For the first day of February 2023, we've got a tidy afternoon hike up an off-trail/herdpath loop in Gatineau Park (near Ottawa, Canada) - a loop of which I've grown quite fond. It's a route I've done a few times now - in spring, summer, and fall, but never in winter. Today was the perfect day for that. Fresh, powdery snow, and a not-to-cold forecast for a mix of sun and clouds.
The genesis of this outing came from Mr. Hatko. This was essentially a work/team outing, comprised primarily of folks I know from my office.
After meeting at Chris Hatko's place, where he treated us to a couple of boxes of some sort of Quebec Mr. Puffs donut things (which where, to be honest, quite good), we carpooled further up the Ottawa Valley to the end of the L'hotel de Ville road near the Lusk Falls trailhead in Gatineau Park. In the non-winter seasons one may choose to spot a car at the actual Lusk Falls trailhead, but in the winter that's not possible, and you just walk the extra distance.
Anyhow.... After a few minor hiccups getting everyone to the trailhead, all ten of us were geared up, snowshoes on, and ready for our hike up Gatineau Park's Eardley Escarpment. The steep slopes of the escarpment loomed high above us from this vantage point, and the snow and whiteness and bare trees only accentuated things.
We're going up that-a-way
A packed out pre-existing snowshoe path led away from the trailhead at the end of the road. We hiked along the flats for about five minutes until we entered the trees and soon afterward, reached the base of the escarpment itself. The packed path led up the way we wanted to go, so, great, we followed it.
The snowshoe track led up steeply, winding around little ledges, around boulders and up steep open slabs. Arn's son Kai had a lot of fun powering up the steepest stuff, throwing up rooster tails of snow as he did sow. The rest of us periodically turned around to enjoy the ever-expanding view of the Ottawa Valley. The sun had come out, and on this south-facing slope, it felt fairly mild.
Kelum's Jolly and Hatko's Folly
After a series of great lookouts, our route headed back into forest, where we stayed to the bottom of a small valley that had cut its way into the escarpment. We soon lost our packed out track, which headed across the stream at the bottom of the valley and climbed steeply eastward. That was not our direction - we were doing a counter-clockwise loop to the west, so it was time to break trail. Fortunately, the puffy fresh snow was not too hard to break.
We achieved a slower pace than we would have liked, but eventually we had zig-zagged ourselves up to a high crest, where we began the beautiful traverse across the open terrain along this stretch of the escarpment's edge. Unfortunately, some cloud and light snow had rolled in, so the warm sun had gone and visibility was significantly reduced.
With the steep stuff out of the way, the snowshoe along the crest was untroubled and pleasant. Eventually we returned to the forest (although quite open forest with plenty of space to maneuver). We began a gradual diagonal ascent, angling to hit the official trail at the Pontiac Lookout.
We managed to hit the Pontiac Lookout dead-on, completing the off-trail/herdpath portion of our hike. The clouds and the snow squall had by now passed us by, and a yellow winter sun emerged from the cloud deck to the west of us, now quite low. At this angle, it cast a wonderful light onto the valley floor below.
Our slow pace meant that some in our group were late to appointments or pickup times, and now that we were on official signed trail (from the Pontiac lookout down to the Lusk falls trailhead, we were now on official, signed trail), it was safe to split up. Those with deadlines zoomed off ahead, while Veetil, Chris and I held back, carefully picking our way down the steep (but now well-travelled and well-packed) track. We enjoyed the last golden rays of the day's sun on the way down.
The Vice-Admiral's repose
Although the sun had set, we still managed to make it to the Lusk Falls trailhead with enough light left to avoid needing headlamps. We trudged across the closed access to the L'Hotel de Ville road, where we filled up the remaining cars and headed off back towards Ottawa.
And that's that. 'twas indeed a very beautiful snow day and walk in Gatineau Park! Many thanks to all for the great company, and... I'd really like to try that other eastward route sometime, if anyone's interested....
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Eardley Escarpment Loop - click map to view
Eardley Escarpment Loop - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet