For trail runner, winter is commonly associated with the off season. In most cases, winter makes trails harder and more challenging because of the snow, the ice, and the cold. Thus, my interest for the mountains is generally lower during the winter. But there are exceptions! Some places suddenly become magical with winter and snow. Among these, the “Vallée-des-Fantômes” (meaning Valley of the Ghosts) in Monts-Valin National Park is almost mythical. Here is my 2-day snowshoeing trip in Monts-Valin in December 2019.
DAY 1 – Discovery and Visitors Centre to Le Pionnier hut (8.2 km, 750 m)
We started around noon under a sunny sky and snow already quite thick even at the foot of the mountains. The 1st km was rather easy, perfect to warm up. Then, for the next 5 km, we faced a fairly steady climb of a total of 500 meters to the Pic du Grand Corbeau. This is a viewpoint at 800 meters of altitude with a large platform, a popular spot in the park. Along the way, it is possible to add approximately 700 meters round trip to get to the Pic de la Tête de Chien viewpoint. This small trail has been restored to protect the fragile nature, and since September 2021, it had walkways and lookouts. From the Pic du Grand Corbeau, there is still approximately 2 km of light ascent to Le Pionnier hut. Overall, it took us slightly more than 3 hours, including stops along the way.
Le Pionnier hut has no electricity and is equipped with a wood burning stove and bunk beds for 8 people. We were the first to arrive. A little later, a family of 4 arrived, and then, 2 guys on ski touring. When we entered, we were freezing in the hut, and it took almost 2 hours to finally feel comfortable. By the way, once the stove is well underway, the hut could get very hot, and even too hot! That night (the squirrels around the hut can testify), people were coming out half naked in boots to cool down at -20 °C (-4 °F) for 1-2 minutes.
DAY 2 – Le Pionnier hut to Antoine-Dubuc Lodge (5.5 km, 250 m)
The hot temperature in the hut made the night difficult, but that didn’t affect our enthusiasm. By the way, if you want to sleep, I advise you to bring earplugs and a sleeping mask because in a hut, you can truly hear the wind and quickly feel the sunrise. Also, the morning toilet must be done in a cabin outside the hut. But I assure you, getting your butt out at -20 °C adds to the experience. The day ahead of us was very exciting, as we were going to cross the “Vallée-des-Fantômes” and reach the highest peak of the park, Pic Dubuc (984 m). We left at 8:30 am and not long after, the snow started to fall, and the wind picked up. The snow was heavy, giving the impression that someone had blown dense moss on the trees, and the trail seemed untouched even though it had probably been walked the day before. It’s this unique feeling that comes with this part of the park. We stopped at Le Fantôme hut to drop our bags and make the round trip to Pic Dubuc lighter. Unfortunately, since it was only possible to see 5 meters ahead, it was impossible to appreciate the view. Back to the Le Fantôme hut, it remained less than 1 km of easy descent to Antoine-Dubuc Lodge to finish the adventure. This second part took us a little over 2 hours. Once at the lodge, we were able to eat and take the shuttle we had booked in advance back to the Discovery and Visitors Centre. We made the route in this direction, but it is possible to take the shuttle at the beginning and do the route in the other direction.
Despite the cold and a bad night’s sleep, this short adventure remains memorable for me. That’s what I love about this kind of adventure, there are always challenges and discomforts, but the fun always outweighs any inconvenience. It is a real immersion in nature that provides a unique feeling, a return to the basics. Since then, the “Vallée-des-Fantômes” occupies an important place in my memories, and I hope to return there in the coming years. The pictures speak for themselves!