A year ago, Rainer Jenss traveled around the world with his wife and two sons and blogged about his experience here on Intelligent Travel. He writes to us about his family’s latest adventure– embracing the cold. This is his third post. Read more from Rainer here.
If you go by the calendar, winter is officially over. For most of us here in the Northeast, the celebration has already begun. The outdoor cafés are starting to open, cyclists are back on the roads, and some convertibles have their tops down. There’s genuine excitement in the air. But after spending our kids’ winter break up in Quebec City, Canada, I’m no longer one of those saying “good riddance” to old man winter. In fact, when it comes to excitement, we have a whole new appreciation for what we can do during winter besides skiing and flying south.
After our eventful overnight stay at the Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel), we were up at the crack of dawn and ready for our next adventure: dog sledding! The bad news: it was 5°F when we got in the courtesy van for the 30-minute drive to Aventures Nord-Bec in Stoneham. The good news: after sleeping in a room that was 25°F, the outside temperature didn’t seem so terrible. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a warm and friendly staff who immediately noticed that my wife and I were ill-prepared for the outing. While we thought to pack snow pants for the boys, we neglected to do the same for ourselves. They strongly recommended that we both borrow a pair from their supply– not because of the frigid temps, but in case we wiped out. “Wipe out?” You mean I could actually fall off the sled doing this? Oh boy!
So after we got ourselves properly equipped, we attended a short briefing on how to handle the sled and command the dogs (a lesson in how to say “go” and “stop” in French). During our instruction, we could hear the dogs thunderously barking in the distance. It was at that moment that I became aware that we’d be operating the sleds on our own from the get-go. Although there would be a guide keeping close tabs on us, it was our job to control and steer the sled– and that meant the boys would be relegated to passenger status only.
When we arrived at our sleds, the dogs were howling! Suddenly, I didn’t even notice the arctic wind chill. The only sensation I had at this point was nervous exhilaration. With my eleven year-old nestled securely in the sled in front of me, our guide Max released the restraints and sent us on our way. With my heart pounding, I practiced the braking system and my mushing commands. I was quickly relieved that despite my broken French, the two lead dogs understood my shouts and after a few minutes felt a lot more comfortable. But just as I was gaining some confidence, we started going through some more challenging terrain. The trails are marked by their level of difficulty just like ski slopes (green, blue and black). I did, in fact, end up “wiping out” on more than one occasion, much to the chagrin of my precious cargo. Fortunately, no one was hurt, except perhaps a little bruise to the ego. After almost 90 minutes of sledding, we ended our adventure by touring the kennel and admiring the dogs (over 100) they care for on premises.
Just as the adrenalin rush began to subside a bit, I was off again for one final winter activity, only this time, sans the kids. On the final day in Quebec before embarking on the seven-hour drive back to our southern Hudson Valley home, I booked an ice-climbing excursion with Aventure X at the famous Parc de la Chute-Montmorency just 15 minutes from downtown. These waterfalls are actually taller than Niagara Falls, but not nearly as wide. Still, they are a pretty impressive sight, especially in winter when three of the four falls are completely frozen. So when I met up with my instructor Philippe and peered at the formidable challenge ahead of me, the adrenaline came rushing back.
My 14-year old son Tyler just made the minimum age requirement, but decided not to go because he claimed it was too cold out. Personally, I think he was scared, but I’ll cut him some slack since I was a little intimidated myself! Meanwhile, I was joined by a young couple from Montreal who had tried the climb for the first time the day before and were eager for more. Their enthusiasm helped build my confidence and thanks to some excellent instruction from Philippe, I proudly made it up the first track. Over the course of the four-hour outing, I climbed two more times, each a little more challenging than the last, and helped belay (protecting a roped climber from falling) my fellow climbers. In retrospect, learning to use the ice picks and crampons were not nearly as difficult as I thought. And like dog sledding through a snow-covered forest, ice climbing up a frozen waterfall certainly provides you with a strong sense of accomplishment.
After two hours of driving, we reached the U.S. border once again. Once the immigration officials waved us through, I commented how our long weekend in Quebec really felt like we left the country. Without a trace of sarcasm, the boys responded, “But we did!” With a deep sigh, I left Canada and the winter season behind in the rearview mirror.
Follow Rainer on Twitter at @JenssTravel.
Photos: Dog sledding, Jessie Marcoux; ice climb, Tyler Jenss