Friday, March 30, 2012

Spencer Gorge - Lower Tews Falls and Webster’s Falls

I am frequently asked what my favorite hiking trail in the Dundas Valley is. With the vast selection and a multitude of beautiful and interesting destinations here, you may think that this would be a tough question to answer, but for me it’s easy.
For me, the hike into the Spencer Gorge from the CN rail line to Webster’s Fall’s has it all; stunning views, fast water, challenging trails and beautiful waterfalls.

In a typical year, this route can be tough to navigate for a spring hike due to the wet ground which can make parts of the trail impassable or dangerous. Due to the lack of snow this year, this trail is unseasonably dry early so I thought I would make my first visit to the area this past weekend.

Parking on Woodley Lane, by the Dundas Golf and Curling Club, I followed the railway service entrance along the north side of the CN railway tracks and followed them in an eastern direction towards Spencer Creek. The trail I was looking for can be found just to the west side of the creek and it follows the western bank taking you north towards Webster’s Falls. Please be extremely careful in this area. These railway tracks are active and there have been accidents in the past. Please ensure that you walk leaving plenty of space between you and the tracks.
The Spencer Gorge Wilderness Area is part of the Niagara Escarpment, declared by the United Nations (UNESCO) as a World Biosphere Reserve. This unique geological formation contains a few of Hamilton’s best waterfalls, one of its best lookouts, and hundreds of species of wildlife living in this Carolinian forest.

This trail is quite technical with uneven rock strewn areas, narrow sections with steep drop-offs and plenty of tree roots to navigate over. Boots with good traction are a must. The reward for your hard work is that the views are amazing and the area has a very rugged natural feel, much like you would experience hiking into much more remote locations.As the trail descends down towards the water level there are various spots where the water creates rapids as it shoots over and around the large moss covered rocks. One of my favorite places to stop is where Logies Creek empties into Spencer Creek. From this bank you can see Lower Tews Falls through the trees. Continuing along the trail there are a couple of spots where the trail becomes very narrow and care must be taken as there is about a 25 foot drop to the rocky creek bed below. Once through this section, the walk is easy and within a few minutes you can hear the rushing sound of the water coming over Webster’s Falls. The view as you round the curve in the trail and first spot Webster’s Falls is a great one and is a nice reward after the effort made to get this far.
As you approach the rushing waters of waterfalls you will see a narrow waterfall on your left. This complex ribbon waterfall is called Baby Webster’s Falls. At times the water flow here is very light and it is best seen immediately after a seasonal storm or after the winter snow melt. Its height is 9 metres (30 ft.) and its width is 3 metres (10 ft).
Webster’s Falls is always a sight to see and at 22 metres (72 feet) in height with a crest width about the same, it makes for an impressive photo opportunity. You can view the falls from below or follow the steps at the left side to gain access to the park above. Leaving the fall’s I backtracked the way I had came, although I veered up along the Bruce Trail when I saw the white markers taking the elevated trail back. This trail is somewhat easier and provides great views of the creek below as well as the interesting stone formations of the canyon walls. All in all, a great hike and one I plan on repeating numerous times this summer.
Next week: A hike deeper into the Spencer Gorge with visits to Lower Tews Falls and the trail leading to the base of the always impressive Tews Falls.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

March Break in Turkey Point, Ontario

If you had asked me last week what I thought of when you said “Turkey Point”, I would have said boats, motorcycles and parties on the beach. After last week however, I have a new appreciation of the area and am looking forward to returning often.
Taking advantage of an unseasonably warm and sunny March break and a very generous sister and brother-in-law, we travelled to Turkey Point for a few days of R & R. It felt like we had the town to ourselves and when not catching up on my reading or strolling the beach, I was able to take advantage of some incredible hiking and experience seeing a large amount of wildlife, especially for this time of year. The birds around our cottage were plentiful and we woke daily to the sound of woodpeckers and a variety of songbirds as they too were starting their day. The beach area was very quiet and with beautiful sunrises coming up over the water made for a perfect spot for my morning coffee.

Stopping in at Long Point Eco-Adventures, I was impressed with the interesting hiking trails that they had and the unbelievable volume of birds that inhabit the area. This destination is a popular one in the summer and features zip-lining and kayaking as well as other activities. In the offseason it is closed with the exception of the trails, which can be visited free of charge. Leaving the parking lot and walking past the pond, there was lots of activity with turtles and leopard frogs sunning themselves and red-wing blackbird flying overhead. Entering the woods at the top of the Acorus Boardwalk trail, the trees were so full of blackbirds, it sounded like we were approaching a waterfall. The boardwalk itself is really nice and provides a spectacular view of the Turkey Point Marsh. This area is rich with waterfowl, herons and even bald eagles that can be spotted here. The property of Long Point Eco-Adventures borders the St Williams Conservation Reserve and walking along the Carolinian Trail, you get a pretty neat perspective of this beautiful area. Trails also enter this reserve from Front Road as well as from Turkey Point Road. I hiked a number of these trails and found each of them to be very worthwhile. Environmentally, The St. Williams Conservation Reserve is an important area in that its forests, oak savannah, sand dunes, ravines, wetlands, and streams are home to 23 species at risk, which includes 7 plant, 1 insect, 1 amphibian, 12 bird and 2 mammal species.I spent hours exploring this area and have already planned a return visit this summer. With the prospect of adding zip lining and kayaking to the experience, I have a family that is sharing my enthusiasm and a new appreciation for Turkey Point.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hiking from Little Davis Falls to Felker’s Falls

Inspired by some of the photos I had seen recently on the Hamilton City of Waterfalls Facebook page, I decided to venture out with the goal of hiking the area between Little Davis Falls and Felker’s Falls. Both of these are waterfalls that I had never seen before so I was pleased to wake up to a sunny morning on what promised to be a perfect March morning for exploring.

Parking at the extreme south end of Quigley Road in Hamilton, I started up the trail and almost immediately could hear the unmistakable sound of a waterfall. The trail made a sharp turn to the right and minutes later I was standing on the crest watching the waters of Davis Creek as it tumbled over the rocks. This waterfall is extremely picturesque and although very close to a residential neighborhood, appears very unspoiled. It is 3 metres (10 feet) tall with a crest width of 5.5 metres (18 feet), and is considered to be a Twin Curtain Falls.The moss covered rock formations and assorted felled trees in the area make for an interesting landscape and I spent some time here, just enjoying the solitude and the view.

From here I backtracked slightly and headed up the trail that borders the creek on its east side and heads into the valley towards Felker’s Falls. The trail followed the creek and as we went further into the valley, became less of a trail until finally I just picked my way over the rocks in the direction of Felker's Falls. Interestingly, the further into the valley I went, the cooler it got and although when I entered the trial there was no sign of snow, here the trail was fully covered. I made my way around one more bend, this time walking through a shallow part of the creek and there it was, directly ahead. Felker's Falls is beautiful and at 22 metres (72 feet) high with a crest width of 6 metres (20 feet) is pretty impressive. Equally impressive is the rock walls that surround the falls. You can clearly see all the different layers and colours of rock that make up the escarpment and on this day the presence of ice made it that much more interesting.

This hike, although not long is moderately challenging, at least this time of year. Sturdy waterproof boots are a must. Hiking from Davis Falls to Felker’s Falls has definitely been added to my growing list of new destinations to re-visit in the summer.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Perfect Day

One thing I love about winter is the chance to plan for summer camping and hiking trips. This year we are planning another father and son journey into Alquonquin Park which to me is as close to paradise as I’ve ever seen. Having not been there in 3 years, both my sons and I are excited about the prospect of canoeing, fishing and exploring the incredible vastness of the park.
Going through my notes, I came across the following story that I wrote shortly after returning from our trip there in 2009. I love how the description really took me back to that memorable trip and I wanted to share it here.
Friday July 24, 2009 was the perfect day. Sitting on a rocky point overlooking Ralph Bice Lake, a perfect flame broiled burger perched on one knee and a cold beer in hand; I surveyed the scene of perfection around me. Spectacular Alquonquin Park scenery, incredible silence and a feeling of accomplishment surrounded me and I was at peace.What made the day so wonderful was the effort that was required to be here. We had set off early that morning, my brother Ryan and I and our boys, his two sons and my two, four excited boys all under the age of nine.
After registering in Kearney and checking in with the outfitters, we proceeded for a 50 minute drive into the park down a sometimes very narrow logging road, arriving at our first checkpoint on the shore of Magnetawan Lake. We loaded up our gear into the two canoes that were waiting there for us and started out across this very small lake, arriving at our first portage point in minutes. Walking the trail with a canoe on my shoulders, I was happy that the first portage was a short one and we were soon paddling again, this time across Hambone Lake and deeper into the park. By the time we crossed Hambone Lake, completed a longer portage into Ralph Bice Lake and found our site it was mid afternoon. We set about putting up tents, gathering wood and exploring the area around us.The discovery of bear droppings near our site and the sound of loons swimming by caught the attention of the boys and they marveled at the quiet and beauty of our new temporary home. By the time dinner was ready, we were all famished and the meal was delicious. Sitting in front of our fire, with the sun setting and the loons calling was a great way to cap the end of our first day in beautiful Algonquin Park. Good times ahead! Looking forward to an exciting summer but first, a weekend of hiking opportunity awaits.
Get outside and enjoy your weekend!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Northshore Trail - Dundas

One of my favourite Dundas trails, particularly when I want to see birds is the Northshore Trail of the Royal Botanical Gardens. With mild temperatures this past weekend, I decided to pay this diverse and interesting area a visit. Heading down the Pinetum Trail, we walked through stands of sumac and fir trees and soon linked up with the Bull’s Point Trail. On this day, we decided to visit the Bull’s point lookout and on the way back, veer down towards the water via the Marshwalk Trail. The air was alive with the sounds of ducks and geese and we soon arrived at the wooden boardwalk that winds through the bulrushes and takes you to the lookout platform. From this vantage point you have a clear view of Rat Island and Cootes Paradise and the large variety of migratory waterfowl living here. Cootes Paradise Marsh is considered one of the most important waterfowl staging habitats on the lower Great Lakes and the largest nursery habitat for fish in the region.

The trees along the shoreline were filled with chickadees, blue jays and cardinals and as we walked we spooked a group of five deer who bounded off ahead of us on the trail. The birds here are friendly and if you are patient, will readily eat bird seed from your hand.

On the way back we stopped along the Desjardins Canal which feeds into the same waterway. This canal was built in the early 1800’s. It has become a popular spot for waterfowl and many varieties can be spotted here. On this day we observed mallards, Canada Geese, a pair of trumpeter swans and a merganser.

This swan got very close for this shot. They sure look bigger when you get face to face with them. I was extra thrilled to have this photo published in the Hamilton Spectator a few days later. To visit the Northshore Trail, park at the small lot on York Road in Dundas. Just beyond the parking lot a large map is posted that provides directions to each of the trails in this area.

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