Continuing my recently-established “Dave’s Annual Thanksgiving Weekend Camping Trip”, about a dozen friends and I booked campsite #8 on Lac La Pêche and paddled in for a cold and colourful few days in Gatineau Park.
Day One – Getting In
The NCC rents boats right at the beach, so we used a combination of our own boats, borrowed boats, and two rentals, to ferry us and our gear into the campsite. #8 is the furthest from the the beach put-in, thus the furthest from civilization and other people, which is a big plus in my book.
That makes the paddle in to the site about 45 minutes, give or take a few depending on your pace. Ours was lazy, as we took in the intense oranges and reds along the shore.
Campsite #8 at Lac La Pêche is possibly my favourite site so far in Gatineau Park. This paddle-in site features four nice tent areas and a great rocky point for relaxing and killing time, with ledges for sitting and long, flat rocks for layin’ around. The tent sites, the well-maintained outhouse, the point, the boat area, wood pile, and bear pole are all connected by a small trail, giving it a little village feel when it’s all filled up.
All four sites are pretty spacious, have their own fire pit and picnic table, and a couple even offer a modicum of privacy. The site nearest the outhouse is on a slightly-nauseating 10-degree angle, but otherwise this site is awesome.
Another real perk of #8 is that the point gets uninterrupted sun from dawn till dusk. That said, our arrival was typically late, and left us just enough daylight to set up tents, blow up sleeping mats, and throw on some warm clothes. Molly and Shannon were scheduled to come in right after dark, so Bryce lit roaring fires at our main site and on the rocks, before we all caught the sunset from the point.
While everyone got their site ready, Peter, the campfire chef-de-parti, got the first night’s dinner going: Beef’N’Bean Chilli with bread rolls and a fresh salad. Peter and I like the first night to be quick-and-easy, and this meal was warm, tasty, went perfectly with the contraband beers!
We just hung out and gabbed the rest of the night down on the point by the fire, retreated to the main campsite, and then ultimately to bed. It was a gorgeous night for sleeping in a tent: a perfectly clear sky, maybe down to 5 degrees, and we slept with the fly off, staring up at the stars, listening to the dried out trees and leaves rustling in the wind.
Day 2: Food and Adventure
We awoke the next morning to blue sky, sunshine illuminating the yellow leaves, and mugs of fresh Bridgehead coffee!
Peter and a couple volunteers prepped breakfast: crêpes; one with ham, cheese, and asparagus, drizzled in bechamel sauce, and the other stuffed with sliced banana, apple, and strawberries, coated in melted chocolate and whipped cream, with some fruit on the side. Roughing it, indeed!
The outing for Day 2 was an adventure to the Haven – a creepy, abandoned kids’ nature camp from the 60’s and 70’s, that’s a short, 30-minute paddle from our campsite. We packed up a picnic lunch – cold cut sandwiches and some minestrone soup – and set out in our fleet of canoes.
The paddle over took us past a handful of small islands sprinkled along the way, with dozens of huge trees knocked over in the same northern direction. Clearly a massive storm ran through here a few years back, possibly even a tornado, considering how straight and short the damage line is.
We spent a couple hours exploring the broken down cabins, with busted windows, creaky doors, and collapsed chimneys. I’ve never been able to find much info about the Haven, other than it was a camp until the mid-70’s and has been eerily deteriorating ever since.
We reconvened at the main cabin where everyone made themselves a sandwich and practiced a little ax-throwing with Shannon’s new toy. Then, with the wind picking up and dark skies on the horizon, we set back out for our campsite and the main event: Thanksgiving dinner!
Peter began working on dinner immediately upon our return, while the rest of us zipped up tent flies, tied up the tarp, and waterproofed the campsite. With a couple hours to kill before the meal, everyone got busy with something… if napping and card games count as busy.
The meal was a masterpiece: honey smoked ham with slices of grilled pineapple, broccoli and cauliflower with a cheese sauce, a fall medley of white and sweet potatoes, with a huge salad on the side. And just as we sat down for dinner the skies finally opened up, but the timing was perfect since, after disappearing a whole ham and all the sides, nobody was moving for a while.
Cribbage, asshole, and a new knot-tying game kept everyone entertained for a few hours until the rain stopped, as Andrew predicted, at about 11:30. After that we all slowly faded into the dark, crashing out until the next morning.
Oh – first the leftover chilli was thrown back on the fire for a late snack. Then we faded into dark…
Day 3 – Heading Home
The skies cleared overnight, I think it dipped back down to about 5 degrees, and we awoke to crisp sunshine again on the last morning. After the mandatory coffee and slow start on the point, Peter and I got going on our final meal of the trip: the Hungry Man Breakfast!
This final feast was designed to fuel the gang for the trip back home: scrambled eggs, a couple pancakes, bacon, sausage and the leftover ham, home fries, coffee and OJ, and as much maple syrup as you can pour. Oh – melons, too!
So, after the last great group meal around the table, all that was left was to pack up the gear, load up the boats, take one last look around the site for my missing axe, and then shove off and paddle to the main beach.
The cruise back was scenic and slow, as we all basked in the last few moments of the natural pace we’d adopted over our weekend in the woods. And while the paddle home is usually bitter sweet, this time I was heading back to another amazing Thanksgiving dinner my sister was working on back in Ottawa.
Close friends and family, cooperative weather, gluttonous food, a picturesque campsite, and the beauty of the fall colours all around us – lots to be thankful for this year!