Climbing To The Heights
|Date:||Friday, July 28, 2006|
|Destination:||Local river waters and shores|
|Distance:||25 miles by boat|
At home I am not an early riser, but on vacations I often get up before dawn. This morning I am up early and rewarded with a spectacular red sky at sunrise.
This red sky at morning over the Ottawa River did not bring stormy weather.
We are quite curious about eating at the mess hall for breakfast, so I roust Chris out of the cabin a bit earlier than usual, and we head out by car using our cardboard map for navigation. We make it to the mess hall just in time: they are serving breakfast for another 20 minutes.
This does not look like the U.S. Army mess halls I used to see in movies as a kid.
Stepping into Normandy Hall, named in honor of Canadian Forces on D-Day 1944, we are greeted by a large sign ordering us to wash our hands in the wash room to our right before proceeding further into the building. I guess when you have several thousand soldiers and they all eat at the same place every day, you don't want to introduce any germs into the area. We follow the directions. The bathroom soap is anti-bacterial, too. We scrub up for chow.
We grab a tray and go through the food line. We're the only customers at the moment. A young soldier behind the steam tables greats me:
"Good morning, sir. What can I get you?"
"I'll have some eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast," I reply, looking over what is available. This results in a huge plate of food, including six strips of bacon, at least four scrambled eggs, a mountain of potatoes, and two pieces of toast. (Later we learn from a chart on the wall that this serving is the "standard military ration" portion for breakfast.) Chris is too sleepy to figure out what she wants. She says she'll return in a few minutes after she wakes up with a cup of coffee.
At the check-out register I present my tray of food, along with two cups of coffee. The clerk rings up my tab: $4-Canadian, or about $3.50-US. After a few jolts of coffee, Chris goes back through the line, returning with one egg, one strip of bacon, and one piece of toast.
"They only charged me a dollar," she says, "because I did not get the 'standard ration' size breakfast!"
We enjoy the good food seated at a comfortable table in front of a large-screen television, carrying a Canadian news channel, something like CNN. A few minutes later, a story comes up about a Canadian Forces soldier killed in Afghanistan. Footage of the soldier's casket being carried off a plane is shown. It is a very odd feeling to be watching this story as an American on his vacation, eating breakfast at a Canadian Forces military mess hall. I feel like I owe them a lot more than four dollars.
Only a few soldiers were still eating as the hour neared nine o'clock.
After breakfast we head over to the CANEX to do some shopping. We are looking for some gifts to get for Chris's niece and nephew whom we will be seeing this weekend for the first time in almost ten years. The CANEX has some T-Shirts in a military theme, but they don't look "regulation." While driving around the base yesterday, I noticed a uniform shop, and I am curious if we could get in there and buy some real military-issue clothing. We decide to head in that direction. As we are leaving the CANEX, we encounter a fellow in uniform, and I approach him to ask about buying some T-shirts.
"Excuse me," I say to this veteran military man, "but I wonder if you could tell me if there is someplace on the base where we could buy some real military T-shirts or other paraphernalia? The stuff here at the CANEX looks like imitations."
"It sounds like you are looking for some kit," he replies. "Yes, you could get that sort of stuff at a Kit Shop on base."
As luck would have it, of all the soldiers on the base we have just bumped into the Regimental Sergeant Major of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, one of the biggest units on the base. (It's "royal" because its official commanding officer is Prince Charles.) Everyone wears green camouflage, and the rank insignias are hard to see, but this gentleman is about the highest ranking guy on base that we'd be likely to encounter outside of a staff headquarters office. He pulls out his cellular telephone (Motorola RAZR) and dials a number.
"Corporal, is your Kit Shop open this morning?" he inquires. "Excellent, I'll be right over."
"Follow me," he tells us, "and I'll take you over to my regiment's Kit Shop." "You'll find just the sort of stuff you're looking for there."
We hop into our Suburban and follow him across the base, driving past a number of signs that warn us to keep out--military personnel only. In a minute or two we pull up to a Quonset hut building, and the Regimental Sergeant Major escorts us in. Forewarned by his telephone call, the corporals who run the Kit Shop are expecting visitors, and the Regimental Sergeant Major introduces us.
"These folks are looking for some 'kit'," he informs the staff. "Help them out."
With an introduction like that from the boss, the fellows at the Royal Canadian Dragoon Kit Shop give us the royal treatment. We spend about 30 minutes picking out all sorts of military stuff. The Regiment has very nicely embroidered T-shirts with their springbok emblem (authorized by Queen Victoria following the regiment's participation in the Boer War), and they will make perfect gifts. We buy several, along with all sorts of other accouterment of the unit, one of the oldest and proudest in Canadian Forces history.
The Regimental Sergeant Major, CWO K. M. Lee, drops us off at the Kit Shop of the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
We came out of the Kit Shop loaded with official T-Shirts and other military "kit."
With our shopping done, we head back to the marina for some boating. The weather is beautiful, with a strong sun, a nice breeze, and warm temperatures. Summer has returned to the Ottawa River. We cast off and head upstream, steering for Oiseau Rock, about seven miles away. We anchor off the beach, close enough that we can wade ashore.
Just east of Oiseau Rock we anchored for lunch in a small bight on the Quebec shore.
There is a sandy beach and remnants of some old dock pilings. The picnic tables and other shoreline improvements have been made by the local boaters. I do not believe the area is officially classified as a park.
Chris rigged out her new sun umbrella to improve the shade in the cockpit.
The water quality is good, but its color is tannin-stained from centuries of logging. It looks like iced-tea.
After lunch we consider climbing the trail to the top of Oiseau Rock. There are two other boats at the beach, now, and I head over to ask for advice
"How long is the climb to the top," I inquire with one of the local boaters.
"Oh, it's about twenty minutes," he replies. "It's not a difficult climb."
In order to evaluate this assessment, I should have sized-up the fellow making it. He is younger than me by about twenty years, and looks like he's in very good shape, quite trim and fit. But, instead, I just hear "twenty minutes" and "not difficult." So, off we go to the summit.
The trail leading into the woods and to the top of Oiseau Rock has this modest beginning.
About twenty minutes later we are deep in the woods, both getting rather hot and sweaty, drawing our breath in rapid gasps, and nowhere close to the summit. We meet another fellow and his two sons, descending the hill.
We pause on the trail for a brief conference with the other climbers as we negotiate a steep and narrow section of the trail. "How much farther to the top," I ask.
"You're about halfway, now," the descending climber tells us. "This spot here is the steepest portion. Once you get beyond this section the trail gets easier."
This reassurance comes just in time, as we were beginning to have some thoughts about turning around. We press on with the climb. About ten minutes later our effort is rewarded: we reach the top. We head immediately for the small rain-fed lake to our right.
It is hard to depict the amount of vertical difference in a picture. The walking trail was uphill and often steep. Several times we stopped in the shade for a moment to catch our breath.
As soon as we reached the summit we could see a small lake in the distance through the woods.
The lake water looked sparkling clear and was probably fed by rain. The lake sits atop Oiseau Rock, and, as this picture shows, the lake bottom is all rock.
The lake provided a refreshing swim for a tired and sweaty climber.
After I tested the waters, Chris took a long swim, too.
A group of climbers must have carried the components of this picnic table up the hill and assembled it.
From a ledge near the summit we were treated to this view of the Ottawa River and the Ottawa Valley. Our boat is anchored to the left of the point.
The Chalk River feeds into the Ottawa at the right in this view. You can see downstream all the way to Lac du Allumettes and Pembroke.
This is about as close to the edge as we wanted to get.
I had to coax Chris into this pose, but I am certain she was not the first to enjoy this view. Native people blazed this trail to the top centuries before.
Descending the trail was actually a bit more difficult than the ascent in some of the steep portions. Chris hangs on as she climbs down.
A fleet of local cruisers moved in and anchored off the beach while we were away climbing to the summit of Oiseau Rock.
When we finally return to the beach and our boat, it has taken us an hour and a half. A large gathering of local boaters has formed along the beach, an early Friday afternoon start to a long weekend. I go over to see if I can find the fellow who told us earlier the climb would only take twenty minutes. He's no longer around, but the other boaters know him. And they get a laugh from his advice.
"He's a fire fighter and in great shape," another boater (more my age) tells me. "He probably runs up the hill," he laughs.
"You got to the top," his wife asks. "Good. I've tried it a couple of times and never made it."
Their comments make me feel better about having climbed the trail. Maybe not in twenty minutes, but at least we made it up and back. I do confess, along the way there was at least one point where I was wondering if I was going to have a heart attack!
We have a short gam with these friendly Canadian boaters. Several of them are military personnel from the Petawawa base. Their boats are in perfect condition, and their level of physical fitness is at that same point. These guys look like they could jog twenty miles in full pack. They're not your typical "booze and cruise" crowd of boaters. One fellow tells me he is going to rotate overseas to Afghanistan in a few weeks, and this will probably be the last cruise of the season for him. After this he'll haul the boat and prepare for war. Until then, however, the general order for the weekend is relax on the beach and have some beers.
We take leave of these friendly fellows, and haul anchor on CONTINUOUSWAVE for more boating. We head around the point to take another look at Oiseau Rock from the water. It is an impressive sight, and we approach more closely.
Our lookout was about 400-feet above the water.
The image of the Thunderbird is clear in the afternoon lighting from this angle.
The urge to paint these rocks seems irresistible. Unfortunately, more recent efforts have covered up ancient pictographs.
We cruise back to our dock at the Jubilee Lodge Marina, and arrive by late afternoon. We put the boat securely in her slip at the end of the pier, and drive down to Lake Doré for dinner with Chris's cousin and family. They are quite the outdoors people, and we enjoy a fabulous meal of various local game, including deer tenderloin and duck breasts. We stay there overnight, breaking our string of six straight nights on the boat.
The nine-day narrative continues in Day Eight.
Copyright © 2006 by James W. Hebert. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited!
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Author: James W. Hebert
This article first appeared August, 2006.