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The Paddling Scene

by mikemcdonnell · 04 June 2012

spring boating in VTA slice of humble pie?  More like eating an entire bake sale.

I went to Quebec recently with a crew of me cronies.  Our intent was to run the remote and difficult gorge of the Northwest Jacques Cartier River.  It has only been run a handful of times, but we had some basic information from a couple of the groups who have run it, and we had almost 100 years of cumulative paddling experience between us.  We felt confident.

The shuttle was long but we arrived at the putin to find a generous flow- possibly more than optimum, but not enough to alarm us.  We paddled down five miles to what we knew to be the start of the arduous portage around the ‘waterfall gorge’.  Leaving our camping gear at the top, near the river, we carried our boats down through the first part of the portage, then began to bushwhack toward the place where boats can be lowered by rope into the canyon below.  This lowering place proved to be very difficult to find indeed.  After five hours of fruitless thrashing around in the boreal forest, we cached the boats in a pile, marked them by GPS, and staggered back through the thick bush to camp.

In the morning, we resumed the search and by late morning found what seemed to be the least terrible place to get from the rim of the gorge to river level.  Linking three 60′ throwbags together, the boys lowered me over the edge and slowly down to the water.  By the time I reached the bottom, I was thoroughly uncomfortable with what was going on, and to add to that, I could see a large column of spray rising between the canyon walls just downstream- possibly a large waterfall.  I radioed the others, and they hauled me back up.  We decided that pursuing a downstream course was getting downright risky, and that it was time to pull the plug and head back up to the car at the putin.  The thought of what that would involve put the fear of God into us.  Nevertheless, time was wastin’ so we reversed course and began humping our 90lb gear-filled kayaks back up and out of the valley, through that same thick bush.  Three hours of hard labor got us back to the camp, at which point we shouldered the kayaks and hiked them over a small mountain to a lake which we knew to be a tributary of the NW Jac Cartier.  Paddling for a few hours down the outlet of that lake brought us to our car.  We tucked tail and got out of there.

A real misadventure.  In the absence of detailed information (there just isn’t any), we should have allowed more time for locating the portage route and safe lowering spot.

The thing I’ll remember most about the trip was how 6 guys, heavily loaded, were beaten down by nearly impenetrable boreal bush for almost 16 hours and I never heard one single ill-tempered word in that entire time.  Everyone laughed off the misery.  Everyone was thinking about going back in at some point for redemption.

 August 15th:

Going hammer-and-tong on the large order of doors currently in the shop.  Not a bad summer to be busy with work since it has been bone dry around New England.  Rain is coming back to Quebec though, and as soon as this job is out the door I am hi-tailing it up to the Taureau with the boys.  Time to get the lead out.

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