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.