Archives for category: Camping stories and tails

Bonaventure-River-Canoe-Trip-Vance

by Vance Gustin,

Deep into the wilderness of the Gaspé Peninsula of south eastern Quebec and nested in the foothills of the Chic-Choc mountains lay the crystal clear headwaters of the famed Bonaventure River. The shuttle up to the headwaters began by weaving its way up along the neighboring Cascapédia river on a paved road that seemed like the twisting back of a giant snake. As the road turned from asphalt to gravel the ride became quite a bit rougher and the canoes on the trailer bounced around with a muted thumping akin to the eager beating of our hearts. For some the journey had started in such faraway places as Wisconsin while others had made the somewhat shorter trip up from Portland Maine.

Far below the crest of the hill our tents appeared no larger than a child’s toys and the lazy wisp of smoke from the campfire was barely visible in the dying light of the sun.  Liam and I had raced up the rocky slopes of a hill adjacent to our campsite to catch the beautiful vista of the Bonaventure river valley at sunset.

“We should start heading back down before it becomes hard to see.” I said to Liam.

He quietly nodded and we began the trek down to camp. About halfway down we met Bo, Bence, Steve and Josh on their way up and I quickly snapped a group photo before encouraging them to join Liam and me on our descent. The first day on the Bonaventure had been interesting: we’d crossed both Lac Bonaventure and Petit lac Bonaventure and made our way down a narrow mountain stream to the gravel bar we now called home. Over the course of the next couple of days we’d be paddling through the maze of dry-ki (standing or fallen weather beaten timber) covered banks and shallow class one and two rapids.

Three boats were manned by father-son teams; Bo and Bob whose names I always confused usually were the first boat behind Dave who was paddling solo and the lead guide.  Bob had just retired the previous Friday and had plans for many different river trips this summer; he and Bo always seemed to have a smile on their faces as they weaved their way down between the rocks. The second father son pair was Steve and Bence who had done this river together some thirty odd years ago.  The final father son pair was Brian and Liam; Brian was introducing Liam to canoe camping for the first time and it was awesome watching them take their canoeing partnership from its fledgling stages all the way up to a fully functioning team.  The other boats in our entourage were Chris, a master of the Black Spruce pole, Josh and Tim who were very funny and warmhearted and myself. The group was a mixture of family and old friends. Most having paddled with Chewonki over the years,  a shared experience across the generations of the joys of the wilderness, a passing of the torch.

The trip down the Bonaventure River is an experience we won’t soon forget.  Early in the morning the birds start to sing their melodious sonnets and the fresh smell of spruce and fir trees mixes with the smoky smell of the fire. Soon the coffee would be ready and the warm feel of the cup in your hands was a welcome counter to the crisp cool air of the break of day. After a hearty breakfast had been served, gear was packed and loaded into the canoes.  The river itself was a translucent flow of water over a kaleidoscope of slate grey, reddish-brown and white striped gravel and rocks.  At times the water was so clear and calm it seemed as if you were floating on air. The river seemed to murmur gently encouraging the dancing canoes as they navigated the swift flowing waters. We ate lunch on gravel bars, occasionally skipping a rock or two across the river.  Tim, Bo and Bob were always on the lookout for the legendary Atlantic salmon and many a dark shadow or flash of silver was quickly investigated.  Some of the bigger class two and three rapids were scouted from shore and Dave would usually set up at their base to take pictures. The Bonaventure gorge had a couple of drops which the water level would not allow for safe passage and we promptly lined our boats along the shore.  The lower section of the river transitioned from shallow mountain stream to wide river cascading between salmon pools.  A large rapid would be followed by a deep pool and occasionally a friendly fisherman in his boat.

The second to last day on the river a thunderstorm sprung upon us from the south and we spent an hour or so huddled on shore in a stand of alders. Dave and I lit a fire to warm our companions and provide a distraction from the storm raging around us.  Tim and Brian managed to gather enough firewood to burn down a small village while Bo and Bence picked around the gravel beach looking for souvenirs.  Chris, Bob and Steve quietly conversed while huddled under their rain jackets.

“The storm’s about to let up” Tim would say in a hopeful voice during each small break in the rain.

Eventually the storm did pass but not before Tim had hopefully proclaimed our salvation a half dozen times.  The day did an about-face and the sun burst from the clouds in radiant joy.  The river cooled by the rain immediately released a thick fog about six feet high which lent an eerie feeling to our afternoon paddle down to camp.

Our last day on the river was an early morning affair with breakfast being finished before 6:15 AM.  A long drive lay ahead for all of us and we were eager to once again join the world of the twenty first century. It was a bittersweet feeling shaking hands and heading our separate ways.  However, I am sure that it won’t be long until we all once again heed the call of the river.

Vance has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, E.I.T., and is currently a Graduate Research Associate at the Ohio State University, William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular engineering.

Visit Canoe the Wild for more information on paddling the Bonaventure River, Next trip scheduled for June, 2018 

 

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Canoeing the Wild with Friends
by Tony Mason.

As we stood on the rocks at the side of the Cascapedia in Quebec, we viewed two sharp drops in the rapids. Our guide, Dave Conley pointed them out.
“You can avoid them by staying to the left. If you get into that top one broadside you may never get out!”
“You mean we could die?” I said.
Everyone laughed, somewhat nervously.
After paddling down the river for two days we had heard the load sound of the upcoming rapids so Dave had recommended that we walk down to the bend in the river to scout the obstacles. Our group consisted of four friends from Amherst College classes of 1964 and 1965, plus the son and son in law of Bob Krughoff, and Michael, a friend of Dave’s who was a teacher at Lawrence School attended by both my children years back, and Vance who was Dave’s assistant. Bob had proposed the trip after receiving strong urging from his children. When he arrived he was disappointed that Dave had planned starting further down the Bonaventure River instead of starting at the top of the gorge.
“The river is as high as I have seen it” Dave warned when we first arrived at our campsite on the coast of the Gaspe. “ I have gone down this river 14 times and I know the risks.”
He then repeated about six times that the river was near record high due to recent rains.
Bob had not arrived at that point because he had to wait for his luggage which had not made the transfer at the airport. The rest of us readily agreed with Dave who projected a sense of competence and wisdom. We then learned after starting to paddle that Bob had mastered only the J-stroke. This was not particularly helpful when trying to “eddy out” on the riverbank. Consequently in the early going Bob’s boat would come in without turning, ramming another canoe or the shore. Luckily he had his son-in-law Denjar in the bow who quickly learned how to control the canoe so their performance improved.
However, when we reached the class 3 rapids with the heavy drops Bob nervously tried practicing other techniques. After scouting the river we walked back to our canoes and began descending the river one at a time. Dave started first, as usual standing in the canoe controlling the direction with a pole. He made it look easy. This somewhat lifted the confidence for the rest of us. Next went Vance, a recent college grad on the way to Ohio State in chemical engineering, who Dave had hired to help with the trip. Vance extremely skilled in the canoe, assisted with every aspect of the trip. Those of us remaining watched from up the river as he rounded the bend, passed the high waves without difficulty. Next came Larry Dewitt using his strong strokes and darting technique characteristic of his winning style on the soccer field at Amherst. He also was successful. Then it was Bob and Denjar. We watched as they disappeared around the bend but then there was a long delay before Dave gave the signal for the next canoe, We learned that Denjar made a heroic effort while Bob was doing some variation of his J- stroke as they hit a rock, spun around backwards and then tipped over. Alex Krughoff, Bob’s son, was in the bow as he and I guided the “Nimrod” safely down the passage. Alex had coined the name for our canoe. Both of us weighed over 200 lbs causing less freeboard and the momentum of an aircraft carrier. Michael, who had brought is own canoe and plenty of experience looked like a pro as he threaded his way. Then Chuck using his calm deli berate technique passed through the waves with a resolute expression on his face.
After that excitement we pulled over to the side of the river to have lunch. Dave and Vance set up the usual table covered with assortments of cold cuts, peanut butter, lettuce, tomatoes, and a choice of bread or a pita wrap, as well as watermelon, grapes and cookies.. As always we ate well. Dave had supplied two coolers and several sealed barrels which each produced magical items such as fresh wild salmon, choice steaks, and pork loin which he would cook on a large iron frying pan over the fire. With each day we would all marvel about all the meticulous preparations for the trip.
One night sitting around the campfire Dave remarked how the woods gave him a spiritual sense. He respected the wild life and enjoyed taking photographs with his fine camera with a telescopic lens. Larry had a similar camera at home which lead to long discussions between them about the pros and cons of camera equipment.
Michael and I never won a cribbage game. Having played with my parents, Dave had given me a refresher on the rules and then soundly defeated me in a game. Then a round of team contests ensued. Michael and I first lost to the Krughoffs¸ then to Dave and Vance who again proved his competence in all things. He also knew many obscure facts about canoeing and chemicals. By the end of the trip when ever some question arose we would say “ask Vance”.
After Bob and Denjar had flipped their canoe the rest of us felt quite smug, until the next day when Alex and I hit some large standing waves. With the first one we took on water, with the second more water leaving only a few inches of freeboard. Then we began to tip. We both yelled simultaneously “The Nimrod is going down!”. We were able to get near the shore before submerging, but since the current was strong I was starting to float downstream. Suddenly Vance’s canoe appeared along side us for the rescue.
On the lower part of the river we saw two eagles-one sitting just above the large nest high in the tree. We did not see a moose but one night I pitched my tent just a few feet from some old moose tracks in the sand. I was awakened during the night by a loud “crack” sound. I peeked out of the tent, could it be a moose? Then it happened a few times more. I surmised it must have been fish jumping but next morning Dave told me it was a beaver telling us to keep our distance. The next day we paddled down to our final take out point near the mouth of the river. During the trip we had shared the woods with the wildlife as well as sharing many stories with each other. For more information about river trips in Maine and Canada with Dave Conley visit Canoe the Wild.com