The title of this post is a bit unfair, because Gatineau Park really is in the province of Quebec and Ottawa isn’t. It is managed by the National Capital Commission, which also manages the Greenbelt and the Rideau Canal Skateway to name but a few of the many properties they look after.
But hey, in a globally connected world, in which two left-of-centre NDP run Canadian provinces (!) (Alberta and British Columbia) duke out a trade war over oil sands oil pipelines, Ottawa, Gatineau and the NCC (National Capital Commission) really should market the area together as one big National Capital Region multicultural playground where you can bike, ski and skate to your heart’s content. And in one day sometimes.
200 km of groomed ski trails
The park, the size of a mid sized Caribbean island (361 km2), has tons of trails and in winter many of those trails are prepared for cross country skiing, skate skiing, snowshoeing and recently for winter biking on fat bikes. A great bonus is that most of the parkways in the park are closed in winter, saving the park from road salt and general road destruction. The parkways are becoming part of the 200 km (120 miles) ski network, with space for skate skiing in the centre and (often double track) XC ski tracks along the sides.
Karen and I prefer the Classic skiing over skate skiing and we prefer skiing in the forests rather than on the parkways. Asticou is often a starting point for us early in the season. It is only a 25 minute drive and gives easy access to both the parkway and to several trails, leading up to Pink Lake. Another one we like is the trail that starts at O’Brien beach and passes Meech Lake.
Later in the season we tend to go further north to Wakefield (P17) and Lac Philippe (P19). It is a much longer drive, but the rewards are a more peaceful ski and a somewhat different environment, with more snow covered evergreens. These visits are usually much longer, and include lunch in a hut around the wood stove and even outside later in the winter. We rarely ski over 20 km though although lately we have been pushing past 20 km.
Gatineau Park is special for me. I learned to XC ski in the park by falling and standing up again, by crashing on icy patches and skiing straight into the forest at a sharp turn. It is also special to me because I didn’t grow up with nature, let alone kilometres of snow covered hills, so close to my home. That you can ski so close to a mid sized city is a real benefit of living in Ottawa. Yet, despite around 1.4 million people living near the park in say a 50-75 km radius, it is rarely busy. During the weekends, some places get a bit crowded, but go during the week and you are virtually alone, except for some first generation retired Scandinavian looking immigrants with home made food in Tupperware containers and the odd foreign tourist who makes it to Gatineau Park.
This year, I am mapping the trails in the Park for Mapillary, an online website where you can upload photos of roads, paths, hiking trails etc. I am using a Garmin Virb (taking a pic every two seconds) but the problem with skiing is that there are not many places to mount a camera. Your head might be one place, but a) I don’t want to wear a helmet and b) your head moves way too much and c) I am often looking down. Yes I could adjust the camera, but when I don’t look down the camera maps sky only.
So Karen and I devised a MacGiver solution. I took a plastic water bottle and drilled a large hole in the cap. This allowed me to connect the base of the camera on an object. The plastic bottle then went into a bottle holster on our belt. I tried to point the camera forward from my lower chest, but it caught to much of my poles and gloves. The bottle also moved sideways inside the bottle holder. To prevent that, I took an anti slip/extra grip material from Karen’s arthritis physio instruction kit which now prevents the bottle from moving.
I also decided to let the camera point backwards instead. This worked much better.
Tens of thousands of photos Mapillary
So now if you go to Mapillary and filter on HansontheBike and a date between December 15, 2017 and say mid march 2018, and zoom in on Gatineau Park, you should see thousands upon thousands of photos of just a few weeks ago of a number of (but not all) the XC trails in Gatineau Park. There are a few easter eggs in there, a fall, and a walk through a hut or two. Good luck finding them. If you leave my name out of the filter, you ‘ll likely see a few more winter trails not done by me. Just play around with Mapillary for a bit.
A small hut that appears to be visited less frequently is the Lusk hut, on a small lake. A lovely setting. You can stay overnight (book in advance) but you have to be out at ten am so that the day visitors can use it. Bring your own food.
Go visit Mapillary (best on a desktop or laptop, the cell phone screen doesn’t work great) and try it out. The front page loads super slowly sometimes (as in 30 seconds), so be patient. Click on explore places and apply the filter.
If there is one downside, it is accessibility. Without a car, it is impossible to get to many of the places. In winter it is basically impossible to get there without a vehicle and that is very unfortunate. Not that I want to see the park being overrun, but access should be fair and definitely not for those who own a drivers license only.
If you want to try Mapillary, check it out below. I embedded it inside this blog: