It was just a few days past Valentine's Days. Ron and I slipped away from the Deerhurst Inn, where he was attending meetings all week (and I was along "for the ride") and headed east along Highway 60 away from "the madding crowds" and in search of something that was much more our style. I mean, the Deerhurst is beautiful and all that (it's where the G8 Summit is meeting in May of this year) but it's just not "real" somehow. Algonquin Park was just half an hour away. We couldn't resist the opportunity for adventure. Not when there was a snowy trail out there somewhere just waiting for us...
Entering the west end of the park, we stopped at the gatehouse to pay for our day pass. The man behind the counter told us we wouldn't enjoy the trek up to Hardwood Lookout at this time of year. "The parking lot's not plowed," he said. "You'd have to leave your car at the side of the highway. You never know when the salt truck could come along. You'd be better off taking the Whiskey Rapids trail. That's where most people go this time of year. You'll see a few cars parked there at the trailhead."
We thanked him for the help but once we were back in the car, we shied away from his advice. We weren't too worried about the salt truck coming along. The road was clear and dry, and the prospect of being on a trail without another human in sight was much more attractive to us than the idea of following a herd of strangers on their way to and from Whiskey Rapids.
That's how the two of us came to be alone and heading up a trail to Hardwood Lookout in the middle of winter.
We went in the opposite direction of the arrows which marked out the trail. We knew from past experience that "going the wrong way" meant a steeper climb, but it would be a much shorter hike than going round the long way, even if it meant breaking the rules.
Looking at the telltale marks in the snow is one of the most fun things about hiking in winter. We saw several sets of deer tracks leading out of the woods and heading toward the road. There was also a set of dog-like prints, probably left by a coyote, or maybe a fox. There were a few sets of human footprints in the snow along the trail, too, but most of them were quite old. There were two fresher sets, though. One going in, and someone in the very same set of footwear, going back out. "Ah," we thought out loud each other. "Someone else had the same idea we did and they took the shortcut to the lookout."
Although we'd made many treks up this same trail in the summer, I was heady with the excitement of seeing how it would look in the winter. We paused several times just to listen.
It sounds different in the woods in winter. The big maples have shed their leaves to the wind, and missing is the singing and twittering of summertime birds who have nearly all flown south. It can be eerily quiet. On this day in mid February, mixed in the midst of mostly bare limbs were the brittle brown leaves clinging tenaciously to the elm branches. They quivered and rattled against each other in wave after wave, sounding like some tiny form of wind-chimes as the wind would pick up and then just as quickly ease back again into the stillness and the silence.
Tramp, tramp, tramp.
It wasn't long before we had huffed and puffed our way to the top of the lookout where there were two benches placed strategically for sitting, resting, and admiring the spectacular view. As we got closer, we noticed something that intrigued us no end, and got us talking about the possibilities of what had gone on before our arrival.
These next few photos are the photographic evidence of our climb to the top...