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Rapids trail magnificent

Whiteshell offers breathtaking look at Canadian Shield

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A little while ago I spent the weekend at Whiteshell Provincial Park with a group of like-minded individuals from the Prairie Pathfinders Walking Club. Our goal for the weekend was simple -- rest and relaxation -- and sure, a couple of easy hikes just to keep the blood circulating.

The laid-back mood was apparent when I walked into our accommodations for the weekend -- the Pinewood Lodge at Dorothy Lake. There, lounging by the indoor saltwater pool, were a dozen or so familiar faces intent on their card game -- while others percolated away in the whirlpool. Not a hiking boot in sight.

The sign-in desk at the Pinewood Lodge is dwarfed by its surroundings. The "great room" soars nine metres high, the stone fireplace is big enough to stand in, and the floor-to-ceiling windows bring the whole outdoor vista inside: granite rock ridges, black spruce and a twinkling lake. My room, once I got there, was no less impressive -- a private Jacuzzi, oh boy!

Occasionally, over the weekend, we were able to tear ourselves away from the lodge and all of its amenities. One of the hikes we took was an old favourite of mine -- Pine Point Rapids. I was curious about the condition of the trail as the last time I walked here the place looked like a moonscape, with trees flattened and foliage decimated by a tornado and high winds in June of 2007.

Pine Point Rapids Trail is just over eight kilometres long and there's a bit of rock scrambling involved, so I'd say it is a moderate to intermediate type of trail. Good footwear is a must and you should plan on taking a few hours.

The clearly defined trail loops off to your right where you'll experience first-hand the granite magnificence of the Canadian Shield. The ultimate reward of this hike is the Whiteshell River and its three attractions -- Pine Point Rapids, Acorn Falls and Viburnum Falls.

We stop for tea at the falls. This is more an act of homage rather than a "pause that refreshes." Aboriginal people, fur traders and trappers have followed this very river for thousands of years and it is only respectful to stop and to consider your surroundings. It is interesting that the name Whiteshell refers to the cowrie shells that were traded amongst the various First Nations groups in North America and were used by the Anishinabe in the region.

We spend a leisurely time along the river as the falls and rapids are particularly impressive in the spring and early summer. I used to work in this park and would come to Pine Point and slide down the rapids. What a rush. I equated the experience to being flushed down a toilet. Did I mention the Canadian Shield is granite? Yes. I blew the bottom out of a bathing suit or two before switching to the ever-durable denim cut-offs. I suspect when the flow of the river is less robust -- maybe late summer -- kids are still giving the rapids a run for their money.

On the way out, closing the loop, the trail passes through what was once (pre-2007) a black spruce, jack pine and aspen forest. The tornado's damage is still evident, but I'm less disheartened than when I last visited. Manitoba Conservation has removed most of the deadfall to lessen the danger of a forest fire, and here and there signs of new life are evident.

The walking conditions were a little wet, but considering the rain we've had lately, the trail was in remarkably good shape.

Back at the lodge some of us gather poolside to reflect on the day's hike and marvel over our intimate encounter with Mother Nature. And then we disperse because, well, it was nap time!

The Whiteshell Provincial Park is only two hours east of Winnipeg, on PR 307, so you could make a lunch and have a pleasant day trip. If you want to linger, there are several campgrounds to choose from, as well as rental accommodations. The attractions and activities in the area are endless. The trailhead for Pine Point Rapids is a short drive east of the Whiteshell Museum at Nutimik Lake on PR 307.

Jacquie Crone writes a blog for Travel Manitoba and you can read more of her stories at www.unexpectedmanitoba.com/author/jcrone/

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2010 D9

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