Seniors Not Acting Their Age
Situated in remote southeastern Quebec, Gaspe Peninsula is perhaps the most unique winter friendly region in eastern North America. Almost surrounded by the outer St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence, it is the recipient of enormous amounts of snow fueled by the nearby waters.
The spectacular Chic Choc Mountains command the spine of Gaspe. Home to the only caribou herd south of the St. Lawrence River, an estimated 70 of the endangered large antlered deer roam higher elevations foraging for lichens. Dominated by magnificent peaks, alpine tundra and a boreal forest, the Chic Chocs are a skiing and mountaineering mecca.
National Parks of Canada has completed an exceptional achievement establishing 190 kilometers of marked trails with 17 huts spread throughout the rugged Chic Choc Range while perpetuating efforts to protect the declining caribou population. The huts and trails facilitate a multitude of remarkable winter mountaineering adventures including multi-day ski trips with climbs to summits some in excess of 1100 meters.
Friends and I have had the good fortune to enjoy six prior winter trips to Gaspe. Three were weeklong hut to hut ski expeditions that included scaling Mont Logan and Mont Jacques-Cartier. Probably a reflection of aging, the last three have consisted of day trips from chalets that can be reached by road in the depths of the Chic Chocs.
Back in the Gaspe again this winter we were a chalet based excursion. Five of us veterans of several Gaspe expeditions, the other two were as Quebecois say debutants. Most of us retired, for a change I was not the old man in the group…by a few months.
Getting to Gaspe from central Maine is not easy. Driving time from Topsham to Gite du Mont-Albert where chalets are located is about ten hours. Since weather is often stormy in Gaspe, we allocate two days for the drive. After skiing Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle and spending the night there, we crossed the Maine border into Canada at Van Buren and traversed western New Brunswick to Gaspe. From Pointe-a-la-Croix, the ride along the shore of Chaleur Bay through several picturesque villages is visually gratifying with frequent stunning coastal panoramas. Turning left onto Route 299 in New Richmond, the road climbs steadily through a mountainous region to a chalet at the foot of imposing Mont Albert where a ski trail departs from the driveway…..well, almost.
An extensive network of Nordic ski trails originates behind the chalets. I immediately departed for a cross country ski trek on a narrow rolling loop path called Les Fourches and a partial climb of an expansive trail named Route 16. Descending 16, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of massive Mont Albert. Shortly after reconnecting with Les Fourches for a final steep downhill glide to the chalet, I encountered a large cow moose barricading the path. Before I could snowplow to a halt and find my camera, she had timidly taken refuge in the woods. Still, I was able to capture a partially obstructed photo to validate the veracity of my observation.
On our first full day in the Chic Chocs the entire group decided to ski or snowshoe a nearby peak named Champs de Mars. Located adjacent to Route 299 a few miles east of the chalet, the 700 meter exposed rounded summit provides an excellent diminutive mountain experience with phenomenal views and easy access. Personifying alpine diversity, four of us chose snowshoes while three used climbing skins on wide Telemark skis. The obvious advantage of skis is a rapid exhilarating return. Attempting to capture the best of both worlds, one member of our group packed backcountry Nordic skis.
A glorious cool breezy day, after perhaps two kilometers of steep hiking on a twisting trail in a conifer forest, we emerged above tree line. Gazing east, a spectacular view of the entire Mont Blanche-Lamontagne massif was our reward. Two years prior, we had a caribou close encounter on the barren mountaintop. Persisting in deep snow on a precipitous route, we gradually ascended with excellent views of an elongated windblown cornice on nearby Mont Hog’s Back and majestic Mont Albert beyond. Turning north on a broad ridge, the gradient diminished for our final push. From the scenic summit, skiers and climbers departed on their respective descents.
Some of us finished the day Nordic skiing. After, we all convened at the chalet for a communal dinner. The overriding topic of conversation was weather as it was beginning to snow. A certainty; with four more days in paradise there will be additional tall tales to tell.
The author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.