At the end of last week, my husband finally emerged from under a pile of tests and report cards. So on Saturday we decided to celebrate by going on a hike at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area.
Located in Milton, Rattlesnake Point is part of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and one of Conservation Halton’s eight parks. It was created in 1962 to protect this unique ecosystem that includes sheer limestone cliffs, crevice caves, talus slopes and glacial deposits. The park is also home to a lot of important species, including hackberry tree and eastern white cedar. Contrary to its name, rattlesnake is not one of them. However, the story goes that in the 1800th when a few sailors jumped ship in Hamilton Harbour and came to this area, they reported seeing hundreds of timber rattlesnakes sunning on the rocks. Unfortunately, timber rattlesnakes have not been found in the area since the 1950s but the name stuck.
Rattlesnake Point’s limestone cliffs are one of Ontario’s most popular rock-climbing destinations. Since our rock-climbing experience has been limited to two meagre attempts at a climbing gym, which taught us that rock climbing is way more difficult that it looks, we decided to stick to more down-to-earth activities, like hiking and enjoying beautiful views, although, as you will later see, we couldn’t avoid climbing completely.
It took us a little over 30 minutes to drive to Rattlesnake Point. We paid entrance fees ($6.75 per adult and $5 for our son), found a spot at the upper parking lot, had a snack, added a few more layers since it was rather chilly, and were finally ready for our adventure.
Rattlesnake Point has several hiking trails. There is the 1.5-kilometre-long Vista Adventure Loop and the Buffalo Crag Trail, which is twice as long. Both treks are fairly easy and have several spectacular lookout points. There is also the seven-kilometre-long Nassagaweya Canyon Trail that leads all the way to Crawford Lake Conservation Area. Since it was already late in the day and it gets dark early in November, we decided to leave that hiking adventure for another day.
After a short walk through the woods, we were at the Pinnacle and Nelson Lookouts. The beautiful Lowville Valley with its patchwork of farms lay down below with Mount Nemo and Lake Ontario in the background.
There were several interpretive panels at the Pinnacle Lookout explaining geological and natural history of the area. We discovered a hackberry tree, a Carolinian species that is at its most northern location in Halton. What we found most unusual about the tree was its bark with intricate patterns of grooves and ridges.
A staircase took us down to the base of the cliffs, where we could admire them from down below and, of course, try a bit of climbing.
The rocks, which usually create an impression of being strong and hardy, showed a lot of signs of weakness upon close inspection: cracks, indentations, water seeping through, trees and plants springing out of nowhere, traces of history etched into their surface.
Once we got back to the top of the cliffs, we continued along the trail. The forest was still, caught between two seasons, devoid of its glorious fall garments, waiting for the winter cover.
Along the way, we came across several attempts at wood shelters, and our son told us about his shelter building experience at Camp Kawartha the previous year.
Eastern white cedars were lining the edge of the cliffs, their roots firmly intertwined with the rocks. Some of these trees are apparently over 500 years old. Talk about strength and hardiness! Our son found some cedar bark and rubbed it between his palms releasing the most wonderful smell. He then explained that it is a great fire-starter.
Once we reached the Buffalo Crag Lookout, we retraced our steps back to the parking lot, our walk punctuated with frequent stops to enjoy the views and peer into cracks and crevices.
Before leaving the park, we turned back to cast one last look at the forest. Remnants of day light were trying to escape through a narrow crack between the land and clouds. Trees, completely bare of leaves, looked exposed and vulnerable in their nakedness.
“It smells of winter,” our son said.