One of my favortie place is Mont-Mégantic national park. I had never hiked the 3 summit trail before. My brother neither. We decided to do a little detour before Christmas to brave the hardest hike the park has to offer. And since we're there, why not climb the 4 mountains !
The planning was expeditious :
- Great, the Saint-Joseph cabin is available: I'll book it.
- Ok. From there, the trail to the first summit is a breeze. We rush through Mont-Victoria when we wake up, and then climb Mégantic.
- Ok. We stop for lunch there, climb down to the car to grab dinner and do the rest.
Well, now that we have a solid plan, what do we eat? Obviously, a feast! Braised beef stuffed pasta, sausages, pesto, port cheese, fresh basil and some wine for the first night. Nothing is good enough for the campers, and we need energy for the next morning...
Day1 and first part of day 2 : The road to the Park
Amazing start, there is a mini ice storm outside. My 300 km transformed into an endless journey when the rain started changing into ice as soon as it was hitting my windshield. Despite the heat cranked to try to get the ice to melt, I emptied my washing fluid tank. And not a chance I stop to get more: most exit haven't been cleared yet and there are enough cars there without adding mine! Some 4h30 later, I finally reached our meeting location. My brother arrived many hours later, and I didn't envy the 530 km he had to do.
A good night sleep will help forgetting it all... Nope. The following morning, the weather was still not on our side. We step outside to investigate the damages of the night: slippery! I somehow reach my ice cube: there is about 5 cm of ice, snow and ice again everywhere on my car. After half an hour of hard labor, I manage to get a back door open. I grabbed my snowshoes, we are taking my brother's car - she got 9 hours less of freezing rain falling on her. We managed to remove all ice covering the car, but the we have to get the car out of the parking. After many attempt, it backs out... and float on the layer of snow and ice covering the parking lot. Well. We go? A little road test tells us that we'll have to be careful, but the road is still manageable so we head for the park. We finally arrive at the visitor center at 3 pm. We register, pack our stuff and head for the trail. My bag is way heavier than expected and I need my brother's help to put it on my back. Now, we go... the view is probably nice from up there!
Day 2, second part: Climbing Mont Saint-Joseph
The summit of Saint-Joseph sits at 1065 meters, with an elevation gain of 515 meters. We started the hike at 15h30, it starts to rain. The trail is icy, and the ice on top of the snow make the landscape looks like plastic. There are even tiny lakes forming in the miniature valley created by the wind. Cute. However, the cuteness disappears quite fast when the darkness began, the wind picked up and the slope of the trail became fairly challenging considering the weight of our backpack. We were constantly hearing ice covered branches falling around us and before long, we had the protective reflex of crossing our arms on out head as soon as there were creaks. The hike is getting harder, the slope is steep and never ending. We do only a few steps on flat ground that the trail starts to rise again. Up, up, up, up, turn... and up again! On top of that, it is still raining and a layer of ice is forming on our jacket and backpack. The trees had a rough time too, the ice is so thick that it became white and opaque! We finally reach the first cabin, ours shouldn't be too far ahead. The trail is going down. Noooo! After teasing us a little, it goes up again and we finally reach the summit, and our cabin. As we dead to the door, we see a faint human silhouette. Who else than us is crazy enough to go out in such a weather!? Oh, it is a praying statue. In the darkness around us lies a chapel built in 1883 and a communication tower, constructed way later. The nice view will have to wait. Anyway, it is almost scary to stay outside... the only sounds are the wind and the ice smashing the ground as it falls from the tower that we cannot see.
Day 3 : The four summits of Mont-Mégantic National Park
We slept in. When we woke up, we rapidly ate breakfast and got ready for the hike. I went outside to see the view. Hmpf, we are in a cloud. I can see the fir tree in front of me and that's pretty much it. We probably won't see many people today either. Well, too bad. We head to the trail, but it is closed during winter due to the proximity of the communication tower; we have to make a detour. Arrived at the beginning of the trail, we realised that the hike to the first peak will not be as easy as plan... It's gonna be a breeze, we jus have to follow the trail he said. What trail !?! Can you see a trail, you? Nope, there is none. We have to create it, trying to follow the indications (un dot of old fading paint) that seriously need a touch up. We do our best to keep going toward the highest ground we see, and alternating the leader. To be the first grooming the trail means that we go in knee deep, and the snowshoes inevitably get stuck on the thick layer of ice covering the snow every single step. Demanding. We are not too sure where we are or where to go, so we try to go anywhere that brings us higher. Without indications, it is hard to know if we have reached the summit, so we start looking for a sign. We seem to have reached the highest point we can see around us. Let's take a picture. Maybe there is no sign, or it is covered in snow. No one to tell us Congrats guys and thanks for grooming the trail! We decided to continue just a little more, in case we missed something. After almost 2 hours to travel barely 2 km, we reach the summit at last. There is a sign, and it says Mont-Victoria altitude 1055 m. That was longer than planned.
We head to the junction that will lead us to the peak #2. We happily see that this time, there is a trail. The good news: we won't get lost. The bad one: if we don't speed up, it'll be dark before we get there. Since one or two people went before us, we can walk way faster. It only takes us 2 hours and 30 minutes to go through the 4,5 km between the 2 mountains. Mont-Mégantic is the highest peak in the park - 1105 meters high with an elevation gain of about 525 meters. It's windy, cold and the sun has set already - no time for lunch, and furthermore, we can see a thing from up there. We will stop at the bottom before the last mountain. We took out our heaplamp and started the descent, we need to do as much as possible in the last half hour of dim light. When we are two-third done, we see the junction for Mont Notre-Dame. We glanced in that direction and realize that there is no trail. We won't go this time. We continue to go down all the way to the car, where we change base layers and empty our backpacks of everything we won't need to lighten them before climbing St-Joseph again and pack the dinner. We make a quick stop at the restaurant (the building stays open 24-7) to eat. It is now 6:30 pm, and total darkness outside. Despite the exhaustion, the climb is easier than yesterday - the trail is in a better shape and our backpacks are lighter. Also, we know the trail now. We reach the top at 8:25, fairly satisfied of our day.
We use what energy we have left to cook dinner and melt some snow to have water to drink tonight and tomorrow. Tomorrow morning will be the last chance at seeing the view from up there, just before heading down and go meet our family for Christmas Eve. After waking up, we only have time to change before some visitors show up (cabins in the park are open to all visitors between 9 am and 4 pm). A group of 6 join us as we were finishing packing our gear. They informed us that the trail is quite icy and they change their snowshoes for mini-crampons. We decide to strap our snowshoes on our backpacks and attempt the descent in boots. The scenery is splendid - everything is white and the sun is shinning... but there is no time to enjoy it. We take 2 or 3 photos, and are on our way - we can't be late for Christmas!
Here they are, the three summits:
Coming up : Mont Mansfield.