Smack in the middle of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec is a large hunk of green. This is the Parc Nationale de la Gaspésie.
A national park, I think. Yahoo! I can use my Canadian national park pass and not pay the daily entrance fee.
This is a national park of QUEBEC, which means that it’s really a provincial park.
Confusing? I thought so.
This bewilderment is a holdover from the bad old days of separatism, when Quebec was feeling like an unloved stepchild and wanted to pick up its marbles and become its own country. And in fact, the referendum to do just that was narrowly defeated at the time.
But what this means for me is that I can’t use the national park pass I bought for CANADIAN national parks, and that instead I have to pay a daily entrance fee and a camping fee, which amounts to $43/night for a fire ring and picnic table. It’s a lovely site, but…
Also, showers are $1 for four minutes.
I swallow hard and sign up for three days. I’ve heard that this park is spectacular.
For one thing, it’s where the Appalachian range begins to peter out before landing in the sea at the end of the peninsula. For another, it encompasses a range of micro-climates, from fir and hardwood forests to tundra at the higher elevations where a couple rare herds of caribou hang out.
I don’t expect to see caribou, but moose would be nice. I’d even settle for coyote. Or fox. Or—really anything larger than a crow, which I’ve seen a lot of.
It’s nice to be back in green forests, but at $40+/night, I feel like I can’t waste a minute, so Julia and I do a quick evening hike—only two miles and 570 feet rise in elevation, but I’m huffing like the little engine that could. Hmmm. Maybe I’m not in such good shape.
The third day, we do an easy hike to Lac aux Americains, in honor of our countrymen. On the way back, we see that Mount Xalibu is “only” four kilometers up an intersecting trail. We wanted to climb a mountain, so why not Xalibu?
This trail lures you in with an easy grade through spruce forest and along, but usually in, a creek that runs down the mountain. This delightful ramble continues for the first couple of kilometers—until you are too far in to call it quits.
Then it bites. The incline gets stiffer and the trail gets rockier. I am again panting like a rabbit. “You can’t quit now,” says Julia, whom I’m gratified to see is showing signs of fatigue as well. “The summit is right up there.”
I can’t see it.
We plod on.
The view along the way is spectacular, I have to admit, but I’m not sure it makes up for the jelly in my legs.
Finally, after a seriously rocky scramble, (Trail guides euphemistically call these sections “rocky scrambles,” but usually they’re nothing but boulder piles) we finally reach the windy summit of Mount Xalibu.
We collapse in a shelter some previous hiker made of rocks and dig into our food stash. I’m feeling ever so slightly self-satisfied when suddenly a man pops up all jaunty and barely breaking a sweat. His wife and child, a boy of about eight, follow. They’re wearing little sporty outfits—the kind with an alligator logo, and shoes that are incrementally better than flip-flops. They look around for a minute, take a few photos, and head back down. No water; no rest; no snack.
This always seems to happen at summits. Is there a secret species of super-humans who can leap over rocky scrambles at a single bound and whose purpose in life is to make ordinary schmucks feel like losers?
Julia and I feel loser-ish.
I later find out that the trail is 6.42 miles long and that it climbs 1620 feet. Super-humans notwithstanding, I feel pretty good about that. Plus, it was gorgeous.
As parks go, the Gaspésie is near the top of the awesomeness scale. It even has a Swiss-chalet-type hotel (gite) where those who are more inclined toward creature comforts can hang out. Or maybe that’s where super-humans go to change into their little sporty shorts and talk about how they climbed three mountains that day.
(Click on a photo to see them all in lightbox mode–they’ll look much better.)
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Sainte Anne des Monts is a typical Quebec village along the St. Lawrence with the typical twin steeples of the Catholic church marking the town center. It’s also at the main turn-off to the Parc Gaspésie. We were there to shower and stock up before entering the park.
I was in my trailer listening to what I thought was traditional music coming from the radio in the trailer next door.
Then I realized I was hearing live music from the Legionnaires Canadiennes hall across the street. I pulled on some clothes and dragged Julia along to help me crash the party.
The hall was full, and almost everyone was doing some kind of complex line dance to which everyone knew the steps. The band consisted of a woman with a loud, nasal voice, a guy on guitar, and a guy alternately playing squeezebox and keyboard.
Sometimes the dancing switched to couples; once they did “ze two-step,” and once they did a square set, which the dancers didn’t know so well, but the guys had a lot of fun twirling women around until they looked nauseated. A few of the men were truly elegant dancers, and they had a hard time finding partners who could keep up.
I stayed until they passed the bucket for the raffle. (Julia quit much earlier.) I thought the evening was wrapping up, but the music continued until long after I fell asleep to its rhythmic thumping.