I prefer canoe trip guides that leave a little something to be discovered. I don't want a map that shows every rip and riffle, or a guidebook that tells me where the campsites are or the views around each corner. Leave a little mystery for me, willya?
That being said, I would be remiss in my role as a story-teller if I didn't talk about the portages on the Nepisiguit. Paddlers, whether lily-paddlers or intrepid explorers, should be aware that the Nepisiguit is not a stream you can always “row gently down.” There's some work involved, too. Sure, the first two days down from Bathurst Lake are pretty much care-free, as long as you watch for trees down across the river. We only met one sweeper last trip, and we were able to thread our way through the branches no worries.
As you approach Indian Falls, the current picks up, and rocks and ledges appear ever more frequently. The river is twice as large or more by then, as two large tributaries have joined in from the Christmas Mountains to the south.
It may not be easy to spot the portage sign on the left bank, as it's faded and small. This portage is many thousands of paces long, and bypasses two steep ledges before it runs by the main drop of Indian Falls at its end.
I toted my gear and carried or dragged my boat the length of the trail. This involved three trips up and down, in the heat. And I'm no spring chicken, either.
My crewmates were smarter. They carried their gear down the trail, but paddled their boats carefully along the shore to the brink of each drop, then toted it to the pool so they could work their way down the river eventually to the last major drop. Laurie guided his boat to the brink, then tossed his painter rope to me on the shore so I could haul him back from the last fall.
The next major portage is at the Narrows. Actually, we ran this drop in full boats, but well, a case could be made for portaging if you are risk-averse. One would come ashore above the Narrows on river left, then huck boats and gear uphill for quite a ways. There is a spot to pitch a couple of tents up on the hill at the end of the trail. A steep path leads down to the foot of the hill.
If you do run the Narrows and swamp your boat, the river is forgiving, as the current slows to next to nothing here at rapid's end in the headpond behind Grand Falls Dam.
The Dam is followed by a long gorge, maybe three or four kilometres long. Back in the day, paddlers could rope down a sloping cliff face to put in behind the powerhouse of the dam and run the length of the Gorge. But NB Power, owners of the dam, have erected a stout fence and concrete barriers. There's no getting around them, either. I know, because we tried.
So here we were, faced with a mammoth carry, several kilometers long, down a one-lane road to the still water downstream. Lucky for us, a pick-up truck driven by two good ole boys stopped halfway through our trek. We loaded our boats and gear onto it and they drove it down for us. We might still be there now.
So if you plan on paddling downstream from here, I suggest you plan for a motor assist at the dam. You can't take it for granted that the good ole boys will show up for you.
So, after a couple of rapids down from the dam, we came to Pabineau Falls. We were able to bypass the entrance to the drop by lining down a sny (that's a real word, it means side channel.) But Pabineau Falls is long and nasty, and there are rough patches for quite a ways past the first rough water as well. Don't even think about running this drop in your canoe, folks have drowned here in recent memory in the attempt.
The portage trail runs on and on, up and down, over deep fissures and by boulders, for hundreds of paces. We were planning to paddle all the way down to Bathurst Harbour into salt water, but we were running late in the afternoon, and the prospect of several hours of portaging cowed me. Plus, there were several lifts and carries in the section called Rough Waters awaiting us that didn't appeal to me either.
So we caught a lift to our vehicle with another good ole boy, and finished up our trip. In short, a paddle down the length of the Nepisiguit River will run you five, maybe six days. It can be beautiful yet strenuous, and you would be well advised to plan for motorized support to get past Grand Falls dam and back onto the River. On the other hand, it looks like you'll have to grunt it manually past Pabineau Falls and then lift around several drops in the Rough Waters down to Bathurst Harbour.
Choose your paddling partners wisely
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