So I had a plan to go paddling in Quebec for a couple of weeks taking in the Magpie river as a self-supported multi-day trip. Amazingly I managed to con(vince) five friends into joining me for what at times they appeared to consider some kind of torture. I think they’ve come way from the experience thinking of me as some kind of flat water, wild camping and insect loving masochist. Which I’m not really, honest.
Flew in to Ottawa, collected hire cars and visited the local paddling shops and Mountain Equipment Coop to purchase extra kit needed. Helen left us in a taxi to start her holiday.
Drove up to ‘Maniwaki’ and found a motel to kip in.
Day Two – Gateneau.
Paddled the Gateneau, this was a mistake. We selected this as a warm up to ease us into paddling after the flight. Unfortunately we didn’t really twig from the guidebook that the river wasn’t that great consisting bits grade 3 followed by lots of flat. At least the sun was shining and we were on the water.
The other problem was that the Gateneau is in completely the opposite direction from Ottawa to all the other rivers we wanted to paddle. A six hour drive followed to get to us over to the Jacques Cartier ready for the Tewkesbury section the following day.
We also discovered the SUV we had hired wasn’t actually four wheel drive or very good as I made go sideways through a bend on the shuttle!
Day Three – Tewkesbury.
We arrived at the get-in for the Tewkesbury section of the Jacques Cartier river late the night before so bivied up in the carpark next to the river ready for an early start.
The river was rather good definitely as decent step up from the previous day’s paddling. Lots of long, biggish volume rapids and a couple of drops. Unfortunately I embarrassed myself by blundering in to a pourover then being ripped from my boat (honest I didn’t pull my deck!) and taking a rather long swim.
The friendly raft guides we bumped it to informed me that I’d dropped in to the ‘Meat Grinder’ and been found wanting, apparently not an unusual occurrence.
The Tewkesbury was reading +0.5, apparently a slightly above medium level.
Another long drive followed up to Lac Ha! Ha! where we camped ready to make an early start on the Malbaie next day. The original plan had been to camp near the get-in, but the park wardens informed us that we weren’t allowed to camp in the national park.
Day Four – Malbaie.
A 0600 start saw us get on the Malbaie at 1300…
- The roads in the national park are pretty poor and we managed to give our cars a right trashing trying to get up one particular rocky dirt track of a hill.
- The track to the get-in seems to be rather more overgrown than the guidebook suggested and we ended up carrying our boats in for about 3km, then walked back and carried in Andy and Rich’s kit as they were still sorting out the shuttle.
- In addition to the terrible roads the path to the get-out out was also rather overgrown. So Andy and Rich had to attempt a 6km walk-in to identify the get-out, unfortunately…
- Apparently two thirds of the way down the path they encountered a bear. For some reason this made them to decided to turn around and leave the car at the alternate get-out by the bridge at the halfway point of the river.
Anyway, despite only paddling the first half of the river, it was pretty damn awesome! Paddled my first 30+ foot water and everyone agreed it was pretty fine with plenty of G4 drops of varying sizes. Well worth the (considerable) effort to get into it and thoroughly recommended, I want to go back and finish the second half.
The online gauge suggests a level of 28 cumecs for our run. Seemed like an ideal level.
Day Five – Driving.
After the Malbaie we started the long drive up to Sept Iles stopping in a Motel over night. We checked out the float plane company to confirm our booking on the way into town – fortunately my phone calls in terrible French and disjointed emails seemed to of had the desired result and our booking was in the diary and confirmed for the following day, although our departure had been bumped from early morning to midday. Better news was that the weather forecast was looking favourable for our flight.
The proprietor was also rather keen to make sure that any bear spray we were going to take was kept in the boat strapped to the outside of plane – “If bear spray goes off in cabin, everyone dies!”
The reset of the day was spent packing drybags, panicking about how much food to take and setting up the shuttle. Having a car with seven seats meant we could leave it at the bottom of the Magpie and we could all leave at same time when we finished without having to do two runs of the 100 mile shuttle.
Just a last cheeky beer, then an early night ready in a proper bed before we headed off for a week of wild camping.
Day Six – Magpie day one.
Arriving at the float plane base early to sort out our kit and load up the planes (involved dismantling the planes interior, putting boats in, then reassembling it). Eventually our two planes headed off to deposit us at Lac Vital 51° 27′ 29.83″ N, -65° 14′ 17.79″ W.
We landed and and had our kit loaded in the boats so we started paddling at 1550. We only put a couple of hours paddling in that day, paddling the trib from the lake to the West Magpie and down this until we had run the first set of rapids (G4) that we came about.
Saw a Moose with two calves. We camped at 51º 22’ 48.6” N, 65º 12’ 53.9” W. It was good to get a least a little whitewater in. Paddled 6.9 miles in 2h15m.
Day Seven – Magpie day two.
On the water for 0900, lots of flat with a couple of significant G4 rapids that could be mainly inspected from the boat. Pretty good paddling.
The glorious blue skies of the previous day changed to murky cloud. Camping spots seemed a little hard to come by, we climbed up a small embankment and slept on moss covered clearing in the otherwise dense forest.
Finished paddling at 1745 and camped at 51º 10’ 1.4” N, 65º 04’ 24.3” W.
Paddled 20.89 miles in 8h45m.
Day Eight – Magpie day three.
The weather turned, high wind and driving rain all day. Spent the morning paddling flat water, then we hit pay dirt. Lots and lots of G4/5 rapids connected by G3 sections which went on all afternoon. We gave up paddling at 1830. Camping at 51º 01’ 45.8” N, 64º 46’ 33.5” W.
Probably the best day of for white water, it seemed to go on for ages. Excellent fun. Unfortunately the rain meant the camera didn’t come out all day.
Nick proved his boy scout abilities, starting a fire despite the sodden wood.
Paddled 21.61 miles in 9h30m.
Day Nine – Magpie day four.
The day started with a couple of nice G4 ledge drops before we came across the gorge we were warned about that isn’t on the map.
A couple of notes:
- The first half of the gorge is a definite portage. I wish I’d portaged the entire thing in retrospect.
- Portaging is easier on the left. Doug managed it this way in half the time the rest of us did the first half and it seemed easier going.
- The last couple of drops can be run if you climb back in to the gorge. Nick, Martyn and I did this after getting frustrated with carrying our boats, disturbing wasps nest and generally getting mauled by the foliage.
- However the water is pushy. I cocked up my line and slammed into the right hand gorge wall. Got sucked through an undercut and ripped from my boat. This left me with rather severe bruising across my lower back which is still painful 10 days later.
This all took until 1400. After the gorge is the lake. We paddled 4hrs of this camping at 50º 53’ 24.6” N, 64º 36’ 40.2” W.
Paddled 15.2 miles in 8h30m.
Day Ten – Magpie day five.
The day we did the lake. The weather decided to howl a force 5 gale in our faces, despite this we managed to finish the lake by 1700 (after a late start 1000).
My back was killing me, and every time we though we were about to exit the lake we discovered we were mistaken and there was more to go.
To cheer ourselves up after the rather painful flat we did about an hour on the Magpie, lots of easy G3, before camping at 50º 40’ 38.0” N, 64º 32’ 21.0” W.
Paddled 17.83 miles in 8h.
Day Ten – Magpie day six.
The last day! Shockingly we banged out the entire of the remaining bits of the Magpie in one long ten and a half hour slog!
The Magpie its self was better that expected starting off with a load of G3 before flattening out with larger G4 ledge drops livening things up now and again.
Towards the end there were two portages. A rather scary looking gorge, this can be portaged using the rafters path on river right. You’ll see the reeds flattened by the raft and the actually path is marked with red flags.
After this there’s a flat section then Magpie falls, portage trail is on the left. Neither of these is too strenuous.
Then there’s more flat, then just as you think its all over the river throws a random G5 drop at you to liven things up.
Get out is by the dam at 50° 19′ 33.35″ N, -64° 27′ 14.70″ W. Just to make it special a beaver decided to come for a swim by us as we approached the get-out.
Paddled 32.43 miles in 10h 20m, one long day. All together we paddled 115 miles in just over five days. A Google map of our route down the magpie can be found here: http:g.co/maps/wxu5
Then drive back to Sept Iles for beer.
Day Ten – Fourteen.
A long drive back south stopping in the town of Malbie for the worst bar crawl ever. Picked up Helen in Quebec City and did some touristy stuff. Our day of signtseeing in Montreal got washed out be the tail-end of Hurricane Irene and turned into Poutine restaurant, bar crawl, Indian meal kinda day. Then a long flight annoying flight home and a trip to the hospital to get my back looked at.
Flights – We flew with Thomas Cook to Ottawa. A budget airline so cheap but will take kayaks for a £60 return fee. We did get messed around with flights a bit and ended up flying a day later as the original booking were changed to Air Transtat who will not take boats. Luggage allowance was tight but the boats are allowed to weigh up to 30kg so it’s not so bad.
Cars - For our group of six kayakers and one non-paddling partner who scrounged lifts at the end of the weeks we hired two cars. An Ford Explorer SUV (not 4×4 as we later discovered) and a small Dodge ‘sedan’. We took roof bars with us which we tied to the Ford’s with cable ties and roof rack straps, we fitted six boats on these.
The Explorer had the benefit of a third row of seats and hence could seat seven people making it ideal for leaving at get outs and use for shutting. Though the 3.5l V6 was a bit thirsty – 2000 plus miles at an average of 16mpg is pricey even with North American fuel prices!
Float planes - For flying in to the Magpie we used Labrador Air Safari who we booked a single ‘Otter’ capable of taking six people and boats. When we arrived their were no ‘Otters’ available so they provided two ‘Beavers’ capable of taking three people and boats each for the same price (approx £240 per person for the six of us).
Water filters – Seems the new style Katadyne water filer bottles are a bit rubbish. Everyone who bought them had issues getting water through them. The ones bought in Canada however seemed better and substantially cheaper.
Accommodation – We stayed in a mixture of motels, campsites and just roughing it on the side of the road. Motels are quite pricey per room but they don’t seem to mind how many people ytou cram in a room if you don’t mind being a little cosy. Camp site were reasonably cheap and wild camping even cheaper, no one seems to mind as long as your not in a national park and/or ar discrete.
Bear defence – Bears, for some unknown reason, seemed to be everyone’s biggest fear on this trip. We eventual succumbed and bough a can of bear spray to take on the Magpie though in the end we only saw one bear at great distance. Be warned that it’s classed as a firearm in the UK so try bringing it home at your peril!
Paddling kit – For the Magpie we wore drysuits and were glad of them. We had some truly heinous weather at times. For the other rivers the weather was pretty warm and cags were the order of the day. It’s worth taking both. Kit does seem a little cheaper out there, we bought various bits at the Ottawa Paddle Shack (https://www.ottawapaddleshack.ca/) just don’t give the same reply as I did when the lady behind the counter suggested we should go to BeaverFest (http://retrospectivesports.blogspot.com/2010/09/ny-beaver-fest.html)
River info – A few sources of info:
- Let it Rain (http://neguidebook.com/) awsome guidebook for NE USA and Onatrio and Quebec. Take some of the the distances quoted with a pinch of salt though.
- Quebec Whitewater (http://quebecwhitewater.com/en) has river guides, online gauges etc. Really useful.
- UK Rivers Guidebook has several threads, this is one of the best – http://www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=41420&hilit=quebec or do a search for ‘Operation Bugsplat’
- Liquid Lore (http://www.liquidlore.com/) has some riverguides and other useful info
- Maps, you can by 1:250000 maps from the hunting and fishing store in Sept Ilse (http://goo.gl/nYdAn. The ones that cover the Magpie are numbers 022I and 022P. You can also down load PDF and buy print copies at ttp://www.canmaps.com/topographic/qc/.
- A Google map with our route is here – http://g.co/maps/wxu5
My thanks to Andy Wicks (http://www.andywicks.com), Doug Johnson, Nick Smailes, Martyn Read and Richard Morley for not murdering me in my sleep and blaming it on the bears! And to Helen for putting up with me and enjoying herself despite being abandoned by herself in a strange country.