A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Overnight at Orford

January 19, 2019
Emilie Phillips
Tyson towed most of the distance, despite this picture

Lunch time, on the Saturday of Martin Luther King Jr weekend, we met my friend Benoît from Canada, and towed our gear to an off grid cabin. We would spend the weekend cross country skiing Quebec’s Parc national du Mont-Orford.

Rustic Cabin

Our cabin

Of all the modern conveniences, I discovered one I can’t do without.

No electricity or running water in the cabin? It focuses my mind. Do I need light for this task. Do I need to use this extra spoon or pot for cooking. How much water should I boil to have just the right amount for tea and washing dishes. It’s a meditative contemplation.

No computers or cell phones to keep us entertained? All the more time to eat good food and talk with Benoît whom I haven’t seen since last summer.

Tyson and Benoît enjoying the firelight

No insulation and only a wood stove for heat? Wear the same clothes inside as for skiing outside in negative single digits Fahrenheit. Stack the wood stove full and sit beside it sipping tea and wine. Let all the heat rise up to the sleeping loft. When the loft cools off in the middle of the night, climb down the ladder in slippered feet to add more wood to the stove. And while awake, pause to look at the moonlight glowing on the snow outside.

No refrigeration? Put the food near a cold wall. Outside it would have frozen.

No indoor plumbing, only an unheated outhouse? This can be managed. The walk isn’t far. If I sit on my mittens, the seat isn’t too cold.

But holes in the walls that rodents can crawl through? No good at all. Fuzz of torn insulation and bedding piled in a corner. The ceaseless patter of red squirrel feet up and down inside the roof all night. And a beady eyed mouse sitting on the rim of the trash can. They were going to eat our food and chew apart our sleeping bags! This I could not abide.

At night, we hung our food from a beam and assumed our bodies would scare the mice away from our sleeping bags. During the day, we stored our sleeping bags and clothes in a duffel. It was only a deterrent. As for the food, we moved it to a cabinet to hide it from the day use skiers. We hoped those same skiers would scare the mouse away, or put enough scraps in the trash can to keep the mouse occupied there.

We lost no food or fabric, and I didn’t loose too much sleep.

Photos and GPS track from Saturday

The other family

Isaac and Tyson on the 1

We met two other families out skiing. One just briefly at the parking lot and one during our lunch stop on Sunday. Both were curious about Isaac’s custom made insulated gators. I had sewed fleece and a nylon outer shell into an approximate bootie shape. Then to seal it, we wrap a commercial adult gator over the top.

The family we met at lunch, Sunday, had also stayed the weekend in one of the primitive cabins. Their youngest was towed in a pulk. Their older two were skiing on their own. The mother was interested in learning to Telemark ski, so we gave her our contact info. Hopefully we can meet up in the Whites.


We were skiing along when Isaac stopped with a huge smile.

“My wiggly tooth fell out,” he said. “I popped it out with my tongue.”

I collected the treasure from him, his first lost baby tooth. Tyson stored it carefully in his pocket.

Sunday’s snow storm

Buried Tyson

Benoît was amazed by the snow. Six inches of fresh snow Sunday morning. Over a foot by the end of the storm.

“Up north”, Benoît said referring to Iqaluit, “it’s a desert. What snow there is blows sideways and gets packed into wind slab. Sometimes the wind carves the snow into shapes like the rocks in the southwest.”

The powder that fell on us was light and plentiful. More typical of the Rockies than the northeast. The whole weekend, temperatures stayed in the single digits above and below zero Fahrenheit.

Not so groomed Orford

The groomer arrived

Sunday morning, we broke trail from the door of the cabin. Overnight it had snowed six inches of powder and was still snowing. Isaac wanted to be first.

“If you want to help break trail,” I said, “there are some rules. Only break trail for a little while. Everyone behind you will be getting cold and will want their turn to be first. Then step to the side, let everyone pass, and step back in at the end of the group. The next person will do the same. That way everyone will get a chance up front.”

We broke trail for a half mile, then the groomer came through. An hour later, three more inches of powder had fallen and we were, again, breaking trail. On the Number 1, a broad, two way trail, the groomer caught up to us.

We stepped out of the track to the other side of the trail, waited for the groomer to pass, then stepped back in behind it.

“What is the etiquette,” Benoît asked, “for trading breaking trail with the groomer?”

Photos and GPS track from Sunday

The off trail adventures

Isaac gliding on a groomed track

“This is boring,” Isaac told me fifteen minutes after the groomer had passed, “let’s go in the woods.”

“You want to go explore?” I asked him.


New ski trip, new goals. Not like a week ago at Jackson when he wanted to go fast on the groomed tracks.

“I guess we are going in the woods,” I told Tyson and Benoît. Then to Isaac, “go off the right side of the trail where there isn’t a ditch.”

Isaac skied off the edge and then dropped waist deep into the powder. He fell over. I guess there was a ditch on the right side too.

“Let me know if you need help holding hats or mittens,” Tyson said, “careful you don’t get snow in his clothes.”

Isaac pulled himself up out of the ditch. I set off ahead of him. My skis submarined two feet under the snow. Each step I had a choice of plowing through with my shins or lifting my ski to the surface and then sinking it down again.

“How far are you going?” Tyson asked. He and Benoît were still standing on the trail. “Where you are is good enough to go pee.”

“We aren’t going pee,” I said. “Isaac said he wanted to explore. Mind helping me break trail?”

Top of the hill

We picked out a prominent mound at the crest of the pass. Once we had summited, us adults called it good enough and slogged back down to the trail. That was the end of our exploration for Sunday.

Monday, after dropping off our gear at the cars, we picked a black loop on the northwest side of the lake. This trail hadn’t been groomed for several snow storms. At first it headed straight up the hill. Too steep for Tyson’s and my waxable skis.

“If this doesn’t level out soon,” Tyson said, “I’m turning around. This is miserable work herringboning in deep powder with 210 skis.”

The trail leveled out just long enough for everyone to regroup. I agreed with Tyson that we aught to go back down and find a different trail.

“No,” Isaac insisted, “I’m going this way,” pointing to the unbroken trail.

Descent from our jaunt on trail J6

“I guess,” I said, “we will climb until 11:50, and then ski back down in ten minutes?”

Indeed that’s what we did. And to finish off his day, Isaac found one more mound of ungroomed snow and skied off the precipice on the back side.

“I guess he really is your kid,” Tyson said, “he likes adventure.”

Orford Details

Orford is a cross country touring center in a Quebec national park. It is usually well groomed (or in my opinion over-groomed), and full of people. You can rent skis and boots from the main entrance. There they also have a cafeteria.

thumbnail of mor_carte_generale_hiver

Ski trail map

Rustic cabins are sprinkled throughout the park. These cabins are open to the public during the day, but rented out to private parties overnight. We stayed at La Sarracénie in the northern part of the park. This cabin is rented through a different concierge service out of the Jouvence hotel and resort.

There are also modern cabins in the park. Last time we visited Orford, we stayed at the fully modern EXP cabins.

Photos and GPS track from Monday