Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca

Friday 6 February 2009

The Canadian Ski Marathon 2009 - Prologue

The CSM, or Canadian Ski Marathon, takes place at this time every year. This is its 43rd consecutive year. Quite an institution.

Sue and I usually join Helen and another friend, Michael, and make up a mixed touring team. In 2007 we completed 23 sections (out of 32 that year) and actually managed to win a bronze medal in our category! That year the course was altered due to a paucity of snow. This year there is plenty of the white stuff, so the course is the more usual 10 sections, 5 each day, over the coming weekend, heading over 160km of trails from Lachute to Buckingham (over the river in Quebec).

So we leave after lunch today to install ourselves at the half way point and overnight halt on Saturday - for us a small hotel in Montebello.

Ken will be trying to do the whole course, with a rucksack, bivviing overnight with the Coureur des Bois Gold contingent - around 100 of them.

We will be amongst the 2000 or so 'others', starting from different places at different times, most of us just aiming to complete part of the course.

Whilst Helen will be content to do one section each day, Sue and I aim to do the last two sections on the first day (38km) and the first three sections of the second day (49km). We are not expert enough to do the middle (3rd) section of the first day, so that hampers our ability to treat this event as a real challenge, but it does provide an excellent opportunity to ski trails across private land that are available only to CSM competitors. Michael will probably do 6 or 7 sections - he's quite expert.

The possible downside to all this is that following the three weeks of superb skiing weather we've had in Gatineau Park, the forecast for the weekend is dire. Rain is forecast for Saturday afternoon, then a moderate night, and then warm again on Sunday. That means it'll be icy, so we will be doing quite a bit of walking on the gradients.

Ho hum - it may be more of a challenge than we were anticipating, or we could reduce our aspirations. Waxing is likely to be quite interesting, with horrible gooey wax being needed in the warm conditions. Some may even choose waxless skis, normally very slow but suited to these conditions. We have no choice though. At least our hands should stay warm!

Regardless, it is unlikely to be as exciting as my first attempt at this marathon, in 2004, starting in the other direction. The report on that is recorded for posterity here. This will be my 5th attempt, and Sue's 3rd, and we don't plan to repeat an earlier performance in which various bits of my kit were destroyed in a fall - but the broken kit did save me from a broken hip!

Don't expect much of a photographic record! The cameras will be placed under tight security in the middle of our bags!

This will be the last posting until Monday, at least, when an interim report on this year's experience of the CSM will be posted, before the composition of a fuller document, perhaps on the flight home - so ciao until then. Hopefully 'summitboy' (Ken) will also post a report.

Thursday 5 February 2009 – Our Last Day in Gatineau Park

Until now we have been skiing in the central and northern sections of the Park. That is because they have convenient cabins at which to enjoy a break and some tea or lunch. The southern section of the Park, whilst only a ten minute drive from home, is bereft of cabins. However, it does hold some excellent trails, so today we felt we couldn’t leave without visiting some of them.
From the southern edge of the Park, P3 at Gamelin, we took Gatineau Parkway for 10 minutes before turning onto the excellent trail 5. It was sunny again, but very cold – similar to yesterday.

As was the scenery….

Trail 5 heads off to the north near Pink Lake, so we took trail 15 to P6 at MacKenzie King (across the road from another of our start points, Kingsmere). Trail 7 from here was an excellent ski, leading eventually back to Gatineau Parkway for a gentle potter back to P3, to conclude this year’s visit to Gatineau Park.

On the way we passed the Lookout above Pink Lake. The lake is named after the family who settled here in the 1830s. It turned green in the 1960s and has been found to have no oxygen below a depth of 13 metres. It was thought to be polluted, possibly due to a mica mine from the early 1900s, but it has recently been established that erosion is the problem. Remedial measures are being taken.

Pink Lake is white in winter.

Here's one of two huge grooming machines that were lunching on the Parkway.

As we approached Gamelin, we gained a clear impression of how close this ski area is to the centre of Canada’s capital city.

Having carried a flask of tea all around this 22km route (10.00 to 13.20 including 15 minutes of breaks), we finally got to enjoy it from the warmth of the car before travelling the 10 minutes home for bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Wednesday 4 February 2009 – Around Lac Philippe

My first day of retirement was celebrated together with Sue on a neat little circuit of Lac Philippe – P17 (Wakefield) then along trails 52, 50 and 53, stopping at Renaud Cabin for lunch.

Unfortunately Sue wiped out quite badly near the #50 junction. I lounged on a bench whilst she adopted a ‘recovery pose’. She was later coaxed back to life with a hot bath and some ice; now how is that supposed to work?

Renaud Cabin sits in delightfully open surroundings.

We were the only visitors today, which meant that toasting our sandwiches was something of a long job.

I photographed our 'typical lunch' whilst we waited.

Today's tracks were easy but fast, with very few people out (we saw seven all day) as it was cold (-14°C + wind chill taking it to about -30°C), but hands stayed reasonably warm, especially on the delightful final section, with some open countryside, along #53.

Back home by 3pm, we later enjoyed a lovely sunset from the second floor balcony:

Then we all enjoyed an excellent meal at ‘Chez Woodroffe’ - champagne, fine wine and BBQ'd (Ken seems to like barbecuing in frigid weather) pork tenderloin with lavish accompaniments, and thank you, Kate, for your ‘phone call, and for all the contact from other well-wishers.

We enjoyed 24km today, taking from 10.15 to 14.15, including 1 hour of breaks.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

A Life of Riley: The End

It's over!

My Life of Riley is at an end.

After a year with no income the time has come to end the pain that others have endured in funding my obsessions.

I have an income again! Not much, but enough to just about get by.

My thanks go to all (especially Sue) who have contributed to make my 'Riley Period' so enjoyable.

And even though that period has ended, it seems I don't need to go to work, and I get some free medicine and travel and other concessions. So my expenses are down and I have (or hope I will have, anyway) some funds.

Cheers, the next pint's on me!

[You'll have to remind me of that, 'cause I'm a bit deaf y'know.]

Tuesday 3 February 2009 – Fun in the Sun

Sue and I enjoyed a sunny ski from Kingsmere, quickly reaching Shilly Shally cabin, pictured below.

From here, back-country trail number 12 undulated its way for a kilometre across to trail 3. It took all of 30 minutes. (We average a good 7kph on the normal tracks.) Sue enjoyed it. She is more expert than me. Here she is on the narrow trail.

I kept falling over. I don’t think I’ll be doing any more back-country trails without some tuition! See me struggling up this minor hill. It’s harder than it looks. I certainly seem to make it harder than it should be!

It was a lovely day, however, and once on trail 3 I could enjoy the scenery, the snow glistening between the trees, and the views from Ridge Road, which we joined near Huron Cabin and headed along towards Western, before taking #1B to the Lookout. I’m happier now, despite the ice at this point.

We descended to Keogan Cabin for lunch. It was full when we arrived. Empty when we left. Perhaps Sue’s merino top that she has been testing needs a rinse!

With no fresh snow for a few days the trails have quickened, though they can hardly be said to be icy. This was however enough to make me walk down the steep section of #1 just before we turned onto #30. Whilst previously on this trip the corner (shown in a video a few days ago) has been quite easy, discretion was the better part of valour for me, here, today.

We swished and stumbled (me only) along for another 21km today, taking from 10.35 to 14.10, including 45 minutes of breaks.

Gear Requirements - Cross Country Skiing

Sue poses above, at the Champlain Lookout, in all the gear needed for an amiable cross country ski. Her technical kit comprises skis, bindings, shoes and poles. That's all you need, and they can be purchased for around £200, so it's not an expensive sport. There's a fee of about £8 a day, or £65 for the season, to ski on the Gatineau Park trails.

Here's a site that provides lots of information and links. I'm sure summitboy can provide many more helpful links. (Hint!)

My own gear, apart from the technical stuff, is shown in a somewhat less flattering pose, below.

Moving clockwise from the easily identifiable notepad and pen, we have:

  • Lowe Alpine liner gloves
  • Neck warmer (could use a scarf)
  • Long blue socks (alternatively wear short socks and PacLite trousers on a cold day, otherwise short socks are adequate)
  • Rohan briefs
  • M&S long johns
  • Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap (thanks, Phil)
  • Handkerchief
  • MEC long pants (outer layer)
  • Canon G10 camera in CCS case
  • MEC bum bag, for lunch, flask, first aid kit, whistle, etc
  • Long-sleeved silk vest
  • Map of ski trails
  • Long-sleeved technical t-shirt
  • RAB Vapour Rise smock (ideal piece of kit)
  • Regatta gloves (red)
  • Ziplock bag containing ski waxing kit
  • Meat thermometer (it also measures air temperature!)

Hiding somewhere is a Suunto Altimax watch.

On really cold days the bum bag has been replaced by a small day rucksack, as we've felt it wise to carry down jackets in case of an accident, and whilst in previous years the bum bag has been used exclusively, the rucksack has been employed more frequently this year, even on warmer days - there's been no real need to transfer between the equally comfortable containers.

Lunch is a fairly standard package, comprising a flask of tea (for two), a cheese and ham sandwich buttered on the outside and wrapped in foil so that it can be toasted on a cabin stove, an orange or banana, christmas cake and cheddar (or similar) and a portion of home-made GORP. I must remember to photograph that lot!

There's no rain to worry about, and most people just use a bum bag, even for long days out, unless they are training for the ski marathon. Despite the sub zero weather, we probably carry somewhat less than we would on a day walk in the UK at this time of year.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Sunday 1 February 2009 – A Black Diamond Day

First, a return to yesterday.

As we ascended Fortune Parkway to the #3 turn it was clear that the day would produce some good images, hence the ‘Christmas Card’ alliteration. The trees were laden with recent snowfall and with hoar frost, under a clear blue sky. It was beautiful, as can be seen from the image above.

Trail 3, the Burma Road was in fine condition. The trail joins the Parkway after a long hill, the site of my favourite piece of video yet!

It was Saturday, so we did of course meet someone Ken and Helen knew; today it was Sarah and Jim, the former also training for the Canadian Ski Marathon Coureur des Bois Gold award and sporting a fully laden GoLite Pursuit rucksack. Very smart in comparison with the Berghaus Cyclops that Ken insists on carrying everywhere, but the old Berghaus sac may be both bigger and lighter than GoLite’s current model.

A skating party on the Rideau Canal followed. The canal is in effect the biggest skating rink in the world, and attracts many people to Ottawa, as well as appealing to the locals. It’s probably a better known winter attraction than the 200 km of cross-country ski trails in Gatineau Park.

As my daughter will testify, I’m not so hot at skating, so whilst the others glided down the rutted ice of the canal from Fifth Avenue to the new Somerset Street footbridge, I stayed firmly on dry land and covered the same route, in the same time, by strolling along the footpath beside the canal. It was dark, and I would not have stayed upright on the rutted ice of the canal.

Here’s a daytime view of the canal, from an earlier visit.

The event was a Canoe Club party, hosted annually by Catherine, who lives very close to the canal.

After enjoying beavertails, the traditional fayre of the Rideau Canal – deep fried wholemeal dough coated in sugar and cinnamon, a sort of flat doughnut - about 30 of us adjourned to her spacious house for a most amenable evening. Sadly one person had failed to negotiate the ice and turned up heavily bandaged. Apparently that is an annual feature of this gathering! I was glad to have kept to the pavement.

Anyway, tales were swapped, new friends were made, and lots of good food was tasted – everyone brings their own contribution. We succeeded in identifying the mystery ingredient in Jane’s chicken chilli (chocolate), for which the prize was – you guessed it - before being whisked back to Woodroffe Towers for the Sleep of the Just.

Sunday dawned cloudy, and after yesterday’s glorious sunshine we used our cameras less today. We did venture on new trails (for this trip), though – starting from Wakefield (P17) we headed up #52 towards Herridge Cabin. Hordes of folk were coming the other way, laden with rucksacks, sledges and small children. Someone must have been partying in Brown Cabin last night.

Trail 52 is quite a pull, so we warmed up well as we ascended nearly 200 metres before gliding down to trail 30. Had Helen been with us we would have turned left for lunch at Herridge and returned by the same route – a fine 20km ski. She wasn’t with us, so in the absence of her wisdom we headed right to Lac Philippe and along the black diamond trail 54. It’s about 4km to Lusk Cabin from here.

The trail was ideal.

For snowshoeing.

A snowshoer soon passed us. More followed. Deep snow, a narrow path, and some steep ascents all hampered our progress.

We had to take off our skis for certain sections. It was a relatively warm day – at around -4°C it was 'very sweaty' – but in these conditions the ski bindings easily ice up when the skis are removed. So they wouldn’t go back on, even when the trail levelled.

We reached the edge of Lac Lusk. The snowshoers were a distant memory.

“Let’s go across the lake” said Ken, after repairing all the skis with a Swiss Army knife gadget for removing stones from horses’ hooves, “it’s a short cut to the Cabin”. I think he was trying to boost his ascent/descent statistics, as his little computery gadget would not recognise our ability to walk on water, but would home in on a spot height (depth?) at the bottom of the lake!

Whilst skiing across frozen lakes is sometimes a good idea, and can be quick, I thought ‘that snow looks deep’, and lagged behind. Sue and Ken dashed keenly on….for about 100 metres. It was very hard going, what with a good 18 inches of fresh snow to pack down with each stride.

Snowshoes 2 Skis 0

Those who view our tracks across the lake, which will remain there for some time, may ponder The Legend of the Lost Skier of Lusk Lake, though when we finally made it to Lusk Cabin we found a new visitors book, so our rendering of this fine tale on a previous visit is now only to be seen in the Visitors Centre in Chelsea.

So, after turning around and enjoying the pleasant final section of black diamond trail 54, we reached Lusk Cabin 1 hour 35 minutes after setting off on that 4km trail. Then we discovered the fire had only just been lit, so it took another 30 minutes to toast our sandwiches. We took a few photos to pass the time.

A sociable hour was spent in the cabin – the inevitable acquaintance of Ken turned up - before returning by the easiest possible route to Wakefield, via Lac Philippe and trails 50, 51 and 53, getting back to base just in time to ponce ourselves up for Helen’s superb Sunday dinner, in the presence of Royalty (her mum) and the sad absence of the other three quarters of an Australian lamb.

Today’s energetic 26km took from 10.30 to 15.30, including an hour for lunch at Lusk Cabin.

Sue, bringing up the rear for a change, was (for one) delighted to get back to Wakefield...

We’re having a rest tomorrow (actually it’s tomorrow today and we’ve already had it) so you will be spared even more of my verbosity for a while.

Sunday 1 February 2009

Saturday 31 January 2009 – Christmas Card Conditions on the Burma Road

The sun shone today for all four of us to enjoy the Burma Road, from P10 and Fortune Parkway, then via Champlain Lookout, from where the above panorama was bathed in sun today – despite it being -18°C plus a very chilly wind just there, to Huron Cabin for lunch, before returning back down the Burma Road.

17km, from 10.15 to 13.35, including 45 minutes for lunch.

Back home for a pot of tea and a convivial afternoon before heading off to the Rideau Canal for a skating session, followed by a canoe club party.

It’s all go, hence the brevity of this entry! There will be more. We have some nice images from today. Unfortunately the shot above just proves that 'blogger' is not a good medium for displaying panorama shots (not in this layout, anyway), so I may produce a link to a regular web page when we get home, to display a few panoramas - though we do have very few on this trip.

But I do now have time to welcome Sophie to my small band of followers. Sophie is bravely planning on taking her unsuspecting 'trusty hound' for a long walk….