Canada is an ice climbers playground. People often think of the Canadian Rockies when picturing 250-metre, WI6 routes, but as Jasmin Fauteux discovered years ago, northern Quebec has some of the biggest, wildest ice in Canada.
Story and Photos by Jasmin Fauteux
Something always brings me back to my first stomping grounds. Despites moving to the Rockies over five years ago, mainly for the climbing, I find myself craving the untracked monsters Quebec has to offer. At first I felt like I had unfinished business there, but as times goes on, I realized it’s just the quality of the climbing that keeps on bringing me back. I`m not talking about the small single-pitch climbs people imagine when they think of the east, but rather the climbs that rivals in height any of the Rockies classics. The remote climbs of the Jacques-Cartier Valley, the hard traditional mixed lines of the Gros-Bras or the quintessential Pomme d`or in Charlevoix, the free-standing pillars of Gaspésie, the road side multi-pitch of the Saguenay area or the rarely visited ultra-classics of the Côte-Nord area.
So off I went, with my old partners of many adventures, for a week of climbing on Quebec`s Côte-Nord area last week. We targeted the area near Sept-îles and Port-Cartier and it was everything we could have hoped for.
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“Câlisse qui fait frette! [It’s freaking cold out!]” As we stepped out to start approaching the Pillier Simon-Proulx, the temperature was minus 30 degrees Celsius. I had just climbed Bourgeau Right in the Canadian Rockies in minus 40 degree Celsius temperatures the week before, but this would prove to be significantly colder. It’s always windy and the proximity of the coast makes the wind brutal. The pillar was splendid, offering all shades of yellow, and even brown ice, darker than anything I`ve ever seen before. If you`ve ever climbed in eastern Canada, there is just something about yellow ice that feels good, and ice that yellow can’t be anything but amazing. The whole headwall was filled with dozens of daggers and drips connected by steep corners awaiting first ascents.
“Take, descends-moi? [Lower me?]” I asked JP. I’ve finally found a screw that would hold my weight, 15 metres up the last-pitch of the Mulot. That pitch is the wildest pitch of ice I’ve ever seen. 55 metres of 90 to 100 degree ice, all on blobs separated by one-inch of ice which is delaminated, 250 metres off the deck. As I reached the belay and realized that 2014’s big project won’t become a reality, I instantly thought of my friend Patrice Beaudet who pioneered the route in 1997, leading all pitches, along with dozens of other climbs in the area. What a beast. We were hoping to find ledges on the last pitch, but they turned out to be one to two-foot roofs. Two full-length pitches of WI6+ after the initial 80 metres of ice, it doesn’t get much better than that.
“Capteur de reve? Oublies-ça! [Capture the dream? Forget it!]” Said Yan Mongrain, potentially the last person to climb Capture the Dream, WI5+, 220 m, in 2005 with Guy Lacelle. He did not mean to crush my spirit, rather to let me know it rarely forms. I first saw it in Gripped a few years ago and the pictures remained ingrained in my mind. With temperatures too cold to get on anything really hard, we decided to go scope it out. As we arrived at the head of Lake Walker, Quebec’s deepest lake, we were disappointed to find no signs of passage on the lake. Tales of friends telling me how dangerous and thin the ice can be had us deciding not to venture onto it. I decided to go have a look anyway, not my proudest moment, but returned with the good news. The climb was the most esthetic line any of us had ever seen. All the belays were hanging and our calves were sore for days. The climb of a life-time.
Visiting that gem-of-an-area reminded me of what it was like to be really cold, to have to swing for every stick and why I love climbing ice in Quebec.
For more info on climbing in Quebec, look into Stéphane Lapierre‘s excellent guidebook, Le Guide des cascades et voies mixtes du Québec.