Text: Loïc Olivier
Photos: Loïc Olivier and Fred Michaud
***This adventure was not realized in 2020 in the pandemic context
During the May long weekend, my buddy Fred and I decided to venture out into a part of the backcountry that he knows well: forêt de l’Aigle, ZEC Pontiac, ZEC Bras-coupé-Désert.
We had a rough idea of the distance we wanted to cover, (about 100km) but we had no set route, other than the fact that we decided to start in Cayamant. Fred had called the municipal office beforehand and got the OK to park there overnight.
We unloaded the car and geared up. The weather was kinda bleh, grey, windy. Coats went on, and we were on our way.
We quickly reached forêt de l’Aigle.
For about fifteen years, the forest was managed by a corporation who oversaw logging AND outdoor recreation activities. Pretty cool stuff. After the corporation went bankrupt in 2012, a solidarity co-op tried to take it over, but it didn’t work out.
The good news is that Chemin du Black Rollway, the dirt road to the main lodge, is still maintained. This road happens to be one of the main access roads to ZEC Pontiac. It is also a gateway for the local ATV and snowmobile clubs, who manage many trails in the area.
We checked out a few small trails as we made our way towards the Black Rollway. Despite the heavy rain from the previous night, the trails were quite dry. The sandy trails had dried quickly.
We had learned that the main lodge and the cottages around it were ransacked at some point during the previous year. Everything of value was removed – doors, windows, staircases, oven, plates, toilets, heaters…. The metal roof had been stripped off every building. It gave the area a very creepy vibe.
While we checked out the buildings, the sun finally pierced through the clouds. We took advantage of the situation and had lunch in the sun. We found an old picnic table close to the main lodge, right on the shores of the Rivière de l’Aigle. Fred got a thermos out of his framebag. In it were 4 hotdog sausages. Damn, son! Hobo hotdogs for lunch!
We chatted about possible loops to do during the afternoon and decided to go north and follow the river for a while and make a nice loop east of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg.
We rode for about 50m before we ran into a guy driving in an old american car with his teenage son. They were looking for a nice and quiet spot to camp and fish. They had to drive back from Chemin de l’Aigle as they were getting stuck on the dirt road. Of course, that was of little concern to us. Fatbikes eat that terrain for breakfast. The guy gave us a sweet tip – look for the Canyon campsite, 4 or 5km away. We took note of it.
Chemin de l’Aigle got rough quickly. It’s an ATV trail at best, certainly not the type of trail where I’d drive a car. No wonder the guy had to drive back!
We rode for a half hour before we encountered an old sign on the ground : it’s the old Canyon campsite sign. We veered off and followed the singletrack leading to the river. We were hopeful that the site would be free, but a couple of people beat us to it. They stared at us from a distance as we approached them. Hard to blame them, two guys on fatbikes coming unannounced in the forest can put you on edge. We greeted them, apologized for barging in, took a quick peek at the site and left. Too bad we couldn’t camp there. That was a sweet spot.
We slowly continued north before coming across another sign. We had just entered KZA.
As we went down a hill, Fred noticed the bridge. “NO WAY!!”, he said. “They rebuilt it!!” Fred explained that the bridge had burned down a year or two before.
And so just like that, our plans changed.
We decided to turn left, take the bridge and go west into ZEC bras-coupé-Désert (which translates as “ZEC chopped arm / Desert” – the name of two rivers flowing through the territory). We would then return to forêt de l’Aigle through ZEC Pontiac.
We rode for a while before we encountered a wooden bridge in pretty nasty shape. The bridge had clearly been submerged under water for some time because of a huge beaver dam upstream. The dam had been removed but the consequences of its presence were pretty clear…. The wooden bridge was rotting in several places.
The afternoon was going well. The terrain was getting more technical. Hills were getting longer and steeper, and the trails were getting rockier, full of baby heads. Our fatbikes easily rolled over the rocks. This was not the type of trail where I would have wanted to ride with 700C wheels…
We rode on for about twenty kilometers before we ended up in ZEC Pontiac.
At 5:30 pm, we heard an ATV in the distance. It was the park ranger, a burly guy in his twenties from Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean who spent his entire summer in the ZEC, patrolling hundreds of kilometres of trails on his ATV every week. He gave us water, which we were happy to drink on the spot.
An hour later, our ride ended back in forêt de l’Aigle. That was a big, 85km ride with loaded fatbikes on sandy and rocky backcountry roads. I was exhausted.
We found a gazebo that was still standing not too far from the Black Rollway and we decided to set up camp there. I put up my hammock and Fred put up his tent. We had easy access to the river and so we filtered water while eating dinner. We had a beer, tried to replenish electrolytes and fluids and ended up in bed at dusk. The night was cool, probably around 2 or 3C, I slept with every layer of clothes I brought along with me, including my tuque, balaclava and a pair of camp booties.
We woke up at around 6am. I slowly got out of my hammock to make a cup of coffee. We tried to light a small bonfire but couldn’t find a dry piece of wood nearby. Coffee warmed us up, and we went on to explore some of the nearby camping sites. The main infrastructure around the Black Rollway might be in ruins, but some of the campsites nearby are still A1.
We rode back to the gazebo, packed up our stuff and made our way towards the Nid de l’Aigle (the Eagle’s Nest). Once there, we hid our bikes in the brush and decided to climb all the way to the top of the peak. The hiking trail leading up to the top had pretty much disappeared. Fred hacked away at the brush with his machete.
The view from the top was breathtaking.
We made our way back to the bikes and rode on for a few more kilometres. We were going back towards Cayamant at that point, but took every detour we could find. We let the trails speak to us. We passed through some lunar landscapes. It was hot and sunny. We were having a great time.
Back in Cayamant, we stopped by the general store to buy a few beers. The locals were curiously staring at us. I assume they don’t see many bikepackers up there in Cayamant.
That really has to change. Those trails deserve to be ridden.
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