My beard was completely frozen and the wind was blowing it in all directions as I unzipped my puffer jacket to grab my camera from my pocket. Cam stood on the wooden platform, widening his stance for balance as each gust of wind challenged him to stay upright. Fighting the wind, I snapped my shot.
These are the moments I live for and strive to preserve on camera as a filmmaker and photographer: authentic snapshots of adventures and experiences connecting with nature. That’s exactly why we were standing on the summit of Mont Gosford in a blizzard at the end of November fighting our way through a whiteout.
It always starts with an itch; an itch to travel to a new corner of the globe, experience something new and explore a challenging environment that’s unforgiving to most people. This time, it was the mountains I was itching for.
I hadn’t been to the mountains since July of 2019 when I spent two weeks with Alaska Mountaineering School on the Pika Glacier in Denali National Park. It was long overdue. I started looking at winter hikes in Québec that could cure that itch. That’s when I read about Mont Gosford.
Mont Gosford is the highest point in southern Québec, standing 1193 metres above sea level. Perfect. Compared in size to the Rocky Mountains in Alberta or the coastal mountains in British Columbia, it’s not that prominent. Still, it’s a solid climb. It’s just over a 20-kilometre there-and-back trek (depending on where you start from) with a total elevation gain of 862 metres (roughly calculated by my Garmin watch). The last four-and-a-half-kilometre section makes up most of that elevation gain and isn’t kind to your quads.
After reading a few trip reports and making a few phone calls, I was set on trekking to the summit of Mont Gosford. I called up my buddy Cam, who had recently moved to Montréal for school, and told him about the hike. He was in. My other friend, a Montréal native, laughed and said he’d meet us for dinner when we were done.
I took the train to Cam’s place in Montréal on Thursday night. On Friday, the city had its first big snowfall of the winter. Forecasts were calling for more snow on Saturday near Mont Gosford. We were stoked.
To me, more snow meant stunning mountain vistas of New Hampshire and Maine to the south, and Mont-Mégantic to the north. Being one of the highest mountains in the area (the highest if you don’t count some of the higher peaks south in the states), Mont Gosford boasts a stunning 360-degree view of the surrounding hills and mountains. I was after the thrill of standing on a summit, soaking in the views, feeling on top of the world and capturing it all on camera.
The drive was incredible. Beautiful mountains covered in snow started coming into view with a fresh dusting on the pine trees along the side of the road. The stoke was even higher now. We knew we’d be getting some use out of the snowshoes sitting in the trunk of the rental car.
The first five-ish kilometres were relatively flat and followed the river. It was quiet, pure winter bliss. Snow was beginning to come down, but not enough to even really consider it a snowfall.
The first section wasn’t strenuous, and after roughly an hour and a half, we reached a second parking lot where the trail split off towards the “Sommet du MT Gosford.” We happily pointed at the trail sign, full of summit fever.
I love seeing the landscape change whenever you ascend in altitude. We transitioned from a mixed forest with lots of maple and birch trees to a forest made up mostly of tall balsam firs in the subalpine. As we climbed, the snowfall got thicker, the snow cover on the ground grew denser, and the winds grew stronger.
We reached a sign that read, “2.4 km to the summit.” We were even more excited now, despite the winds picking up and the almost whiteout snow squalls. We were dressed well, had the necessary safety gear in case of an emergency, plenty of water and bars, and didn’t have too far to go.
That last push was a grind. We climbed sharply in altitude, but the quad-burning, ankle-twisting terrain couldn’t dampen our spirits as we watched the tree line thin. Suddenly there were no more tall trees, just rocks.
We walked towards the summit platform as the wind tried its best to knock us off our feet, grabbed the railing, and climbed the stairs. We were at the summit of Mont Gosford, 1193 metres above sea level. There was no view, no other mountains, just a silhouette of pure white.
“I think we’re good for photos now,” I yelled at Cam over the howling winds, but of course I was going to take more photos; this scene was otherworldly. Despite the lack of landscape views I was hoping to see, I was loving the authenticity and wildness of the whiteout.
It was -28 degrees C on the summit of Mont Gosford. The hole in my favourite thin gloves that allowed my index finger access to operate my camera with ease was being bitten by the cold. Still, the epic scenery made it worth staying for just a bit longer.
Eventually we took off down towards the parking lot in a race against the sun that we couldn’t see but knew was already starting to set.
When I look back on my shots from that day, a smile stretches across my face. No, I didn’t get to experience the summit views I was itching for, and no I didn’t get the chance to take beautiful magazine-worthy landscape shots. What I did get was an authentic adventure and photos that captured the unplanned moments that are completely out of our control. That’s life in the outdoors. You can do all the planning you want, but in the end, you have to adapt to whatever you get, and if you’re like me, you’ll be thrilled by the outcome. Besides, that itch never really goes away. I just have more to look forward to the next time I find myself in the mountains.