Behind the scenes of splendor at Mont Albert
A personal account by Karina Durand
I arrived in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts around 6 p.m. on a grey Sunday in September. I was in the region for a few days, because I had to go to Parc national de la Gaspésie to work on a special project, namely, a film and picture shoot of the toils achieved during the week on the trail leading to the summit of Mont Albert. The objective of this mandate? To demystify the invaluable mission of national parks and to highlight the important challenges that arise for the teams in the field.
Our goal: to capture in images the work on the summit of Mont Albert
Once in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, I was going to join my colleague Charles, a videographer, as well as Mikael and Laurence, a pair of photographers with whom I am used to working. We would spend the week together in Parc national de la Gaspésie to produce an informative series, including a short documentary on the maintenance of hiking trails in national parks.
The week ahead of us promised to be busy, as did our first day in the field. Firstly, we had to find the locations where we would be filming, and then we wanted to conduct our initial interviews with the park's staff to better understand the issues that would be at the heart of our film.
Maintaining hiking trails: a major challenge
Tuesday morning, Charles, Mikael, Laurence, and I were up at the crack of dawn. We had an appointment with Pascal, the director of Parc national de la Gaspésie, and Claude, the conservation and education officer at the park.
The next few days were important for Pascal and Claude's team: huge wooden beams had to be erected on the summit of Mont Albert. These would be used to build a footbridge to improve the walking surface and better define the trail across the large plateau leading to the south side of the mountain. Materials and personnel would be transported to the site by helicopter, chartered for the occasion.
The work had required rigorous logistics and the resolution of a thousand and one conundrums. Claude had put a lot of effort into setting up the site before the end of summer 2021, because the need was great and the work could not wait.
Despite the uncertainty of the helicopter's take-off, Charles, Mikael, Laurence, and I wanted to get the first images of the construction site and observe the progress of the work, which had begun earlier in the day. So we put on our hiking boots and set off, all four of us, towards the summit of Mont Albert.
D-Day: the arrival of the materials at the summit
Facing a combination of rain, gusts of wind, and fog in the following days, we had to arm ourselves with hope and positive thoughts so as to reach the big day with a smile. In the end, the chopper wasn’t able to drop its precious cargo on the construction site for three whole days, only managing, in extremis, on Friday.
All week long, however, my colleagues and I kept busy. We climbed Mont Albert on Tuesday, Mont Ernest-Laforce on Wednesday, and Mont Olivine on Thursday to capture images of the summit of Mont Albert from other vantage points. But the difficult weather conditions, including freezing cold and almost no visibility, made it rough for us too.
Fortunately, we managed to get some striking images during a few sunny intervals here and there. However, we would have to return to the summit to observe the progress of the work and, we hoped, to immortalize the arrival of the materials.
In the end, our little team waited until 6:00 p.m. on Friday to see the helicopter reach the top of the mountain loaded with the huge wooden beams. When they saw the helicopter appear on the horizon, Pascal and Claude, who were on the site with us, seemed delighted and, above all, relieved. The transportation of materials being the most complex element of such a project, the rest of the work could be accomplished quite easily in the days to come.
With a light heart, we all went back down to the base camp.
The unique mission of national parks
I have been working at Sépaq for a few years now, and no one is more aware than I am of the importance of respecting nature. I don't need any more convincing, because I believe it wholeheartedly: national parks are places of incredible beauty and exploring them gives us a host of benefits. We’re lucky to have access to all this wealth, hence the need to take care of it.
Thus, every time I set foot in the world of nature, I strictly apply the Leave No Trace principles: I bring back my garbage, even my apple cores and banana peels; I don't approach animals and never feed them; I don't pick up anything in the forest; and I light my campfires only where permitted, when permitted, with the wood available for that purpose.
But I must admit, I have occasionally gone off trail to admire a view, or just to walk alongside my fellow hikers. I always felt that leaving the trail "wasn't that bad," especially "if I was careful where I stepped." I never realized that this small gesture could have a real impact.
Claude puts it particularly well: "When one person steps off the path, it isn’t that big a deal. But when hundreds of people do it, one after the other, year after year, the constant repetition of this relatively harmless act has consequences. The trail widens at the expense of the natural environment around it. At the top of Mont Albert, the trail cuts through the alpine tundra, where many very fragile and rare plants are trampled."
Before this film shoot, I never realized that trail maintenance in a national park is no small task. I was also unaware that the gazebos, benches, picnic tables, and bushes that are so useful to us in the heart of the forest don't just magically appear there.
The invaluable mission of national parks
In this short documentary, discover for yourself the full beauty of our nature and the invaluable work of our teams who ensure its protection. A great project of maintenance and passion, carried out at an altitude of 1,151 metres, by people with a heart. (In French only)
Video directed by Charles Boutin
About Karina Durand
Aside from walking alone in the forest, Karina enjoys trying her luck at fishing, grilling hot dogs over the coals of a campfire, reading at the end of a dock, and swimming in a lake when it rains. She has been Sépaq's content strategy director since 2017.