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Climbing Quebec's Ice Giants

Posted Sunday, March 3, 2024

On rappel from La Pomme d'Or

High above planet Earth on the Golden Apple

Quebec's Hautes Gorges area is quickly becoming legendary for the ease of access it offers to major ice lines like La Pomme d'Or, La Loutre, and La Triolet--not to mention the many other solid, if smaller lines throughout the area. The area saw its first major ascent in the late 1970s. Back then, the climbing involved a 38km/24mi approach. That tended to keep things quiet! About 5 years ago though, all that changed, when a road was built to the historic Dam d'Erables (an old logging dam) and an amazing visitors center was constructed (purportedly this was financed by HydroQuebec, but I don't know the particulars). Now all the major ice climbs are within a few kilometers of the trailhead.

All of this has made the climbing quite accessible and quite civilized. The basement of the Visitors Center is open 24/7 and is heated and has bathrooms, making it easy to prep your pack and get ready for the approach. As of 2024, they've added a white board where climbers are asked to write the name of the route they have in mind for the day. I'd originally thought that the intention was to keep from having multiple parties on the routes, but it appears as if it's simply a mechanism for understanding how many parties might be on the route and/or ahead of you--during my last visit, there were multiple parties climbing both La Loutre and La Pomme. Before deciding to follow another party, think long and hard about the ice conditions (brittle, dry, chandeleried, etc), snow coverage (which can help in stopping ice fall), and the current conditions of the route (wide enough) in terms of more safely accomodating two parties. Remember as well that you are climbing in the Parc les Hautes Gorges, so you'll want to buy a park pass the day prior to any alpine starts.

La Loutre & La Pomme d'Or are the most popular climbs in Hautes Gorges. These two stand side by side, facing east, about 5km up the groomed ski trail on the east side of the reservoir/lake. The first time I visited, I didn't realize this trail existed and we skied straight up the lake...and straight into the wind...making for a pretty burly start to our day! Don't do that. Even if approaching by dark, you'll likely be able to see these two monsters across the lake, if not just pay attention to the KM markers on the trail and look out for a spot where the river narrows. Obviously, the lake has to be well-frozen to cross, and in the past they've actually prohibited lake crossing before/after certain points in the season, so make sure that crossing is possible before heading to Hautes Gorges. I've never tried calling the Visitors Center, but that's probably a decent option.

Once you're across the lake, look for a large, red reflective triangle that indicates the start to the path up to the base of these climbs. You definitely should invest the time to find this path versus trying to bushwhack your way up. Typically, the path is pretty well packed in, but if there has been much in the way of fresh snow and a lot of seasonal snow, you might need snowshoes at this point. And, on the flip side, if things have gotten pretty firm, microspikes are nice, allowing you to not dull up your crampons before a major climb, as snowy trail winds through an extended talus field. 

For some pitch-by-pitch descriptions of the various climbs, both Mountain Project and provide some ideas. Ultimately, I wouldn't take those descriptions as gospel--run your pitches in a way that makes the most sense to you for the given conditions and for your particular party.

Pomme is generally used as the descent route for La Ruee vers l'Or, La Loutre, and La Pomme d'Or. As of 2024, it has been equipped with bolted rappel stations for all but one of the rappels. After rappeling off trees at the top, you'll need to place a ice-thread anchor, then you can continue on bolted anchors after that. No matter which route you climbed, if you are descending Pomme, do keep in mind there are likely parties coming up Pomme, so give a shout before throwing your ropes and be careful not to break off ice during your descent.

While Pomme and Loutre are the biggest draws to this area of Hautes Gorges, on your ski in you'll see that there are lots of other enticing options to the south and north. The biggest draw to the north is Pomodoro. It involves about 25 minutes more of uphill approach and is a shorter climb, but still very worthwhile and a good alternative if other climbs seem busy. South of Pomme/Loutre, the biggest smear you'll notice is Lavoie Papy. It looks super-enticing, but in my experience it's quite a beast to get to. The Quebec ice guide indicates that it can be accessed from the right in a 3hr(!) approach. I have accessed it by climbing the 95m Los Tabarnacos below it and then doing a heinous, vertical snowshoe bushwhack up...only to find that the start was too delaminated to continue. Further south of Lavoie, on the east-facing aspect of the lake, there are a variety of other options that look good for shorter days or fouler weather.

South of the visitor center are the climbs La Triolet and Hysterie Collective. For both of these, you cross the river via the dam at the Visitors Center, then head south. After 1-2km Hysterie will come into view and after another 1-2km, La Triolet will come into view. La Triolet has more southern exposure than most other major climbs in the area. That, plus the fact that it's nestled more into the valley than the climbs up on the reservoir/lake, means its a good foul-weather option. But, the south-facing nature of the route also means it tends to go out of condition quickly. When it's in condition, it's a delightful climb, with comfortable belay stances (bring 70m ropes or you'll be simul-climbing to get to good stances) and beautiful climbing surrounded by golden orange rock. And though a rock rack isn't needed for Triolet, bringing one would allow you to potentially round out the day with some alternative lines presented to the left and right of Triolet. Or, pack up your things and head over to Hysterie Collective. 

I highly recommend staying at the "The Presbytere" lodging offered by La Maison du Bootlegger, offered through AirBnB or by calling them direct. The Prebytere is an large old building located just minutes from the main road to the park, closer than any lodging in Malbaie and closer than any of the other offerings on AirBnB. At The Presbytere, you can either rent an entire apartment yourself or rent a bedroom with private or shared bath and a shared kitchen and living room area. All the bedrooms are quite spacious for gear organizing, the kitchen is well set up, and the whole place is very stylishly done up, clean, and comfortable. 

All in all, the opening up of access to Hautes Gorges has really transformed the Northeastern climbing scene. Because that opening occurred just before the COVID situation and the closing of the border for awhile, it's not yet come completely onto the radar. But--for better and for worse--I predict that in the coming years this area, as well as the many other excellent Quebec climbing offerings, will turn this region into a world-class ice climbing destination that rivals and potentially surpasses the Rockies, Southern Colorado, or any other places more currently on the ice climbing map. Get out there and get after it!

[Disclaimer: All of the above information is simply based on my own experiences and knowledge. There may be errors in any of the facts stated above and opinions are only that. Understand that ice climbing is a sport with certain inherent risks and a sport that demands situation-based critical thinking. Use your own judgement when attempting any of the routes described here--or anytime you are ice climbing, for that matter.]