Hut to Hut at Mont Megantic Page #1  
At 1,105 meters (3600 ft) Mont Megantic is one of the highest mountains in Quebec's Eastern Townships. Located west of the city of Sherbrooke and about two and a half hours from Montreal (Directional map) you might expect the park to be crowded even in the winter, we did, but we were pleasantly surprised.

Mont Orford and Mont Tremblant are what usually comes to mind when Montrealer's think camping, hiking or cross country skiing. If Mont Megantic gets any recognition at all, it's usually because it's confused with the town sharing the same name, Lac Megantic (which, by the way, is a good distance from the park).

  Most of the people we met were from the immediate area, which made us wonder if there wasn't a conspiracy to keep the park a secret from us outsiders.  
  The idea of small crowds was a key factor in our decision to do a "Hut-to-Hut" in Mont Megantic, rather than those more popular destinations mentioned. The added bonus with Megantic is that four or more people can, at a reasonable cost, have a hut all to themselves. Of course the park also happens to be one of our favorite summertime wilderness destinations and we've always looked forward to visiting it in the winter.

We met with our group several times prior to our departure to do some snow shoeing, test our packs and cement our trip plans. We had to book the huts in advance so we couldn't be sure about what sort of conditions we might expect.

  We wanted to be ready for anything. The Megantic region can get some really cold weather and it certainly isn't immune to blizzards. We had to pack carefully to ensure we were prepared, but like all winter pack trips it's an effort to keep the packs weight manageable.

We arrived at the park on Friday around noon. The temperature was a cool -20 degrees Centigrade. Since Montreal hadn't had much snow, we were surprised to find the mountain with an accumulation of almost 80cm. Apparently this type of discrepancy is not unusual. The mountain is in a snow belt, which bypasses Montreal and heads up towards Quebec City. The park staff was extremely helpful and friendly and had us finalizing our bookings and on our way in less than a half-hour.

The first leg of our journey was on snowshoes along a designated trail that climbs from the park entrance to the first hut, named for the constellation Plaides. This was our destination for the first night out. The recent dump of 20cm of powder, along with fairly high winds made the trail hard to follow at times although the trees were well marked with blazes of pink. You had a tendency to look down to find the faint indent in the deep snow made by the snowshoer's the day before. A jaunt off the trail had you sinking up to your knees even with snowshoes on.  
  The forest was a fantasyland of burdened bows and sculpted drifts. Each twist in the trail gave you a new perspective and kept everyone mesmerized. After an hour our reverie gave way to reality as we began to feel the weight of our backpacks. We were more than happy to make the half-way-point at the prospectors tent. This was an opportunity to un-shoulder our packs , warm our extremities and re-fuel our bodies in preparation for the steeper climb ahead.
We reached our hut just short of two hours after our departure and we were delighted to find the stove ablaze just waiting to warm our tired bodies. The park's huts are basic, consisting of a wood stove, a table and benches along the walls on either side. The benches fold out into beds allowing two to sleep comfortably, (if there are more than four in a party you can share the benches or curl up on the floor). There are no mattresses so you'll need to bring sleeping pads. The huts have no electricity so it's important to bring a good supply of candles. Night arrives early in the winter and even earlier in the mountains. Each hut has an almost endless supply of firewood which is essential particularly on cold nights when you'll need to stoke the fire several times.  
  We settled in and began to prepare our cheese fondue dinner. The decision not to forgo the wine in order to lighten our packs, seemed at this point to be an excellent one. As we cooked, we re-hashed the day's activities and everyone agreed that things were working out perfectly. After dinner the day's activities got the better of us and we put off plans for a rollicking evening until tomorrow night.
We all awoke to catch the sunrise the next morning. Mont Megantic lies in a circular array of mountains all in close proximity. We watched the golden light of the sun creep up each mountain in turn, before it finally found its way to the cabin. The morning's standing joke revolved around who was going to brave the outhouse first. Of course each of us had to meet that fate, and none were spared from the shock of that cold cruel toilet seat.

We started breakfast early to allow us to get packed and organized for the day. During the daytime the huts are communal property, open to all the park's visitors, allowing them to warm up and have a snack while on the trail. The first skiers arrived around 9:30 and we exchanged waxing tips as we prepared for our first day on skis.

Hut to Hut at Mont Megantic Page # 2