From the visitor centre we check the relief map for our trail. As I’m signing in, Heather G notices my date of birth is in the 80s. I’m the only one, and they joke about how young I am — especially compared to Benoît, who’s a sixties baby — but it never feels like we’re far apart in heart and mind.
We carpool to the closest lot, and strap on our packs for the hike to the cabin.
The trail is fairly easy, and paved most of the way. It’s a very welcome detail when you’re carrying sleeping gear, rain gear, extra clothes, eating/cooking implements, camera equipment, several days worth of food, enough water to keep you hydrated on the way there, and your pack is over 25% of your body weight.
A quarter way in, and I’m already shedding clothes as my body warms from the walk, even as the wind blows late-winter cold. Even though people offered to help me carry things, I’m determined to bring as much as I can by myself.
The sounds of nature surround us. Frogs mate-calling, crickets chirping, and woodpeckers sounding off in the trees above.
After two hours, we arrive at our quaint little cabin, the only one on a lake in Gatineau Park. There’s a shed of firewood in the back, and an axe with which to split it. A little solar panel on top powers a smoke detector, carbon monoxide detector, and emergency communication system.
The cabin has six bunks with mattresses, and a cozy wood-burning stove that serves as both furnace and kitchen. It’s clean and well-maintained, with it’s own set of pots and pans (also very welcome when you’re hiking in). Even though we’ve booked the cabin for the weekend, it’s still open to the public between 4pm–10pm, and visitors come and go from all directions, sharing tables with us, and exchanging stories.
Sergey sets up his hammock before dark. Even with the luxury of a shelter, he doesn’t feel like it’s camping unless he’s sleeping outside.
For a pre-dinner snack, Roberta melts cheese over beans and lime nachos on the stove. I’m not sure what I appreciate more; the warm snack, or the fact that she carried bags of guacamole, salsa, containers of sour cream, and avocados for us to enjoy.
Soon after, we feast on borscht, French bread, and chicken and beef fajitas. Benoît even packed 2L of red Peller Estates wine, as well as several wonderful cheeses. There’s no artificial light anywhere, and as the sun sets, and we eat by candlelight.
Only a faint, pale glow coming from the city lights up the horizon. Otherwise, it’s pitch black; perfect conditions for star gazing or astrophotography, if it wasn’t for the heavy cloud cover.
I think of a photography technique called painting with light I’ve seen but never used. After a few test shots, everyone’s excited to dance and pose and paint the air with our flashlights as the snow falls around us.
We stop putting logs in the furnace well before bedtime, but the remaining fire keeps the cabin hot. A little too hot. In the morning, we discover that we’ve all shed as much of our clothing as possible and opened the windows. Roberta even moved to a lower bunk to get away from the heat.
In a fit of heat induced madness, Dahlya put another log in the stove to keep the fire going at some point in the night, and didn’t realize the consequence with what she had done until the morning, but everyone’s in good spirits nonetheless with the daylight coming in bright and clear.
Before everyone has woken up, I take a short walk down the trail to look for interesting subjects, but spring has just started, and there’s nothing around but fungus and wet soil. It’s so still and serene here, I wonder if the fungus started growing on the branches before or after they fall.
There’s too much food, and we eat as much as we can to lighten our packs for the hike back. The fresh air and exercise has no problem keeping our appetites healthy.
It’s always interesting to see the innovations used for camping. Pots with curved handles that fold against the sides to stay compact. Insulating mattresses that can fold up double as chairs. Combination utensils. Carbon fibre trekking poles. Little details that were given lots of thought, and appreciated greatly by those who make use of them.
Sergey fishes by the lake. He even goes skinning dipping with Heather G, which strikes me as particularly bold when we’re all wearing toques and it’s so cold that some of us have put on every piece of clothing we brought.
We draw water from the lake through a filter, which turns the insect-infested, pale-yellow water clear and drinkable.
Heather G’s always wanted to try Tai Chi, so I give her a short lesson. As a group, we try uprooting, and take turns trying to move each other with technique instead of force.
I’ve only brought two lenses with me — my bare essential 16–35mm and 24–70mm — because I couldn’t spare any extra weight or space in my pack, but a part of me wishes I had packed my macro lens whenever I see the tiny details in the vegetation.
Through much of the weekend, the wind blows cold, but every now and then the sun comes out and bathes us in warmth. We spend as much time as we can outside, with our company and conversations keeping us entertained. It’s a serene weekend, with civilization and cell phone service far away.
I’m using the same pack I had in Scouts, which was about 15 years ago. I suspect I haven’t grown much since I was 15. It was in those two years that I learned how to distribute the weight in my pack, what to eat, what to bring, and how to survive outdoors.
Before leaving, we sweep the floors, clean the pots, do everything we can to leave the cabin the same way we found it, as the group before us has done.
We make good time on the way back. A steady pace is set, with conversation taking our minds off the passing time, and we cut our time almost in half. I can feel the muscles in my feet, legs, and arms tighten with soreness, and I’m sure I’ll feel it much more the day after. It’ll be good to be so exhausted; a wonderful reminder that I should appreciate every chance I get to do this, because I don’t do it often enough.