Friday, January 27, 2012

A Ward's Creek Surprise

This is an article I had published in the January 24, 2012 Kings County Record.  It was inspired by a hike I took with a work colleague.  We were investigating the topography around a watershed that we have been working at restoring as part of my job as the Project Manager for the Kennebecasis Watershed Restoration Committee.  It is days such as this one that drive home the reason why I don't work for money but rather for the enjoyment of my job.
This porcupine was one of many we found in this scenic area.  A small but rewarding wilderness area.
Nature is always full of surprises.  That is one of the bigger reasons why I love getting out and enjoying it.  Sometimes the weather changes suddenly and a summer shower changes the whole outlook on a day and makes it, strangely, more enjoyable.  Maybe you're walking across an expansive farm field and a large buck prances out in front of you leaving your heart racing and short of breath.  I could go on and on but I want to tell you about a surprise I recently received.
If you read my column regularly you'll know that I often am looking for ridges to hike and during the summer of 2011 I spotted one while driving along Route 111.  It took me until January of 2012 to get there.  From the road the ridge looked like it was hiding a ravine but I wasn't sure and the topographic maps and on-line map sources didn't show a great deal.  This really had me curious and so I headed out one afternoon with a colleague.
We parked along Route 111 and then worked our way across Ward's Creek.  Once across the Creek the terrain becomes very steep and as we work along the side of the hill large boulders are strewn through the woods.  They serve as an indication as to what lay ahead.  We aren't following any specific trail but we do find a farm road that heads in the direction we think we need to go.  We decide to move off the road and head further up the hill as we feel we need to actually crest the hill to find the hidden ravine,  I think is there.  As we stumble onto another farm trail I see the rock face that I spotted from Route 111 and it is much bigger than what I imagined.
Looking down the valley along the top of the ridge.
The rock face is not extremely high but does stand well above the surrounding landscape and extends more than 100m in length.  Beech, maple, and birch trees dominate the narrow valley floor while spruce and pine stand along the top of the face.  Scree is scattered along the foot of the rock wall and makes walking difficult.  The conglomerate rock is solid with large boulders imbedded into its cement like texture.  The whole scene stands out in front of me and leaves me feeling a bit giddy.  It was so much more than what I had anticipated and it was going to throw another surprise.
I explored the barren looking rock and some of the cracks in the wall seeking for a route I could climb up over the face.  As I looked up one such crack I noticed a large amount of porcupine scat, then as I looked up further I saw three porcupines sleeping while wedged into the crack.  I moved down to the next crack and actually climbed up approximately 30m to the top of the ridge.  As I took in the scenery below me I heard some rustling to my right and when I turned I saw another porcupine.  I was able to snap a number of great pictures and take some video of it as it made its way down the rock face.  To be honest, I had no idea; porcupines were that comfortable on rock. 
From the top of the scree the rock face was pretty much straight up.
We circled to the top end of the ravine and worked our way back to the valley bottom.  There would be no more big surprises for the hike but a cool spring on the descent was mildly surprising.  We followed its waters down to the road we had walked earlier and made our way back across the nearly frozen Ward's Creek.  The hike left me wishing I could find more time to take more such wanders through the woods. 

The map below shows the route we hiked on this day.  If you go out make sure you treat the land with respect and leave it better than you find it.  

View Ward's Creek Lookout Hike in a larger map

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