Pierre-Etienne Vachon and dog, Sputnik, trail-running 105km Traversée de Charlevoix

Posted: Feb 01, 2015 02:29 pm EST


(Newsdesk) Canadian Pierre-Étienne Vachon sent over a debrief about a 105km trailrun he did with his dog Sputnik. In the Fall of 2014 he ran the rugged Traversée de Charlevoix (pedestrian path via Morios and Noyee), 105km 3300m ascent D+, in Quebec, Canada, with aid stations along the way. 


"I was the first ever to complete it linking up all the most technical sections and climbs together where others' attempts avoided them," Pierre-Étienne stated. 


To top that, Sputnik got injured and he carried his 55 pound dog on his shoulders for 12km, up 450m D+, and over ice, snow and boulders.


"Between carrying Sputnik on my shoulders and tearing something in my hip halfway through, crossing over 150 streams on iced-up logs, having a nice chat with 3 bears and 2 moose and being by myself over such a distance," Pierre-Éttiene shares more about his experience:


The idea 


This trail is a very well know hiking trail in Quebec and the end is located about 15 mins away from the family cottage. Been hearing all about it (how hard technical and unpredictable it is) my entire life and is usually hiked in 7 days. So when I started running it rapidly became an objective to run it in one single push. I also thought it would be a great way to raise money for the Suicide Prevention Center, which is a cause close to me.


The Preparation


Aside from running 100km-135km weeks, the team and I started planning and preparing this adventure at the end of June. Just to find the access roads to reach to potential aid stations, took days upon days of scouting. I also did all the sections of the 105km in advance before linking them all together last week. A lot of communications, equipment, team coordination strategy and risk management planning went into this project.

One of the most interesting elements of a large scale solo project to me is that it is actually a team effort. All the components and team members must work like clockwork in order to achieve the goal and unsure as safe of a passage as possible.


Start to Marmotte via Mount Morios 


(This follows the map at the bottom of this page: http://6xsix.com/trails-20km/traversee-de-charlevoix/): We started at 6am when still dark and stars shining. About minus 10 degrees out so cold but nice for Sputnik. I quickly realised that the rain from the previous week had gorged the trail with water and that it would be a hard one. Later I counted all the small creek and water crossings on the whole trail and there was 153 of them where I had to stop and try to find a way across over frozen logs or further in the woods.

On one of the old bridges Sputnik went through a board and I had just enough time to catch him from a nasty fall in a creek 10 feet below.

On that stretch I saw 2 moose and 2 bears. One of the bears was right in the trail about 15 feet away after a bend. Wondered if this would jeopardize my project but had literally a calm, long (felt like forever) chat with him and he finally headed back in the woods so we could go pass by with my hearth throbbing.

We made good progress and climbed the Morios just in time for sun rise over the valley.


Marmotte to Chouette via Noyée 


Superb section with a nice clean climb totalling 1500m D+ up to that point. Everything is going really well even if on the north side of the Noyée the trail is iced up and covered in about an inch of snow. Had to be really careful going down. I am way ahead of schedule when I get to aid station.


Chouette to Hautes Gorges National Park via Bihoreau 


At 500m, past the aid station, Sputnik’s hind legs slip into a crack between 2 rocks while running, yanking his hips pretty badly. I take his legs out and realize he can’t walk and he falls to the ground immediately. Thinking it might pass I take him on my shoulders (kind of like a shepherd with a lamb) and walk for about a kilometer and put him back down to see if he would walk… and it is a definite ‘no’.

I therefore send a distress message from my SPOT, which says I am ok but will be considerably late. I take the 55 pound fluffy beast on my shoulders and had no choice to carry him out.

I carried him on my shoulders for 12km up 450m and down 750m to the valley floor to the next aid station. This whole section is made of huge rocks piled up on top of each other, covered in snow and ice just to make sure I get the full experience. The rocks are high and every step is like a squat. (FYI: The Harricana Race had decided earlier not to do this section as it was too technical) I still managed to average 10:05 min/km, with my fastest km at 6:43 min/km, pseudo running with Sputnik on my back.

On one of the steps going up I tore something where my right quad attaches to my hip and knew this whole mishap could frankly put and end to my adventure. Did I mortgage my legs too much on this section, would I make it all the way to the end? No matter what, this was the level of commitment I had prepared for and it is totally in line with such solo projects.

At the aid station I had a long talk with my Dad, who was such help at setting up all aid stations and was questioning the nature of this project. As this was a project with Sputnik and he had fallen in combat, did that mean it had to end? I decided to take a mountaineering position and said to myself I carried the injured to safety, now I have to do the last push alone in the name of everybody behind me and for myself.


Hautes Gorges National Park to Coyote 


Lighter, but I felt the damage in the legs. About half way there and my hip is hurting and I am worried al lot about Sputnik. I decide to embrace the pain and just accept it as part of the journey. The first part is beautiful beneath 500-600m granite cliffs and in non technical terrain. I had to make up for lost ground as I wanted to run the ‘Coulée Chouinard’ in daylight. 


It is a very watery technical section where it is pretty easy to get lost. I managed just in time to do it before night fall. Morale was still pretty high even though the water crossings were a definite pace breaker. Crossing over ice-covered logs, with about 70km in the legs, is not the most joyful experience. I got the next aid station and dad was once again there with all I needed. We had problems with the sat phone so I could not call my girlfriend to give everybody an update and get a bit of a moral boost from talking to her.


Coyote to Epervier via the hiking trail 


At another section of Harricana, I decided to go around as there are some very technical sections. My legs, but mostly the injury in my hip, are making any sort of steep descent or technical move difficult. 


It is however starting to look like I am going to make it, so I once again choose to embrace the pain and push through. You can hear moose very clearly and as if I needed to wake up a little I came across a third bear, who poked his head in my beam of light.

Getting closer to the next aid station, I started to smell smoke. My dad had brought some firewood and had made a big camp fire for me to warm up. I have never like the smell of a fire this much.

Dad also managed to get comms back up and I get a chance to call home. The moral is still really good and with that last boost I am ready to make the final push.


Epervier to finish 


Even though I spent way too long at the aid station and my legs had a significant lactic acid build up, I only had 10.5km left with a small 3km ascent after descending to the finish line. Less than the home trail behind my house, I tell myself. Surprisingly I am still running uphill aside from the steep sections, as well as going down. Because of the legs and hip, at that point I have to slowly walk down the steep downhill section.

I finally reach the dirt road and carry on running along it for the last 2km. I get to the finish line and the crowd is roaring… well, dad clapping and whistling, which is just the same to me. 21 hours total time and 14:40:00 of running, accounting for Sputnik on my shoulders.




Still recovering and the hip has yet to heal, but pretty satisfied overall. Currently looking at new adventures in northern Canada.




Next summer Pierre-Étienne and Sputnik are planning a 100km unassisted run in the Canadian Arctic and Exweb will have an interview with them at the time leading up to this next project.


About Pierre-Étienne Vachon


He has only started running seriously at the end of January 2014. "Late bloomer I guess. However I have been on more expeditions that he can count, from mountaineering to climbing big walls, in deserts and down some whitewater. I would consider himself more of an adventurer than a runner. To me running is a means to explore more ground in a shorter time span and in a lighter more enjoyable fashion too." Read more here.


As he has only been running for a short while, he doesn’t do ‘organized’ running. "In my short stint I have also ran solo a 44km 1500m D+, on another remote trail in Charlevoix." His best 10km: 450m D+ on technical ground in 40mins (home trail).


Pierre-Étienne had climbed hard routes up steep mountains, like Mount Waddington (in British Columbia) or Mount Cook (New Zealand) and all over the world, as well as big walls, like the Chief in Squamish.


"As a rule of thumb I often tend to take the hardest possible path to explore. This was the case for la Traversée de Charlevoix (105km 3300m D+). I was the first ever to complete it linking up all the most technical sections and climbs together where others attempts avoided them.”


On the professional front, Pierre-Etienne specializes in marketing strategy and mostly uses techno mediums. He has his own Marketing Strategy Agency, Mille Verba, working on both local and international projects.





Pierre-Étienne Vachon's website


Traversée de Charlevoix diary 


Traversée de Charlevoix maps, charts and photos













Quick rest at the top of Mount Morios (the first real climb of the run) to watch the sun rise.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
Traversee de Charlevoix map.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
Having a bit of fun to help the nerves at the family cottage the day before the run.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
Les Hautes Gorges from the top of where I carried Sputnik all the way down to the valley floor to meet dad.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
Almost to the top of the Coulée Chouinard one of the hardest sections of the run.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
The state of the trails. A lot of water this year.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
What most bridges look like. Right after this picture Sputnik actually went right through the boad, where is front legs are in the photo.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
Exploration run earlier in the summer. Top of the Coulée Chouinard.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
Quick stop to enjoy the beauty of this place.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
Inventory (click to expand).
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
Pierre-Etienne has compiled ideographs of his run. Click on the link in the text to see more. (click to expand)
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE
Pierre-Etienne Vachon and his best friend, Sputnik.
courtesy Pierre-Etienne Vachon, SOURCE