Monday, June 6, 2016
After our first cozy night in the EXP cabin, we woke up, threw on clothes and headed to the visitor center to check in. We also had some questions about the park map and the hiking trails.
Before our road trip to Canada, I had printed out a trail map and descriptions of all the hikes in Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier. I was prepared ahead of time. And I had decided that we should hike Les Loups, an 11 km hike described in the trail guide as "Breathtaking! See the most striking fractures of the Laurentides massif and the spectacular Jacques-Cartier and Sautauriski valleys." With a 447 meter (1,467 feet!) elevation change, this hike was going to be a challenge, but the breathtaking spectacular views sounded like a pretty good payoff.
So imagine my confusion when we arrived at the park and looked at the map in our cabin. Les Loups was not on the map. Nor were many of the other trails. Nor was the park road past the visitor center. Actually, over half the park wasn't even on the map. Huh?
The map in our cabin was the WINTER map. No problem, I thought. It's May. We just had to get a copy of the spring map. They obviously forgot to switch out the winter map in the cabin with the current map. WRONG. Turns out May is still winter in Canada. And in winter, the majority of Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier is closed or inaccessible. Only the first 10 km of the 33 km park road are open. I suppose you could get to the rest of the park on foot...if you had snowshoes or skis. To get to Les Loups, you'd need to walk 6 km over three feet of snowpack just to get to the trailhead. Which would turn our 11 km hike into a 23 km hike. (Over 14 miles, more than half of it spent just getting to and from the trailhead.)
The kind and informative (and English-speaking!) girl in the visitor center explained the trail situation to us. (As soon as she said the thing about snowshoes, I was like "Uhhh, this is beyond my skill set...") She recommended several winter hikes with trailheads accessible from the visitor center. We decided to hike Les Cascades, a 4 km trail described as "Cool sounds and an exhilarating visual experience await you on this trail running next to a cascading brook." It was a short hike, so we opted not to rent crampons from the visitors center. Note to self: Next time rent the crampons!
But first, we headed back to the cabin to enjoy a relaxing morning and brunch feast before packing our gear for the trail.
I've been trying to pack lighter for hikes, and camera gear is always the biggest burden. I popped a lens on my camera, telling myself, "You don't need a zoom lens for this hike - it's not like you're going to see a moose." Two minutes later, Larry pulled the car over when he spotted a moose standing in a marshy area about 30-40 feet from the park road! I've seen three moose in my lifetime over two trips to Wyoming, but they were always much further away. This guy (actually it was a female) was practically right next to the car! I leaned out the window and snapped a pic, lamenting not having my zoom lens on my camera! Surefire way to see wildlife - have the wrong lens.
Larry was worried about being pulled over on a blind curve, so he headed up the road to turn the car around. I wasn't concerned that the moose would move - she seemed pretty content where she was. I swapped lenses as we drove back and scanned the river on the other side of the road. Sure enough...was that the moose swimming? It was! She had left the marshy area where she was grazing, crossed the road, and started swimming across the river while we were turning the car around.
It was a pretty amazing thing to see. Our raft guide in Wyoming had told us that moose are actually aquatic animals (who knew?) and they're most often spotted in rivers. Glad I listened to him and had my eyes on the river, otherwise we would've driven right by. She moose-paddled across and when she got to the the other side, stood up and shook off like a dog. Witnessing a moose swim across a river, was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
But on to the hike. It was a fun, but snowy/icy trek through the woods. The trails in the park are used by winter sports enthusiasts, and by May, the trails had been snowshoed and skied over and compacted and there was a solid 24-36" of snowpack beneath our feet. For the most part, the snow on the trails was very hard...except for the occasional spot where it wasn't and you'd sink in the snow up to your knees. I fully expected to bite it/break a leg during the entire hike and was lamenting not renting the crampons, but amazingly I made it through without falling on my arse once. I was very thankful for my trekking poles, fleece-lined leggings, and neon red jacket - perhaps three of the best pieces of gear I own, particularly for winter hiking. I was also glad we had chosen a shorter trail, because hiking on ice is much more technical and takes a lot more muscles and concentration than usual.
Back at the cabin we had a post-hike snack, relaxed, and read before cooking dinner. PSA: Canadian veggie dogs are terrible.
We ended the day with a fire in the stove before crawling into our sleeping bags for another cozy night in the cabin.