Sometimes Hiking Sucks a Little Bit

So, last weekend was my wedding anniversary and I decided we HAD to do something to celebrate.  Honestly, we never do anything for our anniversary.  The weather is downright awkward at this time of year, here, near Toronto, in April.  Nothing is growing yet, the trees are bare, the ground is brown and grey and often really muddy.

But on this fine day in April, it was -9C out, and very cloudy. Never one to let a weekend go to waste, I got it in my head that we’d go for a hike.  Because I love hiking.  Always, right?

And since it was going to be cold and damp no matter what, why not check out some caves, too, right?  Do you see where my logic went wrong, already?  I decided that we could pack the backpacking stove and pot, and bring a can of chili, maybe some hot herbal tea in our coffee thermos and totally make it a not-foods picnic to chase the cold away.  Yea.  And that would be somehow spectacular and memorable.  Well, I got the memorable part right.

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photo courtesy of ‘thekawarthas.ca’

On my list of ‘never been to-‘ places was the Warsaw Caves, north-east of Peterborough, Ontario.  Just a quick 1.25 hours away….

So I’m driving (me and the hubs—caves don’t seem like a good place to take a dog along), and as I’m getting closer to Peterborough, it starts snowing.  And the wind picks up.  And then it really starts coming down, and the wind howling.  (And remember this is April)  Traffic stops to a near crawl and the roads have become slick.  There’s a double-wide plough blocking us all.  Any good Canadian knows never to pass a plough.  So we crawl along behind it.  I just keep going.  It doesn’t even occur to me to turn around.  What’s a bit of snow, right?  Even though I’m in my lightweight summer hiking boots, and the snow out there looks to be deeper than my boots are tall.  Even though I have a lot of layers on top (and mitts and a toque), I’ve only got jeans on my bottom half.  No long-johns.  Hmmm.  The light should have come on in my head.  But it didn’t.

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So this is what we SHOULD have seen…but didn’t

By the time we get to the conservation area, we are the only tracks in the snow.  But the sun is coming out, at least.

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walking in a winter wonderland…..

Now, there’s two main areas to hike at the Warsaw Caves—a fairly flat open hiking loop trail, and a shorter, but very rugged trail with branches that lead to the caves, the potholes formation, the waterfall and the beach.  Of course I wanted the rugged trail.  What good is a hike at the Caves without seeing the caves, right?!

Wow, what an idiot I am.

The entire trail is riddled with crevasses where a mis-placed foot could be a broken shin—

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This looks safe, right?

or thigh–.  I’m pretty persistent, though, so I’m hopping along from snowy flat-ish spot to flat-ish spot, just hoping I’m going to come down on solid rock.  The hubs likes to call me his little billy goat.  I’m not just light-footed, but I’m fast-moving.  And I’m hopping around happily.  I’m perky, and I’m chattering away up ahead of him, and he’s taking careful step after careful step, probably wondering how long a rescue would take if I fell.   My feet are both numb and stinging.  And so are my legs.   (Stupid, stupid not wearing long-johns…)  But away I go down the trail like the fool I am.

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The lookout was beautiful, though

The trail was beautiful in that pristine Christmas-y winter wonderland way.  We weren’t even sure if we were on the trail, since the blaze marks were few and far between (and the snow covered the path).  Spring run-off meant water under the snow –surprise soakers!- trying to find the shortest route to the river(s)—so that meant that a river of runoff WAS the trail.

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Why, yes, that IS our trail, under water.

Have you ever run across your wooden deck when it’s covered in snow?  Then you know how slippery they get.  I jumped from rock formation to wooden bridge

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Damn you, wooden bridge

and did a huge windmill-splits, total wipeout worthy of a blooper reel, jammed my leg under part of the bridge, but managed to not fall into the deep, dark, fast-moving water.  And totally jammed my toes so bad I thought I’d broken them (first feeling I’d had in them in hours and how they swelled in my boot!) and I wondered how I didn’t also slam my shin into the bridge in the act.  Turns out I did.  My legs were just to numb to notice it.

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Sadly, this is a flooded crevasse cave

We made it to the falls, to the lookout, to the caves.  The caves were the biggest lunch-bag letdown of the hike.  Because they looked beautiful from what we could see of them, but they were entirely coated in dripping water and ice and some caves were even flooded right to the entrance.  Sadly, we would not know if they were awesome or not on this hike.  And frankly, my gazelle-like jumping about in the mouths of the caves was scaring the hubs.  He was certain I’d go in and never get back out.  He was probably right.

So we returned to the picnic area, and we cleared the foot of snow off of a picnic table to cook up our chili.  We had to stand to eat, because the wood of the picnic tables was wet and cold.  But that was the best-tasting canned chili we’d ever eaten, let me tell you.  We don’t even eat canned, processed foods, but this stuff was the best canned crap we’d ever had.  I almost fried my cookies in the pot, too, just to make them warm.  But I resisted the urge.  The hubs made me see reason.  I think he just didn’t want to spend the time snow-washing the pot lid….

So there you go.  Sometimes hikes are just beautiful, and sometimes they just aren’t what you planned for.  The snow was beautiful.  We had the place completely to ourselves, which was fabulous.  The caves seem to hold a lot of potential.  We will have to return to the Warsaw Caves, maybe sometime in July when they’re both thawed and drained, and have another go at it.  Until then, there are a hundred other places I’ll hike (and paddle).  And tell you all about it.

Location:  289 Caves Road, Warsaw  ON

Distance from Greater Toronto Area:  about 1 hour

Trails:

  • Limestone Plains Trail (northeast loop)= 4 km
  • Limestone Plains Trail (full loop) = 7 km
  • Caves & Scenic Lookout Trail = 4 km

PDF TRAIL MAP

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