Blazing the trail:
My family, leaving our furry friend K2, a Hungarian Kuvasz back at the camp, were hiking from our RV campsite at Baie-Sainte-Marguerite Sector of Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay along Rêverie Sainte-Marguerite to watch Beluga whales. The whales, resident of Saguenay – St. Lawrence National Marine Park, sail up the Saguenay River for calving up to the point of confluence of Saguenay River and Reverie Sainte-Marguerite.
We were not lucky enough to be able to see belugas. There were gulls and Great blue heron waiting to scoop fish from the river waters, while a pair of Ospreys circled above to do the same.
The trail itself, mostly along a shallow Rêverie Sainte-Marguerite, was moderately difficult with the youngest member of the family wasting lot of his energy running after chipmunks.
A project from home away from home
Afraid that my tendinitis (see the picture below), which plagued me throughout March to July, may show up again and due to the pandemic, we decided to rent an RV and use it as a base to undertake some activities, including some easy hikes to let me get back into nature without hurting myself.
We rented out a 34 feet long motorized RV from Canadream during our long trip to four national parks in Quebec maintained either by Parks Canada or by Société des Établissements de Plein Air du Québec (or Society of outdoor recreation establishments of Quebec – Sepaq for short) and to a provincial park in Ontario from August 28, 2020.
The parks we visited were as follows:
1. La Mauricie National Park, maintained by Parks Canada
2. Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie, maintained by Sepaq
3. Saguenay – St. Lawrence National Marine Park, maintained by Parks Canada
4. Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay maintained by Sepaq
As a home project, we were able to put up our tents and hammocks on sites where our RV was parked with built-in fire pits and barbeque grills. It was like having a camping experience in the backyard of your home with an added attraction of it being located at a prime outdoors location.
I am proud that we were able to support local businesses reeling under pressure from the lockdown, which was lifted recently.
Whether it was at Tadoussac, a quaint little village that we camped at for availing a whale watching cruise from there or several other towns or villages that we drove through, we shopped local.
I believe that even paying for RV campsites and entrance fees at several locations must have helped our National and provincial park system at a time when they needed the visitors.
Living in Mississauga, Ontario, the closest natural icon to us is Niagara Falls. We go there often. Most recently, we were there in February of this year, just before COVID 19 picked up in the province. I did a long hike with K2, our dog, a Hungarian Kuvasz. You can read the account of our long difficult hike along the Niagara Parkway here:
However, another natural icon was on our mind for a long time now – whale watching in Quebec.
It was first week of September and felt close to zero degree centigrade. We were alerted to the cold ahead of time and were adequately covered up in layers. I thought that the cruise ship we were on was sailing in the Atlantic Ocean. I later found out that we were still in the St. Lawrence River.
And then there were oohs and ahs from the other passengers. The official guide on the cruise had picked up our first whale to see and had pointed out its bearings.
From then onward, it was non-stop sightings – Minke whales, fin whales, humpback whales, harbour porpoises, even harbour, harp and grey seals came to check us out at frequent intervals. Only the resident and much-loved Beluga whales were conspicuous by their absence.
Surprisingly, all this marine life exists in a river – and a huge river at that, which had appeared to be like a sea to me, the Atlantic Ocean to be precise, extremely cold and saline at this point – but a river nevertheless.
We were in the heart of Saguenay – St. Lawrence National Marine Park, which was managed by Parks Canada under its National Park System
Those who know me as that crazy person who does solo long-distance hikes with my dog, know for a fact that I am a Doctor Pepper addict. Despite other hikers advising against it, I have always carried a few cans in my backpack even in the snowy and chilling conditions. So if you can carry a few cans of beer with you, why can’t I carry what I want.
Not anymore. At least, not on this trip to Quebec.
It was water, more water, and if I ran out, I used my filter system to get some more from a flowing stream or a river.
As I recovered from my tendinitis by mid-July, as a fitness exercise, I started walking my dog again for shorter distances to begin with. Later, other family members joined me in hiking to the ravine system nearby to enjoy flora and fauna. I carried my backpack with camera equipment to let me get into the rhythm again.
On the trip to Quebec, we started with a later afternoon hike under heavy rain at La Mauricie National Park. That was the first hike we undertook and I felt very comfortable observing nature and taking pictures. From there onward, there was no stopping me, although for short distances only.
Adventure dreams – why do I hike?
My mother, two younger siblings, wife and a year-old daughter back then were visiting Islamabad, the beautiful capital city of Pakistan. My kid brother and I woke up early in the morning and decided spontaneously to hike to the Margalla Hills National Park that was located close to our hotel.
The lonely trail meandered through forests as we kept climbing the hills. On our way we saw rhesus macaques monkeys, wild boars, barking deer, etc. We reached the top of the hill range from where the city of Islamabad looked like a speck in the wilderness.
We planned to move onward only to find a herd of feral cows blocking the trail. And then a bull attacked me from the bush opening a gash in my arm. Only that encounter made us retreat back to the safety of the city.
That was a memorable hike for me for several reasons. Whenever I am hiking alone, I am recalling that hike.
For the long trip to Quebec, I kept several items in my backpack that were received through The Explore magazine’s Live the Adventure Club. The items included Survival Frog Tact Bivvy, solar lantern, mosquito zapper lantern, waterproof matches, gloves and liners, hand and feet warmers, first aid kit, Pepto Bismal, sanitizer, bear pepper spray, water filteration system, rain jacket, rain trousers, a light jacket, and a small knife with me all the time. However, it was my North Face tent and gear to protect me from adverse weather conditions that came in handy the most.
For a solo camping adventure not far from our RV, I put up my tent at Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay. It rained cats and dogs all night. The wind gusts seemed to uproot the tent. I took a shot during the night, got thoroughly soaked in the process. I could not sleep throughout the night, but the tent held firm.
Keeping us hikers healthy
There were following advantages of renting out an RV that ensured that we stayed healthy:
- During the period of COVID 19, we were sure that we were living under hygienic conditions with almost no interaction with other people, except when at the tourist attractions where we used masks and sanitizers.
- We had our home with us with almost all the facilities that you have in your home. This could not be packed in any family van or a family SUV, except by making hard compromises.
- We used the kitchen, showers, washroom, electricity, refrigerator, etc. just like we would at our home to maintain hygiene and be ready to be on the go.
- We easily returned to the RV if we forgot to take anything with us during a hike or while visiting an attraction, for lunch or tea whenever we wanted, and even when the weather became adverse during an adventure.
Exploring and recommendation
It was raining cats and dogs, nay bison and moose, when we reached Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. For a second, we thought of first checking into our RV campsite, but then the daredevil among us made us drive all the way to the river where the parking and Visitor Centre were located on the east side, dwarfed by the high Laurentian mountains on the west side of the river.
It was a site that I will never forget. The sound of the gushing river, mountains wearing a cloak of clouds, the loneliness of the site beaconing us – it was a sight to behold.
The next day was sunny and pleasantly cool. We took a cruise on the river and canoed for a long stretch of the river.
I will highly recommend Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie and Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay for exploration by residents of Ontario and provinces further west to us. I am not mentioning the beautiful La Mauricie National Park only because it is a heavily visited Park due to its proximity to both Montreal and Quebec City.