My good friend Caroline decided to do something a bit unorthodox for her birthday: Rather than attend a party thrown by others, she decided to organize an outing - an ice climbing outing. An inspired idea! And, Jenn and I were among the fortunate invitees.
Caroline organized a day at the Montagne D'Argent - a small climbing and hiking park in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, a few short minutes west of the resort area of Mont Tremblant. In the winter, a large impressive set of ice cliffs are available just minutes from the parking area.
Up to the Chalet and Kiosk area
The park is not managed by the provincial government, but rather by a couple of local climbers, back in the 1990s. It is managed in a community-like fashion by climbers, hikers, and various interested organizations. There is an entrance fee - $8 for a day pass - to help with maintenance and upkeep. The pay kiosk is where Caroline and I were now headed on this brisk but sunny winter morning.
Sunny morning at M. D'Argent
After paying the entrance fee, I followed Caroline (who is an experienced ice climber and has climbed here many times before) along a short path beneath a cliff band to the location of the main climbing wall. Compared to the pockets of ice cliffs on the Eardley Escarpment near Ottawa, this cliff is impressive - 100 metres (300 feet) wide and about 25 metres (80 feet) high. All of it was draped in thick, solid blue ice - with many long sections of vertical.
The main ice cliffs at Montagne D'Argent are not naturally formed - instead, the park maintainers have draped a series of pipes and spray devices above, and they periodically coat the cliffs with new ice. The result is an ice-climbing destination that is larger and usually in form, compared to other local destinations.
Several of Caroline's other acquaintainces had arrived ahead of us and were already in the process of setting up top-ropes for us to use. Among us were a mix of experience levels - from seasoned ice climbers, like Malcolm and Caroline, to complete newcomers to ice climbing. Jenn and I had ice climbed less than ten times in our lives, so we were firmly on the 'newbie' side of the spectrum.
First climb to the Birthday Girl
Caroline gave us tips as she performed the ceremonial "birthday girl first climb", helping us understand how to minimize energy expenditure and therefore avoid the dreaded forearm blowout, and other pitfalls.
Colorful climbing clothes
There had only been a few ropes set up when we had first arrived. By now, roughly around 1pm, there were many colorful climbing ropes draped down the entire length of the ice cliffs, and many equally colorful climbers plying their way up and down. Quite a busy spot on a good winter weekend!
Aude tackling steep stuff
Each of us took turns trying our hand at the various routes. The easiest of the routes I was able to dispatch without much difficulty (other than freezing my hands), but I struggled on the harder climbs. While climbing on a steep bit of wall next to an awkwardly-placed cave, I ran out of forearm steam and simply couldn't hold my ice climbing tools sufficiently. Unfortunately, I left one tool embedded in the ice as I came off. It was only after much tiring struggle (and the lend of an extra ice tool) that I was able to finally struggle up and retrieve it. At that point my forearms and hands had had enough.
I periodically belayed, watched, and took photos as the others in our group - among them Sophie, Marc, Malcolm, Eric and Aude - took their turns climbing. Even those who had climbed relatively little did quite well.