Ice by the Sea

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Doug Dillon starts up an oceanside pillar in Perce, with Rocher Perce in the background.

Doug Dillon starts up an oceanside pillar in Perce, with Rocher Perce in the background.

First "discovered" in 1534 by French explorer Jacques Cartier, the Gaspé Peninsula and its rugged coastline and sleepy fishing villages offer a Northeastern ice mecca with unusual accents. One can imagine that if Cartier, who was seeking minerals and trade goods, had been an ice climber and arrived in winter, he would have donned crampons and put ashore immediately.

Although it’s remote, the Gaspé has drawn traveling climbing talents such as Guy Lacelle, Joe Josephson, Barry Blanchard, and Margo Talbot to put up beautiful classics, along with Canadian locals such as Bernard Mailhot, Benoit Marion, Patrice Beaudet, and Stéphane Lapierre, who often return to the area. A climate warmed by ocean waters provides appealing climbing all around the shores of the peninsula, but the Gaspé’s northern shoreline has the largest collection of ice routes, most of them with wonderful views of the St. Lawrence Seaway. This article describes climbs in a region from Sainte- Anne-des-Monts eastward to Mont-Saint-Pierre, and then continuing southeast to Percé at the very tip of the peninsula.

Approaches are pleasantly short in many cases. One incident during a moonlit ascent of Corbeau (WI6+) illustrates just how short. When my partner’s headlamp got knocked off as he followed the crux pitch above the roadside near Mont-Saint-Pierre, a passing motorist saw the lamp start its sickening tumble down the dark cliff. Thinking a climber was falling to his death, the driver almost slid his car off the road while screeching to an abrupt stop. We soon heard the horrified Canadian shouting out in panicked French as the light continued a slow, spiral slide down the snow slopes leading to the road, hundreds of feet below us.

After a few minutes of shouting in poorly pronounced French, we managed to calm the man and assure his shaken passenger that we were not in need of a rescue. My partner then continued up, carefully reaching the belay on the windless night. Enjoying the relaxing view, we rappelled off the top of the steep column, bathed in the soft light of a full moon rising over the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Dillon leads Corneille (WI5+) in Mont-Saint-Pierre.

Dillon leads Corneille (WI5+) in Mont-Saint-Pierre.

Sainte-Anne-des-Monts to Riviere-à-Claude

We found the town of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts to have the best selection of accommodations, eateries, and services close to climbing in the area. The main road through this region is squeezed between mountains and the sea, with a smattering of shorter ice routes near the road along the steep hillsides. While many offer good climbing, two routes are very popular and form each year.

  • La Cigarette Bleue (WI4+) rises a little more than halfway toward the town Riviere-à-Claude along the coastal road. This short, steep column drips out of the streambed above it. It usually glows bright blue, and it can’t be missed if you keep your eyes peeled out the hillside window.

  • Méduse (WI4), which is easily seen from the roadway, offers a fierce-looking 200-foot moderate with aptly named windblown formations. Be aware: despite the easier grade, guidebook author Stéphane Lapierre experienced a bad fall when a huge structure of ice collapsed.

Mont-Saint-Pierre

Long, obvious routes strike a path up the 1,500-foot northwest face of the mountain just east of town, offering mostly moderate climbing but with an added commitment level and a wide variety of conditions through the season. Pins and drive-in hooks like Spectres are a good idea because ice is often thin, and climbing can be runout as a result. A smattering of frozen turf can provide the only gear on these 8- to 10-pitch routes; expect some bare rock, especially when conditions are thin. Also, recent heavy snowfalls can make for treacherous avalanche conditions and should be taken into consideration. Despite these cautions, these long routes are well worth undertaking for their views of the waterway below and their alpine ambience. In most cases, one can descend from V-threads after climbing the first pitch of each route. The first pitches of many of these climbs were originally done solo by Guy Lacelle.

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  • Le Corridor Saint-Pierre Classique (II WI3 M2) is the first gully from the north. It starts in an easy couloir following snow, ice, and rock, then crosses over and follows an arête to the summit.

  • Ouskissont? (III WI2+ M2 R) is the best and easiest of the longer routes, with classic, wide-open gully climbing and a spectacular view from the top. First done solo by Benoit Marion, this can be easy or tenuous depending on conditions, and there are many options. As often works on alpine routes, follow your chosen path of least resistance.

  • Le Pilier des Croulants (IV M4 R) starts at a nice double-flow in a huge dihedral and continues up rocky steps and ice, then follows the exposed arête near the top. The final 165-foot pitch is rated M3 X; take the least risky line you can fi nd.

  • Le Corridor Lumiere (IV WI4 M4+ R) is a 1,650-foot climb, making it perhaps the longest line in the area. This route of approximately 10 pitches can be very serious in early season or thin conditions. The first ascent party, in 1998, topped out at 2 a.m. after 15 hours of thin, demanding climbing.

  • Vendredi Treize (WI3 M5 R), the fifth couloir on the mountain, is a bit more difficult than Le Corridor. Nearby, the hardest pure ice routes in the area hang in full view of the road, just west of town: Corneille (WI5+), which is 245 feet, very featured, and appealing, and Corbeau (WI6+), which tops out at 260 feet on hollow ice and overhanging blobs. With steep and often demanding ice, these are some of the best stout pillars the Gaspé has to offer; strong parties can do them back to back.

Dillon on the first pitch of Le Spaghetti du Bedeau (WI4) near Perce. Above and left is the spectacular pillar of Canneloni de Cure (WI5+).

Dillon on the first pitch of Le Spaghetti du Bedeau (WI4) near Perce. Above and left is the spectacular pillar of Canneloni de Cure (WI5+).

L’Anse-Pleureuse

Patrice Beaudet, one of the Gaspé’s prolific first ascentionists, lists climbing with Guy Lacelle on L’Épée du Jade (WI6) as one of his best days of ice climbing ever. This route is definitely one of the favorites in the region.

About an hour’s drive east of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, the routes here are located between a half mile and just under four miles south of the town of L’Anse-Pleureuse, above Route 198. This area offers a great collection of single-pitch lines, ranging from WI3 to WI5, but the approaches are long by Gaspé standards. Bowls below some of these routes can offer great skiing when the snow is settled and avalanche danger is low.

Within a mile of leaving the intersection of Routes 132 and 198 in L’Anse-Pleureuse, L’Épée du Jade, or “Sword of Jade,” reveals itself on the right. This beautiful blue and burly column is tucked back on the hillside atop the left-hand of several slide paths (which also hold ice).

Continuing south a few miles, after a small lake, there’s a cliff band on the left called Le Mur des Crapauds de Mer (“The Wall of Sea Toads”). At least eight one- and two-pitch routes line this crag. As the day progresses, the sun shines right on this face, making it a good one to visit after sleeping in following a few too many Canadian ales.

The first line on the left end is Ondes Internes (WI4), and next to it is Les Crapauds de Mer (WI4). The steepest line, Éole (WI5), is 245 feet and in the center of the cliff band.

Back on the main road, head east on Route 132 from L’Anse-Pleureuse for about a half mile, which brings you to the big couloir of Les Cavaliers du Vent (WI3+). This route can be done in three to four enjoyable pitches, each harder than the last. At the top, head left 150 feet or so and descend via a tree gully. Even farther down Route 132, before and after Gros-Morne, a number of routes can form along the roadside. These are good when thick enough but do not form up each year. Still, it’s worth driving past to see if any are in condition. About 5.5 miles past Gros-Morne village is Cold comme Hell (WI5), the longest, most notable line there.

Perce

Perce

Percé

The small fishing village of Percé is far out on the point of the peninsula. Percé is reached by traveling from L’Anse-Pleureuse down Route 198 through Murdochville and Whitehouse, or continuing along the northern shore via Routes 132 and 197; either way takes about three hours of driving. This is the area where explorer Cartier first encountered land after crossing the ocean. As you enter from the north, the town is laid out below, framing a postcard view of the Rocher Percé, which catches the last golden light of the day. The French name, meaning “Pierced Rock,” describes a huge chunk of stone sporting a hole worn through it by the seas. The small bed-and-breakfasts in town cater to snowmobilers but are happy to see climbers. The majority of the ice is situated north of the village.

These are the old stomping grounds of Guy Lacelle and Joe Josephson, along with Bernie Mailhot. Lacelle put up the mindboggling skinny column of Grand Délire, which rates a sandbagger’s WI5+. Serious and conditioned climbers will find Canneloni de Curé (WI5+), a 490-foot, freestanding column, a sufficient challenge to both mind and body. Regular visitors consider this the defining route of the Gaspé because of its beautiful surroundings, stout nature, and position in the amphitheater. More than one leader has come sailing off the crux, and it has been known to fracture—facts you’ll try to forget while plugging up the overhanging column. This route usually forms by late January or early February.

To the right of Canneloni is Le Spaghetti du Bedeau (WI4), which is fun and can be used to reach the upper column of Cannelloni if it is formed only to the ledge and not to the ground. If you’re looking for serious, modern mixed-style routes, Moby Dick (WI5+ M7) and Double 7 (WI7 M7) went up in 2001 when Bernard Mailhot and Benoit Marion teamed up on the Pic de l’Aurore, a vertical 660-foot face overlooking the ocean.

Absolutely not to be missed is the shorefront climbing in Percé, across from the B-and-Bs and farther south, where you trod the seaweed-covered, salty shores to find 30- to 50-foot, slabby-to-overhanging ice flows, which can also easily be toproped.

After trying a few routes, head over to dinner at the Fleur de Lys Hotel, where a group of friendly snowmobilers might join you for a few cold beers and hearty laughs about tales of climbing and snowmobiling adventures. Try the Canadian brew Fin du Monde, or “end of the world.” After all the driving to get here, it might feel that way at the tip of the Gaspé, but once you top out on a challenging pillar by the sea, it’s more likely you’ll feel on top of the world.

GETTING THERE: From Boston, it is possible to take I-95 up through Maine and New Brunswick. However, heading north through Vermont and past Québec City has the added advantage of passing close by Lake Willoughby’s ice in Vermont, as well as Montmorency Falls in Québec. It also offers a more scenic route along the St. Lawrence Seaway en route to the Gaspé. Expect about 12 to 13 hours of driving time from Boston through Vermont to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. From the ice climbing area at Montmorency Falls outside Québec City, it should be around six hours of driving with clear roads to the ice near Sainte-Anne-des-Monts.

DIRECTIONS: From Québec City, follow Autoroute 20 northeast until it becomes Route 132, and then take this road out along the south shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway, through Trois Pistoles and Rimouski, to Saint-Anne-des-Monts.

CLIMATE: From December to February, the peninsula offers daily average highs from 20ºF to 29ºF (-3ºC to -6ºC). The thickest ice conditions are found during January and February.

LODGING: Rimouski: The Comfort Inn, 455 boul. St-Germain ouest; (418) 724-2500. Sainte-Anne-des-Monts: Auberge Chez Bass, 170 1re Avenue O; (418) 763-2613. Percé: Fleur de Lys Hotel, 15 av. Ste-Geneviève; (418) 694-1884

GUIDEBOOK: Guide des cascades de glace et voies mixtes du Québec, by Stéphane Lapierre and Bernard Gagnon, 2004 (amazon.com)

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