the best moments while hiking is where we have the opportunity to sit down and simply take in nature while enjoying lunch (whatever it may be).  Typically, I just pack a peanut butter and banana sandwich with an apple on the side.  Other folks prefer a more gourmet meal 🙂

Enjoying lunch and the view in Mono Cliffs Provincial Park
Enjoying lunch and the view in Mono Cliffs Provincial Park

Every park I’ve visited is quite fascinating in the sense of how it is used, where it is located, and the social atmosphere that you step into.  The people are often so interesting and the stories so diverse.  I had the pleasure to meet some folks while sitting down for lunch near what some friends of mine and I refer to as “Bootcamp Hill”.  We often see folks leading bootcamp training sessions running up and down numerous times.  Some people passing by noticed I was sitting in the shade enjoying lunch on my own and decided to join me.  We ended up having a great conversation.

The view from the top of “Bootcamp Hill” in Rouge Park

During these training hikes, I found myself in a contemplative mode — thinking about my upcoming trip and just letting my mind wander from one thought to another.  I also kept passing by fellow hikers over and over again because I would hike from one end of the park to the other and since parks rarely had day hiking trails that made up the length of 25km, I just kept repeating every trail.  It was a different style of hiking that I typically don’t use but for the sake of preparing myself physically, it was beneficial and actually fun to some extent.

Bruce Trail Part 4 – Short Hills to Ball’s Falls

This time I was prepared for the mud now that I found my gaiters, but the moment we stepped into Short Hills Provincial Park, we rejoiced that the muddiness had greatly subsided.  No longer were we struggling with quickmud (like quicksand?).  It was easy to make our way to Swayze Falls and even step foot on to the edge of the falls like my friend did.

Taking advantage of the drier weather by enjoying a different vantage point from the waterfalls itself.

Starting where we left off at Short Hills, we passed by Swayze Falls again. This time since it wasn’t as crazy muddy, we were able to explore the waterfall from much greater vantage points.  We also had another friend (and part time hiker)  join in on the fun and making the trek even more interesting with our hiking group growing temporarily to party of five.

This time I was prepared for the mud now that I found my gaiters, but the moment we stepped into Short Hills Provincial Park, we rejoiced that the muddiness had greatly subsided.  No longer were we struggling with quickmud (like quicksand?).  It was easy to make our way to Swayze Falls and even step foot on to the edge of the falls like my friend did.

And of course we started off with a muddy encounter.  My friends trying to step around it.

Alas, we celebrated a little too soon because some parts were still pretty muddy.  Those who didn’t have gaiters got their pants dirty pretty quickly.  This situation repeated itself numerous times that day.

Passed by a lot of nice views of farms.

Hiking along the Bruce Trail and escarpment is becoming quite fascinating.  We never know what we’ll end up seeing next.  I do enjoy the rustic old wire fences and farms in the distance but it makes me wonder how this land really appeared before it was settled.

Signs of spring on the ground.

Despite the trees being bare and the relatively cool temperature, you could easily see that signs of spring were everywhere to be found.  In fact, one of our friends was on a mission to photograph all the signs of spring.  I’d say it was mission easily accomplished!  Lots of flowers in the early stages of blooming and numerous patches of muted green found sporadically wherever you looked.

We encountered a nest of garter snakes while walking down this part of the trail.

The dry (and dead) leaves with their near-white, light brown, and beige colours blanketed the bare forest with a very nice and tranquil earthy atmosphere.  It doesn’t always provide for an interesting view but sometimes you can find an unexpected surprise along the way — like snakes.  Other times, rusty old machinery or equipment and even the odd concentrated patch of daffodils ready to bloom.  My only concern here is that the rust may be toxic to the vegetation.

Spotted rusty farm equipment sporadically along the trail.First green patch of daffodils along the trail.

Breaks can often be one of the most peculiar and interesting moments during the trek.  People seek out the local “restroom” (i.e. behind the bush, boulder, etc.) while others look over what others are snacking on or have brought along.  Usually I’m a little lazy when it comes to snacks so I pack a ton of energy and granola bars.  I think I might change that up a little in the future.

Took a break right about here next to the road.The vivid spring green all over.Having fun crossing the brook.  I took the opportunity to wash off some mud from my boots.

Streams and brooks are ideal for washing off some of the mud accumulated from the hike.  The trail passes through (or over) a number of these.  We like to observe one another attempt to find a way to get across without getting wet.  Me?  I just wade right through to wash off the mud on my boots (thank you waterproof boots).

Thought this was one of the prettiest streams and waterfalls we came across.

This section of the trail was actually very pretty.  We saw numerous streams and small waterways with many leading towards some beautiful waterfalls.  The geological formation in some areas like the photograph above is simply stunning on its own even without the greenery that we expect from the vegetation surrounding it.

Hiking with a larger group can slow you down but for what it takes away, you get in return lots of laughs and chuckles.  The many personalities shine through, and things you never thought of or noticed are brought to light thanks to the folks who join in on the fun.

Noticed this guy along the wayNo Trespassing! Hiking past a rifle firing range area. Yikes.

As we progressed through this section of the trail, we came across a rifle firing range.  We had initially thought we were hearing fireworks but we came to the realization that it was a firing range when we saw a large set of trucks parked in the distance — not to mention large signs warning us not to trespass.

Bewildered by all these rusty vehicle parts laying around.

When we arrived at one of the steepest hills that the group had to climb, I noticed a fair amount of “junk” laying around at the base of the valley.  I am still puzzled how all these pieces of a vehicle or machine managed to find their way here.

Probably one of the steepest climbs uphill for this section of the trail.

The groups toughest challenge was likely this steep hill and a large staircase later in the section of the trail.  We did however encounter a volunteer who was clearing out some branches and taking care of the trail.  I’m thankful for all the people who sacrifice their time to help make this trail accessible to folks like myself.

Hiking past a local vineyard.

You just can’t continue through the Niagara section of the Bruce Trail without passing by vineyards over and over again.  I think at some point some members of the hiking group have begun contemplating acquiring their own vineyard as part of their retirement strategy.

Stopping next to a stream to enjoy lunch.

As always, lunch on a hike is fantastic.  We parked ourselves next to a stream and even had a friendly toad that hung around us until we finished eating.  So far my lunch has always been a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and an apple.  Suggestions for changing it up are welcome!

Louth Falls, probably the prettiest waterfall of this section of the trail.

Briefly hiking further after lunch, we encountered what we should have chosen as our lunch spot.  Louth Falls was a beautiful waterfall that we were completely not expecting during our hike. I highly recommending stopping by and taking in the surrounding area around Louth Falls.

Some interesting rocky terrain to hike over.

The terrain that we’ve begun noticing as we are trekking along the escarpment is the rocky formation that you see in the photograph above.  It’s tricky for less experienced hikers to watch over because you can trip easily but as long as one paces themselves and is careful, it shouldn’t be a major issue.  It is a very nice change in scenery and footwork.  Of course, that was only a short run until we returned to looking at vineyards again.  I wonder if the plan is to try and get Bruce Trail hikers to stop for wine tasting.

More vineyards that we crossed paths with along the way.A very peaceful babbling brook that we crossed over.A few daffodils had bloomed.A view of the residential area we were passing by.

Surprisingly enough we passed by very few residential areas during this section of the trail.  From the escarpment we did notice some very nice houses.  I don’t know if I would want my home at the base of the escarpment though.

Amusement is seeing other people hiking through mud.

It never ceases to amuse me how everyone finds amusement in others crossing through mud.  I guess it’s the fact that it simply is so messy that most would try to find any way to avoid it.  There was a time when I even lost my boot in the mud.  Left standing with one foot, I had to call out to my friends to retrieve my boot so that I could that make my way out of the muddy patch.

A serious set of stairs!

As we progressed through the remaining section of the trail, which might I add is another very pretty section but I have to limit the number of photos somehow — the major challenge left right before the finale is a giant staircase.  Unfortunately for those who have weak knees or knee issues, this does pose an issue as it did for a couple of our hiking group members.  It simply takes a little more time with a gradual ascent.

Finally, we arrived at Ball's Falls

After climbing that giant set of stairs, we made our way through a historical “pioneer village” of sorts and arrived at the lookout point for Ball’s Falls.  Not exactly the nicest looking waterfall but it was a nice way to end the hike.

We then continued back to the Ball’s Falls conservation area parking lot (they have a nice LEEDs building there), and encountered a family rolling Easter eggs down a hill.  I’ve heard about people doing this but this was the first time I’ve seen it in action.  Pretty cool but funny to see 🙂

Take a look through the full gallery for part 4 while we set off for part 5 of the Bruce Trail trek!

Bruce Trail Part 3 – Glenridge to Short Hills

Finally a little warmer and sunnier, we returned to Glenridge to continue our Bruce Trail hike from where we left off.  Our hiking party grew by one!  Starting off a little earlier that day, we found ourselves passing through Brock University in the earlier section of the trail.

Passing by Brock University early in the trail

Finally a little warmer and sunnier, we returned to Glenridge to continue our Bruce Trail hike from where we left off.  Our hiking party grew by one!  Starting off a little earlier that day, we found ourselves passing through Brock University in the earlier section of the trail.

It was interesting how the Bruce Trail took us past a part of the Brock University campus.  I think we even saw some rock climbing walls gated away.  After passing by a university student centre and some interesting architecture, we finally moved on into a forested area where we got to enjoy the beginning of a muddy journey.

Enjoying the surroundings along a trail bridge.

After some initial muddy areas, we arrived at a clearing with a small bridge.  Had a great view of the surrounding reeds and wetlands.  Spring is finally showing itself but then, so is the mud.  As we progressed, the muddier the trail got.  We didn’t even realize how bad it would get.

Pretty muddy today...

We stopped for a quick snack break after trudging through some serious mud.  Thankfully, we got a break once we got to sunnier and higher ground.

Enjoying the view while passing by a reservoir.Enjoyed lunch next to a nice waterfall and old mill.

As always, I enjoy the places we stop off for lunch.  They always have unique character or stories.  In this case, we were halfway through the section of the trail we planned to the complete when we came across Ecew Falls and the mill.  There were a couple of picnic tables nearby so this was perfect for a lunch spot.

Looking for directions?  A misplaced signs.

The trail gets more interesting.  Oddly enough, the trail weaves around some buildings just metres away from the old mill and Ecew Falls.  I wonder the handful of metres we walk on the trail are sometimes a bit arbitrary.

We crossed many muddy areas and streams, trying not to slip and fall.

I really enjoyed the latter part of the trail but we were all getting a bit weary of the mud.  In fact, we all took fewer photographs due to the amount of mud we had to trek through.  Not too much fun when your boot is about to get stuck in the mud every few steps and alas, I couldn’t find my gaiters my time.

The trail just got muddier.  Almost quicksand-like.

We eventually got to a point in the trail where the conditions were extremely muddy.  Almost like wading through a shallow swamp in some places.  Eventually we discovered signs indicating that over a hundred soldiers had apparently marched through the trail churning up the mud.  I’m surprised that they were allowed to hold such an event.  The trail must’ve widened significantly due to all that foot traffic.

Escaping the muddiness, we find ourselves walking down a gravel path.Always interesting to hike past the power lines.

Eventually once we made it past the muddiest section of the trail, we enjoyed a section of gravel path as a break from the mud and made our way to a field.  I’m pretty sure I’ve been here before during the autumn time quite a few years ago.

A pretty muddy part of the trail.  I slipped on the way down.

After enjoying the view of the field and power lines, we descended down this muddy hill.  While attempting to side step some serious mud, I slid on to my side.  Fortunately I didn’t get mud all over myself thanks to my backpack.

Our last stop -- Swayze Falls.  Too bad we weren't able to reach the bottom of the falls.

Finally after trudging through the mud madness.  We finally arrived at our destination, Swazye Falls.  It was a bit of a disappointment because the surroundings were too muddy to safely get closer to the waterfalls, but it was still a beautiful sight.  A little bit of reward after taking a few dunks in the mud.  In fact, only one of us managed to avoid falling.

Can’t wait for the next section of the Bruce Trail — hopefully with less mud! For now, you can view the full gallery for Glendridge to Short Hills.


Bruce Trail Part 2 – Woodends to Glenridge

Following our last trek on the first part of the Bruce Trail, there was a slight delay for a few weeks in tackling the next part because my friends were either busy or I was sick (caught the flu two times, not fun).  We nevertheless finally found a good day to the Niagara region and continue our trek.  I tried to carry a heavier pack this time as part of my training.

The initial part of the trek from Woodends

Following our last trek on the first part of the Bruce Trail, there was a slight delay for a few weeks in tackling the next part because my friends were either busy or I was sick (caught the flu two times, not fun).  We nevertheless finally found a good day to the Niagara region and continue our trek.  I tried to carry a heavier pack this time as part of my training.

Continuing where we left off at Woodends Conservation Area, we immediately noticed how wet it had gotten.  No longer were we faced with icy conditions — it was all slush!  This made for splashy and slippery situations.

Thirty folks part of a Bruce Trail Chapter hiking the opposite direction

Along the way we did encounter a 30-person group which was a first.  I never thought I’d see so many people together on a trail before in the winter.  Lots of nice people from the local chapter of the Bruce Trail Association (I think).  The closest situation I’ve encountered was a Chinese tour group taking a rather large group of folks hiking in the early sections of Bon Echo’s Abes and Essens Trail.

Some scenery along the way

As typical of a Bruce Trail experience, we always end up walking by some interesting places.  I wasn’t sure if this has historical significance but the house looked quite nice and had a nice view positioned along the escarpment ridge.

The common permitted use property ladderPassing through a golf course

Somehow we end up hiking through and past parts of a golf course.  It was seriously wet and slushy in these areas.  While stomping through the slush, my entire foot took a dunk in water that was quite a few inches higher than my ankle.  Thank goodness for waterproof pants and wool socks because there was some water that definitely seeped through into my hiking boots.

Remnants of an old mill?

We finally get past the golf course and end up finding ourselves passing by remnants of an old mill perhaps?

Rusty remains of a car

Looking ahead, we noticed a rusty frame of a car sitting on the side of the stream.  You have to begin to wonder why someone decided to push or drive that car there or rather, how it got there in the first place.

Taking a look back at the mill or canal along the trail

It was a relatively pleasant day although it seemed to get windier (and thus colder) as we progressed on the trail due to the gradually decline in the number of trees surrounding the trail.  We also ended up walking on the side of small highways which made for some interesting photographs but it’s not what I’d consider ideal if you want to feel closer to nature!

Hiking down a local roadWe were inclined to stop by for some brunch, it was tempting but we pushed on.

Eventually we found ourselves on a local road and even passed by a diner.  We were pretty tempted to pick something up or even stop for a nice hot brunch!  Nonetheless we pushed on despite some pretty serious wind chill until we found a great spot for lunch.

Crossed a nifty bridge. I think these are vertical-lift bridges.

Last time we stopped for lunch near the train tracks, but this time we stopped right next to a vertical lift bridge along a canal water route!  Can’t wait to see where we end up next time for lunch!

Snowmobiling upside down is not allowed!

It’s always fun to observe the local surroundings for peculiarities or just things that you just rarely notice on daily basis.  This is what I appreciate most about doing the Bruce Trail hike … it provides that opportunity to hike a long distance but also forces us to focus let go of expecting the sexiness of really stunning views we see in travel magazines and focus more on the local surroundings and just ponder about it.

Spotted our first lock but not much water

We continue hiking on pavement for a while until we encounter a lock, but that’s when we take a turn and head back into more wooded area.  A nice mix of technological wonder and nature perhaps?

The trail was pretty wet and in some parts really slushy and icy.Always interesting to see how the Bruce Trail passed by a factory.

We would walk by a lot of suburban houses and sometimes they would be very close to these industrial or commercial areas.  It really triggers you to think about how that ended up to be.  “No trespassing signs” are probably the most frequent sign you encounter along the Bruce Trail.

The trek takes us through a residential neighbourhood.

It wouldn’t be the Bruce Trail if we weren’t to end up on a residential street.  The interesting thing about it is that as we were walking down a residential street, we could hear a stream rushing through even though it was underground.  We suspected that there used to be an old mill built along the right side of the street you see in the photograph above but the land has now been converted.

Somehow the trail takes us on to a busy street with big boxes.

I had anticipated suburban streets but never did I think we would be walking down main street where all the malls and plazas were.  We were amusingly so out of place, I wasn’t sure who was laughing at the situation more.  Us or the folks driving by.

Might as well photograph the moment in suburbia.

We knew that there would be a large hill to hike near the end of this section of the trail we wanted to complete.  Originally thinking that it would be slushy and wet, we weren’t sure how that would work out but it turns out we didn’t even need to worry because the trail took us up the large hill (dare I say mountain?) via the classic suburban residential route.

Trying not to slip and slide down the muddy and slushy conditions.

Of course once we got to the end of the street (seriously, the very end), we found ourselves slipping and sliding down this slushy and partially icy hill.  We were trying to find all sorts of alternative ways to get down the hill — sometimes snow is better than no snow!  Even when trekking up hill.

Quite a number of muddy and slushy hills to climb!Hiking up the last bit of this section of the trail on the sidewalk.

The last chunk of the trail leading to the next section was just sidewalk.  Not exciting but I can’t say I expect anything less (or more) from the Bruce Trail!

And we're done!  Here's where we'll start next time.

While there were some interesting parts to the trail, I didn’t like this section as much as the first.  There wasn’t as much to enjoy and the trek through a commercial strip wasn’t ideal although it made for lots of wisecracks and funny moments.  Nonetheless it is still something that we need to work through to tackle the full Bruce Trail.  Hopefully next time, I’ll be able to bring more people along.

While waiting for the next section of the Bruce Trail, you can take a look at the full gallery for the Woodends to Glendridge section.

Training for Future Hiking

Once winter arrives in Toronto, it’s harder to find opportunities to keeping hiking and cycling (at least for me).  I’m don’t enjoy in-door gyms so I definitely seek out alternative ways to keep in shape or train for hikes.
My usual preferences are to cycle and walk a lot (I don’t like running), but that doesn’t really work so well in the winter right?

That said, I’ve begun testing out an approach by throwing a bunch of stuff into an 80 litre pack, strapping it on and taking the staircase in the house — up and down for about 30 or 40 times.  Perhaps I’ll start trudging through the snow with this 80 litre pack too and throw on some snowshoes.

More to come.