Friday, November 12, 2010

Gravel Falls - February 8th 2007

Ah, What a glorious day to have off.  Today the plan was to snowshoe in to Gravel Falls, a nice little waterfall along the Oxtongue River, between the boundary of Algonquin Park and Ragged Falls.  I had been there once before in the previous summer.  That day I had travelled Northwest of Algonquin Outfitters, waded down the Oxbow creek and then headed east into a large expanse of crown forest.  Using the sun as my guide I cut through the bush, over high ridges, and through some mucky swamps.  I knew that on my current course I would eventually hit the Oxtongue River.  From there my next destination was unknown.  I finally reached that river, 6 hrs later. 

I walk really slowly when I am in the forest and literally smell the flowers, along with anything else I may find.  I find nature to be incredibly fascinating, every plant a miracle, every mark a story.   Many people rush through the forest like they rush through life.  The more ground they cover the more satisfying.  They miss so much!  The forest is my church, my playground, my classroom, and my home.  Nice and slow that’s the way I like it.  To each there own.

After a refreshing swim in the river I decided I wasn’t ready to go home.  There was a worn trail along the bank that beckoned me to follow.  A short walk brought me to a pleasant surprise.  I feel really blessed to live so close to Ragged Falls.  It’s powerful and magical.   To find another beautiful waterfall in my “backyard” was almost unreal.  Gravel Falls, albeit smaller than Ragged, is spectacular and its remoteness adds heaps to its charm.  I’ll be going back there, for sure.

Today the goal was to find a more direct route to that little gem on the river.  It would be nice to be able to send worthy guests to the place without losing them to the North woods.  I figured it would take me some where around 2 ½ hrs to reach it. 

Same as with the last time, I headed out with my adventure companion, Miko, perhaps the coolest and smartest dog to ever live.  We headed up Camp Lake Road, a logging/hunt camp road starting directly across the road from the Wolf Den.  As it turns out, it was trail all the way to the Waterfall.  From the road I followed and old ATV trail then some portage routes.  All up it was only a 1 ½ hr hike from the Wolf Den.  Looked a little different in the winter though.  Old man winter had almost turned off her taps, but not quite.  No swimming this time! The formations of ice were pretty striking.  The way the icy spray collects on the surrounding rock and trees makes for some great natural art. 

Just down river I found this spot where burgy bits were being pushed by the current up against the ice.  They would hit the ice then circle back up river again, where they would get caught in the current and circle, again and again.  It was mesmerising and I watched it ‘til I was dizzy.

On the way back I encountered a Black-Backed Woodpecker (Picioides articus).  Like the other birds with whom he shares his genre, - the Downy (P. pubescens), Hairy (P. villosus), and the Three-Toed (P. tridactylus) - and unlike the Pileated (Drycopus pileatus) he seemed quite unaffected by my presence.  I observed this often-elusive northerner for awhile, my concern trying to get good photos, and his, chiselling away flakes of bark to get at over wintering insect larva.  Miko found entertainment with scorning red squirrels.

Shortly after our bird encounter I noticed a lot of disturbance under a large pine tree.   Closer inspection revealed what appeared to be a wolf kill.  Lots of tracks, wolf scat, deer hair, and frozen red snow.  No sign of any leftovers though.  The tracks looked to be from 3-4 days old, corresponding to the light snow that had fallen earlier.  Exciting, but a body would have been better.

A gentle snowfall accompanied us the rest of the way home.  I hit the sauna and went to sleep, with images of waterfalls, wolves, and woodpeckers visiting my dreams.

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