Algonquin Park - As the sun finally breaks through the clouds, I take my last strides up this long, long hill. A fantastic vista of snow-covered forest and bright white lake lies below me. The hut's door creaks as it opens and shuts in the wind. Inside, I quickly light a fire to warm my bones and reflect on what it took to get here, deep within Algonquin.
On highway 11 I drove through thick fog and freezing rain, unable to see if I was on the right side of the road. Going slowly so as not to lose traction, I found myself sharing the road with trucks racing down the highway as if in a contest to reach the frozen north.
At Algonquin's west gate I purchased my day-use permit, then continued along highway 60 over the forested hills and past the white expanse of frozen lakes.
At the start of the trail near the east gate, I could tell that I was the first skier since the weather closed in 30 hours before: I saw no fresh tracks, and the few old ones were iced over.
Skiing this icy wilderness is tough. For every three strides forward, I slide back one. On the few downhills I encounter, the ice makes it impossible to brake or steer. All I can do is thunder down the trail and hope for the best. But the uphills are even worse. Up and up they go, relentlessly, mercilessly, the end always just out of sight. Passing frozen waterfalls, the trees creak in the storm while the wind bites my face. At times I have to take off my skis and walk when the ice is too slippery to ski up.
Far into the woods, wolf tracks appear. But even they're old, as if to say this weather is only for mad dogs and Canadians. I don't see a single animal, only old tracks in this forlorn frozen forest. Alone with my thoughts and the weather, I battle it out on Mother Nature's icy surface.
A long downhill appears. I race down its face, but a branch frozen into a loop just inches above the trail finds my ski and grabs onto it. I go flying face first, my left leg firmly anchored to the branch. I feel my leg snap, then hit the ice. I lie there for a while, wondering if I've broken my foot. Dazed, I get up, find a sheltered spot and pull out my Thermos.
As I greedily drink up the hot soup, letting it warm my chilled insides, I check my skis and then my map. I'm a long way into the woods now and turning back seems as difficult as continuing.
Just then the wind tapers off and the sun promises to appear. I decide that carrying on is the way to go. My skis are fine, my foot is fine, and I feel great. This is Canada at its best.
Soon I reach the hut and feel like I'm in paradise - not one where Adam could walk around naked, but paradise nevertheless. A paradise of snow, sun and wilderness, where I'm alone with my feelings, silence all around, away from it all.
Paradise lies on top of a hill around a warm hut in the deep forests of Ontario.