The Charlevoix region is like stepping into an old fairytale. From the moment you disembark in St Simeon on the north shore of the St. Lawrence river you feel like perhaps the Starship Enterprise just beamed you into rural France. It is a special place. Perhaps because it was recreated by a ball of fire 350 million years ago when a meteorite slammed into the earth here and left a 52km crater. Or maybe because it was designated as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1986. This designation is about regional sustainable development that preserves ecosystems and improves the relationships between people and their environments. The place feels good.
The journey begins with the ferry from Riviere-de-Loup across the St Lawrence river to Saint Simeon. I saw distant white belugas swimming, their white backs surfacing like the white crest of waves. Hiking off the boat I climbed up a steep hill and then poked around side streets looking for the Sentier L’Orignac. Sentier is the french word for trail. I found the trails beginning behind a pub where there is a green field backed by a forested hill. The fact that I had to search for the trail was a foreshadow of what was to come from this hidden gem. Some locals tell me it used to be an old fur trading trail. L’Orignac means ‘original’. It is well marked with red and white signs on trees but parts of the trail are single track and overgrown with all of the new growth of early summer.
Le Sentier L’Orignac is 33km and connects to the 110km Traversee de Charlevoix, the next trail that is also the TCtrail in this region. In all I had to backpack approximately 180km in the Charlevoix. The black flies and mosquitos were constant companions. And judging from the fresh scat on the invisible trail, on the L”Orignac I walked in the footsteps of moose. From the moment I disappeared into the woods at St Simeon I did not see another person for a week.
The Sentier de L’Orignac is in three sections. You could say it has it’s own three part structure. They are, L’Orignac Est – 6.2km, L’Orignac Centre, 17.2km, and L’Orignac Quest, 9.7km.
Day one I hiked the first section, L’Orignac Est. and climbed from the rivers shore into the Appalachian mountains. My happy place after i stopped was inside the tent floating on my own breath after blowing up my thermarest and looking at all those pesky insects from inside the tent with gratitude for the fine mesh net between me and them. June is the worst month for the devils. While I am moving they are not too bothersome. I wear long sleeves and pants so I minimize their attack zones. But they are the vampires of the forest.
On day 2 I woke to rain and decided to wait it out. Had a tent day.
Day three up and on trail by 7:00am. The top of the days climb at 10.5km was beautiful, a couple of cairns and open space after single track through the birch, alders and large, old pine trees that painted the ground red with their dried needles. The top of the climb was solid rock, really unique lines, layered like frozen energy in time.
Had some slogging in deep mud, crossed a dozen big tree falls and walked streams that rolled down the trails. I have a sense nobody has been on the L’Orignac in a while. But gratitude the trail is so well marked, the trail itself disappears but the markers are the beacons that guide the way. Day 3 saw this cool beaver art and later camped at Petit Lac Noir.
The next morning, my tent still surrounded by insects, I set the stove up just outside my tent door and put a fist size hole in tent net. That fine mesh melts, quickly. My fortress was weakened. I strategize a million mosquitos safety plan.
They are life’s problems, small, abundant, and annoying. And yet, petty in the big world of beauty, like the morning light, the elder pines, the wind in the aspen leaves, and the frog songs at dusk. Perspective. Changed. Tick.
Here is the frog song, or as I call it, the Charlevoix lullaby
Finished the Sentier L’Orignac the next day. With only 5km to go and in pouring rain I came to the biggest challenge, the trail disappeared into a lake that used to be a narrow river with a bridge over it. Now the bridge has been stolen by beavers who made it a part of one of a series of long narrow dams that stretch across the lake.
I try my best to keep my feet dry but soon am wading in waist high water and sinking into soft mud. Decide to scramble on top of the beaver damn and try a tight rope walk with pack to the other side. Which I almost make, but not. A nice fall backwards into more waist high water, a few panicked moments getting out of pack while lying down on lake bottom then up and some loud expletives. Then hiked 5km soaked, backpack weighed double, mosquitos relentless, and no phone signal. I realize with the rain in the forecast for the next week and the fall in the water meant I would need to hike out before resuming onto the next section, the 110km Traversee de Charlevoix. I am grateful when I hike out to find both a flat place to set up tent and a cell phone signal. According to the map a small cabin is nearby as are a series of dirt roads. I text Ann, or I try to which is difficult when your hands are wet and the screen on the phone is, too. What comes out is not what I am texting in but finally I tell her I’m wet and need a ride out to dry everything before continuing. She contacts my cousin Nicole Babin near Quebec city who makes a few calls and the next day around 2pm the voice of a woman, Johann Leduc, says hello in the rain outside my tent. In that moment, in my mind ,she was the angel of Charlevoix. She drove me down dirt roads for 30km to a hotel where I could check in, sit naked in a robe in my room while my clothes got washed and dried and order room service. After two days of being soaked I was purring like a cat. Two days later she picked me up and brought me to the beginning of the Charlevoix trail. And that will be part 2.