My fourth winter trip to the Chic Choc Mountains on the Gaspe Peninsula in eastern Quebec, they just get more spectacular and majestic with every visit. Our group of eight assembled in the tiny hamlet of St. Octave on the northern edge of the Chic Chocs about 20 kilometers south of the coastal community of Cap Chat.
A resort that also rents cabins and operates a gear shuttle service to huts in the Chic Chocs is located in St. Octave. The snowmobile shuttle service allows skiers to travel from hut to hut with just day packs; a wonderful thing. Upon our arrival, the abrupt, businesslike resort receptionist announced in broken English that showers were available after our trip for a mere $10 and a new, much –improved, eminently popular ski trail had been groomed to the Park Gaspesie boundary. The trail sounded great; $10 for a shower, criminal. I made a mental note to forego the shower. After all, I was riding in Bruce’s car.
Following a cramped, crowded night in one of the cabins, we began our journey embarking on the new, much-improved, eminently popular ski trail. It was an inelegant beginning, as we were forced to ski the plowed edge of an icy road for two kilometers before merging right onto a moderately used snowmobile trail, then skiing up and down a protracted hill on an icy surface. Turning left at the park boundary, the new, much-improved, eminently popular ski trail descended gradually on a hard-packed, slick, uneven surface while winding narrowly through a dense, stunted conifer forest. A wild, bumpy, tree-grabbing ride, I survived without mishap until 100 kilometers from the park trail, where I slipped, bumbled and crashed to the finish. Most of my companions had a similar experience or did the sensible thing: removed their skis and walked. The new, much-improved, eminently popular ski trail gets two thumbs down from this less than satisfied customer.
Donning ski skins for the lengthy, steep ascent into the mountains, we began to fully appreciate the glorious weather and spectacular panoramic views we had been granted entering nothing short of a mountain paradise. Reaching Le Huard Hut on Lac Thibault early afternoon, there was time for exploration. Two companions and I skied a few kilometers to Lac Noir, a small frozen body of water surrounded by precipitous, wooded mountains. My French is a little lacking. Actually pathetic would be more accurate. But I think noir means dark, which makes sense in this case. Latin was my foreign language of choice in high school and I excelled, having spent three years studying Latin I and Latin II. I skipped foreign languages in college. Find friends who can speak the language is my philosophy. With an icy, downhill gradient, we were able to double pole most of the trip back. I love double poling; my preferred definition of Nordic skiing.
There were two choices for our ski to the La Chouette Hut at the foot of Mont Logan on Day Two: the long way and the short way. We separated into two groups of four and my group went the long way, skiing the Le Noroit Trail, a more gradual 18 kilometer ascent. The conditions were near perfect: sunny, light winds, warm temperatures and soft snow for climbing. Arriving at the hut, we had breathtaking views of rugged Mont Logan. Almost flawlessly located, La Chouette Hut only has one drawback, water is a half kilometer away and the return trip is all up hill. Melting snow is the alternative. My arthritic right knee finally provided a benefit; I was informally excused from water carrying duties. I’d rather carry the water and be young again!
We had another glorious day for our climb to the summit of Mount Logan: warm, sunny and light winds. The trail to the summit cone is gradual up and down with constant views. Most of us used snowshoes for the final steep ascent with a couple climbing with skins. From the summit, we had breathtaking views of the entire Chic Choc range. After an extended stay, we split into several groups to explore the higher elevations on skis. Sporting a wounded knee, my choice was a solo gradual descent through the glades. Perhaps my most enjoyable day of backcountry skiing ever, I spent hours traveling circuitously down to the hut with idyllic conditions while savoring continuously spectacular views of the snow covered mountains below.
Reluctantly departing La Chouette, we again separated into smaller groups to travel to the final hut on our journey, La Carouge. A 17 kilometer trip for Team Long Route; unseasonably warm, sunny conditions were again on our menu. Much of the trip was a gradual descent, allowing for long periods of double poling with a few steep, icy treacherous moments that captured this senior citizen’s attention.
La Carouge is located in a densely wooded valley between the peaks Mont des Loupes and Mont Jacques Ferron. The hut is located on the shore of scenic Lac Choc with Lac Chic is a short distance away. For the first time on our trip, we encountered typical Chic Choc weather conditions. Clouds gathered as the day ended and we experienced snow showers throughout the night.
The threat of rain showers motivated us to rise early for our final day of skiing. Sections of our return trip twisted and turned steeply through a mountainous conifer forest and then descended precipitously to the new, much-improved, eminently popular ski trail. Since protecting my knee was of paramount concern, I used skins for the ski down and wisely continued using them on the new, much-improved, eminently popular ski trail. Arriving at St. Octave, ten dollars for a long, hot, luxurious shower seemed a small price to pay. Bruce was thankful, too.
(Ron Chase is an avid four season outdoorsman and freelance writer, who co-authored the mountain guidebook, Mountains for Mortals – New England. When not visiting the Chic Chocs in the spring, he can often be found paddling a perfect one foot on the Swift River in New Hampshire. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com for more information on his guidebook and other outdoor adventures.)