Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter has arrived - break out the ski and snowshoes

The city of Montreal sits at the base of the St. Lawrence River Valley, but it is bordered to the south by the Monteregian Hills and to the north by the Laurentian Highlands. As a result, once winter arrives there are skiing and snowshoeing opportunities available only a short drive away, even if there is little snow present in the metropolitan area.

In the Cantons De L'Est, Mont Orford Park, Bromont, and other hills boast popular downhill ski runs. However, they also feature extensive cross-country ski and snowshoe routes. If you are like me, and never developed a taste for downhill, you can still spend time being active outdoors and meet with friends in the lodge afterwards.

To the north, the Laurentian highlands also house numerous ski hills. The number and variety of options speaks to the love of winter activity of the residents of Quebec. I particularly enjoy Mont Tremblant Park, with its many trails groomed for skiing and others available for snowshoeing. The Sentier du centenaire, in the Diable Sector, is a great snowshoeing trail. I did not include it in Hiking Trails of Montreal, but that is only because the park contains so many great routes that I was forced to make some tough choices about what to profile in the book.

So, once November arrives, expect that you may ski or snowshoe as much as you want, regardless of what the conditions are in downtown Montreal, if you are prepared to travel a short distance to the hills nearby.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mont Orford - Pic de L'Ours

On September 20, I hiked several routes inside Mont Orford Provincial Park near Magog in the Eastern Townships. The first hike I undertook was Mont Chauvre, a 9km climbing trail to the top of a rocky peak. The view at the top was expansive and impressive.

But that paled in comparison to what I was to see later in the day, when I hiked the 10km (return) to the Pic de L'Ours on the Sentier des Cretes. There are numerous locations along the route that reveal great views, but at the peak, more than 400 demanding metres above the trailhead, a 360 degree vista presents itself as a reward to the weary climber.

It is definitely worth the climb.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mont Saint-Hilaire

For decades, one of the highlights of driving to central Canada from my home in Nova Scotia occurred when I neared Montreal. There, in the overwhelmingly flat landscape of the St. Lawrence lowlands, rises a massive hill - mountain really - that appears to spring directly out of the soil as if by surprise. There are no foothills, the gradually hightening terrain that preceeds the Rocky Mountains, surrounding Mont Saint Hilaire. Instead it, and the other Monteregian Hills appear to thrust out of the fertile plains without warning or explanation.

So it was with genuine pleasure, and a great deal of anticipation, that I recently hiked the trails on Mont Saint-Hilaire maintained by the Gault Nature Reserve. This extensive network of walking paths, developed in order to celebrate and protect the distinctive natural qualities of this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve - Canada's first landscape so designated - enables hikers to climb to the peak of several hilltops, and to enjoy breath-taking views of the surrounding lowlands.

There are many wonderful trails that will be featured in the upcoming Hiking Trails of Montreal, but in my opinion, the route on Mont Saint-Hilaire will be one of the highlights.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Great Trail: Sentier du Carcan

On July 3 I hiked a very enjoyable trail in Parc national du Mont-Tremblant, a 1,510 km2 of mountains, forests and waterways about two hours drive north of Montreal.

Sentier du Carcan, one of the newest routes in the park, climbs the second-highest peak in the park (Mont Carcan: 883 m). This trail is a 14.4 km round trip, with short side trails to several viewing areas that add an additional 500m of walking to the total.

I quite enjoyed the walk. It begins deceptively, with most the initial 1.4 km being a gentle downhill on a former wood road. From that point, however, it begins to becoming more challenging, initially by turning into a narrow footpath, and later by starting a long, steady climb that lifts you more than 400m to the summit of Le Carcan. The majority of this climb takes place in the final 4 km.

This is not a trail for the casual walker, although I was both surprised and pleased to encounter so many families along the route. (For the record, the children and teens appeared unfazed by the rigorous climbing. Their parents, on the other hand, frequently looked dazed and exhausted.) The path becomes increasingly most difficult the farther up the mountain you climb, with rocks and tree roots jutting into the path and creating hazards for clumsy individuals such as myself. The park recommends allowing 5-6 hrs to complete this hike, and although I managed it in slightly less than 4 hrs, I do not think most will move as quickly as I prefer to do.

However long you take, the view from the top, in my opinion, makes the effort worthwhile. The rugged landscape is somewhat featureless, and endless succession of hills fading into the distance, the occasional bright blue of lakes nestled between. Perhaps what was most impressive was the absence, in one direction at least, of any evidence of human habitation in a vista that extended over many dozens of kilometers. Parc national du Mont-Tremblant is less than 150 km from downtown Montreal, yet it is an oasis of natural beauty that at times seemed to exist untouched.

I have not decided yet whether Sentier du Carcan will be included in Hiking Trails of Montreal. There are so many good, but challenging, hiking options available in the Laurentians and Lanadiere that a choice will be difficult to make. Unless, of course, I decide to include only level 3-5 hikes in these regions. However, Sentier du Carcan ranks highly in what I have walked so far, and the work of SEPAQ deserves to be supported.

Check it out for yourself!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Developing a book is quite different than building a Website. With a Website there is almost unlimited storage potential, as well as the opportunity to make changes and additions as frequently as required. A book, however, is inflexible; what can be included is constrained by space and once printed it can only be changed at infrequent intervals.

So it is critically important to the success of a book to plan what will be included long before the writing begins. In the case of Hiking Trails of Montréal, that meant, among other things, deciding how many trail listings will be profiled.

In the previous entry, I mentioned that I had selected an area within a 100-150 km distance of the Island of Montréal Hill as the region to be profiled in this book. As any experienced outdoor person knows, Montréal are blessed with hundreds of possible hiking destinations inside that small area, and thousands of kilometers of possible walking.

However, if I attempted to profile every trail, the Hiking Trails of Montréal would be little more than a shopping list, with very small amounts of information available about any particular trail. Either that, or I could produce a volume of 1,000 pages or so - but I think the resulting price tag would be too high for most people. Creating lists is excellent for Websites; books need to be more selective.

For me, two facts are critically important for each trail profiled: how to find the start (trailhead), and what will be seen when on the trail. Obviously, you need to be able to find your way to the trail in order to hike it, but many books I have seen somehow fail to provide adequate or clear directions, and I find few things as frustrating as driving an hour for a hike and being unable to find "the third driveway past the blue house", or some similarly unhelpful postings. Perhaps even more importantly, once on the trail you should be able to follow a route without becoming lost. Again, some books provide such vague comments about a particular route that it is as much by luck as by design that a hiker is able to navigate their way.

To provide even this basic information accurately, approximately 1,000 words of text is required for each trail listing. Add supporting information such as natural history facts, hiking tips, maps, and general background, and for a book limited to about 350 pages - about $20-25 retail). That works out to being able to squeeze about 50 walking routes between the covers.

So, expect that Hiking Trails of Montréal will provide detailed descriptions of 50 hiking routes within a 100-150 km circle of the Island of Montréal.

Next Post: How were the profiled trails chosen?