I was rather disappointed about the clouded-in conditions. After all, I had worked hard to carefully choose a good weather day, and I was feeling a little cheated. However, I wasn't quite ready to give in. Near the north rim stood a wooden shelter - the Les Rabougris shelter. I decided to hole myself up there and wait. In theory - if the forecast was to be believed - the clouds around me should eventually evaporate away.
And wait I did... for quite a long time. I occupied myself with a bit of snacking, reading my trail map, looking at the signs and maps on the walls of the shelter, even taking a little nap out on the shelter's deck.
I always feel like I'm wasting time when I sit and do nothing on a long hike, but in this case, it ended up being worth it: An hour and a half after arriving at the north rim of the plateau, the clingy clouds finally started to dissipate. The cold, clammy and breezy conditions gave way to a nice soaking heat from bright sunshine. Most importantly, a broad vista across the summit plateau and beyond presented itself.
I spent a good fifteen minutes taking some pictures, attempting to capture the sense of this 20+ sq. kilometre isolated chunk of southern tundra. I saw no sign of Mont Albert's endangered woodland caribou herd (Mont Albert and a few other high peaks of the Chic-Chocs are their last remaining habitat south of the Saint Lawrence).
Another over-the-rim shot
Now that the good views had arrived, it was time to make tracks. I gathered my gear and started my way south, along the route of the Tour du Mont Albert.
Based on written descriptions of the Tour route, I had for some reason envisioned that the section of trail on the open plateau was quite long. Now that I was here, though, I could see that it was fairly short. The portion that actually crosses the flat part of the plateau does so at a narrow neck, where the plateau is only just over a kilometre across.
Despite being "only" a kilometre in length, the traverse of the plateau was still very beautiful. Leaving from the Rabougris shelter/lookout, the trail first enters a section of short scrub, and in a minute or so comes to a beautiful little shallow lake (Lac Quiscale) nestled under Mont Albert's north summit. At this point a very nicely-constructed boardwalk forms the trail, which leads over boggy terrain that would otherwise be churned into a muddy mess from hikers' feet.
Shortly after Lac Quiscale, the scrub abruptly stopped and the edge of the barren tundra of the plateau began. A nearly unbroken stretch of flat grassy landscape stretched for several kilometres from this point to the gentle 3750+ foot south summit of Mont Albert, which I could now clearly see in the distance. The local name for this plateau is Table à Moïse, or in english, Moses' Table.
Looking at the ground, I noticed that the pebbles and rocks of the soil now had a distinctive orange color. I seen rocks of this type before, and I now began to understand why the northern edge of the plateau had some low scrub, while this southern part did not: the underlying geology made it harder for vegetation to grow.
Back in 2011, I had visited the edge of the Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park
in Newfoundland. The Tablelands present as a very distinctive orange-colored and very barren highland. The highland is composed of peridotite - a type of rock found only in the Earth's mantle, and very very rarely seen at the surface. And, when this rock is exposed at the surface, it weathers to an orange-colored form, called serpentinite. The rock here underneath my feet looked exactly the same. After returning home and doing a little investigation, I can confirm that the Mont Albert massif is indeed like the Tablelands of Gros Morne - a rare case of a chunk of the Earth's mantle that has been thrust over top of other rocks.
Towards the Devil's Stream
Being poor in calcium and other major plant nutrients while simultaneously being richer in chromium and nickel - toxic to plants - it was not surprising that this part of Mont Albert's summit plateau was nearly devoid of vegetation. Too bad for them, but it certainly did make for a scenic bit of tundra landscape.
Looking back to Rabougris
Twenty minutes or so of easy and very pleasant hiking brought me to the southern edge of the summit plateau. Here, a constructed wooden lookout platform (the Belvédère du Versant) overlooked the head of a rounded valley system that had been cut deeply into the peridotite mantle rock of Mont Albert. The shape of the valley system clearly suggested that alpine glaciers had done the work.
I'm not sure what the name of this valley system is/was, but the name of the watercourse at the bottom of the valley is called the Ruisseau du Diable (stream of the devil). So, in this report I'll be calling this valley the gorge of the Ruisseau du Diable.
Gorge of the Ruisseau du Diable
Last bit of last winter's snows
Arctic Harebell, Mt Albert