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Snowshoeing at night is new twist on a fast-growing sport (Posted On: Friday, March 03, 2006)

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The rest of the Scenic Caves night-time snowshoe group had disappeared over the rise and, in the darkness, I had stepped off the trail.

At first, it was pleasant to relish the isolation so close, but a world apart from the hustle and bustle nearby, then panic set in.

It was dark, very dark and silent. I had stopped to photograph the twinkling lights of Collingwood 335 metres below and until a coyote howled – or was it someone's pet pooch? - I hadn't noticed that I was alone in the woods on a snowy night.

Scenic Caves is famous for its caves and crevices carved deep into the Niagara Escarpment, so it seemed wise not to move and wait for someone to come find me. It didn't take long.

Virginia Adams, a Scenic Caves manager acting as king of rear guard ensuring stragglers didn't get left behind, arrived just seconds later and within a few steps I was safely back on the trail.

There's something about tromping through the woods on snowshoes in the dead of winter that makes you feel like an early Canadian explorer, doing it by night makes you feel like a true adventurer.

But if you are going out into the woods on a wintry night, it's wise to join a guided snowshoe outing. Many resorts and hiking clubs of Ontario are now offering the tours as a new twist on this fast-growing recreational sport.

Scenic Caves has guided evening two-hour snowshoe sessions every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the season for $25 a person if you have your own snowshoe, $30 If you want to use theirs.

Led by Ryan Hayhurst, a knowledgeable guide who loves to share his stories about the history and wildlife of the region, the four kilometer route follows a winding track along the edge of the escarpment and crosses Ontario's longest suspension footbridge. The path has some fairly steep rises so it's quite a workout, but the stunning views across the blackness of Georgian Bay ringed by the lights of Wasaga Beach and Midland make it worth the effort.

Modern aluminum snowshoes have crampons that grip the snow, making it easy to go up and down the hills without sliding and are also lighter and smaller than the old-fashioned wooden ones.

Scenic Caves, which has more than seven kilometers of snowshoe trails, is seeing a huge growth in the sport.

"It's mainly baby boomers who are enjoying getting out in the great outdoors for an activity that's low impact and relatively inexpensive," said Adams.

For all that, our group that night, apart from baby-boomer me, was made up of people in their 20s and 30s many of whom were snowshoeing for the first time.

"Nobody will see me if I make a fool of myself and fall over," said Tim, a computer programmer who had come up to the Blue Mountain area for the weekend from Toronto with his girlfriend Emily.

Adams said there was little chance that Tim or anyone else would fall.

"Snowshoeing is a lot easier to learn than skiing or boarding," she said.

She was right. Everyone, even beginners like Tim, strode out into the snow with confidence soon achieving an easy rhythm as they followed Hayhurst's confident lead as he set a moderate pace.

Head lamps were limited to one per couple and soon most were turned off as our eyes became accustomed to the night.

We climbed up and down steep rises, forded shallow creeks and strode confidently into the dark woods where a snow-covered canopy of maple and pine trees blocked out the starlight.

Despite the friendly chatter, there was a sense of peace, of being one with nature, and all too soon we returned to the club-house for steaming cups of hot chocolate.

For more information, click on www.sceniccaves.com where reservations can be made on line, or call 705-446-0256.

Roberta Avery is a Meaford-based freelance writer. Her snowshoeing session was sponsored by Scenic Caves.

Special to the Toronto Star
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2006

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