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Quebec done right

Saturday-Sunday Aug 15-16, 2015
Kayak: Scott, Clay, Mike, Tom, Becca, Alex, Luke, Graham, Carleton
Organizer: Northern branch of the jet stream
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium
Gauge (cfs): 700
Author: Mike M


What a great weekend. Sure we could have gone to the Valin and got some sweet GoPro footage for our blogs, or the Malbaie for a Facebook profile waterfall picture. Or the Taureau for something to boast about later in the summer. But instead we went paddling for the right reasons and went up to have some good reasonable fun on the Neilson at a nice level with a great crew.


It's always funny how a group can grow like that. On Wednesday it looked like it was just going to be Clay, Scott, myself and a mountain bike for shuttle... but on Thursday Carleton and Graham announced they'd be meeting us up there. On Friday Tom and Becca said they'd make it, and Friday afternoon each group had added Luke and Alex, respectively. Great folks to boat with.


The Neilson is about four hours from Burlington, so it's not too hard to make it up there before midnight or so on a Friday. The entrance fee is $10 per vehicle, and with a recently refreshed knowledge of French letters & numbers getting our day pass went smoothly. As Graham said, "They know a lot more English then they let on". The rest of the group showed up Saturday morning and and after making some healthy egg ham & cheese burritos we dropped a car at the lowest takeout, ready for the full 9-mile run. Shuttle is maybe 30 minutes each way and gains a surprising amount of elevation... reminding you that while the Neilson is not a steep run, it's got good gradient pretty much the whole way. On the water we found a nice warm sunny medium level and dove right on into the great, juicy class IV boulder gardens that start after a half mile or so. I love this part of the run, when things are just getting started and you know that beyond that front grab loop you've got 9 miles of great boating. With four folks that hadn't been there, it was even better since I knew they had no idea about that!


It's a great addictive habit: we would get to a horizon line, usually choked with big granite boulders. Remembering a little from previous runs and with a little boat scouting, we worked your way through it, hopefully scoring a sweet boof or two, and ended up in a pool at the bottom where we regrouped and then turned around to see the same thing downstream. I think there are probably 30-40 of these, none of it gnarly but it's all good, active paddling. Eventually, once we'd lost track of how many rapids we had run and didn't care how many lay before us, an abrupt change occured - the valley suddenly opened up, the rapids turned to bedrock and the imposing form of the Gros Bonnet appeared over the treetops. So there are another handful of fun rapids here before the road drops back down to the river, which is the end of the Neilson A section.


The Neilson B section is interesting. It's sort of like a continuation of the A section, if not a bit lower quality, yet there are three big drops that are much larger than anything on the A, and probably larger than anything in Vermont. The pothole drop finally went after I decided I hadn't swum yet this year. The powerful bottom hole pushed me through upside down, no swim required and others had clean lines. The drops down here are sizeable and juicy and like Scott said, "It feels like something from Mark Trail". The pink granite cliffs rise from the river before giving way to the thick green woods, then fold back to reveal the massive, western-sized stern gray south face of the Gros Bonnet. Two miles of shallow but fast class III lead to the takeout bridge.


Like any classic river, there's decent camping right up by the put-in. Alex had scored us a site at Lac Picard with enough space for a dozen boaters.  It's scenic country up there, not totally spectacular but with lots of craggy smallish mountains, reflecting lakes and orange sunsets.  Alex also brought a lot of marinated steak and as usual Graham was generous with his snacks and beer and so we passed a pleasant, mellow evening up here. Surprisingly, the black flies weren't bad at all, allowing me to sleep outside without a tent, listening to unknown creatures conduct surreptitious activities off in the woods.


We did the Neilson A again on Sunday. There were a surprising amount of locals out boating there as well. Eager for an early return we didn't go for the B section. This had us on the road by 2 and back in Burlington before 7, which is pretty good for a weekend paddling in the Quebec wilds, especially on a river that's so high quality for 9 miles yet doesn't have a single mandatory portage, and that runs a lot in August.


And so that's how you're rewarded for paddling for the right reasons. Here's to many more great weekends in Quebec.

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