The gradual lifting of travel and visitation lockdowns continued. As much as we had enjoyed finally getting out a couple of times in the last few weeks, Ontario hiking thus far was proving to be a little flat for our tastes.
Mentally casting around, I thought of the Calabogie Peaks area; I had done a number of ice climbs here over the years, and there is also a ski hill, albeit one with a very modest 750-foot vertical drop. Still, they both prove that the area's got some actual up and down. A quick look online revealed a fairly compact but extensive network of hiking trails climbing up and over and across the terrain in the vicinity. There weren't all that many good or detailed descriptions of this trail network, and I got the sense that it was somehow... that it had fallen into general disuse, and that maybe the trails were being reclaimed by the forest. Still, I felt that it had the makings of an interesting exploratory outing -- and a way to get in a hike that had an elevation range greater than just a few hundred feet.
I spent some time concocting a winding, snaking route over the trail network, piecing together various segments and trying to hit what I thought were the highlights -- and the highpoints: The Bear Claw Trail, the Lost Valley Loop, Wendigo Way, Manitou Mountain Trail - a route piecing together segments of these trails that would take us to the best lookouts and over the highest bits of terrain. I was not at all sure of the condition of these trails - would they be easy to find? brushy? clear? would we be bushwhacking through deep forest, with all vestiges of trailwork long overgrown? Today we would find out.
It was a beautiful crisp, cool and sunny June morning as we all converged on Gino's for 6 a.m. We travelled in convoy to the Calabogie Area, a modest hour-long drive. As this was essentially a big U-shaped traverse, Gino and I ferried a car over to the end point, along highway 508 at the Little Pine Path trailhead (this is the same trailhead I've often used to go to the ice climbing cliffs, so I knew this spot well).
We then returned to our start trailhead, which I identified as being along Mary Joanne Drive, one of the paved access roads on the grounds of the Calabogie Peaks Ski Hill and resort. There's decent parking at the road's dead-end, and the nearby trailhead sign is fairly prominent. There were no other cars here this morning - a promising sign for us lovers of solitude.
The initial part of my plan was to follow the Bear Claw trail for a short distance. A faded sign just beyond the main trailhead said the trail was closed for logging, but I suspected there wasn't currently any logging and the almost unreadably faded nature of the sign only reinforced that notion. On we went.
The trail was... in good shape. Easily followable. It led through pleasant forest to an area where there indeed had been some logging, but it had also clearly been several years, and already the green of nature was reclaiming the terrain. We walked partially on-path, partially on logging road, until we came to a side trail leading up a steep slope of cleared terrain that was covered in head-high brushy vegetation. A clear little path led upward through this open slope and into the trees above. We concluded that this must be the trail leading up to the Lost Valley Loop, which we wanted to follow. So, up we went.
Starting up on Lost Lake Trail
And up it indeed went - in places surprisingly steep. About 300 feet of fairly steep up, as it went, before the trail levelled off and began an easy meander along the flats of the so-called "Lost Valley".
There's an entire loop of this Lost Valley, but today we were just interested in the eastern side, and in the short side trail leading to the first viewpoint of our day, the Juniper Ridge Lookout. A final rope-assisted slope and we popped out onto the lookout. A lovely spot with an excellent, broad view of surprisingly-large Calabogie Lake. Getting from the trailhead to this first lookout had taken a very short amount of time - less than 30 minutes.
Continuing on from the Juniper Ridge lookout, we retraced our steps to the Lost Valley Trail. We turned left, continuing down and south. My plan was to next visit the southernmost lookout on the trail network - a spot called Red Arrow Rock Lookout, which on the topo map looked pretty neat: a narrowing point of land with the lookout right at its tip.
The way over to the Red Arrow Rock lookout involved getting onto a connector trail called the Wendigo Way. Again, the junction with it was clear, signed, obvious. And the trail itself continued to be wide, with good footing, and free of blowdown. There was nothing, really, to slow our pace as we hiked down into the bottom of a drainage and then back up a long rising gully in the side of one of the two "major" (I put major in quotes, because everything's relative and these aren't that major, really) peaks of the area, called Dillon Mountain. Side note: this mountain may actually be also called Manitou Mountain, but on the topo map it is called Dillon Mountain.
Beautiful forested ridgetop
250 feet of climbing up the forested gully - enough of a climb to make us a bit sweaty - brought us to the crest of the narrowing ridge leading south to Red Arrow Rock Lookout. We crossed the main corridor trail -- the Manitou Mountain Trail -- as we made our way south to the lookout. The trail becomes a delightful little hardwood-forested ridgecrest as it nears the lookout.
The Red Rock Lookout itself is, well.. it's ok. The crest of the ridge is prominent and narrow enough that a bit of craggy bedrock juts out of the ground and creates a short section of open terrain, along which the actual lookout is situated, with a pleasant enough view over the gently undulating forest to the west. We stop here for our morning snack break.
The next phase of our hike begins after our break; we're heading back north now, aiming to catch and follow the Manitou Mountain Trail along the western crest of Dillons/Manitou Mountain, where the map shows it passing along a high crest with views to the west. The trail from Red Arrow Rock Lookout to the crest is particularly nice, with a few brushy open bits, some very pleasant leafy-shady open forest, and some somewhat interesting little downs and ups along the trail. Presently the terrain levels off and we begin to follow along a drop to our left, with increasingly nice views until we get to a particularly large one with a nicely-framed view down to the small body of Manitou Lake, which sits fairly steeply down (about 300 feet) below our lookout spot. It's nice - nicer than the Red Arrow Rock Lookout but not as nice as the view of Calabogie Lake from the Juniper Ridge Lookout. That's three lookouts down, and two to go.
First of several lookouts
From the Manitou Mountain Lookout, we can look northward and see another forested prominence very close to our north - that's our next destination - the summit of Dicksons Mountain. To get there, we continue north along the Manitou Mountain Trail and quickly descend down to the saddle between Manitou/Dillons and Dicksons. Here's there's another well-marked junction with a trail through the saddle, and we turn left (west), contouring above a small marshy area colorfully called Wolf Howl Pond. Just beyond that, we encounter the well-signed junction with what I'll call the "back" ascent up to Dicksons Mountain. At this point I've pretty much concluded that any talk of this trail network being in poor shape or condition is very much not the case. I had been continually bracing myself for poor signage, routefinding, and bushwacking, and I was especially concerned about the condition of this connector trail. But no, it was perfect. Steep, but obvious, clear, and with good footing. A quick and sweaty 250-foot ascent saw us standing on the first of the open lookouts atop Dicksons Mountain.