With a middling weather forecast and a middling amount of motivation, efforts to organize a longer dayhike to the Adirondacks on this - the middle weekend of October 2015 - fell through. Instead, Roland convinced us to accompany him on one of his exploratory Gatineau Park hikes, utilizing unofficial trails and off-route travel to explore rarely-visited corners of the park.
Roland's plan was to visit a secluded lookout facing north-east above the trough of land filled in by the long lakes of Meech, Mosseau, and Phillippe. To reach this lookout, he proposed that we start from the bottom of the Eardley Escarpment, near the popular Lusk Falls area. On a past outing, he had scouted out a fairly good unofficial track that he claimed would lead us most of the way to the lookout (which, by the way, we hear is mysteriously named the "Northern Window").
Trying out big apertures
I've captured photographs of Gatineau Park hikes before, and while they are nice enough, there isn't a ton of variety and there aren't a huge number of impressive vistas. And pictures of forest hiking can get a bit repetitive.
I can't change the landscape around me, but I can change the way I take pictures. I resolved to capture images following some sort of theme. So, for today, I chose 'aperture' as a constraint - specifically, a wide lens aperture (sometimes also called a 'big' aperture). I resolved that every picture that I would take on this hike would be taken at an aperture of f/4 or wider (meaning an aperture number of four or less). In doing so, I'd be forced to contend with the narrow depth of field that wide apertures provide, but also benefit from out-of-focus backgrounds and fast shutter speeds. I hoped that it would create a set of images noticeably distinct from my usual style of landscape photography, where I try and get as much as possible of the scene into focus.
Narrow boardwalked path
The trail leading away from trailhead crossed through a field of thigh-high grasses on a long, narrow boardwalk made of planks, often only one plank wide. Ahead loomed the steep, rounded face of the Eardley Eascarpment. Splashes of fall color were still very much in evidence, despite it being mid-October.
Soon the flat boardwalk reached the far end of the open field and we entered forest. Everything was lent an amber cast from a particularly large number of uniformly yellow-leaved trees.
The trail continued on the level for a bit, then crossed a wooden bridge before coming to a 'Y' split. To the left, a small carabiner sign marked a footpath to a climbing area, and to the right, a faint path led further away to the east. Our path.
The trail quickly degraded into a faint herdpath, soon reaching, then crossing, a rocky stream. This stream would turn out to be a companion on our hike towards Roland's lookout for most of the day.
Now following the banks of the stream, the faint herdpath reached the bottom of the escarpment next to a small cascade. Climbing up the escarpment, the herdpath wound around some lower cliffs before arriving at the base of a fairly large open slab. Roland told us that we could either skirt this slab on the left, or climb it. We elected the slab climb, since it gave us a bit of challenge and provided a few limited views out over the flat farmland towards the Ottawa River.
Above the slabby section, the herdpath resumed, becoming actually more distinct as it ascended. It soon settled down into a course that consistently paralleled the burbling little ruisseau, which was now coursing down through a small, shallow valley it had carved in the escarpment.
Our initial bright fall sun gave way to slate-grey skies and occasional bouts of light flurries. The grade flattened as we reached the plateau of land above the escarpment. The herdpath itself, though, continued upstream next to the creek, still quite well-defined. We noticed that old white paint blotches were present on the trees along this stretch of path.
Soon the little creek we were following emerged into a large open meadow. Save for the creekbed itself, the meadow was mostly dry and the herdpath led right through it, giving a rare bit of Gatineau Park open terrain hiking (it is entirely possible that in the spring/early summer, this meadow is wet).
Beyond the meadow, the herdpath began to get a bit more indistinct, and shortly after the 2km mark from the start, it became very hard to discern.
We skirted another open area / meadow - this one containing a large pond and beaver dam - before entering forest again, now without any really good signs of the trail. Not much farther beyond this, we intersected with Gatineau Park's main trail #1 (aka ridge trail or ridge road). We thought briefly about a 1.5km+ side detour to the Mckinstry hut for a lunch break, but didn't feel like incurring all the extra distance, and just ate our lunch right there, adjacent to the trail.
Roland's quest for his "Northern Window" lookout meant we had to continue north, continuing to follow the drainage of the little ruisseau. That meant plunging back into the forest, supposedly along a trail, but again, this mostly turned out to be a bushwhack, although there were some faint signs of a passage at times. Continuing up the drainage, we presently came to another beaver pond. But, woah, this was a beaver pond!
Beaver Corps of Engineers
This was the best-built beaver dam I'd ever seen. The most impressive part about it was its height - at least eight feet high and holding back a very substantial lake. It was sturdy, well-formed, symmetrical, and tidy. Below the main dam were a series of tiered ponds, each bounded by further well-constructed dam walls (although less high). Truly a job by some especially-gifted castors. Perhaps members of the Beaver Corps of Engineers.
A bit of NCC flagging tape (probably not placed by the NCC itself, which seems to discourage herd paths in the park and off-trail travel in general) guided us along the shore of the lake / beaver pond. At the far end, we continued up the drainage of the Ruisseau Faris, which was now but a tiny trickle and nearing the height of the drainage divide down the spine of Gatineau Park. On the other side, the land would soon start sloping down to the trough containing the Phillippe-Mousseau-Meech string of lakes. It was upon this slope that the "North Lookout" was located.
Even though Roland had been to this lookout before, it had been nearly ten years and he wasn't quite sure where it was located. Signs of a "trail" through here were basically non-existent. Roland veered to the east, looking to deliberately overshoot the lookout, then work his way back west along the slopes, eventually (hopefully) stumbling upon the lookout.
The Lookout Search
After leading us through a roundabout bushwhack through reasonably open forest, we began to question the likelihood of finding the lookout. However, Roland did manage to eventually locate the right stretch of slope, and soon afterwards, we emerged onto a secluded patch of open terrain, framed by oaks and giving a quite nice view towards the rolling and rocky Canadian Shield countryside of the Gatineau River. We had arrived at the long-promised "Northern Window" lookout. Immediately below us was the long form of Lac Mousseau - one of the three main lakes in this part of the park.
Roland at Northern Window