Dipping our toe into the wilderness was a fun experience at Mont Tremblant National Park on our road trip through Quebec. The park is a playground for nature lovers, where beginners can try out new activities and the more experienced can explore the wilder sectors of the park.
Hiking for views over Lac Monroe
We started with a gentle hike to two of the viewpoints in the park overlooking the glacial valley of Lac Monroe. The trail took us gently uphill, with slender silver birch and maple making a green arch above our heads.
At La Roche viewpoint a wooden platform allowed us a panoramic view over the valley. Lac Monroe was below us, bounded by gently rolling hills formed by the glaciers that had passed this way millions of years ago.
From here we picked up La Coulis, a rough path with slippery steps and patches of mud where we had to jump from stone to stone. Reaching La Corniche, we had another viewpoint over the lake, before the path took us downhill again.
Along the path, cascades of water made pools with mossy boulders where we were tempted to swim. Once we reached the lakeshore the clouds were gathering ominously but my husband dived in, then refreshed by the swim we returned on the lakeside path to the visitor centre.
Canoeing down the Diable River
On the second day our canoe trip down the Diable River felt like quite an adventure, even though the river ran close to the road.
We were transported with our canoes to a spot on the lake's edge where we could launch. The first challenge was to navigate the small rapids at the start of the river, where we had the option to get out and portage our canoes. Misreading the map, we shot through them before we had realized and felt rather pleased at our achievement!
From then on the river was calm, living up to its name as the Meandre de Diable, curving and winding with small sandy beaches to stop for a swim or a picnic. A gentle breeze stirred but otherwise all was peaceful, just the sounds of birds and insects buzzing on the water and the soothing splash of the paddle.
We worked out how to steer the canoe effectively and got into our rhythm. The river was shallow, like looking through brown glass to the pebbles on the bottom and the green reeds swirling below the surface. From the front I watched for submerged logs, marked by a rippling of the water, with only the tip of the log showing.
Halfway we stopped for lunch at a sandy spot, where sections of riverbank were taped off to protect the river turtle nests. The whole canoe journey took a few hours and by the end we felt totally relaxed, enjoying the gentle exercise and closeness to nature.
An introduction to rock climbing on the Via Ferrata
On our final day we booked a Via Ferrata, setting off with our guide, harnessed and helmeted. Our first challenge was the wooden suspension bridge across the river, reached by climbing the rungs of a wooden post. It was a chance to warm up stiff muscles as we wobbled across the bridge, laughing off our nervousness. Next was a practice wall just a few feet off the ground, where we carefully crossed on metal rungs, our carabiners clipped to the metal cable.
The Via Ferrata is a great introduction to rock climbing, since even beginners can try one under the supervision of a guide. Unlike the traditional rock climbing, a route is marked with metal footholds permanently fixed to the rock with a metal cable running alongside for safety.
I'd first tried a Via Ferrata, literally an 'iron road', in the Dolomites, where soldiers during WWII used it as a way to get around the mountains. Although the route is fixed, it's still a physical challenge as your legs pump upwards and arms stretch to reach the next handhold. My muscles were aching for days afterwards.
We moved onto the more challenging parts of the climb, ascending a rock face to reach another rope bridge and a ledge under the trees. As we climbed one rock face after another, we had a chance to pause and admire the views of the Diable River snaking below us.
Admiring the view is often put forward as a reason to do the Via Ferrata, although in my experience it's secondary to the challenge of the climb. On the rock-face the world seems to narrow as you focus in on solving the problem of where to place the next foothold, the next handhold. Concentration is everything, to allow you to overcome fear and reach the next point of safety, where perhaps you can relax briefly and take in the view.
Halfway up it started to rain, with thunder rolling ominously, so we had to abandon the final stretch of the climb. I was pleased to get down, although navigating a rock face that was scary on the way up, became even scarier on the way down when wet and slippery. By the end though the rain was easing off and we felt relieved to reach the safety of the forest floor.
After a few days in Parc Mont-Tremblant our confidence in our ability to canoe, climb and hike had increased massively. We’d dipped our toe into the wilderness and were ready for an even bigger adventure. Suddenly the idea of a few days canoe camping in the more remote sectors of the park seemed entirely possible!