Quebec ice. It’s up there. The climbs can be big, remote and cold—but they can also be straightforward and a stone’s throw from the road. And the setting is tough to beat: As soon as you cross the border or step off the plane it feels as if you’ve been whisked to another continent, especially since the predominant language is French. That said Quebec is neither France nor English-speaking North America. It’s a cultural region unique in our continent—and perhaps the world.
Oh, and the ice climbing is world class. Quebec holds three percent of the planet’s fresh water. Combine that world’s largest reserve and some of the coldest recorded temperatures in North America and you have some of the best (and most overlooked) ice climbing on the planet.
It’s literally, in our backyard, but to most Americans, Quebec is a great white blank on our collective mental map. It’s north, up there somewhere sparsely illustrated with vague visions of Celine Dion, a whiff of poutine and maple syrup. But do we know that Quebec has its own flag? A national emblem that flies at equal height with the flag of Canada?
Quebec is a country within a country. On the heels of a second and narrowly rejected referendum for independence in 1995, the Federal government recognized that, “the Quebecois form a nation within a united Canada.”
French is, of course, the official language and spoken by 95 percent of the population, who appreciate good food, the fruits of the intellect, art and the pitfalls of its creation. They are proud of a heritage that mashes up the legacy of native First Nations aboriginal roots, colonial New France dating from the 16th century and Anglo North America.
Canada’s largest province is also a destination climbing area well worth exploring. From the Arctic tundra of its far north to the temperate forests bordering Maine, Quebec encompasses nearly 600,000 square miles (that’s almost three times the entire size of France). And it’s empty. Most of its population resides in the strip of land bordering the St. Lawrence. Beyond is wilderness in the truest sense of the word.
The ice begins to come into condition in November. The best combination of longer days and slightly higher temperatures is February and March.
• Fly to Montreal or Quebec City. Passport required.
• Rent a car and find lodging. Hotels and Airbnb’s abound. Expect lower prices in winter, excluding Christmas (and Winter Carnival in Quebec City Jan 27–Feb 12, 2017).
• Day-trip out of Montreal and Quebec City.
• Alternatively, cross the U.S. border into Quebec from Vermont (and sample the amazing ice of Lake Willoughby). Boston is a six-hour drive away.
Places Not to Miss
Vieux-Québec, Quebec City
Old Quebec is home to cafes, tourist shops, restaurants and hotels, in what’s been called, the most European neighborhood in North America. Walk the narrow cobbled streets, visit the historic Plains of Abraham gaze in wonder at the iconic Chateau Frontenac.
With some of its buildings dating to the 17th century, Old Montreal is one of the oldest urban areas in North America with all the lively nightlife and entertainment you could want.
Though home to many of the most outrageous (and remote) ice climbs in North America, the following areas offer quick and easy introductions to climbing in the province:
Montmorency Falls (WI 3 to 5)
This large waterfall (270 feet) is minutes outside of Quebec City. There’s easy access via a five-minute walk from the parking lot.
This 15- to 30-foot high, 300-foot wide rock-band in the middle of Montreal turns into a great little ice training ground in the winter, and even gets enough light from the street lamps!
Gringalet (Pinacle) (WI 3 to 4)
This three-pitch route (350 feet) lies on the eastern shore of Lac Lyster near Coaticook, three hours south of Montreal or Quebec City. It’s one of the best moderate multi-pitch ice routes in North America.
La Mer de Glace (WI 3 to 4+)
Located in Vallée du Bras du Nord a few hours northeast of Quebec City, La Mer de Glace (The Sea of Ice) offers 900 feet of rolling climbing on a vast shield of ice.
Le Pilier Simon-Proulx (WI 5)
A long days drive north of Quebec City, Le Pilier requires a three-hour ski or short snowmobile ride from the road south of Sept-Îles to reach.
La Pomme D’Or (WI 5- to 5+)
This is the Quebec classic. At six pitches (accumulating 1,090 feet) and 20 miles from the trailhead, La Pomme D’Or is a daunting challenge, but well worth the effort.