Out There: It’s the season to be hiking

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The secretive and nocturnal flying squirrel visits a West Creston backyard.

The hiking season has started. A list of hikes sponsored by local volunteers is now available at the Creston and District Public Library, the Visitor Center and at Kingfisher Used Books. However, people have been hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing most of the winter. One avid skier, over the winter, did one route over 60 times.

This past winter seems to have provided more diversified ways of getting out there. Valley bottom trails, less busy snowmobile tracked forest service roads and little travelled rural roads have been good routes for hiking and walking. Connecting with people who hike and who are familiar with local trails opens up many diversified possibilities for getting acquainted with our landscape and wildlife as well as with great friends and walking and hiking in any season.

As the spring season approached and finally arrived, snow began to retreat or move slightly higher up and begin to settle, permitting walking over the snow in many places. It is possible to enjoy hiking over snow during the winter season or at high elevations in mid-summer. We don’t need to let snow scare us away from enjoying the unique landscape that it provides. But, now we are pretty much past the snowy time of year.

About a week ago, a small group of us hiked the pack trail. Under a stand of mature hemlock and cedar, the moss was brilliant green, doing what it does best in the damper seasons of the year.

Here, shade-loving forest flowers come later but winter wrens spilled forth their endless song of varied notes. Farther on, we reached the snow zone. It was shallow at first, but as we ascended it became deeper and deeper and the going got slower and slower. Snowshoes would have been useful here where the only tracks were those of a moose that wandered off and on the trail. In a couple of places, I stepped off the trail, where one leg went completely out of sight, but certainly not out of mind. It had to be retrieved. We reached a road where a snowmobile track made a nice decent after eating our lunch in bright sunshine.

Today, over a dozen hardy hikers took to the Mount Creston Trail from the Balancing Rock Trail. Our energetic start was brightened by yellow glacier lilies, spring beauty and the white Geyer’s biscuit root. At the swamp, the aroma of bright yellow skunk cabbage reminded me that spring had arrived. Higher up in a birch grove, several butterflies flitted about between sunning on the ground in the dry leaves and sipping birch sap from broken twigs. Like the pack trail, we encountered snow as we reached the higher levels. Here the snow was denser, supporting more of our weight. With all the pairs of feet, a good track was made to the end of the trail where before us lay a broad view of a greening valley bottom. If one continues up the mountain from this lookout point for a half-hour, up the south-facing side of the draw, they will reach the Third Ledge, a prominent flat rock outcropping. From there, game trails can be followed to the north peak of Mount Creston. Now, getting back to the bottom.

Some people are privileged to have special experiences out there with out hiking or walking very far from home. In fact, some spend time outdoors just at their back door and experience an exciting natural event or get an unusual photo. One person “caught” a rare sight on camera. That was of a flying squirrel who made an appearance in broad daylight. Perhaps it was ousted from its sleeping quarters, for they are truly nocturnal and are seldom seen by us humans. These creatures are more truly gliders than they are fliers. But I discovered once that they are also excellent jumpers. One summer evening, one somehow got into the cabin. I tried to get a photo but without success as it was repeatedly up and down in a flash from the chairs to the top of the curtains. Fabulous performance!

Some say it’s about being in the right place at the right time. True! However, we need to make ourselves available to opportunities. So, take every opportunity to get out and enjoy every bit of time in every way in the out there no matter whether its near or far or for a little time or much time.

Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.