ECT Day 135 – Welcome To Gaspésie

Ruisseau Bascon Shelter to Le Kalmia Campsite
Fart Massage Camp to Soggy Platform Camp
ECT miles: 17.2
Total miles: 2670.5
Elevation change: 5417ft gain, 5597ft loss

A gradual climb to start the day carried SpiceRack and me into the alpine and the next phase of this adventure. Near the top of the spectacular Mont Matawees we exited Matane, soon trading the intimidating wariness of that notoriously difficult section of Quebec for the excited anticipation of Gaspésie National Park. Marking this milestone, in combination with successfully collecting our resupply boxes yesterday, I felt a lightening of the mental load. Matane had been hard, no doubt about it, and we had made it through feeling stronger than ever thanks to Spice’s considerate planning. Now we looked ahead to Gaspésie, arguably the jewel of the IAT, or so I had come to speculate. Not that the coming miles and mountains would be a cruisy victory lap, but something about the “national park” designation seemed to promise exceptional reward for the exceptional effort. All the postcard pictures I’d seen of this mysterious Chic-Choc sub-range of the greater Appalachian Mountains were taken within Gaspésie. In Matane, we’d proven to ourselves that we could hack it in these mountains. Now it was time to enjoy the ride over and around the final major summits of the Canadian itinerary, if not of the rest of the entire ECT. I was excited to reach the sea, but not before a final frolic above treeline.

The day broke full of optimism after a peaceful night of sleep in the shelter. My guts were feeling great after Spice’s tender care last night, so I could fart with satisfying impunity, which seems like a small thing until that privilege is misplaced. And with a seemingly bottomless food bag, I had no reservations about indulging my raging hunger, gulping granola and trail mix like the good ol’ days on the AT. A pot of Spice’s hot coffee washed it down and pushed us from under the roof, back onto the trail.

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Nicol-Albert? Mont Blanc? Or just another hill amongst many.

A solid gray ceiling and cool temperatures provided perfect hiking conditions to ease us into the day as we chugged up the final crux of the long valley. As we ascended, the flora changed to reflect the transitioning climate zone. Ferns to grass, hardwood to stunted pine. Looking back, the streaked cliffs of Nicol-Albert and the inconspicuous plateau of Mont Blanc, once so prominent, now faded into the crowd of anonymous green lumps. However, their significance did not fade in my mind. I recognized them as stages where Spice and I had acted out a string of one-off performances, the memories of which I hoped to carry with me for a long time.

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This is what it’s all about. Time to fly.

I felt my spirit take flight as we passed over flat top of Mont Matawees. What waited on the other side was the transition between land and air. The trail swooped from a T-junction both left and right, riding along the steep edge of an open ridge line. The thin ribbon of crumbled rock tread cut a bright track across the green slopes, disappearing into a stand of dwarf pine, reappearing on the next bald shoulder, carrying my imagination with it. This was the trail of my dreams, a style that was featured heavily on the CDT and explains why I love that trail so well. I found myself overcome with joy and horrendously turned around. I would have taken a left for the ride to Mont Collins (and loved it), but Spice set me straight on the right path.

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A tiny SpiceRack on an epic trail.

After taking a short break on a deep mat of lichen, I watched Spice trace the aesthetic line, getting smaller and smaller as she disappeared into the vastness ahead. Eventually, the orange stripe of her sleeping pad disappeared over the next rise. I took a deep breath and followed, ready to be present and enjoy this special trail to the maximum. A fresh breeze blew cool kisses, accepted gratefully. The clouds above formed an upside down ocean of laminar waves, watched warily.

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To go up, we must first go down.

After a magnificent mile, the ridge took on a different character as it turned steeply downward through a slope of talus then bounced back up to Mont Fortin. On the summit, the trail resumed its tightrope meandering, which was still spectacular, but now no longer felt endless as we approached the wide bulk of Mont Logan. The clouds drooped to cover the high summit and we changed from birds soaring in graceful swoops to ants marching up a mountain with no top.

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It feels good to finally be here, wherever here is.

A sign tucked into an inconspicuous stand of fir trees welcomed us to “Parc national de la Gaspésie”. This was another one of those arbitrary human boundaries that looks significant on a map, but ridiculous in person. The single sign was infinitely outnumbered by the trees that formed their own billboards for those who knew how to read them. However, as a human, I understood that even though it might be an arbitrary spot in a wider continuum beyond human classification, this particular boundary had the potential to benefit our hike in tangible ways. A national park could mean fewer logging scars, nicer refuges, smoother trails, more switchbacks,  and maybe even a snack shack or two. Those all sounded good to me, and I followed Spice into the Gaspésie wilds, optimistic, hopeful, and excited.

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The windiest ridge.

Our world shrunk as we ascended into the clouds, rising along Mont Logan’s north ridge. Actually, the world still felt airy and large, but I felt blind to it as the blowing wisps of gray obscured all that was above and below.  I struggled to stay on my feet as I followed behind Spice, watching her orange sleeping pad again as the powerful gusts opened up its right side like an accordion. It flapped open and shut, and I could feel my own sleeping pad doing the same, but if these instruments were making any music, then I couldn’t hear it. My hood whipped and cracked. Our shouts to one another were blown off target to tumble with the mist down into the abyss.

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Absolutely howling. #spicepic

We later estimated that the wind was a sustained 40mph, gusting higher and lulling lower. I watched Spice make a stuttered and staggering dash to the next short stand of bush pine, then followed as quickly as I could across the exposed slope. Keeping a wide stance and bending low, it took both poles and all my concentration to stay close to the trail as I traced a wiggled approximation of the straight track, leaning deep against the literally staggering force. Once adjusted to this drunken style of hiking, we laughed and exclaimed, howling like wild animals into the wild wind. One final hairpin along the edge of the ridge was a little more wild that I liked, but then it was done, and we found ourselves just below the summit in the midst of an inexplicably calm cloud.

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The final dramatic steps to the summit of Mont Logan.

Just where the wind went, we will never know, but it was gone, completely gone, as we topped out on the summit of Mont Logan. Gravel roads and barren parking-lot flats spiraled in on the rocky summit where stood a utility station. We followed them up, wondering at the scale of such constructions, then tagged the wooden post that marked the tippy top. It could have been anywhere for all that we could see, and we didn’t hang around to gamble on the clouds lifting. It seemed like there was an equal opportunity for them to start raining.

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Good thing I have pretty good vision. #spicepic

A rocky road cut a wide path along the wide connecting ridge. We followed it with ease, eventually dropping below the cloud ceiling while the trees grew taller, and the trail markings grew taller still. Based on the map posted 10 feet in the air, we surmised that this was a popular winter route, and that Gaspésie was no stranger to piles of snow. As summer people, this form of recreation seemed a bit extreme to us, but then the nearby refuges caused us to reconsider.

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Wait, this warm cabin is just waiting for us out here, empty?

The twin cabins were well-appointed and spectacularly located on a high plateau of forest with a wall of tall windows facing Mont Logan. The first was empty, so we let ourselves in and settled for lunch. Spice started a small fire in the wood burning stove and lit a few candles for ambiance while I used the privy and poked around outside. After the exposure to the wild elements on Logan, it was comforting to find shelter in an enclosed space, under a roof. The large single room was calm and cozy. The crackling fire, still in its infancy and enclosed by a heavy hunk of cold iron, offered more psychological warmth than physical, though it did soften our tubes of peanut butter to an edible consistency. The shreds of birch bark crackled cheerfully as we spread out our wet things to dry and covered the table with our various bags of snacks. We ate, Spice napped, I doodled.

The clouds had thinned by the time we were hiking again at 2pm, revealing a dusty blue above. Even in the deepest gloom of this morning it hadn’t been a cold day, and now that the sun was having its way, I heated up quickly in my rain jacket on the long, gradual descent from the refuges. The road gently guided us down the ridge to another road, where I flopped on the dirt, feeling too full and warm to continue. Had I eaten too much? Not drunk enough? Both? Spice joined me for the pack-on break, and we each ate a bar, hoping that the sugary boost would kick out our loginess.

The snack did little to boost my energy, but the rain kept us moving during the next big climb through the trees. I was overheated in my rain jacket, but I was also too lazy to do anything about it, so I sweated it out, consciously slowing my steps and breathing in a futile effort prevent the swampiness under my shoulder straps and hip belt from spreading to the rest of my torso. Spice took a different approach, choosing to hike in just her rain jacket, removing her shirt entirely in order to keep it dry. That seemed like a good idea to me, but again, too lazy.

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Ferns are great until they get wet and you’re tired of being wet.

After a major effort to push through our afternoon lassitude and the miserable conditions, we reached yet another shelter, La Carouge Refuge. Unfortunately, we could hear the nights’ residents bumping and thumping inside, so we claimed the outdoor picnic bench instead. Wet, bedraggled, and not feeling particularly social, we didn’t want to intrude, so we sat in the rain, trying to ignore the rain. As I cracked into another bar, a voice came from the window behind us. The two other hikers hailed us from their comfy abode with pleasant greetings and an invitation to join them inside. With our energy and enthusiasm already flagging, Spice and I both knew that the temptation to stay would be too great to overcome so we declined. We did, however, share a great conversation with the couple from Montreal, awkwardly twisting to face the smiles in the window whenever I had something to say. They were kindred spirits, enthusiastic and full of dreams. We liked them a lot, which made it even harder to step away, back into the soggy forest.

The high from the friendly interaction gradually faded as hunger, thirst, and the soaking rain took its place at the forefront of my concentration. The final four miles were not particularly difficult by Quebec trail standards, but the day’s efforts had taken their toll on us, and the rain finished us off. We slipped and slid down roots and mud, loosing a lot of elevation on our way to camp. I kept my eyes on Spice ahead of me, impressed by her no-f**ks-given charge over the tricky terrain. She had her trail legs working now, reacting to each destabilizing slide with lightning quick reflexes. While working hard to stay on my own feet, it was fun to watch her dance.

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Can you feel the damp?

Many miles ago, we’d optimistically considered pushing past our campsite to the next refuge so that we might have a roof to block the rain and a fire to dry our bones. However, by the time we pulled into Le Kalmia Campsite, it went unsaid that we were done for the night. The camp left much to be desired, feeling claustrophobically damp in the lush jungle of fir and ferns. The trail to the tent platforms was overgrown and blocked by several blowdowns so it was impossible to find the separation from the natural world that we so dearly wanted after feeling its clammy touch all day. The warm dryness of our lunchtime refuge was a treasured memory that filled me with an unhealthy level of longing. I was not stoked for the damp night ahead.

Spice gathered water from the lake that was nearby, yet invisible for all the plant life, and I brushed the storm’s detritus from the saturated wooden boards and pitched the tent. Finally, after so many miles of drowsy hiking, we had nothing between us and sleep besides a warm meal. I lay down next to Spice, clutching my jar of beans while she cooked her ramen. It wasn’t long before we really were done for the day, and I fell asleep happy, either because the day had been great or because it was finally over.

This post was originally published on my blog Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.

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