I’ve spent a lot of time in the Ottawa Region the past few months. Last week, I decided to take advantage of the sunshine and go for a hike in Gatineau Park. I knew I wanted to see the “Carbide” Willson Ruins and Lusk Caves but when I learned they were 18 km apart, I realized I needed to be more realistic in my day plan. 18 km was a reasonable daily hiking goal post-Inca Trail perhaps, but not just yet.
The park staff advised me many of the trails were muddy and with many of the park roads closed to motorists (they do this on Sundays to give cyclists free-rein) there weren’t many accessible hiking loops. So, I decided to go in and out of the Carbide Ruins then drive up and hike around Lusk. I gratefully accepted the Lusk Trail map and headed out. Note, I didn’t take a Carbide Ruins map.
I got to the Carbide Ruins around 10:30 and was delighted to find I was the only person there. The ruins are a shell of a once-grand mansion and hidden laboratory owned by the man who invented Calcium Carbide. He has a pretty fascinating story.
Exploring further, I discovered a well-tread path leading out of the ruins and decided to see where it went. Fully anticipating I would need to turn around eventually, I was encouraged when I met a few couples on the trail, including two women I was sure set off on another trail from our parking lot. I quickly assumed (mistake number two) this was a loop back to the parking lot and decided to continue further.
Soon, I discovered the mud the park staff spoke of and worse than mud, mosquitoes. I was carrying a full backpack to train for the Inca Trail, but I had forgot bug spray.
As the trail continued, the mud and mosquitoes got worse. While dodging the mud, I was also trying to avoid brushing against any vegetation for fear it would only disturb the terrible bloodsuckers more.
At one point, I turned to head back and saw a swarm of mosquitoes chasing me like tiny fighter jets on a mission. Determined to outrun them, I kept moving forward as fast as I could, swatting at my arms and legs and waving my hands around my head.
Now also wishing I had grabbed a map to this area, I was pretty sure the trail was now going north instead of east towards the parking lot. My iPhone compass confirmed this and when I could find a sunny, slightly breezy place on a hill with some reception, I pulled out Google to see if I could find the trail. I hoped I would find myself on a loop I could continue on instead of backtracking through the mosquito-infested, swampy trail.
Within minutes, I’d found my location, downloaded the AllTrails App and located a side trail which would take me back to the ruins. It was 2 km and having already come nearly as far, I decided to take this route back. Again, I hoped it would be less muddy and less-buggy.
Of course, it was neither. First, I missed the trail because although there were orange markers on a tree, I didn’t see a noticeable trail. As it turned out, most of the trail was barely distinguishable and clearly, not maintained. I found myself climbing over, under and circling around fallen trees at every turn. There was piles of mud and you guessed, it, piles of mosquitoes.
At one point, the trail spit me out at the edge of a swamp. I trudged on, somehow managing to avoid a soaker while tromping through the mud and slashing a path through waste high reeds, raspberry bushes and who knows what else. At this point, I understood why people wore pants hiking and was immediately thankful I hadn’t yet seen poison ivy.
If I was on the Bruce Trail bushwhacking like this would surely mean touching poison ivy. (Then again, if I was on the Bruce Trail, I wouldn’t be bushwhacking.)
I came out of the swamp to find the barely-visible path in the bush. By now, old remnants of log footbridges were my best sign of the trail.
Eventually, my little map showed I was back at the original trail, though I still did not see it. I crossed another little stream and climbed over a knoll to find myself standing in a clearing – the trail! Not far from where I had met those people well over an hour earlier.
I turned around to look back and saw, or rather didn’t see, the side trail I had just hiked back on. It was pretty much non-existent.
A little relief came over me when I could hear the rushing water ahead of the ruins. They were much busier now with people wading onto the rocks (perhaps not the smartest idea) and families eating lunch. I peeled off my sweat-drenched hat and looked down at my muddy and scratched legs and spider-web and mosquito-gut covered arms.
“Now, that was a hike.” I thought.
With every person I met on the way back to the parking lot, I couldn’t help but wonder what they expected ahead when they saw me. I even overhead one guy ask his wife whether this was going to be a tough walk. Granted there are some serious hills, I wanted to tell him if he doesn’t go past the ruins, he will be fine.
So, in true Learn to Do by Doing style, I learned to always bring bug spray and a map, no matter how short or straight forward you think your hike will be. I also learned that it never hurts to bring more water. I drank some out of Meech Lake when I ran out and it maybe made me feel a little icky.
Needless to say, I also decided to leave Lusk Cave for another day and wrapped up my afternoon with lunch at the Chelsea Pub and a latte at the Cat Cafe.
Have you been to the Carbide Ruins or are there other gems in Gatineau Park or the Capital Region you recommend? Any “learned the hard way” stories from your outdoor adventures? I’d love to hear them in the comments!