It is 5 a.m. the morning of the 19th. For much of this trip this has been the default time for writing my “Thoughts”. Christine remains asleep a few feet from me while I am treated to the sight of night slowly yielding to day. I often go to sleep with no intention of writing, but I awake, sometimes long before 5, and find that my “Thoughts” have been composed somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious. I get up, pull out my iPad and begin to type. It works, but how?… it’s a mystery.

Yesterday, as we left Trois-Pistoles Quebec my eye was drawn to the steeple that commanded a view above the village. There is not much to see in Trois-Pistoles but Trip Adviser mentioned a Basque cultural center, a Basque cheese “Fromagerie”, a small micro-brewery, and the church. The micro-brewery was closed when we arrived late on the 17th as was the cultural center. We are watching our weight so no cheese. The church held the number one spot for recommended things to see and do in Trois-Pistoles.

As an aside, there is a lingering Basque influence in this area that predates the 16th Century arrival of Jacques Cartier. Basque whalers traveled seasonally to these waters in hunt for the leviathans.

As a second aside, “Trois-Pistoles” is the name of a remarkably strong and complex beer crafted by the Canadian brewer, Unibroue… but not in Trois-Pistoles. For you aficionados it is worth seeking out on the shelves of discerning liquor stores and taverns in the States.

Now, about that church. Église Notre-Dame-des-Neiges was completed in 1887. It is truly monumental, far out of scale for the small town in which it is situated. It appeared to be closed, but we checked the doors and found that one side-door was unlocked. In my youth churches were always unlocked as the needs of those seeking a place for prayer were not constrained to banking hours. Perhaps Trois-Pistoles lacks the usual small population of miscreants who, if given the opportunity, deface and steal from houses of worship. Perhaps we were the coincidental beneficiaries of someone’s inadvertent omission… but as a good man in Puerto Rico told us earlier this year, “In life there are no coincidences”.

Upon entering the church we were treated to the most spectacular old world interior of any church that we have seen in North America. The long rows of pews appeared each individually carved. They gleamed mirror-like with flawless varnished surfaces. The towering pillars were hand painted with a faux marble finish and supported the lofty ceiling vault and dome. Remarkable!

While the overall impression was breathtaking, I found my eye drawn to the details of the church… the statue of Christ crucified,

The ornate confessional booths,

The Baptismal Font that had no doubt greeted thousands into the “fold”, and the galleries and pipe organ,

The Alter and Canopy,

The spiral stairs to the lectern used in former days to deliver the Gospel and homily to the congregants,

And then there was the very curious small pew standing alone in the back of the church. My first impression was that it was reserved for sinners ostracized but not excommunicated for some spiritual failing. There was a sign written in French on the pew. With the aid of Google Translate we learned the truth:

This was the bench of the Vire-chien, or “dog-guard”. It was occupied by the Church Constable whose tasks consisted in maintaining order in the church, opening or closing the doors during events such as weddings and funerals, regulating the heat as needed, and preventing dogs from entering the church. Tradition held that dogs entering a church were the harbinger of misfortune in the village. The Vire-chien wore a tricorned hat with a gilded silver-colored ribbon. The hat matched his long frock coat, which was of black wool. The costume was abandoned in the twentieth century, but perhaps the position of Vire-chien remains to this day.

Finally, there were the ubiquitous votive candles, a standard feature in most Catholic churches. These were particularly beautiful and well executed under the sympathetic gaze of the Virgin Mary.

I like churches for what they say about the people of a community. My thoughts about organized religion have become “complicated” over the years and don’t warrant airing here. Nevertheless I was gifted as a child with traditions of contemplation that still resonate with me. One of those is the lighting of a candle. The solitary flame brings a somber focus to my thoughts. In the course of the last few months a number of friends have exited from this life. A few days ago I paid homage to a remarkable woman who died 25 years ago. I recall the memories of those dear to me, now long passed. My wife and I have the blessing of being together in good health, being companions in travel, friends and lovers in life. So much to put upon the shoulders of that single flame…

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. We crossed into the United States last night.

I can’t say that all attorneys have cases that become a part of their life DNA, but I have had at least one such case. Recently a series of communications with Christina “Christy” reignited memories of events that centered upon her mother and family 25 years ago. The intervening years may have cast a haze upon my recollections but my emotions remain every bit as raw as they were a quarter of a century ago.

Paula Clouse had been trapped in an incredibly abusive marriage to Larry Clouse for over 20 years. The handwriting had been on the wall from the start when only weeks into the marriage the much older Larry smashed his fist into her jaw for failing to respond quickly enough with the beer he demanded. Paula’s jaw was wired shut in order for the bones to heal.

Paula dropped out of high school to marry Larry. Notwithstanding Larry’s serial abuse, she got her GED, worked to support the family, raised their first child (Chris) who was born early in the marriage, and persevered to complete her college education at CMSU. Two other children were born of the marriage, Derek was four and Christy turned one when Paula received her degree. Paula secured and held a full time position of responsibility with the Bendix Corporation of Kansas City and was the family’s sole wage earner. Larry was unemployed throughout the marriage, his temperament being incompatible with steady employment.

Paula first sought my help in 1992. Son Chris was out of the home and Paula hoped that divorcing Larry might protect the two younger children from further exposure to the emotionally toxic environment. I filed Paula’s Petition for Dissolution of the marriage and initiated the process to have papers served on Larry. Unfortunately, with threats and promises he coerced her into dismissing the Petition. I reluctantly complied with Paula’s decision.

The following year Paula returned to my office, accompanied by her 11 year old daughter Christy. Earlier in the week there had been another episode of violence in the home. Larry had struck Paula down, causing her to crash through a glass coffee table. He then sought to snatch the car keys from her purse and deny her an escape. Little Christy beat him to the purse and as he threatened to strike her she said, “Go ahead and hit me. Tomorrow I’m going to tell my teachers and everyone at school what you did.” With Paula on the floor behind her, the defiant child succeeded in getting Larry to back down. Paula and Christy left. Derek chose to remain with his father. Paula explained that her daughter’s courage convinced her to leave Larry for good. There would be no going back.

I dropped everything that day and prepared a new Petition. I also prepared a motion for emergency protective orders. The documents were filed and served upon Larry along with a notice of the scheduled hearing on the motion for protective orders.

Larry appeared for the hearing along with his attorney and 15 year old son Derek. The matter convened before Judge Jane Pansing Brown and proceeded as a vigorously contested matter. Larry denied the allegations of abuse, but the bruises on Paula’s face and arms told a different story. He sought custody of both Derek and Christy, requesting that Paula be denied access to the children. At the conclusion of the lengthy hearing Paula was granted a protective order and custody of their daughter. Larry was granted supervised visitation with Christy and custody of Derek at the 15 year old’s request. Paula was granted visits with Derek, the first to occur that evening, August 10, 1993.

After the Judge issued her ruling from the bench I spoke with an emotionally drained Paula in a small adjoining conference room. She embraced me and then said that she would be satisfied even if the only thing she accomplished was to free her daughter from the violence. These were to be Paula’s last words ever spoken to me.

That evening Paula took Derek to the Metro North Theater to see “Robin Hood, Men in Tights”. Popcorn in hand, they had just taken their seats to watch the previews of coming attractions. Derek stood, faced his mom, and pulled a handgun from his jeans. He leveled the barrel at Paula and methodically fired six bullets into her. She died at the scene.

Derek was taken into custody. The police investigation resulted in murder charges filed against both Derek and Larry. I was called to testify in Larry’s trial. The evidence established that Larry provided Derek with the firearm and ammunition. He had taken Derek to a remote location to practice killing his mother. Larry placed a target and instructed the 15 year old to shoot and pretend that it was Paula. Larry also told Derek that there would be insurance money from Paula’s death that would make them rich. They would escape to Canada and live in comfort.

Both Larry and Derek were convicted of murder and received life sentences. Larry died of heart failure in prison on December 27, 2016. Derek remains in prison, two applications for parole having been denied. His next eligibility for parole occurs in November 2019.

Christy was placed with caring foster parents. I participated in her later adoption by those folks. Christy went on to college, my wife and I traveled to attend her wedding, and she is the loving mother of a darling little boy. We remain in touch with each other to this day.

Until recently I never fully appreciated the impact that I had as an attorney on the life of that courageous 11 year old girl. Here is what she wrote to me shortly after the 25th anniversary of her mother’s death:

“Pete, as my mom would say about you, “he is a good man.” You truly are. In a time when things she confided in you were the types of things you’d only read about in a murder mystery novel or see in the movies, you believed her. You gave her a voice that she would’ve never had without you. Although she died, her legacy lives on and with it are stories of a silly attorney, full of jokes for a little girl, one who stared in a play (which btw the little girl went on to do theater), one with a PHOTOCOPY MACHINE, who let her photocopy her hand for the very first time! But also a stern attorney who put that little girl in her place a time, ok or maybe two. A hard nosed attorney who fought tooth and nail for that Mom and little girl. And a man that stayed present long after his client was gone, watching out for that little girl, through trials and court proceedings and even by showing up on her wedding day. A man that still today keeps in contact with that little girl. A man that really did hold both of their hands and changed their lives forever. You are always instrumental in this story. You, Pete, are a good man…a great man!”

Paula’s wish, expressed in her last words to me, was granted.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. There were other victims of the fallout from Larry’s abuse. Chief among them were Paula’s parents who were good people tortured by what they saw their daughter endure and helpless to intervene. May they also Rest In Peace.

Good fortune and fine weather allowed us a visit to the spectacular Monoliths on the Mingan Archipelago islands.

The fog of the previous day gave way to partly sunny skies and attracted additions to the 8 of us who had signed up for the 4 hour tour the previous day.

The Mingan Archipelago began forming millions of years ago where the 1 billion year old rock of the Canadian Shield met the 500 million year old limestone sediment of an ancient sea. Waters cascading off of the Shield created fissures and cracks in the limestone. 20,000 years ago marked the beginning of the last Ice Age. A crust of ice nearly 2 miles thick formed over this region, the weight of the ice pressed the land downward many hundreds of feet. 10,000 years ago as the ice melted away the land rapidly rebounded and was subjected to additional erosion from the glacial runoff. The land continues to rebound even today at the rate of 3 millimeters (about 1/10th of an inch) per year. Thus wind and water erosion continue the slow process of carving these unique Monoliths which once were under 250 feet of water.

The Archipelago consists of a group of 40 islands that are now a protected environment within the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada. The National Park Reserve itself extends over 125 miles along the north coast of the St. Lawrence and includes over 2,000 islands.

Our tour of two of the Mingan islands featured a National Park docent, unfortunately we soon learned that she “docent” speak English!! Christine and I were the only passengers who were not either Francophones or bilingual. We satisfied ourselves with proceeding solo along the well marked paths and boardwalks of the islands.

Rustic camping is allowed along with other recreational activities, but access is only by water and carefully regulated to protect the environment.

We were rewarded with the wonderful experience of viewing and examining these stunning natural wonders unencumbered by the presence of other milling spectators. We were soon joined by a Camille and Janice, a very nice couple from near Ottawa who could understand the (very lengthy) explanations of the naturalist, but preferred the solace we were enjoying.

Our return to Havre-Saint-Pierre included a sighting of a Minke Whale. Unfortunately I was not quick enough with the camera.

Tomorrow we drive 350 miles back to Godbout where we will overnight in the ferry parking lot to await our 11 am Monday departure for the south shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The passage will take about 2 1/2 hours and often features views of migrating whales.

Peace Everyone. Pete

We have arrived at Havre-Saint-Pierre which is the end of our road, but Canada 138 continues east for at least another 150 kilometers. The 250km (about 150 miles) we traveled yesterday was both beautiful and remote. With the exception of a few small seashore villages there were no signs of habitation. A sign warned us early on that there were no gas stations for 110km.

We enjoyed an opportunity for a brief hike to take in views of one of the many rivers cascading from down from the north on to the St. Lawrence.

The Municipality of Rivière-au-Tonnerre is comprised of the town itself and 3 small neighboring villages. The total population for the 244 square miles of this political subdivision is 307 people, down 21% from 10 years ago. There are no gas stations, no restaurants, no cell service, and we saw only one small convenience store. Folks are almost exclusively employed in fishing to supply crabs to a local processing factory. However, there is a remarkable church. Built in 1903, L’Eglise Saint-Hippolite is surprisingly large and constructed entirely of wood. It is like no church that we have ever seen before. We had the good fortune to be given a tour by its caretaker who only spoke French. Christine hung on linguistically for all she was worth as he gestured here and there about the church, speaking with obvious pride in rapid-fire French.

We have also entered a region where First Nation people predominated. Signs are now printed in both French and the local indigenous language. Political authority in many places is here vested with the local First Nation Tribe.

Ordinarily Havre-Saint-Pierre would be an oasis for tourism, however the season has ended. We arrived at the relatively large seaside municipal campground (86 sites) only to find that the electricity is off, the bathrooms are locked up, and all of the seasonal tenants are long gone. The gate has been left open for the few hearty souls like us who still wander this area. The camping is now free and fortunately the water is still on and the trailer sewage dump appears to still operate. We are the only camper visible in either direction.

The fog along the coast has been relentless. The inland air is clear as crystal, but on the shore it is as if the crystal has been frosted opaque. Moreover, the dampness really drives the cold inside of you. The temperature dropped to 40 degrees in the night and as we are now “boondocking” (only using our self contained propane and battery power) we embrace a heightened sense of adventure.

We came here in hopes of visiting the Mingo Archipelago National Reserve. It is renowned for its flora, fauna, and the remarkable stone monoliths that abound along its shores. Unfortunately, it can only be reached by water. Fortunately, the daily boat is still operating. Ordinarily the vessel would carry dozens of people to the reserve, but we will be joined tomorrow by only 6 other passengers. We are keeping our fingers crossed for clear skies and most of all, no fog.

Peace Everyone. Pete

The following appeared in my archive from two years ago today as we traveled New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It is worth sharing once again.

September 14, 2016:

Most of the time my postings focus on the things that we see and the things that we do. Last night I received a heartfelt and personal email from a staff person at 5 Islands Provincial Park. I will only say that it was most touching for both Christine and me. It reminded me that there is the third dimension to our travels, the people whose lives we touch and who touch ours. These encounters do not often meaningfully lend themselves to pictures or description. However, in replying to her I offer a window into this third dimension of our experiences. I share my reply with you.

Dear ——. Our visit to your park has presented us with a series of memorably, and in some cases extraordinary experiences.

In the morning I took in the Red Head Trail, enjoying a brief interlude with a couple from Germany, taking advantage of a tart green apple that was just within my reach, and being overwhelmed by the scarlet expanse of the cliffs extending before my eyes.

Christine and I visited the Dutchman Cheese Farm where we stopped to watch 3 calves play like children in a schoolyard. After sampling an array of cheeses and chatting with the proprietor (who had just gotten off the phone with her mother in Holland), we left with a box of cheeses that may not make it back to Kansas City.

We lunched on fish and chips at Diane’s down the road, making the acquaintance of a most pleasant waitress.

In the afternoon we walked along the base of the towering red cliffs, leaving footprints on the sea floor that in a few short hours would be erased by 40 feet of incoming tide. There we met a couple from Quebec and their Great Dane who did not seem so taken with the magnificence we all appreciated.

From the elevation of our campsite we watched the return of the tide and the departure of the sun. With no campfire, we found our focus on the stars and a bright near-full moon. I casually remarked to Chris that it had been quite some time since we had seen a shooting star. Not two seconds later the sky was slashed before our eyes by the bright trail of a streaking meteor! First we laughed and then we marveled at the joke that Nature had played upon us.

Like I said, this was an extraordinary day… but little did I know that the best was yet to come. It arrived in the form of a kind and thoughtful message from you. Thank you so very much for sharing the joy of a moment when life paths briefly intersected, merged, and then proceeded over the horizon of each other’s experience.

In life may you always have fun, do good, and be safe for the sake of those who love you. Oh, and also Live Long and Prosper!

Peace. Pete and Christine.

Late last February I launched my new website and began publishing my “Thoughts”. Most of the posts have been written while we have been on the road, taking the form of a travelogue with photographs and occasional personal reflections. I knew there were some dedicated followers and I held some hope that the audience might grow. However, what has occurred has exceeded any expectation.

My website provides me with a continuously updated tally of the number of visitors, and a record of the the countries that they are logging in from. I can’t see who is visiting, but I can see where they are visiting from.

As of today 20,000 visitors from 61 countries have read my “Thoughts”. I know that professional bloggers would scoff at these numbers, but I am grateful for the time that each of you give to us.

We revel not only in the exploration of places, but in the forging of friendships and the discovery of new dimensions to our own relationship. For me this is a labor of love. Thank you for being a part of it.

Today we traveled from Baie Comeau to Sept-Iles on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. En route we stopped at the ferry terminal at Godbout and made a reservation for a Monday crossing to Matane on the south shore.

This is the farthest east ferry crossing available to us. The passage will take about 2 hours and the cost to transport us, vehicle and trailer is about $200.00. Matane is about 175 miles northeast of Edmundston, New Brunswick. It is at Edmundston that we will cross back into the United States at the northernmost tip of Maine. From there we will begin our slow return south and west to Kansas City.

Between today and Monday we will spend Thursday night camping in Sept-Iles and then travel on to Havre-Saint-Pierre where we will camp for two nights before returning to the ferry dock at Godbout.

The last few days along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence have been a spectacular mix of dense north woods, rolling hills, stark rock promontories and seaside vistas. We are given to understand that the best is yet to come. We look forward to sharing it with all of you.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: This area is a mecca for the generation of hydroelectric power. We stopped to view the dam at the Sainte-Marguerite River. Before the 1980’s traffic crossed the river on a narrow roadway atop the dam. A major bridge was constructed to span the river canyon. On October 30, 1984 tragedy struck. As a crew was laying the final pavement on the bridge deck the substructure failed and the bridge collapsed into the rushing waters 200 feet below. 6 workers lost their lives.

We endured a bone chilling day today upon the waters of the St. Lawrence. The cold was driven into our core by a relentless rain that became needle sharp as our 12 person Zodiac tore through the fog. By the end of 3 hours in that open boat our stiffened joints resisted movement. 180 minutes of cold, rain, fog… an unrequited bladder… and worth every moment! The whales didn’t mind either.

We were advised to wear every piece of warm weather clothing that we had before arriving at the dock. Once there we suited up into flotation foul weather gear, looking and feeling like the Michelin Man. I thought, “There is no way that I will be cold in this rig!” I was wrong.

The fog and rain merged the sky and sea so that they became indistinguishable from one another. At times it was like floating within the center of a ping-pong-ball. 36 participants were allocated 12 each into 3 small vessels. We were among 8 English speakers who were assigned together onto one boat. Our captain was accommodating and displayed a real enthusiasm for the excursion.

It took 15 minutes for us to enter the main channel from port. A 5 knot tidal current continued to propel us downstream even when the motors were at idle. We periodically paused to listen for the sounds of whales blowing. The deep rumbled “whoose’’ of huge lungs exhaling carried eerily across the water from every direction. The captain’s experience drove us time and again to the nearest creatures. Along with hosts of smaller marine mammals there were Beluga Whales, Finback Whales, and the magnificent Humpback Whales! Sightings became so common that I began leaving my camera in its case.

As it was calving season we remained a respectful and lawful distance from the Belugas. The Finbacks seemed endlessly long as they gently rounded above the surface. These are the second largest of all whales and one of the largest creatures to have ever existed. The captain estimated that the examples we saw today were easily over 20 meters (65 feet). Some have been known to reach 85 feet long. They are sleek and reputed to be the fastest of all whales. Regrettably, they were a bit shy and while the viewing was good the pictures were not.

The Humpbacks almost seemed to seek us out. These creatures can grow to 50 feet long, weigh over 65,000 pounds, and live up to 50 years. On occasion they paralleled our vessel nearly within an outstretched arms reach. We could watch them silently glide just below the surface, periodically breaking the surface, blowing, and gently curving back into the depths. At times they raised their flukes as if waving goodbye. The captain was able to identify each of them by their unique tail markings, telling us the creatures name, gender, and occasionally a bit of its history. This was an extraordinary experience in a trip that has featured extraordinary experiences.

Back at camp a hot shower and nap did much to restore my core temperature.

We capped off the evening with dinner at Chez Mathilde. We expected a meal but we were rewarded with fine dining and the smokey tunes of an excellent jazz duo.

Tomorrow we begin our day-by-day journey further down the St. Lawrence. Who knows what surprises await us… perhaps the Northern Lights?

Peace Everyone. Pete

The day began cold… 32 degrees cold.

We broke camp and traveled a short distance to a very nice roadside restaurant where Christine again took the opportunity to practice her French on the locals. She is doing quite well and building both confidence and excitement at being understood.

Our drive continued to the ferry dock on the east side of the Sanguenay River where it exits the Fjord and enters the St. Lawrence. Continuous ferry service with three carriers in rotation facilitates the traffic crossing of this wide expanse of water without needless delay.

While crossing we spotted a Beluga Whale playing near the ships bow. Unfortunately I was not in time to capture it with my camera. On the other side of the river is the town of Tadoussac where we will camp for the next two nights.

Our campsite is situated high upon the dunes that overlook the incredibly quaint and historic town of Tadoussac. This had been the site of Indian tribal trading long before Cartier first visited in 1535. A European settlement and Catholic mission was established in 1600, becoming a major fur trading post and port for French vessels.

The mission was staffed in the 1600’s first by the Franciscans and then the Jesuits. The mission church that remains intact on the site dates to 1747. Two of the founding priests are interred beneath the church.

We spent the afternoon walking through town. We were pleasantly surprised to find a microbrewery near the docks. Nicholas, who was on-staff, spoke excellent English and even better “Brew-speak”. He was able to give a comprehensive explanation of the current offerings, all of which we sampled. They were exceptional. He proudly highlighted the recent third place finish that they were awarded for their Red Ale in an international competition.

We returned to camp and reserved places on a 12 person Zodiac for whale watching in the morning. We will depart further up the St. Lawrence where there is an excellent chance to view a variety of whales including a recently sighted pod of Blue Whales. Blues are the largest creatures to have ever lived. Below is a larger group that we watched depart from the pier.

Our evening was capped off with an excellent camp-cooked Pad Thai entree, wine, and fireside companionship with a group of 6 Canadians from near Toronto. Our nighttime views of Tadoussac and the far shore of the St. Lawrence are stunning!

Peace Everyone! Pete

In 1878 Quebec City merchant Charles-Napoleon Robitaille was traveling upon the frozen Fjord-du-Saguenay when the ice broke. He along with his horse and sleigh were cast into the freezing waters. Charles prayed to the Virgin Mary that his life be spared. He survived, but as the horse was not a believer it perished (sorry, small joke!).

Charles soon became deathly ill from his experience in the freezing waters. He again prayed to the Virgin Mary, this time asking for 10 more years of life in order to raise his children and provide for his family. He again lived.

Charles vowed to create a monument to his two miracles. Thus he engaged the services of sculptor Louis Jobin. Using three huge white pine logs, Louis carved a statue of the Virgin Mary that was to stand nearly 30 feet tall.

While transporting the statue on the Fjord, it fell from the boat into the waters. Fortunately it floated. The three sections were towed 15km by rowboat to a location beneath the cliff of Cape Trinity where it was to be installed hundreds of feet above the Fjord.

The local 19th Century technology proved inadequate for the task, so 19th Century ingenuity was employed. The 6,000 pound statue was cut into 14 pieces and each piece was hoisted up the cliff where they were reassembled and covered with thin lead sheathing for protection from the elements. The Statue has stood overlooking the Fjord from the point of Cape Trinity since 1881. Tradition calls upon mariners who pass the Cape to slow their vessels and sound their horns in honor of the Virgin Mary and the memory of Charles-Napoleon Robitaille.

Reaching the statue by land is a moderately challenging 5 mile hike that involves a total assent of 1,500 feet. Allowing for some contemplation time along the way and at the top, the round trip takes about 3 hours. This trail is a part of the final section of the 215km pilgrimage walk that is presented in 14 sections from Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean to the Notre Dame du-Saguenay statue. Each section has a different spiritual theme.

Please enjoy these pictures of my experience upon the trail to the statue. Tomorrow we continue our journey northeast along the shores of the St. Lawrence.

Peace Everyone. Pete

It is a rare treat at my age (66) to be presented with the opportunity for a new experience. The pictures of Parc-du-Saguenay’s Via Ferrata were an enticement to me that proved more compelling than Christine’s disapproval. Her concerns are understandable given her own fear of heights and the death of a good friend who fell this last May while hiking in Scotland.

A Via Ferrata is a technical mountain climb along an established path that features permanently installed climbing aids (often of iron or steel) such as cables, hand holds, iron rungs, ladders, and narrow beam bridges. Harnesses must be utilized as the Via Ferrata ascends and crosses sheer cliff faces, often hundreds of feet above the valley below.

Via Ferratas are popular in the Alps, and are less well know in North America. The modern incarnations have their roots in the 19th Century as these aids were permanently installed along popular climbing routes in the Alps. The First World War saw the construction of Ferratas in order to facilitate the movement of troops along perilous mountain paths. It is believed that there are now over 1,000 Ferrata routes in Europe.

Parc-du-Saguenay’s Via Ferrata likely ranks as one of intermediate difficulty. It features very steep cliff ascents, in one place beyond vertical, traverses with minimal hand and foot holds, short passages across 4 inch wide beams, and precipitous rock scrambles. All of this takes place hundreds of feet above the valley below. It requires a fair degree of upper body strength and a constitution immune from fear of heights.

Finally, the real gem of the experience is the crossing of the valley by a 1 foot wide, 300 foot long open sided cable bridge.

The expedition is limited to 8 participants and an experienced guide. There were 7 in my group. The route took a little over 3 hours to complete, including the 30 minute assessment and training portion.

A short near ground course provides the guide with teaching aids with which he demonstrates the use of the equipment. It also allows him to assess the abilities of the participants. Any person who does not appear capable of competence, lacks sufficient strength, or displays excessive fear, is denied further participation. Everyone qualified in my outing, but I confess that I was initially concerned that I might “wash out” because of my age and my pronounced hand tremors (a life-long genetic condition that has worsened with age) which can easily be misinterpreted as fear or Parkinson’s disease.

As it turned out my “test” went very well. Throughout most of the journey I and a young couple from Belgium and France were placed ahead of our guide, Sebastian. He later told me that he frequently has to reject a candidate out of concern that their fear or lack of ability present a danger to all participants within a group.

The entire experience was beyond my pre-departure comprehension. At times it took on the aspect of an out-of-body experience for me… clinging to the face of cliffs, climbing ladder rungs where my head and hands were further out than my feet, which sought to swing free beneath me. There was little fear, virtually no adrenaline, only exhilaration. In this I may have been alone among my fellow climbers. I was the only member taking pictures and often hung hands free by my harness to point and shoot my camera. As I write this I remain a bit mystified at my reactions. Perhaps they derive from my trust in the equipment and those who designed the route. However, I did find an internal voice cautioning me to always make sure that one carabiner was firmly in place before repositioning the other. My life depended upon that small detail.

One of the members of our group was a young lady from France who might be 5 feet tall but only if she stands on her toes. She was situated ahead of me with her boyfriend in the lead. As we crossed the cable bridge the arc of the safety cable took it beyond her reach. At 10 foot intervals we were required to unclip from the cable and then reclip past each of the attachment points. She was unable to do this until in unison I and her boyfriend reached up and hung our weight from the cable, pulling it down to within her reach.

Although I was the sole native English speaker, a comradeship of accomplishment developed within our group. The combination of the interpersonal experience along with the physical and emotional challenges created an incredibly memorable experience!

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: Later in the day Christine and I traveled to place along the Fjord where a short hike rewarded us with some of the most astounding views of this incredible region.