The Ashuapmushuan River, PQ.....        

We finally canoed the Ashuapmushuan: a river we discovered a few years back while driving through the area and whose name took us over a year to be able to pronounce and remember (Ash-wap-moosh-wan). The river is big with lots of good whitewater and is located just north of Lac Saint-Jean in the Reserve Faunique Ashuapmushuan. Several possible put-ins and take-outs exist making a variety of trips possible and excellent river maps (as well as vehicle shuttles) are available from the park.

Our original plan was to do a five day trip but with all the changes we decided to shorten it. As a result, we put in at Île de l'Indien (Indian Island) on August 1st. We were on the water by 11:00 am and as had been typical of the year, big threatening rain clouds soon rolled in (we had very few days of solid sunshine in 2003 and either woke to rain and fog or just got started only to have the rain clouds move in - at least there weren't too many days of continuous rain). Rain had its benefits however, and one of them was high water levels for canoeing. Because of the wet year the east had been having, the Ash was much higher than normal which made for some interesting August paddling. With very few rocks visible, the rapids were not technical but the large volume of water did slosh around between the banks and produced a lot of gentle but confused waves. Some of the smaller rapids had been swallowed and were more-or-less just fast water while in other places the high volume of water made for pushy currents and really big standing waves (which we tended to portage). As with any river trip, each outing is unique depending on the water levels and this trip would likely have been very different had the water been at its normal level.

We covered some ground (about 35 km) the first day in order that we might get to a good play spot where we hoped to practice just before le Fer à Cheval rapids. There was a beautiful, sandy campsite on the beach at the end of the portage next to the rapids and a second one in a beautiful bay just a short paddle around the corner. Although we found the water to be bigger and pushier than we had expected we had the good fortune to run into the only other group on the river. Sebastian, Florence, Katherine and Gilbert were from Quebec City and were all excellent paddlers routinely running class IV stuff that we were going around. They had been on the river 15 days starting up near Chibougamau, paddling up river, portaging from one watershed into another, heading down the Chef and then finally into the Ash. Quite a grueling trip but they had really enjoyed it. They were a great group of people and over the next couple of days we got to know them a bit which was nice. On this particular day, we got a late start as we spent the morning practicing in the bigger standing waves. After a few helpful tips from our new friends, off we went. The photo above is from this session and although I must admit the wave ate us immediately after the shot was taken (thanks to Sebastian for the great photos) we did successfully manage it at least three other times. Thanks to Pat, Mary, Katherine and Florence who came to our rescue the time that we didn't make it. It was a great learning experience for our little group.

As we had spent the morning exhausting ourselves in the standing waves, we decided to run down only as far as Chutes Chaudières. This was an absolutely spectacular set of falls that we definitely did not want to go over (the portage is mandatory) - the volume of water flowing over this set of falls is incredible. Our excitement here was a small black bear sitting just upstream of the portage! For a little while it seemed that our options where to go over a set of deadly falls, wrestle with a small bear at the portage or fight with Mom bear who we envisioned to be hiding on the portage trial. After whistling to our bear however, he took note of us, stopped his sniffing around, and headed upstream and into the bush. We got our portage after all! The portage was easy trekking and although we shortened it up by putting back in after the first set and taking out again before the chutes it was very long. Sebastian, Florence, Katherine and Gilbert where using this point as their take out and they camped near us for the night. It was another beautiful campsite overlooking the falls with picnic shelters to add luxury to the event - we had a great fire and some great conversation. A big thanks goes to Gilbert for portaging one of our canoes the next morning.... a major time saver for us!

From chutes Chaudières down, it was a fast and easy paddle. There was not a lot in the way of rapids but the scenery was spectacular with steep granite walls surrounding the river. Very very nice. We stopped at a beautiful campsite for lunch and then made the inevitable maybe-the-next-campsite-is-nicer choice and continued on to the last one before the end. What a disappointment that decision turned out to be. The next campsite was apparently a new one but it looked as if the park staff had hacked some brush down in a partial swamp and then told their boss the job was done. We spent a considerable amount of time moving stones (for seats and a cooking area) up from the river, cutting brush, making log seats and burning the brush (Mary's specialty) that the park staff had just thrown in a corner. When we were done it wasn't half bad. No-trace camping it wasn't but... it was a marked campsite. Should a few other like-minded souls continue our renovations, it might turn out to be a pretty good site. With a great river view and the nearby waterfall trail (rough but short) it certainly had potential. Anyway, it was the only disappointment of the trip and we certainly made the best of it.

Our last day on the river was a nice way to end any river trip: short and calm but with a few good rapids for excitement (but nothing too challenging for our tired bodies). True to form, the rain started but this time it was thankfully just as we got off the river. It then continued to pour for our five hour drive down to Quebec city.

In summary, we really enjoyed the Ashuapmushuan. It was a big river but definitely do-able and worth returning to should we be lucky enough to get the chance. It was certainly well traveled but it appeared to be no-where near as busy as some others we have done (it was amazing how busy and bustling the Lac Saint-Jean region was but only half an hour north in the Reserve Faunique - no one). Anyway... a great trip and we were so glad that Pat and Mary's heroic (or crazy - depending on how you look at it) efforts to make it paid off! We hope to have the whole gang back together again next year... maybe Manitoba?

Pat and Mary

Beach site

The great chef


Our rescuer


Into the waves we go

Bailing... the theme
of our trip

Chutes Chaudières

Over already


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