Tuesday 17 March 2015

Snowshoeing: One Step at a Time

The car pulled to a stop on a snow-covered Haliburton backroad.

“I thought we’d do some snowshoeing,” I hear Barrie announce. Did you now? Is the response I want to provide, but instead I find myself saying, “Oh wow! Snowshoeing! That’s great. I’ve never been snowshoeing before.”

I’m out of shape. I’m in prime heart-attack years. I’m nervous. But, I’m on an adventure through the Haliburton Highlands with Barrie Martin, of Yours Outdoors, an adventure outfit catering to full-fledged adrenaline-rush-seekers and to those a little less so (that would be me). 

Even though I’ve just met Barrie, he seems trustworthy, as in, I don’t believe he’d put my life in danger. So out of the car I bounce, with as much enthusiasm as I can muster.

Barrie pops the car trunk open to reveal two different style of snowshoes. I only recognize one. The original kind, made of wood and shaped like large tennis racquets with long cream-coloured cloth-straps dangling loosely. He quickly claims those as his. 

Barrie's snowshoes

The second snowshoe model, and the ones I’ll be strapping on, are a grey-blue metal ring, covered in plastic with straps and doo-hickies hanging here and there. They look light and aerodynamic. I’m not at all certain I want anything aerodynamic attached to me, but what the heck, I’ve come this far.

Barrie takes the two foreign looking objects and places them on the ground next to me. He takes a second set and drops them in front of my colleague, Parm. Then he instructs us on how to properly put them on.

“Loosen the strap here.” He demonstrates where.

“Place your foot in here,” he continues, “then pull the strap as tight as you can and lock it in place by pressing this.” He presses. I do as I’m told with the first foot. Then the second. I’m ready. Parm does the same. She’s ready.

These boots are made for walking

I'm ready!

Barrie, meanwhile, has twirled, wrapped and tied the tennis racquets onto his feet. He’s ready. We’re off.

Tying the 'original' snowshoe

Barrie Martin, Yours Outdoors

The snowshoes feel foreign. I fear I’m going to overlap them and fall faster than a snowman on a warm spring day. I walk with my legs spread way too far apart in order to prevent such a calamity. It hardly feels ‘normal’, but I persevere, following behind Parm, who follows behind Barrie. Every once-in-a-while they turn around to make sure I’m still behind. I am.

River views

Barrie has been running adventure tours in the area for over seven years. In the summer, you can collect minerals from the Canadian Shield or hike and canoe in Haliburton Forest. In the winter, Yours Outdoors, specializes in outdoor activities, ice climbing being one of the more popular tours. There's also dog sledding, cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, along with a whole host of other winter activities. And of course, there’s snowshoeing.

Frozen waterfalls 

As we make our way through the trail laid out by previous trekkers, I start to wonder, why exactly, have I waited this long to strap on snowshoes? It’s kind of fun. And out here, where the air really is fresh, and the snow is so clean and white, I feel shame that I’m more like a hibernating bear than a crazy canuck.  I feel a zest towards winter that I’ve not experienced in a long time. I secretly vow to embrace winter.

Embracing winter

“That was so great,” I tell Barrie, as I place my snowshoes back inside the trunk.

He smiles and offers two options to end our day. “We can go for tea in this little spot I know. It requires snowshoeing twice the distance as what we just did in order to get to it. Or we can drive to a coffee shop.”

“Let’s drive,” Parm and I say in unison.

Next winter. I vow to embrace.

The games are coming! Site of the Pan Am/Parapan Am games (Kayaking)

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Magical Haliburton: It'll Leave You Howling for More

On one of the coldest winters on record in Ontario, heading north into possibly colder temperatures, may not rate high on anyone’s list of things to do. But, this is winter in Canada and hibernating is not an option. A 3-hour drive north of Toronto takes you to an area that is best described as, a winter wonderland. Fresh country air, clear blue skies, hundreds of miles of cross-country trails and many rivers and lakes await you. And everywhere, trees, dusted with white-powdered snow, glistening under the sunlight. It’s the kind of scenery foreigners imagine when they think of Canada. And it’s all right here. And it's all real.

Haliburton, also known as Haliburton Highlands, is an outdoor lover’s paradise and an all-season playground.

One of the best places to start your Haliburton experience is at the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, or simply, Haliburton Forest

Haliburton Forest is an 80,000 acre, privately owned forest with beautiful lakes, rivers and extensive wetlands. In the winter two sports top the list of activities: snowmobiling and dog sledding—two, true Canadian experiences. 

Prepping for dog-sledding

In the summer available activities include: mountain biking, fishing, wilderness camping and the always popular, Walk in the Clouds. This is a four hour tour which includes a half-kilometer walk along the Pelaw River, a canoe ride across a wilderness lake to the highlight of the tour, the canopy boardwalk. At over half a kilometer long, it’s the longest of its kind in the world.  The boardwalk is built 10-20 meters above the floor and winding its way through the treetops, it offers spectacular views over the forest and lakes.

Year-round, be sure to drop into the Wolf Centre, one of the largest wolf sanctuaries in the world. A pack of Grey Wolves, led by alpha pair, Luna and Fang, roam freely in the 15-acre enclosure. The centre contains, among other things, a cinema/classroom, retail space with a large selection of wolf related media, but the highlight is the one-way glass observatory which allows visitors to observe the pack in their natural habitat. The day we visited, Luna and Fang, along with one of their off-spring, were lazing about under the warmth of the winter sun. 

Wolf Centre 

Two children, both dressed in snazzy red snowsuits, were in the observatory watching the wolves through the glass. Their excitement was contagious.

“Look. They’re getting up,” screeched one child to the other. 

Everyone inched closer to the glass-pane. A wolf had stood up and rubbed its nose into the crisp snow, a playful gesture that aroused its companions.

In a magical winter wonderland, it's all that's left to do.

Another resident of the forest