January 18th, 2010

When I told people in Cambridge that I was off to Ottawa, several suggestions came up as to what I should do. “Go skiing in Gatineau Park”, they said, “it’s great”. So, on Saturday afternoon, I hired some cross-country skis from Greg Christie’s and decided to dust off my elementary Nordic skiing skills, last practiced on the sea-ice at Rothera in 2006.

I chose Mr Christie’s emporium because it is very close to the park perimeter. Kouassi gave me a lift there, as there’s no public transport to Old Chelsea at the weekends. Hiring the skis was easy enough, but the logistics proved a little more fiddly. The shop is close to the park, but not close enough to walk or ski to the start of the ski trails. Also, I wanted a map, which can only be obtained from the visitor centre at the other end of the town. You also need a permit to ski in the park, which can also be obtained from the visitor centre, or at the carparks in the park itself. So we made a multipoint car journey and I found myself setting off from the Fortune carpark having acquired my map and permit en route.

I set off slightly nervously, but quickly got into my stride, heading uphill along a wide piste which turned out (like many of the trails at the popular end of the park) to be a single-carriageway road in the summer. Some of the road signs are a bit incongruous! I skied up to a junction in the trail about 3km from the carpark, and stopped for a drink of water and looked at the map. A helpful local suggested some routes that I might try, and I took his advice, heading off along a much narrower trail through the woods towards one of the little lodge cabins you can use for rest stops. At the Huron cabin I stopped and went inside for a drink of water and a snack – the cabin is warm, with a woodburning stove, and is equipped with a large number of picnic tables to sit at inside. From Huron I went up onto the ridge and took pictures of the view across the river valley to Ottawa. It’s very beautiful, and you’d hardly know you were looking at a capital city less than fifteen minutes drive away.

Having reached the peak of my route, I was faced with a new challenge – going downhill! Having learned my technique on flat sea-ice, I gingerly learned how to snowplough down the wide trail and thought I’d got the hang of it. My return route (as suggested by the Helpful Chap earlier) was via a more difficult “blue” trail as opposed to the “green” ones I’d tried so far. The change in difficulty means that the trail is narrower and much more undulating – all up and down with very little level. On one of the short downhill sections I lost my balance and fell over – but only injured my pride. Unfortunately, as the trail went on and I got progressively more tired, I fell over several more times. The most spectacular saw me fall forwards onto my chest, knocking the wind out of me but otherwise causing no ill effects. Shortly after recovering from this one, my nervous snowploughing failed again and I fell, tangling myself with a pole and wrenching my left shoulder. I picked myself up and trundled back to the carpark carefully, walking down some of the steeper sections of the trail. When I got home I worked out that I’d skied about 15km and acquired a selection of interesting aches and pains.

There are pictures here for you to enjoy.

On Sunday I went to church again and sang in the choir, which was lots of fun. In the afternoon I relaxed and nursed my acheing self before heading out in the evening for dinner with two colleagues from CRC. I’m still a bit stiff and achey but definitely getting better. I’ll take some lessons next time…


March 12th, 2009

Last week I was in Glencoe with some friends, enjoying myself away from the office and the horrors of Visual C++ and Matlab. The idea was to try and get some winter climbing in, but knowing the caprices of Scottish weather, I was always a bit dubious as to how much we’d actually get done. We’d arranged to stay in an independent hostel which was friendly, adequately comfortable and not too expensive.
I took the train up to Edinburgh last Saturday and stayed with Miles and Ciorstaidh, and then Miles and I drove on up to Glencoe the following day. But first we had to get a car… Read the rest of this entry »

Outdoor gear reviews

February 25th, 2009

Outdoor gear is quite tricky to buy. You can go into a smart shop and spend a lot of money and come out with a lot of wizzy technical gear, but how much better is it than what you can get more cheaply? Conversely, if you get something cheap, will it actually perform, or will it let you down when you need it?

This post is a general public service aimed at recommending a few products I’ve tried and found to be worth having. Read the rest of this entry »