Not having visited home (which, for me, is out east in New Brunswick, Canada) in over a year, I had planned to go back on the Canada Day long weekend in July. Unfortunately, my recent trip to the west coast, involving a mountaineering course
, some climbing
, some hiking
, and some visiting
, had been too close to that weekend. I ultimately didn't have the time to take a trip home then. Instead, I aimed to visit on a holiday weekend in August, after I'd returned from out west.
This change of plans happened to work out well for my Dad, who had bummed a ride with my brother George from New Brunswick to Ottawa at the end of July. His return and my planned trip coincided, and so on the trip out to New Brunswick, my dad accompanied us. To spice up the trip a bit, we decided to head through Maine to New Brunswick. This was (a) a more interesting route, and (b) allowed us to drive through Fredericton and stop by to see my brother Carl, who I'd not visited for some years.
Lunch stop near Skowhegan
We had a beautiful weather day for our drive out east. My dad had never taken this route between Ottawa and New Brunswick, and I think he found it interesting. The drive through the highlands of the Eastern Townships of Quebec and the Appalachian Mountains in Maine were especially pretty. Jenn made snacks and lunches, and we made use of scenic highway pullouts along the way. We arrived in Fredericton at around 5pm. It had taken us about 10 hours and 15 minutes (excluding about 45 minutes of by-the-road break time), and about 930 kilometres.
Carl and Line graciously hosted us for the evening. We had dinner at a local hotel, chatted on the rear deck, had a look at my nephew Mark's most recent video games, and gave a slideshow on our most recent trip out west. The next morning, we headed north, under more beautiful sunny skies, to Bathurst, where my Mom was waiting for our arrival.
Our time in Bathurst was short, and we spent most of it with my parents. My Mom was getting ready to leave for Italy in a week's time, and it was obvious she was looking forward to the trip. She took some time out of her trip preparations to give us (well, mostly Jenn) much instruction on how to make her pasta e fagioli sauce, her pasta tomato sauce, and her version of Apple Crisp. We were also thinking of going for a quick 9-hole game of golf with my Dad, but a tournament at the local golf course (and some rainy weather) conspired against us.
The next stage of our whirlwind tour was now upon us. Even though I had grown up in Bathurst for a good twenty years, I had never really explored the wilds of the Gaspe Peninsula in nearby Quebec. I'd come to realize now that there was a very interesting mountain park in Gaspe, only three hours' drive from Bathurst, that contained some terrain unique to southern Canada. The highest mountains of the peninsula rise to about 4000 feet, and at this latitude and longitude, that means large expanses of flat, open tundra - terrain very similar to the Canadian Arctic. I'd also recently learned that there were some good hiking paths in these mountains, and I wanted to get a quick introductory sample.
We drove west from Bathurst, then crossed into Quebec into the southern Gaspe Peninsula. We took a highway that cuts directly north across the peninsula to the park. The drive through this area (known as the Cascapedia Valley) was remote and scenic. The park itself was also quite remote and scenic, and we saw some glimpses of broad, flat-topped peaks. Large, tawny stretches of open ground beckoned.
We stayed at the Mont Albert campground and hoped that the unsettled weather that had descended upon us would hold off during our hike. We went to bed early and planned to get up at the crack of dawn, climb a peak in the park, and then drive back to Ottawa afterwards. An ambitious but do-able plan.
The next morning dawned showery, unfortunately. Still, we decided to go for it, since the forecast was for later clearing. We had chosen to climb a peak that had a relatively short 11 kilometre there-and-back distance, and that also had (purportedly) some excellent views of the terrain of the area. The trailhead was only a 10 minute drive from the campsite and we were prepped and ready to start hiking by 5am. Except it was raining, and so we just waited in the car until, mercifully, it passed.
The first section of our trail was up a wide, broad, practically wheelchair accessible path. The path led to a lake called Lac-aux-Americains. The lake was situated in a very large and very well formed glacial cirque. High walls and cliffs lined three sides of the lake, and one of these walls, on the left, was a shoulder of the peak we were climbing today : Mont Xalibu. I hoped we'd get a fantastic view down into this cirque from above.
Soon after the lake, the trail turned to a more typical rough eastern track. This trail is actually part of the internal extension of the Appalachian Trial (and so was marked 'SIA/IAT', or Sentier Internationale Appalaches / International Appalachian Trail).
Pleasant bit of boardwalk
Pleasant bit of boardwalk
At about the 3300-foot level, we started to break out into open terrain. 3300 feet is pretty low compared to the treelines in the eastern US appalachians, and this meant that the tops of these relatively low 3500-to-4000 foot peaks had a very nice alpine feel. The general characteristic of the terrain is of a large, high-altitude plateau that has been incised by recent valley glaciation. Cirques and u-shaped valleys are carved everywhere into the edges of these plateaux. To me, this is the defining feature of Gaspe Provincial Park.