Bike Trips: Gaspé Peninsula:
July, 1992


Roger Kenner
Montreal, Qc,
Canada 2002

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Day 7: Around Forillon

Tuesday, July 28, 1992

The Trail to Land's End

The clear, crisp air was so good for sleeping, and it was so absolutely quiet, except for the surf, that I did not stir until 8:00. G & J were fast asleep, so I went on to the little restuarant on my own and had breakfast at 9:00. By 10:00 I was on my way out towards the point.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Forillon National Park Guide: 1992)
Forillon Map (Detail)
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Quebec Tourism Brochure:1992)
Forillon: House at Grande Grave
The car road continued on eastward a part of the way. The hills were not bad, but seemed pretty tough on my sore legs. I stopped off at a museum in what used to be the town of Grand-Grave [Big Rocky Beach], which is now at the official town of Grand-Grève [Big labour stike], Quebec. Some nameless functionary off in distant Quebec City, ignorant of his or her own language, had "francisized" [Frenchified] the name, changing the meaning entirely.

The museum traced the history of the inshore cod fishery, which was good as gold in the 1800's, but had petered out by the 1930's. The south side of the peninsula had been run by merchants from Jersey and other islands in the English Channel. They would set up "stores", extend credit to the fishermen for stores and gear, hire fish processors, then buy the salted fish at the end of the season. Apparently, at the height of this trade, everyone won. Even the fishermen were quite well off. The cod was caught daily in small, open boats just off shore. It was cut, dried, and salted on open racks on the beach. Then the dried fish was packed in barrels and sent off to Europe. Catholic Europe apparently had almost 180 days when they could only eat fish, so cod was a staple food. There was appar­ently a great rivalry between the Jersey merchants on the south side of the peninsula and the Quebec merchants on the north side. Even though officially part of Canada, this part of Gaspé operated on British money and custom well into the 1900's. Britain and Europe seemed closer to these people's lives than Canada. It wasn't until the arrival of roads and the railroad that this changed.


Leaving the museum, I continued on. Soon the car road ended in a small parking lot and I was onto the gravel footpath/bike trail. There were a number of people hiking on out to the point. We were high on a bluff, which ended to the right in an abrupt cliff, with rocky beach and ocean some 100 feet below. Fog would come and go. I was to learn that fog was a constant companion at the tip of the peninsula. The peninsula was now only about 2km wide. This kind of formation is called a "presqu'ile" [almost island] in French. The south side is the low side. The land rises, like a flat board turned up at one edge on an angle, until it drops off in a 3000 foot cliff on the north side.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Quebec Tourism Brochure:1992)
Anse BlanchetteAnse St. Georges
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Supplementary: Photos taken on 1994 trip)
Mouth of the Bay, from Land's EndTrail, Approaching Lighthouse
 

As I approached the point, the atmosphere was most eerie. Everyone was enveloped in fog so thick that one could only see thirty or so feet. The fog horn of the light­house was sounding at regular intervals, two short blasts, then a minute's silence. (The different patterns allow mariners to identify the location by sound alone. Each lighthouse has its own pattern.) I climbed up the last hill, to the lighthouse, several hundred feet now above the sea. Even close by, the actual light could barely be seen.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
The Light at Cap Gaspé"Land's End" in the fog
 

The Forillon peninsula ends quite abruptly. "Lands End", it is called. In fact, the name "Gaspé" comes from the old Micmac indian word, "gaspeg", meaning "land's end". Look around in any other direc­tion, and one could be in a vast meadow. Turn around and the world just stops dead. With the fog, one could not see the ocean, just a vast infinity of grey. It was like standing at the edge of the world.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Supplementary: Photo taken on 1994 trip)/(Postcard (enlargment))
Light StationCloseup of Lighthouse Complete
 

I found a path leading down to a lookout at the base of the cliff. As I descended, heading away from the sea along the wall of a canyon, the canyon shape changed the echo of the foghorn into something sounding like a poor lost dinosaur. At the head of the canyon, the trail switched back and we approached the sea along the canyon floor. Under the trees, out of touch with the sky, I did not notice the fog dissappear. Suddenly, at the rocks, the fog had just vanished and we were in the bright sunshine. The way was blocked off to keep people from climbing on the rocks, which seemed prudent. This was serious sea, with crashing thunderous waves breaking in spray easily fifty feet high. And off in the waves, and on the rocks, we could all see seals frolicking, oblivious to the force and danger of the ocean. Far in the distance were whales, their backs barely protruding from time to time from the water. They were most easily located by their watery spouts. I was a great hit with the other tourists with my powerful binoculars. Forillon is apparently along a major migration route for whales. The seals are permanent residents of the point, where no humans may approach because of the dangerous rocks.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Coastline looking south from LookoutCloseup of Seal
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Supplementary: Photo taken on 1994 trip)
Lighthouse from BelowLand's End, from the sea
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Supplementary: Photo taken on 1994 trip)
Sea, from Lookout
Back up at the top, without the fog, the vista was unparalleled. Except for the narrow spit of land behind us, climbing rapidly in a fog-shrouded mountain, the rest was open, blue sea stretching endlessly in all directions. The park officials had mounted a direction sign pointing east:

Europe, straight-ahead: 2900km


Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Amis de route: Gilles et Josée
Around 13:00, just as I was beginning to think about lunch, Gilles and Josée arrived. We had lunch together, pooling our collection of goodies, and spent an hour and a half relaxing in the sun and discussing the view.

Leaving Gilles and Josée on their own at 14:30, I set off on the day's second adventure. Having obtained a park map, I saw clearly marked the footpath connecting Cap des Rosiers with the Grande Grave on the South Side. This was the one the lady in the dépanneur had mentioned and the one we had almost tried to take by bike. I decided it would be an interesting hike, on foot. Besides, the Cap des Rosiers side was supposed to be very beautiful. Once I found the south end, near Grande-Grave, I locked up my bike, shouldered my knapsack, and set off for a good hike.

I got lost for a few minutes because of confusing signs, following a small side trail in the wrong direction. All alone on this tiny, woodland trail, the encounter of my friend Danny Miles with a Grizzly Bear began to come to mind. I had studied the park map carefully and knew the topography, so it finally became clear that I had made a wrong turn. I was actaully walking back towards the campground. It was half an hour later by the time I had re-traced my steps.

Once on the correct trail, I found it was wide and straight, and had obviously once been a road, just as the clerk at the dépanneur had said. Since the original founding of this area, this had been the main road connecting Cap des Rosiers with Grande Grave. The ascent up the ridge was quite gradual and could easily have been handled by a bicycle, until...


Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
View back towards Cap des Rosiers
 

I turned the corner and was at the top of a several-hundred-foot cliff, looking straight down on the surf-beaten rocks below. The vista was breathtaking. Starting at the base of the cliff, and curving around to the west for half a mile or so, was a vast sandy beach washed by blue, clear, sunlight water, breaking in massive, pounding surf. Wooden stairs at the far end of the beach led up a hundred feet or so, to a turnabout parked full with tour buses. Hordes of tourists, like ants in the distance, swarmed over the lookout at the top of the far off promontory. A few brave ones had descended the stairs to the beach itself. The tents of the Cap des Rosiers campround were perched along the top of the cliff, behind park. Arrayed behind these foreground sights were laid out, as if on a map, all of the roads we had travelled on the day before, including the north gate of the park and the seawall. Far off in the distance, I could to the Cap des Rosier lighthouse and the town we had stopped at beforehand.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992 (enlargement))
Cap des Rosiers Blow Up
 

The nice, wide and easy trail that I had been following went on to became a narrow, rocky ledge barely a couple of feet side, snaking down the cliff face to the beach far below. I descended a couple of hundred feet, just to test it out, and was satisfied that there would have been no way we could have pushed our fully-loaded bikes up this trail. The main highway had been the right decision. If it had been still morning, I would have gone on down to the beach, but being late afternoon, and since I did not feel like climbing back up the hill from the bottom, I turned around.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Supplementary: Photo taken on 1994 trip)
Sea Panorama from North Side Lookout
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Supplementary: Photo taken on 1994 trip)
Cliffside, from North Side Lookout
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Supplementary: Photo taken on 1994 trip)
North Side Coastline
 

I couldn't resist the sign pointing up towards the summit however. It was already late, nearly 16:00, and I had my heart set on eating in the restuarant back at the campground. This restuarant would close at 19:00, and I was already thirsty for one of their nice, cold beers. So I moved on up the trail at a pretty fast pace. It was a well-groomed trail. Many parts steps had been built right into the side of the mountain. From the first lookout, I could see all the way east to the point of the peninsula. Or at least, I could have, had the point not been shrouded in fog.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Climbing Mt. St. Albans
 

I climbed on, going past a couple of evenhigher lookouts, with an even finer view of land's end. I passed some photographers trying to get a decent picture of a porcupine, hiding up in a tree. I tried a few shots, but got nothing more than a fur ball wrapped in leaves. The actual summit of Mount St. Alban, 350 metres high, the top of a cliff hanging directly over the Cap des Rosier campground, was a bit of an anti-climax. I could no longer see out to the east, so the view was not as grand as had been on the way up.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Looking towards Lands End as climbing
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Baie de Gaspé, from Grand Grave
It was 17:30, and I was a long way from that restuarant. I really started hoofing it back down the trail. Unbelievably, without breaking my neck, I made it to the restuarant by 18:15, in plenty of time for my beer. As I got there Gilles and Josée were just finishing. They stayed with me, though, to keep me company while I ate. At 19:00, when I finished, they headed off towards their campsite while I took another walk down by the beach on my own.

I stayed down at the beach until well after sunset, watching as the light on the oppo­site shore started to twinkle. I had every expectation of being over there on the other side of the bay within a couple of days. Getting back to my campsite in the dark, even on the well-groomed paths of the campground, was quite a feat. It's hard to realize in the city just how dark dark really is. I nearly tripped over a porcupine sitting on the dark trail. That, I am sure, would not have been fun.


Daily Report

I had cycled 14km this day, most of it on gravel trails. Then I had hiked for about 5km. [See the Kilometrage Study for more details]

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Prepared by Roger Kenner
January, 2002