In wildness is the preservation of the world. —Thoreau
We had gotten our first taste of Ontario’s Frontenac Park the day before.
The ranger at the main office on Salmon Lake Road suggested several easy walks close by. We studied the display of two stuffed fisher cats and admired the century-old dugout canoe mounted on the wall in the information center before heading out on the Doe Lake Trail. An hour later, back at the base, we explored the Arab Lake Gorge loop, meandering along the boardwalk by the beaver dam.
That evening back at the cottage we decided to hike the Slide Lake Trail the next day.
I took my day pack with a map and compass, binoculars, Swiss Army knife, matches, a 2-quart canteen and a first-aid kit. We drove to the Rideau trailhead and followed the orange triangle blaze marks to the southeastern Slide Lake Trail. We crossed through an extensive meadow knee-deep in September wildflowers: asters, goldenrod and milkweed gone to seed. Leaves on a stand of tall aspen rustling in the air brought to mind brushstrokes on a Monet canvas.
We passed by a small marsh peppered with decayed stumps of dead trees and entered the woods. The wings of a grouse drummed the afternoon air. Shortly, we caught our first glimpse of Buck Lake to the east. A bit further along the trail brought us to a marshy inlet of Slide Lake on the west.
Slide Lake got its name from the log slide constructed by 19th century loggers. Logs harvested at Big Clear Lake and Lake Labelle were floated into this narrow pristine lake, then driven down through a narrow ravine into Buck Lake. From there they were transported north again to the mills of Massassauga Creek — a roundabout way of moving lumber, but easier than hauling it overland.
At the northern tip of Slide Lake we took a short break to consider whether we should push on to the scenic overlook at Mink Lake (another 45-minute walk) or continue on our way down the northwestern side of Slide Lake. We had been hiking steadily for two hours. From our current location it would be another two and a half hours back to the trailhead. We decided to continue on the Slide Lake Trail, leaving Mink Lake for another day.
The northwestern side of Slide Lake provides a panoramic view of the country from the rocky ridge christened the Whale Back. Here we sat, looking out over the extensive body of water glistening in the afternoon sun. A big red-tailed hawk soared above the tops of the pines. At our feet a garter snake darted through a crevice in the rock and disappeared into the bush.
We proceeded down the ridge to a pine-covered peninsula. One of my companions, studying the bank, pointed out several bass hovering over a submerged log near the shore.
Once again we began our ascent to higher ground, following the trail along the high rock formations to the southern end of the lake. We paused for a final vista before beginning the descent into the woods. Soon we were back on the Rideau Trail, retracing our steps past the meadows of old 19th century farms to the trailhead where our vehicle awaited our return.
It had taken us four and half hours to traverse the circumference of Slide Lake, roughly ten kilometers of mountainous trail and meadow.
It was only after we returned to the cottage that I read that we had trekked through some of the most rugged country in this 12,900 acre wilderness park.
But more than that, we had touched the wildness that rejuvenates the soul.