Ascent of Montagne Brûlé on 2009-03-13

Climber: Gabriel C

Others in Party:Vincent Goudreault
Date:Friday, March 13, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Montagne Brûlé
    Elevation:3576 ft / 1089 m

Ascent Trip Report

I set out towards a crazy goal, two years ago, to climb and popularize the Laurentian mountains' high peaks. I started on the list last winter, with a long hiatus during summer (I far prefer winter climbs), and resumed work one week before the end of this winter, due to lack of time and/or means of transportation.

There were talks all winter with colleagues at Mountain Equipment Co-op to scale the highest peak, mont Raoul-Blanchard, and its greatest sub-peak, montagne Brûlé. Unfortunately, out of laziness or conflicting schedules, it never came to fruition until this date. Finally, two of us could give a try at this enterprise. Our first planning included both summits in a straight through two days traverse loop but on Tuesday, two days before our departure, Vincent came to work with what promised to be a gripping and disabling cold. As expected, he was knocked out and missed work the next day, toppling our plans. We decided, though, to reconsider on Thursday night and devise a backup day-trip if he felt in good enough shape.

For sure, at 8:30pm on Thursday night, I received the go call. We were going to set off for a long distance dash at Montagne Brûlé's summit in perfect weather which I was so disappointed to pass over. The week prior to the hike had been soggy, rainy, and a generally depressing slush fest in Québec City. A cold front was going to hit the area on Wednesday, transforming the water-saturated snow in hard-pack. It was the perfect setting for a late winter bushwhack. The backpack was quick to setup, trail food bought at the corner shop, and the eager wait until departure started. Sleep was hard to catch, being very excited towards the hike as usual, but I finally was able to get some rest before setting off.

I met Vincent at a nearby gas station at 8:45am and we drove off towards Charlevoix. It has to be noted that the trailhead is only about an hour away from downtown Québec City. We got there fairly quick but I couldn't remember exactly which road lead up to the trailhead. I had done my exploration by night a year before and I couldn't visualize my way through. We stopped at a small store to buy drinks and ask directions and then proceeded to the trailhead. There, we started looking for a parking spot. The Abitibi-Price gate and checkpoint wasn't a good spot as the public isn't allowed on the privately owned lands beyond, so we headed a little way back along a forest road. We came up to a house where an old man was visible and asked him if we could park in his driveway. There was no problem so as he went about his business across the road in his barn, we prepared for the hike. When he came back we were almost ready and I chatted a bit, discovering he breeds foxes. After this, we were ready to go so he bid us good day and we started walking. It was 10:30pm.

After about 200 meters, we reached a snowmobile trail that crossed the road. I knew the logging road system inside the lands was very close to the road we were on, so I assumed we could follow this trail and would end up past the checkpoint gate. Indeed, not even a kilometer further we ended up on the main Abitibi-Price logging road. What was particularly interesting was that distance markers on the road zeroed at the gate, so we would be able to measure our walking speed on the approach very easily. This part of the road supported a section of the official provincial snowmobile trails network and we crossed many groups, even a police patrol, until we branched off towards the north.

From there on it was an easy stroll on fairly flat terrain (we would only gain about 100 meters on the approach) for the first 10 kilometers. We crossed snowmobiles twice, the second encounter being with an elderly man who greeted us and told us there was supposed to be an old trail going up to the lake that stands somewhere on the flanks of our goal. We then started looking more closely at the river running alongside the road as we wanted to find a good spot to cross it without having to go to the bridge a little further up. Strangely, tensioned steel cables crossed the river at several occasions. We finally found a place where the ice seemed to be strong enough and there was a cable which we could use as a handrail. This section of the river is marked as rapids for a whole kilometer on our maps and would probably be a neat whitewater ride in spring. We put our snowshoes on and managed our way to the other bank and started going straight uphill. Looking at my watch it was 12:30pm. The slope was gentle and regular at this point and surprisingly, the forest was very clear and easy to navigate. We couldn't find any trace of a trail, but we hadn't expected one in the first place. Soon though, I was able to discern what seemed to be the small creek running from the lake above down to the river. We angled right to follow it and almost immediately we ended up at the lake. I could see a hunting cache on the western shore. The lake's surface was riddled with animal footprints and piles of manure. It seems like it is a popular spot among moose and similar game. After observing the surroundings and deciding we had to circle around a very steep and rocky part of the forest, we started walking again. This time we were following another creek that flowed in the gentler slope of a small gully. At the top of this gully, the maps showed we would reach the tree line if we angled right. We wanted to keep everything as easy as possible until we reached hard pack on open ground. The sloped got far steeper here, and when the forest seemed to be disappearing, we angled directly east along the flanks of the ridge. It was increasingly steep reaching small pitches at over 50 degrees. We finally got to a small false summit from where we could have a better view of the ridge we would ascend. In front of us lay more and more exposed rock, fewer trees and exciting views. Not even 5 minutes later, we were standing on the first peak of the ridge, close to the treeline but not there yet. We had to go down a bit through a small col to get to the ridge's first peak.

When we started climbing that slope, it was clear we were getting outide of the forest and we decided to switch to crampons instead of snowshoes. The snow was firm enough that we didn't even break the surface. Vincent decided to leave his snowshoes back here to pick them up when coming down. This ultimately was a bad idea when we found out, after reaching the sub-peak around 3:30pm, that we had to cross another col with a couple trees sprinkled here and there and snow pack that did break under our weight. I stayed put while he took my snowshoes and headed back to get his. Not even 10 minutes later he was back and we could start walking again. We had to speed up though because it was 3:45pm and we had a short while left to go before we reached the summit. This section of the climb was the most interesting, some sections being scramble along 50 degree slopes dropping a few hundred meters. For sure we could see footprints in the hard snow. Someone had been here in the recent weeks. There were also small cairns sitting on some rocks. It seems that this mountain does receive visitors from time to time. after 45 minutes, it was now 4:30pm, we reached montagne Brûlé's summit. We stopped here for a while, filming for MEC's video constest, took pictures, and ate. The view from the summit is simply fantastic. We could see Mont Sainte-Anne's ski slopes, the St-Lawrence river, and to the north, the Laurentian high peaks' plateau.

We knew we had limited daylight left so we started back down after 15 minutes. We followed the ridge until we met the last col at around 900 meters of altitude. We angled straight down the north-west slopes in the gully we had followed up but instead of choosing the gentled way down, we went straight for the river and the road. It was rather easy and less than an hour later, we were back on the road. At this point we only had 11km left to walk on an open road, but we were starting to feel our aching joints. We decided it was better to take it easy, but even then, calculating our speed showed we were going at 5km/h. Every kilometer we would take a 30 seconds break for a drink, and after 5 kilometers, our speed picked up to 6km/h. Only 2km before the finish, the same two snowmobiles that had passed us on the way in went by again and asked if we wanted a lift. Of course we said no! We were able to maintain our speed until at 7:38pm, we made it back to the car. It took us 3 hours from the summit to the car in the easiest long distance descent I've ever done.

Vincent checked his messages and of course we were invited for beers in a trendy bar. We finished our day by getting a poutine in a 2 for 1 pizza joint, crossing the street to meet our friends without even chaning, and going to bed at 2:00am.

Montagne Brûlé seen from highway 138 in Saint-Tite-des-Caps.

The ridge seen from the south-east, with Raoul-Blanchard's slopes barely visible on the right.

The ridge seen from the first sub-peak.

Ascending the ridge.

Eating a beef jerky on the summit rock.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2270 ft / 691 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2270 ft / 690 m
    Round-Trip Distance:16.8 mi / 27 km
    Grade/Class:2 & 3
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Ski Poles, Snowshoes
    Weather:Cold, Very Windy, Clear
Blazing wind in minus 15 celcius temperature
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2270 ft / 691 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 2139 ft / 652 m; Extra: 131 ft / 39m
    Loss on way in:131 ft / 39 m
    Distance:8.5 mi / 13.6 km
    Route:main ridge from southwest
    Start Trailhead:Abitibi-Price gate  1437 ft / 437 m
    Time:6 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:2139 ft / 651 m
    Distance:8.3 mi / 13.4 km
    Route:main ridge southwest
    End Trailhead:Abitibi-Price gate  1437 ft / 437 m
    Time:3 Hours 0 Minutes

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