|Little Southwest Miramichi|
It's been said that there's no place in New Brunswick you can't get to by road. This may be true, but after sampling the tracks that brought me to this central branch of the Miramichi, I might invest in a half-tracked vehicle and a satellite navigation system if I want to get up here again. They were long, narrow, rocky, rutted, steep and many-forked.
That was only half of it. At road's end, we shouldered our boats and followed a steep path down a thickly treed slope for several hundred meters, often slanting the boats sideways to slip through a narrow space between two trees. At the bottom, we slid our craft down to the water's edge on ropes, then carefully eased our own way down, hands on roots and rocks.
We emerged beside a large pool formed by the rush of Flaherty's Pitch, a long drop angling steeply between ledges.
The river runs wide and in mid-May this year, deep. After a short quiet section below Flaherty's Pitch, the gradient increases, and continuous rock-studded rapids invited us to hop from eddy to eddy for several hours. We were each running solo in our own boat, which meant we were free to set our own pace, and cut our own eddy turns behind the rocks we chose. Although there is little quiet water along this stretch, it's easy to make shore by slipping behind the rocks and ferrying to the bank just about anywhere.
I was fortunate to have a guide on this trip. Léonel went out of his way to show me his favorite river, led me down through the rocky drops, and told me stories of earlier runs he'd taken on this stream with his wife and friends. His kindness and hospitality toward a new acquaintance were more than I deserved.
Near the end of the afternoon, the river narrowed as it cut through a ridge, describing S-turns below high wooded hillsides. Our route led us through swifts with diagonal wave trains, prompting quick-change adjustments as my craft seemed to pull one way then spin another. Léonel eased his Tripper down the tight turns with ease, he was at home in this river.
At another turn near river's end, an especially thick rock garden at Rocky Island called on our ferrying skills to pick a deep water path between stones and over ledges. This is one of the prime spots where Miramichi rivermen refine their poling skills, especially later in summer when the routes through the maze are smaller and shallower.
As I went over the final ledge downstream of the rock garden, I did the unthinkable. When the bow pitched into the curling wave and the boat yawed, I reached out with both hands and grabbed the gunwales -- only for a split second, but that's all it takes. I felt ashamed for all those times I'd hollered at my partner in the bow to get his hands off the gunwales and hold onto his paddle ... it's just so tempting to reach for them when your boat begins to slip under you.
There are only a few fishing camps along this river, and no roads or bridges are visible from the water. Léonel says that the river upstream from Flaherty's Pitch is for experts only, especially the stretch between Libby's Bridge and the North Pole Stream. That's where the local Search and Rescue unit rehearses its river rescue routine. I understand there are many large lakes which form its headwaters, providing deep water for canoeists later on in the spring when many other popular runs in different areas of the province begin to dry up.
If any of my visitors is familiar with the upper stretches of this river, I wouldn't mind hearing from you. Our shuttle driver was with Upper Oxbow Outdoor Adventures.
View Derek Bradford's video of his kayak trip on the upper Little Southwest!
Paul Hill has graciously sent me pictures of his run down this river. Please click on the thumbnails. The pictures open in a new browser window, so close the window to return.
Ian at Indian Falls
Scouting Indian Falls
Dave at Flaherty's Pitch
Ian in the hole
Laurie, North Pole Stream
Langton Rides Again
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