Montagne Noire (Black Mountain). Just the name can send chills down your spine. If I also told you that the trail is known to be difficult, that it is the highest mountain in the area and that you can find there the crash site of a Second World War aircraft, admit it sounds like the perfect place for an interesting hike!
I’ve been wanting to hike Montagne Noire ever since I read an article on it and on the crash of the RCAF Liberator bomber in 1943. As I was spending the weekend in Saint-Donat-de-Montcalm (in the Quebec region of Lanaudière), Montagne Noire was high on the list of hikes I wanted to do.
I had read that this was a difficult trail and as I had found the hike to the top of Mont Ouareau trying the day before, I had prepared myself mentally. Mireille and I went early to the parking lot giving access to the trailhead. We had stocked up on water and snacks and gave ourselves plenty of time to reach the 892-metre summit.
Finally, is it weird to say that I didn’t find the hike so strenuous? Yes, the trail climbs constantly (the elevation gain is 450 metres), but the it seemed much less steep than that of Mont Ouareau. Maybe my cardio had finally gotten used to the more strenuous hikes.
There are different ways to get to the summit, and Mireille and I opted to take the Inter-Centre Trail rather than the one that goes directly to the top. The Inter-Centre Trail is a 30 km long trail that links Saint-Donat to Lac-Supérieur in the Laurentians and is part of the Sentier National (Quebec’s national trail). As this trail goes through the plane crash site (which I didn’t want to miss), we decided to take this route.
The Inter-Centre Trail took us through a first viewpoint of Lake Archambault, then to another overlooking Lake Lézard. As it was still early in the day, we didn’t see anyone else on the trail.
After more than five kilometres of hiking, we finally arrived at the site of the plane crash.
In 1943, the RCAF Liberator aircraft took off from Gander, Newfoundland, heading to Mont-Joli Airport in Quebec, but never reached its destination. It took more than two years before the mystery of this disappearance was unraveled. In 1946, a search plane, looking for another missing plane in the area, flew over Montagne Noire and saw the carcass of the plane. An expedition was organized to go through the dense forest and reach the crash site. The bodies of the 24 soldiers who died in the plane crash were buried there.
Today, the scattered pieces of the plane still dot the forest ground and make the place look a little dismal. A little further on the trail, there is a small cemetery and a monument paying homage to the deceased soldiers. As the cemetery was desecrated in the 1980s, the bodies were moved and buried in the cemetery of Saint-Donat. Nevertheless, the white crosses are still there, and the atmosphere of the place lends itself to contemplation.
We then had less than a kilometre to go before reaching the top. Those last few metres were arguably the hardest (steep elevation, lots of big rocks and roots) so we were pretty proud when we finally got to the top. The view seemed unimpressive at first, until we climbed to the top of the large observation tower. From there, we had a 360-degree view of the Lanaudière and Laurentian mountains, a view described as one of the most beautiful in the region.
As there were more and more hikers on the trail, we started our descent. This time, we went back down via the Montagne Noire Trail, which took us past Crystal Lake and finally brought us to Le Mésangeai shelter. Located at an altitude of 850 metres, this shelter had such a lovely view that we thought it might be worthwhile to come back one day and hike the entire Inter-Centre Trail …
From that point on, the trail got steeper, muddier, and more slippery too. The descent therefore seemed a little more difficult than the climb. We also ran into lots and lots of hikers looking for the summit or the crash site. We congratulated ourselves on leaving early which gave us some peace and silence on the trail before the crowds arrived.
Over four hours after starting our hike, we finally returned to the parking lot (which was at full capacity at that time). A strenuous hike (although not as much as I expected), which will remain a favourite for a long time!
Montagne Noire :
Altitude : 892m
Ascension : 450m
Trail (loop) : 13km
Access : Parking on chemin Régimbald