On Sunday (Jan. 8th) my good friend Bryan and I decided to take advantage of the warm weather and headed out onto the South Saskatchewan River for a short paddle. It was a sunny day with only a bit of a breeze. By the way Bryan is a Paddle Canada certified kayak instructor so if anyone is interested in learning to kayak head over to Coldspring Paddling and check out his scheduled lessons.
This year we had a small group for our xmas / new years eve camping trip, it was just myself, Zoe, and Jeff and of course Taiga. Zoe had to be back a bit earlier this year so we moved the trip dates forward a day or two and ended up coming home on the 31st rather than spending New Year's Eve in the woods.
Our destination was the Nipekamew Sand cliffs which I had visited a number of years ago in the summer so I had a rough idea as to what the area was like. But when we arrived we found the forest to be an immature stand of birch trees. We had arrived later in the day than we had planned and with the decreasing day light I was beginning to become concerned about finding a suitable camp spot. After a few km's of pulling the pulks through the deep snow we came to a mature stand of jack pine. The forest floor was level with lots of firewood available. This was to be our home for a few days.
We couldn't have asked for better weather. This year we lucked out with very mild conditions for what seems to becoming an annual New Years Eve camping trip. I didn't check the thermometer very often but when I did it read -13 degrees C the first night and -5 degrees C during the day. It seems that in the deep cold, temperatures matter more and I check the thermometer more often and when it's warm, well, it just doesn't matter. The days were sunny and warm and the nights were star filled and warm next to the fire.
Taiga is our 8 months old Lab and she did very well. She was very obedient and stayed close to camp. While on our day hikes she enjoyed running and playing in the deep snow. Our original destination was the McKay Lake area (same as last year) but with all the mild weather the lake ice was marginal at best so we had to look for an alternative location, preferably one that was on land. We decided on the Nipekamew Sand Cliffs which are located on the Nipekamew River near where the river crosses highway 165.
The trail winds through thick deciduous forests as well as open coniferous forests. In some places the trail passes close enough to the Nipekamew River and afforded a great vantage point from high above. The scale of the forest really makes a person feel small and insignificant.
Night time comes early at this time of year and we spent many hours sitting around the fire visiting, eating good food, and enjoying warm beverages. Food is always a highlight of our camping trips and this time was no different. We enjoyed a tasty sort of stew Jeff made from left over xmas dinner. Taiga particularly enjoyed the warmth of the fire after a day of hopping through the deep snow.
During the day the forest was lit up with the warn rays of the sun, it was very impressive. The sunny days also made for good hiking conditions and we took advantage by exploring in the afternoons. All the fresh snow made traveling by snowshoe a delight.
The Nipekamew sand cliffs are very picturesque during the summer but there is something special about them in the winter. Maybe it's that very few people make the effort to visit places like this in the winter. It takes a lot more work and preparation to make the journey during the winter. Often the risks are much higher and this trip was no different. Highway 165 doesn't see very much traffic and hadn't been plowed prior to our arrival or the whole time we were there, there are no residences between highway 2 and the Nipekamew River so if we had run into trouble or got stuck it could have been a long wait for help.
Finding the first of the three sets of cliffs is no problem, the trail leads right to them. Finding the second and third cliffs however requires some bushwhacking. We set off to find the cliffs on the second day and just followed the trail to the first, after a few quick photos we headed off to find the other two. We had a vague idea as to where they were located, a photo of the crude map on the plaque in the parking lot, a topographic map, and with that we set off in search. We wandered for and hour or so in the direction we thought they would be. Trying to match the crude map with the topo was difficult and inaccurate and it was no surprise that we we ran out of day light before we located the cliffs so we headed back to camp to prepare enough firewood to last the evening.
After we got the maps and our direction sorted out we easily found the third cliffs. We had brought a lunch and some tea with us so we stopped for a break and enjoyed the view of the cliffs.
The sand cliffs are really quite spectacular, they were deposited 140 million years ago when sediments were laid down by a river that flowed, to what was then a large gulf on the arctic ocean. From our view across the river, cross bedding could be seen in the cliff walls from when the sediments were deposited. From these marks the direction of the river can be determined. We didn't dare venture across the river for a closer look because of the thin ice. The fresh snow made it looked almost safe but some discoloration of the surface snow gave away the dangerous truth.
Our camp was situated in a mature and open stand of jack pine. The well spaced trees made finding a tent site easy. With all the recent mild weather in the area the sphagnum moss on the forest floor was still soft and spongy. This location had lots of standing dead trees that could be used for firewood.
This was Taiga's first winter camping trip and she did pretty good. She is very well behaved and listened pretty good, most of the time. She is only eight months old and is still learning the ropes but always came back when called. The first day she wasn't really sure about what was going on, she isn't used to spending all day outside and I'm sure she was constantly wandering when we were going to go inside. By the last day she was fairly content and didn't look disgusted with us all the time. In addition to the four sleeping bags that we bring for Zoe and I, (we would have been fine with one each due the the mild temps) we brought an old sleeping bag for Taiga to sleep in. She also had a foam pad and a wool blanket to sit on next to the fire.
During our last night it had started to snow in the evening and continued all night and the following day. That morning we woke to 5 inches of fresh fluffy snow. Luckily we had gathered all of our gear the night before and kept it in a central location that made it easy to find even after it had been buried by the snow. Though we were to travel along the same well packed trail that we made coming in all the fresh snow made the trek out seen almost as difficult as the trek in.
All in all I'd have to say we had a great trip with fantastic weather, which I think we deserved after the last couple of -30 trips. Everyone seemed to have fun, there was lots of good food, drinks, laughter, and visiting. I'm already looking forward to the next one.