Monday, April 10, 2017

The blissful north Shore of Quebec

I went to the Quebec North Shore for the first time in July 2015. I was up there for work; we had a team of scientists and students collecting data concerning an invasive species, the spruce budworm. The spruce budworm is a bug that eats the needles and destroys most pine and spruce trees. The job was great as we spent our days outside and we moved around a lot to sample different parts of the forest. While driving along the ‘’Toulnustouc’’, a well-traveled logging road, I noticed the massive cliffs that were for the most part still unclimbed. These walls, to me, made most climbing areas established in Quebec look like nothing interesting. I had brought my gear and I got to climb a bit. But in the end I only climbed what was already established. Mostly we worked hard and spent our week-ends fishing.  At the end of the summer, I left the untouched rock as it was and set off from the north shore with this feeling of unfinished business.

The guys from the team called me again this year and asked if I was up for more work. I gladly accepted. The guys there are amazing people and I knew I was in it for some fun. They also told me that they had started climbing and wanted me to bring my trad rack. Hugues, the field manager, was especially keen on pushing his limits and trying something he had never done before. As the days passed we looked at every cliff trying to find a big project. We were looking to establish our first multi-pitch trad route. The cliff we chose sits next to the 37th km of the “Toulnoustouc” road. It is a slightly slabby face which stands 95 meters high. We took a few pictures from the road to help us pick out the perfect line. From there on we started putting our skills to the test. We spent days placing and taking out gear on single pitch routes, we went over our anchor building skills as well as bailing strategies. We expected the line to be fairly easy but we really had no idea if it would go smooth the whole way up.  For Hugues, it was going to be a first of many things. We had to go over a lot of big wall climbing knowledge to make sure everything we did was 100% safe. It didn’t matter how fast we were as long as we were in control. I felt a little nervous at the start of the summer, but as the days went on I became very confident we could pull it off.

On the morning of the 24Th we both had a big breakfast including eggs, bacon, potatoes and coffee.  I had chosen a special set of nuts from my dad’s old rack that I was ready to abandon up there in case of an emergency rap.  I threw them in the bottom of my backpack. We drove up the road with all the excitement in the world. It might not have been the most amazing line out there but it sure felt like it. We parked the car by the side of the road, racked up and started scrambling up the boulders towards the base of the wall. As I started up the crack we had chosen I felt confident and happy because the line felt just as easy and smooth as I expected it to be.  The only annoyance was the lichen that covered both sides of the fissure.  After about 30 meters of easy climbing we set up an anchor on a tiny ledge with a few trees growing on the bit of flat rock. From there we decided to modify the original idea and follow an attractive crack going leftwards. The challenge was the section between our anchor and the start of the crack. I placed only one little piece of gear and pushed through a good section of face climbing still comfortably under our limit. We judged it fine to run it out before placing my next piece. The crack itself was pretty similar to the one in the first pitch; covered in lichen, shallow and full of dirt, but at least the view was getting better. As I started to set up my anchor from the top of the 2nd pitch, Hugues told me his aunt named Muriel had passed away the previous morning. There was something special about what we were doing. We felt privileged to be up there with such a beautiful setting. We were alone surrounded by kilometers of forest. I am sure she would have been super happy to hear of our climb that day.

So as Hugues followed his way up I asked him; what do you think about naming the route after her. He smiled and said that was a great idea!
As we got up the top of the third pitch filled with pride we screamed our victory towards the valley in honour of Muriel!

It was the perfect project for the time and skills we had. I am looking forward to next year’s goals already. We graded the climb 5.7 and hope she will get a bit of traffic in the years to come.

Vincent Kneeshaw