This report documents a list-checking traverse across the "width" of Gatineau Park, from Lusk Falls to Wakefield.
My friend Roland is the ultimate list-checker, and this route appealed to his sensibilities. It would also be a good way for me to do a relatively straightforward but longer hike, since I had not done anything longer than about six kilometres since last year's Lake Superior Backpack (mainly due to Covid travel restrictions). That, and this year's Lake Superior Backpack was rapidly approaching. I thought a longer hike would be good prep.
The route of this traverse runs roughly north-east, from the Lusk Falls area, through the Lac Phillipe Region in the center of the park, and ending up in the quaint town of Wakefield, which sits on the eastern boundary of the park. The total distance by our rough map estimations was 19-ish kilometres. Far enough to make it a solid hike but well short of what I would call an officially long hike.
The main obstacle to an easy traverse of this part of the park is that there is no officially-trailed route that connects all the way across. There were some trails in the distant past, but the park's ruling commission has decided to let quite a few of these old trails fall into disrepair and in fact discourages their use. Such a position would not discourage us, however. We intended to use one such trail along our journey.
More of a trickle than a fall
After doing a car shuttle to drop a car at route's end in Wakefield and to position ourselves at the Lusk Falls trailhead, we headed off. It was a still and rather humid day, and it wasn't too long before we were sweating pretty good. Aiding in the sweating process was the ascent along the Lusk Falls trail up to the top of the Eardley Escarpment. This ascent - about 1000 feet - is the steepest and longest of the elevation gains along the route.
The grade eases at the rounded top of the Escarpment, and the walking transitions to easy horizontal slabs. Soon we're at the small opening around the Lusk Fire Tower (not climbable), and we stop for our first snack break.
The park's primary access trail - the multi-use Trail #1, ended at the Fire tower (Trail 1 starts near the town of Old Chelsea and winds up for 20+km along the main crest of the park to the fire tower), and after our break, we began walking along it. The trail is more of a gravel road than a track, owing to the fact that it was once an old homesteader's road before Gatineau Park was formed.
After about two-ish kilometres and before a distinct and broad right-hand turn in the road, we kept our eyes peeled for our next turnoff. Roland was more familiar with what we were looking for, and spotted it first: a mostly overgrown opening off to the left. This was the southern end of the old and now decomissioned #10 ski trail. It used to run from this point down to the Lusk Falls area, and it was exactly the direction we needed to go to achieve our traverse.
We turned off from the wide, gravelled, and obvious trail #1. Immediately we were in a quiet and shady forest. The old #10 trail was leaf-covered but still faintly visible. At this point, more than clear enough to easily follow.
We had reached the maximum altitude of today's hike along the fire tower / trail #1 stretch, and now we began to gradually descend. Mostly the way was clear, with only an occasional downed tree, despite no official trail maintainence.
After only ten minutes along the old #10 trail, we suddenly popped out at the edge of a fairly large lake (fairly large by top-of-Gatineau-park standards). This was Lac Wadsworth, one of the headwater ponds along the broad crest of the park. Very pristine and beautiful.
After skirting Lac Wadsworth, we followed the old trail northwest, passing some marshy and boggy areas near Lac Charette. Any time the route neared flat marshland or the outlet of a lake, things got a bit trickier. We would sometimes lose the old trail and have to do a short bit of bushwhacking and/or backtracking to return to a recognizable bit of path. A few spots required passage along the tops of beaver dams.
Crossing Dam, Lac Charette
We continued to generally lose altitude (and the old path in a few spots) as we made our way to the vicinity of Lusk Lake and Lusk Cave. The warm and humid air made things a bit sticky, and we looked to stop at shady little spots at the edges of open marshes and lakes, hoping for a little breeze to cool us down.
Finally, after about four kilometres and a little over two hours, we reached a maintained trail near Lusk Lake. We had completed our herd path / semi-bushwhack along the old trail #10, and from here to the end, we were back on official park trails.
Our pace picked up, now that we didn't have to pay attention to route finding, and we soon descended to a main park pathway at the end of popular Lac Phillipe. Popular it was - there were tens of people sunbathing at the southern tip of the lake. We had seen virtually no one so far on our hike, and it was a little jarring to suddenly see so many.
Intersection, Lusk Lake Trail