How to misplace a crowd. 

The problem with long weekends is the crowds. Many popular trails are brimming with people. Parking spaces at trailheads are at a premium. The easiest way to avoid this dilemma is misplace the crowds. The long weekend which just occurred was a perfect opportunity to deprive ourselves of a crowd in the hills of Ontario’s Madawaska Highlands. It was a warm and spring-like day in mid-February that beckoned my girlfriend and me outdoors. Without any game plan or preparation we decided to embark upon a hike to an area that sees some sport climbing in the summer but not much traffic in the winter. The reward was nice vantage point on top of some cliffs overlooking Round Lake and the hills of Algonquin Park. The area is on crown land near Foy Provincial Park. 

Trip planning 101: if you want to avoid crowds get off the beaten path

After a late start we drove to the trailhead, a snowmobile trail/summer logging access road, along the side of highway 62 near Foy Provincial Park Rd. We ascertained a vague route to the cliffs using crappy satellite view on an Iphone with no reception and set out on snowshoes. Quickly into our trek we veered off the snowmobile trail and followed a snow covered trail created by previous fall logging activity. This is when we realized what the unusually warm weather had done to the snow pack. Freezing rain earlier in the month had created a thick ice crust buried under several centimetres of snow, which in turn had softened up to provide the ideal conditions for post-holing. If you don’t know what post holing is then you don’t snowboard, but I will give a brief description. Post-holing sucks. It truly sucks, basically it means punching through the snow crust to above the knee with every step and getting stuck. Despite slogging along the trail the weather was nice and I was getting good workout breaking trail. Beers later on would be well earned. 

So close…

After approximately six kilometres of trail breaking the cliff bands came into view and we spied a ridge rising through the forest that would lead to the top. We deviated off the trail at this point into untracked territory; no crowds in sight so far. Great. 

As we ascended the ridge the snow became even deeper and we were constantly sinking into our hips. As if that wasn’t challenging enough we also becamed entangled in deadfalls buried in the snow. Our destination was so close, yet so far. And we were becoming drenched in sweat with all the exertion of moving uphill, good for pre-paddle season training. Still no crowds and the weather was sweet. Bonus. 

The hills of Algonquin Park in the distance

With the sun high in the sky we crested the ridge with not another human in sight and were rewarded with a sweeping view of the Ottawa Valley. Completely spent from our ardous slog we set up a hammock, cracked a beer and took in the view. The viewpoint faced westward over Round Lake towards Algonquin Park. 

Well earned hammock time

From our vantage we could make out the 175 million year old rift valley known to geologists as the Ottawa-Bonnechere Graben, an interesting geological feature that the Bonnechere River follows along its course. The sun was warm and we lingered for an hour, allowing our muscles to relax and stretch before planning our route back. We decided to take a gentler route off the ridge and through the bush to some clear cuts that eventually connected us to our trail. Again we found ourselves breaking through the crust and fumbling about in the deep snow. After 12 kilometres of snowshoeing (round trip) we reached the trailhead and car. Our legs were screaming in pain from lactic acid build up. The exertion had taken a heavy toll on our legs which had seen a fairly relaxed winter. Time to get back in action, soon we’ll be paddling again. As for the crowd we misplaced, we can only hope it stays that way.

Fresh air, sunshine, snowshoes, hammock and beer. Doesn’t get much better than this…

Keep tuned for more adventures. 

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