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The Vermonter and the Spruce

Saturday May 21, 2016
Kayak: Jordan, Ben, Scott, Culley, Mike
Organizer: Jordan & Culley
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium low
Gauge (cfs): 160
Author: Mike M

"Scott, Welcome to the A team"

-Jordan V


"Hah, I'll remind you of that tomorrow when you're sweating yours *$s off thrashing through dense Quebec forest portages.  I'm still game, ***k 10k, I can portage the whole ***m thing if I have to..."

-Scott G


The paddling scene in Quebec has grown a lot the past couple years, from the number of paddlers, to the number of known runs, to how much of a paddling destination Quebec has become.  Of course there's something to be said of the skill of local paddlers - mainly that runs up there will always be harder than you expect.


A long shuttle brought us far up a drainage I had heard of, but never explored.  Yet our goal was not in this watershed, but the one next door - a creek dropping 1400 vertical feet.  It was first paddled a few years ago, and had only seen a few runs each year, but was rumored to be on of the best in Quebec.  Culley and Jordan wanted something new and challenging, and this seemed like a good opportunity.


The hike in started with a mile or so up a logging road - steep but not unbearable.  Then we took a right on an ATV trail and followed this a half mile to a small, very quiet lake.  This was a pristine, beautiful spot - perfect for an afternoon spent napping and fishing.  We paddled across the lake and then thrashed and post-holed through rotten, brushy, surprisingly deep snow for an hour or so.  We got the route just right and hit the put-in lake, had a quick snack, and then paddled across.  There was really no question of where to go - one end of the lake wandered off between mountains, while the other end led to a huge horizon line.  Not the sort of horizon line you get at the top of just a single big rapid.


We made a quick portage around an old crib dam, then routed through a few nice boat-scoutable rapids.  There was a bigger drop - good to go, then a canyon rapid that ended in a bad hole - also good to go although we decided we couldn't spend the time doing a full scout and safety with so much river left.  There was more good stuff below here - reasonable class IV-IV+ boulder and bedrock stuff.  We followed this into a sketchy eddy above something larger - another canyon rapid - doable but terminating just above something truly huge.  I didn't even look at the big one before being sure we wouldn't run it.


The portage was classic Quebec.  Steep, very brushy and somehow extremely hot despite the late-May snowpack.  We dropped down a gulley to the bottom of the massive rapid, which turned out to be a big slide with real gnar above and below it.  I'd guess it drops at least a hundred vertical feet in about the same horizontal distance, and it's hardly clean.  Remarkably, it's been run twice by crazy locals - they call it "Gandalf the White".  This is probably the biggest rapid I've ever personally seen that's been run.


Below this things dropped into what looked like a deep canyon.  Worried about portage/exit options and not wanting to spend time with a thorough scout, we carried another quarter-mile downstream.  At this point we saw enough of the gorge to regret our decision - it looked like big but manageable quality stuff with plenty of space on the banks.


There wasn't much time for regret - back on the water we got into a section of fast, jumbled boulder gardens that would have made most Taureau rapids blush, then more great bedrock stuff.  This went on for a long time - miles - and it was just great.  Things weren't too stacked, but every couple hundred feet there was a nice, good-sized bedrock rapid - mostly slides or ledge sequences but with some great pinches, boulder gardens and small falls as well, with shallow but pleasant class III between.  It wasn't glacially-polished Pemiqewasset granite, but was pretty smooth for Quebec and made for a lot of really fun boating.  This took many 1-person scouts and plenty of full scouts and every tenth of a mile we hit something bigger that got our attention - I think we carried two more rapids in here.


Of course planting so many awesome boof strokes is tiring and as the afternoon wore on energy levels dropped.  We didn't really know how much more we had left so kept moving.  I had gotten enough of a glimpse at the valley during shuttle to know it did have a steep section near the end.  I think it was around 5 pm that things started narrowing and dropping again.  I was ready to be done at this point and felt like I was tired enough to be an accident waiting to happen, but if anyone else was in the same position they didn't show it.  


This last section was incredible.  Definitely the best of the run and perhaps one of the nicest riverbeds I've boated in.  Nothing big, but constant, engaging, quality whitewater, continuous enough to be exciting but with plenty of eddies and a wide variety of rapids to keep it interesting.  The group did a great job of working downstream with coordinated, efficient, judicious shore scouting and boat scouting.  This was steep too - I think the gradient was close to 300 feet per mile and it went on for probably close to two miles.


At some point Jordan gave some hand signals and I ran down through a blind notch that turned out to be a great angled slide.  A few eddies and boofs later and I was emptying my cracked boat while the rest of the crew came down and then kept moving.  I hopped back in and spent the final 10 minutes fighting with exhaustion with my eyes glued to the stern in front of me.  All of a sudden we came out of a boulder garden and a few islands appeared in the middle and things got shallow - we were on an alluvial fan!  Another couple hundred yards of pin-spot and wood-infested boulder crud and we hit a little flatwater and then out onto the very large Jacques-Cartier at full spring flow.  A quick ferry across the big river and we were at the takeout after about 10 hours of quality boating and Quebec spruce-thrashing.  We were all pretty beat but still had time to grab beers with a couple friendly Quebec raft guides who were hanging around.  This was after I completed the wretched task of taking my socks off - not the most pleasant or sanitary thing to do after spending a full day in a leaky drysuit.  We reversed the 1.5-hour shuttle and were snoozing next to a random logging road deep in the Quebec woods well before midnight.


So I guess the five of us are one more incredible creek run into what's shaping up to be an fantastic Quebec season.  Here's to many more awesome days up there.




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