Last Friday we went for a hike on Mt. St-Hilaire, not far outside the city of Montreal. St-Hilaire, at 411 metres/1348 ft in height, is one of a series of mountains in the region between Montreal and Vermont, called the Monteregie. All of them are isolated, standing above the flat floodplain of the St. Lawrence; once this was the Champlain Sea. These mountains include Mont Royal, Mt St-Bruno, Mt. Gregoire, Mt. Rougemont, Mt. St-Hilaire, Mt Yamaska and some others. Geologically, they're part of the "Great Meteor Hotspot Track." About 125 million years ago, a volcanic hotspot called the New England Hotspot led to upflows of mountain-forming magma when the North American plate moved westward over it. At that time, the hotspot was here, and the Alantic Ocean was just beginning to open up. The Monteregian Hills are made of very hard volcanic rock that did not fully erode under the pressure of the glaciers, and now they're all very distinctive landmarks in an otherwise extremely flat landscape. About 25 million years later, the White Mountains of New Hampshire were formed in much the same way; by then the hotspot was located further to the east. Today it's inactive, in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, where it's been overridden by the Mid-Alantic Ridge, but the age of the associated mountains and seamounts created by the New England hotspot has been used to track the movement of the North American and African tectonic plates.
Friday was my birthday, and the weather was beautiful -- so I suggested a hike and a picnic to this place we'd never visited close-up.
We ate our lunch on the shore of this lake, which is a short way up the mountain (see aerial view below.) McGill University owns Mt. St-Hilaire and uses it as a teaching site. The whole mountain is a nature preserve. Half is open to the public year-round, with well-maintained trails for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The other half, which contains primeval forest, remains an untouched reserve. This lake is a backup reservoir and no swimming, fishing or boating are allowed -- but it held a big flock of migrating Canada geese. Mt St-Hilaire also contains a great number of rare minerals -- over 300 -- as a result of alkali-rich agpaitic pegmatite igneous intrusions that only occur in a few other locations, most notably Agpat,Greenland; and sites in northwest Russia and Norway. (Forgive the geo-babble, but I find rocks fascinating!) On to the hike:
The beech-maple climax forest at the lower elevations. I don't think I've ever seen so many beech trees as the dominant species!
It felt good to be out of the city, surrounded by trees and silence. Even though there were a lot of cars in the parking lot, the trails were pretty empty, and the further we climbed, the quieter it got. No airplanes, no traffic, and only the occasional human voice.
The terrain got steeper near the top.
And from the summit, a view of the flat, rich farmland stretching in every direction, a quarry just below, and the widely-separated little towns of the Monteregie. Around the base of this mountain and several others are vineyards and apple orchards: something to explore another time. Here's an aerial view from the McGill site: (copyright 2013 McGill University; I'll take this down shortly.) The non-public reserve is the side of the mountain closest to us; we hiked from the lake up to the larger peak behind it, the same one shown in my top photo.
Those are the kinds of fields we used to drive along, on our frequent trips back to Vermont, laid out in the long narrow rectangles characteristic of the early French settlements. A house usually stood at one end, along the road, or rang, with the land stretching back toward a mountain or a river, thus affording each farmer different types of terrain for his use instead of granting all the best land to the wealthiest.
I've become fascinated by -- and fond of -- the distinctive shapes of these mountains and the landscape, so different from New England, and am working now at my first painting of it. More to come...