Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Canadian Adventures: Paddling the Saguenay Fjord

As I mentioned in a previous piece about my recent trip to Quebec, Canada, the theme of the visit was "Must Love Water." As such, many of the activities that we took part in involved paddling a boat of some type. That included a stand-up paddleboard, a whitewater raft, and a canoe. But perhaps the best experience of the entire trip saw us loading up on sea kayaks and heading out onto the breathtaking Saguenay Fjord, a place of such natural beauty that it literally had to be seen to be believed.

After spending the better part of the week on waterways of one kind or another in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec I was beginning to think I had seen most of what there wast to experience there. After all, our whitewater run was a thrilling, adrenaline inducing affair, and even our canoe trip mixed in a taste of whitewater to keep things interesting as well. Both of those experiences took place in lovely settings with thick forests lining the shores of the rivers we were on, and scenic settings to pass through. As lovely as those settings were however, they couldn't compare with kayaking on the fjord.

On the day we were scheduled to go kayaking we spent the better part of the morning driving to the Parc National du Fjord-du-Sagueny (the Sagueny Fjord National Park) where we would eventually join our guide from OrganisAction, a local outfitter that organizes kayaking excursions there. The park itself has a lot to offer in addition to paddling. For instance, there are several self-guided hikes to take, each of which offers some great views of the surrounding landscape. But for the truly bold, there is also an impressive Via Ferrata that takes visitors high up onto the rocky cliffs on a trek that is is both beautiful and heart-stopping for entirely different reasons. Unfortunately, we weren't there to make that hike, so after a quick lunch it was off to find our guide and begin our waterborne adventure instead.

As usual with any guided kayaking excursion we had to first go through an orientation on how to paddle most efficiently, the best ways to enter and exit the boat, and how to steer the long sea kayaks that we would use on the fjord. I've had plenty of experience in this department and was more than ready to go, so thankfully it didn't take too long before we were dropping the kayaks into the water and setting out.

It didn't take long to figure out just why this region was declared a national park in Canada. A few paddles away from the dock and the impressive landscape began to take shape. High cliffs rose all around us, while tranquil water ran all the way from our put-in spot out into the middle of the fjord itself. On that day, with the sun shining high overhead and the clear blue water all around us, it was simply a magnificent place to be.

For those who don't know, a fjord is a long, narrow inlet that has typically been carved by a glacier, and has high, towering cliffs all around it. A true fjord is fed by salt water from the ocean, but in the case of the Saguenay Fjord, there is salt water underneath with a current of fresh water, fed from the Saguenay River, on top. This makes it a unique environment where both fresh and salt water fish and mammals can be found. In some parts of the fjord it is possible to spot whales or even Greenland sharks, while a variety of salmon and other fish from the river exist in the same space.

Our group paddled out into this aquatic wonderland with our jaws hanging open. Over the course of our week together we had seen some truly beautiful places, but this one the crowning jewel of the experience for sure. Paddling along the cool, but refreshing water was a relaxing affair, even when we took our boats out into the middle of the fjord itself. From there, we were afforded the best views of the waterway, able to look west towards the mouth of the river and east where the deep blue waters drifted off into the distance. I'm sure on a day where the weather isn't cooperative the fjord could be a harsh place to be, but on this day it was perfect.

One of the highlights of a kayak trip out onto the Saguenay Fjord is spotting the famous Virgin Mary Statue that adorns one of the cliff tops there. While not quite as large and imposing as the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, it is still a memorable sight to behold. The state was placed there by a local trader named Charles Napoleon Robitaille back in 1881. A few years prior to that, Robitaille was traveling across the frozen ice when it gave way beneath him. As he was pulled into the freezing cold water, he prayed to the Virgin Mary to save him, and somehow he found himself alive, out of the fjord, and on solid ice. After that, he vowed to do something to both commemorate the experience and thank the higher powers that he had lived. He made good on his promise and later had the statue installed.

Even from the water below the tall cliffs, the white statue of the Virgin Mary stands out against the lush green trees. The monument was another unique element to a place that was already amazing to look upon, and the story of how it got there only adds to the mystique of the place.

After spending several hours paddling the fjord it was time to head back to the shore, but not before making a detour along the opposite shore to catch a glimpse of a beautiful waterfall that tumbled down the rock face there. As we paddled we could see several such waterfalls in the distance, so it was nice to see one up close too. It was a brief stop over however, and before long we were steaming our way across the open water once again.

While we were out on the water, the tide had obviously come in. The dock that we had used as a put in earlier in the day had been sitting high and dry on the beach, allowing us to wade in a short distance before setting out. Now however, it was floating on the surface of the fjord, and the water had risen up to our waists. That made for a soggier exit, but the water felt good after a warm afternoon.

After dragging our boats back up on shore, it was time to say goodbye to our guide and the fjord. It was certainly a memorable day in the kayaks however, and one that I would love to do again. In fact, our guide mentioned that there are some primitive campsites along the shore of the fjord that stretch for miles. He said that adventurous kayakers like to paddle down the fjord and stay at those campsites as they go. With a good kayak, plenty of supplies and gear, it would be possible to go for days in this remote, and pristine wilderness. That sounds like the kind of trip I would enjoy doing.

If you're in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region in the summer, a visit to the national park is a must-do adventure. Even if you can't get out on the water in a kayak – which I HIGHLY recommend you do – at least go for a hike and take in the surrounding landscape. It is a place that will definitely leave a lasting impression.

No comments: