This article has been written for the Explore magazine’s Live the Adventure Club according to their winter challenges.
As a member of the Club, keeping the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 protocols and regional lockdown, I did lot of hiking with my buddy K2, a Hungarian Kuvasz (a livestock guardian dog breed) In the process, I was able to do lots of photography (please press on icons to enjoy the larger image). All photography was done using Pentax K-5iis and Pentax KP with Pentax lenses (300 mm lens for wildlife excursions) and 55-300 mm and 18-135 mm during hiking with K2) without any post-processing.
grabbing the map
Most of the time, when I am hiking I keep a paper map in the waterproof map pouch. For example, I hike a lot on Ontario’s Bruce Trail. I use the Bruce Trail Reference Maps and Trail Guides (26th edition) for the purpose. For my Toronto section hike on the Bruce Trail connecting with Scotsdale Farm, I carried the Speyside Map as shown in the shot below.
wildlife Tracks tracked well
It was -10 C, (feeling like -16 C). K2 and I were hiking through the extensive ravine system near my home that is also used for flood control. The creek running through the system was frozen. I noticed tracks that were of a mink, a rabbit and of a big bird. What bird can survive such cold conditions, I wondered.
My guide book told me it was a great blue heron. I asked myself, don’t they migrate south in our winters?
But then, the very next day, I saw it perched on the top of a tree. My birding friends later told me that if they stay around in winters, they prey upon unsuspecting birds like house sparrows, dark eyed juncos, house finches, etc.
Finally, on March 13, 2021, after seeing their tracks all the time, but not able to catch their sight, I was able to get the coyote staring at us. This was over a road and a bridge that connected our neck of the woods with the City’s heartland, which has now been closed to all vehicular traffic and turned to a hiking and cycling trail.
pushing ourselves in adverse conditions
On February 07, 2021, it was minus 6C (feeling like -10). K2 and I were hiking on my favorite informal trail from Meadowvale Village, Mississauga to Churchville, Brampton, along the Credit River for most of the time. The trails were covered in deep snow. We trudged toward our destination and back. It took us the whole day to cover 16 km, but it did turn out to be a great wildlife viewing day for us. American Minks were busy hunting on the Credit River and a beaver was busy feeding by the river. A group of skidoos passing by us, got stuck on the railway tracks that are used by a train once a week only.
Pushing ourselves for seeing christmas/holiday season liT homes
I hike with K2 every morning and then late in the evening. However, beginning from mid-December 2020 as a personal challenge, I decided to hike with K2 for at least 5 km every evening from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm in my neighbourhood and 6 adjoining ones to enjoy Christmas lit houses and to take shots if I could. I continued the practice till January 31, 2021 to gauge how long people keep up their Holidays spirit. I met several households and thanked them for putting on the Holiday Season lights in the trying circumstances surrounding the pandemic. K2’s company made it easier for me to obtain homeowners buy-in to take a few shots. They also did not mind K2 exploring their decorations a bit.
Pushing our next generation
On January 02, 2021, maintaining our bubble, I took some younger members of the family to the newly created Meadowvale North Woods Park for snow sledding. It was not as cold, but managing the activity without any injury proved to be quite daunting, especially when children had daredevil acts to perform.
pushing for an extra hike soon after office hours
By the end of February, in addition to the late-night hikes, K2 and I were able to push ourselves to catch enough daylight to go out for hikes in the neighbourhood wilderness after my office hours. Late February to March is a good time to be on the trails, because wildlife comes out in full force at dusk. There are still no leaves on the trees and taking clean shots is easier. The first shot shows two minks fighting for a territory.
frozen al fresco
My family and friends know that I am a Dr. Pepper addict. I know it is not healthy, but, in my backpack, I always used to keep one for the road. I would hike on an extreme cold day, have my lunch, and then would have an urge to drink Dr. Pepper, no matter how cold or hot the day was.
With Avventura outdoors bamboo insulated bottle in my backpack, Dr. Pepper has yielded to tea with milk, but no sugar. For tea, my favorite bottle and mug combo can be seen below.
Note: When I took family and children out for snow sledding, we had a lunch in those freezing conditions, but none of us remembered to take a shot.
Drop the mercury
on a trail and a heritage farm
It was minus 5 C and windy (feeling like – 15C) on January 31, 2021. It may not have been the coldest day of the year, but it was surely a day that would have frozen the hell over. I decided to hike on the Toronto section of the Bruce Trail passing near the historic Scotsdale Farm in the neighbouring Halton Region. The Farm was donated to the Ontario Heritage Foundation by William and Violet Bennett in 1982.
Of course, K2 accompanied me. The blowing wind made me feel like zillions of bees were stinging me. As I tried to do some photography, my fingers started hurting before going numb.
After doing photography of various buildings and structures of the historic farm under a heavy cover of snow on the ground for 30 minutes, I aborted the hike.
observing wildlife with family
On February 15, 2021, I took my family out for exploring waterfront parks of Toronto, Mississauga, and Burlington. It was minus 4 C only, but felt like – 8 due to the wind chill. We had missed the coldest day by only 2 days. The youngest member of the family showed all the signs of becoming a winter hiker and a birder fully immersed into watching long tailed ducks.
The Lake Ontario at LaSalle Marina, Burlington had completely frozen. Trumpeter swans, Canada geese, mallards, black ducks, and pintails had populated the shore to get free handouts from the humans, who did not disappoint them.
It was a snowy night. By the next morning walk with K2, snowplows had cleared the roads and streets. Sunlight falling on tree canopies looked breathtaking.
When hiking in winters over ice and snow, I always let K2 lead me by at least 3 meters. This is because I want to gauge the stability of the ice- or snow-covered surface ahead of me. Snow and ice cover up holes in the ground, especially in the Karst country just like the danger of those tree wells covered in the Winter 2020-21 issue of the Explore magazine. If K2 falls in one of those holes, I can pull him out. The other way round does not look like a bright future for us.
Also, sometimes what you think is a trail covered by ice is actually a frozen pond or a swamp created by a nearby river. Letting K2 walk ahead of me gives me an idea of how stable the surface is. Well, you might think that I am being irresponsible. But let me tell you that dogs have a sense of traversing an unstable surface that is much better than us humans.
Some of the items that I have received from Explore magazine’s Live the Adventure Club have helped me enormously keeping safe in winter hiking or just as a precautionary measure. These include:
• Reflective running band as mentioned below
• Avventura outdoors camp axe (to act as a machete for making a path and for protection against a cougar attack. Yes cougars have been cited in southern Ontario)
• Avventura outdoors bamboo insulated bottle
• Head lamp
• First aid kit
• Hiking gaiters
• Duckish balm
• Trail crampons
• Waterproof map pouch
• OGGI lumberjack toque
stars and other Celestial bodies
Days are shorter in winters and during the culminating part of a hike there is a good chance of your seeing the moving patterns of the sun, the moon, planets, and stars.
It was during our winter season hikes on the trails that I realized how the moon during its first couple of days of birth rises up in the east and sets down in the west in the company of the sun and therefore, due to the brightness of the latter, it is quite difficult to see. However, since it travels across the sky slower that the sun does, actually it falls behind about 12.85 degrees every day, it can be observed easily in the latter days.
By the 7th day, it falls behind the sun enough to appear 90 degrees behind it and reaches the waxing half of the disc. By 14th day it becomes a full moon as now it lags behind enough (approximately 180 degrees) to appear in the sky exactly opposite the sun (when the sun is setting, the moon is rising). By 21st day, it becomes a waning half of disc and falls so far behind the sun that you can only see it in the morning with the sun almost catching up on it. After that, the sun comes closer and closer and becomes more and more powerful, finally putting the moon back to its subdued state and the whole cycle is repeated again.
Although like the sun and the moon, planets are predictable in their rotational movements, they are unpredictable in their appearance over the skies. It was only during our hikes that we were able to see Venus directly above the crescent when the sun had set, a scene so beautiful to the Ottomans that they decided to use it for their standards, giving a crescent and a star on the flags of so many Muslim countries today.
Movement of stars is predictable. The stars that I see at night will be seen by all my relatives living in Diaspora all over in Canada, USA, UK, Scandinavia, Middle East, etc. albeit at different times and a slightly different location in the night sky, but they will never be seen by my relatives in Australia and South Africa. This latter group of relatives has their own stars in the southern hemisphere that they will be able to see, but I can’t.
Hopefully, hiking with K2 three times a day at a brisk pace keeps me healthy and fit. I think that because of this daily routine I am able to undertake long distant day-long hikes during the weekends and even longer hikes during short duration backpacking excursions. I have been wearing the ‘Running Reflective Band’, sent by Explore magazine’s Live the Adventure Club, every evening. Lot of people have shared that when I am wearing it on my winter jacket, with the cap on, it seems I am working for the Fire Department.
Exploring with explore
I take Explore magazine on every long distance hike as I tend to read it during brief respites on the way. On longer duration travels like to Quebec national parks last summer, I take a past issue of the magazine having an article or two on our destination and also add a few books to my repertoire.
I hope you liked my 3 months of adventuring. I will be looking forward to doing the same in the spring, summer, and fall seasons of 2021.