A few years ago I was lucky enough to start a co-operative daycare alongside a group of really amazing first time parents in Ottawa. The experience was filled with challenges, and rewards, and I think it has bonded both parents and kids in a beautifully unique way. Even after the daycare has closed it’s doors, the group tries to get together whenever possible, to hold those bonds. Looking for a chance to reconnect as a big group, a winter adventure in Gatineau Park seemed like a great idea! Getting on the park website right when the winter bookings opened, Jessica managed to snag a Saturday night at the Brown Lake Cabin in Gatineau Park, a tricky feat considering how popular overnight stays have become in Gatineau Park. So one frosty afternoon in the middle of January, we all headed out for our adventure.
There are two ways to get to Brown Lake Cabin from the parking lot just outside of Wakefield, Quebec. One route is a 3km cross country ski trail, and the other is a 2km snowshoe trail. Dave and I opted for the snowshoe trail. At that point Elsa had only been out on her skis once, and it was hovering around -20, so the shorter route seemed the better option.
The hike in is a good one; quite hilly. Hilly enough to require a good number of chocolate bribes 🙂 Luckily, the majority of the trail is in the woods, so we were protected from the bitter wind, making it a much more pleasant experience. Dave had a sled to pull behind him, which carried his clothes and all our food. We were on breakfast duty for the morning, and greasy spoon breakfast for 18 is not that light. Pulling that sled up the big hills meant Dave was sweating in no time. Shockingly we didn’t have to make room on the sled for Elsa the whole hike in, which was a small miracle.
The hike was gorgeous. The sun was sparkling through the trees, and there’s a nice mix of landscape to keep the senses entertained. Didn’t see much wildlife going in, but there were a few fat-bike riders and one guy even snowshoe jogging. Also spotted was an abandoned pack, likely from our crew. Better than an abandoned kid 😉 Including breaks, it took us just over an hour to get to the cabin. Just as we arrived, Rebecca was heading out to enjoy the trail solo, and go retrieve the abandoned pack… Most of the party had arrived by the time we showed up. The fire was blazing, the cabin was toasty, and Elsa was greeted with several very excited kids she hadn’t seen in awhile. The adults all shared our personal adventure stories about the hike in, and the families that opted for the ski trail praised the awesomeness of their kids, as the trail was a decent challenge for beginner skiers.
The Brown Lake Cabin layout is pretty cool, and it really feels like an extra big summer camp cabin. The building is rectangular in shape, and divided in half with a partition. One half is approximately 16 bunk beds, the other half is the living space, which includes an enormous table with benches, and some cozy seating closer to the wood stove. The outside wall on the living quarters side is mostly windows, looking out at the woods and Brown Lake. The far end of the cabin has a very functional kitchen, as well as a small private room that sleeps 3. The toilet is a comfortable outhouse to the side of the front door, equipped with a light. Because the partition that separates the room into sleeping and living quarters is only about halfway as high as the ceiling, the kids had an absolute ball playing around in the beds, poking their heads up to surprise the adults on the other side, and pretending it was all just one ginormous fort. This is literally hours of entertainment, at least for the 2-5-year old crowd. The evening was filled with snacks, games, catching up, sipping on wine and beer, and a fantastic chilli meal courtesy of Lisa and Joelle.
I always find meal planning one of the biggest considerations during outdoor trips. I’m not a fan of eating poorly, especially if I want to function, socialize, sleep, and crap like a normal person. Delegating meals tends to make a lot more sense than several families cooking separate meals in a shared space. Another factor to consider, is the transportation of the food. Lisa and Joelle brought pre-made chilli, which cut down on space, not having to lug in all the separate ingredients, including canned goods. It also made dinner time prep a breeze, a very important factor when kids are involved. At home I’ve started experimenting with my dehydrator, with longer trips in mind, and chilli would be a nice and easy one to try. The home cooked dehydrated meals are such an awesome way to travel light AND eat healthy hardy meals several days into a trip, once cooler refrigeration is no longer possible.
Families that weren’t doing the cooking were on dish duty, and the evening started to wind down as kids got into jammies, stories were read, and tired parents began dropping like flies. One thing to note; the top bunks are not really appropriate for young kids. There are no guard rails, and falling off is a true hazard. It also gets pretty warm at night in those winter cabins, so the top bunks are best reserved for heat lovers. In the middle of the night I felt like I was going to suffocate from the heat, so I moved down to the mattress that Matt had shoved in between the bottom bunks in order to provide Emma and Elsa with a soft landing if they happened to slide off. Well, sleeping bags on utility mattresses are quite slippery. Consequently I spent most of the night relaunching the girls back into their respective beds as they took turns sliding onto me. Next time I think a twin fitted sheet would help 🙂
As expected, morning came pretty early when you have a cabin filled with kids. Coffee was flowing in no time, and Dave got to work on the greasy breakfast. Some baked goods and oatmeal were passed out to kids and hungry adults. We had a great ‘Second Breakfast’ when Dave dished out a mountain of eggs, sausage, and hash browns. Luckily, Sunday was much more pleasant weather wise, and most of the morning was spent outside in the sunshine, building snow forts and sledding. Lots and lots of fun!
Clean up was pretty quick with so many people on board, and around 11 or so we were packed up and heading back out on our respective trails. It was unanimous that the Brown Lake Cabin retreat should be a tradition. Hoping for two nights next year! That’s what I call a successful trip!