A Cross-country Skiing Tour in Algonquin Provincial Park
A Cross-country Skiing Tour in Algonquin Provincial Park
With little to no snow left in Toronto, Ontario, one would hardly expect that possibilities for skiing still existed in March of 2013 in central Ontario. But as we soon found out Algonquin Provincial Park still had tons of snow and great opportunities for skiing and snowshoeing in the spring.
A fresh snowfall a day earlier made for excellent conditions on the Leaf Lake Ski Trail, and afforded stunning views of the forest blanketed with powdery snow.
Bob and I elected to ski on the Leaf Lake set of trails, beginning on the Jackrabbit Loop, connecting to the Leaf Lake Loop and branching off on the Pinetree Loop, for a total distance of about 16 kilometers. The Pinetree Loop, in particular, required vigorous uphill climbing as it is built through rugged terrain.
The day we cross-country Skied was very blustery, with strong gusts of wind making the trees sway and creak, snap and pop. Bob and I were looking for a woodpecker around every corner because the sounds emanating from the movement of the trees mimicked the pecking of woodpeckers. What a surprise it was, then, to see a young deer peeking out at us from behind a screen of small saplings.
Perhaps the clatter of thrashing branches masked the swishing sounds of our skis as well as our own murmurs, but whatever the reason, this white-tailed deer calmly observed Bob and I even as we peered through the trees and snapped a few photos.
The solitude of the forest was undisturbed, and only two other sets of tracks indicated that someone else had passed before us that day.
The Pinetree Loop travels through a series of hardwood and coniferous forests and over various types of terrain. At one point, Bob and I skied at the base of a high rock face that was covered in a frozen sheet of ice.
The resulting impression was that of a frozen waterfall. The cascading water was suspended in time with razor-sharp fingers of ice trying to touch the snow that lay below.
That deep within the forest, one cannot expect the comforts of home, but a simple privy is made available for those times when nature calls.
The payoff for all of our uphill climbing was a magnificent view of Fraser Lake from the ridge where we found the emergency shelter. Both this lookout and one further back on the trail provide vistas ranging up to 15 kilometers.
Because this cross-country skiing trail leads to such a very remote location, the modest warmup shelter is necessary in case of accident or injury along the trail.
Given the cold weather outside the shelter, Bob wasted no time building a roaring fire in the shelter’s wood stove.
An abundant supply of firewood is ready if skiers need or want to build a fire in the wood stove, and basic emergency supplies were found inside the cabin – things like matches, toilet paper, and simple first aid necessities.
As you see in Bob’s video, the emergency shelter is at a very high elevation. There on that high ridge was one of the few places where our cell phone actually worked. Most times, there is no cell phone service in the park.
A raised platform within the humble confines of the building could stand in for a bed, in a worse case scenario, and there was even a table and couple of chairs to make visitors feel welcome. It took Bob and I about 2 hours to ski to the lookout, so we were glad of the chance to rest our legs and have a bite to eat before continuing on.
As usual, Bob and I carry a bag of bird food in our knapsack; it did not come amiss. The birds were eager for something to eat since everything was covered with the freshly fallen snow. This Red-breasted Nuthatch holds a tiny morsel in its beak.
Many birds frequent the area around the shelter because everyone who passes by sets out some of the black oil sunflower seeds found in a bucket within the cabin. A large contingent of Black-capped Chickadees and this White-breasted Nuthatch vied for foraging rights along the railing of the deck.
The most colourful birds that swept in to take advantage of the proffered food were a number of Common Redpolls.
These small finches migrate from the arctic tundra and boreal forest to spend winters further south, even going as far as the central United States in rare cases. Their movements are primarily dictated by the availability of food.
The female Common Redpoll lacks the raspberry colouring seen on the chest of the male. When the sunlight caught the red forehead, the intensity of the richly hued feathers was heightened. Both the male and female of the species display the black chin.
If left to their own devices, the winter diet of the Common Redpoll is largely birch and alder seeds. In the summer, their diet is much more varied and is rich in seeds from birch, willow, alder, spruce, and pine trees, as well as grasses, sedges, and wildflowers such as buttercups. They are also known to eat occasional berries, spiders and insects.
In this video that Bob filmed, you can see the Common Redpolls busily snatching up tidbits. They can actually store seeds temporarily in throat pouches (stretchy parts of their esophagi) for later consumption. They quickly fill these pouches with seeds then fly away to swallow the seeds in a more protected, warmer spot.
Common Redpolls can survive temperatures of –65 degrees Fahrenheit (-54 degrees Celsius). They actually put on about 31 percent more plumage by weight in November than they have in July.
A technique they use to keep warm at night is to tunnel into the snow. Tunnels may be more than a foot long and at a depth of 4 inches under the insulating snow.
Once Bob and I were re-energized, we hit the trail once again. The best sections were ahead of us…the long sweeping downhill slopes that promised exhilarating rides and fast passage.
With fresh, fluffy snow on the ground, I had a great ride down one of the more challenging downhill runs. The remote loops of this ski trail are considered to be some of Southern Ontario’s most difficult, even for experienced skiers. Bob filmed me as I braved the risk of the fast descent.
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