Tiny cabin, big view: celebrating the New Year at Parc national d’Aiguebelle

I slowly start losing the feeling in my fingertips. My thin “camera” gloves are no match for -35°C temperatures but with a spectacular eastward view right outside our cabin, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to greet the first sunrise of 2018. So here I am watching a new year being born out of the white silence interrupted only by a joyful bird song. Or is it my own joy reverberating through the frozen air?

first sunrise of 2018 from La Cigale cabin in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

The first sunrise of 2018

The rest of my body starts catching up with my fingers but I can’t move mesmerized by the view: a vast valley dotted with frozen lakes, grey hill outlines to the left, slender spruces wrapped in their winter coats down below. This view is the reason we ended up spending the last few days of 2017 and the beginning of the new year here – in a small cabin perched on top of a mountain in Quebec.

first sunrise of 2018 from La Cigale cabin in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

New year born out of the white silence

Well, the view combined with my continuous failure to remember the Ontario Parks reservation dates. And even though I was fully prepared when Gatineau Park opened its winter season booking, someone beat me to it. So I cast my gaze eastward to “la belle province”, which has remained largely unexplored by us up until now. I considered Mont Tremblant and Mont Mégantic, and then I came across La Cigale, a tiny cabin in Parc national d’Aiguebelle. It checked all the boxes: rustic, remote, a new location to start off a new year. The view from the cabin sealed the deal. We had to go there.

La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Our little cabin with a grand view

Parc national d’Aiguebelle is part of an extensive outdoor network – Société des établissements de plein air du Québec or Sépaq for short. It is located in the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region in western Quebec, traditional territory of the Algonquin who gave the region its name. The word Abbittibbi means “where the waters divide” and refers to the Arctic and Atlantic watersheds split. There is a sign in the park north of which all the rivers drain into the James Bay and all the rivers to the south flow into the St. Lawrence River. The second part of the name, Temiscamingue, comes from the Algonquin word Temikami or Temikaming meaning “deep open waters.” And it was easy to see why: sleeping under their icy shells, lakes were plentiful.

Lac La Haie in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

The Atlantic/Arctic watershed divide lies north of Lac La Haie

It is in this land of deep, open waters that Parc national d’Aiguebelle is located – 268 square kilometres of taiga and billion-year-old rock. It is a camping, hiking and canoeing paradise in the summer. In the winter, it offers snowshoeing, skiing, and several cabins and rustic shelters to stay overnight. The cabin we selected sits on top of La Trompeuse hill, one of the highest points in the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region. Its name, La Cigale, like all cabin names in the park comes from a bug – a cicada. I keep referring to it as a cabin but on the Sépaq website it is listed as a rustic shelter (read: wood stove and no electricity).

map of Sepaq parks

Parc national d’Aiguebelle is part of a large outdoor network

La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d"aiguebelle

La Cigale, one of the rustic shelters in the park

information panel in La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'aiguebelle

Like all shelters in the park, the cabin is named after a bug:
La Cigale means “cicada” in French

La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

The cabin has a deck with a picnic table, perfect for a morning coffee in warmer seasons

While I couldn’t find much about La Cigale online, I loved what little I could glean from the Sépaq website, a few reviews and an occasional picture. There was a small question of space – the shelter was listed as a three-person one. But the number of beds – one single plus a single/double bunk bed – indicated fitting four people wouldn’t be a problem. After an extensive Google search, I finally came across a trip report that confirmed my theory.

The cabin was a walk-in via a four-kilometre snowshoe trail, which wasn’t an issue (some of the park’s shelters are a ten-kilometre trek away). There was, however, a line in the cabin description that gave me pause: the last 900 metres are a difficult climb. How would we get all our stuff up there? I showed it to my husband half expecting to be talked out of it. But he was game so after a few more failed attempts to find an alternative we booked La Cigale and started counting days till we could wake up to that view.

With the date approaching, my excitement got a nagging companion. Could it be anxiety? I started fretting over a long drive in winter conditions, the cold snap that enveloped most Canada, a different language. And then to top it off I pulled my back (I wish I could say while doing something exciting but no, I was carrying a plant, not even a large one). So there I was – couchbound three days before the trip, unable to get up or turn over without external help, trying to convince myself that it could still work. I wouldn’t be able to carry anything. My best hope was getting to that cabin without becoming baggage myself. Luckily the park offers transportation services so it was time to dust off my French, or whatever was left of it from my university days, and call the office. My hopeful “Parlez-vous anglais?” was met with a decisive “no” so after ten painful minutes of back and forth I finally managed to reserve baggage delivery, fingers crossed for the right date.

view from the frozen car window

On our way to the park

Three days later, with my broken back and broken French but unbroken spirits, we rolled into d’Aiguebelle. It was everything it promised to be: snow-sculpted trees lining the white road sparkling against the blue skies. We stopped by the discovery centre to register. Our baggage transportation service was waiting for us (phew!). Initially, our plan was to have them bring the heaviest stuff only, like water and food, and carry the rest. But once we saw the size of a sled attached to the ski-doo, we piled most of our stuff into it. All for a little over $13.

Parc National d'Aiguebelle in the winter

Our hike to the cabin begins with a trek across the lake

The prudence behind this decision became apparent the moment we hit the first slope on our way to the cabin. Even our small Pelican sled with some snacks, a couple of water bottles and a few odds and ends proved to be too much as we tried to make our way through the deep snow with nothing but an occasional snowshoe trail marker or a pink ribbon betraying a trail. It was obvious it hadn’t been walked in quite some time. The sunset found us still on the trail ploughing through the knee-deep snow. By the time we hit the 110-metres-to-the-cabin sign, it was already dark. Luckily, an almost full moon reflected of the snowy whiteness made the path fairly visible. The last 100 metres seemed to be the longest. La Cigale at the edge of the hill was the most welcome sight. Our things were already waiting inside. The wood stove was on. The cabin was nice and warm. The best $13 ever spent.

view along La Loutre trail in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

The view of La Trompeuse hill in the distance, the site of our home for the next few days

snowshoeing on La Loutre trail in Parc National d'Aiguebelle     snowshoeing on La Loutre trail in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

The first section of the trail, La Loutre, was fairly easy

snowshoeing up to La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

And here is where the fun begins

snowshoe trail marker in Parc National d'Aiguebelle    snowshoe trail sign at Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Snowshoe trail markers, not always visible, pointing the way

the view along the snowshoe trail to La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

How much longer?  Trying not to panic as the sun goes down

In the next few days we walked that hill quite a few times. There was another path down used by Ski-doos and, supposedly, skiers. Less vertical but also longer so the steep hill was still the preferred route. With temperatures in negative twenties and thirties, my husband insisted on making a daily trek to the car to make sure it would start. It is ironic that in our attempt to get away from civilization we had to attend regularly to one of its most prominent symbols. The alternative, however, was getting stuck on a deserted parking lot on January 1st.

bundled up father and sun looking through the window

Ready for our daily hike

frozen after a walk in the winter

And that’s what we looked like at the end of the day

My pulled back got me out of this daily eight-kilometre walk. Unfortunately, it also spoiled all my grandiose plans that featured 10+ kilometre expeditions. Our younger son would join his dad while the older one stayed behind to help me with cabin chores. We would then meet up at the foot of the hill and do some short hikes before starting our uphill walk back to the cabin.

Parc National d'Aiguebelle in the winter

Birches bowed by a tornado a couple of years ago

bridge at parc national d'Aiguebelle    shadows of people on the bridge on the snow covered lake

Over the bridge

snowshoeing to Lac La Haie in Parc National d'Aiguebelle    snowshoeing to Lac La Haie in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Through a birch forest

snowshoeing under suspension bridge on Lac La Haie in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Suspension bridge over Lac La Haie

snowshoeing across Lac La Haie in parc national d'Aiguebelle

The ice seems strong enough to hold us

lying on the ice covered Lac La Haie in Parc National d'Aiguebelle   drinking tea on the trail in the winter

Taking a break

snowshoeing across Lac La Haie in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

A rare photo of me

frozen hat and scarf in the winter    bundled up in the winter

Bundled up and frozen

group selfie

Family selfie

With every trip the trail became wider, the snow more packed, and the climb if not less challenging then at least familiar. We learned to divide it into sections looking for signposts: the first slope, descent to a frozen stream, a zig-zaggy climb up (because what goes down must come up), a broken tree, a small slope, the first view of the valley, a bit of a reprieve with a short walk through the forest, more climbing, then another view, deer poop, a lengthy upward section lined up with somber spruce trees and birches with flapping skins, the sign and the final 110-metre push.

La Cigale sign in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Our trek to the cabin starts here

snowshoeing up to La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebell

Here comes the first slope, an easy one to begin with

snowshoeing up to La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle

How do I get up there?

view along the snowshoe trail to La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

The higher we climb, the better the view

snowshoeing up to La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle

A deceptively small-looking hill

snowshoeing up to La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle      snowshoeing up to La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle

Going up is sometimes easier than going down

view along the snowshoe to La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle

The climb might be hard but with views like this it is absolutely worth it

snowshoeing up to La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle

Enchanted forest section

snowshoeing up to La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle    snowshoeing up to La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle

Time for some snow showering

La Cigale sign in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Almost home

La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

We made it!

At the end we had the view waiting for us, that same view that brought us all the way here. Constantly changing, whether adding streaks of pink or blurring the lines in the mist of a distant snowfall, but always magnificent. I would pause to take it in before ducking inside.

view from La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle

The view that brought us here

sunrise in the winter fron La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle    moon over a spruce in the winter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

In the first rays of the sun or under the glow of the moon

view at sunset from La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Always magnificent

enjoying the view from La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

There is supposed to be a bench somewhere under all the snow

And then there was the cabin: small, cozy, filled with a woodsy smell, crackling of the fire and stories of adventurers, serenity seekers and nature lovers who stayed here before us. It inspired hours of board games and card playing, the most delicious meals cooked on the wood stove, laughter and teasing, unhurried mornings and idle evenings.

inside La Cigale cabin in parc national d'Aiguebelle

Inside our little cabin

cooking on a wood stove in La Cigale rustic shelter in parc national d'Aiguebelle    cooking on a wood stove in La Cigale cabin in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Wood stove, the source of heat and delicious meals

inside La Cigale cabin in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Our sleeping quarters

reading inside La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle    reading inside La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Hours spent reading

reading in the dark in La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Playing games

cards on the roof inside La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle    daydreaming inside La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Getting bored, occasionally, and daydreaming

playing board games inside La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Every night is a game night

reading inside La Cigale rustic shelter in Parc National d'Aiguebelle

Most of all, enjoying the serenity and freedom to idle

It felt as if the cabin was located in its own bubble outside of time constraints. Celebrating the arrival of 2018 felt almost silly because hours, days and even years ceased to exist in this tiny cabin on the hill.champaign with christmas lights and fire in the background

But celebrate we did. We even piled outside right after midnight to do our traditional photo with sparklers. It wasn’t our best but with the temperatures nearing -40°C, demanding a retake seemed cruel. There was a lot of teasing about “mom making us do it.” But then they launched into reminiscing about all the other light paintings we did over the years, some successful, others not so much. They laughed remembering that time we tried, and totally failed, to write 2015 with burning marshmallows or the time we had to redo 2014 because someone drew “4” backwards. Next year they’ll probably add the time they almost froze to death. As I listened to them, I knew the quality of the photo didn’t matter. The moment was already imprinted in their memory. Along with the view that brought us here.

2018 written in sparklers

Happy 2018! Looking forward to a year of new adventures

6 thoughts on “Tiny cabin, big view: celebrating the New Year at Parc national d’Aiguebelle

    • Happy New Year to you too! It is a beautiful place and I can only imagine how gorgeous it is in the summer, We will definitely be back and are planning to explore more parks in Quebec.
      Loved the cabin. I wish Ontario Parks had more rustic cabins like that open in the winter. D’Aiguebelle had a few more scattered around the park. You could even do a multiday trip travelling from one cabin to anoother. Unfortunately, they are two-person ones so wouldn’t work for us.
      Happy adventuring!

      Like

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