A Late Winter Change of Scene

Days like today either make you want to play hooky and go tobogganing or curl up inside by a toasty fire with a hot cup o' somethin'. I did both this past weekend and got a lot of sun too.

I needed respite from the slush and smog of TO. Southern climates were tempting but my budget quickly checked that fantasy. So I was happy to tag along with a group of snow buffs and bunnies for a weekend of x-country skiing and good company close to home.

Our destination was the Wolf Den Bunkhouse n' Cabins, a two and a half hour drive north of TO, on the outskirts of Algonquin Park. For $30/night we slept in our choice of log cabins or the basement of the central lodge. The cabins had only one small electric heater so I decided to sleep in the 'Den. Some of my friends liked the idea of seeing their breath at bedtime so extra sheets and blankets were provided to keep them snug.

We rented x-country skis at Algonquin Outfitters, a short walk from the Wolf Den, for $25/day (9 AM to 5 PM. There was no extra charge when we returned them the next morning.) And accessing the x-country trails in Algonquin Park was easy. (Day permits cost $12/vehicle.)

We decided on doing a 15km loop at Leaf Lake, near the East Gate, although there were several shorter ones and two other large trails closer to the Wolf Den to choose from. According to park propaganda, the route that we took around Pine Lake is one the premiere loops for experienced x-cross country skiers in southern Ontario. We had skiers of all levels in our party and finished the route at a leisurely pace in less than 4 hours. A little more than halfway there is a cabin with a wood burning stove and a panoramic view of the rolling hills, deciduous and coniferous forests, and lakes of Algonquin Park.

Back at the den after a tiring but satisfying day we cooked up a communal meal in the large open concept kitchen and ate and drank the night away.

Before driving back to the city the next day, we took advantage of the sunny weather and hiked on Oxtongue Lake, a two minute walk from the Wolf Den, rather than pay the $20-25 for a full day snowshoe rental at Algonquin Outfitters. The snow was packed and easy to walk on. At one point we stopped in our tracks, did not say anything, and all we could hear was a soft crunching sound from the snow beneath our feet as we shifted our weight from side to side. I remember taking a deep breath, exhaling, and in that moment feeling that sense of respite I imagined back in TO.

Walking on we encountered some locals standing over a hole they had drilled in the thick ice. Their many layers of clothing and hi-tech fishing gear suggested that they meant business. But their glazed eyes, smiling red flushed faces, and honesty when asked about the chances of them catching anything seemed to confirm my suspicion that ice fishing is even more about companionship (getting drunk with your buddy) than regular fishing is. After hearing about what they were not going to catch they told us that this coming weekend is their annual ice fishing derby. If you decide to go, look for the colourful flags and faces just before you cross the bridge over Oxtongue Lake, heading north along Highway 60. The Wolf Den is less than half a kilometer further on.

And if skiing, fishing, and walking are not your idea of Zen outside the city then what better way to unwind than racing through the frozen wilderness at silly speeds behind several wild dogs? Day long dog sledding packages are a bit pricy but meals are often included. Get the details from friendly Dave at the Wolf Den.

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