Salmon Ladders and Parc National de la Gaspésie

After looking around Motel le Cordon Rouge this morning, I'll reduce the room count to - I think - ten. But I'm not changing my opinion that I was the only person there. Weird. It was fine - everything was old, but well maintained, comfortable and quiet.

There's a river going right through Matane and into the St. Lawrence. So right in the downtown there's a salmon ladder to get around a small dam in the river. They have a building in the middle of the ladder and charge you $5 to come in and look through portholes, but a lot of the ladder is out in the open air. I didn't think there would be any salmon at this time of year (I'd guess it's mostly in the spring?), so I stayed outside. And damned if I didn't see a salmon fighting its way up: not surprisingly, it sat in each tank/box to rest for a minute or two before attempting the next step. That was really cool to see - not a small fish, a couple feet long?

My next stop was "Éole," the world's biggest vertical axis wind turbine. When I first read the guide book, I thought "why the hell do I need to see a wind turbine?! I've seen those!" But then I read it again: "vertical axis." Those aren't common. I thought they were a good idea when I was a kid, but apparently they're inefficient and difficult to build. Anyway, this one is a monster: it's 110 metres tall. Despite it being the off-season (ie. past Labour Day), they're still running tours ... but now only in French. 45 minute tours, apparently mostly about the mechanics. And while I'd love to hear that, I'd love even more to understand it. Happily, the woman at the front gate at least let me drive up to the site to get a close-up view. It's not running - I wonder if that's because it's better as a tourist attraction than as a power generator?

From there I went to Parc National de la Gaspésie, stopping first at the Tourist Information point in Ste-Anne-des-Monts. Where I got into a bit of a debate about "National Parks" and why the Quebec ones called that aren't free this year. The Tourist Information guy explained it thus: "National Park" is a designation for any park that meets a certain set of criteria. Parc National de la Gaspésie meets those criteria, and so it's a "National Park." But only Forillon Park (at the tip of the peninsula) is a "Federal" park. That's a distinction I'd never heard before - just "National" or "Provincial." So the free park tag (kindly provided by Sarah) only applies at Forillon and one smaller less well known park to the south.

At the park I waited in a long line to A) buy my park pass, and B) get a recommendation for what trail(s) to hike. The guy was kind of rushed, so he just said "You have four hours? Do 'Le mont Olivine' trail." I said "it's marked difficult." He said "it's the easiest of the difficult ratings: you'll do it in four hours easy." (He was a native French speaker: I think I'm adding English colloquialisms that he didn't use, but you get the idea.)

So off I went to the Le mont Olivine trail. The first 600 metres is Hydro corridor (weird, my compass didn't seem to work there ... yes, I have a real compass with me ... and yes, I know high voltage wires generate a magnetic field, it's a joke). The next 1.5 km is clearly a four-wheeler trail (I suspect parks maintenance rather than recreational use). And then we get into the rivulets and mud ... It's been raining all summer and fairly solidly for the last couple days, the trail is quite wet. But it wasn't actually a big deal: a little caution and I stayed dry. For the first hour and a quarter, it was a pretty uninteresting trail. But damn, it really, seriously made up for that lack of interest once you get out on the ridge. The views are incredible. Apparently I was looking at the Chic Choc Mountains to the west and the McGerrigle Mountains to the east. (Both are close relatives of the Appalachians, we're not talking the Rocky's here.) The sun came out around the time I reached the peak, and the photography stayed glorious from then on.

photo: A panorama near the peak of the Mont Olivine trail

exposed rock spine trail, view over a lake and many hills

As I've mentioned previously (when I was hiking around Superior and in Newfoundland I think), rating systems for hiking are extremely difficult. There's no standard, and I was shocked how much faster I completed the trail than what their guide book suggested. They said "four hours" for this one, return trip ... but the only reason it took me 3.5 hours was because I loitered for nearly an hour on the ridgeline taking pictures. And I wasn't rushing (I'm out of shape - I CAN'T rush). And they called this one "difficult." It was ... reassuring.

On the way out I got to talk to another park guy but this time without a queue behind me. He was clearly a fan of the product he was selling (ie. he hiked the trails a lot), and recommended a couple trails for tomorrow. So he recommended another "difficult" trail having acknowledged the problems with the grading system and re-assessed the times based on how long it took me on the one I did today. Really helpful.

I went to Malbord in Ste-Anne-des-Monts for dinner, another brew pub. I've decided after yesterday's dinner disaster that brew pubs are the way to go. This time the dinner was fabulous: I had the "Smoked Pizza," which was topped with smoked salmon, capers, sour cream, mozzarella, red onions, arugula, and the occasional pink peppercorn. Definitely the best meal of the trip so far. The beer on the other hand ... They had a more traditional line-up than the previous place, with their five current brews being a white, a blonde, a red, an oatmeal stout, and an IPA. I tried the white and I think it was pretty traditional, but I hate them so I quit. The blonde was interesting (sorry, can't give you much more), the red not so hot (I tasted something similar to the smell of a spent match!), and the IPA very traditional - full force grapefruit, pretty good. But the oatmeal stout - now that was weird. Some smokiness, a bit of chocolate ... and a hint of grapefruit?! (Keep in mind I drank this before the IPA.) Not a flavour I expect in a stout. It wasn't bad, but I didn't love their line-up.

photo: The Malbord beer flight - is it gilding the lily to point out the lovely light behind the beer is the sun setting over the St. Lawrence?

five small beer samples of different colours in miniature tall mugs

And to wrap up the evening, I went to a small grocery store on a tiny back street that had a sign "beer specialists" (in French). What a cooler they had. And almost everything there a brewery within the province, most within the region. So I got a box and packed 12 bottles in the tune of $75 - I guess we have a beer tasting when I get back. Now the car rattles and clanks.