VERMONT ADVENTURE CLUB
BONAVENTURE RIVER 2001
JUNE 1 - JUNE 10, 2001
The following is a narrative of the trip down the Bonaventure River taken by club members and founders, Rick Kozlowski, Dan Burchard, Dan McFall and Chip Martin in the late Spring of 2001. The narrative is from Rick's trip journal, with little editing. (I apologize in advance for the constant switch from past to present tense -- it results from the way the journal entries were made).
CIME Aventure (right on the river, at the base just north of the town of Bonaventure)
200 Athanase Arsenault
Canada G0C 1E0
Toll-free phone: (800) 790-2463
Fax: (418) 534-3133
VIA Rail Canada (overnight train from Montreal to Bonaventure)
CIME has teepee style lodging at its riverside site -- see the CIME link above
In Bonaventure -- Riotel (right on the ocean)
Picked up Dan B. at work around 11:30 and headed home for the final preparations. McFall and Chip arrived, and we worked for about 1 ½ hours to check and pack gear, load the car and drink a few beers. We left for Montreal in high spirits.
The trip to Montreal was uneventful – the car was pretty loaded down with four people, two canoes, and a week’s worth of food, clothes, and equipment. It tended to rock in the wind which made for some interesting driving.
The connection to the train was a piece of cake. We had to loop around a bit to find the VIARAIL terminal. We ended up dropping the canoes in a subterranean loading dock. Headed straight to the terminal’s bar for happy hour. Someone suggested buying a small radio to pick up the Stanley Cup playoffs (a suggestion which paid off). After a couple of cold beers, we boarded the overnight train to Bonaventure.
What a blast – the only way to travel. We had many, many beers plus dinner on the train. The bar bill was something like $180 CDN. Played euchre (Chip and Rick vs. the Dan Twins). The Dan Twins won, as they did over and over again during the trip.
The train sleeper cars were small, but complete with sink, toilet and hide-away bed. Slept like a baby.
We were up early to see pieces of Chaleur Bay (Atlantic Ocean) roll by to the south. Breakfast on the train was pretty. Hot showers for all, and then detrained in Bonaventure right on schedule (8:00 a.m.). The outfitter arrived within ten minutes, and we loaded up his van for the short (5 min.) ride to CIME. The outfitter was great – he loaned McFall and I his van to run into town for beer, liquor and a few last minute food items (eggs, etc.).
We loaded the bus – one of two – for the trip to the headwaters of the river (Lake Bonaventure). We rode with a number of French Canadians who we later dubbed the “Allstars” because of their unique approach to wilderness tripping. More about that later. The lumber road to the lake was long - about 4 hours. Much of the ride was in the remnants of a huge forest fire that took place about six years ago. The burn was 50 x 100 kilometers. We were in the burn for hours -- desolate and wild.
Finally arrived at Lake Bonaventure mid-afternoon where we met another group of Canadiens from New Brunswick, who we would later refer to as the Canadien Navy, or simply “the boys.” We weren’t too sure of these guys, they had huge (20') canoes (six of them – they were a group of twelve) which they filled with cases and cases of beer, tables, chairs, lanterns, etc. We (I) vowed to steer clear of them, a vow which was broken many times over before the week was out (they turned out to be great guys).
The weather was gray, but not raining - so we ate lunch on the porch of a shabby little cabin at the dropoff, loaded the canoes, said goodbye to the Canadian Navy, and headed down river.
The first day of canoeing was short due to the late start. It was tough going, very narrow and swift, with a lot of hairpin (blind) turns. I took the stern, with Mr. McFall in the bow, a combination which we forgot did not work on the St. John River, and which didn’t work particularly well here. We made it through the day without mishap, but had a few close calls.
Our campsite was in the forest fire burn – a good site, right by the river. It rained off and on, not hard, but still a good first day. Dinner was steak (overcooked over a wood fire by yours truly) and potatoes. Stayed up and caught part of the Stanley Cup playoffs on the radio. 2-1 Colorado up after two periods.
Woke to a gray sky, bits of rain. We weren’t in a hurry, so we broke camp slowly. Omelets for breakfast. After packing up, we hit the river around 10:00. The rapids were tough. Very narrow, many log jams and “strainers.” A “strainer” is a fallen tree which partially or totally spans the river. Its branches act just like a food strainer, and can trap/pin a canoe (and its occupants) – to be avoided at all costs.
A huge log jam slowed us down for a while. We had to get out an scout a path through it, sliding the canoes over fallen trees and, at one point, sawing through a tree to cut a path (thanks to McFall). Right after dropping over a small log waterfall, I was walking our canoe downstream (I was with Chip) to avoid a strainer that Dan & Dan scratched (painfully) under. The canoe got caught broadside (my fault) and instantly filled with water. I’ll never try that again. Despite being an idiot, no harm done, we bailed out and kept moving.
We switched canoe partners back and forth – the river twisted and turned. Great day, despite the spitting rain. At a bend in the river, we found a nice campsite under a stand of pine/spruce trees – pretty dry despite the weather. The areas of forest fire were essentially gone. Broke out the beer, vodka, clams, crackers and cheese. After dinner, we proceeded to get pretty toasted. Sleep was no problem.
Woke to . . . more rain. Still not a downpour, but the sun would have been nice. We were up and out of camp by 9:00. The river picked up speed. We caught up with the Canadian Navy on a gravel bar. They warned us of some serious ledges, drops, etc. coming up. Chip was keeping us posted on his GPS, so we knew that the river gradient was going to increase.
GREAT whitewater – ledges, standing waves, tough maneuvering. Dan M and I buried the bow twice in the Old Town. By far, the best day of whitewater canoeing I’ve ever done. We found a great campsite right below a set of ledges, on a rise over a right hand bend in the river. [The pictures taken from the canyon rim show both the ledges above, and ledges below, the campsite.]
Several hours later, the Allstars dragged into our camp. It turns out that one of their canoes had capsized and become trapped against a strainer. One of their crew went under the strainer, the other ended up clinging to the strainer in ice cold water until help arrived. The guy who was swept under made it through, luckily, without injury or worse. They were pretty shaken, so we invited them to camp in the back of the site. We also helped by giving them some hard-gained firewood.
We had a great dinner (tuna/swordfish), and caught some of game 5 on the radio. Looks like New Jersey took it. Spent may hours cutting wood for a fire (we are bringing a full axe next trip). The rain continued its slow but relentless assault.
Woke up at 6:00 a.m. - guess what? It was raining (lightly, but rain nonetheless). I grabbed a canoe to cross the river and take some early morning pictures. Dan B had spotted an open ledge at the top of the otherwise treed canyon rim (the canyon is several hundred feet deep - pretty cool). I started up a scree slide to take some pictures and got soaked in the process, since I was wet, I continued up to the top. It was really steep, wet, and slippery – but the views were incredible. Made it up to the top of the slide, there was a small cave, but I couldn’t climb above it. Got great views looking both ways up and down the canyon. I took some pictures of the river and the campsite. The guys spotted me from camp and whistled, which was easy to hear despite the competing sound of the rapids. Tough going on the way down – pretty scary.
When I returned to camp, Dan B. was slightly pissed that I went without him (rightly so). As I write this, he is bugging me to go back up with him – still cloudy and spitting rain. We haven’t seen the sun since Montreal, we are WET. It is starting to be a bit of a drag, but everybody is is still in great spirits, so it really doesn’t matter. Lot’s of great canoeing left. I am heading back up the canyon.
Great views from on top. Dan and I took more pictures.
THINGS I FORGOT:
(1) Yesterday, we saw a female moose (cow) and her calves (2) in the river. We scared them as we rounded a bend. The cow ran up the bank with one calf – the other calf ran in the water downriver and stopped. Dan M and I eddied out and watched the calf struggle up the bank. It looked like mom was going to run us down if we got any closer. Really cool – the best wildlife spotting of the trip.
(2) We have been leapfrogging down the river with the Canadien Navy. Their 20 foot canoes are huge – full of gear, tons of food, beer, etc. They appear to be having a lot of fun.
Back to present: We assisted the other Canadiens (Allstars) by standing with throw bags at the end of a tough set of rapids – just below our camp. One canoe ended up running up on shore after an emergency eddy-out. They scraped through, but it wasn’t pretty. After lunch, we prepared to practice on this same set of rapids. Dan B/Chip took the first run. They made it to the last ledge, but rolled off it and dumped. No harm. Dan M/me took the next run. We got pitched sideways, but made it through. Dan B/Chip took their second run – a good line, made it through easily. We then took our second run, hitting the first curler at the wrong angle and instantly rolled into the river. It was a long painful swim down the remainder of the rapids. The water was ice cold (the coldest I’ve ever been in). Dan M ripped his rainsuit on the rocks, I got a slight back bruise (Dan B had a bad one). Burchard saved the canoe. Now we were all soaked and cold and a little demoralized.
As we returned to camp, we met another group coming down the river (they were from Glens Falls, NY). After one look at us, and hearing that we capsized in the river, they lined their canoes around the rapids and continued on. We dragged our sorry asses back to camp – bruised egos were the worst of it.
The rain continued . . . . dry clothes getting scarce.
Overall Impressions So Far:
(1) This is a beautiful place, despite the rain. It is a river with hundreds of turns, dozens of surprises, and one challenge after another.
(2) I have a lot to learn about whitewater canoeing.
(3) Dan, Chip & Dan are great traveling companions – they pull their weight and don’t complain. The lack of negative talk and/or quarreling has made the trip really enjoyable.
(1) Dan B brought a guitar with him – a cool addition to the trip.
(2) Chip is “FIREMASTER.”
(3) I am “Hop Sing.”
(4) Across the river from our campsite is a waterfall/stream which runs up through a notch in the canyon. Really beautiful.
(5) We are a long way from the town of Bonaventure. We will have to make tracks to get there by Saturday.
(6) These trips are good for the soul. I miss Tracy and the kids (and my dogs) but I appreciate them more for having missed them. This is the toughest trip (physically) that I have been on in awhile. It feels good to be challenged and to get away from the bullshit. I plan to expose my kids to this, and to get Tracy back into camping.
Back to the trip:
The rapids got the best of the Canadian Navy – they hit a ledge which had some sharp rocks sticking up, and ripped a 2 foot gash in their canoe (right through the Royalex). Didn’t faze them. They broke out the repair kit and were quickly underway.
We got back to camp, drank beer and played cards. Things got a little testy over the euchre rules, but we smoothed it out. Great dinner. We packed up and hit the hay. It was still raining.
Woke for the first time to NO RAIN! Yahoo! Cloudy, but bits of sun breaking through. We decided to hit the road and make some tracks. Since we had to runs the same set of rapids that we dumped in yesterday, we were a little apprehensive. After a quick breakfast, we geared up and decided not to scout the rapids or set up safety lines. We had seen them twice, and didn’t want to over analyze. Dan B & Chip ran it first – made it through safe. Dan M & I followed, almost caught the same curler that cost us yesterday, but we made it. Everyone was psyched. But, the next set was a tough 3 ledges with large standing waves, then a 90 degree right hand blind turn. We spent about a half hour scouting this set, finally agreeing on the right line. We all ran the same line and made it. This was the best canoeing I have ever done – everyone was pumped. A bunch of rapids (Class II) followed, but not nearly as hard – a piece of cake.
The canyon scenery was magnified by the first true SUN we had seen in 5 days. We coasted for about an hour, then ran into the Canadian Navy. They had hit a strainer that lay across the river. One canoe got pinned, and one guy (Hartley) (a very funny guy) got swept under. That makes two people in one trip who went under a downed log and made it through unscathed. This says a lot for how fast things happen on this river – it is still very narrow in spots. The worst part of this event was that the other group of Canadians (the Allstars) were on the bank watching as the Canadian Navy came around the turn. They were waiting with throw bags, but never warned the Navy of the obstruction. The Navy was pissed. It took an hour to unpin the canoe. They sawed off the log (and warned us when we rounded the turn). Really nice guys – gave us a beer and we shot the shit for about 20 minutes. We lagged up and had lunch on a gravel bar. The sun was in and out – felt great.
We hit the river after lunch. It was easy going, and made some ground. In the afternoon we entered the ZEC zone (salmon fishing), and started to see signs of civilization (cabins). We rafted up the canoes, had a beer, and coasted. We found a grassy (more importantly, dry) field. Even though it was early in the day, we decided to camp. Ran into the first few bugs of the trip, but they were no a big deal. Played euchre, and drank a bottle of vodka (and, lo, the Bug Man was born). Overall, a great, great day of canoeing. With the sun, this is an even greater place to be. Spirits are up. Based on the distance made, we may take out on Friday, which would give us a whole day in Bonaventure before the Sat. night train. We have about thirty miles to go (Chip has us fixed with the GPS).
Things I Forgot:
(1) Dan & I watched a duck fly down the canyon (from the ledge above the canyon). Hard to find a word to describe this, except that it will be remembered.
(2) My respect for French Canadien canoeists is pretty low – their wilderness etiquette is poor at best.
(3) I asked each guy to describe the trip so far in five words or less:
Dan Burchard: Sounds, songbirds and pouring water
Chip Martin: Train, rain, chills thrills, satisfaction
Dan McFall: The sky is lightening up (he took a lot of shit for his lack of eloquence)
Rick Kozlowski: A wild, exciting, beautiful, exhilarating recharge (no one asked me, but I wrote it down anyway (sniff))
Woke to clouds with hints of blue – had a real lazy breakfast, packed slow, hit the water at 10:45. Easy rapids (Class I-II). Floated, floated, floated. The sun was out and HOT. No shirts needed, but sunscreen and shades were. We found a nice gravel bar for lunch, pulled over and had an ice cold beer, and then another. We held rock throwing/skipping contests. Across the river, the CIME bus pulled over and Huber (pronounced OOH-BEAR) got out. He was our driver in to the dropoff. He yelled over the din of the river that another party on the river had a serious family emergency, and that he was looking for them.
Shortly afterward, a group of French Canadiens pulled up right next to us on the same gravel bar. I find this behavior really rude, given that there are dozens of gravel bars on the river and that I (personally) go on these trips to avoid crowds. We finished up lunch, and were getting ready to leave when another group showed up (it turns out that one of the group was the one that Huber was looking for). We told them about the problem (they had already found out). We packed up and hit the road – a couple of nice rips (took on some water), but it is clear that the best whitewater is well behind us.
We found the best campsite of the trip on a gravel bar (where I sit as I write these words) right next to a great little set of standing waves. Just off of the gravel is a spit of sand – perfect for tents (tree cover, but really close to the water). We are sitting in the sun, shooting the shit. Another great day. We are not far from the ocean, and will probably finish tomorrow. Everyone is in high spirits.
We had a great night: huge driftwood campfire on the beach (thanks to the Firemaster), crystal clear night (star gazing), and we picked up Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals (Colorado won – game 7 is Saturday). We saw a satellite and watch the stars. Chip spotted what could only be a celestial body (because of the way it moved) but it had a red and green hue. It was in the southeast sky, around 11 p.m. Really weird.
The night was cold, in the low 30's. I woke up at 2:15, and the moon (almost full) was up over the hill on the opposite river bank – like a search light, incredible, bouncing off of the river. Too cold and tired to take a picture.
It is 35 degrees out, but clear – except the river valley is fogged in. The sun is burning off the fog quickly, and not an upper level cloud in sight. Looks like a great day. We are about 6 hours from CIME, and maybe 7 from the ocean. We are playing it by ear whether we take out today or tomorrow.
Dan B and I each took a turn soloing the set of rapids in front of the campsite. Next trip we plan to bring a few solo canoes -- they are a blast, and provide a measure of safety (since having only two canoes is a little risky with four people).
After running the rapids, we got on the water and immediately started to float. The river is still very swift, with some rapids, but nothing like the last few days. We spotted the Canadian Navy again, and talked to them for awhile. The other Canadian group that we saw on the gravel bank went by and then stopped, yet again, on the same gravel bar (I don’t get it, and find it pretty rude since they do not even socialize when they stop). Despite traveling fast, they didn’t appear to be very proficient in their canoes.
We floated down to CIME, drinking a few beers along the way. A cool, but very sunny, day. We stopped at CIME and they told us the ocean was close, so we decided to paddle into the Atlantic (the Bay de Chaleur). The river level dropped (very shallow) before we hit the ocean. We headed into the bay and turned west into a head wind. For the first time in a week we actually had to paddle forward.
After a half mile or so, we arrived at a seaside hotel where the Canadian Navy greeted us with a cheer from the balcony. A great spot, right on the ocean (The Riotel, about $90 CDN per night). I am sitting on the deck over the ocean, in the sun, drinking a beer, showered, warm and dry. Life is very good. I tried to call Tracy and the kids, but they were out. Saw TV for the first time in a week – didn’t miss it. We are going out for seafood tonight – more tomorrow.
We had a great dinner at the hotel last night with the Canadian Navy. A lot of laughs. Pretty tired, although we didn’t stay up late. We met the Navy for breakfast (they had their own bus), after which we exchanged email addresses. On return to the hotel, we took a couple of group photos.
We are packed and ready to go. Once again, sitting on the deck of the hotel in the sun, around 10 a.m., fat and happy. Our plan is to sit in the sun, play some cards and drink a few beers, maybe take short paddle if we get the urge. CIME is due to pick us up around 6:00 p.m. This is a very cool place to take a duff day before the train tonight.
We spent the entire day in the sun - a great way to end the trip. No hitches getting to the train. Ate dinner in the observation car, played more cards and drank more beer (vodka/gin tonics too). Managed to pull in the end of Game 7 – Bourque wins the cup! Had a drink to celebrate (what do you know), then hit the hay.
Woke up to yet another sunny day. Breakfast on the train.
As I write this last passage, I am alone in the observation car, as we cross the river into Montreal. I am sad this trip is over, it was the best, but happy to be near my family again. To anyone who was stoic enough to read this entire “story,” I would strongly urge you to take a trip on the Bonaventure River, or another wilderness trip. It doesn’t get any better.