Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ass Kickin' on the Saguenay, part II

I ran out in the dark, rain pounding, wind blowing and stumbled into a shaken Sarah. She yelled through the storm that the tree that almost took out Sam had hit their tent too. She said everyone was OK, but they were headed  over to bivy with us, their tent ruined. Jim was shortly behind her, cool and collected. I mushed my way though the mud and puddles over to Sam's bivy. He was already inside reading and calmly asked me through the tent wall if I thought he was safe. I just reminded him of the obvious and mentioned we were all going to spend some time huddled below the boulder. He joined us shortly.

The storm continued the rest of the night as we huddled together, the pinned down tarp occasionally inflating as it was caught by a gust. Some of us lost interest in the cramped, rocky but protected shelter of the boulder and exchanged it for the flat elbow room of the unprotected tent; some buried deeper beneath the dripping granite roof. I chose both options at different points in the night, finally settling on a boulder bivy after our tent was hit by a second small rock. One of us had a soft cooler for a foam pad, another slept on a towel, inside a trash bag with a t-shirt pillow, another, maintained a claustrophobic dirt-to-rock hip-scum and constantly checked to make sure everyone else was protected, and one just sandwiched herself patiently and cooperatively in the middle. Unsure of what to do next, I drank beer and tried to keep smiling, and finally relaxed when we double checked the guidebook which described a climber's trail back the cars - only a two hour walk away. With a plan for tomorrow hatched, all we had to do was wait - and not get hit by another tree.

 The Sarah-Anne Wrap Bivi. Sarah is in there somewhere...

 At the first usable light we were up, checking on the canoes and assessing the damage. The brunt of the storm had hit at high tide and one of our canoes had been tossed around, the bowstring could be plucked like one string mega-bass, but it was undamaged. The other was fine, but the water was still far too rough to paddle. We needed to get back our static line, so, in a torrent of water cascading off the cliff, Sam jugged the fixed line to retrieve it. Exhausted after five days of climbing and a sleepless night, he pushed the ascender up with the palm of his hand; slowly, five times with his left, then five times with his right, trailing another soaked rope. The rest of us packed up while Jim bundled our gear in a two tarp taco that he said would last a week, but looked to me like 6 months of dry storage. We started hiking in the rain, packs light with little bivy kits.

The hike out was one of the most memorable parts of the trip for me; we scoped an amazing amount of potential for steep crack climbing (the drip line for a three pitch section of cliff was 40 yards out from the cliff base), and witnessed some incredible wind at the Notre-Dame du Saguenay statue at the tip of the cape that Cap Trinite forms. The storm had passed, but the wind at this exposed point was still so strong that I realized we had actually been sheltered from the full force of Irene by the steep granite of the Cap and our semi-subterranean bivy.

Arriving at a locked up and darkened waterside visitor's center, and a parking lot empty but for our two vehicles was a surreal experience. The national park was empty. We discussed the fact that they might have shut the park down due to the storm, but a persistent feeling of it-couldn't-have-been-that-bad convinced me the competing theory of "zombie apocalypse" was more plausible. After a quiet hour alone, just the five of us, we arrived at the park entrance and the backside of a closed gate. The first vehicles we had seen were parked on other side in front of the park headquarters. We went inside and found an English speaking park employee, obviously having a very busy day, who took the time to patiently explain to five American climbers who had the poor judgement to weather a hurricane in a boat accessed campsite below a huge tree lined cliff that the park was shut down, and had been evacuated. Looking for us was on their to-do list. She explained that the main road was washed out, gave us advice on where to find inexpensive lodging for the night and told us to check in with her in the morning. It wasn't even 11 AM.

 After a more traditional, just-the-two-of-us, 1st anniversary dinner at a fine restaurant in Chicoutimi, with a wonderful waitress, and a good night's sleep in a clean and modern hotel room, we headed back to the park. We had since learned how bad the storm had been, seen Facebook photos from home of friends' damaged houses - Sarah and Jim's place was just inches above the high water line - and had plotted our route back to NH to avoid the many closed roads and washed out bridges. We lined up a zodiac ride out to the Cap to clean out our kit, and Jonathan, our English speaker driver, gave us a high speed tour of the Saguenay we could have never gotten in our little canoes, including an up close look at some seals.

 Seals taking a break the day after Hurricane Irene.

In the zodiac on our way back to the quay the wind was finally abating and we were provided with some comic relief when one of the towed canoes all but capsized and the three trash bags on board floated away. All was recovered with the exception of a shirt and some sun glasses, far less than many people lost to Hurricane Irene. We were fortunate, I later saw the crushed metal water bottle that had been between Sarah and Jim's heads when their tent was hit and shredded, but all we really had to endure was the shell shock of a near-miss and one uncomfortable night. Many others homes' were lost entirely or severely damaged, including an entire community here in North Conway and many more in devastated parts of Vermont and New York.

Despite the tribulations and the flaky rock,  I did love the place. The effect of the water, the paddle approach, the careful and crumbly gear placements, the steep compelling crack lines and the amazingly friendly locals all combine to make a long weekend here feel like a far flung, and far more expensive, expedition.

Cap Trinite got under my skin and I can't wait to go back - and with any luck, actually climb something next time.


  1. Nice one. Sounds like a great adventure!

  2. I just love your trips, the photos and the places are just incredible.