April 25th, 2015 End of Winter Walk – Gatineau Park – Lac Philippe Everyone tells me how lucky I was to have spent the winter in Trieste! It was the coldest winter that Ottawa has seen in over 100 years. We arrived on April 9th and my back yard was still covered with snow. But with a bit of work cutting away at the ice and with a week of rain, the snow has gone. The forecast for Saturday was for a partly sunny day so we headed out for a walk around Lac Phillipe. It is about an hours drive north of the city and part of the Gatineau Park in the province of Quebec. Lac Philippe has a number of large picnic areas, some small beaches and camping grounds. The park opens officially on May 8th but the road was clear of snow and there were a number of bikers and walkers out despite of the uncertain weather. It was about 1 or 2 C with a good northwesterly wind so probably with a windchill in the -5 to-10 range. The wind was icy cold but we headed out anyways. The beginning of the walk is along the paved road, still closed to cars, and 2km later we reach the first beach and picnic area. The picnic tables were covered with the rusty colored needles dropped by the huge Scotch pines. Winter is finally letting go of Ottawa but is still lingering in the Gatineau Park. There were still a few patches of ice along the shore of the lake. We stopped to have some coffee from the thermos and some scones. This warmed us up nicely! A loon was out swimming in the icy waters. The loon is an iconic Canadian bird. It is a solitary bird usually only one couple nests on a lake. It is a kind of a metaphor of the vastness and loneliness of northern lakes. The bird is also represented on the one dollar coin which everyone calls – a loonie. The trail follows the shoreline but the water level is high after the winter melt and a few times we have to head to higher ground. As we reach the bay at the far end of the lake we see that the bay is still ice covered. The ice is thin and crystal clear and the water below gives it a rich grey blue tint. By this time the sun has broken through and the icy wind feels less cold so we decide to take a trail that leads to some small caves – the Lusk caves. The path heads up into a deciduous forest of tall oak, beech and ash trees. The ground is covered with 5 inches or so of crispy brown humus. There are no leaves on any of the trees which really makes the trunks stand out like long thin rows of sentinels. The Gatineau Park is at the southern limit of the Canadian Shield. The Canadian Shield covers almost half of Canada. It is composed of granite and is the earth’s greatest area of exposed Precambrian rock (igneous and metamorphic rock formed in the Precambrian geological era 500 million years ago). The caves are a bit of a geological anomaly. The caves are in an area of marble and limestone that has been eroded by the waters of a small stream. As we reach the caves there are still patches of hard crusted snow. It makes these almost modern art type shapes and patterns against the green moss-covered stones and trees. The stream is full from the winter snow melt and the water is flowing quite quickly. In the summer you can walk through the caves. Today the caves are filled with icy frothing water. We stop for lunch and listen to the sounds of the water running over the stones. It was a chilly start to the day but with a little break in the clouds at mid day it turned out to be a perfect end of winter walk – 17km round trip!