The backcountry was brought to the forefront recently for visitors to the Meadow Lake Provincial Park.

More than 60 hikers of various experience levels converged on the park Saturday (Sept. 11) for a backcountry hiking experience on the Boreal Trail. The hike was open to outdoor enthusiasts as well as to newcomers to hiking interested in learning more about the activity and everything the park has to offer.

“It’s great to see such a great response to our event,” remarked park manager Trevor Finlay who was on hand Saturday morning. “We are really excited about it.”

Finlay went on to provide some general information about the park, as well as the Boreal Trail itself.

“The Meadow Lake Provincial Park is one of the largest provincial parks in Canada at 1,600 square kilometres, and it features 13 campgrounds from the Alberta border to Flotten Lake on east side,” he said. “There is also a lot of businesses within the park – camping, accommodations, store services and so on. As for today’s hike, there are many new people out here, which is fantastic.”

Spanning 135 kilometres, the Boreal Trail is the only year-round destination backpacking trail in the Saskatchewan provincial park system. The trail offers multi-day trips, backcountry camping and a variety of start and end points. Although it can be challenging, park officials also say it can be rewarding as it gives hikers a close-up view of the lush boreal forest and sparkling clear lakes of the park.

“You can hike the entire trail or you can break it into chunks,” Finlay said. “Today we will do the 10-kilometre loop, which is one of the original trails developed within the park. However, there are many different options.”

The hikers broke up into smaller groups, each with its own guide. Prior to hitting the trail, however, a pre-hike information session was held at which time Dean Cattell, who is charge of trail maintenance at the park, went over the essentials.

“I retired as park supervisor, and then, about three years ago, Trevor approached me to see if I would be interested in coming back to do the maintenance on the Boreal Trail,” Cattell said. “I’ve seen lots of people over the years where they grab a promotional brochure and off they go – no compass, no GPS, and only a two-inch square snapshot of what the trail looks like. What you need to consider is a map that shows some detail, especially when you get into the longer distances. You should also consider using a compass, which has fallen by the wayside in recent years just because of GPS and whatnot.”

Cattell also carries with him a compass, and encourages hikers to pack such items as flashlights or head lamps, sun protection, a long-sleeve shirt and pants, a hat, sunglasses, insect repellent, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and liquid soap.

“I also carry a small First Aid kit with things to fix blisters, personal medication, and it also helps to take a wilderness First Aid course,” he said. “Also, be sure to carry a knife or multi-tool, as well as an axe or hatchet if you’re planning to have a campfire at a designated spot along the way.”

Cattell also said shelter is something hikers usually don’t consider.

“When going 10 kilometres, many people expect to be in and out in a couple hours,” he noted. “But, I will carry an emergency blanket and a poncho. It may not be the most comfortable if stuck out there overnight, but it will protect you from the elements. Also, consider carrying extra food and water.”

He also said a whistle is another good safety item to consider.

“It is a good signalling device if something happens and people are coming to look for you,” Cattell said. “A whistle will travel much further than your voice. In our neck of the woods bear spray is another essential, but also a last resort.”

Among the first-time hikers to participate in Saturday’s event was Donna Aldous.

“The weather made for a fantastic day, and the hike was very well organized,” Aldous said. “I enjoyed the pre-hike session where we learned all about the things a person should be carrying on a hike, as well as about bears, It was very informative.”

Aldous was invited to take part in the hike by her daughter.

“I probably wouldn’t have done it on my own, but she suggested it and it’s my birthday this week so that’s what we did,” she added. “I definitely see myself doing this again. It’s very easy to follow and the views were absolutely gorgeous.”

A barbecue, hosted by Flotten Lake Adventures, was held following the hike.

by Phil Ambroziak

by Phil Ambroziak