Last Sunday we awoke to a lovely warm sunny day that was beyond inviting. October is a weird month up here on the 51st parallel. It can be warm as summer and as cold as winter in the same day. Smart people take advantage of nice weather because chances are it won’t be nice the next day or in a few hours. Even though it was a lot earlier than I would normally care to be moving in the morning, we packed up the dogs and drove to one of our favourite places. We live on the east side of Riding Mountain National Park. It’s not a true mountain. It’s a long escarpment at about 732 metres (2400 feet) rising abruptly about 100 metres (320 feet) above a really flat plain going down to Lake Manitoba. From our house about 45 km (30 miles) away we can see “the mountain” clearly.
There used to be a ski resort on the east side. The nearest town of McCreary has as it’s statue symbol a funny cartoon fellow with downhill skis. In places like British Columbia the old Aggasiz Ski Resort would barely be a bunny hill and “the mountain” likely wouldn’t even have a name. On the Manitoba flat plain, this is a startling and steep place. Many years ago the old ski resort went out of business and the road up to the lodge was rarely used by anyone except the odd bunch of horse trailers bringing in riding horses for trail riding. We saw both white tail deer and elk on the drive in. Last trip we saw several bears. It is a wild place. More recently the Federal Government has decided to develop this spot. Very little on the east side of the mountain is accessible and so it has been designated as a day use picnic area. We took advantage of the lovely weather to take a hike.
The only facilities are garbage cans, recycle bins, an outhouse and a big wood pile. There are several picnic tables and a typical “warm up” shelter, a place that in winter is sheltered from wind with a big wood stove to provide heat. There are some paved trails that follow a small creek.
Because it was late fall, the deciduous trees were bare and the native plants were long since brown and finished. People mowed lawn was the only thing still green and that not by much.
The narrow creek is lined with round glacial boulders. It was recently made over and so no sand has accumulated in the creek bed. The flow is constant from a flat plateau above that is a large swamp marsh. All of the water runs down into this valley and from there wanders out of the park onto the plains. It’s not a big creek. You can almost jump over it and it was barely ankle deep on this. It is a novelty here though because it is not a typical sluggish green ribbon a most creeks on the flat plain are. It is a genuine babbling laughing creek running merrily over pretty rocks. There is a small bridge over the creek at the end of the path. From there you can start climbing uphill.
The land is clear on wide trails of what used to be the old ski runs. It is a steep but easy trail up to the tops of the old ski hills on either side of the creek. This is the view looking north. We took the south side. We stopped for about twenty minutes to watch a huge flock of mixed Canada and Snow geese circling above in a lazy flock that never quite made proper Vs. We also saw three ravens chasing an golden eagle out of the area with many indignant caws. Except for chickadees we did not see any song birds. The chickadees flocked nearby and then moved off to other things.
The trail was lovely climbing up the hill. It was wide and easy and dry. Soon we were high above the creek and the valley floor. The sun was bright and the breeze was light and the dogs were having a blast. I resisted the temptation to let Misty off the leash. There are a lot of animals in this park including bears, wolves, cougars, skunks and porcupines and it is just not safe for an enthusiastic puppy. Even so, she had a great time looking at all the plants and sniffing a whole world of new scents I can only imagine.
At the top of the hill the trail thinned down to a little track suitable for a deer or horse. You would not get lost following it but the footing was a bit more precarious. Even as we admired the view and contemplated continuing, heavy clouds came rolling in from the west and lowered ominously. Soon the sun was covered. We decided to head back to the truck and call it a day.
Looking into the rapidly disappearing sun, we could see that our trail followed an old cut for electric supply to the ski resort. It would have been fun to continue but with the weather changing fast, not wise. We were not dressed for cold and had no survival gear.
By the time we got back to the truck, the wind was really roaring, the sky was completely covered and the dark grey clouds were low on top of us. By the time we drove out of the park and into McCreary, a cold fall drizzle had started. We just made it. Oh, it was a lovely time enjoying the sun on a fall day before the weather turned and we plan on going again once we get back home in the spring. A full Alberta clipper blizzard has hit us since our trip to Agassiz and the ground here is covered with snow. Full winter is here. We head south soon, so we won’t be back to Agassiz until spring.