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Running the Bonaventure River

By JS Canoe

 

A year ago Hal the Gullboy and Nanook of the Nashwaak decided to paddle the Bonaventure River on the Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec. I was also invited along and the planning began. Foods were dried; plans were made and on June 1, 2002 the journey started.

I met Hal on Cousin�s Island, ME in the evening and we launched a canoe into the bay for a sunset cruise. A major storm front had moved through earlier in the day, lightening, heavy rains and high winds had buffeted the region for several hours and the sky was fire red as we paddled out into the bay.

June 1:

We were up early and on the road for the long trip to Fredericton, NB, and the home of Nanook of the Nashwaak. The trip up I-95 was uneventful and we made good time until we came to the border. If Mike McCrea is the king of Shuttle Carnage than Scooter and Hal are Kings of the Abortive Border Crossings. We thought we were totally set with making it over the line but in the end we were .5 liters over the legal limit of alcohol to be brought in to the Canadian province. With the border guard in the lead it was off to the utility closet where we handed over a 12 pack of beer to be poured, one by one, down the toilet. At one point Hal even asked if we could drink a couple to make the amount the correct for crossing. That was met with a sullen stare as I recall.

We arrived at Nanook�s home and in short order we had his trailer loaded with all of our gear, the grill going with a delicious salmon dinner, fiddleheads included. Many beers later we retired in anticipation of an early start.

June 2:

We were up fairly early and had a breakfast, which I could barely choke down. It seems that the Canadians make a much stronger beer than I am used to and my poor head and belly were twisting every which way. The trip for me was a blur as I tried to sleep off my condition. Coming to every once in a while I would look up and out the window to see miles of road ahead and nothing but forests on each side. Hal and Nanook were hooting it up in the front of the car as I lay in the back in misery. Curse that Canadian beer!

We arrived at Cime Adventure in the later afternoon and I bless Nanook for speaking the language. Our reservations were all set and we went to look at the campsites. In the end we opted to rent a teepee for the night. We moved in and were on the edge of the river. The three of us stood on the bank having a beverage and we could not believe the clarity of the water but what astounded us the most was the current. It was flying at a pace that was breathtaking. We all commented on how quickly we could end this trip if we didn't pace ourselves.

 

June 3:

We finally got our gear loaded on the bus and began the three-hour trip into the Chic Choc Mountains and the lake, which would be our starting point. As we climbed in elevation we came into the burn area. Five years before a fire had raged for two months in this area the smoke effecting the air all the way down into New England. It was a lunar landscape, skeletons of trees stood naked in the air while the shoots of the next generation sprouted next to them.

The logging roads ran for miles and it was like a maze, to try to find your own way would be a chore. We finally made it to the put in and after a brief time we were loaded and floating down the lake. An overcast sky and cold wind greeted us and within minutes a squall of hail joined in. The lake was small and we were blown down to the rivers mouth were the current grabbed hold of us and swept us downstream like a bullet out of a rifle.

The river was narrow as we entered it, barely two canoes wide and it twisted and turned back and forth in so many S turns it almost made you sick. It was exhilarating to come around a turn in water that was a solid class I only to have the current slam you into the bank. Hooting and hollering could be heard from the others ahead for there was no way for two canoes to be side by side in this. It was going to take some getting used to is all I could think.

At the second smaller lake we muckled up and toasted the beginning of a new trip before entering the river again. The landscape was nothing but a burn zone and it was eerie yet beautiful. Nature has a way of taking care of itself and I guess this was a prime example. We didn�t travel that far as it was later in the afternoon, overcast and threatening rain. We found a rocky outcropping and made it home for the night. It wasn�t long before we were all dipping into our bags for extra layers as the wind was cutting and the temperature was dropping. We ended this first day with a healthy fire to ward off the cold and sipped beers late into the night.

 

 

June 4:

After a late start, breakfast proved to be an important meal of the day on this trip, we zipped down the river running rapid after rapid. It was an endless run of whitewater. Eddies seemed to far and few between and when I wanted to get out I would literally slam into shore, hop out of my boat, grab the painter and look for a tree to tie off on. At one point I paddled ahead of the boys in the hopes of getting some decent photos. I positioned myself in the middle of the river and waited. In just the time it took for the others to reach and pass me my legs were numb. I vowed that I would not be swimming on this trip. And in this current a dump would mean that it might be a day before you found all your gear and canoe!!

We finally came to the logjams that we had heard so much about. A party of three kayakers was ahead of us and we stopped to give them time and ate lunch. I took this opportunity to scout a side channel that came back into the main channel on river left. There were three large downed pines that we ended up carrying over which proved to be the first of maybe a dozen. It is here that some confusion reigns, it seems this side channel followed the main river for quiet a ways before entering in. Hal and Nanook thought this although I was convinced that it immediately entered the river just after the first carry.

I�m not sure which I enjoy least, portaging or carrying over logjams. The Pine River sure trained us well in this endeavor. To say the least it was an interesting time. Some of the carries were more a drag/drop than anything. Quite often we were perched on teetering logs while pulling loaded boats over waist high piles, one paddler in front of the other hoisting these behemoths. A word of wisdom if ever you do this river, at the first of the logjams do not take this little sneak route for you will pay dearly.

We hit the main channel and were immediately back into class II waters again. This has got to be one of the most exciting rivers I�ve been on in a long time. We found a nice high beach type place to camp for the night. Another big dinner and cocktails made for a nice evening around the fire.

This was also the most frightening day of the trip for me. In the dusk of the day I cleaned up and in the process left a dental bridge on my toilet kit. Forgetting I flipped it shut sending the bridge into the sand and pebbles of the beach. Calling the attention of my two compadres I cautioned them to be careful where they walked while we all shone our lights on the ground. At the toe of Nanook's size "Giant" foot was my bridge. A mere step more would have been an $800 distaster for me.

June 5: The Day of the Ledges

We had a big breakfast and hit the river around 11 a.m. It was one of those days that was just nasty. It was raining a mist that sometimes broke into a light rain. The sky was heavy and low, with the landscape the way it was it made for a gray and dismal weather day. We ran a variety of water and then we hit the ledges. The map showed a stretch of the river with "Ledges" listed on it with two lines running from one section of the river to another. We assumed that there were only a couple of these to run. How wrong this would prove to be. If you asked any of us how many there were we would most likely come up with different numbers. I can honestly say this, they were beautiful, scary, demanding, and I�m glad that I had the chance to run them. Just never again without a spray cover or a Discovery canoe, the freeboard was to damn low.

As we dropped into the canyon the views were amazing. With the misty weather and the rapids none of us had the chance to really snap any photos on perhaps the most exciting day of the trip. Dropping into the ledges was amazing. Nanook and Hal took the leads for most of them as my boat would hit a standing wave and fill in about two seconds. Before I knew it I was foundering with a bathtub having to finish the run in a panic. No amount of fancy paddling would get me where I wanted to be in that condition. On the other hand it was a joy to watch Hal and Nanook slowly maneuver into these standing waves as if in slow motion than drop out of sight. Sometimes you could hear them hooting and hollering and there were several times when they would find one of the few eddies to get in to advise the next guy what was ahead. Try as I might I ended up with a water filled boat at the bottom of most of the runs and needed to pull over and bail. The mist made it hard for me to see through my water coated glasses and in the dim light I was having a real struggle seeing the rocks. Hal and Nanook showed a good deal of restraint in my constant stopping. One particular ledge was almost my downfall. I was going to line it but after watching Nanook drop into it and run it without a problem I opted to go. I hit the current wrong but managed to get into the eddy at the top of the drops but it was to small for my boat as I got twisted around threatening to go into the next set of rapids sideways. I had smashed the bow of my boat into the cliff side as I entered and I think that�s what screwed me up. No matter how hard I tried I could not get my bow to point downstream. In a last ditch effort I spun on my knees and paddled the set of drops with my weight all wrong. A huge standing wave at the bottom right loomed over me like a giant and I remember sliding up the side of it and then back down in to the open water below. To make me feel better Hal did the same thing I did! What a guy.

Now, these ledges were some fun things to run as they ranged from just a small drop to four to six foot drops. Sometimes you�d hit the rocks under the water so hard you�d feel your boat move in unnatural ways and it would almost take your breath away. Good slams that you just knew left a few more scars in your boat. Ahh, the stuff legends are made of.

The last drop was a nasty S turn with big standing waves all over the place. I think this is where I almost broached on a rock I never saw. I pinned up against it and somehow my bow got swung back into the current I cruised on through but it sure was comforting to see the boys with their throw bags in hand!

We finally flushed out of the ledges into more rapids and a steady decline in the weather and light of the day. All the campsites seemed to be filled so we ended up at a hunting/fishing camp for the night. We tried the door but it was shut tight and we ended up putting up tarps and tents. Soon after we had settled in a large group from the Toronto area came in the camp. Several canoes had dumped and they were in a hurting way. One woman was on her way to being hypothermic. Some of the group forced the door and got a fire going in the wood stove and they made themselves right at home. They got a nice big fire going in the fire pit and we soon had a conversation going with them. All in all it was a grand time with folks from somewhere else. We stayed up late despite the riggers of the day but when I crashed in my tent I was out so fast I didn�t have time to blow out my candle lantern.

June 6:

Both parties started breaking camp as the clouds above us started to break up. There was the hint of sun and the promise of a nice day ahead. The river was nothing more than one set of rapids after another and Hal was in the lead poling down when I heard him let out a whoop and than I heard the clatter of his pole dropping into his canoe. I split off the right and ran a shallow run to meet up with the boys. There was a set of standing waves that he almost ran standing up! The sun finally showed its face as we rocketed downstream in the constant rapids. And with the sun came Hal�s old friend Mr. Headwind. I do detest portages but I hate with a passion a headwind and this one was accommodating enough to blast right into your face at a furious pace just as you were setting yourself up for a nice set of rapids. All of us suffered the same fate in one set of rapids. We had picked our lines and were committed and just then the headwind blasted in and pushed us off our lines. Lots of grunting and straining to get back on line.

We made camp early on a beautiful pebble beach with tent sites tucked into the woods just at the bottom of a nice set of rapids. We figure we did 26 miles this day.

 

 

June 7:

We got on the river earlier than we had the entire trip but with this current it just doesn�t seem to matter. You are going so fast even a headwind has very little effect on your down river speed. The river widened out as we approached the coast and the headwind was there to muck up our lines through the rapids. We passed under several bridges and I took Nanook�s lead and laid back on my gear, put my feet up on the thwart and steered my way down the remainder of the river. We muckled up many a time and mixed up a beverage and then broke off and drifted on down some more. It was a relaxing way to come to the end of a trip.

Back at Cime we rented another teepee for the night. As night approached we got a fire going inside and drifted off to sleep with the firelight dancing off the walls of the teepee and the sound of the river in the background.

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