Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Quebec Summer 2016

This summer, Erin Bendiksen and I completed a 630 nmi, 9-week trip from Albany to Lake Faillon. We ate lots of fish and berries, paddled down some rapids, and up a few, portaged 32 times including up four cliffs requiring rope and pulley systems, destroyed one kayak, recovered ancient first nations art, rescued mariners in distress, performed field surgery, screamed at bears, made friends and enemies, and generally had an excellent deep wilderness adventure.
We hope to pick up next summer where we left off, northbound.
Stories below, and will be added regularly.  Be sure to click on the pictures to see the albums.


Summer 2016 highlights

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 37

Day 37
Thursday, Aug 11th
Sorry that our host, The Minister of the Natural resources of Quebec, couldn’t meet us in person and explain why he let loggers cut down so much of Canada, we set out onto the lake.
The reservoir formed in 1918 when the Shawnigan water and power company built Barage Gouin.  Canadians come from far and wide to fish it’s shallow miles.  The sinuous lake has hundred of islands and fingers reaching every which way like a smushed millipede.
Our route tested our navigation skills which, until then, had mostly been to go left or right at a split in the river.  We paddled between islands pressed against one another with barely enough space, and across vast sections of open water.
I took a bearing off my map to identify our target island.  The bearing seemed wrong.  The results of the check didn’t match my sense of direction.  I checked again, and again.  Finally I gave up, and went the way that I knew to be right.
My measurements were correct, not my traitorous sense of direction.  Upon completing the crossing, we didn’t see what the map said we should be seeing, so I triangulated our position from scratch, figured out where my pride had taken us, and corrected our route accordingly.  The mistake had only taken us about a mile out of the way.
We made camp at a small outfitter and hotel called L’aventurier du Gouin.  While not overly sociable, they let us camp on their private beach, use their wifi and drink their coffee in the morning.  Their lodgers were friendly and happy to hear about are trip.
Just above the fishing docks, we found more blueberries than we could pick.

Summer 2016 Day 37

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 36

We put in on the other side of the road, and paddled toward Barrage Gouin.  On our way, we caught a fish.  
A small village surrounded the dam.  We ordered an expensive salad in the only restaurant and made ourselves some fish soup.  Connecting to wifi, we perused news from the world, and enjoyed the taste of civilization, then set out onto the reservoir.
We completed the St. Maurice.  Portages, rapids, and the unending climb against the current.  From here on, we’d paddle downhill.  When I planned the summer’s trip, I had hoped we’d make it to Hudson Bay, but not really expected to.  We only would have made it that far if everything had gone perfectly, without even knowing what everything was.
With all the portaging and slow progress against the current, we were behind schedule.  But in a sense, with the hardest part of the trip behind us, we had already won.  Everything thereafter was a bonus.
We paddled into the evening on the flat, pristine waters of the reservoir.  A small cottage had a dock, and we pulled up to ask for permission to stay the night.  
We found the cottage empty.  Signs read “no trespassing” and that we were on camera.  Without any electricity out there, I doubted it.  A sign also said that we’d made camp in the yard of the Minister of the Natural Resources of Quebec.  With all the evidence of mass logging that we’d seen up the St. Maurice, we weren’t especially fond of him.
Summer 2016 Day 36

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 35

Less than a mile from our launch, an island rose from the middle of the river, and the rapids roared around it and through the shallow basin beneath.
We pushed up a small shelf at the bottom before taking out and searching for the portage on foot. We searched for hours, up and down the river.  I climbed most of the way up the rapids, but without a trail and against the current, I stopped before getting to the top.  I also didn’t have enough sense to wear shoes and the boulders bit at my feet.
We didn’t find it.  We felt sure we’d find the portage on the right  side of the river, because of footprints on the beach, and from the water the left side seemed much less accessible.
We paddled over and searched the left more thoroughly.  We found a water path weaving through a field of tall grass, and beyond it, a beach.  Orange tape hung from a tree identifying the takeout.
The trail weaved through the woods, an open field, across a forest road, and then into a square wood.  Spruce trees grew in a perfectly lined pattern.  Like much of Canada, the forest here had been clearcut, leveled, and replanted without regard to making the new forest anything like the one it replaced, only that it be easy to log again.  
The beavers miss the birch.
We put in around a corner from the top of the rapids and continued upriver as it gently curved from right to left.  
Excitement built up in us.  The last few days of the upper Saint Maurice had been brutal, sweaty, treks through the woods.  Two dams separated us from the Gouin reservoir, and they fast approached.
The river split ahead of us.  The slightly wider channel to the right came down from Lac de Baillairge.  The faster flowing waters to the left, Reservoir de Gouin.   A small cottage looked out over the fork.
We pushed through the stronger current to a small lake, and then approached the rapids feeding into it.  A road came down to the water.  I fished at the bottom of the rapids while Erin went to explore.
I swung the line out, then reeled it in, just as Richard had showed me.  Just as I pulled the lure out to recast a fish sprinted and grabbed it.  I shrieked and scared it off.  Usually the fish grabbed at my lure while I paddled and the lure trailed far behind me.
Erin came back.  The road was not a portage.
By sticking close to the sides and with ample heaving, we ascended the first set of rapids.  Above them, we found a smaller lake.  Big waves spread out across its surface as water poured over the small dam above.  Unable to find a portage around the dam on our side, we crossed the waves.  Weeee.  And we found a dirt road that came down to the water on the other side.
We scouted the route.  The forest road led to another, which led to a much more serious road, which led to the put-in on the other side and a designated campsite complete with fire pit at the top of the dam.
A pickup truck drove along the road, and the occupants were happy to help us with our portage.  We still needed to carry our boats and gear up the first small road since he wouldn’t be able to turn around if he met us at the bottom of the road.
We bathed in the lake above, made a campfire in the fire pit, had no trouble getting our food into the perfectly branched tree, found a now useless more direct portage trail through the woods, and slept to the sound of water pouring over the low concrete wall.

Summer 2016 Day 35

Monday, August 8, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 34

After a little over a mile, we arrived at our first portage.  Erin climbed a steep sandy hill to look for it.  There seemed to be a road at the top.  I pulled myself up a boulder along the water.  
The river flowed over a shelf, and I found the portage trail right beside it, no hot chocolate.
An hour later we arrived at the next set of rapids.  The canoe girls had told us the portage would be on the right side of the river.  The rapids ahead had two distinct sections.  Above, the river thundered down the steep incline, below it bounced around between boulders with too much force to paddle against.
We took out at the bottom of the lower rapids.  We found litter, a good sign that we approached the portage.  After combing the banks, we found it.  
We pulled our loaded boats up 500 feet of the lower rapids. Where the water ran too deep or the current too strong, we pulled the kayaks over the rocky shore, until we arrived at the bottom of our climb.
First we hooked the pulley and an assisting rope up to a tree at the top of the sandy eroded path.  Then, we attached the other end to the boats after emptying them.  After numerous trips, we got all of our gear to the top of the climb, then followed, back and forth, an easy trail to the put-in, about 500 feet above the curve in the river where the monstrous rapids began.
The next set of rapids was a little less than a mile.  This time we found the portage right away, and  began another climb.  This trail had blueberries.
We found a small spot to pitch our tent, having moved about half our gear through the portage.  Erin began preparing dinner and making camp while I finished the lugging.
Finding a suitable tree for bear bagging, where the bag could hang far enough from the trunk and other branches that no bear could reach it, didn’t work.  So I tried tying a rope between two trees and hanging the bag from that rope.  That didn’t work either, and we went to sleep again with our food in our boats.
The advantage of putting the food in the boats was that small critters couldn’t get it and bears were hopefully less likely to smell it.  The disadvantage was that if a bear did decide she wanted to get into the boat, then our kayaks would have offered little more resistance than wrapping paper.

Summer 2016 Day 34

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 33

Cold rain came down over Shabbat, and continued into Sunday morning. Simone’s shelter had a wood stove, so we hung our tent, sleeping bags, and wet clothing up to dry and sat by the warm fire.
Our clothing dried out.  Our bodies warmed.  We left Simone a thank you note and twenty dollars for the use of his wood and cabin.
Around a sharp corner of the river, just a few feet away on the water’s edge, a bear fled up into the woods.  Both we, and the bear, were quite startled.
With the late start, we made it five miles to the next portage, Rapid Windigo.  By the time we’d carried our boats and gear through the woods, we felt ready to make camp.
The summer camp canoe program had been through recently, and left behind the litter to prove it.  The litter included unopened bags of hot chocolate.  We made a small campfire, and sipped warm, dark, sugary joy.
The forest consisted mostly of younger pine; we couldn’t find a tree suitable for bear bagging, so we hoped no bears would come.
We pitched our tent on a large flat rock at our put-in beside the top of the rapids.  Wind yanked and pulled at it.  Unable to sink stakes into the ground, we tied the corners to our boats and big stones we’d placed.  It sort of worked.

Summer 2016 Day 33

Friday, August 5, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 32

With fewer supplies than we’d had two weeks earlier, we were able to portage in four trips. There and back, three miles, all told, twelve. We also took some time to poke around the top of the waterfall, pick some blueberries, and look just a short ways up the forest road for Simone’s house. We didn’t find it, and our dreams of a hot shower and a warm bed were disappointed.
At the top end of the portage, a bunch of girls pulled up in canoes, single-handedly carried them around the waterfall, and put them back in 100 meters below. Each canoe had a waterproof plastic barrel in it, and the second girl, not carrying the canoe, took the barrel.
Not having to worry about the current, only the rapids, they were able to break their portage up into a few quick leaps. With barrels ready, they didn’t have to unpack and pack.
We spoke with one of their trip leaders. They paddled down the river as part of a summer program. They had notes about the river ahead of us, and shared. They were having the time of their lives.
We didn’t have long before Shabbat, but we could still paddle the few miles to the next portage and spend our day off there  Across the river from our put-in, we saw a shack with tarp walls, a solid tree-trunk frame, and a wood stove.
We pulled up at Simone’s house. We found the door open, but no Simone. The sinks didn’t work, but we followed the pipes to a stream a short distance away and refilled our water. Pitching our tent in his yard, we waited to meet our host.
Over Shabbat, the rain came down hard. While our tent stood warm and dry, Simone’s cabin, by comparison, offered luxuriant shelter. We never met him, but were very grateful for his unlocked kindness.
Summer 2016 Day 32