markinthepark seeking solitude

Missing The Park terribly

snowshoe track

I hadn't been to The Park since October 10th, 2011. That is almost four months. Four months too long to be away from my favourite place on Earth.

Having some spare time and needing a break from trip-log writing (Yes, there are some new trip-logs coming!) I hopped into my vehicle and made my way north.
I arrived just after lunch and picked up at daily vehicle permit and one as well for the following day. My plan was to be on the trail well before the office opened in the morning.

With it nearing 2pm, I decided to do a short trail, one that I had done before; Peck Lake trail.

peck lake signage

I had never done this trail in the winter (It is beautiful in the fall) and with the grey overcast sky, the trail was a gloomy one. Still, it was a lot of fun, getting some exercise, smelling the pine and soaking in the silence - when there wasn't traffic passing through on the nearby highway.

I took my time wasting lots of shots and completed the circuit and was back in my vehicle in two hours. I headed back to the West gate, taking the opportunity to talk to the fella who works there. Winter is a great time to talk to park staff as visitor traffic is minimal and I had many minutes of uninterrupted dialogue . Much can be learned through those that work at and live near The Park. Then there are the "Stories" too!

After spending nearly an hour in fine company, I made my way to
The Wolf Den, my favourite place to visit overnight when staying outside The Park on its west side.

I find the Wolf Den a warm and comfy place to relax and prepare for my quick trips into The Park. The atmosphere there is very relaxing. Ben who owns and runs the establishment is a pleasure to chat with and you will often find outside more then he is inside... A true outdoorsman.

trailhead

The next morning I arrived at the gated entrance to the Centennial Ridges Trail at 7:00am sharp. No messing around here, I wanted to get some serious snowshoeing in. By 7:15am I was on my way, following an old ski track that had been made several days earlier. The hike was 2km along a road, just to get to the trailhead and by 8:00am I arrived at the beginning of the trail.

centennial ridges signage

I took a short break before heading up the trail, noting as I did, that whoever came before me had switched up their skis for snowshoes; Time for some hiking.

I started up trail around 8:15am following what looked to the snowshoe trail of two people. The snow was around 2 feet in depth, sometimes 2.5 feet, but not much more then that. Talking with Ben and my friend at The Park, I learned that snow had come late in the season and it was felt that the snow depth was slightly less then usual.

forest

Eventually I came to a point in the trail where the path looped back. Being 10km in length, The trail is a long one and is advised to run about six hours in length to complete as it ascends, covering all sorts of terrain. In winter? Probably triple the time!

The snowshoe tracks went right (Going backwards, going uphill towards cliff face towering over Whitefish Lake). Rather then do the whole 9 or ten kilometres to reach the cliffs, why not just go the opposite direction at the beginning of the trail? Saves one a lot of time!

In fact, I had done the very same thing on one fine December day about eight years previously. I wanted something different, I proceeded left following the trail proper where there were no tracks at all... I was breaking trail.

8:55am and in the image below, I paused to catch my breath as I had just covered a long ascent, looking back at a straight-way, snowflakes falling from trees sparkled into the morning sun as I heard wolves howling in the distance!

snowshoe tracks

The moment had a magical feeling to it. I had been away from Algonquin Park for far too long! I paused a moment longer savouring my experience. I continued on, noticing fresh moose tracks and scat in the surrounding snow covered ground.

Fifteen minutes later I arrived at a high point; Cliffs overlooking a vast expanse of Algonquin Park's forest. The sky was a clear frosty blue but in the distance to the North clouds loomed on the horizon.

forest

I spent nearly forty-five minutes in the area, marvelling at its beauty and serenity. You can
click here for a panoramic image of the view that I had atop the cliffs. The solid white area to the left is Whitefish Lake.

By 10:45am I had reached a point where I took an extended rest. Breaking trail had been tough work. I had started out with a temperature of -20°C and now the it was around -8°C and the snow was becoming sticky and soft in the sun. This made the trekking a sloppy affair as snow and slush began to build-up on the snowshoe.

snow covered forest

It had been 3.5 hrs since I had started out and I was barely 1/4 of the way through the trail. At this rate I'd complete the trail by 1:00am! I had no intention of staying out late nor getting lost or worse (Injuring myself) by wandering around in the dark.

snow covered pond

Reluctantly, I made the decision to turnaround and head back. Good thing I did. As I headed back, clouds moved in, obscuring the sun and a wind had sprung up, making my trek through much of the bare and open forest a frosty one.

Just before I arrived back at the trail's beginning I paused as I had heard something, looking to my left to locate the sound, I was surprised to see barely 30 feet away from me at eye level, a Pileated woodpecker, happily pecking away at a large pine tree.

For the next fifteen minutes I stood and watched as the woodpecker went about its routine of foraging for food. For years I had been trying to photograph Pileated woodpeckers, but knowing how adverse they are to the presence of humans, I counted myself lucky and enjoyed the experience, capturing a few photos as well.



It was the perfect finish to a great day. With my thighs burning from the exercise, I arrived back at my vehicle just over 6 hours after I had started out. I packed up and drove home, feeling both tired but very refreshed. I hope to be back soon, wondering what encounters my next visit will bring?

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