Backpacking Gaspesie National Park: The International Appalachian Trail (IAT-SIA)

This year's annual trip had us exploring the Chic Choc mountains of the Gaspe Region of la belle province: Quebec.  Our plan was to backpack for 4 days, camping and exploring Gaspesie National Park.  The trail we were following is part of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT or SIA (Francais)), which officially travels from the US through Quebec, Newfoundland and even parts of Europe.   (Of note, the association recently met in Mabou, NS to discuss further expansion of the IAT trail. Including the proposed Seawall trail, taking a similar route to our 2013 hike).  The Gaspe portion was featured in National Geographic as one of the top 20 hikes in the world. I had my first experience at the park back in 2003 when Sheena and I arrived at Gaspesie to camp for our honeymoon.  At that time in June, we were impressed by the 'rocky type' mountains and found out that the snow was still deep in the mountains despite being late spring. 

This year with Kris and Matt, our plan was to hike from the western section of the park starting midway at 'La Huard' and continue to the Mt. Albert campground which is mid-park.  This involved daily sections of trail with varying kilometre distances: La Huard to La Soule, 12.6k;  La Saule to Cascapedia, 12.4k; Cascapedia to La Fougere, 15k; Fougere to Mt. Albert campground(19k).  The last day involves crossing and descending from Mt. Albert, a challenge in itself. Here's a Map of the Gaspesie portion of the SIA Backpacking trail. A shuttle is available from the Mont Albert visitor's centre at 9am.  Of interest, the shuttle does runs to the Mt. Logan sector and takes roads normally closed to the public and as such access can be gained to the more remote sections of the park.  If we had time and energy, I also hoped to hike to Mt. Jacques Cartier from Mt. Albert campground, as it is the highest point in Quebec at 1268 m.  That would involve a 25k return trip in addition to the approximate 60 kms backpacking.  In general, if a person didn't want to backpack, the park is set up so the Mt. Albert campground could be used as a basecamp for day trips to the various sectors of the park.  

As well, we planned to stay at campgrounds/tent sites, but it is interesting to note that each area has a Hut/Shelter which hikers can also stay at.  They have well built bunk beds, wood stoves, firewood, kitchen areas and bathrooms. We found these were very well kept and maintained and wished we could have stayed in them ourselves!

Gaspesie National Park is one of Quebec's 'provincial' parks, held to the standards of any National Park found in Canada.  I have recently been very impressed with the province's emphasis on outdoors activities.  Passing through Quebec highways you can see it displayed in the provincial rest stops,  picnic areas and quality services and facilities offered in the parks.  Despite a difference in language, the park employees were welcoming and made every effort to ensure our stay was a good one.  


Our hiking trip started off ominously with thundershowers and heavy rain as well rode in the shuttle toward our trailhead.  Looking into the mountains as we approached them, the sky was almost black, despite that it was ten in the morning.  As lightning flashed on our windy trip up into the mountain, I hoped the electrical storm would pass far away from us before we began our ascent.  During our drive, the driver stopped to check on two hikers who were taking the road in the downpour.  They related a story in French about having left the hut 'La Mesange' this morning, deciding to descend from the hills for safety in the storm.  This weighed in my mind as we kept going up into the hills.  Thankfully, the thunderstorm had passed over us before leaving the shuttle and we only had to contend with downpouring rain.


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As the rain came down, we climbed upward into the mountains trails. The wind and rain battered us as we travelled through the forest and along the ridge tops of Mt. Arthur-Allen and Mt. Blizzard and finally the Pic de l'Aube.   We were obviously missing lots of views with the nasty weather.  The photo to the right is one view we saw, but I've attached a link to what you could see without clouds during the day.

We travelled until around 2 pm, when we took a short side adventure in an attempt to dry off and stopped at the hut, La Mesange (below left).  To us, the hut might as well have been a hotel room.  With a wood stove, mattresses in the bunk beds, a dining room table and chairs, even split firewood, it was a joy on a wet day.  We spent several hours in the hut pondering whether to stay or leave the warmth for a tent.  Eventually, other hikers had arrived and we decided to keep our original plans to stay at the tent campground at La Soule.  Thankfully, we did have a chance to warm up and dry off.  We would later learn that you can stay at the huts on a 'per bed' basis, but we didn't know this and didn't want to disturb anyone's reservation.


At our campsite, the wind howled through the trees all night and we woke to a chilly but sunny morning.  Above is the empty tent pad we used to eat our food on and have our morning warm drinks.  I think all of us were realizing that staying in a hut would have been a welcomed luxury!  Because of the clear weather, we now were able to have a taste of some of the views to be experienced in the park. We began our approximate 13 k trek to Cascapedia campground early in the morning as usual. The below photo was taken amid very strong wind of the mountains around the Pic a Brule area. 

IMGP4208From here, the sky was so clear you could easily see the Bay of St. Lawrence and the other side of Quebec leading to Labrador.  The trail skirted the edges in these areas, but was well away from any cliffs.  The wind was very strong any time you left the trees. 


Because the trail kept to the ridges, travel was somewhat easier during most of the day as the elevation changes were at a minimum. Although, what also came with that was at the beginning of the day usually involved an ascent from the campground after breakfast and long descent to get to supper! Our quads and knees were thankful for the rest at the end of each day. The photo below is at Mt. Ernest Menard (850m), with the camera looking off toward the eastern sections of the park.  


For our second night, we stayed with permission at the closed campground at Cascapedia which was our 'halfway point' and enjoyed the closed off picnic shelter.  We were pleased to have warm water at the campsite washroom for a little cleanup -- something we normally aren't expecting on our backpacking trips.  The evening did bring some discussion on our next plan of attack for the rest of the park. Because of issues beyond our control, Kris and Matt decided to head back to the Mt. Albert campground via the connecting road and I decided to continue on via the trail for the planned two more days.  We planned to meet at the Mt. Albert campground leaving my car in the parking lot with the location of their campsite in the campground.  That's the plan that we started with anyway!  


Day three involved some steep uphill climbing from Cascapedia.  The first ascent was Mt. Ells, which was 2.7k of steady uphill.  It provided the first views of Mt. Albert's back side (above left).  I would need to ascend that mountain from roughly the area pictured in the far distance.

The days weather was clear again and seeing that I was up high, I decided to check for cell reception.  I found good cell reception and confirmed via the Environment Canada website for the park (again a new experience while backpacking) that there was quite a bit of rain coming the following day for my trip over Mt. Albert.  

Keeping this in the back of my mind for the whole day, I continued across the ridges to Mt. Milieu (above right).  This mountain is in between Mt. Logan and Mt Jacques Cartier, which are situated at either ends of the park. A neat monument is placed there, which I assume points to either mountain.   Following Mt. Milieu, it was a steady decline for almost a couple of hours to the hut at La Pauline.  

La Pauline was a nice spot, and I was thinking it was too bad it wasn't farther in the woods to time a return trip to the Mt. Albert Campground.  It had a nice deck to sit on, which beautifully overlooked Lac Hayman.  Water was available from a spring opposite the shelter as well.  However, starting from La Pauline in the morning would involve more than 23 kilometres to the end, likely in the rain. 

Around noon time, I left the shelter and continued along the trail to La Fougere campsite.  Walking the 3.6 kms between the hut and the campsite, I was feeling the heat of the day (impressive for September) and the previous ascents and descents as well.  Then, to round off my concerns for the next day's on-coming weather, I began to see many bear tracks along the trail to my campsite.  It was later in the day (1pm) and, I knew I had to stay at La Fougere for the night as the kilometres to travel was too far to make it in less than half a day to the next shelter.  Darkness was a consideration, because in these mountains, the evening light fades quickly after 6pm.  

IMGP4250IMGP4237So knowing had I to stay,  I set my campsite up early in the afternoon and found more cell service (surprised) on the highest tent pad.  Looking at the map, La Fougere campsite is really in the middle of nowhere! Its a 13 to 20 km hike in either direction.  As I had seen the bear tracks and the expecting rain, scheduled to start sometime over night, I was taking the usual precautions with food and good coverage for my gear in the rain.  In protecting from animal visits, we usually will eat our meals away from our tent site, typically on a second tent pad a distance away.  We also raise our food off the ground in some way for safe keeping.  I borrowed an idea from Kris and stored my food ... in the outhouse to keep it safe and dry.  In my defence, it was likely the cleanest and freshest outhouse I had ever found - and nevertheless hung my food with the seat down(!).  I spent the evening prepping my gear for the next morning, which I wanted to have an early start. 

After a long night of waking up to the rain pattering and at pretty near every 'loud' sound in the woods, I started off breaking down camp with a hint of daylight at 455am.  Getting my water filtered and pack squared away, I started on the trail at just before 6 am.  I began the roughly 19-20 kms of the day's travel for 7 kms in the quietest forest I've ever hiked, which eventually lead to the approach to Mt. Albert.  In case you were wondering, the rain started  in the 1st kilometre and began with a pleasant drizzle, eventually greeting me with an hour's long downpour.  The rain never really stopped throughout the day and to put it in my daughter's terms, my pack cover was 'pretty well useless' at that point.  Just before arriving at the Mt. Albert approach, there is a somewhat disheartening downclimb to the Grande Fosse brook (below left).  Once above the treeline, I looked back to where I travelled through the quiet forest valley from La Fougere (below right). 

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  The rain and thick fog was consistent for my travel across the back of Mt. Albert.  I spent most of my time keeping my eyes on the white wooden trail markers and cairns [Kris!] which are spaced fairly close together, for reasons I was now keenly aware of (see below photo at left).  Although due to the tight restrictions at the park for off-trail travel and the fact that it is the IAT (SIA), there really is only one fairly worn trail, so route-finding was easy as long as you pay attention.   Where the travel became most challenging was the long (and terrible in the rain) descent from the plateau.  It began with a steady crossing of a boulder field, well marked with the iconic IAT red and white markings on the rocks.  I was quite thankful for these markings as well.   These wet boulders were challenging to navigate with a backpack and I took great care to ensure I didn't fall in the deep holes between them.  One other factor I was glad about on the rainy day was that the textured composition of the brown type rocks so prominent on Mt. Albert, which made gripping them much easier.

IMGP4237 IMGP4257I knew that with all the fog and rain, I was missing probably some of the nicest views of the trip, especially given that it was above the tree-line. Here's another photo showing what I was missing!  The descent trail follows a long (I mean LONG) rocky valley where the 'Ruisseau du Diable' begins its flow.  As I climbed down the trail, going from rock to rock so I didn't go ankle deep in water due to the accumulating puddles, I was reflecting on the name of the valley and finding it was well suited to describe the travel as 'Devils river' valley.  The water was now flowing over each drop in the trail like its own waterfall and I was drenched to the bone.  Gladly, there was little to no wind.  I decided to keep hiking without breaks to stay warm and didn't dare take my backpack off.  I kept my right arm tight against my body to stay warm as the temperature was likely 7-8C on the mountain.  (Yes, it was getting to be that type of hike!).  Passing by the Serpentine Hut was difficult, but I knew I would just get wet again if I did try and stop knowing that the down pouring rain was inevitable and its true escape was a dry change of clothes at the car.  

It was also hard to take pictures and keep water off my lens.  When I did reach a point where the fog and clouds lifted enough to see, I was near the junction with the summit trail (See below left).  I found that the descent trail continues with rocks, roots or other obstacles just until reaching the actual Devil's Falls area, about 3 kilometres from the visitor's centre.  I stopped to take some quick photos of les Chutes du Diable (Devil's Falls), but kept going to stay warm.  I was very surprised to see the trail completely under water at Devils Lake (Lac du Diable) -- which had been detoured into the woods for about 500m of bushwacking with ribbon tape marking the trails seemingly well prior to today's weather.

IMGP4259 After nearly 6 hours of travel, I pushed through the rain and cold and arrived at the visitors centre around 11:30 am.  The denouement story is I arrived there to find no car.  I immediately thought that Kris and Matt likely did not expect me to arrive this early and walked into the visitor's centre to inquire about their campsite.  Trying to speak in French while creating a puddle on the floor at the visitors desk, I learned they had rented a hut for the night (thanks guys!!), but it was 2 km back where I came from.  Thankful but clearly done with the kilometres for the day after already travelling 20+, I headed back to the huts -- again in the rain.  I arrived there, but could not find my car and decided to set up in an empty hut as I wanted to get dry.  Unbeknownst to me, Kris and Matt had changed their reservation again to a more private 'O-Tentik' (luxury!!) type shelter and I later found them after making a quick walk around in the campground in semi-dry clothes.  To their immediate credit, they retrieved my gear left at the last hut and greeted me with drinks and chocolate, as well as a great place to warm up.  We spent the following few hours catching up on our adventures and reflecting on how lately each of our trips seems to end in a different way !  The afternoon and evening had lots of laughs, and enjoying the 'glamping' and a shared a rare event, glasses of craft beer over supper.   

I was a bit sore after the last day and decided against heading to Jacques Cartier the following day.  (Plus, there was more low cloud making views almost non-existent.) It will however give me another reason to head back to Gaspesie Park.  

On the road back, we stopped in Carleton-Sur-Mer for the craft brew spot 'Microbrasserie Le Naufrageur'.  In the following days, I was quite impressed by their beer -- which definitely rivals our local Picaroon's for smoothness and taste!  

Thanks Kris and Matt for another great trip -- and to Matt for enduring the lovely NB roads.

Busy Girls

 Here's our yearly photo of Rebecca and Abby heading off to school.  Rebecca is in Grade 4 and Abby in Grade 3.  They're quite independent now and Sheena and I reflect on how far we've come from daycare to them growing into little ladies.  Rebecca is still interested in piano and chess and will be doing both again this year.  Abby is starting chess too and has been interested in helping out with horses at a barn nearby.  Hopefully we'll be able to make that happen soon!  Both have been doing a 'kid fitness' class at the Sussex Civic Centre after school a few days a week.  With the fitness class, they enjoy the chance to do circuit workouts, runs, yoga, track and field and other sports.  They usually finish the afternoons off with a swim.  It's great how confident it has made them about their own fitness.  Abby is also a non-stop biker.  If her bike is around, it is not unusual for her to spend any spare time at home going up and down the driveway, even before bedtime.  Hard to say no to that!  


The ladies have been busy these past couple of weeks and did a couple of runs in the area.  



Here they are at a fun run at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John.  The news with that weekend was that they did two runs on the weekend, one on Saturday and Sunday.  Here are both of them waiting at the starting line in Hampton. 


It seems that both are always excited about the medal at the end of the race and the popcicle.  If a race has a popcicle or freezie at the end, they will talk about it forever!  They usually also see a friend from school or make a race buddy friend during the day.  



We also had the chance to take them to the Gagetown Fair a couple of weekends ago.  The fair has lots of events, including rodeo type competitions, animal judging, and of course fair type rides.  It was our first year this year at the event.  The girls came home from school and said 'everyone' was talking about going to the fair on the weekend -- so naturally, we found ourselves heading out.  Here's Abby looking great with her Stampede hat from a couple of years ago.


Aim before you shoot!  Abby wanted to try out all the games.  She actually hit two with one cork - a skill she'll have to teach us.  


Eventually, it was time to ditch their parents when their friends arrived.  Once they did, both joined their schoolmates and ran around trying out different rides with them.  Because it was one of their first times in memory doing these types of rides, they wanted to try every one of them -- not realizing how their stomaches would feel afterward!   


The schools are great in the area for hosting fun runs as part of their track and field.  This past week, they were in Sussex for the school sponsored runs.  Rebecca and Abby came in the same positions as last year -- and were quite excited about it.  


Mabou: Still Standing!

We are so proud of our hometown and our family, recently featured on CBC's Still Standing series broadcast this week. It quickly captures some of the traditions of what we know from calling Mabou, Cape Breton a hometown. I often think of John Allan Cameron's music, when he talks about living and working away from Cape Breton but thinking of visiting home whenever possible.  

Side note: The donated house featured in the video was my grandparent's house, something they would have loved to hear about themselves.  Thanks to our parents and aunts and uncles for making us proud by having it serve as a home for an immigrant family. 

Have a watch and enjoy it as much as we did. Great Job Margie and Rodney and everyone else featured on the show.  See it here:

Camping and Beach Walking on Grand Manan Island

Our family has been looking forward to trip planned to Grand Manan Island, in the Bay of Fundy.  Grand Manan lies south of the mainland, across from Maine.  The island is part of a archipelago which was debated over sovereignty in the early 1800s-1900s.  (One island south of Grand Manan, Machias Seal Island, is still contested between the US and Canada.)   Also, it may be a presumptive statement, but it seems that Grand Manan is easily overlooked when talking about Southern New Brunswick.  Interestingly, there are friends of ours who have lived in the Saint John area, but never been to Grand Manan -- a short 30 minute drive and 1.5 hr ferry to the island.  I had been to Grand Manan as a kid, but remembered little of the visit.  Although, based on what we saw after a three day camping trip there, we found it to be a little jewel of the Bay of Fundy with incredible scenery including 11 beaches, many lighthouses, bird life, and an island filled with a proud and friendly people with an easy going and welcome slower lifestyle. (We spoke to a few locals and  heard there are older folks on Grand Manan that have never left the island!) I'd encourage anyone to read a bit on the history of Grand Manan, which gives a feel for the type of place you're visiting.  Many authors and artists have called Grand Manan home. If you visit, be sure to see the museum, which is well worth the entry fee.  

The first experience is the Ferry trip, leaving from Black's Harbour.  It was Rebecca and Abby's first trip on a car ferry and just that experience was worthwhile for them.  The added fun is watching all the sea life and islands along the hour and a half trip to North Head.  Seeing whales for the first time was not lost on them at all -- and it was fun watching their excitement.  

Waiting for the Ferry in Blacks Harbour


Watching for whales
Wolf Islands

 Arriving at Grand Manan, we went straight to our campsite -- another first for everyone camping together.  The girls were excited to set up their tents -- and more importantly their bikes to zip around the campground and explore their surroundings.  We spent most of the three days thinking to ourselves that we will always bring the kid's bikes on these types of trips as any down time was spent biking.  It gave them lots of freedom and little deserved breaks for the parents as well.  

IMG_1980We headed straight for the beach next to the Anchorage Campground.  The girls went straight to their beach play. 

Seaweed Skipping


After our supper, we left to see Grand Harbour beach and hunting for sea glass.  Picturesque fishing and bait shacks could be seen on the road to the beach.  



We also headed out to check out the Southwest Head lighthouse at the southern tip of the island.  There are some distinctive rock formations off the coast here, which is also the starting point for the 3 day backpacking trip that can be done on the western coast of Grand Manan.  From the cliffs, it was easy to see the US and the Atlantic Ocean. Machias Seal Island was also visible. Walking on the trails really felt like you might walk off the end of the earth!




The highlight of the evenings were the camp fires and evening biking at dusk.  The girls could be heard laughing from the nearby playground with their glow stick bracelets.  





We tried to spend as much time at the shore, even while waiting as there's shorelines all over on Grand Manan.  (The photo above was behind a fish plant in Grand Harbour). The following day, we visited White Head Island -- another inhabited island a 30 minute ferry ride from Grand Manan.  The smaller island of White Head island has three beaches and lighthouses.  This time, we visited Long Point lighthouse and the Sandy Cove area.  To get the feel for it, imagine walking off into a sea of fog and following a gravel beach road switching from stone beaches to brown sandy beaches, with little or noone around.  We found these scenic boats by the ferry to White Head island at Ingalls Head.  


The grassy section of road leading to the sentinel lighthouse at Long Point.  This was the grassiest area we could find! 


Looking back at the coastline from Long Point Lighthouse.  Long since abandoned, the lighthouse rocks are full of sea birds, who's song was loud and clear.  

We spent the better part of a day exploring White Head Island and the shoreline.  A remote but beautiful spot -- a beachcombers dream with all the flotsam and jetsam washing ashore. 


Our last day, we packed up early and spent our time in the North Head area, visiting Stanley's Beach, Whistle Point and the Swallow Tail lighthouse.  Rebecca was wanting to take part in a rock skipping competition on Stanley's Beach, while taking a break from sea glass hunting.  Both girls gave up some of their seaglass to other pickers, striking up conversations with people from the US and other parts of Canada.



The Swallowtail lighthouse is an iconic spot, likely photographed by most visitors to Grand Manan.  A short hike to the lighthouse and the high rocks surrounding it allows a perfect view of the ocean and to do some whale watching if lucky.  One guaranteed sight is the ferries going by to land at North Head.  


Watching the sea at Swallowtail Lighthouse

The weather was perfect for our trip -- we certainly lucked out while we were there.  There was so much to do and too little time, making it necessary for another summer return trip.

Catching up on Summer

IMG_1794We're sharing more photos from the girls wonderful summer.  Here's Rebecca at the Irving Nature Park in Saint John, wandering through the kid's maze.  Below is the girls on Saint's Rest Beach in Saint John,  looking for treasures among the rocks.  

IMG_1794Abby found a piece of seaweed which became a beard.  Not sure who she learned that from (Dad or Grampa!).


Sheena took the below photo on a drive home from one of their adventures this past week.  Its of the sun going down over Belleisle Bay, about 10 minutes from our house.  

IMG_1794No summer photo collage could be complete without a photo of the girls swimming at the 'Cuts', a local swimming hole about 4 minutes from our house, on our road no less!

Abby and Rebecca love all the treasures at Grampa's store, including the baby chicks that come in throughout the year. 


During their three week stay in Cape Breton, the girls ran in the Inverness Days Race.  Rebecca ran in two races that day, the kids run and the 5k!

This year's beach was West Mabou Beach.  The girls and Sheena loved spending their time there and going for ice cream at the Ceilidlh Cottages Campground.  

IMG_1561On one of our cousin's days at the beach, a few were covered into the same sand pile by anyone who would join in.  

IMG_1561Rebecca and Abby posed for a few photos for Sheena's collage, including here with the lobster traps in Inverness.


Here's Abby playing with one of the buddy's they made at the beach in Mabou.  This one is a step-daughter of a cousin's cousin.  :)


The Mabou Harbour lighthouse is very picturesque. 


After the kids returned home from Cape Breton, I took them to see a couple waterfalls in the Nackawic and Mactaquac area. The girls had a ball swimming and goofing around.  


The trail to Coac Falls was a nice walk through the forest.  It was getting fairly hot on our walk.


Coac Falls were neat, with the gradual steps down to the pool.  The water was incredibly cold, shockingly actually.  That didn't stop Abby or Rebecca though.  
IMG_1561Here they are testing out the current.