It was pouring rain on Saturday, the kind of day it would have been good to stay indoors with a good book and some coffee. But I’m about to hit the road for a few weeks for work, so this was my last opportunity to hike a bit before leaving. So I decided to embrace the rain, put on my best raincoat and headed for the Alfred Kelly Nature Reserve in Prévost, in the Laurentians.
Alfred Kelly Nature Reserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and protects rocky cliffs that are home to several species of birds, including endangered species such as the peregrine falcon. The reserve is named after Alfred Kelly, a donor with a passion for nature and ornithology. There are more than 16 kilometres of trail there and one of the trailheads is located near Prévost train station.
Note that since this is a nature reserve, dogs, bicycles and motorized vehicles are prohibited. Click here for the trail map.
So I parked at Prévost station in the pouring rain and easily found the access to the nature reserve. I quickly looked at the map at the trailhead to decide which route to take. I decided I would go to Lake Paradis and then follow the trail to get to the top of the escarpment. Nothing that seemed too complicated to me.
From the first few metres, I knew this would be a hike that I would enjoy (despite the rain). The trail is typical of those found in the Laurentians region: a steep and rocky trail, going though a beautiful mixed forest. I started by going up a series of stairs, then the trail continued to gain a little elevation, but the climb is very gentle and allowed me to catch my breath easily.
In fact, my biggest difficulty was mostly the rain which poured down relentlessly, making some sections of the trail more slippery (especially the rocky sections). I had to take my time and watch where I was stepping.
After 1.5 kilometres, I finally arrived at Lake Paradis.
Lake Paradis is probably the highlight of the nature reserve. And I admit it took my breath away when I got close to shore. Even in the gloomy weather, the lake and its high limestone cliffs were impressive. It’s hard to believe that the lake was created artificially in the 1940s to serve as a water reservoir for a school!
The cliffs of the escarpment serve as a nesting site for peregrine falcons. In the pouring rain, I doubted my chances of seeing a falcon, so I continued on my way. A trail goes around the lake, but I decided to take a trail marked with the letters JE, so I could climb to the top of the cliff.
The JE Trail heads north and seems to cross a good part of the nature reserve (having followed it to the end, it would have led me to the entrances to the nature reserve in the Piedmont sector). But after following the JE Trail for about 1 kilometre, I came to a fork with a trail marked with the letters WN. As it seemed to lead to the top of the rocky escarpment, I followed it.
It seems impossible to believe, but it started to rain even harder. And since it was so hot and humid, the steady climb up the escarpment was a bit difficult. I swear I could have thought I was hiking in a tropical rainforest, but the many pine trees reminded me that I was still in Canada.
As I went up, I also seemed to be walking into a thick fog. The fog made the forest look gloomy, but also vaguely surreal. It reminded me of a similar hike, done on Mount Ulia in Spain two years ago, a rainy and foggy hike that had ended up being one of my favourites of the whole year.
I was starting to feel a bit exhausted (and very wet) when I reached another fork in the trail. In fact, the many intersecting trails could be confusing, but there are maps found at almost every forks, it’s pretty easy to know in which direction to go.
This time I had the option of following a trail called L’escarpment (The Escarpement), on which the map seemed to indicate a lookout. I had finally almost reached the top of the cliffs! I was rather eager to reach the lookout, but when I finally reached it, I was treated to a landscape completely covered by fog…
So I came back down a little disappointed but still proud to have achieved the goal I had set for myself. I continued to follow the trail that eventually brought me back down to the lake. The descent was more difficult because the trail was slippery and a lot of water was starting accumulate in places. But I made it back to the lake in one piece!
At this point, even my raincoat seemed to have given and I felt like I was completely soaked from head to toe. But I must be a little masochistic, because before I got back to the parking lot, I walked past a sign that said the summit of Mount Shaw was 850 metres away on a side trail. And since I have a slight obsession with mountains, I told myself that I couldn’t miss the opportunity to reach the top of a mountain that was so close.
So I decided to take this short detour to the summit of Mount Shaw. At 285 metres high, it’s not a very high mountain, but I had tired legs, wet feet, and I was really fed up with the rain, so the 850-metre trail to the top felt very, very long to me.
But I finally made it to the summit, and although there is no viewpoint at the top (only a sign to indicate the end of the trail) I really took advantage of the moment because it stopped raining for THREE minutes. Moment of pure happiness.
I went back down to the forest as soon as the rain started again and I returned slowly, but surely, to my car, which was waiting for me in the parking lot at Prévost station. In all, my hike totaled almost 10 kilometres, with an elevation gain of 412 metres. And, now that I think of it, the rain and the fog made this hike even more special and memorable!