Mountain climbing at night (in snowshoes).
Have I ever told you about my favourite mountain? Not a real mountain (shh if Canadians are listening) More of a hill really. But it is the Mount Royal from which the city takes its name and to the locals it is "the mountain". At this time of year the hill/mountain/whatever is Winter Wonderland Central. Slap bang in the middle of town - it offers winter activities just minutes away from your neighbourhood. Skating rink, skating lake, toboggan hill, cross-country ski trails, snowshoe trails, need I go on? Even to an amateur at winter sports like me there is plenty to do. It is always a source of amusement to me just how many different things Canadians do in the snow such as ice fishing, ice canoeing, kite skiing and skiing with horses or dogs pulling you, known as skijoring. But there is one activity we have been meaning to do for years but never tried and that is to go up to the mountain on a moonlit snowshoe hike with Les Amis de la Montagne. I admit the promised hot chocolate was an added incentive when we set off this week for the dark woods.
|Gathering in our big shoes for the trek|
At something like -19C I wasn't really feeling it as we set off for the jaunt but I soon got into the spirit once we hit the woods and crunched our way single file through the trails. Someone saw a raccoon and there were squirrels aplenty. Our guide Emily pointed out pileated woodpecker holes in the trees which we could just make out in the darkness. Now my husband skis most nights on these trails (I'm usually skating below him at Lac aux Castors) and he has seen foxes and raccoons on the trails with him but I have never really experienced being in the forest at night and it is pretty magical. Especially when you turn a corner and see the cross in the distance.
|We walk to the cross - always spectacular at night|
The monument is on the north-east peak of Mount Royal and overlooks the eastern part of the city. It is always fun to see it at night from down in the Plateau but I've never actually walked to it through the woods before (not in the dark anyway). We gathered in our giant shoes and heard a bit of history from Emily before heading off again. There was first a cross on this site in 1643 and it always fascinates me that the colours of the lights have been changed over the years for special occasions -purple for a new Pope, red for AIDS awareness and blue for Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (a big Quebec holiday) though I've never seen it myself.
|The mountain by day.|
We try running across some open land with our big feet and crunch our way to another stopping point for the promised hot chocolate (included with the price of snowshoe rental at $20). I find out that some of my fellow snowshoers are visiting from New York where heavy snow has closed some of the rail lines. A bit of a busman's holiday for them then. I'm feeling a bit cold now and the biting wind is penetrating my Canadian Goose coat making me wonder if it was a fake I bought off the internet for half price. (I often wonder this. Maybe Canada Goose could send me another one and I could test the theory). I would highly recommend the night-time snowshoeing with The Friends of the Mountain . It is quite magical to be in the woods at night and one of the highlights for me was when we all stood silently looking over the eastern part of the city (twinkling lights through the trees) and listened to the sounds of the forest and humanity beyond it.
|Snowshoe tramping on Mount Royal 1873 by E Jump|
Guided snowshoe treks at night can be booked through Les Amis de la Montagne (Friends of the Mountain) as well as many other wintry activities - including walks to look at animal tracks. They are based in Maison Smith - a beautiful old house with great cafe and exhibit about the mountain and the critters that hang out there.
For more wintry blog posts start here: A cabin in the woods