By Nikki May
On a lovely mid-week morning in October a small group of Saugeen Nature members went to admire the fall colour and other natural beauties at Old Baldy. To maximize the time at the top, our leaders Blain and Marj Horsley guided us to a parking spot not far from the cliff overlooking the Beaver Valley.
The pathway leading into this Grey Sauble Conservation Area was very muddy that day. There had been several days of rain prior to our visit; in fact this was the rain date for our outing and we were enjoying the fact that it had turned out to be a lovely day – partly cloudy and cool, but with intermittent sunshine. The meadows along the side of the pathway were filled with old-field species such as goldenrod and asters.
After a somewhat slippery and treacherous hike along the muddy path, we came to a treed area where the trail was much easier to navigate due to fallen leaves and other forest duff. We climbed up to where there was exposed rock and occasional spectacular views of the Beaver Valley.
Along the top, old cedars and other small trees grew in what looked like very inhospitable spots on the rock near the edge. Further back hardwoods started to dominate on as the soils became deeper. Looking down into the valley, we could see that the colour was past its peak but there were still glorious patches of red and orange woodland intermixed with green and brown fields closer to the cliffs. Across the valley the ski hills could be seen as grassy green patches interspersed with brightly coloured woods.
The group followed the path along the top, pausing frequently to gaze out over the valley at the many viewpoints. We also stopped to admire spleenwort – small ferns growing from impossibly small crevices in the rocks at the sides of the trail. At several points we saw Herb Robert growing beside the ferns. This small plant can be mistaken for a fern except when it is in bloom. It is actually a geranium with a small pink flower and blooms throughout the summer and early fall.
There is a Bruce side trail marked by the standard blue blazes that loops around back through the forest on top of the escarpment. We followed that pathway to explore a different plant community on our way back to the trailhead. As we worked our way along, admiring fungi and forest ferns, it started to rain lightly. We didn’t take it too seriously at first, but the rain fell faster and faster, and soon we were being soaked. We stepped carefully because the leaves on rocky paths can be treacherous, but the going was not too bad. We were expecting a very difficult time on the long muddy path back to the parking lot, but in fact it was not much worse than when we came in.
We were a chastened group of soggy Saugeen Nature members by the time we reached the end of the trail. At that point the rain abruptly stopped and the sun again emerged in a fitful way. Despite the (relatively brief) shower we agreed it had been an enjoyable excursion. We are planning another outing to the Fish Hatchery forest in November.