Distance hiked: 19.5 km // 12.2 mi
Steps taken: 29, 956
Time on the trail: ~6.75 hours (including driving from one end of the trail system to the other… more on that later)
Calories burned: 2,378
Fuel consumed: 2 cheese strings, 1 clif bar (turns out the mint chocolate flavour is actually good), 3 oreos, 2 medium tortillas with peanut butter + honey, 1 apple, peanut butter m&ms
Beaver ponds across trail: 1
Beaver ponds successfully crossed: 0 (more on that later as well..)
Wildlife spotted: too many chipmunks and mosquitoes to count, one chickadee, two blue jays, two great blue herons, two frogs, one freakishly large tadpole (swimming in the beaver pond with me… more on that later), one rose-breasted grosbeak, one red-winged black bird; heard one woodpecker and calls from ovenbirds and green frogs
The final hike of the long-weekend-hiking-extravaganza was meant to be a 9 mile hike along the entire Jones Creek trail system of Thousand Islands National Park. As you can see from the stats above, that didn’t quite happen. A series of mishaps lead to an accidental 12 mile hike (which is about the length of the longest hiking day for my first overnight trip!).
I arrived at the trailhead around 10 am. The trail system can be accessed from the roadside of Mallorytown Road, or the official parking lot off the Thousand Islands Parkway. I opted for the former. I started out on the wolf trail, which winds through a beautiful deciduous forest that felt almost enchanted. There was a boardwalk across a wetland, where hundreds of dragonflies were buzzing around as a great blue heron took off overhead. Shortly following this, I finished the wolf trail and started on the hawk loop. There is a pretty distinct change in forest type somewhere around here, with a shift from bright deciduous forest to a darker grove composed almost entirely of eastern hemlock.
Fun facts about hemlock from your friendly neighbourhood forestry student: Eastern hemlock needles are quite acidic, causing their leaf litter layer to be an inhospitable environment for the growth of many other plants. For this reason, you’ll often see hemlocks growing in almost pure stands, with very little vegetation growing in the understory.
While the wolf trail had been very easy to follow, the hawk loop put my trail finding skills to the test at some points. I get the feeling these trails don’t get much foot traffic, as they were quite faint at many points. My plan after completing the first half of the hawk loop was to break off onto the deer trail, head around the snipe loop, and then make my way back to finish the second half of the hawk loop. However, the trail had other plans for me.
Almost immediately after turning onto the deer trail, I came across a large beaver pond, right in my path. I was confused for a moment, thinking I had somehow gone the wrong way. But after looking around a bit, the trail very clearly went straight into the water. Then, squinting across, I could just make out a trail coming out of the pond on the other side, along with one of the yellow markers that signalled the deer trail. It seems that the beavers decided to construct their dam here after the trails had been established, creating a pond that blocked the trail.
My first thought was ‘guess this means I’ll have to turn back’. I was really disappointed because I had been determined to hike the entire trail system. I started walking away, but after a few steps, turned back around and decided to attempt a pond-crossing. I told myself the pond might be fairly shallow, and that I would turn around if it got higher than knee deep. As I took the first steps in, I made the happy discovery that my trail shoes really are waterproof. Until you go deep enough that the water just pours in over the top, that is. The water level was over my knees too quickly for my liking, so I continued on. Once the water reached my hips, and my pack was in danger of being submerged, I decided it was time to turn back.
I was now forced to continue along the hawk loop, with soaked shoes, socks, and pants. After walking for a bit, I came across a sunny patch and decided to take a break and attempt to dry out a bit. I took off my shoes and socks, and unzipped my convertible pant legs, and relaxed in the sun while eating a clif bar. My hiking pants showed off their quick-dry ability rather well, with the shoes and socks faring somewhat less well. After a while I continued on. And kept walking, and walking, and walking… and things started looking familiar… and now I must reiterate a comment I made on day 1: do not trail daydream too much. Or you may find yourself feeling the feelings I felt when I found myself back at the intersection of the hawk loop and the deer trail. I was back at the DREADED BEAVER POND. I had somehow completely missed the turn off from the hawk loop back to the wolf trail, and had walked around the northern half of the hawk loop all over again. So I turned around and walked that section of the trail for the third time, to get back to the wolf trail and my car (you’re probably starting to see how I accidentally added an extra 3 miles to this hike).
When I finally got back to my car, I was still determined to hike the entire trail system. So I drove over to the official parking area, to enter the system from the other end and finish it off. This second part of the hike was fairly uneventful, and I will admit I was for the most part just trying to get the miles in. However, the snipe loop located at this end of the system was gorgeous, and I look forward to returning to it when I’m not frustrated and exhausted. I eventually made it back to the beaver pond, this time on the other side that I had seen before from the far shore. Then I turned around and power-walked back to the parking lot.
There was a moment during this part of the hike where I realized, that if everything goes to plan, I could be on the PCT a year from this exact moment. That was kind of an emotional realization for me (emotions likely heightened due to exhaustion), and I am so so so excited to see where the next year takes me.
Trail lesson of the day: Sometimes, the day with the most mishaps can also be the day where you have the most fun. Although I was frustrated at points, this final day of the long-weekend-hiking-extravaganza was probably the most fun I had all weekend. I found myself laughing out loud at the craziness of trying to wade across the pond, and the stupidity of missing the trail turn-off (things get kind of weird when you’re alone in the woods for almost 7 hours). Things may go wrong, but if you laugh them off and take it all as part of the process, your hike will become so much more enjoyable.