QE2 and Our Partnership with Ontario Parks – An Appreciation

The end of one year and the beginning of another is traditionally a time for reflection. In that vein, it is noteworthy that the Wilderness Club of the GHTA enjoys a special and treasured relationship with the Ontario Parks staff that manage the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park (“QE2”) – the park that encompasses about 95% of the Wilderness section of the Ganaraska Trail. With an area of 33,505 hectares, QE2 is the second largest park south of Algonquin Park with 100 habitat types and is a vast biological engine renowned for its rock barrens, and beaver fens. Hikers and canoeists can enjoy a true wilderness experience in QE2 that is not typically available so far south in the province.

The flavour of a true wilderness experience is nicely captured by the lead article of the Winter 2023 GHTA newsletter (https://ganaraska-hiking-trail.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/GHTA-Newsletter-Winter-2023-online-compressed-version.pdf) in which Kate Kostandoff describes a 3-day/2-night “cross-over” hike through the interior of QE2 completed in October. Later in the newsletter is an amusing epic poem penned by Ruth Patterson in the style of Robert W. Service. These appreciative contributions illustrate the significance of QEII to the hiking community in general and to the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association in particular, while underscoring the importance of the work undertaken by the Parks staff.

Looking back over the past 12 months, the following is a top-of-mind random sampling of highlights for 2022:

* The seasonal floating footbridge over Montgomery Creek installed by Ontario Parks in collaboration with the GHTA continues to be a great success, much appreciated by Ganaraska members as well as the general public.

* Park Biologist Phil Careless was a big hit with his enthusiastic participation as a panelist in the Wilderness Club’s overnight Zoom call hiking clinic in September.

* Trail maintenance, thunder boxes, visitor monitoring & management: we at the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association appreciate the effort it takes to manage QEII, and we know there is a lot of work behind the scenes, much of which we are only vaguely aware.

Wilderness Club Award Presentation

This morning in Tudhope Park Orillia the stars aligned (Hike 2 of Wilderness Club in Orillia Section), and Carol Strickland presented the Trails Maintenance Award to the Wilderness Club.  Neil couldn’t be with us today, but accepting for Wilderness was co-leader Dan Myall.  That’s a well-deserved award – hats off to the Wilderness club, especially for that amazing seasonal bridge in QE Wildlands Park.

Trail Maintenance Award

This year’s Trail Maintenance Award is being presented to the Wilderness Club, under the capable leadership of President Rob Halupka, for their outstanding work to provide a floating bridge over Montgomery Creek.  The process took at least a year, with many club members involved with the project, helping in the planning, design, partnering with Parks Ontario, pivoting when something didn’t work, and generally getting the job done!  Installation was on Aug. 26 under the guidance of the Ontario Parks team, and the bridge was in place until late October when as planned, it was removed for the season.  It served the purpose beautifully and was much enjoyed by many hikers.

Without the bridge it was sometimes impossible to get across Montgomery Creek due to fluctuating water levels, making this section of the trail occasionally unusable. 

Well done, Wilderness club.   That will be a tough one to top!

2021.11.05 Wilderness Club – Montgomery Bridge Seasonal Removal

Effective November 5, 2021, the bridge segments will be disconnected and heaved up onto the bank to keep them high & dry over the winter season. After the bridge is out, we can still cross safely on the fallen tree (aka the “Four Brothers”) that spans Montgomery Creek about 250 metres upstream from the private bridge. The bridge will be replaced in the spring.

2021.10.06 – Significant Reroute in Wilderness Area

West of North Smudge Lake near campsite 12, a number of beaver dams including one that is part of the Ganaraska Trail have blown out recently. Please follow the temporary reroute (not flagged) to a beaver dam that is still standing. The reroute is 1.2 km, adding .5 km to the total distance of the trail.

Wilderness Club: First Spring Hike of 2019

Along the Hydro Cut between Devil’s Lake and Black Creek

Today was the first GHTA Wilderness Club hike of spring 2019 – Devil’s Lake to Moore Falls via the “Queen’s Corridor”; and the first BBQ steak of the year – thanks Joshua! Oh, and thanks to the snowmobilers who packed down a number of sections of the now defunct, overgrown hydro cut – “Queen’s Corridor”. We didn’t really need our snowshoes despite at least a foot and a half of snow.

Looking south on Black Creek

The morning chilled us with its -16C temperatures and wind chill (28k/h with gusts to 35k/h). The combination of the forest and valleys protecting us from the wind, a clear, bright sunny day and my “manopause” had me in an unzippered jacket, baseball cap and no gloves in no time.

Along the main trail, heading down to a creek crossing

The hard water was still safe-at least where we were, even though we saw lots of open water on the drive in this morning. Today will probably be our last outing on it until next year. I’ll miss the refreshing reverse perspective of looking up the cliffs and slopes into the forest vs. the view downward towards the water. As well as the bonus of zero elevation change which is always a pleasure. I’m sure everyone would agree: Robert, Ted, Kathy, Lorry, Simone Joshua.

Taking a shortcut across a beaver pond after ensuring the ice was safe to travel on

Vanessa’s GHTA E2E

Wow, another GHTA Wilderness Club member representing! Congratulations Miranda on completing the entire trail. Here is her account of her fantastic journey:

Hello there, I am happy in sending my logs for my E2E badge. I wasn’t sure where to start but I will do it telling the best thing that happened to me in the trail.

Every time I think on that day I want to cry of excitement as a little girl in the wilderness section. We were only four hikers and I was the ahead when I saw the big, puffy gorgeous bear. I’m pretty sure he was more scared than me but that moment is imprinted in my head forever since I stayed still and couldn’t take a picture of it.

Pine Ridge section, spring 2018

One of my first hikes ever was in Ganaraska Wilderness in 2017; it was an 8 hours hike with high humidity and thousands of mosquitoes but worth to try and since then I haven’t stop hiking. First I finished the Bruce trail then the Oak Ridges Moraine because I was anxious about the stories about the wilderness so I prepared and organized the hikes meticulously for safety of everyone.

Midland (my 10 years old son)
Close to Victoria Bridge at the end of our backpacking journey

The backpacking in the wilderness section was the hardest one since it was one of the hottest humid days in September. I became dehydrated with symptoms like vomiting, migraine and dizziness I thought I wasn’t going to make it but the next day I was the strongest one while the others were struggling with the heat. In the other hikes on the Ragged and Montgomery trail we loved the autumn colours and I had a moment of silence in front of the rock remembering Doris, the hiker who died years before. I know in my heart she was doing what she loved, hiking.

Ragged Rapids Loop

There are other memorable hikes along the trail like the last one in the Mad river section with deep snow and strong cold winds. We loved Creemore town and feared its smallest jail, better not misbehave in that place 😉

Western Cairn/Devils Glen
Creemore Town

The Wasaga section had a couple of beautiful spots like in the Nordic area where we saw loons and we observed the sand dunes but our phones and camera were dead due to the cold temperatures and we couldn’t take pictures but one, we did 31km on that day.

Wasaga Beach

Wasaga Section / Nottawasaga area
Wasaga Provincial Park / Sand Dunes

Barrie section was funny since we started our day with positivism and enthusiasm but a muddy pothole swallowed my leg together with my snowshoe, hehehe we went back home for the first time after an incident like this one.

Hiking along the lake in the Orillia section was wonderful, I’m thinking in coming back at some point in spring or summer time.

Orillia Section

I want to confess that my reason to start hiking was to overcome my illnesses and find peace in my soul and mind.

Victoria Bridge, fall 2018

 When I started my journey I was a ‘victim of domestic violence’. I wanted to run away but instead I asked for professional help. During my hospitalizations my therapists noticed I loved walking and wondering in the city for hours and capable of doing 30km every day. I was advised to find a group in the MeetUp so I could meet people and I found the hiking group there.

Now, I’m not longer a victim, I’m a survivor. After more than a decade I left the abusive environment, a decision that I took while hiking. Sauntering in the trail cleared my mind and I drastically change the turn of my life.

I am free to do what I like at the same time helping those who join me in my group for whatever reason they are hiking. Mental illness is invisible and as a survivor I can tell you I learned to fake my happiness very well but hiking brought me peace.

For now, our next trail is the Grand Valley and Avon trails and then I’m hoping there will be another trail to put my feet on the ground while I’m trying to live my present.

Thanks to all the volunteers and members from the Ganaraska trail association that made it possible for us to hike safely. Especial thanks to Glynn, John, Carol, Tom, Frieda and Louis for responding back to my emails and phone calls.

A special thanks to Troy who was my partner-in-crime in every single hike; without him this wouldn’t be possible.

Thanks to my closest members in the Hiking Team GTA: Jean & Frank, Jeremy, Selena, Natalie, Paul, Tanya, Neha, Garima, Alex, Tony, Jonathan, Gerry, Sandi, Naira, and many more.

Happy Trails to all.

Vanessa Miranda, Hike Leader Ontario

Jen & Frank’s GHTA E2E

Congratulations to Jen & Frank, GHTA, Wilderness Club members who have recently completed the Ganaraska Trail End-2-End. Enjoy their description of their journey:

Frank and I hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in 2011. Machu Picchu Inca Trail, Peru in 2014 and the Mount Everest Base Camp, Nepal, in 2016. Additionally, we also finished the Bruce Trail E2E in September of 2018.

We asked ourselves; where do we go next?

We hiked Ragged Rapids Loop in the Wilderness Section with Glynn in the summer of 2016 to prepare for our EBC trip. That hike impressed us so we decided to complete the Ganaraska Trail E2E. We proudly became GT Wilderness Club members in October 2018.

Miranda and Troy started the GT E2E in the spring of 2018 where we joined them in September 2018. The very first GT hike we did together was the Crossover in Wilderness Section. It was hot and the humidity was high. Eight hikers joined and none of us were experienced backpackers. The hike was extremely hard for all of us. Some members experienced heat exhaustion and some even experienced vomiting. We were unable to get to Loon Lake campsite as planned, but Wolf Lake campsite was the most beautiful campsite that I had ever camped at. We toasted Frank’s birthday with coffee and hot chocolate that night. We crossed over 19 beaver dams and worked as a team to encourage one another. We were really happy when we made it to the parking lot before dark. Troy, Alex and I shared a small can of Coca-Cola at the end. That was the best Coca-Cola that we had ever tasted!

It took us 24 hikes to finish GT E2E. We hiked in 38 degree weather with high humidity in the fall and minus 23 degrees before windchill in the winter. We hiked in knee deep mud in the Barrie Section and knee deep snow in the Mad River Section. We hiked one of four biggest wetlands in the world. In heavy rain, under hot sun, miles and miles on train tracks and fast highways we hiked. Frank managed to drive our car into the ditch in Victoria Harbor. 17 KM hike turned out to be a 29 KM hike in Tiny Trail. We repeated the same question over and over, “Where is the blaze?” We often missed the blazes, traced back to the last one and got back to the trail. I set up the hiking schedule and we went hiking accordingly, regardless of the weather conditions. Nothing could stop us. We faced many challenges during our journey, but we knew what doesn’t break you, only makes you stronger.

There are so many people that we need to thank for helping us finishing GT E2E. First is our extraordinary hike leader Miranda who planned and led the hikes. Second, is Troy who was with us all the way and never ever complained. Third, is all the hikers along the way. My friends Doug and Colleen carpooled us to Wasaga Beach; the land owner Tom, carpooled us into Mad River and the Midland Section president Marc, shuttled us on one of the coldest days of the year.

It was bittersweet when we did our final GT E2E hike on Feb. 2, 2019. I truly did not want the hike to end. GT is unique in its own way and I will treasure the memory of GT in my heart forever.

Looking forward to our Yosemite trip in May.

Life is good. Keep hiking!

Jen & Frank