In Quebec’s wilderness, EMILY COLSTON is seduced by spectacular scenery as she kayaks the Saguenay Fjord.
If there’s one word I never, ever, thought I’d be using to describe myself, it would be ‘Ironman’. But that’s just what I felt like that afternoon. I was Trevor Hendy, battling my way through the waves, every fibre of my being dedicated to conquering the surge. OK, so I was kayaking through a two-foot swell in a Canadian fjord where Trev would’ve been tackling a metre or two of fierce Aussie breakers but, pound for pound, I reckon the effort was about the same.
I’ve always loved a bit of kayaking. It’s really the only way to travel the water, and I’d been looking forward to this trip forever. We were headed to Saguenay Fjord in the separatist heart of Quebec, a waterway famed for its harsh cliffs and abundant wildlife, and I was more excited than a couch-jumping Tom Cruise. I could hardly wait for all the serenity and silence, the only sound being the splish-splash of your oars and the occasional slap of swell against your hull.
But if any day was destined to change my opinion of paddling, this was going to be it. Spring weather in Quebec can be pretty erratic – a mid-twenties bluebird one day, then stormy and plummeting towards zero the next – and the meteorological gods seemed determined to crash my party. The big day dawned so miserable that I contemplated pulling out of my dream trip altogether. But by the time we pulled into the picturesque village of L’Anse St-Jean, the threatening skies had backed off. Assured by our guide, Louis Dubord, that we’d be able to handle any inclement weather, we chose to press on.
Fully wetsuited and booted, we struck out from the calm waters of the cove. One of the world’s longest, the Saguenay Fjord stretches more than 100km from Ste Fulgence on Lac St Jean to Tadoussac on the mighty St Lawrence River, but on this day we would only be taking on a small fraction of that – about 5km or so east of L’Anse-St-Jean.
It’s an area that has long been a haunt for local indian tribes, and as we rounded the point and entered the fjord proper, Louis pointed out The Face of the Fjord which the natives believe gives good luck to travellers. The Face must have been looking the other way for us, though, for as we made our way out over deeper waters, the clouds turned to mist, the mist turned to showers and the showers turned to driving rain. And here’s where my Trevor Hendy impression came into play. A two-foot swell might not sound like much, but when you’re sitting at water level in a two-man sea kayak, such churning grey waters are plenty big enough. I paddled harder than I’d ever thought possible, battling frozen hands and feet at the same time, and eventually we made it to the other side.
Although I wouldn’t have thought I’d had any left to give, here my breath was taken away by the dramatic scenery of the fjord. Black spruce and pine trees blanket the surrounding hilltops which end abruptly in the imposing granite cliffs and tumbling, rain-fed waterfalls which towered above us before plunging into the inky black depths. Carved out by a glacier a couple of hundred thousand years ago, the fjord plunges to a depth of almost 300m in places. But shrouded in mist as it was, the vast space felt strangely close, and this eerie atmosphere had me in thrall.
Fighting with the vistas for top billing here is the local marine life. Several species of whale (including blue, minke, pilot and humpback) visit the confluence of the Saguenay and St Lawrence from May to October, and ghostly beluga whales call the place home year-round. While years of pollution have largely driven these ethereal white whales from their breeding grounds in the fjord, thanks to the creation of a marine protected area (the watery equivalent of a national park), much of the pollutants have been eliminated and beluga are beginning to return to the fjord.
To my eternal disappointment we didn’t manage to get up close and personal with one of these intriguing creatures (I guess they were wiser than we, staying out of the miserable weather), though we didn’t miss out on the animal action entirely. As we headed back to L’Anse St Jean, a seal popped up from the now silky-smooth black water off our port side, and was gone as quickly as he’d arrived. It wasn’t much, but was all the more special because of it.
After some six or so hours adrift on Saguenay’s wild waters, my relieved biceps pulled us back past The Face of the Fjord and into L’Anse St Jean. Exhausted, wet, cold, yet exhilarated – I had had an amazing day, and would do it all again in a heartbeat, rain hail or shine. The might of Saguenay Fjord had stunned me into submission, cast some sort of spell over me, and I will be a devotee for life. If it can do that on a ‘bad’ day, just think what it could do on a glorious day when the sun is shining and the beluga are back. I know I plan to find out one day.
• Emily travelled courtesy of Destination Quebec UK (0870-556 1705; www.que bec4u.co.uk), and explored the fjord with Fjord en Kayak (+1 418-272 3024; www.fjord-en-kayak.ca). Their one-day kayaking excursion costs C$115.