WINTER HIKING CHALLENGES

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Webster Falls and Tews Falls

The meltwater joins the creek as it gushes off the edge of the escarpment and pounds on the boulders below. Mist explodes in the cool air as the rushing water then threads its way around the snow-covered boulders and resumes its journey downstream. This is what Helen, Tessi and I discovered at the 21 m (69 ft) Webster's Falls when we decided to head out on a spring-like mid-January day. We had had plenty of snow, which was quickly melting and making any waterway potentially hazardous. We were careful to respect nature's force by staying away from the danger. I kept Tessi on a leash just in case her nose would lead her to slippery spots too close to the water. We knew we'd have to be careful at the conservation area for that reason, but we didn't expect to be dealing with trails paved with ice. The only way to reach the falls was to slip and slide our way along. Most of the time, Tessi pulling at the other end of the leash threatened to pull me over, yet at times the tightness of the leash between us helped stabilize me. We used the fence, where we could view the waterfall from atop the escarpment, to help keep us upright. The challenge began when the trail started to slope downwards and we ran out of fencing. When we finally arrived at the 123 steps leading to the base of the falls, we found ice mainly lumped in the centre of most of the steps, having melted off the edges. By carefully navigating along the clear spots and grasping the rails, we slowly descended. A section of grated steps gave us some relief. It was cooler in the gorge. I'm glad I wore a rain-resistant jacket, as getting soaked was inevitable from the mist coming off the powerful falls. I set up my tripod on one of the few sections of stable ground peeking through the frozen glaze and struggled to keep my camera dry while I took pictures. Once we returned to the top, we wandered around the summer picnic grounds; they were much clearer than the trails. After successfully negotiating all the ice, I was walking down a small muddy mound and slid on my butt. At least it hurt less than the hard surface of the walkways would have. Tews Falls is normally a short hike, maybe about 20 minutes at a steady pace, from Webster's Falls. The slick trail continued though, extending the hike. We also stopped a lot to admire the gorge, Dundas Peak in the distance and a wisp of the city of Dundas beyond the gorge. We could safely view Tews Falls, as it plunges 41 m (135 ft) into the chasm below, from behind guardrails at a couple of lookouts. The usual narrow ribbon of water was showing an impressive mighty strength. Our admiration of the falls was kept to the lookout platforms from above as there are no stairs leading to the bottom. We could have continued to Dundas Peak (an open ledge), but because of the conditions we deemed it too dangerous. Besides, by the time we made it back to the car at Webster's Falls, we had had enough of challenging trails. I was grateful I had worn proper hiking boots. A walking stick may also have been helpful. With care taken, we enjoyed the mild winter day that turned beautiful scenery into extraordinary scenery.

Rock Glen Conservation Area

Since the trip to Webster's Falls didn't deter us from exploring the outdoors in winter, we headed to Rock Glen Conservation Area on an overcast fall afternoon to enjoy the 11 m (36 ft) waterfall located there. We already had a generous amount of snow on this late November day. Instead of having paved ice to contend with, we had to trudge through thigh deep snow. I had to resort to parking on the road; the driveway, parking lot and trails hadn't been cleared. Fortunately, we could follow the footsteps visitors had forged before us. The wooden stairs leading to the base of the waterfall were a little better. We just had to be careful. The conservation area is off the undulated Rock Glen Road near Arkona, which is about a 45 minute drive from London, depending on the part of the city you are driving from. I was surprised to find Rock Glen Road reasonably clear as the back roads leading to it were sketchy. Once we reached the bottom of the falls, we found there were only a few slippery spots, which were easy to avoid. Since it had been cold for awhile, the water falling was generous, but not very strong. Icicles adorned the edges and sections throughout the falling water. They were missing the sparkle that only the sun can give them; however, I still achieved interesting pictures. There was no one around, so I let Tessi wander freely, only stopping her when I wanted to make use of her modeling skills for my camera. A sign indicates dogs are to be leashed. The cliff and sometimes strong currents can be dangerous to our unaware doggy friends. Tessi had no interest in the water; she was too busy sticking her nose in the snow, where she could investigate hidden smells. I knew from warm weather visits that trails, mostly in the form of wooden stairs, continue downstream along both sides of the Ausable River (the fall's source). We were mostly interested in the waterfall area anyway, so we didn't bother tromping through the snow that was likely piled along the way. We were just happy to enjoy the outdoors for a couple of hours. Looking Back As I sit here working on the final paragraph of this story, I listen to the rain patter on the windows during what is another mild winter day. I'm taken back to the world of ice, snow and raging water. I feel the surge of Webster's Falls as it forces it's way over the cliff and continues it's unending journey downstream. For More Info

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2010

February 2013 - I noticed the Webster's Falls website states that the stairs are now closed to the public.

Comments Love your stories of Webster Falls and Glen Falls and the lovely pictures. It makes one want to get in the car to view the falls and water. We did one winter hike in Algonquin - falls and paths laden with ice. It certainly can be dangerous but the beauty of the ice, water and snow was worth every step on the ice. -Patty P.   Submit Comment
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