Mamas Climbing Weekend in Banff

We have been back from our family journey to Europe for three and a half months. From being confined in tight spaces as a family 24/7 to being back at work and straight into our real life routine, I was craving a little break from the everyday and some time for myself. More than anything, I was craving time in the mountains.

My loyal climbing partner, Shenoa, and I started plotting our mountain adventure weekend, settled on dates and set our sights on a multi-pitch extravaganza in Banff National Park to tick off some of the recommendations from this article in Gripped.

Our neck of the woods boasts some fabulous rock climbing but unfortunately no moderate multi-pitch sport routes. Long climbs also require a bigger time commitment than cragging and therefore, you tend to never know when you are going to come home, which isn’t ideal for mother for whom being home on time to cook a healthy dinner is a top priority.

This is my bad; unlike my dear husband who has no problem blocking out every other aspect of his life (such as his daughter and myself) when he climbs, I feel like I am failing at mother duties if I am away for more than a half-day. However, I don’t seem to feel that way when I am away with work for multiple days. Women psyche…still trying to figure it out myself!

Perhaps it’s a form of mother FOMO?! How on Earth are they going to survive dinnertime without me? They sure will be dying from a frozen pizza overdose and a TV comatose if I am not around?!

Anyhow, I knew that removing myself from the family for an entire 2 days and 2 nights was probably the best way to really focus on my own goals: climbing two classic moderate Rocky Mountains itineraries, getting half-way through my Jan Redford book “The End of the Rope”, sleeping nine uninterrupted hours twice, engaging in meaningful conversation with my friend over wine and chocolate and somehow avoiding to spend significant financial resources in one of Canada’s most pricey resort town.

Yes, we were really going to dirt-bag it! Well, sort of.

We left town on a Thursday after work in my friends shiny F-150 pick up truck loaded with a luxurious Bronco pop-up camper at the back that contains a plush queen-size bed, a cozy duvet and a 3-way fridge stocked with dry cider, four different types of cheese, artisan sourdough bread, fresh garden produce and a healthy dose of dark chocolate…and red wine. Real fancy dirtbags we are!

Our fancy dirtbag set up…

We arrived at the Lake Louise overflow parking lot quite late where we would spend the night, avoiding paying campsite fees. A sleepless night later (awoken every ten minutes by semi trucks rolling on the busy nearby TransCanada highway) we popped the camper down and agreed on the plan to head to the Tunnel Mountain campground to snatch one of the last first come first served campsites. Heck, I had already screwed one of my night’s sleep, I sure didn’t want to risk screwing the next one and even worse, our climbing goals because of sleep deprivation.

While we were driving to Banff, we got the news from our hubbies that Kimberley was under evacuation alert because of the nearby wildfires. Darn! That almost put a damper on our adventure as the guilt started settling in my stomach: my husband would need to pack our essentials on his own and still get my daughter to her swim lesson on time. How could I be such a selfish mother, prioritizing rock climbing over my family in danger of evacuation?! Fortunately, we were on a rock climbing trip and not a shopping spree, which likely would have made our respective husbands request that we come home NOW! Somehow they seem to like the idea that we are as committed to climbing as they are…

After some reassurance that the families were fine and would reunite with us half-way should things get out of control, we decided to stick to our plan.

After a hearty breakfast at our quiet campsite, we strapped our backpacks on and set out on foot for Banff’s scenic Hoodoo trail toward Tunnel Mountain and our objective for the day: Le Soulier (5.7, 4 pitches). This route was first established a long time ago but the spaced-out rusty pitons have been replaced by shiny bolts in recent years. The route originally owes to a single climbing boot nailed with a piton but has since been replaced   by a pair of high heel pumps. A funny nudge to our female climbing party of which neither of us ever wear heels.

Yes, there is a lovely view from where we stand. The Banff Spring hotel in a total haze.

A little over an hour after leaving the campsite, we found the start of the route and got all set up for our climb. While the first pitch had some loose rock and was more of a succession of ledges, the remaining 3 pitches were surprisingly solid and fairly well protected. The climbing was straightforward, easy and enjoyable and gave us the opportunity to rehearse our system of swinging leads efficiently and building bombproof belay stations. Unfortunately, due to the raging wildfires in BC, we didn’t get the picturesque views of the Bow River and Banff Springs hotel below nor the majestic Rundle Mountain across from us. We topped out a couple hours later and had a nice “summit” picnic before the ten-minute back down via a nice trail.

Shenoa leading the pitch with le Soulier
Halfway through our climb, the smoke cleared out a bit and allowed us a glimpse at Rundle mountain

Adventuring with other women is really something I appreciate, especially since becoming a mom. Like Jan Redford in her personal tale about mountains, marriage and motherhood, my will and courage levels seem much higher when I don’t have a male partner to rely on. In the presence of males, often stronger climbers, skiers or adventurer (even if I am more experienced than them), I tend to second-guess myself more.

I also find women tend to be more attentive to each other and therefore we are more likely to pause more often and check in. We also eat and hydrate better, hence I usually feel less tired after a day out with my girls. I also pay more attention when selecting the objectives and ensure I am going to maximize my enjoyment as opposed to just blindly going for it.

With the 12 km walk both ways from the campsite, that day felt like a well-rounded mountain adventure and the perfect warm-up for our goal the following day: Plutonian Shores (5.9, 7 pitches).

plutonian shores guidebook

Giving up $27 on a campsite ended up being a great decision of ours and after a gourmet camp dinner and finally a great nights’ sleep, we woke up refreshed and ready for our day.

Gourmet camp dinner climbers style

We drove to the Cave and Basin area and followed a good but steep trail toward the north face of Sulphur mountain and our  chosen route. Thanks to a very detailed topo, we had no problem finding the route which appeared to have four climbing parties already on.

We left them plenty of time before we started climbing and apart from a small rock or two falling in our direction, having other climbers above our head wasn’t too much of an issue. The smoke was worse than the day before but the temperature  cooler, which we didn’t mind at all.

Shenoa leading pitch 1 of Plutonian Shores
At the start of the climb with 200 vertical metres left to go

We linked the fun and long pitches (up to 55m!) one after the other, swinging leads, cheering each other and enjoying ourselves very much. We were quite pleased with our idea to only take a small pack for the two of us. We also ate and drank prior to getting on the wall. The limestone was quite solid with plenty of positive holds and the challenge was well within our skills and climbing level. We even caught up to the male party ahead of us and had to pause to give them some space and avoid being crammed up at the anchor with them.

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Shenoa confidently leading one of the pitches
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The smoke and wind brought some serious ambiance to the climb

The walk-off was steep and loose but short and well marked with cairns. With a large smile on our faces, we walked back to the truck, chatting and joking, feeling so happy and proud of our accomplishments.

By dinner time, we drove into Banff and sat at a small table in a busy vegetarian restaurant for our post-climbing reward. We had after all been such dirtbags that we thought we deserved a yummy over-priced meal and drinks to round up our fantastic girls weekend.

While the routes we climbed that weekend weren’t the hardest nor the longest nor the most prestigious I have done in my fifteen years of climbing, I have seldom felt as stoked on the drive home. Not a single time when I was moving upward on the rock did I think about dinner time at home nor felt the tinge of guilt from being away from my family.

I felt alive, I felt relaxed, I felt empowered and more importantly I felt myself.

 

P.S.: Many thanks to my rock warrior friend Shenoa for making this trip extra special and for being such a great climbing partner. xox

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3 Generations On A Quest For Waves, Rock & Volcanos In Tenerife, Spain

This past winter has been the coldest and snowiest in years in Western Europe. By traveling over there to spend our six-month sabbatical holiday, we didn’t expect to face that much cold weather. In fact, we were quite looking forward to a shorter, milder winter. Since our trip didn’t quite go as planned with Hervé’s knee surgery and a missed 2-week trip to Spain in November, we were all feeling a little sun deprived.

Therefore, in December we started looking for a warm and sunny European destination to meet up with my mother who lives in Quebec for late January/early February where we could potentially climb, hike, enjoy nice walks on the beach, discover a new culture, eat well… and forego socks. 

“Being able to wear sandals” is an important factor in our decision-making process as it means that we are not particularly looking for 30-degree weather but rather a mild climate to enjoy some outdoor activities and have a drink on a patio without wearing a toque and a down jacket…or wool socks. While I personally enjoy a climate with four distinct seasons very much, living in flip-flops year-round would be my absolute bliss. 

In our research, we quickly stumbled upon the Canary Islands as an ideal destination both for the climate, the warmest of all Western Europe for this period, and the ease of access from the continent as well as from Canada. Tenerife also seemed like the best island for us to visit due to the concentration of points of interest AND climbing sites.

Once we made our choice, it wasn’t difficult to sell the destination to Mom who was eager to escape winter, to spend time with her granddaughter and be a player in our six-month lifetime memory-making family adventure. 

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Landing on Tenerife 100% Vida

It’s on a sunny 25 degree Celsius Thursday that we picked her up at the Reina Sofia International Airport in our Peugeot Partner minivan for a two-week  exploration of this fascinating island with the goal to find activities and attractions to suit every family member’s taste and fill our head, ears, eyes and taste buds with the Island’s wonders.

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from black sand beaches at sea level
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…to snowy 3700 m high peak

Here is a summary of our highlights!

Wind & Waves – Breathing the Atlantic Ocean

All five of us were unanimous on the best beach area of the whole Island: El Medano.

Located only a few kilometres from the South Airport, this small community is the absolute wind & wave sports Mecca and the one with the best vibe in Tenerife. 

On the beachfront, a wooden boardwalk leads from surf shops to cool cafés and bars. Small size hotels and apartment buildings, kilometres of fine sand beaches, warm water, a vibrant scene made out of small families, old surf bums, backpackers, retirees and friendly locals make up the landscape of El Medano, along with the Montana Roja, the omnipresent red volcanic hill separating El Medano from La Tejita, the also very nice neighbouring beach town.

our happy beach town!

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Cute stores & cafés
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Fine sandy beaches and warm water

In El Medano, one can rent a wind/kite surf, a SUP or a surfboard for cheap or take lessons in any of these sports. For 20 euros, we rented a surfboard for 4 hours with 3 wetsuits and spent a very fun afternoon in spite of the strong winds, while grandma took pictures, fed us ice cream and kept our little girl wrapped in a warm towel each time she got out of the water shivering.

Another beach that all five of us really enjoyed was La Playa de Las Teresitas, a few kilometres north of Santa Cruz for its super fine white sand and crystal clear water. We thought it was well worth a sunny picnic stop before heading to Anaga and its wetter and cooler climate.

Beware, however, that isn’t unusual to come across a bare naked German swimmer. Tenerife, like many islands, hosts its share of quirky, free-spirited souls!

Volcanic Rock – Climbing in Tenerife

While rock climbing wasn’t the main objective of our trip and neither did we expect a fantastic climbing destination, we were still happy to have brought the gear along. 

A keen crew of young climbers – locals and foreigners – are spending countless time and energy to bolt and equip new sectors on the unique volcanic rock. The main climbing areas are located near the village of Arico, up in the Teide National Park and on the south-west side of the Island near Guia de Isora. Trad climbing, bouldering and even deep water soloing can be found on the Island which benefits from a climate suitable for climbing year-round.

Climbers will find accommodation, gear, information and climbing lessons quite easily in Tenerife through the Tenerife Climbing House  and  Roxtar Climbing Shop.

My husband and I were able to leave grandma and daughter at the vacation rental a few half-days to check out some of the sectors; we also found one site suitable for young children.

In the hills behind Arico, a short hike down the trail leading to El Barranco del Tanque takes the climbers to Tamadaya, a canyon right out of the Flinstone movie in less than half hour. There, families will find plenty of routes in the 6th grade and a few in the 4th and 5th, flat grounds and solid rock to spend a fun day.

Near Guia de Isora, the sector of Guaria is located in a nesting area of importance for several species of birds and therefore, the number of climbers allowed to access the area is limited to 70 per day. A daily permit system is available online.

We appreciated the effort going into developing the climbing sectors but agreed that the consistency in the grading, availability of easy routes, the chossy nature of the rock in some areas and the sometimes spaced-out bolting (many routes are bolted from the top) made the destination not quite ready yet for masses of climbers to visit. 

Kamikaze-type stronger climbers will, however, enjoy discovering this new territory, especially the sectors in the Teide National Park for the unbelievable scenery and harder routes which we didn’t get to explore because it was completely snowed in at the time we visited.

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Climbing in Guaria

Mountains & Valleys – Tenerife’s Best Hiking 

Not too far from the coastal resort towns and quaint fishing villages lie hundred of kilometres of high-quality hiking trails. The rich and diverse biodiversity and landscapes of Tenerife make it a very interesting ground to explore by foot.

From the drier hills of the south coast to the lush rainforest of the Anaga Peninsula and the high alpine environment of Pico del Teide – the highest peak of Spain culminating at 3700m – one cannot get bored of walking.

Our crew enjoyed going on some shorter walks towards the pine forest up behind Granadilla before heading to the beach in the afternoons.

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hiking with grandma to some remote hamlets between peaks and ocean

We also were struck by the beauty and uniqueness of landscape which reminds us of the Peruvian Andes on more challenging hikes on the North-East end of the Island.

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The stunning Anaga Peninsula

 

Our favourite trail was the one linking Punta del Hidalgo to Cruz del Carmen, a 10km /900m vertical one-way hike. While our daughter had to be carried a large part of the way, we encountered a friendly Swiss family of five with whom we shared a few kilometres. 

The sight of a 7, a 10 and a 12-year old cute children enjoying their hike fully was very motivating for our daughter as much as the few chocolate cookies they kindly shared with her. 

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a landscape reminiscent of the Andes
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hiking on steep but good trails
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Peru-like lush vegetation

While we, unfortunately, weren’t able to pay a visit to the Teide National Park due to heavy snowfalls (we were escaping winter after all!), we did get talked into the very touristy but not less fascinating Masca Valley hike, 6km /- 600m vertical one-way,  which we didn’t regret at all.

We set off from the town of Los Gigantes early on a sunny but brisk Sunday morning by bus to Santiago del Teide, the local outdoor Mecca. Riding with us on the bus was an older Danish man retired on the Island and absolutely found of hiking. He told us this amazing story of the eruption of the Chinyero back in 1909 that was threatening the village and how few local men miraculously stopped the lava with their faith.

From Santiago, we took a taxi ride to the stunning village of Masca to avoid the herds of hikers coming on the first bus later in the morning. After a cafe con leche, all five of us started the descent toward the deep canyon in good spirits. Four hours of leapfrogging our way from rock to rock, we reached the ocean where we had just enough time to enjoy a refreshing dip before heading back to the town by taxi boat (reservation highly recommended).

The Masca Valley hike is not to be underestimated and requires a good physical condition and adequate shoes, plenty of food and water. The canyon, however, is stunning and in spite of the business of the trail, the itinerary is really unique and very worth spending a day.

Culture & Nature – Diverse Landscapes and a Rich Heritage

Tenerife is the island with over 3000 ecosystems. From high alpine to sub-alpine, temperate rainforest to desert with tropical areas in between, Tenerife boasts the most extreme climatic regions all squished into 2,000 sq km of land.

Geologically, the island is also fascinating in its diversity. We haven’t ceased to be amazed by the black volcanic rock along the coastline, the fine white, black or pink sand beaches dispersed around the island or the jagged peaks of Anaga.

Many zoos feature the various animal species from the island for the enjoyment of visitors young and old. The marketing of these zoos is also very present everywhere on the island and it’s difficult for a kid not to notice it and feel attracted.

After a short research, it appeared to us that Loro Parque was the one to visit, for it’s unique educational and conservational vocation. In spite of a fairly high entrance fee (35 euros per adults, kids 5 under are free), the day spent at Loro Parque was a great experience for the whole family and I can understand why it is rated in the world’s top visitors attractions on Trip Advisor.

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One happy little girl at Loro Parque

We enjoyed learning about the marine mammals and learning what to do if we encounter a whale stranded on the beach. We were delighted to observe and learn about the many parrot species of the park including the ones that were saved from extinction with the help of the Park’s foundation and scientific team. 

Our child’s environmental consciousness was reinforced by the evocative images on pollution caused by plastic, marine transportation, industrial activities and other human behaviours and the arm it can do to wildlife.

Due to its geographical location almost half-way across the Atlantic Ocean, the Canary Islands hold a very special place in the history of world’s exploration. It is so interesting to read about how key Tenerife was in providing food, supplies and staff on the first sailing expeditions around the globe, including Magellan’s very first circumnavigation. The island boasts a few interesting archeological sites and a great ethnological museum at the Guimar Pyramids, and the opportunities to find out more about history are plentiful.

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Residents of Guimar celebrating San Antonio

Very Spanish indeed, Tenerife also boasts a very sensible influence from Northern Africa and even Central and South America in its culture. Catholicism is also an important part of Tenerife’s culture and can be witnessed through the architecture, the local celebrations and way of life.

Tapas, Fish & All The Flavours from Las Canarias

With climatic zones and soils so diverse, everything can grow on Tenerife. Agriculture, namely the culture of banana, aloe and pineapple, is a major economic driver. One can find a variety of fruit and vegetable year-round and enjoy some good quality wines from the grape grown and vinified right there on the Island. Foodies like me will be glad to hear that food and drinks prices on the island are at least 30-40% cheaper than in continental Europe which really makes a Tenerife vacation more affordable especially with the hefty exchange rate with the Canadian dollar. 

We simply couldn’t get enough of those gigantic sweet red peppers, delicate-tasting avocados or sun riped bananas. 

Fresh fish of the day (expensive but so tasty!), tapas (we’re in Spain after all) can also be found everywhere as well as some very local specialties such as goat stew, papas canarias (wrinkly potatoes cooked in salt water), or mojo, tasty red or green sauces made out of oil, vinegar, herbs and spices.

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The cultural melting pot of the Island also brings an international diversity to the food scene including many English Pubs, Italian, Indian, Moroccan restaurants. Happy hour is popular in the many resort towns and one can get a pint of beer for as low as 1 euro. Hurray! The bars of Tenerife also serve excellent cafe con leche for 1-1,50 euro.

Our best dining experience on Tenerife was at Bea’s restaurant (the owner of the condo we rented) Tabaibarril in San Miguel de Tajao . Upon arriving, we were invited to pick our fresh fish and seafood right from the kitchen and had it prepared to perfection. We also enjoyed having a drink and a few tapas at Cafe Al Mar in Poris de Abona near our condo and watch the sun go down. We also sampled some very traditional cuisine of goat stews, local charcuteries, cod, tuna cakes and grilled pork chops at the impeccable Tasca del Horno in Granadilla. 

Like all busy tourist destinations, however, it can be difficult to pick a good and authentic restaurant that serves fresh local food. Wandering off the beaten tracks into lesser visited areas is always a good option to come across interesting flavours.

Cozy Beds & Sweet Dreams

Visitors benefit from loads of accommodation options everywhere. For 40-80 euros per night, we found modern and comfortable 2-bedroom condos to rent to house our extended family. Some areas of the Island namely Los Christianos/Playa de Las Americas/Los Gigantes and Puerto de la Cruz seemed more expensive and given the short distances, it’s better value to stay in quieter areas and drive for those who would really want to spend time there. 

Those areas are critically over-saturated and spoiled by mass tourism, unfortunately, which is a deep contrast with the pristine nature and unoccupied areas in the center and north of the island.

In order to limit further hotel/tourist accommodation development on the Island and foster a higher yield tourism type, the government now limits the building of new visitor accommodation to five-star resort-like establishments offering new attractions and activities through a strict moratory.

We preferred to stay in quieter communities such as El Poris and Juan’s apartment was our best accommodation by far and the best suited to our muli-generational travel party with it’s two bedrooms and large living areas.

We also check out the campground near Playa de La Tejita which seemed like an interesting option in the future. Free camping can also be found in some places. As mentioned earlier, Tenerife Climbing House can also be a great option for climbers in a hostel-type formula.

In the North, Punta del Hidalgo or Taganana seemed like quaint and authentic places to settle for a few days. 

Getting There & Getting Around

Flying into the South Airport is an inexpensive bliss from any major Western European city. The three of us flew direct on Easyjet from Geneva for 400 euros all in, including a checked bag. From Canada, flights are available starting at $1,100 from any major cities with one or two stop-overs.

Ferries from Cadiz are also a good option for travellers in a van/camper or the ones with lots of time on their side.

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Waiting for the bus after a long hike

A rental car is absolutely necessary for anyone planning on exploring the rock climbing sites. For hikers, foodies, surfers or cultural buffs, Tenerife has a very robust public transit system that will take you to/from any location for 1 euro per trip. The island also boasts beautifully paved winding roads that seem well suited for bike tourists/cyclists…but beware of the many, many hills!

 

Tenerife: An Exotic & Distinctive Winter Getaway

In conclusion, my mom, husband, daughter and myself all agree on the fact that Tenerife was an ideal destination for us to meet and spend quality time together in a warm location. We were struck by the beauty of the scenery and the ease to get around. We were pleased to discover how friendly and welcoming the people of Tenerife are and how proud they are of their island.

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Los Gigantes – High cliffs diving into the ocean

In two weeks time, we filled our bodies with vitamin D from the sun & vitamin C from the fresh fruit and filled our minds with stunning images. We filled our pockets with volcanic rocks and our shoes with fine sand and most of all, we created family memories that we are not close to forget.

P.S. A special thank you to my beloved mother for joining us on that trip and being our best adventure pal and your granddaughter’s best roommate ever. Je t’aime!

!Hasta Luego!

A Week in Pralognan-la-Vanoise

It’s hard to believe we are already half-way through our 6-month journey.

Our time in Europe has been truly amazing so far and packed with quality time with friends and relatives and lots of traveling in between and we feel it’s time to re-centre and get back to a quieter routine, unpack the suitcases and have some family time, just the three of us.

We have obviously spent lots of time with the in-laws so far and even a little more than anticipated, with Hervé’s torn meniscus and related surgery. We have visited Ardèche and the Italian Riviera. We have spent some time with our friends near Albertville and a full week in Val d’Anniviers, Switzerland.

 

Every day feels a bit like Christmas as everywhere we go we get to enjoy feasts and celebrations (along with the odd heartburn and overhang it brings), lots of time outdoors, a big share of adaptation and improvisation, of packing and unpacking, of searching through our bags and trying to keep some sort of order and tidiness and attempts to maintain a healthy routine for our 4-year old daughter.

 

After doing some research on the web for affordable accommodation in small family-oriented ski resorts, we settle on Pralognan-la-Vanoise. Around mid-January, we are outside of the busy school holiday periods and other major events that could disturb our peace and quiet AND our tight budget.

 

Our choice isn’t completely random, however. Pralognan, although I only have a vague memory of the village itself, is reminiscent of very sweet memories for Hervé and I. It was the starting point of my first ever overnight ski tour, some fifteen years ago. I remember the jagged peaks and impressive glaciers of la Vanoise range as well as the bright blue skies and the spring weather. I remember the warmth of the hut, how good the evening meal tasted after a day of skiing and the good times we shared with our companions.

 

I also remember and laugh at how much of a beginner skier I was, the tears I shed skiing back down to the valley and the huge blisters on my feet from the way-too-small ski boots I had borrowed. I remember the pride I felt and the endless admiration I had for my man who taught me everything about the mountains.

 

Since we have also climbed few classic routes in the Parc National de la Vanoise, one of France’s largest and most diverse mountain ecosystem protected through the National Park designation, but we have never really spent time in Pralognan.

 

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It keeps dumping!

 

I know that the ambiance of the village is exactly what we are looking for this time for our family stay: a pedestrian village, outdoor activities for kids and adults alike including some great options for backcountry skiing, a small kid-friendly ski hill with an affordable ski pass, some genuine mountain culture and a small alpine village feel and of course, SNOW!

 

Well, a few days in I can say that all our expectations were exceeded. More than that, I think am officially in love with this place.

 

Anne-Marie, the owner of the little flat we rented on AirBnB is just adorable and so thoughtful. Her place is sparkling clean and just right for the 3 of us and equipped with all we need, including a washing machine, thank goodness! The price for the week was more than fair and most of all, we have a little nest on a quiet street where we can settle in and most importantly feel at home. Upon our arrival, we find a hand-written greeting note, a bottle of local pear juice and a jar of local honey. God does Savoie ever produces good food!

 

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The lovely view from our balcony with fresh snow piling up on the railing

 

During our first day here, the snow started falling and it hasn’t really stopped since. Over a metre of snow has fallen upon Pralognan in 5 days.

 

On the second day, the whole ski resort was shut down because of the wind and heavy snowfalls.

 

On the third day, it was still snowing and we got to enjoy this one-in-a-season amazing day. We had the brilliant idea upon our arrival to sign our daughter up for some ski lessons and to the local “kids club” for afternoon child care, which she was ecstatic about. Hence, Hervé and I had the day to ourselves to ski fresh powder snow and explore the resort.

 

Pralognan in January has many pros one of them being that the very few vacationists around are mainly retirees and family with young children, most of them with limited skiing abilities if I may say so without any disrespect. For us, that meant that the competition for fresh tracks was non-existent and so were the lift lines. Pure bliss!

 

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the joy of skiing in knee-deep powder! Feels like BC…

 

The scene is quite a bit different in the spring when spandex-dressed ski mountaineers and herds of French Alpine Club adepts rush to the nearby peaks early in the morning and stop in for a beer and a tartiflette en masse after their tour and wander through the streets in their high tech gear and colourful clothing.

 

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Skiing right down to our doorstep

 

In very high avalanche risks conditions all week, we are staying very conservative and sticking to low angle off-piste itineraries well within the ski area. Hervé is also taking every opportunity he has to chat with local ski patrollers and mountain guides to learn about the conditions. Everyone is very friendly and generous with information. The current conditions are quite unusual and haven’t been observed by the locals for at least 20 years. All around us, roads are closed and mountain hamlets are being evacuated. We feel blessed that Pralognan is a relatively safe haven.

 

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Out on a tour with my love

 

Meanwhile, our daughter who is now entering her third ski season is taking her first ski lessons: 2 times 2 1/2 hours of skiing with other little French kids. Even though her ability to manage her speed with snowploughs and turns is improving highly when skiing with us, we feel that some lessons are going to help improve her autonomy and her ease in the transitions like putting her skis on, riding the t-bar on her own, going up small hills, walking around, getting back up after a fall, etc.

 

She is so proud of getting her “ourson” medal. She can now ski at the level of a bear cub, whatever this means!

In the French culture, everything is very standardized and there seems to be tests, levels and categories in every sport as I have learned over the years.

The ski instructors in their very French way don’t put on white gloves to tell your kid that he or she isn’t doing things the right way. If at first, it makes my teeth cringe as a firm believer in positive reinforcement, I acknowledge that life isn’t always easy and that my child will have to face her share of frustrations and failures… might as well start now.

At the end of our ski day we like to meander in the village to check out the lovely storefronts, have a drink and some appetizers or buy our loaf of bread or a bottle of wine to go with dinner before retreating to our cozy nest, tucked away at the dead end of a quiet street.

 

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Farmer’s market day

 

In my suitcase, although space is very limited, I will be bringing back a few bottles of locally made génépi and verveine liqueur, a piece of Beaufort, one of my favourite cheeses in the world and perhaps a picture to hang on the wall of our apartment in Kimberley and dream of this unique adventure we’re currently living. The village has no shortage of cute little artisan stores, bakeries and sports shops that we try to stay away from…

 

On the weekend we have our friends Fabrice and Magali and their three kids Zian, Liv and baby Dolma come over for the day to try out the Nordic trails. By the end of the day it’s snowing so hard they can barely make it back home to Albertville. Meteo France, the French weather office, has issued a special warning for heavy snowfalls in our area and urges travellers to stay home or plan alternative accommodation in case the roads close.

 

During our time here, we are also experiencing all the many amenities the village has to offer. It’s impressive to see a place of 700 souls residing year round with an indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, skating rink, indoor climbing wall and even a spa!

 

Savoie – Mont Blanc is definitely a wealthy district and the fact that Pralognan is located nearby the infamous resorts of the “3 Vallées” is certainly contributing to the wealth.

 

Skiers staying in Pralognan for the week can purchase a 6-day ski pass for a mere 170 euros and have a free entry to the pool, the skating rink, unlimited access to the Nordic loop and the ability to ski in La Plagne or Courchevel for a day with a free shuttle!!

 

For that amount, a skier in BC barely gets a 2-day ski pass at one resort like Fernie or Revelstoke. Now you get why Canada isn’t a competitive destination on the world scheme of ski holidays…but this is a story I save for later on how to ski for cheap in Europe. Stay tuned!

 

As the sun goes down on our last day in Pralognan, I know for certain that we will return to enjoy more of the high alpine, the magnificent meadows and the peaceful atmosphere of Pralognan.

 

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The Bouquetin or Ibex: Pralognan’s icon

 

We are now packing our winter gear and clothing away for a two-week hiatus as we take off for Tenerife and the Canary Islands on Tuesday to meet up with my mom.

 

We hope all this fresh snow settles a bit for when we return and pursue new adventures in the Southern Alps…

À bientôt Pralognan!

Ardèche in December: Castles, Cobbles & Chestnuts

La Coste: A Place with a Soul

The air is brisk and the almost full moon lights up the pebbled path to our cozy little apartment, a vacation rental or gite rural located on the floor above la mielerie – where the honey is extracted and stored.

 

Deep down in the valley, I can see the lights from the small settlements along la Volane, all the way to Vals-les-Bains and Aubenas, the nearest cities. I take a deep breath of pure mountain air and pause for a moment before making carrying on my way to bed.

 

We had arrived in La Coste a few hours earlier. This tiny hamlet part of the municipality of Genestelle is home to our dear friends Seb and Christine Martinez and their two boys,  Juneau (4) and Milo (2).

 

We have known the couple for as long as we have lived in Kimberley. From epic climbing adventures to family camping trips, a shared love for France, and several Christmas Eves spent together, we have woven a deep friendship.

 

After living in BC for over fifteen years, Seb, an Ardèche native, and his wife Christine,  a Saskatchewan girl, have made the decision to come home to take over the family apiary. Sad to see them leave our home-base but so excited for their new endeavour, we made the promise to come visit them here often.

 

This promise wasn’t hard to make for the ones acquainted with La Coste and its surroundings.

 

The location in itself is just stunning: a perfect steep south-facing slope perched at 650m of elevation, fertile soil and a mild and pleasant climate. Seb’s parents Didier and Sibylle have fallen for the place – remote, cheap land with a spring of fresh water. That’s not all however as the place also has a special feel to it – which they found out when scoping out the perfect spot to build their dream during the hippie era.

 

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The hamlet in the morning fog

 

Out of the ruins – piles of old stones reminiscent of a small settlement from the early 17th century – they created a home for their family, a roof for their apiary, and a massive garden -stone by stone.

 

Years later, they restored the adjacent ruins to their home into a few apartments, every one of them worthy of a feature in architectural and design magazine that the couple turned into vacation rentals.

 

Visitors to La Coste have been loyal over the years and mostly book their stays a year out. I sense that Didier and Sibylle’s passion for their area and warm sense of hospitality is just as important as the stunning location and unique accommodation units.

 

Completely sold out from June to October, the apartments can still be rented in April, May and from mid-October into November.

 

Vacationists in search of an authentic rural France experience and a large dose of peace and quiet, nature and sunshine won’t be disappointed. The breeze and spectacular swimming pool are sure to keep the visitors afraid of heat cool and happy. The fruit trees around the estate along with the fragrant and delicate-tasting honey to will keep their craving for sugar fulfilled.

La Coste in the fall
La Coste in the Fall. Photo by Seb Martinez

 

La Coste is the ideal base camp to explore Ardèche, a mostly rural département and so rich and diverse in its landscape and attractions. In the north, one will find a rugged hill and plateau landscape, harsh climate and the highest peaks around, le Gerbier-de-Jonc and Mont Mezenc; mountains made out of granite and volcanic stone. This is also home to la Loire river headwaters.

 

 In the middle, the volcanic hills of Centre Ardèche are softer and the climate milder. Snow seldom falls in this area, which makes it perfect to visit anytime and any season. Chestnut, oak and acacia trees are plentiful and on the adret the south-facing slope one won’t be surprised to find orchards of apricot, peach and kiwi trees. Quaint villages are all walking distance from each other and have the most interesting stories to tell and characters to meet. The area is home to some of the country’s most beautiful rivers that attract paddlers and canyoneers from all over the world.

 

In the south, lies a more open landscape, limestone cliffs, karst structures and massive caves – pre-historic sites of importance. The south has more of a well, southern or Provencal feel to it and farmers find the perfect soil and climate to grow grapes and fragrant lavender. Herds of Dutch tourists have made the area their destination of choice for its rivers, beaches, warm sunshine and the infamous canoe route of les Gorges de l’Ardèche. The heat there in the summer is suffocating and so is the crowd…which is why La Coste and the Centre Ardèche are so attractive in many ways.

 

To find out more about le gîte rural de La Coste and to make a reservation for your next vacation, click here.

Castles, medieval villages and Roman paths

 

From La Coste, a myriad of scenic hiking trails lead the visitors to the many nearby hamlets and viewpoints. One of my favourite paths is the one going to Antraigues, a medieval village among the most picturesque in the country. This village was made famous by Jean Ferrat, an iconic poet, songwriter and singer who made this place home.

 

This is the first outing we take our little crew on – a mere 2.7 km walk one way mostly downhill, to a well-deserved reward of hot chocolate and madeleines. On this ancient cobbled donkey path, we enjoy picking a few remaining chestnuts, walking in knee-deep beds of leaves and taking in the stunning views.

 

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In Antraigues, the townsite is quiet on this early December Monday. The kids can freely explore the cobbled streets and safely play on the Plaza. At this time of year, we’re happy to find out that a few restaurants, the bakery and a small grocery store remain open. We’re in France after all and there are real people living real lives in rural areas, no matter how small or remote they are.

 

It would take a lifetime to explore all the villages and stories that Ardèche boasts. I recall Seb telling us that he had himself only visited about sixty. I bet that now that he and his family have returned home, they will have plenty of inspiration for weekend outings and the boys will surely take great pleasure in adding a few to their papa’s list.

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Ardèche just like the Kootenays also boasts its share of illegal dwellings

Ardèche limestone: let’s climb some rock!

 

The region is known among climbers as a serious climbing destination. Many sites can be found in every corner of Ardèche with a large variety of rock types and routes. Le Cirque de Gens near Chauzon is definitely the most famous of all. Climbers beware however that the popular nature of the site combined to this type of limestone makes the routes in the lower grades (to 5.11) VERY polished and challenging.

 

We take the children to Balazuc for a quick afternoon session. In December, the periods of daylight are very short and temperature colder; Balazuc’s south-facing limestone towers offer a rapid and easy hike in and short routes that are ideal to set up a few easy top ropes.

 

While early spring and fall are the prime seasons for rock climbing in Ardèche, one can find locations throughout the winter in the spots sheltered from the wind. Some campgrounds remain opens and climbers can benefit from very low off-season deals on vacation rentals everywhere in Ardèche. If climbing isn’t our main purpose on this trip, it is still nice to touch some rock and enjoy a few hours of warmth.

Guidebook and more info on climbing here.

Fêtes de Village: Let’s meet the locals

 

In this land where tourism and agriculture are the main economic drivers, the locals literally work day in and day out from April to November. We are fortunate to be here at a time where Seb and Christine have a little downtime and are available to show us around and enjoy some quality time with friends. The boys normally in daycare and school are doing l’école buissonière – skipping school for a few days to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

Late fall and winter are the time of year where the local social life picks up again and the many celebrations take place. Every village has a fête of some kind: fête de la Chataigne, fête de la Pomme, pre-holiday celebrations and craft fairs of all kinds. In those remote valleys, newcomers and young families are surprisingly quite numerous and they fear not going the extra mile to enhance the local social life.

 

Upon hearing that a nearby village is having a Fête de la Soupe, we make plans to spend our Saturday.

 

After a car dropoff, our little crew sets off by foot for the little village of Bise, which in French means “breeze” or “kiss”, whichever you prefer! Jérôme, Kelly and their two teenage girls Nea and Riley- a Swiss- American couple living in BC are joining us for the weekend and also take part in the fun outing that day.

 

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Our happy little crew
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Scenic trails, leaves and chestnuts

 

It has snowed last night and the day is sunny but chilly and windy. On the trail leading from Conchis to Bise, we meet several hunters in search of chestnut-fatted wild boars. In this country, it isn’t unusual for hikers and hunters to share the same trails and vigilance is key, as no one wants to end up with a bullet in the calf or a frightened boar running at them. Seb’s informs the hunters of our route and we carry along.

 

It feels strange to descend from the mountain and to arrive in the middle of the celebration. From a distance, we can smell the boiling soup and woodfire smoke and we can hear the laughter.

 

The Fête is well attended and the soups and crêpes are delicious. There is a bar -off course- and a craft fair, games for the kids and soup contest. After lunch, Christine and Hervé drive the children home for the nap and the rest of us head back to where we came from, on a different trail.

 

We hike to the valley’s end where we encounter a 93-year old sheepherding lady who’s eager to chat. Her strength and vitality are impressive.  She has sure lived a long healthy life although certainly not always pleasant and easy in this remote valley.

 

We take the scenic way home and follow the ridgeline for a long time so we can admire the unique landscape – hills spreading as far as the eye can see covered in scotch broom and dried fern with the odd stone hamlet and winding mountain road leading to it. In this faint winter light, everything looks still although on the ridge top the wind is quite strong.

 

Several hours later, we come home and all gather in Seb and Christine’s home. On the table we lay another delicious feast in which the chestnuts picked along our hikes were sautéed or roasted. The meal is obviously paired with local wines and liquor and some early Christmas treats. The conversation is lively, the belly full and the spirit’s high.

 

The following day we awaken to more snow on the ground – enough for the children to make snowmen. From climbing rock in a t-shirt to hiking with the goose down jacket on to making a snowball fight, winter time in Ardèche is definitely just as diverse as the region itself.

 

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snowball fight & snowmen…it’s beginning to look a lot like winter

 

Ardèche is full of surprises and delights that ought to be discovered in the offseason… and with good friends.

 

We are thankful to the Martinez family for their warm hospitality and pleasant company. One thing is sure, we will be back in Ardèche very soon!

 

For more trip-planning information about Ardèche click here.

Saint-Raymond-de-Portneuf: The Authentic Quebec Experience

Featured image by Philippe Jobin courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

Located fifty kilometres away from Quebec City, Saint-Raymond is the new outdoor recreation mecca in the Capitale-Nationale region.

The quaint town, home to roughly 10,000 souls, is surrounded by countless lakes, rivers, picturesque farmland, rolling hills and lush mixed forests where wildlife thrives. It boasts a long tradition of forestry, hunting, fishing and cottage culture.

Far enough from the city to benefit from many local amenities and not feel like a commuter town, yet close enough for thousands of recreationists to visit each weekend, the town is literally booming with a young and fresh energy. The vibe found there is reminiscent of the one found in the small hip mountain towns of Western Canada.

With the development of an award-winning sustainable tourism development model over the last fifteen years combined with a thorough downtown revitalization initiative, Saint-Raymond looks and feels better than ever.

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This place, so dear to my heart Photo credit: Pascal Cothet

 

Born and raised in the Portneuf region and descending from two local families of settlers, I have known Saint-Raymond forever and spent some of my best childhood moments there. I have always taken great pleasure in going back to visit my many relatives. This year’s visit was extra special as I got to take my husband and daughter for a two-week incursion into the awesomeness of this little town and its surrounding beauty. Wearing new sets of lenses – a blogger, traveller and mother always on the lookout for inspiration – I got to re-discover this beloved land and share the experience with my little family.

st-leonard. Photo credit Pascal Cothet
Because the area looks pretty good in the fall as well.  Photo credit Pascal Cothet

I’d like to share the highlights of our stay and give some tips to anyone lucky enough to be planning a trip to Quebec and willing to experience this unique area’s authentic culture and way of life.

 

Lac Sept-Iles (Lake of Seven Islands) – For Lakelife and Relaxation #QuebecStyle

Along with my mother and sister, we rented a lovely cottage right on the water in this piece of heaven that screams “vacations” and “good times.” Cute cottages and manicured landscapes (also some very luxurious mansions!) surround this lake located a mere 10-minutes drive from town. The narrow winding 11km lake road, dotted with hand-painted address numbers and welcome signs and wrapped up in a dense canopy of ancient maple trees is worth exploring on two wheels or on a morning jog.

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Feeding the ducks, one of our daily activities

 

 

 

Connecting to the main lake is a natural haven, Lac aux Chiens (Dogs Lake). Part of the preserved land adjacent to the Station Touristique de Duchesnay, this protected area is ideal for a quiet paddle, a swim, and a picnic. Binoculars are in order as it’s quite frequent to observe a family of beavers at work, a hungry moose or some of the numerous bird species.  A good trail also wraps around this lake, which serves as the perfect destination for a trail run or family hike.

 

 

 

 

Lac Sept-Iles is popular amongst boaters, wakeboarders and waterskiers and can be busy on hot summer days. But by picking our stay later in August, and thanks to the cooler, wetter temperatures, we basically had the lake to ourselves.

Many cottages are available for rent for every budget and group size and usually include the use of kayaks, canoes, windsurf or paddle boats. The Camp Portneuf  also offers cottage rentals, serves as a watersport base, holds a summer camp and day camps for kids age 4-14 and even offers family camps.

Camp Portneuf- Ville de Saint-Raymond
Camp Portneuf – Photo courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond
Camp Portneuf
Camp Portneuf – Photo Courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

 

The Vallée du Bras du Nord (North Arm Valley) – Outdoor Adventures for Everyone

 

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A valley where wilderness and agriculture happily coexist. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

 

The “Vallée Bras-du-Nord” or North-Arm Valley is certainly the major draw for many visitors traveling to Saint-Raymond, and with good reason. What used to be a hidden gem where locals would go backcountry camping and canoeing on the North-Arm of the Sainte-Anne river, is now an epic larger-than-nature outdoor resort. A full week wouldn’t be enough to check out all there is to do!

The topography of the place is perfectly suited to hiking, paddling and mountain biking, and a tremendous amount of work has gone into perfecting the trail network over the years.

The “En Marche” project, a youth workforce rehabilitation initiative, employs a dozen local youth each year who are dealing with personal challenges such as dropout, addictions, and violence, to build and maintain the trails.

This initiative, along with the social enterprise management model that applies best practices in local governance in relation to land use, funding, and development, truly contributes to making the resort even more remarkable.

 

 

 

 

Home to the best mountain biking trails in the vicinity of Québec City, riders can find a wide variety of itineraries for beginners and experts alike, a full-service rental shop, amazing vistas, slick rock, tacky dirt and wooden features of all sorts. The trail network, which serves as the course for the infamous annual “Raid du Bras du Nord” – the premier MTB event in Québec –  has now been extended to the local ski hill and the edges of town, as the local rider base keeps growing and so does the demand from out-of-town.

During our stay, my husband, sister and I got to ride La Neilson Nord and la Neilson Sud , a fun 25 km black-diamond flow trail loop dotted with some very techy sections, berms and skinnies, and runs along the namesake river and its stunning rapids and waterfalls. La Neilson Est provides a newly-added 10km extension, but unfortunately, we ran out of time to ride the full loop.  I must also say that with very little riding under my belt this summer, I already felt quite humbled by the challenge presented by the two trails.

The Valley is also an incredible hiking destination. It boasts state-of-the-art mountain huts dispersed along the scenic and rewarding multi-day hiking routes that can be completed year-round (with snowshoes in winter). Easy day hikes, a larger than nature guided via ferrata course, guided canyoning outings down the spectacular waterfalls and single or multi-day paddling are also amongst the activities offered in the Vallée.

In the winter, fat-bikers and backcountry skiers now have a new and ever developing playground to explore.

With a full array of accommodation options right on site including yurts, campsites, and fully equipped cottages, and a Welcome Centre open year-round, the Vallée is a destination worth spending time in to enjoy the wonders in every season.

 

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slick rocks and fast moving waters. Photo credit Hervé Durand
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Anne appreciating the craftsmanship on the trail
waterfalls and mountain biking
Idyllic backdrop. Photo credit Hervé Durand.

 

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Flowy goodness riding the trails of Vallée Bras du Nord. Photo credit Olivier Lachance, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

La Vallée Secrète – For Your Little Gnomes

A dwarf here and a gnome there. Proudly wearing the green dwarf’s hat, your little ones aged two and up get to embark on a fantastic scavenger hunt. Through the woods, they will follow a path and discover the world of wood fairies and other creatures. Equipped with keys, a map, and a magnifying glass, they move along an age-appropriate course. The goal is to find treasure boxes tied to trees, open them up with the right key, answer the questions and unleash the secret code. Kids must use their logic and observation skills to move along, complete the course and be granted access to the dwarf’s musical show.

 

 

An award-winning family attraction, the Secret Valley is a great way to spend a half-day with and for the little ones. Located only a 20-minute drive from Saint-Raymond’s downtown, the park is popular with day camps and school groups. It boasts a covered picnic area, kid-sized washrooms, and a gift shop. It also hosts turn-key birthday parties. www.valleesecrete.com

 

Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Cycling Path – For the Two-Wheel Travellers

Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf @Philippe Jobin
Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf. Photo credit Philippe Jobin, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

Linking Québec City with Rivière-à-Pierre, the 75 km-long cycling path takes cyclists along rapidly moving rivers, calm lakes, colourful forests and quaint towns. With a very gentle incline, this rail trail offers a fun and meditative way to discover Québec’s authentic countryside, while burning the calories from the decadent food eaten along the trip. Quebec’s Route Verte network is often stated as a best practice case study for cyclo-tourism for the quality of the network, the signage, the services offered along the way and the ability to easily travel across the province on two wheels. The Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Trail is part of the Route Verte #6.

 

Roquemont Craft Brewery – For the Thirsty Explorers

When we first walked into the Restaurant and Brewpub, we were struck by the smell of hop and smoky ribs.  Our little group sat down and ordered a pint of la Singletrack, la Bois Rond, as well as a few other locally brewed cold pints, and appreciated the refined and complex tastes, a testament to the master brewer’s savoir-faire.

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Craft beer for the mountain bikers at heart. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

The menu holds a dozen brews including some seasonal features. On a Friday night, the place was lively and full. With a few of my childhood friends visiting that night, we couldn’t help but comment on how hip the place had become.

The Roquemont is also known to feature pub food with a twist, like house-made sausages and boudin noir (black pudding), a signature poutine with game meat and beer gravy, and divine tartars. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sample the food menu this time.

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Boudin Noir and other delicacies – Photo credit Pascal Cothet
Pascal Cothet - Le Roquemont
A sleek-looking timber frame facade- Photo credit Pascal Cothet

In the parking lot, SUV’s of all sorts boast bike racks well equipped with the latest mountain bikes. Next door, Frenette Bicyclette has set up shop right at the trailhead closest to town and provides a full retail, repair and rental shop.

The Roquemont is also an affordable place to stay and offers 40 newly renovated rooms and all sorts of stay and play packages, which makes the hotel the perfect base-camp for weekend warriors.

Capitalizing on good vibes, good beer, good food and live music, the new management of the Roquemont definitely seems to have found the recipe for success. www.roquemont.com

 

Cheese & French Fries – Saint-Raymond’s Culinary Delights

Saint-Raymond’s very special cheese has already been the subject of its own full blogpost, and I could go on and on about how wonderful it is.

This year I felt so honoured to take my daughter to my grandparents’ old house to check out Alexis de Portneuf‘s boutique store. It was quite unique to see my mom showing my daughter where her bedroom was growing up in the home.

A stone’s throw away from the Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf Rail trail, it is the ideal location to grab some cheese, fresh bread, cold cuts and a craft ice cream cone to make up the best picnic. This place is also perfect for grabbing some edible and non-edible souvenirs from your trip.

The best tip for cheese lovers, the store has a selection of cheeses on special for $1, $2 and $3 daily…Heaven!

 

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My grandparents’ house is now the boutique store
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Sandwiches and cheese boards to go, yes please!
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Vive la crème glacée!

 

Obviously, my post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the other food institution in Saint-Raymond, the infamous Ti-Oui Snack Bar. This place has been around for at least three decades and serves Québec’s absolute best poutine. With loads of squeaky fresh cheddar curds, served over fresh hand-cut fries and a secret recipe gravy (BBQ is my favorite type), a trip to the Portneuf region isn’t complete without a stop at Ti-Oui’s.

While I am cognizant that what made our stay in the Saint-Raymond area so exceptional is the family connections we have in this place and the quality time we spent with our friends, uncles, aunts, parents, and cousins. But as a world traveler, I know for a fact that this area has a lot to offer the explorer in search of an authentic off the beaten path Quebec experience.

I would recommend to anyone considering a trip to this region to hurry up, as it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a preferred travel destination with all the hassles that come with it!

For more information visit: www.saintraymond.ca

I would be happy to provide more trip planning tips to anyone, just fire me a quick email!

Salut, là!

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Carnet de Grimpe: 24 heures au Mont Temple

 

Nous sommes au début du mois d’août 2012. Hervé, mon fiancé, et moi en sommes à notre deuxième année à parcourir les courses classiques des Rocheuses et des montagnes Columbia, à ski, en escalade de glace, en escalade de grandes voies et de voies alpines.

Nous nous régalons à découvrir ce nouveau terrain de jeu et à nous adapter aux aspects qui le rendent si différent des Alpes: nivologie caractérisée par des mètres et des mètres de neige, approche version “chantier” dans la forêt dense, nature plutôt friable du rocher, quasi absence de refuges, éloignement et animaux sauvages; dont les plus encombrants sont de loin les moustiques et les ours grizzlis.

Photo: Thomas Biteau
Belle rencontre! Photo par Thomas Biteau

Nous avons plutôt la forme et l’idée d’ajouter quelques courses d’envergure à notre liste, dont la célèbre Arête Est du Mont Temple près du Lac Louise en Alberta, est tentante.

Le Mont Temple fut le premier sommet de plus de 11 000 pieds (3500m) à être gravit dans le Rocheuses par son arête sud-ouest (voie normale). La voie de l’arête est quant à elle fut gravit en 1934 par O. Steigmaier and H. Wittich. Considérée alors une des voies le plus difficiles du secteur par sa longueur et son exposition, elle perdit un peu en prestige dans le années 1970, avant de connaitre un regain de popularité du à l’inclusion dans la liste des “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America” (50 Ascensions Classiques d’Amérique du Nord). Pouvant être complétée en une (longue) journée, cette voie semble un objectif idéal pour nous, aventuriers du dimanche.

Mont Temple
Impossible de manquer ce sommet imposant sur depuis la route

De plus, elle présente un défi intéressant de par son aspect complet incluant escalade de rocher, déplacement en terrain glaciaire puis sommet à plus de 3500 m et descente à pied par un autre itinéraire. En dessous du niveau technique de plusieurs autres voies que nous avons grimpées dans le Rocheuses et les Alpes, l’exposition de cotation IV n’est toutefois pas à sousestimer.

Cet été, ma grande amie Anne et un copain de longue date, Thomas, ont fait le trajet depuis le Québec pour passer un moment avec nous et se joindre à nos projets de grimpe. Après un séjour dans les Bugaboos, Anne, plutôt adepte de bloc à cette époque, choisit de poursuivre sa route vers Squamish.

Thomas reste avec nous et rapidement nous nous mettons à échafauder notre plan d’ascension du Mont Temple. Par un beau vendredi après-midi, nous prenons la route en direction de Castle Junction et son terrain de camping, ou nous allons tenter de dormir quelques heures avant d’entreprendre la course. Arrivés au camping vers 19 heures, nous sommes rejoints par une autre cordée de copains: Kent et Seb.

Après un repas vite avalé et une minutieuse préparation des sacs à dos, nous nous mettons sous la tente pour quelques heures de repos.

À 1h00 du matin, après avoir vaguement fermé l’oeil, l’alarme sonne. C’est l’heure de vérité. Les trois Français: Thomas, Hervé, Seb, ainsi que Kent et moi-même montons dans notre camion et mettons le cap sur la route du Lac Moraine et le départ de la course, tout en partageant un gruau d’avoine plutôt insipide à même la casserole.

Arrivés au stationnement, il nous faut quelques minutes pour trouver le départ de la sente devant nous mener au départ de l’arête. La nuit est bien noire et nous avions du mal à nous orienter. Sans réel sentier, nous tirons à vue en remontant un couloir d’avalanche abrupte pendant près d’une heure. Nous nous suivons de près en essayant d’être le plus bruyant possible pour signaler notre présence aux grizzlis, généralement nombreux dans le secteur.

la bonne humeur règne dans ce départ nocturne
la bonne humeur règne dans ce départ nocturne

Le talus estinstable et la lueur de nos frontales à peine suffisante pour éclairer le parcours. La pente commence à se redresser d’avantage et nous devons nous aider de nos mains pour passer certains ressauts. Après plusieurs passages un peu techniques, nous savons qu’il est temps de nous encorder. La pénombre est toutefois si profonde qu’aucun de nous n’arrive vraiment à voir si nous sommes au pied de l’arête. Nous décidons de nous arrêter pour faire une pause et attendre les premières lueurs du jour pour réévaluer notre trajectoire.

Il fait froid et, aux petites heures du matin, le sommeil semble vouloir nous rattraper. Un rat a décidé de nous mener la vie dure et s’attaque à nos sacs à dos pour y trouver de la nourriture. Même les cailloux que nous lui jetons ne semblent pas le décourager.

Enfin le ciel s’éclaircit, ce qui nous permet de nous orienter. Après avoir grignoté une maigre barre de céréale nous nous remettons à grimper. Il ne faut pas trop trainer car la route est encore bien longue.

Nous avalons le dénivelé positif plutôt rapidement pendant la matinée, qui est chaude etensoleillée. Nous alternons les passages faciles et succession de vires herbeuses au rocher instable.

Moraine Lake
Une vue qui en vaut la peine. Tout en bas, le lac Moraine
grimpeurs sur l'arête est du Mont Temple
tout là-haut sur l’arête, la vue est imprenable

Puis, nous arrivons au passage où sont concentrées les difficultés techniques de la voie : deux longueurs de 5.7 suivies de quelques longueurs en 5.5 avant de rejoindre la vire médiane de l’arête.

Mont Temple Arête Est
un des passages clé dans du rocher bien pourri

La cordée constituée d’Hervé, Thomas et moi prend les devants. Le rocher friable rend le passage délicat, surtout encordés en flèche où deux personnes secondent le grimpeur de tête, chacune sur une corde indépendante. Le premier doit évidemment s’assurer de ne pas faire tomber de rocher sur la tête du second, juste en dessous.

Puis, Kent prend la tête de la seconde cordée, secondé par Seb. À quelques mètres audessus de la vire, une prise de main casse et Kent fait une chute qui le ramène directement sur la vire dans un fracas de douleur; son pied a percuté la vire en premier lui fracturant la cheville nette.

Je comprends vite en entendant les hurlements qu’un accident s’est produit. Seule au relais suivant et en bout de corde, je suis complètement inutile. Plusieurs minutes s’écoulent et je vois enfin poindre un bout de casque. Kent a réussi, de peine et de misère, à sortir les longueurs clés et à rejoindre notre cordée sur une vire de bonne taille.

Je l’accueille avec grand soulagement, car l’idée d’avoir à effectuer un secours en paroi dans ce rocher de qualité douteuse me semblait peu réjouissante.

Kent a eu de la chance de ne s’en tirer avec une simple blessure à la cheville; aussi encombrante soit-elle, sa vie n’était pas menacée. Nous nous rendons cependant vite à l’évidence que la seule option viable pour Kent est d’appeler les secours du Parc National de Banff. Avec une cheville fracturée, il lui est impossible de compléter l’ascension, puisqu’après l’arête, il faudrait grimper la pente de neige sommitale et entamer une descente de plusieurs heures dansdu terrain instable.

Avec regret, Seb sort sa radio de son sac et appelle les secours.

appel des secours
Allo, l’hélico…Roger 10-4

Notre groupe rejoint la grande vire médiane d’où il est plus facile pour l’hélicoptère de récupérer Kent et Seb. Je dois avouer qu’à ce moment-là, nous souhaitons être évacués par hélico également, ce qui est impossible vue la taille de notre groupe. Puisqu’il reste encore plusieurs heures de clarté et qu’aucun de nous trois n’est en détresse, nous savons que nous devons continuer.

Nous transvidons le contenu des bouteilles d’eau de Seb et Kent dans les nôtres, prenons ce qui leur reste de nourriture et convenons qu’ils iront à l’hôpital de Banff avec notre camion, et qu’ils nous récupéreront ensuite sur le stationnement dans la soirée.

Secoues par l’accident denotre amis mais surtout conscients du temps précieux que l’accident nous a fait perdre, Hervé, Thomas et moi reprenons notre ascension en direction des “Black Towers” aussitôt que nous entendons l’hélico approcher.

Banff SAR
Secours du Parc de Banff à l’approche

Puis, nous voyons la cordée être soulevés de la vire, suspendus par leurs harnais à un long câble, comme deux minuscules araignées, se faire basculer en pleine vitesse au-dessus du vide et redescendre dans la vallée. La vue de l’hélitreuillage est si impressionnante, que l’envie d’être évacués nous passe et nous avons redoublons d’ardeur dans la grimpe.

blacktowers
A l’approche des Black Towers, la section la plus engagée de la course qui vaut bien sa cotation en IV

Les “Black Towers” se révèlent être un cauchemar. Le rocher friable de la vire inférieure semble solide et compact en comparaison. Après plusieurs erreurs de trajectoires et une désescalade de névé exposée, nous nous retrouvons dans l’ombre de la face, un dédale de poussière et de rocher friable qui se dérobe sous nos pieds et n’offre aucun encrage solide pour nos protections. A chaque pas, Hervé nous projette une pluie de rocher en pleine tête.

Essayant tant bien que mal de nous abriter, Thomas et moi sommes aussi inquiets de voir chuter notre premier de cordée que de se faire décapiter par une pierre. Transis de froid, nos bouteilles d’eau complètement à sec, nous commençons à avoir le morale dans les chaussettes, chaussettes qui soit-dit en passant sont trempées depuis notre traversée du névé.

À ce moment, Thomas trouve les mots justes pour décrire les fameuses “Black Tower”; avec un air grave et une mine déconfite, il me regarda et dit avec son accent français: “Les Black Tower, c’est l’enfer sur Terre”. Je suis tout à fait d’accord.

La mine d’Hervé, notre premier de cordée n’est guère plus rassurante. Complètement déshydraté, il nous affirme que si à la fin de la prochaine longueur nous ne sortons pas sur l’arête sommitale, il va jeter l’éponge. Définitivement le plus expérimenté de nous trois, avec un moral d’acier et un instinct remarquable, le fait d’entendre mon cher fiancé jeter l’éponge n’est pas rassurant. Bien que je ne sache pas trop ce qui nous attende si Hervé décide de ne pas continuer :

Est-ce que cela signifie un bivouac dans la voie à 3500m? Une hypothermie assurée et des engelures certaines à mes pieds mouillés? La mort par la faim et la soif ? Je lance ma petite prièrepour qu’il atteigne le sommet de l’arête et la pente de neige sur la face nord.

Hervé fini par rejoindre le sommet de l’arête suivi de peu par Thomas et moi, ragaillardis par l’espoir d’enfin terminer cette course. Quelle n’est pas ma déception quand je vois la distance qui nous sépare encore du sommet du Mont Temple! Vers 20h00, avec près de 15 heures d’ascension, l’idée de marcher en crampons et piolet pendant encore au moins une heure ne me fait pas rêver. De plus, la pente de neige semble plutôt glacée, surplombant les imposants séracs de la face Nord.

Arête Sommitale du Mont Temple
Si près du but…

Armée de mon piolet playmobil, je me maudit de m’accrocher à mes réflexes à l’européenne, avec un sac à dos minimaliste et de l’équipement hyper-léger. Si le poids du sac est un facteur qui peut ralentir le rythme, le climat et l’isolement des Rocheuses Canadienne requiert quelques kilos de matériel supplémentaires pour faire face à des situations d’urgence.

Malgré tout, la traversée de la pente de neige se passe plutôt bien, Hervé et Thomas m’encordent au milieu afin de compenser une chute potentielle due à mes encrages moins qu’optimaux.

Nous atteignons le sommet vers 20h30, sous un ciel d’une beauté ahurissante, fatigués, soulagés et fiers. Sans trop tarder, nous capturons l’instant par quelques photos, enlevons nos crampons et entamons la descente par la voie normale du Mont Temple, un des scrambles les plus longs et engagés du secteur. Nous voulons perdre le plus de dénivelé possible avant la tombée de la nuit, car nous savons que l’itinéraire de descente peut s’avérer difficile à trouver.

sommet du Mont Temple
Au sommet, heureux de ne pas avoir à passer la nuit dans la face!

De retour à l’étage subalpin, en pleine pénombre, nous sommes également de retour en terrain à grizzli. Les autorités du Parc National recommandent de circuler en groupe de quatre ou plus et de rester groupé, sous peine d’amende salée… ou d’une rencontre inopportune.

Malgré l’épuisement, nous finissons la longue descente en chantant et frappant dans nos mains et en espérant que les rangers ont mieux à faire que de patrouiller les sentiers à minuit.

Nous rejoignons le stationnement du Lac Moraine vers minuit et demi. Il n’y aucune âme en vue. Une bonne demi-heure plus tard, affalés les uns sur les autres sur le stationnement, nous entendons finalement le ronronnement caractéristique de notre camion au loin. Seb arrive pourvenir nous chercher!

Rongé par l’inquiétude, il a arpenté la route plusieurs fois pour tenter de nous trouver et était prêt à alerter les secours à la première heure du jour.

Sur le chemin du retour, en finissant les restes de gruau d’avoine insipide laissé la veille tant nous sommes affamés, nous entendons l’alarme sonner; il est1h00 du matin. Nous terminons uneascension qui a durée 24 heures.

Les 24 heures les plus longues de ma vie…

 

October Snow in the Wild Purcells

The Purcell mountains stretch on a north-south axis over approximately 400 km in the southeastern corner of British Columbia.

 

With the Columbia river and the Rocky mountains to the right  and Kootenay Lake to the left, this ancient mountain range has been the local’s centre of attention for many years. It also has recently received world-wide consideration in relation to the  most recent developments to the controversial mega-resort project on Jumbo Glacier, a few kilometres west of Invermere.

 

A land of high spiritual value for the Ktunaxa First Nation as well as a sensitive habitat for grizzly bears, these mountains also represent a very special place for the residents of the valley and beyond: an enclave of relatively untouched wilderness of a surreal and mystical beauty. They also offer the significant hope that the term “public land” still means something here in BC and that capitalism won’t have the last word.

 

My  recent and limited experience in these mountains reveals that winter lives there ten or more months of the year.

 

A Labour Day weekend at Jumbo Hut in a total snow blizzard and an October day hike into Monica Meadows in knee-deep snow make me wonder if summer ever gets invited up there and if the wildlife ever gets to enjoy the warmth of sun-filled days and the sweet taste of chlorophyll between snowfalls. The presence of massive glaciated areas proves how temperatures rarely climb above zero and the massive amount of snow these mountains get coated with.

 

This year, cold and snowy weather has arrived early, just as meteorologists predicted. This is certainly received like a promise to an excellent winter for us, backcountry snow sports enthusiasts.

 

And since all the planets seem to align and lead to our greatest enjoyment, my husband, a few friends and I were able to get out for an early season ski outing to Farnham glacier.

 

I would normally be the one to say that a 500km return trip to do one lap in the backcountry is a little excessive.  However, when it comes to visiting the wild and magical Purcell mountains, even for a few hours, I am the first one to say: Let’s go!

 

Dry road and golden larches at the valley bottom
The mighty and impressive Commander glacier under a fresh layer of snow
Such a bliss to start our ski directly in the alpine and forego the usual bushwhack
A little wind effect towards the top
jumbomountain
Jumbo Mountain: in the clouds and wild forever #Jumbowild

 

DCIM100GOPRO
Summit selfie and deep valleys

Two and a Half Paddlers in the Valhalla Kingdom

There is just no word to describe BC’s Valhalla Provincial Park. The granite spires of the Devils range stand proud and tall over the forest-covered & rolling hills, steep talus, pristine alpine meadows, glacier-fed lakes and deep unpopulated valleys.

With only a few access points up endless kilometres of rough forest service roads, this little enclave in the majestic Selkirk mountains has little to no amenities to serve its adventurous visitors.  It’s most iconic mountain, Mt. Gimli is slowly starting to get more attention from climbers and hikers escaping from the crowds. At its base, a rustic camping site and no other amenities. Most of the year, one can count more white fluffy mountain goats then humans there.

The “Valhalla” are, if not a heaven for warriors killed at war, as suggested in the Norse mythology, a real Eldorado for alpine climbing, with certainly many firsts yet to be completed.

Mt Gimli Valhalla
Mount Gimli and the classical South Ridge route during our first visit to the Park in 2011

From those high peaks and the thin remnants of ancient glaciers flows pure water, into raging creeks, down thick and impenetrable forest, into steep thalweg, down high drops creating impressive waterfalls and, finally, into the deep turquoise of Slocan Lake. The West side of Lake, as the locals refer to it; the wild side of this 40-kilometre long lake.

If the mineral world up high is inhospitable to the living, down below, by the lake, plants & creatures thrive. Crystal water, home to thousands of fish, bushes fat and heavy with berries and other delicacies to the animal reign.

The quietness and the beauty are not quite disturbed by the few motorboats circling around on hot summer afternoons. Not yet….but certainly soon.

The lake is calling. A canoe is the perfect vessel to explore it. At the marina in Silverton, one of the few settlements on the East side of the lake, we get ready for our 3-day paddle. Filled with food, a shelter, some clothes, our canoe is ready for its passengers. The lake is renowned for unexpected weather changes and wind gusts. We would like to get across quickly.

Slocanfeature1
Absolute cuteness moment in this stunning nature

But only after a few strides, the charm operates. We all relax and tune ourselves to the lake’s pace.

For us, humble mountaineers, being on the water is unusual, but not completely foreign. For now we enjoy letting the canoe carry our heavy load…and our 15-kg 3-year old. Some have had the same brilliant idea…we are not the only family with small children on the water.

DCIM100GOPRO
My crew in its new environment

We soon reach the wild side and the first sandy beach where we enjoy our first of many daily swims. Inviting beaches are plentiful which makes it easy to find the privacy we want to lay in the sun and enjoy our the moment in peace. For those who prefer, company is also easy to find in July and August.

Slocanlog
There, far from any distraction, quality family time just happens

We set up our first camp next to the freezing cold Nemo creek, directly on the sand. Tent pads, food cache, fire rings and an outhouse are also available a few metres away in the forest, sheltered from the wind. The evening is beautiful and warm. After a late afternoon swim, we enjoy a simple and tasty meal together, make a fire and roast some marshmallows.

Slocanevatente
Our home for the night

The next morning, after a restful night and a polar bear dip in the creek, we enjoy a hearty breakfast before exploring the land around us. A good trail is set along the creek and we are able to observe the waterfalls. The moss on the ground, the trees and the oversized ferns really add something magical to this surreal nature. We don’t hike the whole trail as we don’t have our child carrier…and the lake awaits.

Slocan-merefille
Just soaking it all up

That day we paddle, slowly but steadily, sometimes in silence, sometimes to the sound of our own songs and laughter. Our daughter sleeps in a small cave we made in the canoe with thermarests. She rests, recharges her batteries. We paddle in peace and avoid stopping not to wake her up. The sun is hot but the cool of the lake tempers the air and makes it very comfortable. The heat must be almost unbearable ashore, we think.

slocannap
A restful nap, gently rocked by the motion of the boat and steady sound of the paddles diving in the water

We reach Evans creek by the middle of the afternoon and set up camp for our second night. Two young guys have already set camp near us on the beach. Later, around the campfire, we learn that they’ve been traversing the park by its ridgeline for over a week. They are two 23-year old local twin brothers. Evans Creek is their finish point and their father is picking them up with his power boat. “They have been fishing and hunting in the area since they were kids”, say their dad. There are no climbers, per say…but certainly hardcore adventurers…They ask us about climbing, what gear we use, how heavy our pack is when we climb and such.

They tell us that around Lake Beatrice, the bush was so thick and they were so tired they built a raft to cross the lake as they didn’t want to bushwack their way around it…Their mom sent their dad to pick them up with bacon, eggs and potatoes that they eat with a lot of appetite. Their appetite for food certainly equals their appetite for adventure.

That night, as we get ready to go to sleep, a huge thunderstorm hits us. Our little one is so tired from her day of swimming and being outdoors in the sun, she drifts off to sleep while the wind gusts shake our small tent and the thunder rages around us…

On the second morning, we feel we now have our camping routine well established. It doesn’t take us long to be all packed up and ready to go. Too bad this is our last day. We are really enjoying the simplicity of living with only what our canoe contains.

Slocan City, our final destination, is only a few kilometres away. We know we can reach it in very little time. Eva still finds the opportunity to have one last restful nap in the canoe. On the way, we take time to make a swim stop, jump off rocks and make the delight and pleasure of this trip last a little longer.

Slocanfeature2
Water so clear we can see the texture of the lake’s bottom

In the Valhalla Kingdom we will be back, by land. On this lake we will be back, as it is the perfect summer journey to enjoy with the family and certainly how we like to experience lake life.