Saguneay River Fjord - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Extended Trip Report
September 20-26, 2008
Quebec City, PQ, Canada
My story of the Saguenay
by Bill Carmont
This is my story not of a trip, but an adventure & experienceÖ
Allan Ė Competitive Paddler, Outdoor Enthusiast and Owner of Old Creel Kayak |Shop
Dean Ė Experienced Kayaker and Fireman at HRM
Danny Ė Ex Navy, Outdoor and Nature Lover, Kayaker, works at Allanís shop
Jim Ė Ex Navy and Army (Saw action in Bosnia and Croatia), Avid Outdoorsman from Charlotte Co.
Angus Ė Navy Man, Experienced Woodsman and Hunter
Me Ė ???
This is my story not of a trip, but an adventure & experience
Six of us left the Old Creel kayak in Halifax at 5am on Sat. morning. After leaving Halifax we made several Tim Horton and pit/piss stops before stopping over at Edmunston for a Subway/Tailgate lunch. We arrived in Riviere-du-Loup early after a 9 Ĺ hr. drive, hoping to catch a 2pm run which we found didnít exist, so had to wait until 4pm. This gave us time to top up our beer supplies, although some of the lads thought they needed little topping. We crossed the St. Lawrence river and continued East down the coast to Tadoussac where we found a campground and set up for the night. We had three tents and split off into twos with me and Angus sharing the same tent. After a few brewskies and several hot toddies we all had a Freddie Chef Supper (Ready to eat meal in a bag; Army ration; Heat it in boiling water) and went to bed early.
We were up early the next morning packed everything back in the truck and went into town to look for our driver that was going to drive the 80 km north with us to Ste. Rose-du-Nord, drop us off then drive the truck and trailer back to Tadoussac, where we would kayak back to (hopefully) in five days. We spent a couple of impatient hours and finally ďBe-beĒ our girl contact showed up. Apparently there was some mix-up and she told us to take the truck up, park it and she would send someone up later to drive it back to Tadoussac. Fortunately for me I found my spare key which I keep hidden and gave it to her. Fortunately for Jim too, as he had volunteered to ride in the back, making room for this driver. He had his sleeping bag out to cover himself for this 80km very cold journey. This actually worked out better for us as we had more time to unload the truck, get all our unnecessary gear, dunnage bags, etc. back into the truck without holding up the driver.
We arrived in Set. Rose-du-Nord around 11 am and unloaded our truck near the water. It all looked incredible, all that gear (and beer). Surely all this stuff could never be stuffed into 6 kayaks. We had many onlookers, both tourists and locals watching us from various vantage points. Iím sure they had their doubts. I had no doubts about all my gear/beer as I had tested it before hand in/on my kayak. Some of the guys had not, and some like Angus had a kayak he had never used before. Needless to say there was a lot of stuffing (cussing) going on and some items that looked redundant or for lack of space were left behind in the truck. To the outsider/onlooker it must have looked chaotic, but in 45 minutes all gear was either tucked away in our water tight compartments or strapped to our decks.
With truck and trailer parked 2 minutes away, we donned our skirts, hunkered down in our kayaks and slinked in behind the wharf. The wind was up, the Saguenay was showing her white caps. I wondered, wondered?? I had never been in seas like this before. As we were leaving some old sea captain who spoke impeccable English hollered to Allan, "The word here is that six crazy anglos are heading down the Saguenay." Iím sure they all looked forward to reading the morning paper about the six overturned kayaks and the six floating bodies. Such was the scene as we headed out. Allan the most seasoned paddler and with the most kayak experience told us all to stay together and if one of us went over for the others to raft up, get the victims kayak pumped out and to get him back in it. "Towing the victim to shore would not be an option," he said.
After leaving the relative shelter of the wharf all hell broke loose. My kayak was the smallest at 13 feet and Deanís the longest at 17 Ĺ feet. My kayak also was quite likely the most heavily loaded (Allan said I had too much beer in my small kayak, but later admitted that it probably served as ballast and steadied my kayak in the rough seas, which I have since translated into ďthe beer saved my lifeĒ). At first we were all pretty close, but Danny thought the far shore over 1 Ĺ miles away looked less rough. He beat it in that direction, while the rest of us angled over with the wind and waves pushing us down the shore at a rapid speed. At least we were making great time towards our campsite 14 km away, the problem being our campsite was not on the far shore, and to get to it we would have to recross the river. In a few minutes most of the party was spread out.
When we speak of river, it is more like the ocean, tidal with tides well over 20 feet, strong currents, but worst of all it is really a Fjord with very steep walls and very few places to pull out or get out of the wind. The wind was roaring down the Saguenay and finally we got over to the other side and more or less all of us were somewhat in the same general vicinity. The wind if anything had picked up and there was no lee. Allan stayed with me all the way over which bolstered my courage a great deal, but now the real fun began as we turned to follow the far coast. Up to that time we had been taking the sea at an angle, where you could at least see and prepare yourself for the onslaught of the waves. Now we were taking them on the stern. You could hear the bastards roaring up behind you. The first one wasnít too bad, but they came in sets, the first one bowling you over sideways and before you could get your kayak straightened the next one got you and bowled you over a little more, then the third, then Oh my God!! Is this the one??
Twice I almost lost it, the waves were breaking over my little 13 footer on the side, right on over my skirt which was full of water, making me more top heavy. I even felt water spilling through the skirt into my cockpit. Iíve since learned to pull it up tighter taking out the concave basin effect. All this time Allan was right behind me giving encouragement, "Iím right here buddy", "You're doing fine", "Thereís some big ones rolling up behind, but youíll be ok." He stayed right on my ass, trying to cut some of the energy out the waves. I later learned that instead of trying to power my kayak around to right it, I should have been using the "brace method" of holding my paddle in the water, leaning into it and letting the wave pass right over me. Allan knew this was no time to teach an old dog new tricks. Thank God he was there with me.
Down the coast we sped, I was very tense and concentrated in staying with my boat. I didnít want to take a dive in that water, but I also didnít want to let my buddies down as they would have to take great risks to themselves to save me. Itís doubtful in my mind that the ones ahead would even know or if they did could get back to help. It was just Allan and me. I canít actually say I was scared but I sure was stressed as I used all my mental energy to stay in that boat. It was just a battle with one wave at a time, focusing on staying in that boat, thinking surely someone up ahead knew more than I did and would get us out of here. At that time I didnít know the others (Perhaps with the exception of Dean) had their own troubles. Jim later said that he almost went over and Danny was scared and tense as hell when he finally got ashore. I gave him a beer right away to calm his nerves. He had a front hatch that was leaking and adding water to his already heavily laden boat. Fortunately I didnít know, because if these more experienced kayakers were scared, then what in the hell was I doing out here in my little 13 footer. It is classified as a sea kayak, but all the other boats were at least 16 feet. In the literature on the Saguenay they warn people not to venture out in open canoes and river kayaks.
After 2 hours of the Saguenayís fury someone up ahead spied a beach, but there was no lee, we would have to go in riding the breakers and hope for the best. We had to get out, we needed food & water. No one has been able to take their hands off the paddle long enough to drink and Danny who has the map doesnít even dare look down to try and see where we are. I donít know for sure who the brave soul was who went in first (I think it was Danny) but they got ashore and directed the next one in through the rocks. With two on shore they waded waist deep in to stabilize and help the others ashore. Dean almost capsized on the way in as he hit a rock.
We got the kayaks up, got some Freddie Chef food and water into us and analyzed our situation. We couldnít stay here as the tide was rising, fast losing our beach to sheer walls of rock. There was no stomach for heading back across the fjord for our intended campsite. There was however another campsite on our side of the fjord about Ĺ hour paddle time, that is Ĺ hour with the wind and waves pushing us. I for one sure wasnít looking forward to getting back into that kayak. We had no choice and now had to launch back out into those incoming breakers. Allan and some of the other more experienced kayakers stayed on shore, got the rest of us in our kayaks, skirts tightened, pushed/lifted our kayaks into the waves between the rocks, and when the breakers eased for a moment, gave us a push and told us to paddle like hell to the relative safety off shore. They somehow made it on their own and weíre now all heading back down the coast. A campsite never looked so good, even though it wasnít exactly a lee shore either but by now we were getting better at riding the surf in and there wasnít as many rocks here.
We set up camp on the nice wooden platforms provided (They canít do much else as the terrain is so rugged there are no flat spots for tents). Soon there was much laughter and bravado over the days activities, with many beer consumed and a few rum toddies to boot, all consumed beside a roaring campfire on the beach. I slept like a log.
The day dawned bright and sunny. Everyone was up at first light. My first priority was to get the coffee pot on, a task I took on each morning to complement my evening chore of making rum toddies. Someone else had the water heating for our Freddie Chef breakfasts. Danny took a trip to the brook to filter water for drinking, coffee, etc. The campsite was a beehive of activity with tents being struck and gear being stowed and strapped on the kayaks. The wind had gone down considerably as had the waves during the night. There was still a fair chop but nothing we couldnít handle as our ordeal of survival yesterday had stiffened our confidence considerably. We had to wait a bit for the tide to come in so we could launch our still over laden boats. We had lightened them to quite a degree with some of that ballast missing. I was anxious to get on the water, as the wind usually is the lightest in the morning, stiffing in the afternoon. I wanted to get our 15km in fast and get to our next campsite before we got a repeat of yesterday.
Finally we were all on the water and stuck pretty much together. Al said we should cross back over to the other side of the fjord right away and I wasnít going to argue with that one. We angled over and down the fjord in a medium chop and after 3-4 hours arrived at our designated campsite for night two on the fjord. We never did see the campsite we were supposed to be on that first night.
It was a beautiful bright, warm afternoon and we set up camp around 1 pm utilizing three tent pads. When Danny booked them he booked two pads, as you pay for the pads. They told him you could place two tents to a pad, but they would have to be quite small 2 man tents. We always took three pads, one for each tent as there was no other kayakers out there. Surprise!!! We paired off in the customary fashion of that first night with me & Angus, Danny & Dean, and Al & Jim sharing the three tents. Angus and I had a beautiful site, high up, looking right up the fjord with the sun shining in.
There was a three foot steel culvert under the foot path to the pads, with the brook running through it and cascading into a pool of water on the beach side. Danny always the first to take an opportunity for a dip and bath was the first in. Stripped off in the buff and a lather of shampoo and soap got a bit of a surprise when Dean showed up, hollered his name to get him to turn around and snapped his picture. I donít think Danny allowed this photo to survive but it sure would have been a dandy. Soon some of the other boys followed. Angus and I decided to wait a day longer and do a girlie bath (Day 4). How these boys stood this cold mountain water I donít know. They said it felt so good once you got dry clothes on. I said its like the guy beating his head against the wall. When asked why, he answered, "Because it feels so good when I stop." Angus said, "Any damn fool can be uncomfortable." I must say that I was never cold. Many times I was wet especially that first day. The secret for me was always keeping my camp clothes separate from my kayak clothes and always keeping them dry. The first thing I did when getting ashore was to get out of my wet clothes and into my dry ones. I had a pair of kayak booties, that although wet were always warm and a pair of sneakers for the camp. My sleeping bag was good for minus 20c. I would try and dry my kayak clothes as much as possible and always took my undershirt in the sleeping bag with me, so even though a little damp was always warm to put on when I first crawled of my sleeping bag. I then put on my dry camp clothes but always changed back to my kayak clothes before setting out. Everything was in layers so I could layer up or layer down. I was never cold, but again we had no rain and although the mornings were cool the afternoons were generally very warm. We also were in camp early enough to get some drying time in. We had exceptionally good weather on this trip.
I settled for taking my shirt off, enjoying the sunshine and collecting firewood. We again lightened the ballast by consuming a few brewskies and after a Freddie Chef supper sat around our BIG roaring bon fire on the beach. So ended day 3 of our trip, day 2 on the fjord.
During the night some of the boys could hear the beluga whales blowing and calling. The moon was up but it was cold. When we awoke we found that the hatch covers on some of the kayaks were froze. Then I witnessed a sight that gave me a surprise. In the pool below the cascade of water was Jim, taking a bath no less!! Al said, "I'm not in the same league as that guy, Hell, Iím not even on the same planet." Thatís Jim, tough as nails and a good guy to have along on a trip like this. Someone, probably Dean had stirred the campfire from the night before and got some heat going. There wasnít a spare stick of wood to be found, a valuable lesson that a few sticks should be reserved for the morning fire. Poor Dean was usually cold at night despite putting ever more layers of clothing on before going to bed.
By now we have everything down to a routine, the coffee, the Freddie Chef, the filtered water. Danny has a special filter that pumps and purifies water at 1 litre/min. This morning he couldnít pump as his wrists were swollen horribly and he was in a lot of pain. He didnít get better for the whole trip and how he continued to paddle I donít know. He canít even pump his gas stove but never complains, just keeps going and popping the pain pills.
After a 3-4 hour paddle we arrived at camp 3, located in a little cove. There wasnít much driftwood at this site so it took a lot of scrounging. You are only supposed to burn driftwood and cut or take nothing off the land. After setting up camp Dean, Al & I set out for a little afternoon paddle exploring a large bay about 3 km ahead. We hoped to see some belugas. We encountered a cruise ship in the bay and circled around it waving to the passengers, who I am sure appreciated this entertainment as they didnít see any whales either. We paddled across the bay, pulled out on the beach and climbed a long set of stairs that leads to a trail head, that connects to the main trail system heading up the fjord. We met and talked to a young couple and their 4 year old child visiting here from France. I struck back to camp 15 min. ahead of Dean & Al, paddling into a stiffing breeze and breaking waves over my now lightened craft. Al & Dean having faster boats caught up to me as I was making camp.
The rest of the boys were relaxing in the sun. I decided I couldnít stand my own smell any longer so decided on a girlie bath. I heated a coffee tin full of warm water and sponge bathed all over and put on clean (a relative term) clothes. I took the coffee tin for this purpose but until this point we had been using it for hot water for rice etc. although we had other pots for this. I warned the boys that from now on they might consider not using this tin for cooking. Angus decided that he would have a girlie bath too so I let him use my coffee tin, saving his for cooking.
Again we had many brewskies and those tasty Freddie Chef suppers. Sometimes Jim would make some rice for the whole crew and this could be mixed in with the Freddie Chef meals. Some of the boys would pour their Freddie Chef meals into their own bowls, but I preferred to eat them right out of the bag with a long plastic spoon, which saved washing dishes. Poor Jim dropped his precious tabasco sauce and broke it. We recovered some of it by placing it in a plastic bag. This goes to show that tabasco sauce and beer do not mix well.
After a much smaller camp fire we all went to bed. I was usually the first to bed and slept very well most nights, in spite of having to get up at least once to have a leak. I always kept a small flashlight in my pocket or nearby in the tent.
The mornings in camp can be quite interesting. Some guys have to make it to the shitter right away. I am usually more fortunate in this regard having to make my daily routine after breakfast after being up an hour or more. The competition for the single shitter provided at each campsite can be severe. On one occasion two guys were making for this relief center at the same time and had to play off with a rock, paper, scissors game to see who would get to it first. Fortunately for us there were no other kayakers on the fjord with which to share this precious facility.
By now the tides are lower in the morning and we have to wait for it to come in a little, so we are later getting away. Of course we could carry everything down to the tide mark, but this makes for a lot of extra work as we donít like carrying the kayaks fully loaded, and to carry everything down, then pack them up in the mud flats would get everything filthy. This gives us more time to relax and extra time to pack everything up.
Today will be our longest paddle, of about 20km. We get underway and paddle at an easy pace hoping to find some belugas. After 2 hours the wind starts to rise, coming up the fjord against us. We decide we better get going and are now on the opposite side of the fjord from our campsite. We are paddling very hard against this head wind with waves breaking over the bow, but it is really quite a nice ride although we were all getting quite a workout. For over 2 hours we paddled hard with no let up, and finally the fluer de lies flag came into view marking a campsite. I thought we were just pulling out for lunch but when I asked Danny he said this was it, our camp site for the night. We had covered 10km in just over 2 hours against this headwind. We had been in our kayaks for over 4 hours and were ready to come out. These little craft are amazing, not only for their speed but the amount of sea they can handle in skilled hands. I was quite impressed with Deanís 17 Ĺ footer in how sleek and fast it was. Of course Dean is an expert paddler so he may make it look easier than it is. I could keep up to the group but only with brute strength and never letting up on the paddle.
I should also say that Angus has a sore back, the result of an improperly designed seat in his kayak and Al has ďcarpal tunnelĒ in his hands (an ongoing chronic condition) which is very painful. It appears that Jim, Dean and I are the only ones without pain.
Our campsite is in a little cove, with a beach/bar extending from the mainland out to a small island, at least it would be an island if the tide came up high enough. We could launch our kayaks on either side of this bar. After carrying the kayaks up above the high water mark we set up camp. All these campsites are located near streams from which to extract fresh water (All water must be either boiled 5 min. or filtered if used for drinking), and are all set up with wooden tent pads overlooking the fjord. They are all very scenic. This particular site had as a bonus a kitchen shelter, which we appreciated as I had thought we might have to rig a tarp because rain looked imminent. As it turned out, the sun came out but we enjoyed the very large tables in the shelter to cook on.
After resting a good deal from our workout, we all gathered up some firewood. I took my bucksaw, went around the point, cut down & sawed up an old dry stub and carried it back to our fire pit. This was the first fire that was not on the beach, it being beside the kitchen shelter. Jim and Angus tried to throw up a rope around a big dead pine stub and haul it down. They almost got the rope stuck in the tree and provided a great deal of entertainment for the rest of us. Finally they gave up on this escapade and sawed down a smaller dead spruce stub nearby. We all took turns sawing and splitting up the big supply of firewood. Relaxing after a few drinks we all travelled around the point to view the sunset, then came back to a start a roaring campfire. Tonight I heard the belugas for the first time.
Another beautiful sunny day on the fjord. The night had been considerably warmer and I actually sweated inside my sleeping bag. Dean said he was actually warm for the first time at night. This is our last day on the fjord and we only have 10-12km to go to get back to Tadoussac. We sure hope to see some belugas. Yesterday Jim had one come right up behind his kayak and blew, which scared him half to death. Dean got some pictures on one right beside his boat. There have been several sightings but I have never been close to one yet. As we head out we can see a lot of blowing across the fjord. We are spread out with Angus and Danny on our campsite side looking for a place to pull out for a piss. Jim & I are somewhat together with Al & Dean in the middle. Somehow Angus , Danny & Jim start over towards Dean & Al who are working their way across to the opposite shore where the activity seems to be, while I stay put in the middle of the fjord.
All of a sudden the belugas are blowing all around me. They are swimming right up with their heads on my rudder. They are swimming, diving and blowing on my right, on my left. They are huge. They are diving under my kayak coming up the other side, missing my kayak by inches. If they touch my kayak Iím going over! Some of them are as big as a full size car. Iím freaking out so decide to get out of there fast. I am paddling like mad towards the near shore away from all my team mates, as this is the side where we will ultimately need to be on to get to Tadoussac. Two of the belugas follow me for over Ĺ mile, blowing right beside me, sometimes their snout right on my rudder. They are diving under my kayak, just missing it by inches. I can see their big white bodies as plain as day. They are curious and are playing with me. All the same Iím not sure if they might strike or even bump my kayak. Finally they disappear.
Allan doesnít know why I have not joined them and kayaks all the way over to get me. He is not happy that he had to paddle all the way over to get me, but I thought they would have to come over to my side. I paddled back with him to join the others, some who had pulled out for a break. The landing was too rough for me so I decided to hold my water until Tadoussac. We paddled into Tadoussac in record time, making a break between the two ferries that are continually crossing, paddle around the point into the St. Lawrence and finally landed on the beach.
I walked up town to pick up the truck and trailer which fortunately were just where they were supposed to be. By this time we were completely out of beer so I picked up some to go with our Freddie Chef meals which the boys were heating.
We loaded up the kayaks & all our gear and headed for St. Simeon where we would catch the ferry the next morning. After finding a nice little campground on the water, we set up camp, got hot showers and went into town for a sit down meal at a fine restaurant. It sure was a nice break from Freddie Chef, although I must say he served us well on our voyage. We appointed Dean as our designated driver so the rest of us didnít have to worry about relaxing too much. After a good meal we drove back and went straight to bed.
We awoke early to a fine sunny day, broke camp right away and drove down to the ferry landing where we parked the truck & trailer. We wanted to be sure of a spot in line for that 9:30 ferry. We all walked back the short distance to that same restaurant and had ourselves a gourmet breakfast. The boat ride of 1 hr 15 min was very pleasant with the navy boys finding us sunny spots out of the wind. We had a great trip back, stopping off at Edmunston again for lunch. Angus entertained us with a great deal of stories as did some of the others on the way back. We arrived back in HRM around 9:30pm.
In Summary: it was a most awesome adventure for me. It was a great group of fellows to travel with, all comfortable in the outdoor environment. We all got on well and everyone did his share and was always willing to help out and look after the other fellow. I am sure glad that I was invited along. Thanks guys.
Sea Kayaks 13ft-17.8ft
yes. Quebec national park fees
Saguneay Fjord map provided by sepac.
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