Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nepisiquit River 2007

Nepisiguit River New Brunswick
May 2007

Scooter, Hal, Nanook of the Nashwaak


So, it begins again, another trip into the unknown, my unknown.  We are going to be running the Nepisiguit River through the heart of New Brunswick to the sea, or at least until tidal waters reach us.  I’m off to Nanook’s abode in Fredericton in the morning and from there further north to meet up with Hal.  My gear is almost packed and it seems as usual in a frenzy even though I’ve been planning for weeks.  As Nanook says, ROOTIN’.

As usual my packing skills have something to be desired.  I find myself looking for lost items, second-guessing on gear, packing and then repacking over again.  I reckon I’m not much different from others who venture out by canoe for days on end. 

I’m looking forward to this trip, to be away from the stresses of work, the endless quagmire of working muck that drags one down; to be on a river I’ve never seen before, to live out of my familiar canoe daily. 


I woke early, 3 a.m. totally wide-awake.  I knew it was too early to leave the Humble Hovel as I had to make some purchases on the way out of town.  I went down to the canoe shed and finished loading up the car and with a load of firewood just calling to be stacked I ended up doing that until 6:30.  I kissed my sleeping companion good-bye, left a note and hit the road. 

Some folks say that driving up I-95 is a chore.  To me it is a thing of beauty once you pass Freeport, ME.  There are rivers that entice you to run them, there are beautiful views all along the way until you come to my turn off in Lincoln and then I think things turn better.  Route 6 has some of the best views and I love driving these secondary roads.  It was soon that I came to the border, an event that haunts me since my first crossing years ago with a bunch of friends from VT, but that is another tale.  Hal and I have had some bad luck in such crossing with searches and I used those examples to purge my car of anything that I thought might cause troubles. 

Crossing in Vanceboro I pulled up to the crossing station and was asked several questions and was on my way without any problems.  Soon I was in Fredericton and as usual on most trips I got lost.  I ended up calling Nanook and sat in my car to await his arrival, which was on foot as I was so close.  It wasn’t long before we were sipping beers while actually packing Nanook’s trailer.  My Gawd, we were going to be packed early!


Shopping day was on the agenda.  I arrived in New Brunswick with nary a morsel of food due to my anxiety of the border crossing.  Out and about we ventured, the food store and then to the liqueur store where the clerks told us they hadn’t seen so much beer come out of the store in one shot.  I had my doubts that there would be enough for I know the thirst of these two travelers.  

Is that enough beer?

Back at Nanook’s we played Bocce and waited for his friends to show up for a barbeque.  It was a grand time. 

Day One of the Trip:

Nanook and I got an early start, 3 a.m. to be exact so we could meet up with our shuttle folks around 7 a.m. near Bathhurst. Six hours later we met up with Hal ahead of schedule and after a short drive were at the put in. 

The weather was crap, rain, overcast and a wind.  The mountains were shrouded in a curtain of clouds, the rain was a fine mist, at that point, and a wind was blowing the mist around the lake.  Nothing could be more appropriate for the start of our journey.  We crossed four connecting lakes before we reached the river.  The headwinds built and were relentless and brutal at times.  One could barely get a quick sip of beverage without getting blown off track and having to grunt like hell.  The rain came down heavier and by now we were all more than moist and the cold temps and wind did little to add to the cold miserable feeling.

At lunch break we heated up soup and hot drinks to try to warm ourselves.  Within an hour after break we found the bridge that we had been looking for and just below Nanook spotted the campsite.  The river was swift and narrow and with almost no eddy we narrowly missed it.  As soon as we started to make camp the groans from dreadfully cold hands echoed throughout the site.  Starting a fire was a chore but we finally got one going, got tents up, all changed into dry clothes and dinner going.  During this flurry of activity we had some visitors show up, they had seen us paddling downstream from the bridge and wondered what these idiots were up to.  They left us a nice parting gift and some weather advice…wet snow for tomorrow!

Day Two of the Trip:

I woke up cold and finally rousted myself enough to poke my head out the tent to find Hal bundled up in cloths and a light snow falling!  SNOW!!  The pattern of the day turned out to be snow, wind, rain; a spot of sunshine and then the cycle repeated itself…all day long!  Instead of paddling we opted to stay in camp, keeping a fire going, cook some warm food and make forages into the woods for firewood.  Day two of the trip turns into a fluff day.

Day Three of the Trip:

What a pleasure it was to wake up to a sky of blue and sun.  After drying out tents and gear we got on the river around nine.  It was fast and narrow and we made good time despite a headwind that was chill.  Small riffles in the beginning and as we made miles we came to more heavy water that demanded attention and much maneuvering.  This is not a lazy man’s river.  We finally come to the portage trail above Indian Falls as the sun was starting its decent.  The trail is about one kilometer long over a knarly, rock-strewn, twisting, winding, hilly, river-hugging trail.  I lost count of the number of trips we all did and after lugging all my gear down I opted to drag my canoe rather than carry it.  

Dragging my canoe on the trail

Just a hair to narrow for the boat

 The campsite at the bottom was a small affair, enough room for one tent and Hal’s hammock, a fire and gear. A dinner and some beverages and it didn’t take long for all of us to wander off to sleep.  It had been an exhausting day but it was fantastic to be where we were, the roar of the bottom falls as a reminder that there was more to come.  

Nanook looks at Indian Falls

Day Four of the Trip:

We put in at the bottom of the falls and almost immediately we were into whitewater.  One large set had a nice hole in it and I watched as Nanook narrowly avoided it.  I tried to follow his lead and ended up on the edge of it taking on some water but was able to push my way forward.  The river soon widened out and the headwind soon kicked in.  Despite the current one still had to fight the will of the wind.  It was a beautiful weather day though, clear skies, a warm sun. 

Our destination for this day was the Narrows, a gorge with nearly one hundred feet high cliffs flanking it.  Lacking a map we were going on what Nanook had been told and what he and I had gleaned from our shuttle guides.  According to them the Narrows are not something you want to run.  The portage trail was on the left hand side and was almost more of a nightmare than Indian Falls.  Following the terrain it went at a steep pitch, over-grown, fallen limbs littered the trail making it difficult before leveling off.  We found an old brick chimney and clearing where we made camp for the night.  The trail leading down to the bottom of the chute was even steeper than the trailhead.  I am the only one to portage their boats as they boys have decided to run the gorge empty in the morning.  I haven’t the cahoona’s to do this after looking into the gorge from up top.   Instead I will wait at the bottom and try to collect the boys and their canoes in case of a wipe-out.  On the right side of the Narrows is a huge hole, almost half the river wide.  It’s a boat eater and makes my skin crawl.  I have no desire to run this and know my skills and my boat enough to know I’ll end up swimming.

Looking at the mouth of the Narrows

 In camp we get a nice fire going in the chimney, have a few beverages and cook up dinner.  It is the first night that we finally get some bugs around us.  As the night wears on we all turn to water and get ourselves hydrated.  The hump up the hill had been a killer and we were all needing a good dose of water. 

Day Five of the Trip:

After packing up camp we humped our gear to the base of the Narrows.  I waited there while the boys went back to their boats.  The plan is if they dump and make it down they will head for the island that is just below the gorge.  The current is so swift that getting back to our gear will be a chore in itself.  I waited with trepidation for I can only think the worst; I am the worrier of the group.  A half and hour goes by before I hear them before seeing them.  They are fine and almost high from the short journey.  Only they can tell this part of the tale.

We continued downstream occasionally lining here and there until we came to the dead waters behind Nepisiguit Dam.  Nanook and I take out on the right shore where the dreaded portage is.  Hal went to the right to a boat launch and we could see him talking to a gentleman.  While Nanook and I checked out the portage and dam Hal set up a deal with the man he had just met.  Ron Gray would carry all our gear and wait for us downstream.  All we had to do was lower our canoes and us down a nearly vertical pitch to just below where the dam released in a small cove and then run the gorge.  Seventy-five or so feet down verses over a kilometer of portage seemed like a good deal and looking down on the river it was a good deal, nice and smooth, not much in the way of rapids.  A done deal. 

It took the better part of an hour with Ron’s climbing rope but we got all of us and the boats down and one by one took off into the froth.  Hal first, followed by Nanook, and finally me.  A couple of turns into the run I tucked into an eddy where Hal was.  He said that Nanook had dumped and went after his canoe.  I followed and soon found poor Nanook standing on a rock out-cropping waiting for me.  Hitching a ride we finally rounded up his canoe and his paddle and soon met up with Don with our gear. 

Heading downstream the day had heated up considerably.  We soon came to a section of the river called Chain of Rocks where we spent our time lining, jumping in and paddling, getting out, lining and doing it all over again.  It is a beautiful part of the Nepisiguit.

Hal Lining at the Chain of Rocks section

The sun was starting to get low in the sky and we found a campsite on a snowmobile trail and called it home for the night.  It was an unbelievable day, rock climbing with canoes, running a gorge, finding a companion on the rocky ledge, lining, paddling.  Beat to hell tonight. 

 Last Day of the Trip:

We got an early start and within a mile came to a set of rapids that we had to line around.  Shortly after we came to a nice set of rapids that were the precursor for Pabineau Falls.  According to Nanook the portage was on river left and after weaseling our way around downfalls and the sorts, sometimes waste deep in water, we found the portage.  By the end of the portage we were all getting overheated and sucking down water in copious amounts.  Hal even took a swim near the bottom of the falls.  A long lunch break is what is needed in the shade and soon after we are on the river again running more whitewater and then come to the section called Rough Waters.  

According to the maps, which we later got, it’s about three miles or so.  We lined, paddled, lined, paddled and then came to an area where the remnants of a broken dam were on the opposite side of the river, where we needed to be.  Below us were three separate drops that were unrunnable in our canoes and the portage trail was so brutal it is not worth doing.  Instead we lined back upstream and paddled like hell to two eddies that would take us across the river so we could carry over the broken dam.  This was our last obstacle before take out for the end of the trip.  It was dicey, for if one didn't make it those drops and hydraulics would be hell to pay. 

Nanook goes first and makes it look easy, he’s an excellent paddler and joy to watch.  I go next and as soon as the current grips I see that my painter is looped around my paddle and flops in my face with every paddle stroke.  I can’t even get a full reach but make it to the eddy where I untangle it and make it to the second eddy huffing and puffing.  Hal comes last and like Nanook makes it look easy.  We carry over and are now in calm water for the first time today it seems. 

Within a few hours we know we are reaching the end of the trip.  Houses are more abundant, the smell of saltwater wafts in off the wind, and bridges appear.  We came to the takeout and started loading up as a thunderstorm rolled in.  Appropriate ending to the trip. 

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