I've waited a month to write up a Batiscan River (Québéc) trip report in order to let my memories ferment a bit, to see what features and dynamics from the trip continue to resonate. For three days, we had the tri-fecta of perfect weather, perfect mid-summer river conditions, and a perfectly convivial group of voyageurs - any one of whom would repeat this trip in a heartbeat. I could end the trip report here and I would have covered all the important bases, but I will go ahead and say a bit more...
I got wind of the Batiscan River many years ago from André Racette, a paddler with Les Portageurs Canoe-Camping Club in Montreal, who told me the Batiscan (along with the Malbaie and Bonaventure Rivers) was among his favorite whitewater canoe-camping trips. Researching the Batiscan is easy enough if you read/speak French, which is not exactly my forté (hey...isn't that French?). Apart from the Hellgate Section, this beautiful river is still uncrowded. Flowing for the most part through a remote and unsettled region, it offers an interesting range of difficulties and variety of routes. From Pearl Lake to Pont Beaudet, most of the rapids are class II. The Hellgate Section (Pont Beaudet to Barrière Batiscan) is dotted with many class III-IV rapids and cascades. Below there the Batiscan gives way to a long section of mainly quickwater and class I suitable for family canoe-camping. The most interesting access if running the Hellgate Section is by train, which is not only convenient but picturesque.
I watched the real-time gauge
day by day after announcing the trip and picking the weekend. Normal levels in mid-July are around 50 cms (cubic meters per second), or about 1500 cfs, which would have been adequate, but we lucked out with a drenching rain the Tues/Wed before our trip and the levels were in the low 90's when we launched and the low 70's by the time we took out - just about optimal flows for our 2 loaded tandem canoes and 3 kayaks.
Brock and I met to grocery shop on Thursday after work, and get the 2 canoes loaded onto his king cab pickup. We all fit into 2 vehicles, which saved on gas and mileage expenses on the ~500 mile round trip. We all agreed to leave the Georgia VT Park and Ride at 4:30am Friday and return home late Sunday night - camping out on the river both Friday and Saturday night. The border crossing was a breeze, and we beat the Friday rush hour on the eastern outskirts of Montréal. The northbound train we needed to catch out of lovely Rivière-à-Pierre - granite capital of Québéc - ended up being 45 minutes behind schedule, which gave our shuttle spotters Brock and John the leeway they needed to get confused once or twice on the backroads of central Québéc and still make it back to join the group with minutes to spare. The rest of us passed the time practicing our French with the locals, consolidating gear, and sipping cold water in the shade. Passage on the train was a bargain at about $35 a piece covering the 5 boats and the 7 (giddy) Americains.
Très gentil Danielle Cyr who runs things at the train station, and the staff on the train, were all great sports, and I wish we had tipped them more generously. The small passenger train, packed with chattering northbound Québécois, finally slowed and stopped for us to disembark with our baggage car midway across Pont Beaudet. Not wanting to start off with a 65 foot seal launch into the Batiscan from the open railroad car we asked if the engineer could (s'il vous plait) inch forward to the bridge abutment, which (one (French) radio call later) s/he did. By 2:45 we were floating south toward our first big drop in bright sunshine and with a helpful northerly tailwind. The Pont Beaudet put-in was 45 km (27 miles) upstream from our waiting shuttle vehicle at the take-out at Barrière Batiscan, a relaxed but not inconsequential distance for our 3 day trip.
For 3 days we ate well, laughed often, relished being the only party on the river, and paddled with alacrity. On the water, our annotated maps gave us fair warning of what lay ahead and for the most part we stopped to scout the rapids marked R3 (class III) or above. Many of these featured wave trains big enough to swamp an open canoe, but the "sneak routes" typically proved to be more technical and therefore not without the possibility of a spill/swim. And yes there were some unintended swims and some lining/carrying around bigger features. John somehow managed to find a runnable line through each and every rapid on the river, but he was the only one to do so. The most challenging and continuous rapids were on day 3, but by this time we had become very efficient at landing/scouting/lining/etc. And perhaps just a little cocky (Tony/Emily) attempting to cross from right to left with a loaded canoe through heavy current above 2 pourovers near the bottom of the last long R3-4 (Rapide de la Tour, or Tower Rapid). Only by virtue of Brock's throwbag and John's Gorilla tape could you say this gambit ended well.
Friday evening we found the sandy campsite at km 132 to be inviting and lovely, arriving about 7pm. On Saturday the spacious site at km 111 beside a brawling falls on a small side stream was the perfect spot to repose, arriving closer to 5pm. We were fortunate in this regard, since class A campsites are few and far between on the mighty Batiscan. Dinners, lunches, and breakfasts were low-maintenance and delectable, and the bugs at our campsites were only a little annoying and only at certain hours. The vodka and scotch probably helped in this regard.
It was close to 10pm by the time we had picked up John's vehicle at the train station and made our way safely back home to Vermont Sunday evening, tired and sated. Having my daughter Emily along as one of the 2 young women on the trip was certainly a highlight for me, and the trip will be remembered as our biggest, wildest adventure of the summer of 2011. The 2 canoes took enough punishment that Brock and I needed to have a little epoxy party at his house a week or two later, but now both the big red boats are ready for the next big outing.
If you fancy tripping in Québéc, visit the encyclopedic website www.cartespleinair.org
- where you'll find route maps and/or links for over 250 rivers/run in northeastern North America (again mostly in French). Real-time river levels in Québéc can be found on the www at www.canot-kayak.qc.ca/info_debit/index.html
. And finally, make use of the VPC website's new Multi-Day Tripping Assistant, a handy place to announce a trip, recruit participants, coordinate gear/expenses, plan food shopping, blog, and post your trip report when you return safely home.
- Tony Shaw