The Guidebook

To visit the LiquidLore Guidebook, click right here. It's the starting point for all kinds of whitewater beta and the main reason this site exists - be sure to check it out.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lesson Learned. Jacques Cartier Nord Ouest

On the May long weekend for the last few years it has become a tradition to journey to the waterways of Quebec, a pilgrimage that never let us down with good times, good friends and great whitwater - 2008 was no exception. Unbeknownst to me at the time, 2008 may have been the last May long weekend I'll get in Quebec for a little while and as the long weekend for 2009 approaches it's with a touch of nostalgia that I tell the tale of our fateful journeys on that weekend almost a year ago to the day.

Of course, going to boat in Quebec is almost synonymous with going to boat on the Neilson and Cachee - these are two excellent day trips with easy access and very good whitewater - high yielding whitewater rivers. We went to those first - if there was only one river I would ever get to boat on again, it just might be the Neilson.

Bob gracefully avoiding the top hole of the Picard on the Nielson.

The classic drop on the Cachee.

For the last few years we'd made attempts to sort out new rivers in that area beyond paddling the stuff we normally shoot for. For most of the easily accessible runs it's easy enough to get beta, and in the absence of that our topo map guy Adin has a long list of river stretches that are on his list to lead us towards. Our goal for 2008 was the try and run Jacques Cartier Nord Ouest. Click this link if you'd like to read about what we found and how you can organize a trip into this river.

For those familiar with the Taureau section of the Jacques Cartier - one of the iconic river reaches of Quebec kayaking - the Jacques Cartier Nord Ouest is the major river right tributary that joins the main Jacques Cartier during the paddle out on the Taureau. It obviously runs through an impressive canyon, and after logging many runs down the Taureau we naturally began to wonder what was to be found in the gorge upstream of the confluence.

Not a lot of information was available on this one - it receives little mention aside from acknowledgement of its existence in the Quebec guidebooks, and attempts to track anyone down that had actually run the river were not a success. From the varied channels of the internet and our own figuring the river is actually only a short 6 or 7 km stretch of whitewater, but due to a very long shuttle it would be best to fly to the put in lake seeing we wanted to maximize the boating time during the weekend. We also found out there is an unrunnable (or at least not yet run) gorge that is a hefty portage and you need higher levels on the Taureau to make the stretch runnable. Finally, it was said that you could get to the river after the portage via a scramble down the steep canyon wall, and the river could reasonably be done in one day. And with that, off we went.

We were five. Showing up at the float plane base at first light, it would take 2 flights to get everyone in to the lake, totaling about 2 hours of transit time. Due to a low ceiling our take off time was delayed by almost two hours - in retrospect, this delay was the leading cause of our unplanned epic in the woods that was to follow.

Adin and I took the first flight, straight to the lake. When we arrived, the plane flew off and we were left deep in the wilderness - we sparked up a fire and waited for the other guys to arrive - the flight in was beautiful flying over the hills of Quebec - there was still a lot of snow in the woods, and it was obvious the river wasn't going to suffer for a lack of water.

After an hour, the float plane returned with the rest of the guys, and when everyone jumped off the plane there was an immediate burst of excitement as they relayed to us visuals of the river - their flight flew right up the JCNW valley. The comment of the pilot upon returning to get the second load was (insert surly french accent here) " is very cold and there is a lot of water" and the comment of Christy upon landing on the lake was "... how much is it to fly back out with you?" From the air it was obvious the river was raging, and ran through an intimidating canyon - I'm glad I didn't get to see it...

And with that, off we went ready for a merry trip down a now not-so-merry looking river. The upper stretches above the gorge went by quickly and aside from a big waterfall we didn't run it was uneventful. It's obvious where the gorge starts, so after a quick lunch we started the bushwack. We knew that this was going to be a long portage, but man did we underestimate the amount of time it was going to take - between the four feet of snow in the woods, the impossibly thick bush and not really knowing where to go (aside from downstream) we were fully mired deep for about 4 hours - after a lot of swearing, sweating and getting pissed at one another we finally found a place to get to the water, and it was not a steep scramble, it was a 50 foot rappel. When the dust settled and we were ready to set off on the water is was 6 pm, and we had 3 hours of light to paddle the 6 km gorge and the river below the confluence with the Jacques Cartier, which while not hard whitewater it was 20 more km to the car because the road was closed about 20 km downstream from the ideal take out. As you should be able to predict, we didn't make it.

The sight of the first rapid immediately dashed our hopes of quick downstream progress - it was a massive drop with several stomping, overlapping holes at the bottom with the river rolling around the corner out of sight right below. A quick sneak/portage brought us to another big rapid, and another and another - it quickly became clear - well, it was already very clear - that the river was quite high and we were going to have to all scout everything. One particularly intense moment came about when we found ourselves at a location where portaging was not an option and we were faced with another big long rapid ending in a bad hole that we had no option but to run - luckily, everyone made it through without any trouble.

When night fell, we had no idea how far we'd make it down the river - we were in the midst of a portaging/running scary rapid race against the clock to get out before dark, and we lost. Tensions were high as darkness approached as some people wanted to just admit defeat and others wanted to push on until the bitter end, but once we stopped everyone took a deep breath, sat down and had a grand laugh at the whole thing - at least there wasn't a better group of guys to be stuck in the woods with!

Our campsite just happened to have a huge pile of driftwood next to it, and the first half of the night ended up not being so bad with a raging fire and good company as we tried to grab some sleep. This all changed at about 3 in the morning when the rain started to fall though - we sullenly put back on our damp kayaking gear to sit in the rain waiting for daylight so we could finish off the JCNW. Our friend Jamie had no issues with this though - he slept on the ground (well, on our pile of firewood) for the whole night even when it was raining, and when we were all standing around in our gear ready to go at daylight he actually said to us when we poked him to get up "..just let me hit the snooze button and grab a few minutes more sleep!"

Back on the river, we were almost at the confluence - there was one massive rapid called Landslide left that for us was an immediate portage. We later found that it was run a couple of times by some Quebec guys. Landslide is essentially the end of the whitewater, and as we merged onto the Jacques Cartier we thought we could finally sit back and cruise to the take out. Again, we were proven wrong - what is normally splashy class II during normal Taureau runs was ripping downstream like a freight train through huge wave trains hiding equally big holes - while it wasn't difficult there were a few instants when we were scrambling to get away from something ugly. Needless to say, the car at the take out was a sight for sore eyes - take out beers at 9 in the morning never tasted better.

And that's our Jacques Cartier Nord Ouest epic - a classic case of many small mistakes all rolled into one big disaster. Had the plane made it out on time, we would have made it to the confluence. Had the normal takeout been opened it would have been easy to get to the car that day. Had we packed for a 2 day trip the long portage and high water would have been much more managable and I bet we would have run almost everything. Had we known about the trail that went half way through the portage, the portage would have been half as long. Maybe it's just a case of over-analyzing something that simply just wasn't meant to happen in one day! In either case, I learned a lot on that trip, as I think everyone did. Would I recommend this trip? For sure - as long as you're ready for an adventure. Would I go back? In a heartbeat.

And, the pictures. Click here for the beta, if you missed the link up top.

The morning of our trip found us looking at the most classic of shuttle rigs.

For some reason Adin was very serious just before the plane took off.

The confluence of the Jacques Cartier and the Jacques Cartier Nord Ouest. Photo Bob Butler.

This is the big cliff you paddle under on the paddle out from the Taureau as seen from the sky. Photo Bob Butler.

The upstream view of the Jacques Carter Nord Ouest.

Something scary in the upper gorge. Photo Bob Butler

Upstream of the last photo - equally as stout, and unrunnable. Photo Bob Butler.

Coming in for a landing on the put in lake.

Our awesome shuttle rig - the DCH-2 Beaver.

Bummed it wasn't a good one, but stoked up to be out in the woods - the first waterfall.

Yeah, you can drive there too - this bridge is at the start of the portage.

Lunch break, before the hell bushwack began.

The bushwack was four hours of walking through this.

This is me, not looking very happy with the forest.

Big countryside - taking a break at the edge of the gorge during the portage.

An upstream view from where we went down to the water.

Looking down at one of the first rapids.

Peering into the heart of the gorge.

Bob, not a fan of heights, was the first one to plunge over the edge while Jamie checks his equipment.

Adin brings it home.

The first big one we got found.

This is the only other spot where I took photos of the whitewater on the first day.

The rapid at our unintended campsite - the river raged like this without stopping for a long way.

Settling in for a nice night in the woods.

This is us gazing down Landslide. It took about 2 seconds to decide to portage. Photo Bob Butler.

Looking up from the bottom of Landslide. Photo Bob Butler.

A parting shot - the last of the whitewater of the Jacques Cartier Nord Ouest as it exits the canyon.

1 comment:

Todd Gillman said...

this place is looking good! the cascade & bottom mile shots are beautiful.

not sure what norrish flow might've correlated with our day on ruby. ruby was a bit too low though. needed more water to cover sieves & mank. not too much more though, as it's pretty stacked in places. tretwold would know the norrish correlation. guessing it more or less correlates straight across. ie, if norrish is in, so's ruby???