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Wednesday
Jun042014

Oot & Aboot in Blue Mountain-Birch Cove

We lay on the flat, sun-warmed rocks high atop the cliff overlooking Charlie Lake. After hiking for an hour it was time for a water break and short rest. A bird in the trees opposite called repeatedly in a high-note/low-note combination, and getting no response from his own species, I did my best to whistle back the same.

The Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area—1,312 hectares of crown land encompassing forests, lakes, barrens and wetlands—is a huge swath of (mostly) protected land. It is almost three-quarters the size of the Halifax peninsula, stretching all the way (map) from Hammonds Plains to behind the Bayers Lake Industrial Park.

Entry points aren't well signed and I'm sure there are many, but I've used three:

  1. Behind the Kent Store on Chain Lake Drive. A short hike takes you to Susie Lake.
  2. The parking lot at the Maskwa Paddling Club on 91 Saskatoon Dr. A popular short loop is to walk north along the west side of Kearney Lake, then veer west, climbing up a twisting path to the eventual look-out over Charlie Lake.
  3. On top of the gravel hill and behind the fence at the dead-end of Belle St., off the Kearney Lake Road. Here you can access a network of short and long trails with an ambitious option being the Ash Lake Loop.

As a designated wilderness area, you won't trod the kinds of well-marked gravel paths you find in Point Pleasant Park, but you will find enormous biodiversity and some challenging terrain, plus you can test your orienteering skills. If skittish, bring a compass and use the GPS on your phone to map your route and you can always backtrack out if you get lost.

While beautiful in all seasons, spring is literally buzzing as the recently frozen brooks babble once more, and the butterflies, birds and black flies abound (wear bugspray). Where the sun cuts through the treetops you'll find fiddleheads morphing into ferns in bogs, and delicate wild rhododendrons growing next to gnarly tree roots. Inhale deeply and the lovely earthy, piney smell might even give you a natural high.

With so much space you only occasionally see other hikers and their dogs, paddlers or lake swimmers, and much of the time will find yourself alone with your thoughts, which for me, inevitably become clearer and more positive the longer I stay within Blue Mountain-Birch Cove.

Best of all this area is within the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Why not get out and enjoy it?

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