Quebec zip lines are a rush through glacial time

Posted July 16, 2010, at 6:23 p.m.

BAIE COMEAU, Quebec — I have absolutely no problem admitting that I am in no way, shape or form an adrenaline junky.

So, it would be understandable when an offer came my way to spend an entire day in something called “The Adrenaline Zone,” I was more than a tad wary.

To be perfectly honest, whenever the word “adrenaline” is used to describe any area, I figure it’s a good place to avoid.

But I also hate to pass up new adventures, so when the kind folks at Jardins des Glaciers offered a daylong excursion into the park, it was one I could not turn down.

Nor, as it turns out, should anyone else, should the opportunity arise.

Located just outside of Baie Comeau, the Jardins des Glaciers, or Glacier Gardens, are a playground for nature lovers of all ages.

Broken down into two sections, the Glacier Gardens is all about providing information and activities related to the last ice age.

Before heading into the park’s great outdoors, it’s not a bad idea to check out the Glacier Exploration Station housed in an old church.

Inside, visitors can take in a high-level and interactive multimedia presentation that takes them back in time before the glaciers began shaping the Baie Comeau landscape more than 20,000 years ago.

Evidence of that activity is all around in the Maritime Adventure Park, which encompasses 15 square miles and includes about 12 miles of coastline along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Trails and maps take visitors along a series of observation points showcasing how the last ice age created formations such as glacial channels, lakes, canyons, moraines, waterfalls, deltas, fjords and the spectacular glacial grooves.

Farther inland is evidence of a postglacial sea in the seashell valley.

Then there’s the Adrenaline Zone, where I was able to view glacial action from the ground and from the air thanks to a series of eight zip lines spanning a lake, a fjord and sizable bay.

And let me just say this, despite my initial trepidation: I am now all about the zip lines.

Steel cables suspended between a high starting point and lower end point, zip lines employ a secure pulley system and specially designed harness to allow the user to slide — or zip — from one point to the other.

After meeting my guides Cedric Mimeault, the park’s director of marketing, and summer guide Mikael Brassard, it was into the church’s basement to select the gear needed for our day in the park.

It was an impressive array of shiny pulleys, clips, cable lines and helmets, all designed to increase fun and safety.

From there it was on to the start of the zip line course for a quick lesson in the sport’s dos and don’ts on a minizip line suspended about 12 feet off the ground.

Then came the real thing. A long, slow walk up a wooden staircase to the top of a wooden tower overlooking Glacier Lake.

This first line spanned 550 feet to a slightly lower tower on the other side, but from where I was standing and getting clipped in, it looked about 550 miles away.

“Just step off the platform,” Brassard said with a grin. “Remember to keep your legs out in front of you, hang on to your cable, and use your grip to keep you pointed ahead.”

Seemed like an awful lot to remember as I gingerly made my way to platform’s edge, several hundred feet above the lake below.

Another two steps and I was on my way, and wow, gravity works.

Once I opened my eyes I could really enjoy the view, and seconds later, about halfway across the lake, any traces of fear I had were left back on that platform.

By the time I landed, albeit after taking a somewhat rough bounce, I was hooked and couldn’t wait to unclip from the line and attack the next one.

Six times back and forth across the lake we zipped, each line slightly longer and faster than the one before, ending with a close-to-900-foot, heart-pumping ride to a trail head leading down to the Baie du Garde-Feu with sweeping views of the bay and out to the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The trail down to the bay was just less than a mile long, and along the away Brassard — a natural in the outdoors — took the time to point out the park’s many unusual and rare plants including several varieties of lady-slippers and carnivorous plants.

Two additional, longer zip lines, awaited us at the bay, but not before we had faced — and conquered — the Via Ferrata.

Italian for “iron road,” it’s a technique using fixed cables and iron footholds to negotiate a mountain route first used in WWI to help the movement of mountain infantry in Italy.

Today the courses are popular recreational venues in Europe, Asia, the United States and Canada.

In the Jardins des Glaciers, the Via Ferrata follows a 1 km course over the glacial Saint-Pancrace Fjord, offering views of some of the park’s most impressive and largest glacial grooves.

“It’s very safe,” Brassard assured me as he clipped my lifeline onto the start of the via’s cable. “All you need is balance and coordination.”

Great — possessing neither, I was at a double disadvantage.

This is where the adrenaline, or in my case the full-on terror, came in.

Ever so slowly we made our way along the route over iron ladder rungs, rock steps and very narrow foot ledges.

Each climber is hooked to a fixed cable by two lifelines. When I arrived at a point where the cable was attached to the rocks, I would unhook one line, rehook to the other side of the fixed point and repeat with the second lifeline.

All the while maintaining a death grip with my other hand on whatever sturdy object was closest — a rock, a tree root or Brassard.

“Watch where you put your hands here,” he called back at one point as we scaled the steepest, narrowest part of the route. “There’s a nest of fire ants.”

Now that’s what you want to hear with a sheer rock face in front of you.

Truthfully, there is really no way to fall or get seriously hurt along the Via Ferrata. Like everything else in the Adrenaline Zone, it’s designed with safety in mind.

Still, there was no denying the two-hour trip around the fjord took me far outside of my comfort zone.

But make it we did, and it was worth it: Awaiting us were two the park’s longest and fastest zip lines spanning close to 1,200 feet across the Baie du Garde-Feau.

Coming in for my final landing — a perfect two-point touchdown, I might add — all I wanted to say was, “Can we do it again?”

My time in the Adrenaline Zone may not have turned me into a full-fledged thrill-seeker, but there is no denying the attraction of flying back and forth across those lakes.

Who knows? Next time I may even do the Via Ferrata with my eyes open the entire time.

The Jardins des Glaciers are located within Baie Comeau, Quebec, a two-hour ferry crossing across the St. Lawrence Seaway from Rimouski, Quebec. Complete information, maps, schedules and rates are available at www.jardindesglaciers.ca.

Similar articles:

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business