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Saguenay to Charlevoix Bikepacking Circuit

 Incursion to the Land of the Heights

Text and photos by Guillaume St-Pierre


The call placed to the entrance post of the controlled exploitation zone (ZEC) in Anse-St-Jean, in the Lower Saguenay, was almost unequivocal: "We're right in the middle of hunting season, no way you're coming here to bike!" the attendant exclaimed, bewildered by the request I had just made.

As a persevering strategist, I directed my argument towards safety, mentioning that we would wear bibs, and that our route would not deviate one iota from the main road. "I'll gather some information and call you back," the man finally said. A few moments later, he confirmed that there was no problem. I now knew how to proceed in informing the ZEC of Lac-au-Sable in Charlevoix, where our journey would end. Our expedition over the long Thanksgiving weekend was taking shape, under ominous weather forecasts.

Crossing from the Saguenay region to Charlevoix through the backwoods quickly elevated our level of excitement, surpassing our expectations and offering a complete change of scenery. At this stage, my companion Ismaël Raymond and I were unaware that the climb would indeed be at the heart of our journey. However, one had to be somewhat naive not to anticipate this, with our first campsite planned near the Club... des Hauteurs outfitter. Anyone slightly familiar with the topography of these areas also knows they are full of steep inclines. But isn't this element of the unknown one of the reasons we delve into such adventures?

After several meetings to scrutinize maps (the ZEC network even offers those of its territories online for free), planning meals, and conducting load tests on our steeds (a Chic-Chocs fatbike for the author of these lines, a well-equipped hardtail for the accomplice), our calves were eager to tackle the elevation changes across lakes and mountains to make our way to Clermont from Anse-St-Jean. True to our word: mounting our now heavily laden bikes, we launched into the assault on the gravel trails.


Climb after climb, despite the magnificent autumn colors and splendid surrounding landscapes, our energy reserve was visibly dwindling. Of the 30 kilometers we had covered since the morning, the majority was in ascent; climbing would be a more appropriate term. The faces of the few people we encountered did not lie: we were undoubtedly the pioneers of bikepacking in the area, which gave us a lot of motivation. Around Lake Noël, as announced, the sky began to fall on us: the tarp was set up, dinner was concocted, the post-mortem of the day and the planning for the next day discussed, and the rain and wind for the night never stopped. Oh well.

There’s always an element of unpredictability in expeditions, and it showed its colors the next day: the paths softened by the incessant precipitation significantly hindered our progress. Although the Chic-Chocs (with its 4.8-inch tires) managed admirably well in this regard, our derailleurs quickly creaked from this mix of sand and mud. Like an oasis in a desert (for us, it was more of a shelter in a crashing downpour), the facilities of the Club des Hauteurs outfitters appeared. Their owners, not at all offended that we politely declined to have breakfast with them at Goose IPA, were very friendly towards us and provided a lot of information about their beautiful territory and the direction to follow to reach Charlevoix. A detour through the colossal and mythical log inn of the outfitters, and we were back in the vastness of Charlevoix.

What goes up must come down. This was confirmed on the way to Clermont, as a few rare clearings helped us navigate the road winding through the cliffs. The progress, faster due to the descents, allowed us to soak in the splendors of Charlevoix, as in the distance the peaks of the Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie stood out (already, we were planning our next mission). Nostalgic over a meager flask of Appleton, satisfied with our choice of destination, and dreaming of crossing, next summer, the trails said to be lost between ZEC Lac-Brébeuf, sleep quickly took over. The next day, finally greeted by a clear sky, a succession of descending slopes greatly shortened the epilogue of our journey.

As we had anticipated, the ZECs provide a very accessible gateway to explore the Quebec hinterland. The maintenance of the paths often deteriorates as one ventures further into the territory, which provides a challenge in terms of piloting skills and requires a good bike. Ultimately, although some signage is present, it is inevitably necessary to be well-prepared before departure to deal with unforeseen events on site.

A special thanks to Patrick, at Sportcycles expert in Chicoutimi, for his support and the spare parts he provided us.

Of course, our eternal gratitude to Panorama Cycles, which oversees the discovery of our splendid territory and allows for the sharing of these stories.


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