Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Friday, 10 February 2012

Après Ski, and the Wakefield Triangle

Les Saisons Cafe, Chelsea

Today (Friday) Helen joined Sue and me for a couple of hours’ respite from our ‘beach holiday’, by way of a whizz around the 17 km ‘Wakefield Triangle’.  This is a circuit from P17 – along trail 51 to P19 (Philippe) then back along trail 53.  Trail 53 is a favourite, as it’s one of the few trails in Gatineau Park that passes through open countryside, though that often means the groomed track is blown over with spindrift that the woodland trails don’t suffer from.

You can see from the photo of Sue on this trail that today wasn’t so sunny – there were sunny intervals, but not at the time I took the picture that would demonstrate the open countryside.  It was above freezing, so our violet wax only worked intermittently, some of the trail being cool in the shade, but some of it having turned to ice in the sunshine.

Sue on Trail 53

A planned trip to Wakefield (the town – in Quebec – ha!) was abandoned in favour of delicious hot chocolate and carrot cake at Les Saisons Cafe (pictured above) in Chelsea, where we were able to conduct other essential business next door at ‘The Pub’.

Penguin Hill

Skiers ascending Penguin Hill to the point where it is joined by Trail 30

Today I dropped Sue (exhausted from 5 days’ skiing) and Helen (exhausted from 2 days at work) at the Spa in Chelsea, then parked up at P8, a few metres down the road at the other end of Chelsea.

This put me in a great position to try out part of the 51 km Gatineau Loppet route.  Don’t worry, I only went 32 km today, but I did check out the steepest of the hills on the Loppet route, the 200 metre ascent of Penguin Hill, pictured above near the point at which it is joined by Trail 30.  As you can see, the sun beat down yet again and the temperature rose to a positively balmy 2C.

You might wonder, like I did - ‘Penguin’ – seems an unusual name for a geographic feature lying about eleven thousand kilometres from the nearest penguin habitat.

Apparently it used to be called Excelsior Hill, excelsior being the Latin for ‘higher’.  But it seems that the road currently known as Gatineau Parkway (a ski trail in winter) follows the route of something called the Penguin Trail, and that name has devolved to the steep hill that comprises the start of the trail currently known as trail 1, leading steeply up to Ridge Road.

Skiers in the 1920s were looking for a way to avoid bushwhacking from where the bus dropped them off, to a lodge at Camp Fortune that was used as a base for cross country skiing.

To fill this evident need, in stepped Joe Morin, the Ottawa Ski Club’s Director of Trails.

Continuing with one of Charles Hodgson’s well researched pieces:

“The Penguin Trail was short, spanning considerably less than a kilometre, but it was memorable. This is because Joe Morin claimed to have found a penguin in the snow just as they were finishing the trail. He caught it, put it in his backpack and skied it in to Camp Fortune where he and his Night Riders nursed it back to health. They made a sort of mascot of it and claimed that it must have walked from the southern hemisphere and that’s why it was so tired. Other people were sceptical and arranged for a visit by — as the 1943 Ottawa Ski Club Guide puts it — “learned and bespectacled ornithologists” to disprove the unlikely claim. The bird however, having regained its strength, flew out the window before the bespectacled doubters could inspect it and Joe maintained his claim that it had indeed been a penguin.”

He goes on to observe that:

“Modern day Park users may be aware that a penguin is a flightless bird. This undercuts Joe’s authority in the event of the bird leaving on the wing, though it may give a small degree of support to the “walking-thus-tired”  theory.”

Charles provides further fascinating historical background here, which can be summarised along the lines that a ‘pingouin’ was perhaps found – that’s the French name (and the location is in French speaking Quebec) for a Razor billed auk, a bird that can fly but which looks much like a penguin and inhabits the north east Canadian coast, sometimes getting lost and finding its way quite far inland — albeit perhaps not walking.

The ‘Razor billed auk’s trail’ or ‘Razor billed auk Hill’ would sound a bit odd wouldn’t it?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Lac Philippe

Sue at the eastern end of Lac Philippe - 8/2/12

With Ken and Helen both at work today, Sue and I headed out on a cold, clear morning to P17 (Wakefield) and a 24 km circuit.

First of all we followed the groomer (which remained out of sight) up trail 52.  It’s about 8 km to the junction with trail 50.  Pristine conditions, but the abrasive icy snow soon removed our violet wax and saw us herring-boning up the slightest of inclines.  Here, Sue tries (and nearly fails) to demonstrate the technique.

Herring boning on trail 52 Waxing skis at trail 52/50 junction

By the time the junction with trail 50 was reached more wax was needed to see us on our way to Lac Philippe (pictured at the head of this posting) without too much of the ‘one slide forward, two slides back’ routine that seems to feature at times of thawing, re-freezing, and no new precipitation.

We aren’t complaining though, it’s lovely to be under pure blue skies in weather that’s not too cold (just two layers of clothing needed).

When we reached Renaud Cabin (below) it was deserted apart from a roaring fire, which meant that our sandwiches were quickly toasted on the cast iron of the fireplace.

Toasting the sandwiches at Renaud Cabin

Renaud Cabin

Bluejays monopolised the feeder, with black squirrels and woodpeckers nipping in from time to time.  Red squirrels and the smaller birds appeared after everyone else had gorged themselves on the fresh seeds, probably left by whoever had lit the fire.

A couple arrived, and a chat and an hour later we were back off to P17, via trails 54, 50, 51 and 53 – all very pleasant after we had rewaxed our skis for a second time.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Shilly-Shallying at Shilly-Shally

Sue Silly-Shallys outside Shilly-Shally Cabin - 7 Feb 2012

OK Gibson, put your hands up, you are to blame for this entry, for most of the content of which I have to thank Charles Hodgson and the Guide Gatineau website.

As Charles says, “anyone who walks, bikes or skis the Ridge Road in Gatineau Park knows the intimate little cabin named Shilly-Shally.

It’s located less than half a kilometre north-west of where Ridge Road crosses the Fortune Parkway, a spot known to us as ‘Gossips’ Corner’.  Keogan shelter is nearby on the south-east side of the Parkway.

Shilly-Shally is a phrase meaning “unsure” and is thought to have arisen more than 300 years ago from people saying “Shall I? Shall I?” That’s according to The Oxford English Dictionary at least.

But apparently the Gatineau Park cabin wasn’t exactly named for that reason.

Before skiers took to the Gatineau Hills, farmers tried to eke out a living along Ridge Road and one of their old buildings eventually became a snug retreat for lucky skiers. At first though as a ski cabin, Shilly-Shally was not open to the public but rented out each year for what is reported to have been the princely fee of $15 per season.

There are a few theories as to why the cabin is called Shilly-Shally.

One is that it represents a halfway point along the trail and might be a place where skiers decided whether it was worth going the whole way or turning back.

This would tie into a meaning of indecision but begs the question of “half way to where?”

Shilly-shally occupies a place on the periphery of where Ottawa Ski Club skiers ventured. It seems unlikely that it was considered a significant halfway point along the Ridge Road since skiers would have to ski the entire way back along Ridge Road; plus, in the early years, Ridge Road was still a road—in use by sleighs, rutted and not always the first choice of skiers.

Another theory also relates to a meaning of “unsure” and I like this one better. The NCC only stopped leasing Shilly-Shally for private use two or three decades ago and so there are people still alive who leased it and one of these—Sheila Thomson—has her own tale about why the cabin is called Shilly-Shally.

She and several other teenage girls were some of the earlier skiers using the cabin and what they were unsure about was how to get the wood stove going.

Here’s what she says:

“In the 1940s my father repaired this old ramshackled building that was where Shilly-Shally is now for some of our friends to stay and it was a group of teenaged girls who didn’t know how to take care of themselves; the stove smoked and they didn’t know how to cut the wood. So he called the place Shilly-Shally and the name stuck. It was a kind of pun of “chilly chalet” because it didn’t keep warm.”

The image below was found in the 1958/59 Ottawa Ski Club Year Book and entitled “Shilly-Shally cabin, near Mud Lake.””

Shilly-Shally Cabin - 1958

So the present cabin is probably quite modern…

Now then, that’s enough Shilly-Shallying around for one day!

The Khyber Pass

The Khyber Pass, above Shilly Shally Cabin

Today’s (Tuesday’s) exertions took Sue, Tim and me (Ken and Helen having both gone to work) to P7, Kingsmere, for a sunny 22 km ski, mainly along Ridge Road.

Here, two popular cabins, Shilly-Shally and Huron, are linked by a steepish hill, pictured above, that is known as the Khyber Pass.  It was quite difficult to climb in today’s icy conditions, but a joy to descend later in the day.

Shilly-Shally was host this morning to this lone red squirrel, and to nuthatches, woodpeckers and chickadees (like great tits) on the feeder.

Red Squirrel at Shilly Shally

It always seems strange to me that red, black and grey squirrels appear to live happily side by side over here, whereas in the UK the red squirrels are perceived to be an oppressed minority.  Perhaps it’s all to do with habitat.

It was about minus 6C in the Park today, with wind chill taking the temperature to around minus 15C.  However, in the calm of the trees under a warm sun it was very pleasant.  Here, Sue luxuriates in the sunshine shortly before an arduous passage along icy trail 1B, on which we worked up an appetite for lunch at Huron Cabin.

Ridge Road

It was really noticeable today how friendly everyone was compared with the weekend ambience amongst visitors to Gatineau Park.  It’s much nicer here mid week, though at weekends you are much more likely to bump into someone you know…

Monday, 6 February 2012

Monday 6 February 2012 – A Short Ski from P3

A view to Ottawa from Gatineau Parkway near P3

Just 15 minutes from home, Parking Lot P3, on the eastern edge of Gatineau Park, is just about our closest trail head.  It’s not generally a preferred venue despite the good trails, as there are no convenient cabins for lunch stops.  But today we just wanted a brief bit of exercise to punctuate what is essentially our annual ‘beach’ holiday.  So Helen joined Sue and me for a 12 km saunter from P3, along #5 for a while, then back along Gatineau Parkway.

You can see from the above picture how close these cross-country ski trails are to the centre of Ottawa.  The image below is just five minutes further along the trail, after diving off onto #5, still very close to the centre of town.

Sue and Helen head along trail number 5

So, we enjoyed another sunny day on the trail.  It was however unseasonably warm, rising to around 6C in Ottawa, a record for this time of year.  At least it didn’t rain, though!

Back at home, it’s probably colder, but the season of unhappy news continues.  Dot (my mother) has made a habit of falling over kerbs and is back in hospital recovering from her second hip replacement within twelve months.  We wish her a speedy recovery.  Meanwhile our condolences go to Pam, whose husband Len has died after a long illness.

We are pleased however to hear that John, who I visited on my way to Tyndrum a couple of weeks ago, has been putting ‘Poor Michael’ through his paces, and we also hope that Sue’s aunt and uncle, Rachael and Frank, have enjoyed their own cross-country skiing trip to northern Italy.  They are possibly, in their own understated sort of way, the fittest of the lot of us.  Keep it up, R+F!

Ski Weekend

Sue and Martin at the Champlain Lookout in Gatineau Park

It has been a lovely weekend in Gatineau Park.  I’ve written more than enough about our recent trips to this area – here – so this year it’ll just be a few pictures and some brief notes.

After our 18 hour journey on Friday, including a two hour delay at Newark and subsequent immaculate views of New York after dusk, Sue and I were pleased to don skis for enjoyable trips with Helen into the Park.  Conditions were gentle – minus 7C on Saturday, minus 5C (but cloudier) on Sunday.  Care with feet meant that last year’s severe blisters weren’t repeated; ‘kill or cure’ cured my knee injury; and Sue’s neck problem didn’t prevent her from enjoying being back on her planks.

Bohemian Waxwings were out in force in view of the header picture, taken on the escarpment above Ottawa, at Champlain Lookout, but the only deer we saw was a carcass.

Ski conditions are excellent, but may not stay that way, so there were lots of folk out this weekend.  On Saturday we parked at P9 and enjoyed a 17 km trip around the Burma Road to the Lookout, and on to Huron Cabin, which was quite busy, as you can surmise from the ski rack shown below.  Conditions for our return to P9 down Fortune Parkway were fast, reaching a steady 30kph in the groomed tracks.  Which is quite exciting!

Skis outside Huron Cabin

Sunday saw us squeezing into P16 and taking a 15 km there and back (with 19 km knobs on for me) route down trail 50 to the junction with trail 52, before returning via Herridge Cabin, where Sue and Helen are pictured below, on a somewhat greyer day than Sunny Saturday.  Ken and Michael joined us there for lunch, having set off earlier on a final short (30 km) training outing for next week’s Canadian Ski Marathon, which the rest of us are giving a miss this year.

Helen and Sue outside Herridge Cabin