My wife and I went hiking this morning: nothing special, just an out-of-the-way trek on an under-used trail on the Sutton Mountain network that takes you to the summit of Mt. Echo, Quebec.
We got to talking, on the way down, about vacations we’d like to take in the future. For some reason, my mind kept gravitating to hiking vacations: back to Northern Spain and the impressive Picos de Europa mountains, where you can hike in the morning and enjoy a beachside sun-soak in the afternoon (the Atlantic Ocean is visible from the mountain trails).
Picos de Europa, Spain, September 2008
Or back to Switzerland – we might return to the Ticino region in southern Switzerland, the area bordering Italy. Oh, you didn’t know some Swiss speak Italian? These southerners also have a passion for all things “cowboy”, ten-gallon Stetsons, horses and rodeos.
As we descended and compared notes, Naomi said, “One thing’s for sure, I won’t be going backpacking anymore!”
Ah yes, backpacking. Our last backpacking adventure took place in 2006 when Naomi and I, along with son Elan and girlfriend Stephanie packed our gear into the truck of our car and headed off to Killarney Provincial Park, over nine hours distance from Montreal and located about 90 km. south of Sudbury, Ontario, just off of Georgian Bay.
Funny how memories of this trip came rushing back this morning as we made the gentle ascent up the trail, under the thick green canopy of the leaves. The trip was to take the better part of a week and we had reserved campsites about 20 km. or so apart, hiking in a counter clockwise semi-circle.
Killarney is famous, if you didn’t know, as a source of great inspiration to Canada’s famous Group of Seven painters and once you’re there it’s not hard to see why. Towering quartz bluffs hover over picturesque lakes; there are stately ancient pine trees, some magnificently stunted by the elements – natural bonsai.
Here’s something that I found on the Internet:
“The park’s most striking feature is a series of rock ridges consisting mostly of white quartzite. These large, rounded hills are the remains of the La Cloche range, a ring of Precambrian mountains that once towered higher than the present-day Rockies.” —http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/killarney-provincial-park/
I’m not sure how much each of us was carrying in our packs. Elan, being the strongest, obviously carried more than his share of the weight and, naturally, the weight we had to carry did diminish a little with each meal. Still, the trek took its toll. We had to endure biblically-inspired rainstorms for a couple of days; our boots never really dried out. One of the most outstanding sights there, a narrow passageway carved between two towering cliffs was experienced in a maelstrom of driving wind and rain. “Holy shit,” I thought, as I tried to put one foot after another on the slick rock face without killing myself, “there’s no ‘getting-out-of-here’ here.”
Later in the week, there were many hazardous climbs straight up the side of a rock face with very little to hold onto. Scores of cairns had been set up on the cliff tops to aid the hiker find his or her way. Otherwise…
Naturally, arriving at our daily campsite was a great, great joy. Hurray! WE’RE HERE!
Twenty kilometers may not seem long but I’m sure that our progress was a snail’s pace 1-2 km. per hour at some points and we did have to stop for lunch and water breaks on occasion, didn’t we? And to enjoy the view as well, no?
On the second to last day, Naomi was so bushed I had to literally push-and-pull her off a tree while she tears rolled down her cheeks. I think that the Beatles songs that I sang non-stop also raised her spirits. (Or were they the cause for her tears?) And by the way, where were Elan and Stephanie?
“That’s the last backpacking trip I’m ever taking,” she said on more than one occasion. (A hiking trip two years later in the Spanish Pyrenees didn’t count because we slept in mountain refuges and didn’t have to carry our own tent or food.)
Still, along the way, we walked through prehistoric forests where you could easily imagine a dinosaur peeking out from behind a giant tree. The silence and majesty, and downright age of some of these forests transcends what we are used to, even in Quebec or Northern Vermont. The quartzite cliff tops lent you views that could take your breath away. I swam in an aquamarine-coloured lake where you could see straight to the bottom. Come out of that to a crackling fire and delicious Chinese food that Naomi and Elan had prepared – well, what more could you ask for?
The trip was obviously well worth the daily struggle and exhaustion (I remember eating certain edible flowers and leaves near the end just to give me some energy and not bear the indignity of collapsing in front of everyone). The only real negative was me deciding on Day 2 to take an alternate route, get lost, and have an incensed Elan descend from the hill-top camp that the other three had made without me, to finally find me, and lead me back, shame-faced and sheepish, tail between my legs. As soon as I arrived and had apologized (or if my memory has failed me, I do apologize now, Elan, Naomi and Stephanie!) another terrible storm hit us. Naomi and I crawled into our wind-and-rain lashed tent and munched on wet bread.
The next day was much, much better.