Eye-balling my map, somewhere between Grand-Vallee and Mont-Ste- Pierre is the most northern point of the Gaspe Peninsula. Having stood on the equator line in Kenya, please read What-Kenya-did-to-me, and the half-way between the Equator and North pole in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, I am disappointed there is no sign indicating I just nudge over the 49.258 degree latitude line.
Making a break from the coast of the Gulf of the St Lawrence, I head inland on the road numbered 2. Within 15 minutes the pavement ends, the power lines cease to exist, and homes here are officially off the grid.
Crossing into the Reserve faunique des Chic-Chocs, I noticed the signpost for the International Appalachian Trail are visible and frequent. The path weaves through the woods never far from the road. The deeper I go into reserve, the more I start to gawk in surprise. I had no clue the Chic-Chocs towered to such high altitudes. Impressive for Eastern Canada. I stop where there are views and take photos out the truck window.
My GPS doesn’t recognized that I am on a road, and the few signs I have passed mark points that are not on my map. Using my instinct I stay to the right, rolling slowly over the wash-boarded sections. I cross over the juncture of route 14 and pull into the parking lot of camping du Mont- Jacques-Cartier. A word of warning, It is only 27 kilometers but it took me an hour to cover the distance. This road is rough in spots and very isolated. A flat tire out here would a big hassle.
My eyes are cast up, drawn to the patchwork of snow that has not yet melted off the mountains. I do a 360 turn to take in the view, the visitor center is plunked in a low valley beside a stream surrounded by peaks.
Two ladies have set up easels in the parking lot and are painting. I walk over and say, “Hello, may I have a look at your work?” “Certainly,” says the lady, holding her brush erect, her eyes shielded from the sun’s glare under a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Her red flowing coat seems out of place. I step to her side, looking at the painting then back to scenery to compare. “It is not finished yet,” she makes a point of dabbing at the painting. “It is lovely and….” I notice where I have parked, my truck is blocking their view. “Oh dear, I am sorry I will move… ” I scurry back to the truck and sort out another parking spot. “Thank you!” the ladies chuckle and wave. I leave them and walk up the stairs to register in the campground.
Inside the a rustic lodge-style visitor center, I have a look around while I wait for the man behind the counter to finish serving another customer. There are several glass display cases, and interpretive boards describing the Arctic tundra habitat that is home to the last remaining woodland caribou south of the St. Lawrence. They are the reason I am here.
When the other man leaves I step up to the counter. “Bonjour, Parlez-vous anglais?” I smile. ” He shakes his head “Non,” and I am deflated. Yikes, we have a hard time communicating. He has a brochure that shows the camping fees and I point to the fees, then point to the calendar. “Deux nuits,” holding up two fingers.
By hand, he fills out the registration form and pushes it across to me to complete my details. Even though the park is called Gaspe National Park, it is a Quebec provincial park and a Parks Canada pass doesn’t work here. Bring cash, we are off the grid remember, no debit or credit. We sort out the price of three days at $8.25, plus 2 nights of camping
at $30 per night, a $10 bus ticket that is mandatory to get to the trail head of Mont-Jacques-Cartier. Last minute I throw a box of $4 cookies on the counter and unfold a wad of twenties, counting them out to him to cover all the costs.
I find my campsite and set up my chair and have a snack while I watch a man with a backpack come up the road and drop his pack to the ground beside his tent. He speaks English and tells me he just finished up hiking the Mont des Pics trail, it’s a short hike just over the bridge outside the park border. “It’s a beautiful look off ….” He walks over to my site and shows me on the map. “Do I have time to do it this afternoon?” “Oh yes, shouldn’t take you more than 2 hours to complete…” It is just before 1 pm. I decide I want to go give it a try.
I am all ready, just need my camera. I drive to the trail head about 2 kms away. Another man is just striding down the trail. I decided to ask for a second opinion. “Hi, can you tell me, is the trail difficult?” He says it is straightforward, some steep parts but, he warns that there are some dead trees down blocking the path near the top that I will have to step over. I can turn around if I don’t like it.
It starts out easy enough. Remembering there are bears in these woods, I clap my hands together to make noise to keep them away. It is very silent and a bit scary at times, as I follow the trail. I come across a beautiful grouse and get a decent picture of him.
Parts of the trails are indeed steep and a nagging little voice in my head keeps reminding me my ankle, which I broke last August, is not going to like going down. I shove the thought away and keep heading upward. Nearing the top, the deadfall is significant. Bleached tree trunks are everywhere. I straddle a few and have to go a fair way out of my way to get around piles of debris. The path is covered over and I start to panic – I have lost the way. I retrace my steps and to my relief, I find it again. My heart beats out of my chest as I fight the fear of re-injuring my ankle or getting lost.
Several times I almost give up but I can’t stand the though of missing out on the view. I have been hiking for over an hour now. I must be getting close to the top. I give myself another 20 minutes, if I don’t get there by 2:45 I will turn back.
Finally a sign tells me I have reached the summit of Mont Pics. I step to the edge. The winds is gusting and I hunker down slightly, scared of the drop. The view out over the valley is spectacular, I have no words to describe it and I am so pleased I persevered.
I savour the view but I am well aware that reaching the top is only half way home and with that in mind I grudgingly leave.
A lump gets caught in my chest again, as I lose the trail through the deadfall and have to backtrack to find it. I could feel the plate and pins in my leg as I walked sideways down the steep sections. It was worth the hike and I’m glad I did it, but I would be a liar if said I was not relieved to stride down the final 50 meters and come out at the road and see my truck parked where I left it. A spot on this earth I shall never see again. It was an excellent prep for the next day’s hike. Please join me as I go in search of caribou and try to summit Mont Jacques-Cartier. Happy travels from Maritime Mac
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