Seniors Not Acting Their Age
Seven of us awoke to a six inch carpet of fresh powder and snow forecast for two more days. We were staying at a chalet near the Gite du Mont-Albert situated in the heart of the Chic Choc Mountains on Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula. Nothing unusual about snow in the Chic Chocs, they receive copious amounts every winter. That was the purpose for traveling to the remote spectacular region. After two days of skiing and mountain hiking, we had four remaining in the winter wonderland. The question of the day… what to do next?
Three Telemark skiers in our group were intent on exploring a new mountain for them, Mont Lyall. The rest decided on a Nordic ski trip to Lac aux Americains, a mountain tarn sandwiched between Mont Xalibu and Mont Richardson ten kilometers east of the chalet, a 460 meter climb. The trail system offers two options for the preliminary ascent; McGerrigle Trail and an unplowed highland road called Route 16. Veterans of both, a companion and I opted for the latter whereas the others chose McGerrigle. We would meet at the shelter Abri du Portage, the halfway point.
A distinct advantage of Route 16 is a continuous gradual climb that can be accomplished with classic kick and glide skiing as opposed to periodic steeper scrambling on McGerrigle. Since my ancient body had been experiencing knee and hip problems; Route 16 was my preference. Proceeding uphill for five kilometers, we met at the Abri. During our short stay in the toasty hut, we enjoyed the comaraderie of several skiers and snowshoers from around Canada. Sharing outdoor adventures seems to evoke one’s inner loquacity.
The gradient increased as we continued our trek on a narrow path with almost continuous views of imposing Mont Xalibu. Arriving at Lac Americains, except for the roof, a warming hut was buried in snow. Skiing onto the snow encrusted tarn was magical as the vertical walls of Xalibu and Richardson left one with the impression of a frozen inland fjord. After a sociable gathering in the engulfed shelter, heavy falling snow accompanied our rapid descent to the chalet.
More snow the following day dictated a low elevation agenda. La Serpentine Trail which weaves steeply into a formidable cirque on Mont Albert called La Grande Cuve met that criterion. All of Team Gaspe skied or snowshoed five kilometers to a shelter part way to the Cuve. Climbing to the summit of Albert is prohibited to protect the declining caribou herd. Snow, heavy cloud cover and wind would have prevented a safe ascent regardless. Some in our group reconnoitered higher into the cirque but no one reached the Cuve on that stormy day.
Animated by clear skies the next morning, peak bagging was on our minds. Motivated by positive Mont Lyall reports from the Tele skiers two days earlier, most decided on that destination. Opting for a snowshoe climb, three of us departed early. Only 20 minutes from the chalet, Lyall is an impressive 3,100 foot exposed peak that is very popular with skiers and mountaineers.
First on the trail, we encountered a packed path and good signage in a dense boreal forest with tree limbs picturesquely laden with snow. The route progressed abruptly but switchbacks made for easy going to tree line. Above was problematic. Blown snow had buried cairns and the proper direction was uncertain. Attempting a left diagonal approach to the apparent summit, the angle intensified with avalanche concerns. Beleaguered with the complications, we pivoted right and persisted precipitously in deep snow directly to the ridge. The right choice, we were just short of the top with incredible views in every direction. On our descent, we met a Mainer who advised that nearby Mont Vallieres-De-Saint Real was also an exceptional alpine experience. That would be our objective for the final day in paradise.
Warmer temperatures and trail uncertainty distinguished the beginning of our last day in the Chic Chocs. Our initial trail selection proved disagreeable and an hour was wasted. Relocating to the route more traveled, it rose unrelentingly to the first of eight peaks on an elongated ridge that rivals Mount Katahdin’s Knife Edge. Although journeying to Pic Sterling the high point appeared daunting, we expeditiously traversed two additional summits to the top. Returning, we met a band of intrepid skiers who entertained with daredevil descents.
Timing for the expedition was flawless. Rain began on the drive home the following day. Our park passes extend until the end of March 2020. We’re going back…hope I survive that long!
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.