Water steamed over my head as I slid off the safety of the rock, suddenly hanging free with nary a surface to push against. My eyes darted up and down hoping to catch a bolstering look from a Canyoning-Quebec guide above or below me, but the constant gush of water created a blurred veil of dripping fluid. There was nothing to do but cast off and remember my training. Clutching the rope provided some comfort, but to reach solid ground I needed to release a length of rope to let gravity pull me down a bit. Somehow, under the pelting stream of the waterfall, it seemed more precarious than the first two pitches, but I needed to trust the rope.
I was with two guides from Canyoning Quebec and my husband, Steve, trying out the sport of canyoneering (known as Canyoning in Canada). It is similar to rock climbing, which I’d done a bit of, but different in that water is often involved, and there is no rock climb up, only a hike to the top of the waterfall, followed by rappelling down.
Canyoning-Quebec operates in the Valee Bras-Du-Nord, an expansive and rugged park located about an hour from Quebec City. An extensive network of trails is being developed in the park, which is bisected by the Bras-Du-Nord River. Half-day, 1- and 2-day guided canyoneering trips are offered, which include instruction, guides and equipment, including wetsuits.
Melanie, the lead guide, gained proficiency with rope work through her 10 years of rock climbing experience. She said, in her French accent, “I like the rope work and also the psychological aspects of guiding.” She is a patient teacher, and understands that that hanging off of vertical rock walls is a challenge for the mind as much as the body.
After a half-hour climb we reached the top of the waterfall and slipped into our tight fitting wetsuits to become human sausages. Melanie taught us how to use the waist harness, carabiners and ropes and insisted on a return demonstration from each of us.
I approached the stream with some trepidation, anticipating vertigo. I was reassured to see that the first pitch was not steep. I fumbled with the rope but Melanie coached me through the steps to set up the rope, lean back and “walk” down the stream facing the rock. Instinctively I edged toward the dry rock but she motioned to stay in the center of the stream. I felt more comfortable on the second pitch and gained confidence.
Then I saw the third pitch. Or rather, I couldn’t see much of it because it sloped steeply at a sharp angle and then there was air. Getting to the launching spot was tricky, requiring additional safety ropes. Melanie went first and helped each person unclip from the safety rope to the main rope using a backup carabiner. Kneeling on the edge of the precipice I slid one leg over the side and felt for a slim foothold. It was too precarious to spend much time worrying about the next step so when Melanie said, “go”, I went. I pushed off with my legs against the vertical rock but after a couple of steps there was no more rock. That’s when I looked around and realized I was twirling in air with water cascading over my head. Trusting the rope, I let it out a bit, then a bit more and before I knew it Mathieu was saying, “You’re almost down!”
Many come to Quebec to find a bit of Europe in North America, and enjoy the art, museeums and cuisine, but beyond the city a thrills can be found in the Vallee Bras-du-Nord.
Phone: 418-998-3859 or 418-559-2783
E-mail: [email protected] or [email protected]
http://www.canyoning-quebec.blogspot.com/ (French only for now, but more up-to-date)
The cost is $94 for adults, $67 for students (1/2 day). Full day and overnight excursions are also available.
Valle Bras Du Nord Park
E-mail: [email protected]
To reach the Vallee Bras-du-Nord from Quebec City (about an hour):