Sunday, August 26, 2012

Camping in ZEC Lavigne, firebuilding for fun and profit!

 To be honest, there was no profit to be made in fire building. Although useful and entertaining, it was not a ready source of income. This was the textual equivalent of screaming the word sex in a crowded room to get everyone’s attention. Clearly, if you are reading this, it may have worked!

This three day excursion was a physically demanding and challenging proposition: an 8.4km hike to the campground with everything carried on our backs. It was a great way to get back to nature, giving us direct access to vistas often missed by car and ATV drivers because of the speeds involved in their journeys.

The roads were clearly not designed for human traffic. These dirt roads were rock-strewn, the hills steep and they climbed fast. No effort was made to make off ramps or shoulders. We were lucky enough not to travel at night as vehicle traffic was fairly constant. Good news for us: the weather played in our favor. Although a few drops did fall, it ended quickly, leaving us not the worse for wear. We were privileged to see some great views of the rolling hills and a couple of lakes, making the hike in well worth it.


The camp site was a large and fairly well maintained area, surrounded by trees and far enough away from the main access road to make visitors easily noticeable. We had ready access to firewood (of the five finger discount variety) and lake water which we drank with no ill effects (with minimal filtering). A picnic table was available, as well as a metal garbage can with lid. There was enough flat ground to set up at least 4 small tents. We only had two, therefore leaving a lot of room for a very large fire pit. Bathroom facilities were of the do it yourself variety. Thankfully, gardening trowels had been brought. We learned later that this campground is used as a staging area for fishing trips on Bouchard Lake. There was a fair bit of garbage lying about. As an afterthought, we should have kept the empty beer cans for cash.

One of the many pleasant surprises about this ZEC was the large number of hiking trails in and around the area where we were. We actually managed to get some hiking done on day two, travelling back to lac sauvage, an area disturbingly close to the start of our adventure, on a far more direct route (although more dangerous to travel). The views on the lake and the brook leading to it from the path’s start were great. It was a worthy way to spend a morning.

Trail to Lac Sauvage

The rest of our time was spent doing camp chores, which mostly involved prepping fire wood and maintaining the fire. Getting dry dead wood proved to be a challenge, but nothing a group of determined men couldn’t handle. We managed to procure and baton a good quantity of wood, which allowed us to cook and keep the cold at bay.

How to split logs with a knife

And it did get cold. The second night in was colder than the mean seasonal averages. A pair of long johns would have been great to have. I’ll try to remember for next time. Although I have an excellent sleeping bag, a Marco by Asolo, it does tend to have a problem with colder temperature. I would define that as anything below 5 degrees Celsius. This is spot on with the product description, to my complete amazement.

 Fire building was a bit of a challenge. The perfect deadwood, still standing, eluded us all week-end. We were force to resort to birch bark and pine boughs to get the heat going enough to dry out our logs. It did work, but Friday night was a long battle to get the fire going, delaying supper for far too long for three very hungry campers. Regardless, it was good practice in Firecraft.

After Saturday night’s heavy cold and heavier fire (we actually got the flames up to 11 feet at one point), it became easy to cook the morning’s breakfast on the remaining hot coals. Needless to say, it took a lot of water to put the thing out before we left.

Fire Frenzy for the last night

The hike back to “civilization” was not an easy one. In a rush to get back, I did not pace myself enough, needing longer breaks along the way. My handy tripod stool was used, helping to take a load off my (at that point) very sore feet. We did stop off a few times to snap some pictures and take our packs off, however, we managed to do the trek back in an hour less than the trip in. This should become a yearly event for our group. We all enjoyed it a great deal, testing ourselves and learning a great deal about ourselves along the way. I feel that most people could benefit from week-ends like this, getting back in touch with a lost part of our collective roots as settlers and explorers. Learning to work with nature again instead of ignoring it from the relative safety of our towns and cities is something that everyone should try and do.

Zen night in nature
Gear review!

While on the subject of gear, this was my 3rd outing with my Eureka bella coola 3. I feel that it is an excellent option for backpacking. Its specs mean that even taller folks can get in comfortably, even with two large packs. Remember to always use a simple formula when shopping for tents: reported size -1. So, my bella coola 3 is really a 2 person tent.

 I have also had the opportunity to confirm my hypothesis concerning my MSR pocket rocket: it is not designed to work with my MSI bugaboo. We had another incident while boiling potatoes… It was grim. Several Bothans died. Seriously though, the main cook pot is too large for the pocket rocket. I’ll use my pinnacle dualist instead next time.

 The final piece of gear I’ve used and recommend is the Neoair trekker by Thermarest. I have some back problems. Sleeping on this mat actually helped, something my oversized and expensive bed at home fails to deliver. The Neoair does have two drawbacks: the price and the noise it makes when moving on it. Although less noisy than the previous version, it’s still pretty annoying. My “roommate” said it wasn’t that bad. Then again, it wasn’t his ear on the damned thing. Still, great comfort if you can spare the cash.

Friday, August 10, 2012

There and back again, a hobbit’s tale – Or the end of sentier des crêtes.

Regardless of Cedric’s heavy capillary endowments and large appetite, this was truly the most challenging hike yet.  We were faced with a hard uphill journey for the initial part, but the views really were the best yet, allowing me to postulate that there is a proportional relationship between physical effort and quality of the views from the top… So without further ado, here’s our review of the last part in this trilogy.

First, you need to know this: if you begin this stretch of the hike from Orford’s parking lot, you’ll need to ask someone for assistance because there are no signs leading you to where you need to go*. After finding our way to the foot of the correct ski slope (thanks to a helpful grounds keeper) we began the long journey to the top. Please note that this is not a gradual climb to the top. There is no serpentine trail heading progressively to your goal. This is straight upwards, all the way to the top. The only real plateau was halfway up and had a collection of picnic tables. That was it for an organized rest area on the way to the top. Needless to say, a fair number of trees were painted yellow on this hike.

Essentially, you are looking at over 500 meters of elevation over a fairly short run. As you progress through untended brush (the slope we travelled had not been mowed since the previous fall), you only need to turn around to see progressively more impressive vistas and views of the eastern townships. Near the end of this trail, you will finally see a sign indicating that the sentier des crêtes starts here. We suggest you hold that though and finish Orford first.

What you’ll see at the top is some of the best views of the eastern townships that we had observed to date. It was well worth the strain. Especially getting a picture of Cedric doing a most excellent duck face. Good news: the top of orford has both bathrooms and garbage cans! Unfortunately, it also has chairlifts. This meant that we were not surrounded by fellow travelers but mostly by tourist. Still, they were nice (looking).

                                                 The man himself, doing the best high elevation duck face in history.

After wasting some time up there taking pictures and filming and attending other biological imperatives, we made our way back down to the wooded entrance of Sentier des crêtes; trading butterflies for horseflies in the process. The hike was even more technical then on the first stretch of this trail. Indeed, what it was lacking in climbing it made up for in tight spaces, rocky outcrops and difficult terrain. The vistas were beautiful: some mossy areas looked untouched by man. There were regular breaks in the dense tree cover through which we could see the impossible-seeming hill we had just climbed up and down. Later on, we had breath taking views of the surrounding region, seeing Sutton and other nearby hills.

We never actually made it back to pic de l’ours. Family obligations forced us to leave earlier. We estimate we were a full kilometer away when we stopped off for lunch. Once again, a hot meal was on the menu. A passing hiker actually wished us bon appétit. After a short hammock break on the side of the trail, we made our way back down to the parking lot.

Overall, this was an exceptional day and an awesome adventure. Our friendly oversized hobbit says we should make this a yearly event. I tend to agree. Although the hike was difficult at times, it was well worth the effort. This pretty much ended our summer hike series. Next time, we will regail you with stories from mont st-hilaire and a camping trip in the lanaudière region of Québec. Stay tuned, dear readers for merriment and more copy-infringing jokes!

*Since you’re asking nicely, just go to the furthest slope on the right. You’re welcome.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sentier des crêtes, vers le pic de l’ours, Parc National du mont Orford

     What is it with us and long hikes on high humidity days? I assume I’ll figure it out some day. In the meantime, here is a brief overview of an exceptional adventure. For all intents and purposes, this was my first difficult hike, ever. This proved both very challenging physically and helped create a great sense of accomplishment, although we only actually went on half of the sentier des crêtes.
     The path is reached by going to the community center parking lot in the Orford National park. It is a fairly simple drive to it from anywhere in southern Quebec. Afterwards, a mere kilometre and a half on bike path number nine separates you from the natural beauty of this trail.

     The path itself is very technical. By that I mean rocky, uneven and often times, steep and narrow. The higher reaches of the trail are attained fairly quickly and some great viewpoints are swiftly reached. The suggested time for that section of the trail is five hours. This may not apply to you if, like us, you enjoy taking your time.
  The first point of interest on this trail has no name and is located over 500 meters in elevation. It is located 125 meters off the path and is well worth the small detour. You will reach an excellent viewpoint, overlooking Stukely Lake. You’ll see nearby hills and get a distinct feeling that the view never ends. It only gets better from there.
     The next major stop, called Rocher fendu provides 270 degrees of pure bliss and relatively stable ground to enjoy it. We stopped here for several minutes, filming, taking pictures and generally enjoying the heck out of the place. At this point, a drop leads you across a narrow pass and over to the next unnamed viewpoint. From there, a difficult hike up leads you over to the pic de l’ours. The views were excellent and the breeze was very welcome, as the wind was almost absent from the difficult stretches of uphill trekking.
     Once again, there were no garbage cans to collect trash, but people here were better at picking up after themselves. We were able to hang our hammocks in a grassy knoll bellow the large rock formation that gives the place its name. That area was sheltered enough that we could use our cooking gear safely, and the ground was level enough that no spillage actually occurred, this time.

     Since this hike didn’t have an elevator at the end, we had to travel back. It was a long way down. Needless to say, we were pretty tired near the end. Out came the hammocks again, for a well needed rest. I cannot describe the pure enjoyment of using a hammock on a long hike to get some rest. I strongly suggest it.Overall, this was an amazing experience. Next time: mont Orford itself, over 800 meters tall. Until next time, farewell and stay safe on your own adventures.