Boxing Day, 2013. For many people, a day for frantic shopping for good deals. For us, a perfect time for a snowshoe hike - an outing to get some exercise and to take in a bit of crisp and clean winter air, after all of the food and drink of the holiday season.
In all fairness, it was our good friends the Hyndmans that suggested and invited us on this outing. Their suggestion: King Mountain, in Gatineau Park, just north of Ottawa. An excellent choice (and one which we often take advantage of, summer and winter), since King Mountain can provide one of the few pseudo-mountain experiences in the Ottawa Valley.
King Mountain, from Below
We arrived at the normal starting point at Rue Kelly and Chemin de la Montagne, where Arn, Nel, Kai, and Kyle were waiting. I then promptly managed to get the CR-V stuck in a hidden embankment dropoff on the edge of the road. Fortunately, after borrowing a short bit of rope from a nearby resident, we managed to straighten things out.
It was lightly snowing as we donned our snowshoes and made our way up the already-beaten snowshoe path that led uphill along an old (closed) road into Gatineau Park.
We knew this route well, having done it many times over many years, and it was not long before the familiar "turn off" point was reached: an unmarked spot along the trail which we knew offered the best access up towards King Mountain's southern cliffs (for those of you reading who do not know - the typical snowshoe route we do on King Mountain involves an off-trail excursion that climbs up the mountain from below, crosses over its top, and down a different route, forming a loop).
After turning north, we hiked up along a pre-existing snowshoe track to the base of King Mountain's southern cliffs. We examined a couple of the frozen waterfalls that typically plaster these cliffs in winter (Kai especially was interested in them).
There are several variants to our route around and up King Mountain. Today, we chose to stay right up next to the base of the southern cliffs. This is a bit more challenging than skirting the cliffs from a distance, but also more interesting, with many little steep ups and downs to negotiate and lots of good closeups of King Mountain's cliffs of pink granite - Canadian Shield granite.
Our snowshoe along the base of the cliffs was fun, although a bit harder for those among us who did not possess snowshoes with good hill-climbing traction.
Doing all he can to hold on
Returning from Ice Exploration
Traversing to southeast face
With the cliff-traversing phase of our snowshoe now complete, we rounded the southern tip of King Mountain and started to climb again, this time along the base of the mountain's south-east aspect. We continued up through open oak and maple forest until I saw a viable, not too difficult route up through the slopes above (as one continues north-east, the vertical cliffs ease and eventually there are snowshoe-able routes leading up to the top).
Beautiful Gatineau Park Winter
The climb up the south-east aspect of the mountain turned out to be more difficult than it first appeared. Although there was a reasonable snow base, it was not all that consolidated (i.e. it was rather loose) - all the way to the ground. That meant that in the steeper sections of our climb, I was often stepping all the way through the snow base - often to a slab of rock, or worse - to a slab of rock covered in ice. It took some careful snowshoe track construction (gathering snow and packing it down manually) along with a careful selection of a route that wound near hold-providing trees to get us to the top. That, and a bit of spotting for the kids.
The somewhat tricky ascent made for a sense of accomplishment upon arrival at the top. As a further reward, the light flurries had drifted off, and we now had sunlight. Not the brilliant, blinding sunlight one often gets on clear winter days, though - this light was a cool, soft, ethereal sort of sunlight.
With the ascent over and the afternoon drawing to a close, we quickly continued on. The next phase of our route involved crossing along the top of King Mountain, heading back west. We were now directly above the steepest parts of the cliffs we had traversed below an hour or so before, and we needed to continue west far enough to a point where a route down was once again negotiable on snowshoes. We briefly intersected and followed the official [summer] King Mountain trail, stopping at a few interpretive plaques and excellent lookouts over the Ottawa Valley, before heading off-trail again into the woods.
Bushwhacking our way through thicker forest for a short while, we chose to start our descent at the first reasonable-looking gully. Again the unconsolidated, loose snow base made our descent a bit tricky, but with gravity's help we were soon at the bottom of King Mountain's slopes. A bit more trail-breaking through fresh snow had us intersecting back with our ascent tracks, which we followed down for perhaps ten minutes more to the road.
A break on the Escarpment
It took us just under three hours to complete this latest iteration of this fun little snowshoe hike. We were a bit slower than normal but reasonable nevertheless, especially considering our choice of a slightly more challenging route, the soft snow conditions, and the fact that many of us had limited-traction snowshoes.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - King Mtn from below - click map to view
Snowshoe up King Mtn from Below - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet