Sport 400 Charlevoix

The towering new bolted climb first came to my attention when I noticed the announcement of it last summer on EscaladeQuebec. The topic was popping with comments on their social media.

Sport 400 Charlevoix

The cliffs — in remote parts of Quebec — have an esoteric appeal and the website, in French, contributes to that. There is little subtlety in statements like “Biggest Sport Climb East of the Flatirons, Colorado” and the Flatirons are a great point of reference for the 5.6ish Sport 400.

The Sport 400 lived in the periphery of my imagination until a friend set a date to actually climb it. Just like that, we were off, leaving work at 3pm hoping to make the 6-hour drive to Saint Simeon in time to erect our tent before sunset.

The forecast for thunderstorms from our weather app was off-base in intensity, duration and start time. The sky crackled at 5am and sheets of rain pummeled the tent, affording us a few more hours to sleep while pinned down. Faced with a massive chunk of wet rock, it became an easy decision to check a touristy to-do for my girlfriend.

A short ride down the valley later we were riding the free ferry to Tadoussac to try to spot the Beluga whales. Or she might have been. I wandered off from the car stunned by the landscape.  At the confluence of the Saguenay joins and St. Lawrence, it’s easy to imagine that you’ve been dropped off in the fjords of Norway. We spent much of the ride after that discussing the lack of the bridge there. Is the river too strong, or deep, or does in just not make economic sense to build one? The ferry was far more memorable regardless.

On deck, a vicious wind howled through the canyon as the storm pushed off and full sun broke out. Our chances to climb were looking good. I pushed the car back to Les Palissades. In the long ups and downs, my poor car, in need of service, sputtered up.

We quickly racked up our gear and made short work of the climb. Our group of 4 climbed with 2 ropes, with each leader set to fire 8 quickdraws and 8 alpine slings per pitch. Every pitch is steeper than the last and it resembles a massive frozen wave, which gave me the impression of dogpaddling uphill to summit.

From the top, views stretched over the massive Saint Lawrence river to the South, and further into the unknown to the North. Rumors of crowds flocking to the peak may have been premature. On a perfect Saturday afternoon, we had it to ourselves.

Still, like Mallory’s expedition to Everest or Joe Simpson in Peru, we knew that the descent is the hardest part, and I think we were more frayed on the summit than we would admit. After getting our ropes stuck on the first rappel — there are five double rope raps — I was certainly feeling it. The weather had turned colder, and the swarms of black flies certainly didn’t help our spirits. Nor did it help when I dropped my ATC used for descending.

Fortunately, we kept it together and stood on terra firma as the last light was milked from the sky, but it was too late in sleepy St Simeon to hit the excellent Casse-croute 2B.

Even now a couple days later it seems to be the sort of achievement that lingers — with a touch of soreness in my calves — just a little longer than you’d expect. It’s not easy to describe, so I’ll leave it at completely unique in the Northeast, and for that it is worth the drive, if it calls to you.

Notes: Rustic camping is 30$ a night at the Palissades de Charlevoix. There are also many other worthwhile climbs, a via ferrata, hiking, and many upgraded accommodations that include use of a spa. Climbing and hiking are included with lodging according to the guidebook but the upgrades are probably worth it. The staff and other climbers are very friendly. If you want to do the Sport 400, allow 6 hours for two competent people and add at least an extra hour if there are more in your party or people in front of you.


6 comments on “Sport 400 Charlevoix

  1. Awesome pics and story ML! The shot of the river at the bottom is especially appreciated since I’ve been dealing with 90 plus temps for the last few days. I’d like to jump right in. I feel like I need more detail on dropping your ATC though. Did somebody have a spare or did you rig something up?

  2. Great story and photos. I think that’s the same ferry I rode several years ago on the way to Forestville. River is super impressive. My climbing days ended when I was on a wimpy 5.4-ish route in the Gunks, and someone on an adjoining route was getting rescued from a leader fall.

  3. Brownski – I was pretty tired and getting clumsy. I think I was trying to do two things at once and thought I had clipped it when I just opened up my hand and watched it bounce about three time in 400 feet of vert and disappear into the forest below. On the next rap we fixed the line and I went first on my GriGri using the lever usually tasked with lowering a climber. On the last two I just used a munter hitch which twisted the rope beyond all recognition but did the trick to get me on the ground. I’m always adamant about using a third hand (prussik or autoblock) to keep me connected to the rope as a backup, so I was never in any danger — it was just a PIA when we were hoping to get down in time for burgers.

    Peter, glad you liked it. That is indeed the ferry you took, did you manage to see any wales when you were on it? It’s supposed to be quite a scene when they’re around in the spawning waters. I’d never heard of Forrestville before, but I’d love to check it out. The landscapes up north are so unspoiled.

  4. We didn’t see whales, but I was there at the end of February for a ski race. Much different terrain out there than in the Adirondacks. The race was in a kind of park called a Zone Ecologique, or ZEC for short. Definitely worth visiting, but brush up on your French.

  5. Looks like it’s on the other side of the Saugenay River from Forestville. If only it wasn’t so far away. And I spoke better French.

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