A bitter cold northeast wind blew unabated from the Gulf of St. Lawrence as we exited the trees and headed for the north summit of Mount Hog’s Back. Another half-mile of trudging across a hard-packed snowfield and then some snowshoe scraping along a narrow rocky ridge with precipitous drop-offs and we were on top of the 2,648-foot peak.

In the single-digit temperatures that stung our pink digits when gloves were removed to snap photos and shoot some video clips, there was precious little time to enjoy the view. But what a view it was of this, the heart of Quebec’s Chic-Choc Mountains, a glorious panorama of high snow-capped summits and deep green valleys in every compass direction.

The Chic-Chocs (the name is thought to be derived from the Micmac word “sigsog,” which means crags or rocky mountains) are a natural extension of the Appalachian Mountains and range in a narrow band along the St. Lawrence River for nearly 60 miles. At least 32 mountains reach an elevation of greater than 3,000 feet.

From my frigid stance atop Mount Hog’s Back, the broad plateaus of Mount Albert’s north and south summits dominated the northwestern view. To the northeast, amid another jumble of snowy mountaintops, Mount Jacques-Cartier stood tall at 4,167 feet, the second highest peak in Quebec. Both mountains are crown jewels of Parc National de la Gaspesie (Gaspe National Park).

Mount Hog’s Back is part of the adjacent Reserve faunique des Chic Chocs (Chic Chocs Wildlife Reserve), which wraps around the eastern third of Gaspe National Park. Together, the two lands encompass a vast 770-square-mile expanse of mountain peaks, Alpine tundra, dense forests, pristine waters and a bevy of wildlife, including a remnant herd of woodland caribou.

I first reported on the Gaspe seven years ago (Dec. 29, 2012), after a weeklong, late-summer traverse of the park via the International Appalachian Trail. The trek left an indelible mark on my outdoors psyche and I vowed to return to the Chic-Chocs, preferably in wintertime.

When an opportunity to join a contingent from the Maine Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club for an early January “expedition” to the Gaspe came along, well, I jumped right on it.

Based out of St. Anne des Monts, 24 miles north of Gaspe National Park, our small but hearty group spent a solid week on either Nordic skis or snowshoes exploring as much of the extensive winter trail system as time and energy would allow. We barely scratched the surface of possibilities.

A great network of groomed, tracked trails in the vicinity of the Discovery Center lead to many fine views of Mount Albert Gaspe National Park in Quebec. Photo by Carey Kish

Gaspe National Park’s hub of activity is the Discovery and Visitor Center on Route 299, where you can get information, trail maps and a park pass (less than $7 per day or about $34 for an annual card), rent skis and snowshoes, and peruse a good selection of outdoor gear, supplies and clothing. The nearby hotel, the Gîte du Mont-Albert, is a fine place for apres-adventure, complete with a fireplace, good eats and tall glasses of Canadian microbrew.

The 18-kilometer out-and-back ski into the massive cirque beneath Mount Xalibu that holds Lac aux Americains (Lake of the Americans) ranked high amongst our daily frontcountry forays. Two “abris” or warming huts en route took the edge off a strenuous but satisfying journey done on a dark and stormy day that dropped 6 inches of fluffy powder.

The snowshoe into the Abri de la Serpentine in the huge bowl between the peaks of Mount Albert was another awesome trip, while the 19-kilometer ski along the crystal-clear St. Anne River to the Abri La Grande Fosse and back was so much fun we did it twice. And the network of groomed and tracked ski trails around the Discovery Center were always a delight.

A 5-day ski trip into the system of backcountry huts in the Mount Logan sector, complete with ranger-supported gear shuttles, is now in the works for next winter. Hut circuits around Lake Cascapedia and into Mines-Madeleine offer even more multi-day ski and stay options.

The long, cold and snowy winters matched with the incredible recreation infrastructure in the Gaspé wilds are pretty much a guarantee of great outdoor adventures large and small. Start your dreaming and planning with a visit to sepaq.com/pq/gas, and go under the menu to translate to English.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @ Carey Kish.


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