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Taureau (Jacques-Cartier River)

Saturday Jun 23, 2012
Kayak: Nate Warren, Cam Fearey, Ben Schott, Danny Siger, Mike Mainer
C1: Alden Bird
Organizer: The River Gods
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: low boatable
Gauge (cfs): 353
Author: Alden Bird

On the night of Friday, June 22nd, 2012, six Americans and one Canadian met at a truckstop parking lot an hour north of Quebec City late in the night, having driven up from the United States in three cars with the intention of paddling one of eastern North America's longest, most challenging day-long stretches of river: the uppermost section of Quebec's Jacques-Cartier River.

This stretch, dubbed the Taureau (the Bull), is 15 miles long and contains somewhere in the range of 100 rapids. Put in and take out are reached by long dirt roads; otherwise, the river is entirely shrouded in wild, boreal forest within the Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier. The truckstop where we met is at the entrance of the park. At 7am in the morning, we paid a per-person entrance fee at the park gate, and drove 33 km to the outermost road reach of the park, Camp 3, the take out for the Taureau. From there, we turned around and drove back through the park, up the highway, and down another dirt road to the barren put in for the Taureau. The shuttle took about 1.5 hours. Fortunately, our lone Canadian participant, Catherine Hull, Ben's girlfriend, had offered to drive shuttle for us, saving us the same trip at the end of the adventure. We put on at 11:30.

The gauge at the put in -- the famous Taureau put in rock -- was reading -7" -- a low level. Only two of us had run the river before. Cam, Mike, Danny and Ben are all well-traveled New England boaters who'd been waiting to get on the Taureau for years, and this was their chance. Recent UVM graduate Danny had driven all the way up from his summer job at the Yough River in Pennsylvania to join us for the adventure.

The river built smoothly in difficulty, and soon we were running long class IV sections. This upper section contained several larger holes than I remembered -- even at low water -- including Alan's Hole (named after Alan Panebaker), and La Corrida (the Bullfight) -- located directly above the first class V rapid, Double Drop. Double Drop and Triple Drop come back to back and are two of the day's hardest rapids. For my part, I was anxious in the lead-in rapids, wondering how I would do in the thick of it. When Double Drop and Triple Drop both went smoothly, I felt myself relax and began to drink in the remarkable scenery of the Taureau. I was actually back here again.

The section between the waterfall portage and the Launiere Confluence is one of my favorite parts of the Taureau. With continuous, boat-scoutable class IV and V rapids and with cliffs on the left and huge pine-covered walls on the right, this part reminds me of the lower Middlebury Gorge.

Below the confluence, the river bends south and begins its second half with countless rapids back-to-back. It was a lot of fun. We portaged the Sieve Rapid. Here Danny lost his drain plug and improvised a new one out of a stick and some duct tape. We had lunch at the Boyce Greer lunch spot at Cohassett. Mike and I choose to portage, while the others ran with good results. Below Cohassett, the Taureau enters its most sustained section. By this point I had great confidence in our group. Everyone was paddling well and seemed confident. So I in turn felt confident that things would go smoothly. We ran down through the wonderful S-Turn rapid of Hump and Pump and then boat-scouted down Logjam. Once everyone made it through that long rapid okay, I breathed a sigh of relief. One of my favorite moments of the day was when I heard Ben come through the final move and call out, "That was awesome!" We paddled through several more good class V rapids and a number of steep class IVs and soon enough arrived above Coming Home Muhammad, marked by a huge mid-stream boulder that reminds me of the huge rock above Lava Falls on the Grand Canyon. Coming Home Muhammad (named, my guess, in homage to the famous Coming Home Sweet Jesus on West Virginia's Lower Meadow River) is the final class V rapid on the Taureau and one of the most difficult. I have always run the far left sneak line, but today it was a little too low to attempt. There was a tough but runnable line down the main flow, but a strainer in the bottom right exit of the rapid made my decision to portage easy. Ben, Danny, and Cam ran, and all made it through okay. Cam and Danny both took turns climbing out to a rock to set safety next to the strainer.

I was determined not to make the same mistake I had previously in the next rapid, a steep, powerful boulder garden. On my last Taureau trip, I'd led my group down the appealing-looking center chute, only to lodge all three of us into successive pins in the main slot. We all managed to escape, but in 2012 I was determined to avoid this. Fortunately I remembered Boyce Greer's notes -- approach this rapid on the right -- and on the right side we found one of the best boofs of the day: big, powerful, and without a pin spot.

Below there, we went left down the turbulent Island Rapid and then we paddled for at least another hour down the remaining miles, first of solid class IV, then class III, and down. The mountains pull back from the river as the gorge grows bigger, and cliffs that towered straight overhead now tower above in majestic distance. This is my favorite section: your adrenaline, which has been most likely going for days in anticipation, is finally winding down, and you start to notice how tired you are, and you appreciate the chance to float and to talk about the day with the others. My knees are usually hurting too, so enjoy the chance to unclip my thigh straps and sometimes run the last few rapids sitting on top of my boat, like a kayak.

Here you are finally able to appreciate the accomplishment of completing such an adventure.

In my opinion, the Taureau is matched only by one other commonly run river in the East (North Carolina's Linville Gorge) in the sheer number of logistics involved in pulling off a successful trip. The long shuttle, remoteness, foreign surroundings, and many and challenging rapids all bring a group of boaters together in the Taureau as on no other river in in the Northeast.

At the take out, I had stashed two bottles of Le Maudite and Fin du Mond beer in the cool river for celebration. One of them had a cork, and I suggested to Mike (who had a champagne cork for his drain plug) that he should replace his cork with this cork as a memento. Unfortunately, in my excitement and distraction I accidentally shot the cork high in the air and far into the woods where I couldn't find it, startling the parking lot full of boaters and hikers. But a fitting end it was to a great day of paddling in Quebec.

On the drive out through the park, we saw two moose in the road ahead of us. At the exit of the park, we parted ways. The others drove to the Malbaie, where they camped and the experienced another great day of Canadian paddling on Sunday. I drove home to Vermont Saturday night in the old Greg Hanlon and Boyce Greer tradition of one-day Taureau trips. I sometimes look back at Boyce's old spreadsheet he sent me that details the participants and water levels of his and Greg's Taureau trips, dating back to the early 1990s when both men were my age and first running the Taureau. They ran this river at least once every year through last season. I know that if I am still lucky enough to be running the Taureau in twenty years when I am 50, I will consider myself a very lucky man.

Vive Le Taureau!

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