This page documents a very pleasant loop route in the less-visitied north-western reaches of Gatineau Park. It starts and ends along the Eardley-Masham road, and describes a 14km elongated oval that traverses flat valley fields, a steep ascent of the Eardley Escarpment, pleasant crest walking, and one particularly stellar lookout. And it is quiet on the hiker front. Very quiet. Trail runners are another matter, though....
The entirety of this route is un-marked (as in, not officially marked). It starts and ends at a small (perhaps 6-7 cars could fit there) un-marked gravel parking lot that sits on the outside of the first sharp uphill left-hander just beyond one of the park's picnic areas (assuming you are driving up from the south).
Two somewhat overgrown paths head east from the small parking lot - one to the left and slightly uphill, and one to the right and slightly downhill (the downhill trail is also semi-officially part of the Gatineau Equestrian Trail). We chose to go right and downhill, doing the loop in a counterclockwise direction. The first third of this hike is flat and along the base of the escarpment, which seemed a little less interesting, and so we wanted to get it out of the way first.
Just like the previous week's Gatineau Park Traverse hike
, it was a close, still, humid day. It was also soon apparent that the bugs were going to be a significant presence, necessitating a stop for a liberal application of deet.
After a few tens of minutes of gradual downhill hiking, we bottomed out and emerged onto the edge of a waist-high field. We had arrived at the base of the Escarpment, and for quite a long while (4+ kilometres), we'd be walking along this horse path.
The equestrian trail was somewhat overgrown but still quite easy to follow. It generally stayed hard to the base of the escarpment, which rose up abruptly to our left. To our right, very pleasant un-farmed fields stretched off to the base of an outlying forested outcrop of Canadian Shield. This created a bit of a hidden valley effect, which was kind of nice.
Early morning on a humid day meant morning condensation, and soon our boots and lower legs were damp with dew. With the high humidity, we were soon sweating pretty good, even though it technically wasn't super hot out. Although we hadn't thought of it as a reason at the trailhead, the angle of the early morning sun meant we were hiking along the edge of this open field in the shade - a fact for which we were grateful (hiking this mid-day would mean a lot of continuous exposed sun).
An hour of walking along the flat equestrian trail brought us to a small parking lot at the end of a gravel road. This was the end of Chemin Pilon - another access point into the park from highway 148 (likely primarily used by horse riders). The equestrian trail took a sharp left at this parking lot and continued on its way.
Pleasant, quiet landscape
Turning off the equestrian trail
Only ten minutes beyond the Chemin Pilon parking lot, we noticed a half-visible opening in the forest on the left side of the trail, along with a faint path leading into it. According to our map and notes, this was the start of the ascent up to the YellowBox summit, and hence, the point at which we should depart the equestrian trail.
Immediately after plunging into the forest, a clear footpath was visible, along with prominent yellow blazes on tree trunks. This led uphill for a few moments before dropping into a fairly deep and well-defined ravine. At the bottom of this ravine was a tree with a prominent yellow "Y" mark, indicating a junction. We stayed to the right and immediately crossed the little stream at the bottom of the ravine. Very strangely, the bed of this stream was thick, firm, slippery clay. I've never seen clay in the bed of a stream in Gatineau Park before.
Strange clay-bedded stream
Immediately beyond the stream crossing, the yellow-blazed trail began to ascend, and the footing became more rough.
We were now climbing the face of the Eardley Escarpment, and according to our notes, this was going to be the main ascent (and the largest ascent) of our loop today, leading us from the escarpment's base to the YellowBox high point.
Brian climbs the Escarpment
The herd path continued to be well-marked and easy to follow, and continued its mostly steep ascent up the escarpment's face. The footing became less bouldery and more slabby the higher we ascended. There were a few nice lookouts along the way.
In total, there's about 900 feet of elevation to gain - a very respectable amount by Ottawa Valley standards, and definitely comparable to the biggest direct ascents elsewhere in the park. It's more direct vertical ascent than at nearby Lusk falls, for example.
Another intermediate Lookout
It took us about forty-five minutes to ascend to the top. A pleasant path through a little blueberry meadow led us up to the YellowBox summit: a semi-open area of bedrock with limited views, and -- surprise, surprise -- a yellow summit register box. We now understand the origin of the name (I guess I had thought YellowBox was the name of some local flower or insect or something)
Yes, there's a Yellow Box
After an early lunch stop, we began the next phase of the loop: hiking back west along the crest of the escarpment, switching herd paths as necessary so as to generally head back in the direction of the car.
The path continued to be delightful, and very typical of the unofficial escarpment-crest trails seen elsewhere in the park: a winding little track emerging at times into little blueberry-filled meadows and across slabs of Canadian Shield granite, generally dry in nature and with lots of oak trees.