Band on the Run: Hiking & Climbing Mont Rigaud, Quebec

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life.

It’s easy as a musician to suffer from the “everything I do, I do for music” syndrome. (And no, that is not meant as a cheesy reference to a cheesy Bryan Adams song!) What I mean by that is that when the wheels beneath us aren’t turning towards another gig, there’s so much else to do like rehearsing, recording, music business, correspondence, etc. I’m a perfect candidate for this total immersion and I regularly need to be dragged away from the various “must dos” of being an independent artist.

So yesterday, I went hiking on Rigaud Mountain [in French = Mont Rigaud] in Rigaud, Quebec.

Rigaud Mountain is a small (ish) mountain for Quebec – and certainly for Canada in general – but one can’t underestimate the power of a good climb that yields a good view. During the winter, it’s a modest ski hill. In the summer, this mountain is used for rock climbers and hikers. I had no idea.

It was gorgeous.


I have tried to snow board exactly once. My tail bone decided that it would stage a full-scale revolt if I ever tried it again. It still warns me with ghost pains if I even allow my mind to imagine myself as a good snowboarder. I think I’ll leave the descent down slippery hills on equally slippery objects to all you thrill seekers who have a sense of balance.

In fact, half way down this same mountain two years ago, after several hours of unofficial (and gracious) training from my friend who is excellent at this sport, I tore off the snowboard and put it under my behind. I continued down the rest of the hill on the snowboard like it was a toboggan. That was fun, actually. My legs enjoyed the rest!

Since then, I’ve only ever seen this mountaintop from the distance en route to Montreal or to cross the border at Vermont and into New England for various touring stops. Winding through the back roads to find the mountain during the summertime seemed strangely exciting, as though I were reclaiming a space that I had only associated with pain and humiliation. (Well, that’s being harsh; really, it was where I was once again reminded that I’m not that coordinated or “jocky.” I’m okay with that!)

The grassy path up the hill is beautiful and leads you right into the forest that is mostly a bed of red pine needles cushioning every step. The jagged rocks act like an erractic staircase which leads you to the sharp face of the mountain that was entertaining two separate groups of rock climbers. I noticed all the hooks already secured in the flat rock face that jutted up over thirty feet. It’s obviously been well climbed.

I spoke briefly with some of the climbers who were from Montreal (one hour to the east). They explained that this is a great place to train starting climbers because it doesn’t often get over-crowded and it’s easy to “top rope” some of the routes. I nodded like I knew what they were talking about. I am guessing this means that instructors can rope everyone in first without needing to be secured themselves? Let me know if I’m way off the mark here. I’m not much of a rock climber either, as you can tell.

We rounded the mountain and found what appeared to have once been a rock spill. Rocks were piled and frozen as though in mid-cascade between two large sections of the mountain in what could easily have been a gushing river or a large stream. We scaled these rocks easily to the top and found ourselves staring at the horizon on three sides – the Ottawa River, farmland as far as the eye could see, both Ontario and Quebec stretching out eastward and westward.

At this point, Lyndell told me that there was a lookout on the other side worth seeing. We scrambled back down from these lookout points and crossed the centre of the mountain towards the eastern edge. About fifteen minutes later, we were perched on the wooden lookout and photographing the curving highways and waterways that lead directly to the island of Montreal.

Of course, we shared that perch with a Christian cross. It’s very common in Quebec to see lit-up crosses on hillsides or mountainsides. “Mont Rigaud” is no exception. The cross here can be seen for many kilometres. I had just never stood beside it and I am here to testify that it’s huge! Quite an edifice to the belief of a second coming – a second coming that apparently will happen by aircraft and will need this very visible beacon!

Just about an hour later, we were back on the ground at the base of the ski hill again. A short hike, but a beautiful one. During the quiet walk down, I remembered a previously abandoned melody line for a song that I haven’t yet finished. I worked it out across the many descending steps, singing quietly to myself and solving part of the riddle to finishing this song that has been unfinished for over six months. Then, I stayed up until five a.m. that night working it out on my computer.

You see, hiking is good for music!

It loosens up the memory valves in the bell of the brain.

Keeps the blood, and the melodies, flowing.