Friday, 20 September 2013

Parc national de la Gaspésie

Not even one week after stating my goal to become more outdoorsy, I went and made a step towards achieving just that. Along with some other assistants, I was invited to join a trip last weekend to the Gaspésie National Park; more specifically, to hike the Chic Choc Mountains, which mark the northernmost point of the International Appalachian Trail. The park is four hours' drive east of Rimouski, but seemed longer, somehow; towns that I'd hitherto considered to be neighbours were so far apart from each other. People aren't kidding when they say distance is a totally different concept in Canada.

Actually, I was this close to saying no to the trip. For one thing, me - a girl who grew up in The Fens - hiking mountains? You're having a laugh! I have never owned a pair of walking boots, nor were they exactly on my priority shopping list when I arrived here. Also, I wanted to spend the weekend in Rimouski to get some errands done and to be fresh and ready for my first week at school. But I also sensed, somewhat, that if I didn't go on the trip I would feel some regret.

We arrived at the campsite on Friday. The scenery was already very atmospheric and evocative of Twin Peaks (other people said Twilight, also a fair comparison). And I saw chipmunks scurrying about here and there!

On Saturday, the original plan had been to hike Mont Albert, but seeing as it had rained heavily the night before, this was deemed unsafe and we went up Mont Olivine instead. It's smaller by about 500m, but to be frank, that was already more than enough for me. As I ascended the steep mountain with some of my more sprightly companions zooming ahead of me, at times I wondered if I should have given my parents my insurance policy details because it felt quite likely this was where I would meet my end. To keep my spirits up, I hummed the very appropriate 'Land of the Silver Birch' to myself, a song I'd learnt all those years ago at Brownies. Here are some photos from the way up:

My poor trainers will never forgive me (this is before the muddiest part of the trail)

The route was neverending and I fell over a couple of times, plus it rained a lot, but the view was ultimately worth the trouble. It was mistier than we'd hoped for, but still "malade" ("sick") as the guides kept saying.

After that, we relaxed in a cabin for lunch, then it was time for the inevitable descent. In some ways it was an ample reward for the way up there, as we saw some more striking scenery. In other ways, though, it was even worse than the way up; treading downwards over slippery rocks, being sprayed with mud, and getting lost in infinite forest at dusk while it rained heavily were not exactly highlights of the weekend. By the time we got back to the campsite, I felt like bursting into tears. The initial high of reaching the top of the mountain had long since worn off and I hadn't brought many extra dry clothes with me, so a miserable evening looked to be in store. But then we ate a really nice dinner, sat by the fire and played card games, which had me going to bed in a much better mood.

Lac au Diable, at the foot of Mont Olivine

The next day was a lot more chilled out, which I was grateful for. We took a bus trip across the park - it's huge, the previous day we'd only hiked a tiny, tiny part of it! - to Lac aux Américains. The weather was much nicer that day, which made the water so clear and beautiful.

As my friend Vindya pointed out when we arrived back in Rimouski, this was the first time that we would be coming back there as our home. For this reason, I'm really glad that I decided to go in the end, as I think it finally helped me settle in if only by relativity; for one thing, it really made me appreciate my bed. It was also great to be able to just chuck all my dirty clothes into the machine as soon as I got home, a far cry from last year at university when I would have to let them accumulate enough to justify spending £3.20 on washing and drying (as well as dragging it down three flights of stairs to the laundry room).

I loved being in nature, but I had been right: hiking is really, really not for me. I'm glad that I gave it a go, though, because now I have solid reasoning about what I like and dislike. And it paves the way for trying other new things!

A week has passed since I went on that trip - I have been doing some work, I promise! I will elaborate on that soon.