ice-canyoning in quebec
a thrilling winter adventure
While most of my companions gather their skis and poles for downhill adventures at Mont Sainte-Anne, I lace up my crampons for a different sort of gravity-induced thrill. A much steeper one. I am about to descend a frozen waterfall.
As I take my first step back into the void, secured by a rope tied to my harness, the distinct, crisp sounds of shifting frozen water beneath me evoke a sense of unsettling awe. For one, it’s amazing that somebody even thought of it. Quebecers are known for their sense of adventure but this is something else.
one of a kind adventure
Ice canyoning is a modified version of the regular canyoning that is offered during other seasons by Canyoning-Québec. Apparently Quebec City Region is the only place in North America, and possibly the world, that offers this type of adventure.
To clarify, canyoning is often referred to as canyoneering in some parts of the US, and was originally developed by cavers in France. Canyoning-Québec has been operating summer and fall excursions since 2000, and started offering ice canyoning in 2005—the first commercial operator to do so.
“I invented it,” boasts our instructor, Marc Tremblay. There were similar developments in Europe around the same time, but they were based around water—not ice—even in winter, with ice canyoners sporting wet suits and dropping into the cold waters below.
Lucky for me it’s a bright sunny day, and the waterfall is hidden within a forested area that provides shelter from wind. It’s a short 15 to 20-minute hike to reach Jean-Larose Falls, which provides the opportunity to do a couple of trial descents along the way.
“It’s actually easier than regular canyoning in open waters,” says Tremblay of the ice canyoning experience, "and is more serene and Zen-like.” It’s basically a downward progression that uses some of the techniques of rappelling and ice climbing. It’s not ice climbing, but a descent on ice that still provides the vertical thrill.
Until I start my 40-metre descent, I can’t even see my destination. And by the time I back out onto the ice it’s too late for second thoughts. The views of the surrounding snow covered peaks offer a nice distraction from the open running river waters to my side. Half way down I’m maneuvering quite well, feeling relaxed enough to attempt a few bigger free fall drops between steps.
Overall I find it easy to adapt given that it’s my first experience. Reaching the bottom of my descent I bunker down into the freshly fallen snow, enjoying the warmth of the bright sunshine and reflecting upon my accomplishment—thrilling and adventurous, yet reassuringly safe and secure. I immediately want to do it again.
The most grueling stretch is the climb back up 400-plus snow-covered stairs, which proves more difficult than the descent down. Being suspended 40 metres above ground supported by a couple of ropes and a harness may not be for everyone, but for those few precarious, exhilarating moments in the icy world, it’s worth it.
Visit Canyoning-Quebec for more information – www.canyoning-quebec.com
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