Mont Saint-Pierre to Mont Louis
Endless Sunset Camp #2
ECT miles: 6.7
Total miles: 2751.6
Elevation change: 1939ft gain, 1897ft loss
SpiceRack and I woke up a little bit unsure of how the day would go, which in this case was not a bad problem to have. We could hike and camp like usual, or we could hike and hang out for another night in this awesome motel of the endless sunset. Either way, we would have a chance to soak up the sun and breathe in the sea breeze while hopping between tiny costal communities. The first choice just had us hiking a little bit farther. Ultimately, the beach vibes got the better of us, and we chose to feature heavily the art of taking it easy and lounging in the sun, opting for the shorter option. And it was grand. A leisurely morning naturally flowed into a leisurely afternoon, super-steep stroll, before we settled back in at our humble abode to relax and eat all of the things. We got the rest that we so sorely needed after the strenuous and rewarding push through the Chic-Choc mountains, while still moving our dot on the map a little closer to our goal. Finding that balance isn’t easy, and we got it right today.
I woke up thirsty and hot, as I usually do in a motel bed. Spice was in the same boat, but feeling a little bit worse than I was with a full-blown dehydration headache. We each drank a bunch of water and shuffled back to bed. She tried to sleep it off while I noodled around on my phone for a couple hours of luxuriously mindless distraction from my physical discomfort. Finally, around 9am, we made the short trek to the attached restaurant to check out the breakfast offerings, hoping that some caffeine and food would perk us up. We watched the world go by from our small table in front of a huge window. Cars, vans, and trucks of various sizes zoomed by on their way to somewhere else. Dogs, birds, and people of various sizes drifted by, rarely urgent. Over plates of toast, potatoes, and fruit, we came up with our plan for the day: take it easy this morning, eat lunch, hike to the next town, and hitchhike back here for the evening. That sounded great. We celebrated the agreement with an embarrassing round of darts, then got the heck out of there to get to our lounging.
While Spice relaxed with a bath, I moseyed to the beach to make a few phone calls. With as much time as we spend walking with just our own thoughts to keep us company, I had been disappointed by the difficulty I’d experienced in keeping in touch with folks back home. Life on a long trail can feel isolating, and the bitter cocktail of time zone differences, inconsistent cell reception, and fluctuating energy levels had proven to be a potent brew, one that had been challenging to knock back. Its effect was dulled by Spice’s companionable presence, but I was nonetheless relieved and restored by a phone call with my parents. While we talked, I tossed small twigs of driftwood and watched paragliders drift on the warm breeze from the cliffs above.
At 12:30pm, after a lunch of bread, pesto, and cereal, Spice and I loaded up her pack with water and snacks, slathered up with sunscreen, and put on our walking shoes. We followed the IAT crests through town from utility pole to utility pole, completing the arc of the bay in a few relaxing minutes. I was chilled at first, probably from the buckets of cold cereal I’d just consumed, but was soon sweating and panting. The trail turned off the main highway, around a gate, and straight up the side of Mont Saint-Pierre on a recklessly steep dirt road. We plugged away, not in any particular rush, trying to keep it casual, surprised by the number of day hikers who presumably thought that such a ludicrous activity was enjoyable. Even more confusing was the heavy traffic on what we thought was closed and gated road. Trucks, dirt bikes, and a bus all crept by us at a respectful distance and pace, their slowness making ours feel all the more glacial.
Even though the trail was steeper than the road, I was happy to dip back into the trees, away from the sun and wheels. Besides, these were not just any trees. Intermixed with a cornucopia of unidentifiable conifers and hardwoods were aspen, my favorite tree. The round leaves fluttered in the breeze, filling the forest with the sound of flowing water, shimmering in the bright light as the gaps in the clouds widened. Spice and I were used to seeing aspen at 8,000ft in the West and loved them all the more when they painted mountainsides golden during their autumnal burnout, but we’d never seen them at sea level before. This was weird. This was awesome. For me, the presence of aspen has always provided reassurance that I’m precisely where I want to be, up high in the mountains. It looked like I would have to add “at the beach” to that description.
We got our first good view from just below a rocky outcrop where a tall cross of metal trussing lorded over the valley. The local geology looked even more striking from this perch, and the small town even more amiable. It was tiny in comparison to the rolling features of doomed hillscape, and the narrow strip of buildings appeared to be merely a thick coat of paint between land and sea. A tortured cliff of shattered shale shot from water to summit behind us, and I could practically hear the groan of the rock as I traced with my eyes the curved layers in wicked twists. The land was here and looked this way not because it wanted to. Its current form was the result of forces too great for me to comprehend that had thrust, crumpled, and crumbled it into shape. This is what I thought about as I followed Spice up the steep ridge along the edge of this precarious slope. I jabbed my poles hard in delighted fascination as the tips chipped and split the splintered shale.
On the summit of Mont Saint-Pierre we took a deep breath and settled on the wide lawn near the top of the cliff. Our timing looked to be perfect to witness two humans hurl themselves from the edge of the abyss, only to be saved from tumbling a thousand feet into the waves by a cleverly arranged collection of aluminum tubes and thin plastic. These hang glider jockeys were braver than I, and I was excited to see them do their thing. We waited on a wooden viewing platform, and waited, and waited. There was a lot of grass tossing and muttering in french, but not a lot of gliding. But hey, whatever. I think that Spice and I were grateful for the excuse to lie on a sunny lawn for an hour. The weather was perfect, if not for hang gliding, then for lounging, and we lounged hard. Finally, after about an hour and a trot to a different cliff, all our patience was rewarded. After a pair of paragliders took flight, the hang glider launched in a laughably anticlimactic push. Well, that was sort of cool, I guess. “Worth iiiiittt,” I laughed sarcastically. Groggy from our break, we lurched to our feet and kept on walking.
A complex network of dirt roads carried us across the forested plateau to where Mont Saint-Pierre again dropped precipitously to another small bay. During this traverse, Spice perked up a little bit as her body and brain turned the corner on their path to proper hydration, and it was good to see her lose that shadow of pain that I knew all too well. The descent to the town of Mont Louis was as smooth as a rocky road can be, and before we knew it, we were back on the pavement, surrounded by cars and construction equipment. There wasn’t much to distinguish this place from Mont Saint-Pierre (the town) except for a harbor and estuary, but even so it felt busier despite being smaller. Perhaps because of this, it felt rougher and less welcoming. Not that it lacked in charm and wasn’t picturesque, but I was glad to be returning to our quiet room on the other side of the mountain, away from the hubbub of progress and economy.
With a touch of deja vú, we followed the shallow arc of the main road along the beach to the town market. Our imaginations filled in the bare shelves with the ghosts of all our cravings that the store was lacking. Yep, it was definitely a good thing that we were going back to the other town. Back outside, we caught a hitch with the first passing car. A german transplant to the area provided not just a free ride, but also easy conversation on the short drive to Mont Saint-Pierre. She lived year-round entirely off the grid, growing and making what she needed to thrive. That was incredible to hear, given what Serge had told us yesterday about snow and sea ice. Hard to believe, really, but I believed her. We sped around the base of the mighty Mont on a concrete causeway, and were soon deposited outside the market that had served us well yesterday.
We carried our fresh bounty back to the sea-view room. The concrete sidewalk outside our door was made gloriously toasty by the afternoon sun, and I stood barefoot after stripping my shoes and socks. I was tired, but the right amount. After a shower, I demolished a few bowls of French Toast Crunch, which was every bit as good as it sounds, while watching Spice cook us some kind of asian rice stuff. That was good too. We passed the pot back and forth while lying in bed, watching Liar Liar, a movie that is a lot stranger than I remembered it being. Another endless sunset followed, then I ended the day like it started, noodling on my phone while Spice slept. This time I began some long-overdue research on beaver, and I learned enough to be confident that I was not wasting my time. However, before I could fall too deep into the rabbit hole, I shut it down and snuggled deep. Beaver are nuts.