Mountain Hike Vacation in Quebec
The Mountain Hiker Rating: 6 out of 10 (negatively impacted by the cold/windy weather experienced)
Time required: 5 – 7 hours round trip
Degree of Difficulty: 7 out of 10 (considering cold/windy weather experienced)
Height: 3,770 feet (1,150m) / Absolute vertical of trail is approximately 1,770 feet (540m), as the trailhead begins around 2,000 feet (610m) above sea level. That said, the total vertical change for our hike was just under 3,000 feet (887m), due to the multiple elevation changes on the path we took.
Distance: Just under 8 miles (12.3 km) round trip (specific to the trails we took)
Guide Required: No – The trailhead and trail are well marked
We drove down into the Parc National De La Gaspesie from the quant sea-side town of Sainte-Anne-Des-Monts where we were staying. Part of the Appalachians in Canada, the Chic Choc mountains run the length of the Park. Mont Xalibu is one of ten or so peaks in the chic chocs above 3,600 feet (1,100m). The trail we followed is part of the Sentier International des Appalaches (SIA), or International Appalachian Trial (IAT), with this segment being in the eastern half of the park, known as the Monts McGerrigle section.
I’ll start by saying that our original goal was to hike the Sentier de la Grande Traversee trail from Lac aux American to Mont Jacques Cartier and back. This would have been a 15.5 mile (25km) hike in total, but we didn’t make it the whole way – Read on for more…
The trailhead starts at the parking lot which leads to Lac aux Americans. Once we reached the lake, we took the trail north to Mont Xalibu where it loops back to ascend the mountain in a south-east direction, which has a gentler incline than approaching the mountain from the west or south. The trail began as a well groomed pea-gravel trail, eventually becoming more natural. The hike started in a beautiful (mostly) evergreen forest, and we were surrounded by a constant aroma of pine. Reminds one of christmas! The forest floor was covered in mosses, lichens and mushrooms, along with various low growing plants with flowers and berries. The ground seemed very wet, almost marsh like. In fact, we crossed a small waterfalls along the way, and the trail itself often had a thin stream of water flowing down it.
As we did this hike in early September, the weather was not great, and it varied considerably through-out the day. At the start of the hike, the temperature was in the mid 50s (low teens celsius) and the sky was full of clouds. We started off with 3 layers of clothes on our upper bodies, however once we got moving and warmed up, we were down to 1-2 layers up top with short pants. It took us just over an hour to hike the roughly 2.5 miles (4 km) to where the trail started to get steeper and the ascent of the mountain really began.
The trail had turned to natural dirt with rocks for the first half of the ascent, and the tall trees gave way to a mix of smaller trees and medium height bushes. When we were about half way up the mountain, the sun came out and warmed us up nicely – The temperatures were in the mid 60s (high teens celsius) at this point.
We passed a couple of small groups going down mountain as we came out of the forest. For the second half of the ascent, the trail opened up with minimal flora of low scrub, which provided us little to no shelter from the ever increasing wind. While the elements started to deteriorate, the scenery was continuing to get better and better. We had a fantastic views of the surrounding chic choc mountains and surrounding valleys, and we were also treated to a beautiful long waterfall just north of Mont Xalibu, as a thin string of water cascaded down a steep mountainside between small lakes on a nearby mountain.
As we closed in on the final mile (1.5 km) of trail to the peak, the wind had increased and the cloud cover returned, so the temperatures dropped again. It was on this section of the hike that our pace really slowed. It wasn’t so much the steepness that caused us problems, it was the lack of consistent / solid footing. This section of the trail was quite barren, and for the last few hundred yards we were walking on loose rocks, ranging in size from softballs to basketballs, and all irregular in shape. Unfortunately, my partner’s old (foot and knee) injuries were causing her extreme discomfort, and thus she was picking her way very carefully over the rocks. We lost momentum and my body really cooled down. We followed the cairns (rock piles), showing us where the trail was, to the peak. It took us about an hour to hike this cold barren mountain peak.
The top of the mountain was flat but angled, and with the peak fully exposed to the elements, the wind was absolutely howling and it was extremely cold. A couple of other hikers were shivering and running down from the peak as we were approaching it, so we were alone up there. Even though we had 4 layers of clothing on at this point, including my partner wearing warm gloves, we were very uncomfortable at the peak and didn’t stay long. There were rock walls to huddle behind, so clearly this wind was not unusual. The temperature here must have been in the low 30s (near 0 celsius) with the wind chill, and I lost the feeling in both my hands. It was interesting that after the hike, in the middle of the night, I woke up in the hotel bed and my hands were aching – A sort of deja-vu / flashback reminder from what they experienced earlier that day.
As we were freezing our butts off, we had to get off the top of this mountain. We went down the other side about 1/2 mile (3/4 of a km) on the IAT that headed to Mont Jacques Cartier. Going down this side of the mountain was not easy either, as the trail was through a marsh, which was full of water – It was like walking along or in a small creek, with no-where to go because of the shrub-like growth on either side. We encountered the occasional section of boardwalk, although our feet were starting to get wet. As we were finally out of the bone-chilling wind, we decided to stop here for a break. We sat on a section of boardwalk and ate lunch. After eating, we took a look around and assessed the situation. Looking across the valley to the east, we could see the tower on Mont Jacques Cartier about 4 miles (7 km) away. Between us and our original objective was arctic like tundra. While we only had about 600 feet (180m) of vertical between here and there, about half of the trail looked really exposed and wind-swept. After being drained of strength from the extreme cold at the peak, and now with our feet being a wet, and considering that we would still have to come back over the top of Mont Xalibu late in the day on our return, we decided not to go any further, but just head back.
We took a slightly different path on the way back over Mont Xalibu, this time going further south and avoiding the peak. On this lower side of the sloped mountain top, we came across a wooden observation deck with some spectacular views to the south / west. After soaking in the view, we headed back down the same trail we came up. As we were heading down the mountain, we passed a few more small groups of hikers on their way to the peak. They seemed as surprised as we were at the chilling cold that was greeting them, and we all had a quick pace near the top of this mountain. It took us less than 2 hours to go back down the trail to where we had parked the car.
We did this hike in 4 hours and 44 minutes, including a 20 minute lunch and a 10 minute stay at the observation deck. The trail, which had begun as a well groomed pea-gravel path, transitioned into a natural mix of dirt and rocks, eventually becoming all loose rock and very rough. The flora also changed dramatically as the hike progressed, from a comfortable aromatic forest, through bushes to just scrub. We did not see any moose or caribou on our hike, although I suspect that we may have seen caribou if we had continued on to Mont Jacques Cartier. Being so late in the year, we did not have any flying insect problems. Over-all, this hike left me with mixed emotions – Great rough natural forest trail and smells, a pleasant surprise with the beautiful long waterfalls; however the bitter cold and wind on Xalibu’s peak was not enjoyable at all.
The Mountain Hiker Tip: When hiking in cold climates, be sure to bring multiple layers of clothing, to put on as required – Prepare for the worst! It’s also a good idea to bring extra socks in case your feet get wet.
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