Fall Camping in the Parc National du Mont Orford

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The ranger in the Jacques-Cartier Park really made our mouths water when he told us about fall foliage in the Eastern townships, which was supposed to peak a week from then and where the leaves would turn red rather than yellow, as in his park.  We definitely have to go there, was the unanimous decision in the car, all the more as the timing for another camping trip was quite favourable:  Neither Franziska’s or Katharina’s soccer leagues, nor Felix’s basketball league had started yet.  So, what can be better than a camping weekend on short notice in the Parc National du Mount Orford?

The only thing left to do was gearing up a bit, since, as we found out during the last camping weekend, it can get quite chilly in the morning.  Particularly Mecki would eagerly point this out with a shivering expression still days after the trip.  “But what did you expect?” Franziska explains to her “the leaves change their colour after the first night frosts, and warm night frosts are hard to get.”  Sounds convincing.  But luckily, there’s a lot you can do against cold weather, and Mecki is determined to get the right stuff for chilly mornings.  At Jean Coutu, she buys two fleece blankets, just in case.  And of course, she also needs something to warm her from within.  Maybe something non-alcoholic this time, Mecki thinks, why not hot chocolate, if possible dark unsweetened cocoa powder, like the one you get in the supermarkets back home in Rheinbach.  But Montreal is not Rheinbach:  Neither at Metro, the supermarket on Avenue de Mont-Royal without a parking lot – how can something like this happen in the heart of North America – nor at Valmont, the deli store a block further down the street, or at Loblaw’s, the huge supermarket in the next neighbourhood, can she find some.  But at the little fruit boutique just around the corner, she has more luck: genuine unsweetened cocoa powder, the real stuff from Holland.  And with the cocoa powder, a good idea comes up.  Surely Mike, who likes to get up early when camping anyway, would be so kind and lure the others out of their sleeping bags by preparing hot chocolate in the morning, wouldn’t he?  The kids agree:  “Hey Mum, great idea!”   Mike, however, is not so sure.  He mumbles something of “always me”, but since he can’t think of anything more compelling he eventually agrees.  At least Mecki lets him take his new hammock, which he was actually supposed to get a little later for his birthday, to the park.  “To help you recover from the ordeal of making hot chocolate“, she says with a smile on her face.

On Friday evening, the Heinzelmanns hit the road towards Mont Orford.  Pitching the tents in the dark comes a little bit easier than the weekend before, but is still rather chaotic.  But whatever, what’s good is that the Parc du Mont Orford is only an hour’s drive from Montreal, so that after having pitched the tents, there is still enough time for a campfire.  Katharina makes French Toast over the fire, her favourite dish, the recipe of which she got from her friend Erica from Halifax.  You take two slices of toast, spread margarine onto both sides, put plenty of cheese in between, place the whole thing in a barbecue tray onto the fire, and then you get yourself a long stick because until the toasts are done you deserve having some fun poking with the stick in the fire.

 “Did you like the French Toasts?“ Katharina asks Mike, as he sits back and relaxes in his camping chair after the second toast.

“Boy, they were scrumdiddlyumptious“, answers Mike, and they definitely were.

“Than you owe me one, right?“, Katharina keeps on asking, only to continue after Mike’s hesitating reply “Well, .... yeess?“, with a triumphant “You said yes!“

Shoot, thinks Mike, but Katharina doesn’t want much from him.  “All you have to do is pitching the hammock“, she says, “then I’m gonna sleep there instead of in the tent.“

And while Mike looks in the darkness for two suitable trees to tie a hammock to, Katharina gets herself ready for a night in the hammock.  She puts on a woolly hat, woolly gloves, then she places one of the fleece blankets in the hammock, and puts her sleeping bag on top of it, for when you sleep under a clear sky in the Quebecan fall you better wrap up warm.

Early next morning, when Mike heads off for a morning walk to Lac Stukely, Katharina is still sound asleep in the hammock.  Mike finds that the park ranger in the Jacques-Cartier Park was right with his prediction of fall foliage in the Eastern townships.  The leafs have turned into a strong red, and in the calm of the early morning they reflect beautifully in the water of the lake.  Mike takes some photos, then he watches a pair of loons swimming across the lake, but pretty soon, he has to return to the tents and the hammock.  There was this thing about making hot chocolate.  And ... surprise, surprise:  When you’re out camping, making hot chocolate isn’t all that bad at all, because in the wild, making hot chocolate is not so much about cooking but rather about lighting a campfire, and lighting a campfire is always fun.

After breakfast, it’s time for a hike, the destination being Mont Chauve.  “Mont Chauve?“, says Franziska, „That can only be dad’s idea.  Birds of a feather flock together.“  Very funny, thinks Mike, recalling that Mont Chauve means bald mountain.  But the hike is great.  From the summit, the panoramic view onto the forest extending all the way to the horizon is just breathtaking and completely unobstructed by any trees.

For the Sunday morning breakfast, Felix grills chocolate bananas.  Then, to conclude the weekend, it’s canoeing time on Lac Stukely.  At the canoe rental, Mike places the order as best as he can in French, and then, as always, everyone is very curious:  Will the guy answer in French, or rather in English right away.  And ................ it’s French.  Mike is happy, a little success like that can make his day.  But the day is bound to be great, anyway, because paddling Lac Stukely in the fall is always quite a show.  The woods are at least as impressive from the water as from the mountains, and if you‘ve dressed warm, sliding in a canoe can be kind of nice and cosy.  Katharina and Felix who have taken the binoculars into the boat are lucky and watch a kingfisher hunting fish along the lakeshore for quite a while.

“What are we going to do next weekend?“ Katharina curiously asks on the way back to Montreal. “More hammock camping?“

“I don’t know“, says Mecki, “here in the mountains, the leafs will soon be gone, and they say it will get a little colder, too.  But fall foliage has yet to come to Montreal.  Why not spend a weekend at home?“

“Then I’ll go bouldering“, Franziska says at once.

“In basketball, we’ll have the season opener“, adds Felix.

“And I want to hang out with my friends Pia, Maria, and Antoinette“, adds Katharina.

Looks like even at home life will keep being exciting.

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