“Snowshoeing reigns supreme. It is the true, natural revel of robust ‘Canucks’ who love the snow, however deep, and the storm, however stiff.” –George Beers
As my laboured breathing slowly returns to normal, I take in the natural splendour surrounding me. Snow falls steadily, cooling my overheated face while I scan the slopes below for wildlife that made the tracks we saw while snowshoeing to our rocky perch atop Moose Mountain. The hill opposite us is covered with the mixed forest typical to this area. I find this silent snowy moment to be a fitting finale to our long weekend Eco Adventure on the edge of Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park.
Three days earlier, my husband Jack and I arrived at Voyageur Quest’s Algonquin Cottage Outpost after a four-hour drive that quickly rendered Toronto’s urban sprawl a distant memory. The road to the cottages is snow-covered and sparsely populated, with glimpses of frozen marshes and the rocky outcrops of the Canadian Shield, the oldest rock formation in Canada.
We are greeted by Mark Goldsworthy, one of Voyageur Quest’s winter guides. Mark will be with us for much of our time here, not only accompanying us on snowshoe excursions, but also sharing stories and information about the area and preparing meals to die for. We start with a lunch of squash soup, warm-from-the-oven beer bread, and a mixed green salad with homemade dressing. Guests can opt to self-cater and explore on their own, but we are thrilled to leave the entire weekend in Mark’s capable hands.
With full stomachs, our next priority is to get outdoors for some snowshoeing. The area, near the small town of South River, is laced with trails, making the possibilities almost endless. We choose the Tower Trail which is part of the extensive Forgotten Trails network. We soon realize another thing that is forgotten … our rusty cross-country skiing skills, as we ski the snow-covered logging road leading to our trailhead. With snowshoes dangling from our packs, we set out. It’s fun to reconnect with cross-country skiing, but even better to finally strap on our snowshoes and start our ascent to the site of an old fire tower lookout.
As we climb through the forest, Mark points out different trees that constitute the mixed forests in this area. Predominant is the tall, straight white pine, traditionally logged for ship masts and beams. Deciduous trees, which create a blaze of colour in the fall, are ghostly sculptures this time of year. American beech is a deciduous tree that keeps its brown leaves in winter, providing a last-resort meal for deer in especially harsh years.
We check for tracks as we make our way upwards, and are rewarded with sightings of deer and moose tracks, along with the tracks of several smaller mammals and birds. Moose are the giant mammals of the forest and spotting one is rare and special, particularly in winter. We notice one set of tracks that indicates a moose mother and calf had been on the trail recently.
Today is misty and warm, unusual for this time of year. As we climb, we laugh that Mark is perhaps conspiring to prove early on to us British Columbia mountain fanatics that Ontario indeed has some hills too. We ascend into a low cloud which obscures our view when we finally reach the fire lookout, but it feels mysterious and quiet. Nature never disappoints, regardless of the weather.
Back at our cottage we settle in for the evening. Even though the Voyageur Quest cottages are off the grid, they are warm and comfortable. Our wooden cottage, called Nipissing, is powered by solar and heated by wood and propane stoves. It faces eastward to Kawawaymog Lake, allowing us to catch at least one spectacular sunrise during our stay.
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