The Tonquin Valley

This actually belongs towards the middle of the entire Canadian Hiking segment. Still, while its a mis-chronicled chronicle, it’s at least here.

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A random photo from the Tonquin Valley… we hiked a circuit in this valley which, from the looks of things, is rarely done. And I am here to tell the tale! Don’t do it! Find a better way!

Basically, we hiked a rarely used route which was sodden with mud and boulders, and filled with downed trees. So, if you weren’t slogging your way through mud, you were walking over small boulders with mud soaked boots, which provided a slippery surface, and took much care and concentration. Then, you had to duck and cover to the nth degree to fit your daypack under a downed tree.

It’s not worth it I tell you!

But the ending route is a beautiful walk with stunning vistas, looking at the Tonquin Valley, and Surprise Point. And that is well worth the visit, and even helped to make up for the horribly soggy route through which we trod all morning, on what proved to be the most difficult morning of our trek.


The thing is, it was a loop. So it made perfect sense to do it. (The fact that it is rarely used is not advertised as far as I know.)

But I had not slept a wink all night due to an air mattress deflation issue. And because Fr. Jimmy had offered me his air mattress, which was full length as opposed to my 3/4 length backpacking version, and I had taken it, I ended up unfairly attributing my uncomfortable lack of sleep to him, while he snored soundly on my delightful 3/4 length, and ultra light, sleeping pad which is more than fine for me! (He also had a full length cadillac-pad with him…)

This is a beautiful, pristine back lake.


One of the many beautiful views coming out of the dark, humid, and soggy back part of the (rarely used) loop.

The first part, as I mentioned, was below the tree line and was basically nothing but mud and boulders. I was miserable and cursing every moment and every step, and it took forever and a day for me to make my way through the mess.  We met a large group coming from the opposite direction, and they looked about as unenthusiastic as did I. Fr. Jimmy has only ever talked about this part of the hike as a wonderful time.


But we eventually reached Surprise Point, and then made our way across a large field, ending up on this bridge overlooking the river,  flowing from the lake through Tonquin Valley. The should call it Pleasant Surprise Point, but whoever named it obviously didn’t hike in from the back way.

The morning had gotten off to a lousy start. Sleepless, and freezing on the ice cold dirt which should have been my comfy mattress pad,  Fr. Jimmy stood outside the tent saying something along the lines of “I made breakfast and your oatmeal is on the table freezing right now.”

Now I’m only human, and some things hit me the wrong way, no matter who says them.  So I ended up being pretty miserable to be around for quite a few hours, as we slogged through mud for what seemed forever and a day.  And then crawled under trees which snagged our packs.  And then crossed small boulders with mud soaked boots.  It was such slow going I soon lost any hope of finishing the trail and reaching our campsite any time before darkness set in.  And in the twilight hours before then, as I would trod on in my weakened state of despair, I knew I would only make the perfect bear bait.  I was doomed.


But Surprise Point was a turning point, in many ways.  We dried our boots out after having lunch on the bridge, and then slogged through this marshy wilderness with mud up to our ankles.

This is not a marsh on the side of the trail; it’s actually the trail and you have to walk right through it as there’s no way around it. That didn’t really help, and only tied in more perfectly with the entire morning. But the going was seeming to be better.


The trail was a little difficult to follow through the Tonquin Valley campsite, still it’s not brain surgery.


And within 20 minutes or so of leaving the Valley behind, you’re on the trail out.  Which of course is the trail most sane people also hike in on.  The trail was dry, my spirits high, the going super easy, and the walking …’fast as lightening’, as Sr. Clarita would say.


Walking the rest of this trail was a piece of cake. Which is a good thing, since there were bout 8 miles left to go. The bridge we rested on is supposed to be visible in all of these pics, as I was quite conscious when I took them, to be able to see it. Still, I can’t see it in these pics for the life of me.


We made it back to the Astoria Campground in well enough time to watch the sunset with our camp neighbors, who were fixing S’mores for all, and to have lots of chuckles recalling the days highs and lows. And there were a lot of lows to get out of the system! Thing is, the highs totally mitigated the lows.

The Tonquin Valley is a must see. Still, I’d recommend taking the regular trail in, and not worrying over the loop, especially if it’s been raining.

The Berg Lake Trail

The other day I hiked the Berg Lake Trail with my buddy Fr. Jimmy. Here are a few photos from the trail…

I had not relished the thought of doing this trail for quite a few reasons. Mainly, it’s a 12 mile hike with a serious altitude gain in the last half, and we were doing it after a brutally long day of travel.

That being said… I loved it. And I would do it again in a flash!

It starts innocuously enough, crossing placid lakes, walking along verdant, pleasantly inclined paths.

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It’s a cool weather rain forest, and after steeping in Louisiana heat all summer long, I felt like it was winter in a strange new land. A beautiful new land, too. Lower temperatures do that to us southerners.

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We passed a lot of truly beautiful photo-worthy scenery, however photo taking was not my priority on this once in a lifetime opportunity for amazing photography. I just wanted to get away and be in the outdoors and walk around and take it all in, and be amazed with the grandeur of God’s creation.

That’s also a really nice way of saying that I didn’t take many photos because I had my smaller camera with me, and things happened like the strap in the middle of the picture, or the dampness caused the lens cover to falter… a lot of pictures just did not come out.

But this one did! It’s a bridge I had seen on the internet and I wanted my very own picture of it. At this point you’ve walked about 6 miles, fairly standard ups and downs, and are now at the Whitehorn camp site, which is where we ended up spending the night.

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The glacial river runs by, providing a great water source and a relaxing sound to fall asleep to. There’s an open air shelter which has a wood burning stove in it, so that if it’s cold, damp weather no one will get hypothermic. Very thoughtful! Of course I don’t have photos of any of that… but that’s just me.

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It’s a beautiful place. We had rain, mist, clouds, and it was exquisitely beautiful.

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In the morning we walked around the bend and crossed the river, ready to make the huge ascent up to Lake Berg. The thought of hiking up the steep ascent had me running in extra cautious mode… but the scenery was beautiful and well worth the effort. And whats a hike in the mountains without some steep ascents?

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Here’s Fr. Jimmy, as we leave the level of the river and head steeply (steeply, steeply) uphill for the next several hours.

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After what seems like only a short forever, you’re on a ledge overlooking the river valley you crossed what seems like only that morning.

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The ledge is built to provide glimpses of the Falls of the Pool, (or Pool of the Falls? I’ve forgotten!) But the point is, the falls spill into a pool, then run out and head down over to the river to join in the rapids flowing past the campground and down out to the beginning of the trail. It’s all about the pool, here.

We met several people here. On the way down we chatted with a Spanish woman who was hiking up to Berg Lake with her elderly parents, in from Spain. They were evidently doing a 12 mile day hike, with a base camp set up at Whitehorn, which is a popular way to do the upper trail. Also on the way down a few days later, a marathon runner passed us up. He was running the entire trail in a day, up and down, in anticipation of a yearly marathon which is held on the trail.

All of these things gave me courage to just keep walking, man.

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A short eternity later, you and your backpack are up near the beautiful, famed Emporer Falls. Although this is well worth walking up to and taking a good look-see, it will also manage to get you soaked with spray if the wind is blowing in your direction. Hiker discretion is advised.

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And then you hike up a bit more, just long enough to get exasperated, and the entire path levels out. The Emporer Falls campsite looks beautiful to camp in. You walk on and on and eventually, catch your first sight of Berg Lake and it’s famed glacier, which groans and calves before your very eyes.

But more on that later.