On August 7-13, 2016, filmmaker, author and longtime Alpinist contributor Pete Takeda shared some images and stories with the #alpinistcommunityproject about ice climbing in Quebec, which you can now see here. He wrote an article about the trip for Alpinist 55 titled “The Country of Winter,” and also produced a short documentary called “Northern Soul.”
For a long time, Quebec was terra incognita to me, a great white blank in the map of my imagination. I didn’t know that some people consider it a country within a country–that more than 10 years after a second and narrowly rejected referendum for independence in 1995, the Canadian federal government recognized that ‘Quebecois form a nation within a united Canada.’ Nor was I aware that, of the Indigenous groups who have lived there for more than 7,500 years, some have never signed treaties relinquishing their title to the land.
As a climber, I was only vaguely aware that the province contains immense cliffs of rock and ice.
On our fourth day, the temperatures fall so low that our thermometer can no longer measure them: the dark-blue alcohol retreats into the tiny bulb at the bottom of the glass. J.P. takes off on another Beaudet classic called La Goulotte de M. Felix. His first hit shatters a platter-sized plate. The second blow shears off a bigger scab, exploding in his face. It’s so cold the colors seem to have bleached out of the land and the sky. The chartreuse sheen of J.P.’s shell jacket fades to a boggy yellow as he picks his way through a vertical garden, as fragile as blown-glass.
The valley is so quiet you can hear the trees creak as they settle in the cold. We shuttle gear through the thick forest and set up a prospector tent on the frozen river and two bivy tents in the adjacent woods. In late afternoon, we pause to watch the sun pass across the M51 cliff, revealing vaporous tendrils of new ice. The wind whips up, and a million crystals lash us.
“I’m not gonna lie to you,” the Ferret says, “This is beautiful.”
My fingertips are numb, bleached white. The first scabs of dead skin peel away. Outside the bus window, falling snow blankets the high, brown-mottled berms of last week’s plough debris. I nod off to the purring sway of the bus, and dream of a different planet. Layer upon layer of blue, grey, white, yellow and orange swirl across a precipice, its surface burnished purple in the northern sun. A day ago, we left Nipissis, and it’s already a distant place. But I hold the image in my mind, as I touched it for the first time.
In January 1994, Quebecois climber Patrice Beaudet boarded the Tshiuetin Rail train in Sept-Iles with skis, a sled to haul gear and food, and an equally enthusiastic partner, Pierrot Drouin…. Beaudet planned to take the train to Labrador City and return by ski, a journey of more than 300 miles through dense forest and bottomless snow.
The ski attempt failed…. On the return train, Beaudet saw a 200-meter granite monolith streaked with otherworldly ice. “I found myself acting like a kid,” he later recounted, “jumping from one window to another just to spot and note every single icicle I could glimpse on both sides of the railroad.”