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My solo hike at Short Hills Provincial Park went reasonably well this past Monday. I’d reached the Pelham Road entrance by about 08:30, and by 09:15 I was standing at the south end of the old Gilligan Hill access road trying to decide where I was going to go.

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I’d originally intended on taking the Scarlet Tanager Trail, but unfortunately it was closed after a series of washouts over the past couple of years, and it doesn’t seem to be at all a priority for repair; to make things while it’s closed it seems to be getting no maintenance at all. Confronted with a weathered closure sign and waist-high grass (doubtlessly tick-infested) I instead decided to swap difficulty for distance and took the wide, well-maintained Black Walnut Trail which does a big loop through the park.

It turned out to be a good decision. The southern end of the park is apparently very lightly used on a Monday morning, and by the time I stopped for a snack around 10:30 the only encounter I’d had with anything other than myself were a pair of mule deer I startled as I rounded a corner in the hills above Terrace Creek. It wasn’t until I stopped to pick up some litter that someone on a bike overtook me as I approached the Wiley Road entrance. Sadly, the northern leg of my trip from Wiley Road back to Pelham road wasn’t nearly as solitary: I don’t know whether it was the time of day or the proximity to St. Catharine’s, but the number of other people, especially cyclists, increased dramatically… as did the litter, graffiti, piles of dog shit and general aggravation. In future I’m planning on avoiding the trails north of the scout camp (the square in the middle of the park marked “private property”) which in many ways is a profound shame. I hustled the last kilometer and was back to my car by about 12:00.

Still, I enjoyed the morning up to that point thoroughly and, now that I know what to avoid, I’ll be trying again. I think the Hemlock Valley Trail would make an excellent location for my next hike, so long as I avoid the washed-out eastern section of the connecting Scarlet Tanager Trail. I plan on heading out sometime this week, after the latest round of hot sticky weather cools down.

Because of my renewed interest in hiking, I’ve been spending my time reworking my daypack and gear. The Wife™ and I made a lucky find at the thrift store yesterday, finding a good-quality Columbia day pack in brand-new condition — literally brand-new; we actually checked it for the original store tags — for a fraction of the price we’d pay at MEC or Outdoors Oriented. This means that, combined with our old and rather worn daypack, we’ve got one for each of us to use when we go hiking together. I’ve spent a couple of days — but surprisingly few dollars — putting together what I consider the absolute basics for a hiking pack: first aid kits, those dollar store disposable rain ponchos, a few plastic bags of various types, duct tape and a bit of toilet paper (even in a park with toilet facilities, you’d be amazed how often bringing your own is a necessity) and some safety items like compasses, whistles, spare cordage, etc.

And on the subject of cordage, I’ve also been amusing myself with learning how to make paracord “survival” bracelets. It’s a pretty straightforward process: you just get eight or ten feet of paracord — or in my case, much cheaper “unrated” nylon cord — and tie it in a series of repeating knots to make a bracelet, or a key fob, or whatever. In an emergency you can just undo the knots and you’ve got eight or ten feet of sturdy rope for use. It’s basically the rugged and manly version of those friendship bracelets made by generations of eleven-year-old girls. It looks pretty cool, though, and it would be a genuinely useful thing to have in a crisis situation to make improvised splints or shelter or whatever.

I’ve also been renovating my old camping gear, much of which hasn’t been used since the disastrous solo canoeing trip I took in the autumn of 2012, which ended when I had a close call with both drowning and hypothermia. My dad’s old army surplus mess kit in particular needed some work, especially replacing the half-rotted-out canvas strap that holds it closed; fortunately I’ve got a garage full of armoring tools and was able to put together a simple leather strap with cut-steel buckle in very short order, just with the items I had on hand. I’ve also fashioned a simple tuna can stove for the kit, and I plan on experimenting with it over the next few days; seeing how much fuel it needs to boil a liter of water, how long it takes, etc. Actually, I made two tuna can stoves, one with lots of holes and one with very few holes; I intend on experimenting to see which one one works better and then blogging my results.

My other major project with getting back into hiking involves building a hiking stick. During my hike I picked up a stout stick — or rather I cut it from a young maple tree that had been snapped off near the root. Whatever (or whomever) broke it off had done so recently, because the wood is still very green. I was deliberately looking for green deadfall on that hike (preferably a straightish length of maple slightly thicker than an inch) because I knew I’d be making myself a walking stick for future hikes. I found one, gave it a rough trim, and used it throughout the second half of my hike. Later in the week, at home, I stripped the bark off the stick and now I have it sitting flat on a high shelf in my shop to dry out for a month or so. Once it’s dry I plan on drilling a hole for a lanyard near the top, sanding it, varnishing it, putting a metal tip on the bottom and wrapping a leather handgrip on it.

When I was young I disdained walking sticks on the trail as an unnecessary encumbrance; I am no longer young and neither are my knees. I have come to understand that a trusty walking stick on the trail is a comfort, not an encumbrance… especially when crossing streams or working your way down a steep hillside.

Sadly, some of my gear has disappeared during one move or another; I can’t find my old Nalgene bottles (I suspect they’ve been tossed) so I’ve had to pick up some dollar-store stainless steel half-liter bottles; aside from the fact that they’re bright red and labelled “CANADA” there’s nothing objectionable about them. I’m hoping to invest in a couple of new widemouth Nalgenes sometime soon — they really are the best water bottles I’ve ever found — but you’re definitely paying for the quality. In the meantime I’m making due with cheaper water bottles and a case of disposables… which unlike many people in the area I will not dispose of by dropping them on the trail for other, more conscientious, people to pick up. There’s a reason I carry a litter bag clipped to the outside of my backpack when I hike, and it looks like the Niagara area is going to be testing my habit of picking up after assholes on the trail to the limit.

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