Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Friday 23 January 2009 – Lost and Found on the Burma Road

Hello, I’m Bluey. This is my first attempt at blogging, so please bear with me. I’m actually lucky to be here at all!

My most recent adventure started last Monday. The Boss was having trouble going up the Burma Road. Her ankle was hurting. Apart from keeping her little hands toasty, I have other roles in times of crisis such as this. And so it was that I was withdrawn from the security of another pair of gloves and used as a sort of ankle support.

I wasn’t very good at this!

It was cold and draughty and the sock I was cuddling was very smelly.

So I made my escape…

Mistake!

I was run over by several long thin bits of wood.

Soon I heard a gentle swish and was swept off the ground by a very sexy leathery mitt.

I thought it was my lucky day!

I tried to cuddle the mitt, as I was Very Cold by now, but whilst its boss had a cheery countenance, my luck was out.

I was placed on a cold twig beside the Burma Road.

I spent the next four days clinging to this twig, about three feet above a deep drift of snow. If I fell off here, I knew I may be lost forever (until spring, anyway) and my twin would be pining for me as we always do things together.

As I drifted in and out of consciousness, lots of people passed by, on those ungainly wooden planks that seem to be in vogue at this time of year. I waved frantically at them, but nobody noticed, and I had to be careful not to fall off my twig.

I spent four nights and three full days out in the cold, but at least it didn’t get too dark, and one or two people even went past during the night. They didn’t notice me shivering beside the trail.

Today it got even cooler. By 11am it was around -14°C, but with a chilly wind it felt much colder. How, I wondered, would The Boss be managing without the benefit of my tender caresses?

Then a Miracle happened.

I heard from afar the distinctive swish of the two grey planks I’ve looked down on for many happy hours. It’s me, I whispered in my loudest voice, shivering on my twig….

It’s you! It’s Bluey! Exclaimed The Boss.

I’d been rescued at last. I spent the next 30 minutes secreted deeply in a pocket, my Vapour Rising through RAB’s wonderful pores. I was home at last, as this is where I spend much of my time.

I heard The Boss discussing the day’s route…

“P10 and Fortune Parkway, up the Khyber Pass to Huron Cabin. We stopped there to light the fire and enjoy a flask of tea and some trail mix. There was nobody else around. Then we headed back via Trail 3 – The Burma Road. I knew Bluey might be there somewhere, and to my amazement she was! Bluey was found! So that put me in a very good mood for the descent back to P10, and my sore ankles and bad back didn’t seem so painful now I knew Bluey was safe.
I think we skied 12km today, from 10.00 to 11.55, including a 20 minute tea break at Huron Cabin.”


And I think I heard her talking about strange men with sledges on the Fortune Parkway…

Friday, 23 January 2009

Thursday 22 January 2009 – A New Trail

Helen and Sue proceed along trail number 53, only recently reopened to skiers

Helen joined us today for a 15km excursion from P17, Wakefield. The temperature had risen to -2°C, so dark blue wax was the order of the day. This should have worked fine, but the snow was so powdery that it balled up under the skis, making progress rather slow at times. The route was straightforward - #53 to P19 at Philippe, then #51 to rejoin our outward journey at the bottom of a hill.

The trails were quiet; we encountered only three people, though a school bus parked at Philippe did indicate that Renaud Cabin, where we had contemplated going for lunch, might be inundated with children.

Anyway, we’d elected for a morning ski. Our only concession was a 10 minute break for hot chocolate and Helen’s patent trail mix, at an exposed point on #53, with rare expansive monochromatic views.

Soon we were back in the trees. A swarm of animated Snow Buntings – there must have been 100 or more – briefly filled the air as we continued along the pleasant route, only recently reopened after having been reclaimed from snowmobiles. It’s marked on our old map, but has been unavailable for skiing for the past few years; snowmobiles and skiers on the same trails are not really compatible! I understand most snowmobile trails pass through private land, by agreement between the landowner and individual snowmobile clubs.

Our ski today was a mere 15km taking us from 10.25 to 12.55, including 10 minutes for our hot chocolate interlude, after which we returned home via Tim Hortons – a Canadian institution, a doughnut emporium, where we enjoyed coffee, soup, and of course a doughnut for lunch – a bargain at $4.50 (£2.80) per person.

Messages:
As always, it’s good to receive your comments. Thank you Dave, Ron, Phil (I think you probably got tipped out of your canoe into Lac Meech – not possible at this time of year; also not possible is the discomfort of mosquito bites), and Gayle (I think you and Mick would enjoy the skiing here – even though you would probably have to learn from scratch[easy!]).

The hat I won in your competition, Phil, is you will be pleased to hear, in daily use – an essential part of my kit. Brilliant!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Over My Dead Body - A Very English Affair

Our action packed visit took us last night to Ottawa Little Theatre for a spot of, well, Culture?

This play by Derek Benfield is set in the Home Counties of England. It was a complete surprise to us that we had come all this way to see an English comedy performed by Canadian actors! They made a fair attempt at the correct accents, but the Canadian cleaning lady, 'Carol Capstick' seemed a bit out of place.

The situation comedy had some of its Canadian audience 'rolling in the aisles' - there was some hearty laughter anyway, even if the plot was a bit thin.

An enjoyable evening was had by all in this welcoming (medium sized) theatre, with a fine selection of art (for sale) to peruse whilst waiting for the performance to start.

For anyone who may be interested (I appreciate that Ottawa is not exactly a hot bed of readers of this blog - is there anyone out there?) the Ottawa Citizen's review is here.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Wednesday 21 January 2009 – Lunch at Keogan Cabin

A group of French Canadians leave Keogan Cabin after a sumptuous lunch

Yesterday’s blue skies were replaced by snow flurries at -10°C, plus another -10°C for wind chill. Sue strapped up her ankle and off we headed to P7 – the car park at Kingsmere. From here, trail#30 heads up a steepish hill, quickly gaining 100 metres of altitude before joining #1 – Ridge Road – for a pleasant, undulating and twisty few kilometres to Keogan Cabin.

We should have stopped to light the fire here, but my fingers had only just warmed up, so we continued on – along a pleasant route in light snow, except when the sun appeared briefly as we passed the Champlain Lookout.

We headed from Keogan, up Fortune Parkway, along Champlain Parkway and past the Lookout. Then down #1B, back onto Ridge Road to the junction with #24. This was our turnaround point, but we made a loop by turning down #24 to head back to Ridge Road via this more interesting route with a few sharp bends. I misjudged one of these and spread-eagled myself briefly across the track. With only my pride dented, we were able to continue once Sue had recovered from a coincidental laughing fit.

Rejoining Ridge Road we flew past Huron Cabin, down the Khyber Pass and on to Keogan Cabin for lunch. It was 12.30, so surely the stove would be lit...
The cabin was fairly full, but we paid for our lack of attention earlier – we should have lit the stove. It had only just been started, so we had to wait a while for it to get hot enough to toast our sandwiches.

Never mind, we earwiged various conversations, notably a group of diehard back country skiers berating the fact that their ‘black diamond’ trails had been compacted by a grooming machine. This actually makes them more manageable for unskilled skiers such as us, and it also provides protection from rocks. But the die-hards clearly object. Fortunately for us, they appear to be in a poorly catered for minority!

All the cabins sport bird feeders. Today the one at Keogan was home to Chickadees, Bluejays, Downy Woodpeckers, tiny red squirrels and, pictured below, Nuthatches.

Today’s 21km trip took us from 9.50 to 13.35, including 45 minutes of breaks – an excellent little excursion.

Other News

Google Reader threw up a couple of items of interest today.

First Alan Sloman has spotted a Mad Woman intent on heading up to John O’Groats with her dog, just to walk all the way to Lands End with it.
I will of course be following her blog – Sophie Easterwood’s ‘The Longest Dog Walk in Britain’.

Next, and of completely different importance, John Hee came up with a long preamble about this historic and momentous day……
We knew what was coming…..another homage to Obama on the day of his inauguration as US President?
But no, it was the identity of The Stig – an ‘open secret’ amongst the press, but now revealed to the world at large.

Nice one, John!

Tuesday 20 January 2009 – MEC – a Canadian Institution

The sun shone brightly from a clear blue sky in Ottawa today. Sod’s law dictated that we had a day off skiing, spending it instead relaxing in the quiet environs of Woodroffe Towers.

Yesterday Sue lost one of her liner gloves, so a trip to the local outdoors shop, just a couple of miles away, was in order.

Amongst the Canadian outdoors fraternity, MEC, aka Mountain Equipment Co-Op, is an institution. Its 12 stores, spread right across Canada, are meccas for Canadian skiing, canoeing, biking, mountaineering and hiking enthusiasts. In order to purchase anything you must be a shareholder; I’ve seen bemused customers abandon their purchases when confronted with this requirement, but to date over 2.8 million of us have forked out the $5 cost of a share in the company.

I’ve bought various bits of kit from this store over the years, and today it served us well, with a new pair of gloves for Sue at a cost of $9. The store seems to me a bit like a Decathlon emporium (which I visit very rarely) with lots of own branded gear and little that shows signs of high technical detail.

There’s not much evidence of lightweight gear, either. Ken has been exploring lightweight kit for his forthcoming 160km of skiing in two days, including an overnight ‘camp’. I noticed he had printed off a GoLite rucksack catalogue, but he is still using an ancient Berghaus Cyclops sac. Apparently no retailer in Ottawa stocks GoLite, as there is ‘insufficient demand for their products’. Ken likes to try before he buys, so until he visits a stockist, GoLite is off limits for him. That’s a shame. PTC* has recently posted about the early Karrimor Alpiniste rucksacks, and perhaps the Berghaus Cyclops is in the same genre. Ken’s large sac weighs in at a competitive 1.3kg, has few if any ‘bells and whistles’, and must have withstood tens of years of use and abuse. So he continues to use it, whilst his mates struggle around in their over-engineered kit weighed down with unnecessary appendages.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Monday 19 January 2009 – A Medley of Trails

Today it was overcast again, with snow flurries but occasional glimpses of blue sky. It was a balmy -10°C in the Park. Perfect for skiing.

So whilst the whole of yesterday’s run had been along #(Trail)50, today we enjoyed a medley of trails. We started again up Fortune Parkway from P10. This is a ‘green’ trail, suitable for novices, and is generally very well (and frequently) groomed. It’s a ‘dual carriageway’ for skiers, with up and down ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ lanes either side of a central area that is mainly the domain of ‘skate skiers’. These skate skiers use shorter skis and a different technique, and are mainly folk out for energetic bursts of exercise. (Joggers.) Our preference is for the longer ‘classic’ skis. We travel more slowly but generally for longer, and maybe sometimes further, than the skate skiers. We are the equivalent of ‘day walkers’.

About 2km up the Parkway a right turn leads up #3, a blue trail, known as the Burma Road. Blue trails are harder than green ones, and on our last visit, two years ago, this trail was too icy for us to feel confident enough to tackle. In the past we have always approached it from the other direction, but today’s superb conditions meant that the steep ascent, which two years ago was dangerously icy, was really very easy to overcome, as illustrated above.

It’s steeper than it looks. Here Sue catches her breath after 'herringboning' up the hill.

An hour later, after many pauses for Sue to attend to a sore ankle, we reached #1 near Huron cabin. We’d only met a handful of people on the Burma Road, a delightful ski despite the ankle problem.

We decided to visit Western Cabin, which sits on top of the escarpment overlooking the Ottawa valley, for lunch. On the way we came across #9, freshly groomed. This is a ‘black diamond’ trail, the hardest variety of the marked x-country ski trails, barred to skate skiers. They are narrow, twisty and undulating. A basic level of skill is handy in order to avoid frequent tumbles on these trails, albeit usually painlessly into soft snow. (Not having many basic skills, I've been there, often.) We didn’t attempt a single such trail on our last visit two years ago.

We couldn’t resist #9 today. Off we went along the short 700 metre section to Western cabin, and for the first time in my life (I think) I managed to stay upright down the final luge that dips and twists and dives down to the main trail and the cabin beyond.

It was great.

As was lunch in the cabin. Three folk left as we arrived. They had got the stove really hot – it was belting out heat. Sue has a cool extremity that benefits from such gadgets.

We had the cabin to ourselves this Monday morning – what a contrast to yesterday’s hubbub at Healey cabin!

Our return to the car was via #2, #1B, Champlain Parkway via the lookout, to Huron, #1 down the Khyber Pass, to finally gently descend down Fortune Parkway and back to the car.

The trail known as #1B is very pleasant; especially so today, as we encountered a Pileated Woodpecker, a crow sized monster of a woodpecker, laying in to the trunk of a huge tree, far above us. We had the wrong camera for a good picture – this was the best I could manage. A video is ‘reserved for later’!


Today's 18km trip took us from 10.25 to 13.55, including 45+ minutes of breaks.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Sunday 18 January 2008 – The Road to Healey Cabin

Ken approaches the grooming wagon on Trail 50

The morning dawned snowy, as usual, with a few fresh cm overnight, but it had warmed up to -12°C outside!

We were graced with Ken’s presence (as well as Helen's) for today’s ski, though he did manage to overshoot the entrance to the car park – P16 at Vallée Meech.

Our trail was being groomed, and later we caught up with this vital piece of equipment, without which our trips to Gatineau Park would be completely different.

The car park was filling up quickly. The four of us set off. My boots felt a bit loose, and under the balls of my feet the they felt hard. Oh dear! No insoles. They had been taken out for drying yesterday and hadn’t found their way home. As a result my toes were a little cool at times.

Ken, Martin and I continued beyond Herridge Cabin to the eastern end of Lac Philippe, where we loitered for photos, trail mix, and for the groomer to pass.


Helen followed, but turned around at the junction with trail 52 and headed back to Healey for lunch.

Arriving at the new Healey Cabin at 12.40, it was definitely Sunday. All the tables were occupied and damp clothing was draped everywhere. The recent conversion of this 19th Century farmhouse includes the installation of some large windows, so the cabin is very well lit compared to the dark interiors of some of the other cabins in the park. Animals have nibbled chunks off the wide wooden planks used in the renovation.

Shortly prior to our arrival here, we encountered Ken’s friends Wayne and Don. They were lunching on the trail in preference to Herridge Cabin, which was only a few metres distant. Wayne is a Ski Marathon veteran, having completed the Correur du Bois Gold route some 13 times (that’s 180km in two short days – cut off is shortly after 3pm – carrying a pack and bivvying overnight). That’s what Ken is training for this year.

In the cabin we encountered another friend, Dan, whose attempts to make conversation were hampered somewhat by the waterfall that seemed to be streaming down his face. Ken explained that he is a friend from the canoe club!


Our toasted sandwiches and tea, etc were most welcome. Then the 5km trail back to the car park was covered quite quickly, the downhill stretches providing us with snowploughing practice. It was good to know – from the speed at which we flashed past a slow skier – that our skills have progressed from ‘novice’ level.

This 20km outing, all along Trail 50, took us from 10.30 to 13.50, including 45 minutes of breaks – a quite satisfactory pace along, albeit, easy trails.

We were home by 2.30 pm to enjoy a most relaxing end to the weekend.

We are enjoying this holiday.

BTW: Welcome, summitboy, our latest new 'follower', who chooses to 'follow' rather than look over my shoulder as I write!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Saturday 17 January 2009 – Fortune Parkway and Huron Cabin

One of the great things about coming to Ottawa in the winter is that there is no hurry to go out in the morning. And so it was that Helen, Sue and I enjoyed a leisurely start, after Ken had checked in to report that he had survived the night.

It’s a half hour drive from Woodroffe Towers to our starting point for the day, P10, at the foot of Fortune Parkway. Our skis had been lovingly waxed, and our poles sharpened, by our ever attentive host before he left on his own adventure. So we could leap out of the car to attack the gently rising Fortune Parkway with some considerable vigour, taking care not to overstretch certain muscles that inevitably undergo a process of rediscovery on such days.

On a normal Saturday in January we’d have been lucky to find space in P10 car park, but today there were few folk around due to the cold weather, and as you can see from the photos of me and Sue taken on Fortune Parkway, we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

We headed up to Gossips’ Corner, gossiped amongst ourselves, then zoomed on past Shilly Shally Cabin and up the Khyber Pass to Huron Cabin. A loop from there took us to the Champlain Lookout and back to Huron via the Champlain Parkway.

The view across to the Ottawa River from the edge of the escarpment wasn’t as clear as usual, as a few snowy flurries were invading the gap between us and the blue sky above. This view is something of a grander version of that of Teesside from Eston Nab, for those of you who may be familiar with the latter – picture it as it was in the winter of 1963.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in Huron Cabin – there will be more about these lunch breaks in a future posting – in the company of some friendly strangers and a man in a banana coloured suit who Helen was embarrassed to admit was known to her. His skiing kit was just a bit ‘70s style gaudy!

Martin poses outside Huron Cabin in his 21st Century gear

Having taken an hour and a half to reach the cabin for lunch, after that break Sue and I shot off down Champlain Parkway, whilst Helen headed down the Khyber Pass, meeting us at Gossips’ Corner for a brisk return down Fortune Parkway to reach P10 car park only 35 minutes after leaving Huron Cabin.
This was an excellent first day’s excursion despite the cold – with 13km skied in 2 hours, plus 45 minutes for lunch.
On returning home we woke Ken from his ‘nap’ and interrogated him about his ‘bivvi at -35C’ experience, leading to his brief report related in the previous posting. Well done, Ken, we wish all our requests for reports were met with such enthusiasm…