With the C19 pandemic still generally restricting our travel to more mountainous regions, we continue to explore places closer to home. A few weeks ago
, we revisited a very nice unofficial route along the Eardley Escarpment in Gatineau Park near Lusk Falls. Today, we continue that exploration, looking at a section of Escarpment a little further to the east.
We started off from the Home Cliff parking area and access point along Chemin Cregheur (see interactive map). From here a signed grassy access path leads across farmers' fields to a spot at the base of the escarpment.
It was a warm, humid and slightly breezy afternoon as we began our walk across the fields to the base of the Escarpment. Someone had nicely mowed the grass along the access path, making for easy walking. The Escarpment rises abruptly and prominently in front of us - a big green wall with little patches of bare rock here and there. Each and every one of those bare bits of bedrock was a potential good lookout or section of scenic walking. We hoped to visit at least a few of them on today's exploratory hike.
Access/ Interpretive sign
The flat fields run right up to base of the Escarpment. At the spot where we reach that base, there's a split. A more prominent path leads off to the right, into forest, and to the left, a much less obvious bit of flattened grass leads along the forest edge. This less obvious route to the left is the way to the Home Cliff climbing area, and was also our chosen way up; My thought was to take the route up to the climbing cliffs and then, hopefully, follow an unofficial herd path that continues up beyond the cliffs and into the higher parts of the Escarpment.
Beginning of escarpment climbing
A minute or two after turning left, we encountered a sturdy new Gatineau Park info sign, confirming that we were on the right course. Immediately after the sign, we entered the forest and began a short but rough climb up to the Home Cliff Climbing area. I had been to this climbing area years ago, and noted the extra stabilization and access measures that the park staff had put in place since (rock work, stabilization beams, steps, small ladders). Soon we were at the Home Cliff climbing area, where a few groups of climbers were busy trying their mettle against the walls of pink Canadian Shield Granite.
It wasn't obvious where to go, but our intuition was that we climb left (looking up) along the base of the climbing cliffs (which involved a bit of light scrambling) until we located easier non-climbing terrain that would allow us to continue our ascent. There was indeed a faint path leading up just to the left of the cliffs, and this we followed (fairly steeply) to a nice lookout immediately above the climbing area - our first lookout of the hike. A pleasant little forest path then continued for another few yards to an even better lookout, this one with a flat grassy bench, an old fire ring, and a strange cement-and-pole artifact that looked like a crude Thor's Hammer. We believed this spot to be what is known informally as the "Alpine Cabin". Note that there is no actual cabin here.
Continuing from Alpine Cabin
Like other of my "exploratory" hikes where there is no official trail, I am always fearful that we'll end up finding troublesome bushwhacking rather than enjoyable hiking. I was therefore pleased when we quickly located a faint but obvious little herd path leading uphill away from the Alpine Cabin Lookout. It lead through some very pleasant forest, on the level, until we reached the branch of Ruisseau Faris that drains this section of the Escarpment. Beyond this, the trail began a long forested ascent of 400 feet, to the upper crest of the Escarpment (a long ascent by Gatineau Park standards, that is). This section of trail was a bit less nice, being a bit more uneven and prone to being wet and muddy (today not too bad, though).
At the crest, we started to encounter drier terrain and some open patches of bedrock. A few cairns marked the way, including one marking a junction with a cross trail that we believed to be the main Escarpment crest-following path. Onto this path we turned, heading east. Pretty much all of our ascent was over now; we were following the high crest of the Escarpment at an elevation of roughly 1150-1200 feet.
It was along this stretch that we began to reap the fruits of our labors. Increasingly we walked through small open areas of bedrock and lichens, bordered by drier vegetation dominated by small oak trees. Off to our right were frequent glimpses of the broad Ottawa River Valley and its farmlands. The open areas grew larger and merged into a long laneway of mostly open terrain, interrupted only infrequently by short passages through oak trees. Where the route was over rock, there were occasional cairns; where the route passed through grassy areas or bits of forest, a very pleasant little soft herd path showed the way.
That thar's rain over there
Lightly Marked, but Marked
The Escarpment gradually rounded to the northeast as we continued along, and our views changed from looking straight out over the flat expanse of the valley to a view that looks eastward along the edge of the Escarpment. Presently we came to an especially wide stretch of bedrock, which I believe is the South Window lookout. It was indeed quite nice, although personally I thought that one of the earlier lookouts just west of this point had more panoramic views. Still, very nice.
Nice Eastward Escarpment View
Beyond the South Window lookout, the mostly-open nature of the terrain continued. A very pleasant grassy path continued on, now descending, towards a forested draw in the Escarpment. Eventually the forest re-encroached entirely and we were back under the trees. The path was still obvious and still -- for the most part -- quite nicely treaded, with not a lot of roughness or rocks.
At the bottom of the draw we crossed a (mostly dry at the moment) small creek and then turned a sharp right, following the creek downhill for a bit. Compared with the dry, hot and open Escarpment along which we had just been hiking, down in here it was dim, shady, and moist - and a corresponding increase in the bug situation. Fortunately this part wasn't too long, and soon the trail began to veer away from the creek bed and, at the same time became quite a bit wider and more prominent. And then immediately after that we came to a very obvious, very well-marked junction. Pink arrows and blazes pointed to a path that led steeply uphill to our left, while the improving path that we were on continued on a generally down-valley course.
Our plan was to visit the next segment of Escarpment Crest, so the uphill choice was the one for us.
The uphill path started off at a fairly stiff grade. The trail was packed out and entirely dirt, but with no roughness. It looked like something that experienced a fairly elevated level of foot traffic. The grade soon eased, then levelled off entirely, and we once again entered the zone of drier vegetation and open bedrock patches (i.e. we had re-acquired the top edge of the Escarpment)
This section of open Escarpment was not as long as the one back near the South Window, but it did have a lookout that was more outstanding: a spot called The Gallery. The width of the lookout and the lack of vegetation beyond its rounded edge gave it a much more expansive, airy feel. The view was also more sweeping, more panoramic. Today, with attractive clouds of cumulus dotting the sky, a distant rainshower off in the distance, the verdant farmlands immediately below, and the wide Ottawa river beyond -- and with a fresh little breeze to keep us cool and the bugs away -- it was the highlight spot of the hike.