Some days kids just don’t want to go for a hike. Other days they have so much fun that you can’t slow them down. The problem occurs when you have one kid that doesn’t want to hike and another that wants to run ahead. That was today’s hike on the Kouchibouguac River Trail at Kouchibouguac National Park.
We stopped at Tim Hortons for lunch on our way to the park. Then we were on the road. The half hour drive went by fast and soon we were at the park gate. I first wanted to see if the road to the beaches was open yet. The road usually isn’t plowed past the Pines Trail but there hadn’t been much snow this year. When we turned onto the road near the visitor center we soon came to the end of the road.
The road was blocked just past the entrance to the Pijeboogwek building so we turned in and parked. We went into the building and paid our park fees. I asked about the new snowshoe trail that went from Pijeboogwek to the Patterson Shelter. The guy that was working explained that the snowshoe trail went through the woods parallel to the cross country ski trail. I figured I could maintain the kids interested longer if we went on the KKouchibouguac River Trail.
We left Pijeboogwek and drove to the parking lot near the walking bridge. We debated whether we needed our snowshoes or not. There was some snow but not much. After walking through the snow on the adjacent lawn we decided to give it a try without them.
We crossed the walking bridge and soon entered the woods on the left. This was our third visit to the Kouchibouguac River Trail and we had only walked a small portion of it. The first time we explored the trail was after walking into the Patterson Shelter from Pijeboogwek. This didn’t give us much time on the River Trail. The last time we visited was after spending the day at the beach so the kids were tired. I had big hopes for today.
The trail was hard packed and icy, covered in a thin layer of snow. We definitely didn’t need snowshoes. The traction was surprisingly good. A layer of snow must have frozen onto the ice underneath. We walked and talked. My daughter ran ahead while my son tried to make a walking stick. The first one didn’t work out so he made another one. The second one looked like a cane. He mostly wanted the stick to try to break ice along the shore. He tried to break ice around the small streams that ran into the inlet. Eventually we found a place to access the ice on the inlet itself. There was a brittle top layer of ice but it was thick underneath.
We continued our hike. My son was starting to complain now, wanting to know how much farther we were going. I had to walk far enough ahead to give him incentive to keep going. If I stayed too close he would stop walking and start talking.
We made it to the bridge at the back of the inlet. My son wanted to cross the ice instead of crossing the bridge but there was some open water near the bridge. He edged out a bit near the shore and used his walking stick to try to dig a hole in the ice. He returned to the trail and crossed the bridge.
My daughter has once again ran ahead. All I could hear was her singing Adele’s Hello at the top of her lungs. My son poked at the ice near the open water from the bridge. I started walking and was enjoying the largeness of the white pine stand we were walking through. The sun actually came out for a few minutes and made long shadows on the snow. The wind was knocking the snow off of the tops of the trees making mini snow storms that sparkled in the sun.
I caught up to my daughter and asked her where Adele had gone. She told me that Adele had ran into the woods. Again she ran ahead. This time when my son caught up he laid down on the snow and said he couldn’t go on. I started walking again and once I was out of sight he did the same. I kept telling him that once we made it out to the main river we could turn back. He kept telling me that the inlet was the river.
I came around the corner and realized that the person coming wasn’t my daughter. It was a couple who were coming back from winter camping. They had a puzzled look on their face after seeing my daughter on the trail alone. I talked to them a bit about winter camping. They looked as though they were enjoying themselves. By this time my son had once again caught up. I wanted to keep up his momentum so we continued on.
I found my daughter sitting on a large spruce tree that had fallen over. She was about 6 feet up in the air. She showed me how she had to walk up near the top of the tree, climb up on the log and then scoot back towards the stump.
She jumped down and we continued on. We were almost out to the river now. We could see the green walking bridge where we had started. We weren’t very far away as the crow flies. The trail around the inlet was a long loop that brought us back to just across from where we started.
As we reached the river the trail turned to the right. The bank down to the river was high and steep. It was also icy so we may have been able to slide down but it would have been next to impossible to climb back up. I wanted to see if there were any views down the river. We continued on the trail a bit further and the trail dipped down closer to the river. We found a place that allowed us to get down on the ice without too much trouble. Then we waited for my son to catch up.
When all three of us got out on the ice near the shore I waited for the inevitable question. Why don’t we just cross over the ice to get back to the car? It was less than 1/4 of the distance. I was reluctant since this was a tidal river of salt water. The weather had been warm in the middle of the week but was cold the last couple of nights. It was also cold for the previous couple of weeks.
We followed the shoreline back around to the inlet. We stayed outside of the ice near the shore that was cracked and layered from the rising and falling tides. I was going to return to the small island we had passed since this would be the narrowest point to cross the inlet. All the way I was checking the ice thickness and integrity. When I kicked off the snow I could see 3 inches before the ice became less clear. I estimated that there was at least 6-8 inches. More than enough to be safe. The thickness was also consistent away from the shore.
I used it as a teaching point for the kids. I told them to stay apart so there was less weight on the ice in one place. I also told them it was better to crawl because it distributed you weight. I also told them the most important lesson of all, to never go on ice unless a grown up has checked it. I continued to kick the snow off and check the ice thickness. It actually got clearer and therefore safer as we got out in the middle.
After a couple of minutes we were back on the other side of the inlet. We continued to follow the shoreline around to the trail near the walking bridge. What took us an hour and a half to do by trail took us about 15 minutes to do on the ice.
When we got back to the car my son was dying of thirst. Water was the only thing I had forgot to pack. We left the park and headed for a convenience store.
Remember to never cross ice unless you are sure the conditions are safe. It is never worth the risk.