We’re back from our big backcountry hike and I know you’re all dying to know if it was a success. Ish.
To recap: Fahbio and I took four of our kids and two extra teens on a 42 kilometre/26 mile hike in a provincial park in Quebec. The trail follows the Saguenay Fjord, home of the beluga whale. And moose. And bear.
For five days we were to hike from hut to hut, carrying all our food and gear with us. Our youngest hiker was five years old. Most people do this walk in three days but we decided to slow it down. Our planned distances were roughly 3 km/2 mi (day 1), 16 km/10 mi (day 2), 0 km (day 3), 13 km/8 mi (day 4) and 10 km/6 mi (day 5).
The first 3 km/2 mi of the trail are relatively wide and can be traversed by bike or jogging stroller. At the 3 km mark, there is a beluga viewing platform. In July and August, belugas can be spotted about 50% of the time. We were lucky to see lots of whales. We walked a bit further on and settled into our refuge. The refuges are basic but beautiful. Each refuge can accommodate 12 people in 6 rooms. The main living area has tables and chairs for 12, a wood stove, a large screened-in area and several balconies with stunning views over the fjord. No electricity. No running water. No bathroom.
We had worried about bugs and rodents but the refuges were spotless. There was a clean outhouse and a water point. It is important to treat the water so we used a filter.
It was the middle of July but we were the only inhabitants at the refuge. The boys each had their own room, as did Paris. That night we experienced a tremendous rain storm with weird howling wind that made me think there was a tornado coming through. I was SO thankful that we weren’t tent camping!
We left late which we knew was a mistake even as we were making it. The trail is classified as “difficult” and boy is it ever. The terrain is like a bag of Bits & Bites: there are only a few ingredients but every handful is a different taste sensation depending on how the ingredients combine. Steep Up. Steep Down. Roots. Bugs. Standing Water. Rushing Water. Mud. Wooden Stairs. Boulders.
We hiked strenuously for 12 hours! We stopped briefly for lunch, to catch our breath, to filter stream water we found along the way. We were so lucky that the weather was cool. I hiked the entire 15 km/9 mi wearing a thin Icebreaker wool sweater over my t-shirt and a thin Icebreaker wool beanie. That helped minimize bug bites although we were surprised to find that there were still some black flies so late in the season. Black flies are relentless and bite around the ears and nape of the neck. No sweater or beanie will protect you from those suckers.
So, yes, it took us 12 hours to hike 15.4 km/9.5 mi. The reasons:
- We were loaded with heavy packs.
- We were hiking in a group.
- We had young children with us.
- We had to stop to filter water, etc.
- We got lost a few times*.
- The terrain was a bitch.
*The trail map sucks. It is a map of the whole provincial park with the trail included as one line on the map. There is no other trail map. The map is not at all adequate. In terms of trail markers, some sections are very well marked, others are not.
Most of the trail was about a foot wide and involved lots of grappling and ducking. There is no way that you could pass someone of that trail without knowing it. Yet, we had the scary experience, not once, not twice, but THREE times in one day that the people that had gone ahead on the trail were suddenly behind us because they had taken a wrong piste.
We saw many, many, many moose droppings. We also saw bear scat four times. That made us start belting out the show tunes and luckily the bears weren’t Broadway fans.
We hiked over 15 km/9 mi and with the exception of a section of about 2 km/1 mi where the trail suddenly disgorges you on a dirt road in a village, for a super-steep, sunny and yet blissfully non-bushwhacking portion, we saw not one single person. We hiked that trail in the middle of high season and saw no-one!
We got to our refuge around 9 pm, just as the sun was waning and the parents were getting scared out of their wits about the prospect sitting on a dark trail all night. Again, we were the only inhabitants at the refuge.
I arrived at the refuge humbled by the hike but more by the kids’ spirit. Each and every one of them rose to the challenge with no complaining (some intermittent crying by the five year old), with a spirit of cooperation, with smiles, with encouraging words. Paris and Onlyboy carried Lastborn’s pack the last 5 km; Venice insisted on carrying her own pack; Friend#1 forged on with terrible blisters; Friend#2 forged on with terrible chaffing.
This was to be our no-walking day. Which was good because even the nine-year old was walking like she was ten times her age. I loved this refuge because of the outdoor space. Here the outhouse was 100 metres/100 yards from the refuge. Another 100 m/yd further brought you to a crossroads. At the intersection, you could either hike back to Baie Ste Marguerite, hike further on to the next refuge, or you could just sit on the bridge over the rushing stream and enjoy life. On Day 3, we chose Door #3. This was our water source.
We also spent Day #3 wondering about Day #4. Fabhio had consulted the useless map and thought that we would be in for major altitude tomorrow. Major altitude + Young Hikers = Major Attitude :-0 JK. Those kids had 0 attitude but we knew that they were hurting. We changed plans a few times, each time sitting on our decision for an hour before locking it in. In the end, we decided to not hike on Day #4 and then on Day #5, to walk back 5 km/3 mi to be rescued by Friend#1’s parents. Friend#1’s mama called the park to change our refuge reservation. I was expecting everyone to lick their wounds and feel like they had failed in what we set out to accomplish.
In reality, people were so relieved to be done that everyone just had a magical time. Onlyboy said that he had wanted to have a great time in the wilderness with his buddies so he didn’t care if they were walking or just hanging out. The kids spent the day filtering water, washing dishes in the stream, playing cards, frolicking at the beach, eating Moon Cheese.
We knew that the refuge was fully booked for the night so we waited to find out who our 5 companions would be. Late afternoon brought two women. They were shocked to hear that we had done the walk with the kids and all our “stock”. A while later, the Three Young Bucks from Wild arrived. Not really but you know what I mean. They had decided to hike from the trailhead (not stopping at the 3 km refuge). They were shocked to find that it had taken them 6 hours to hike 18 km/11 mi.
We stayed put and put Day #3 on a loop so we could enjoy it all over again.
We packed up, hiked back 5 km/3 mi and waited for our ride. As we arrived in the parking lot, it started raining. Perfect ending to a perfect trip.