HEADING NORTH PT. 1
DTK – Check Your Pins Season 2 Episode 2
Unless we get a late season dump, the storm of February 25th will be remembered as the best of a lackluster season in New England. A few days after maximizing the snow in Vermont we headed north to the Chic Chocs on the Gaspe peninsula of Quebec, Canada. We left early to complete the double-digit windshield hours and follow the shores of the St. Lawrence to the northeast. A night in a cheap motel and a few Tim Hortons stops later we sorted our gear and set off to explore some terrain and ride with Vertigo Adventures, a guiding operation suppossedly light on frills but heavy on vert and powder at the northern end of the Appalachian range.
After some sketchy snow squalls during another few hours of driving we got our first glimpse of the mountains; impressive 4000′ ers with true alpine terrain stretched away into the distance. We had a schedule to keep and a week of earning it ahead of us, and so chose a mellow spot a short distance from the road with an easily lappable skinner.
Though tracked in the main lanes, we found plenty of turns at the periphery and where the trees were “too tight”. When it was time to head out and meet our guide we mobbed a twisty tree run back to the drainage and parking lot. The truck was loaded back up and we headed to a town well off the beaten path where we met Francois and Bruno from Vertigo. After completing the paperwork formalities we followed them to the trailhead where the week’s food and gear were loaded into sleds towed behind snowmobiles.
Snowbanks and drifts grew taller as we headed deeper into the night forest and after yielding to a moose in the trail our home for the next week wended into view across the lowlands and logging roads. The camp was located in a hollow between the tall, domed Mt Blanc and the shorter, steeper and bonier Mt. Craggy. The fluted lines separating the trees were visible plainly under the bright moonlight, so we lofted our bags and settled into our canvas wall for an early start.
The next morning broke cold and clear and we set off quickly to catch the light. Francois administered a beacon check and then lead the way up a mellow drainage, setting a quick pace. Wide, welcoming tree lines with sustained pitch rose up Craggy on our side, and we stopped at the most promising few just to admire what, in Vermont, would be a marquee line. Joe cut out to set up for a shot while Francois set the skin track to the ridge where soon the views of a jagged cirque came into view across the valley on the domed side of Mt. Blanc.
Francois led the way through ice caked conifers bent low to a short billy-goat section above a long, straight chute extending back to the skin track far below. He explained it had not been ridden yet the whole season. Francois started in with a ski cut and we rode to a safe spot where the entire line came into view. Brian and Nick dropped, then Francois pushed through some tight trees hiding another, identical chute parallel to the first. “Would you like to go first?” As a paying customer I couldn’t say no. The few birches and whips were hardly an issue in the wide path, even through the clouds of blower, although apparently they were having a low snow year too.
We ascended the same track and rode a short, sunny pitch perfect for arcing high speed powder turns that fed into a gully and eventually a beaver pond with a rescue sled cached nearby. This lower stretch would become known as “Heartbreak Hill”, as the terrain dictated that it be climbed on the way back to camp from many of the larger-vert lines on Mt. Blanc. Clouds started to collect during our conversion, and by the time we had completed the lengthy climb to near the summit of Blanc it was windy and gray. We descended another open powder face from snow caked krummholtz through open trees, converted quickly, and dropped again along the flank of the mountain toward the beaver pond. Francois sped through the flattening glade and made ample use of every drift, casually sending a few large airs in terrain he was obviously well attuned to. The light was waning so we gained the pond, ascended Heartbreak Hill, and dropped the opposite aspect back to camp in ski mode, too tired after our second long day to bother converting. Back in our prospectors tent we stoked the stove, hung our gear to dry, and debriefed on an excellent tour over rigatoni and meatballs. Our bodies knew we needed rest enough to do it again for the next few days, so sleep came easily in anticipation.