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Gatineau Park [Quebec]

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Gatineau Park is one of the nicest things about the National Capital Region. In every season the park offers activities and nature for all to enjoy, from kids to seniors, amateurs to hard-core sports enthusiasts. Last weekend I had the pleasure to enjoy a winter’s hike in the park and stay overnight in one of the cabins available for the public to rent. The idea had been to snowshoe. I was excited as it would have been my first time, although I was a little nervous that I’d spend half the time in the snow. The only way to access the cabin is to snowshoe, cross-country ski or hike in.

The friendly staff at the Visitors’ Centre offered to rent us snowshoes but noted that the snow was wet and we were just as well off in our boots, so we rented a slide to tow some gear and off we went for the 4 km hike in the woods.

We were 7 in total and a good mix of people: two Newfoundlanders, one Mexican, two Quebecois, someone from southern Ontario and a visitor from Zambia who arrived in Canada two days earlier to see snow for the first time. Except for Lawrence from Zambia, we were a tried-and-true group, having camped and travelled together in Mexico – from the crazy traffic of the populous Mexico City to backroad excursions without any GPS that led us astray and in circles. We carted in the bare necessities: sleeping bags, water, wine and food. The weather was perfect, about 0 degrees and no wind. (No wind, cry the Newfoundlanders, must be nice!) The quiet of the woods was wonderful. We trudged along with our backpacks while one person hooked themselves up to the slide to pull along some of the heavier items. We chatted two-by-two or walked solo depending on the trail. I was a bit winded at times with some inclines but it was easy to pass this off as just stopping to take it all in!

The trail was well-marked and I was reminded of how lucky we are to have access to such a beautiful outdoor area. The park has 361 square kilometers of the great Canadian outdoors and more than 250 km of trails. Families can enjoy the day using rest areas and shelters that have places for a fire, picnic tables and outdoor toilets. For those who wish to stay overnight, cabins are equipped with wood-burning stoves, pots and pans and bunk beds. For the hard-core campers there are winter campsites as well.

Des Pins (The Pines)

After 4 km of hiking, we arrived to a big cabin called Des Pins. Sparse, simple and perfect. We had a quick snack and walked to Lac Phillip to enjoy the scenery and the snow. It was an awesome day weather-wise. Just cool enough to bear the winter clothes we had on but with snow falling gently in the trees. I can only imagine what it seemed like for our Zambian visitor to be totally surrounded by snow for the first time.

His fall backwards into the snow to make a snow angel was a good moment. We saw some skiers taking advantage of the weekend and the good weather. We headed back to rest our legs and light up a fire for the evening.

For dinner we had a Swiss cheese fondue with wine. Our friend Karim was inspired by his recent trip to Switzerland to pull out this traditional Swiss dish where cheese is melted in a pot on the table and people use long forks to dip in some veggies and bread and eat with some salami and other cold meats. It was a great communal meal where you don’t need to spend time cooking and time is better spent chatting and catching up.

Strolling by moonlight

When the sun went down we took another leisurely stroll to see the full moon and cloudy skies and then did what everyone should do when they are camping – play cards! A few more glasses of wine though plus kilometres of hiking meant yawns were soon heard about the table and one by one we snuck into our sleeping bags and let the fire go out to spend the night in the cool air.

In the morning the stove was lit again to boil some water for tea and cook some bacon and beans. We packed up a much lighter load and walked back out into the snowy wonderland. We didn’t talk too much. The woods were pristine first thing in the morning and it seemed like a good time to quietly appreciate the beautiful country we live in and the other people who help you enjoy it.

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