Elk Island Challenge

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The story of the Wood Bison Trail


At 10:00 am Tuesday, July 27, 2005 Freya prepared to begin her journey at the Wood Bison trailhead.


We started off with high spirits and heavy packs. Freya was carrying 2 L of water in a camel pack and 450 mL of Gatorade in sport bottle


Increased precipitation this spring and summer have contributed to lush undergrowth throughout the park.


Being prepared is crucial when wilderness hiking with children. Ample water, food, and a well stocked first aid kit are a given. Freya's preferred personal gear is a 2 L camel pack on her back (you can see the water line at her shoulder), an insulated bottle with something cold and sweet (Gatorade on this trek), a good sun hat, long pant and sleeve to deter the biting insects, and an emergency whistle. A unique piece of equipment preferred by Freya is a light stick in the region of 50 cm in length which she employs in her ongoing survey of the numerous "bison pies" one finds on the trail.


Roughly 5 km into the trail, we paused for a snack along the eastern shore of Flying Shot Lake. The weather was overcast and around 19 degrees C.


Mid-July to mid-August is bison rutting season. So, when a pair of bulls came ambling down the lake shore trail, we quickly packed up our snack and sought refuge in a stand of aspen away from the trail.


Thankfully, this particular bull was more interested in scratching himself on a tree sending showers of bark fragments in all directions than charging us down like lame matadores! His smaller companion, who was not photographed, ran away at top speed once he got close enough to get a good look at us.


Following hours of hiking, Freya still had a smile on her face. Freya likes to pass the time listening to her father's stories and detailed plot summaries of Hollywood films. On this particular walk we covered the "Saga of the Volsungs" - the Old Norse source of Wagner's "Ring Cycle" - Kubrick's "2001", "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", and a couple of "Star Trek" films.


Over 10 km into the trail, we had to leave the trail through a hazelnut thicket in order to give this irritable bull a wide birth.


The trail was in pretty good shape, but there were a few spots where minor detours were necessary. Freya initially wanted to attempt balancing down the slippery logs, but ultimately opted to simply go around.


On this day, as every day, this trail proved to be a borders paradise. While Freya and I are extreme amateurs when it comes to bird watching, we were treated to the sights and sounds of numerous birds including assorted ducks, finches, robins, and a stunningly beautiful oriole with bright yellow markings. However, the most notable bird sighting on this walk were two hawks of some variety circling just above the tree tops on the shore of Flying Shot Lake continually emitting their characteristic piercing cry. I suspect that this feather came from one of those raptors.


As we left the western bank of Flying Shot Lake behind and headed northwards back towards the trailhead, our energy reserves began to near depletion. The only blessing was that our load was lightened by all of the water we had drank.


When our spirits were reaching a low ebb, the forest gave us a magnificent gift. We were humbled to have seen this bull moose with antlers in full velvet. Buoyed by this honor, Freya and I forged on with renewed vigor.


Freya found this small bird's nest lying in the middle of the trail - perhaps a wind storm dislodged it from a tree? As we reached the final 2 km and the trail turned eastwards, the highway came into view through the trees to the North. Freya had the idea that we should cut through the bush to the highway and sit on the shoulder until our support crew came to pick us up. This was a very tempting idea at the time. However, after some discussion, which included the idea of a shoulder ride, Freya elected to continue on the marked trail entirely under her own power despite her aching legs.


Over the final km, the mosquitoes became a serious irritant for the first time that day and Freya donned her bug-net hat. As we emerged into the parking lot and saw our support crew awaiting our arrival, Freya actually broke into a trot!


At 6:00 pm, Tuesday, July 17, 2005 - fully 8 hours after Freya set out - the 18.6 km trail was complete. As she posed with a triumphant smile at the trailhead, Freya described her state as, "tired, hungry, thirsty, and achy."


Freya did not remain debilitated for long. Within 45 minutes, Freya was goofing off at the picnic table and running amok in the Astotin Lake playground as if she had just woken up after an afternoon nap. What an amazing child! (Pictured her from left to right are Dad, Auntie Michelle, Freya, and Grandpa Hammond.)

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