What an unexpected treat the Le Mont Albert hike in the Chic Choc Mountains of Quebec turned out to be. The Chic Chocs, a narrow mountain range that forms the northern extension of the Appalachians, are located inland on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula in Gaspé National Park. There are 25 peaks in the Chic Choc Mountain range over 1,000 metres high, but only two were of interest to me – Le Mont-Jacques-Cartier and Le Mont Albert.
Le Mont-Jacques-Cartier has a certain appeal
Le Mont-Jacques-Cartier, the tallest mountain in southern Quebec, tops out at 1,268 m (4,160 feet). It’s home to the last remaining herd of woodland caribou south of the St. Lawrence River. Chances of caribou sightings are very high compared to hiking Mont Albert. Access though is strictly controlled.
The trail to the summit is only open from June 24th until September 30th and you can only hike between 10 AM and 4 PM. Another off-putting factor is the fact you must take a shuttle to the trailhead, and that’s at least a 40-minute drive from the Visitor’s Center.
Mont Albert – an enormous flat-topped mountain with a super-sized summit plateau
Mont Albert shares the same opening dates as Le Mont-Jacques-Cartier but you can do the Mont Albert hike at any time of the day. It’s reportedly a harder hike but the trailhead is just a walk from the Visitor’s Center and it’s for this reason I elected to hike it. I’m told by a fellow hiker I won’t regret my decision.
And I don’t!
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Options for the Mont Albert hike
There are two options depending on when you plan to do the Mont Albert hike.
The first option – in place from June 11 – October 10, 2023 – is an 11.4 km out and back hike to the summit of Mont Albert with 850 metres of elevation gain.
The second option, available from July 1 – October 10, 2023 is a 17.4 km loop hike with 850 m of elevation gain that can take anywhere from 6 – 8 hours.
Both hikes would be considered difficult. I think the second option is the more interesting one.
The hike to the summit of Le Mont Albert
First I had to find the trail which I eventually do. All trail signs are in French.
In total the loop hike is 17 km (10.6 miles) long. It’s recommended that you allow 6 – 8 hours to do it.
I chose to start the Mont Albert hike with the steepest part of the loop. After an hour of what feels like a non-stop stair stepper workout, I’m wondering what I’ve got myself into. I like a rigorous work-out but I’m not a fan of hikes where you see nothing but trees. And except for a few peek-a-boo views that’s all it’s been so far.
The summit of Mont Albert
After 5 km of hiking and 885 metres (2,904 feet) of elevation gain over two solid hours of hiking, I emerge from the trees. The transition is abrupt. One minute there are trees, the next alpine tundra.
The summit of Mont Albert is a landscape of lichen-covered rock, hardy alpine flowers, stunted spruce trees and bog. But that’s not all. As you ascend the last few hundred meters of trail the vistas open and one of the biggest surprises of my hiking life unfolds.
I have never seen a summit like that of this one in the Chic Chocs. Massive barely begins to describe Mont Albert’s summit. Its 13 km across, over 20 square km in size and home to two summits – Albert North (1,070 m) and Albert South (1,151 m.)
Most of the summit plateau is boggy –and next to impossible to hike if you’re a human, but perfect if you’re one of the woodland caribou that hang out here.
The north summit of Mont Albert
Mont Albert North is where I’ve arrived at and I’m quite happy to park myself on one of the wooden benches scattered around the summit. I could sit for hours admiring the 360 degree views but threatening clouds to the north shorten my stay on top.
Just before beginning my descent I chat with some fellow hikers. They’ve hiked both this one and Le Mont-Jacques-Cartierand tell me I have chosen the prettier, less traveled peak.
A series of boardwalks lead me across the boggy sections to the start of a section on the Mont Albert hike that is steep and rocky. The trail winds its’ way all the way around the mountain and leads me back to the Visitor Center – with interesting views for three of the four hours it takes me to descend.
But the hiking is never easy until I’m on the home stretch. In fact there is what feels like kilometres of boulder hopping. These would be slippery and miserable to deal with if they were wet.
Final thoughts on Le Mont Albert
The Mont Albert hike is one of the most surprising and rewarding hikes I’ve ever done – and that’s without a caribou sighting. But the reality is that it should only be attempted by seasoned and prepared hikers. Choose Mont-Jacques-Cartier for an easier alternative. If the weather gets bad, the summit wouldn’t be a fun place to be.