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The Running of the Bull

Saturday Jun 28, 2014
Kayak: Scott, Hank, Jordan, Clay, Culley, Mike
Organizer: the Bull
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium
Gauge (cfs): 600
Author: Mike M

As with the typical trip report, I should probably describe some run where we drove the quick, easy shuttle, put on the river, ran difficult rapids quickly with no carnage, and got off well before dark.

This is not one of those trip reports. The river was not "stouted", all the lines were not "sick", and in a few cases, drops were not "stomped". But easy boating does not usually make for the best days on the water, and is not the most memorable.

Our drive up to Quebec City may have set the tone for the weekend. We got lost not once, but twice, first after missing Autoroute 30 south of Montreal, and then trying to find a gas station in Quebec City (we spent a solid 20 minutes trying to find a gas station from the highway, only to find it was located on an inaccesible, roadless island in the middle of the St. Lawrence). All was forgetten north of the city as we drove into the incredible Parc de La Jacques-Cartier, 30 minutes north of the city. Clay, Scott and myself had been here before, but I thought of Hank and Jordan in the other car, driving next to the quiet, dark Jacques-Cartier River, below mountains that swept from the maple forest around us upwards into thick spruce and granite so steeply that their outlines could be seen against the milky way above us. We finally got to the takeout around 1 AM on Saturday morning, having not seen another car or person on the entire 33-km drive into the parc. Sometimes I think it's best to arrive at an unfamiliar river late in the night when the surroundings are not clear, and the few glimpses you have gotten of the landscape are still vague enough to haunt your dreams, as they did mine.

We woke at 6:30 that morning, cooked breakfast and got gear sorted (the goal being to get all 6 boaters and boats on one car so as to drive the 90-minute shuttle only twice that day). Culley, newly relocated to VT from CA and always keen to get on something new and good arrived around 7:30 and by 8:00 we were headed toward the put-in, another 90 minutes north. Even if you never want to run the Taureau, at least know the shuttle... after driving for quite some time north on the interstate (which unlike in the U.S., is devoid of exits, fast-food joints, gas stations, or signs of permanent human habitation), you take left and drive 30 minutes more on a bumpy logging road off into the black spruce. We arrive at the put in about 10:00, found the water even with the famed gauge rock (0", perfect medium), and were on the water, heading downstream around 10:30.

One of the remarkable things about the Taureau (other than that it is 15 miles long, 10 of is class IV or V, is incredibly remote and runs most of the summer) is the way it slowly ramps up, first with some flatwater, then some class II-III, and finally some long, twisting class IV. Imagine running the Dryway, and at the end learning that you have just finished the paddle in.

Double Drop is the first named rapid, and is followed by the large Triple Drop, some tight boulder gardens and a steep portage. All of this in the first half mile of real river, which is intimidating, but then the run settles into a very long stretch of mostly class IV, which is boat scoutable and fun. Despite one nuisance swim at Triple Drop (which, knowing the swimming party, I was sure was a random event), we got into a great rythm moving dowstream, which is what this section is all about. One of the funny things about the Taureau is the farther you get into the harder stuff, the more relaxing it is.

This section is broken by two larger drops, Second Triple Drop and then Four Bastards. Second Triple Drop is where, as a certain VT boater and Taureau Double-in-a-Day hero would say, "Things Got Real".

I knew Hank was no stranger to blown shoulders, and with Culley's and Jordan's assistance and some extremely painful maneuvering he was able to get it back in. I paddled across to river left to see if the trail near Double and Triple Drop extended this far downstream. I found a steep, brushy slope capped by mossy cliffs and it was clear no one was hiking out from here. The right bank was a mystery but was also tall, and led off into the huge Laurentian Wilderness (editors note: Taureau paddlers should be aware of logging roads on river right, a few miles from the river, and which could potentially offer difficult, though not impossible egress as far downstream as the Launiere confluence. These roads are also very remote, and may or may not offer a clear way back to Route 175). We figured we'd be heading downstream.

We were relieved when Hank was able to paddle the long class III rapid just below basically one-armed. Below here, the first person to the bottom of a rapid would hike back up, check things out, and if it looked particularly difficult would paddle Hank's boat down, while Hank walked. Meanwhile, a few more folks would head downstream to run the next rapid, and repeat the cycle. This generally was efficient, if not a bit tiring, and was made more difficult as we dropped deeper into the valley where ocaissionally cliffs at river level required advanced planning several rapids upstream.

The Launiere adds a few hundred CFS, and below this the river straightens out but keeps dropping. On my previous run I found this section to be sievy, so hung back somewhat unwilling to probe or boat-scout. I had wondered if this section was perhaps similar to what western paddling felt like, and sure enough Culley took the lead here scouting and probing many rapids, and more often than not it was Scott or Clay heading back upstream to make a second run in an unfamiliar boat, or Hank simply diving into something knowing well it was going to hurt. We finally made it to the sieve rapid around 3 in the afternoon. We worked strategy along the portage, passing boats of the most difficult parts, and I was surpised at how quickly we were back on the water and heading towards Cohasset, about 2/3 of the way through the run and the start of the hardest mile-and-change of the run. We stopped there for a quick snack and water, and were heading downstream again around 4, with the shadows growing long. At this point I had no doubt that we would make it out, and would do so before dark. Assuming nothing else went wrong.

The largest rapids in here are Hump and Pump, Log Jam, The Bull, Ledge Drop and Broken Bow, with some class IV thrown in there, thought the nature of this section is primarily class V. Scott ran the long and rowdy Log Jam twice, something I was not interested in doing, doubly so in an unfamiliar boat. Hank resorted to some tricky routefinding through the walled-out Bull, ferrying between a big pourover and the looming horizing line below, climbing over some boulders and then running the boof sneak at the bottom.

Below Broken Bow you get back into a long section of class III and IV - the first indication that the run is easing up even though one of the largest rapids, Coming Home Mohammad, is still downstream. Hank ran a lot of this. As with before, we got into a rythm of boat scouting and quick progress though it took longer for that last class V rapid to arrive than I recalled. I was pleased that Coming Home Mohammad looked more reasonable than I remembered, but due consideration of the remoteness and the many steep, involved class IV rapids downstream considered everyone to carry. More of the same below - steep boulder gardens, some walking/coping/boat-scouting, and finally the last class IV rapid at the Island. Floating into the continuous class III below I was relieved.

The run out is class III, dropping back to shallow class II and finally flatwater interspersed with class II and III rapids. Not long below the Island, you turn a corner and the canyon opens up with incredible views of valley walls rising 2000' right out of the river - all spruce and grey granite, with golden sunlight still shining on the highest points. Even Hank with the blown shoulder and Culley of The West broke into grins here. I though of how big a sacrifice such views were worth (but what of seeing a friend in pain???). Here the Malin and Nord-Est branches come in out of HUGE canyons themselves, proving that there is still much left to explore in the area.

We arrived at the takeout around 8:45 after 10 hours on the water. Everyone was pretty exhausted. We drank a few beers, told stories and loaded boats (as we do after every run - Taureau or Lower Mad), and then drove back to the put-in, finally getting some sleep not long after midnight.

I really have to give the group credit - we were thrown a tough one for sure, and I think handled it really well. Culley and Scott showed just how competent they are in class V, and Jordan and Clay showed that they can paddle with their brains and not just their brawn. But I really have to say Hank was the one who shined that day. Imagine blowing your shoulder out, then doing multiple Dryway runs, followed by a few runs on Otter Creek... and then throw in some hours here and there scrambling around on moss-covered boulders in Smuggler's Notch... and you don't complain a bit. Achievement in our sport is measured not just in lines cleaned and boofs boofed, but in beatings taken, portages made, ibuprofen consumed and physical pain simply ignored.

On Sunday we did two laps on the wonderful class III-IV Tewkesbury section far downstream. It was at a medium-low level of 45 cms. The weather was warm and sunny and there were dozens of other boaters enjoying the beautiful day. Patrick the friendly C1er from Montreal joined us, and he is keen to do some NY and VT boating. I really have to recommend this run to many VT boaters. It's just fun... the Dryway of Quebec.

So that was our weekend, and I hope that was a different trip report and perhaps a note of caution about the Taureau. It's a great run. But as we found sometimes the Bull lays down and takes a nap, and sometimes he charges. In the words of one fellow Taureau explorer "Be well, Be wise, Beware, Because".

Here's to many more trips in Quebec. Vive le Taureau.

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