Since I learned that there were 300 kilometres of completed trail in Northeastern Alberta, it’s been my mission to hike the trail bit by bit until it’s complete. Last year, I hiked about 95K of the trail. This year, I’ve started later, due to my broken bones in the winter, as well as my busy paddling season. This last weekend, it was time to begin again. I reserved a campsite at Franchere Bay, Moose Lake Provincial Park, close to Bonnyville, with the intention of hiking several stretches between Bonnyville and Abilene Junction, over the course of 3 days.
This campground was definitely not my favourite. It was pleasant to be shaded by many pine trees, and to be close to a large lake. However, there were many enormous trailers camped all around us, and a lot of them operated gas-powered generators for hours on end. Others drove in and out frequently in diesel trucks, hauling their massive boats. In other words, it wasn’t such a peaceful environment. I enjoy the sounds of playing children as well as partying friends and families, and those sounds were also around us. A very unpleasant surprise was finding out on day 3 that the lake was affected by Blue-Green Algae. Unfortunately, we both swam in the lake on day 2 and had skin irritations following our swim. Many children were swimming in the lake since the notice was only on the shower house, not on the outhouses or at the beach. According to Alberta Health:
People who come in contact with visible blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), or who ingest water containing blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), may experience skin irritation, rash, sore throat, sore red eyes, swollen lips, fever, nausea and vomiting and/or diarrhea. Symptoms usually appear within one to three hours and resolve in one to two days. Symptoms in children are often more pronounced; however, all humans are at risk of these symptoms.
After our night of camping, we got up to hike on Friday. To our disappointment, it was already one of the hottest days of the year, early in the morning. Given that, it didn’t make sense to take an extra-long hike. We rearranged our plans, and decided to hike from Glendon-Mallaig, leaving cars at both ends. When we drove back to Glendon, we enjoyed the giant perogy statue, as well as a nice Chinese restaurant, across the road. The town was quite pretty, and the restaurant owner was Vietnamese, so I tried a little of my language with her. While eating, we were surprised when another member of our group just happened to choose the same restaurant, at the same time of day, out of the entire region of the Iron Horse Trail. He had stayed at Whitney Lakes Campground for 2 nights but found that the Iron Horse Trail was too muddy for biking, and the highway wasn’t safe enough. In other regions, he found that the trail was too soft to easily bike. However, he spent time taking some excellent photographs in the area. We had a nice campfire in the evening, thanks to some friendly neighbours who brought a lot of dry firewood from home.
Saturday, we woke up determined to hike from Bonnyville-Franchere, and we drove to Bonnyville. However, the skies were full of smoky haze that morning, due to the forest fires in northern Saskatchewan and northern Alberta. The smoke caused a headache and burning eyes and throat, even with the air conditioning running in the car. Again, it wasn’t a safe day for a long, cross-country hike. We spent time in Bonnyville, where I recharged all my electronics at the very friendly A&Ws, and I picked up some groceries and medical supplies at the Grocery Warehouse. I managed to get a pretty bad blister on the trail, so I was happy that blister bandages were available in the store.
There was quite a bit of rain on Saturday evening, which meant that I needed to set up a tarp, to protect my tent from getting too wet. It also made for great sleeping conditions, and we woke up to find no more smoke in the air. Unfortunately, there was a Red Alert for Aurora Borealis that night, but it would be impossible to see Northern Lights on such a cloudy night. In the morning, conditions wee good for hiking, cool and cloudy. We walked from Glendon-Franchere, about 10K, meeting a very friendly pet sheep on our travels. On our way back home, we stopped for a coffee at a “biker bar” in Ashmont, and I bought some very fresh veggies at a market garden in Smoky Lake. I also stopped at Sunbake Pita in north Edmonton, for some spinach pies.
We only hiked 25K over the 3 days, rather than the 70 that we had hoped for. Nevertheless, it’s nice to be able to look at a map and see that we’ve hiked over more of the province. The terrain on this stretch is very soft gravel, with quite a few large, loose rocks between Glendon and Mallaig. Most of the trail has shrubs or trees nearby, with a few open areas. There are plans to visit the area near Wasketenau and east, as well as the area around Cold Lake, over the next few weeks. After looking at the Backroads mapbook, I realized that there is a further network of trails that connects the Iron Horse Trail in Waskatenau with the city of Fort Saskatchewan. Maybe someday, I will have walked from the far west border of the province to the city of Edmonton!