First footprints on a new (old) trail

Trent Ernst, Editor


Saturday, September 21 dawned grey and cool and with the threat of rain. All in all, not the best day for the penultimate hike of the Wolverine Nordic Schedule. But it was the day scheduled, so with a group of 17 others, I set out for the Murray Canyon Overlook.

The Murray Canyon Overlook is a classic fall hike on the Wolverine Nordic schedule, but this year, things are a little different. In May, the Tumbler Ridge Community Forest logged an area of forest that included the first half of the trail. To hike the trail, people must spend over a kilometre walking through a fresh clearcut.

Or at least, that’s what would have happened, if the club members hadn’t started looking for an alternative.

Turns out that the far end of the trail, the so-called Sunset Point, is only about a kilometre from a gravel pit located down a side road found just past the old trailhead, and so recently a group of WNMS members went and cut a new trail to hook up with the old trail that bypasses the logged section.

A car full of people from Dawson is waiting at the old trailhead, but they are directed to join us at the new trailhead, found at the far back corner of the gravel pit.

The new trailhead is not well marked, but what it lacks in signage it makes up in obviousness. The back of the gravel pit is a low ridge; the trail stops where the ridge ends.

The Murray Canyon Overlook trail was originally created by a crew of summer students. It was a marvel in trailbed building. The new trail, on the other hand, is a flagged goat route through the trees. Yes, the WNMS has taken and flagged it, and grubbed it, and cut through the downed trees, but there are a couple places where the path is a little indistinct. Next year, when the new trailhead is signed and a few hundred people have hiked it, the trail will be a little more distinct, but for now, it is wise to keep an eye both on the path as well as on the flagging tape.

After 800 metres on this trail, which includes one slight uphill section, an overgrown clearing is reached. This is an old helicopter landing pad. Once through the clearing, glimpses of sky can be seen through the trees ahead, and slowly, the forest gives way to the trail’s defining feature: open views over the Murray River.

I’m leading the hike this week, and, as we make our way along this 1.5 kilometre section, my eyes are mostly on the trail ahead of me. There are no signs that anyone has been on the trail recently, and it’s altogether possible that my feet are the first to touch this section of trail since the trail was closed for logging this spring.

The trail cuts its level way along a steep hill that drops down to the Murray River below. The leaves have begun to change, but only some of them, and the grey day mutes the typically brilliant yellows of fall. Typically, this is a spectacular fall hike; today it is only wonderful.

The group stops at a series of steps, where the old trail came down to the overlook section. I continue up the stairs to see how close the logging comes. The answer: very. I turn around and begin walking back to join the group. As I round the corner, I am rewarded with what was once my favourite moment hiking this trail.

Here the aspens are low and thick, not hinting at the open view just moments beyond. But as you come around that last corner, a gap in the trees appears through which the trail passes. Through that gap, you can see through the trees and across the river. It’s a small, but sublime moment, and one now lost with the reworking of the trail. Even if WNMS routes a loop trail to come back this way, it still won’t be the same. There was something magical about that first glimpse out over the Murray.

The new route is about half a kilometre shorter, meaning that instead of hiking three kilometres one way, we have only covered two and a half.

A bite to eat, a quick group picture, and a wall of water moving our way gets us moving back along the trail. We have only just started, though, by the time the rain catches up to us. Fortunately it is only a light rain, and most everyone has come prepared, but we are still quite wet by the time we make it back to the cars.

Do you want to hike the Murray Canyon Overlook? When coming from Tumbler Ridge, go about half a kilometre past the old trailhead. A road heads off to your left. Follow this to the gravel pit at the end, then angle for the far back corner of the pit. There is a gap in the trees at the start of the trail and orange flagging tape for much of the route.