Friday, June 29, 2012

First Hike of 2012

I only had to work for an hour yesterday morning, so Lacey and I planned a trip out to Waterton for our first hike of the season.  We drove to the info centre and got some advice on an early season hike.  I wanted to go 8-12 km and not hit too much snow.  We had two choices - Bertha Lake (which I've hiked probably 4 or 5 times) and Horseshoe Basin (which I couldn't remember ever doing, yet later realized I have been in this area about 6 or 7 years ago.)  The info centre lady told me that it was a 20 km loop with limited elevation gain and that I could turn around at any time if I want to cut it shorter than that.  She also said the views and flowers were beautiful.

Lacey at the very beginning when she was eager to go and out in front.

So off we went.  Lacey was the best hiking buddy ever. She often pulls on the leash, but when she is without her trusty sidekick (aka Coulee) she tends to just tuck herself in behind me.  She probably only spent about 10 minutes in front the entire hike and none of those minutes were spent pulling on the leash. I'm sure I looked like the best dog trainer ever!!  LOL

Checking email...errr I mean the GPS.

The hike up was amazing.  Beautiful views, lots of flowers, easy terrain and lots of pretty little stream crossings.

Lacey enjoying the view at our first water break.
 In some sections the trail was so narrow and so bushy that I'm sure I was slapping beaches into Lacey's face with every step!  At one point I lifted my foot to step over something and kicked her in the chin.  Yet, she still stayed on my heels for the most part.

Enjoying a wide open meadow.
 I let Lacey off leash at every stream crossing (so we didn't mess each other up on the slippery rocks) and at the wide open meadow where I could see all around.  She never went far and would quickly come back to walking behind.

Lacey was so funny at the first stream crossing.  She stood in the creek for a long time and even laid down to get her tummy cooled.

We only saw two other couples on the trail.  We passed one group when they were finishing up lunch and that resulted in Lacey constantly looking over her shoulder for them.  So we stopped to let them by.  Five minutes later they stopped to bandage a blister though so we passed them again.

We were probably at about 8 km at this stream crossing.  I took off Lacey's backpack briefly so she could enjoy some unburdened freedom.  I debated turning around, but it was such a nice trail and we were almost halfway anyway, so I decided to keep going.

The trail took us up to the top of a ridge.  It was gorgeous up there.  You could really see that Waterton truly is a place where the prairies meet the mountains.

We ran across another couple at the top enjoying their lunch.  The woman told me that she had been watching us and was impressed at what a good little hiker Lacey was.  And she was.  We were at 10 km and she was still going strong.

Up until this point, our hike couldn't have been better.  We walked along the top of the ridge for a bit and started head down the other side. The trail heading down the hill was super easy to follow.  We then hit a nice meadow where the trail was overgrown with grasses but you could still tell where it was because of the indent.  It was narrow (probably 8-10 inches across) so if you looked away to enjoy the scenery you started to step off the trail and risk twisting your ankle on the trail border. My GoPro ran out of battery (which is what all these pictures were taken with) so I don't have any pictures.  I was thinking to myself, that if you wandered far enough off the path, you'd have a hard time spotting it again.  There were also NO signs - not even trail markers on the trees. It was fine when the trail was bare and easy to follow, but it was making me slightly nervous out in the middle of nowhere. I was pretty sure I was on the right path, but it also could have been a random deer path. I'd glanced at the map in the car and had reiterated the route with the couple we saw at the top and knew that it eventually took me to the park boundary and you walked along it back to the cars.

Sure enough, the path led me to a park boundary fence but then the trail promptly disappeared.  I couldn't figure out if I was supposed to cross the fence (where there seemed to be a path) or stay on the park side.  It made more sense to stay on the park side but there wasn't a very visible trail at all.  The trail that we'd come on was little more than a high traffic deer track, but the options open to me at this point was a barely used deer track...  So I crossed the fence and walked along there for about 2 minutes before the path petered out in a swampy mess. So I came back and crossed back over again (and felt better for it - it would be weird if a park path went outside the park) and started following the slightly used deer path as it was my only option.

I ended up bush whacking through a swampy mess.  I couldn't go around as the shrubs and trees were too thick so my only option was down the deer path but it still required me to duck under tree branches, and step in calf high water.  It didn't feel right, but I didn't know what else to do.

I had my GPS and I could see the fence line so I knew if I wasn't on the path, I was at least close to it and running parallel to it.  I debated a few times going back the way I came but I didn't think it would help me find the actual path, and I didn't have the heart to hike another 14 km back when I only had 6 more to go in this direction.  So Lacey and I kept going forward.  She was off leash as it would have been impossible to not get tangled, but she was still dodging my heels.

We eventually made it to drier land and a slightly more visible deer path again.  We were still on the fence line, but I had no idea if I was on the proper path.  I knew I had to hit a 90 degree turn soon and I kept looking for a path off to the right. The bush was way too thick to consider just pushing through. I wasn't confident I'd recognize it when I saw it because the path was so pathetic but I at least knew the general direction I had to go.  We kept going and going and going.  According to the GPS, we'd gone 18 km and the info centre lady told me it was only a 20 km loop  but I could tell we were much farther than 2 km from the car.  It was not helping to reinforce the idea that we weren't lost.  I looked on the GPS and knew if I didn't find the path to the right, I could at least keep going straight and hit a road where I could hopefully catch a ride to the car.

Thankfully the path eventually turned and in the end, I'm pretty sure we did the hike correctly.  I'm still not sure about the swampy area (which is probably dry for most of the year) and maybe we missed a turn off before the fence line at the boundary, but if so, so have a lot of people over the years as the path didn't dwindle much all the way up to the fence line.  I'm pretty sure the woman just rounded down about the hike length as according to my GPS we went a solid 24 km.

I was exhausted in the end, as was Lacey.  I ended up carrying her water the last 6 km as I was feeling sorry for her. The trail down had no views, tonnes of bugs and only one stream crossing (at the very end).  And the stream crossing was huge.  She ended up trying to follow me over the rocks and logs and she fell off one of the logs but her backpack got caught on a branch so she was half hanging in the water.  I went back and unhooked her and instead of just swimming and wading to shore she tried to get back on the log - so I had to hurry to the end so she'd follow me.  Sometimes it's an issue when she wants to walk exactly where I walk!

We survived.  I'm sunburned as I was out way longer than expected.  My hips ache, my left knee hurts and I'm covered in a rash/bug bites around my shins (from the swamp water I think).  Lacey is happy and as sprightly as can be but we'll see how excited she gets next time I bring out the backpack!

So for those of you wanting to do the Horeshoe Basin Trail in Waterton, my recommendation would be to start the hike in a clockwise direction, get to the top of the ridge and then turn around and come back.  You aren't missing anything by not doing the loop.


Taryn said...

That's a LONG walk and quite an adventure so it sounds.

ACD6pack said...

Wow - what a great adventure! I'm jealous. No, not of the almost lost thing (been there done that when a beaver dam/trail marker had washed out), just the great hiking. A fantastic way to spend the day. Curious - why only Lacey? With six ACDs (3 "specials") I often take only one or a few at a time. Feel a bit guilty sometimes. You? I'm looking forward to your next adventure and pictures!

Paws on the Run said...

I find when my dogs are on leash together they are horrible, but separately they are fine. I really don't like to take both of them by myself. I didn't need to feel guilty this time though as Coulee's feet aren't very good so I don't think this long of a hike would be good for her.

WigglyZack said...

Blimy that's quite the day out. Glad you got back safe.