Located in East-Central Canada, Quebec is one of the worlds more unexplored water havens. Quebec’s land mass is twenty two times the size of Ireland, and with a population of only 7.5 million people, this territory is largely uncharted. The backwater river systems of Quebec are currently being uncovered by a small group of paddlers. This international group has been ticking of first descents all over the territory. Despite two years of research and kayaking this area still has a lot to offer up to the kayaker willing to put in the work.
Quebec is comparable to the white-water found in BC, however if you do your homework right you are far more likely to find yourself on a first descent out in the Quebec wilderness. Quebec does have certain discrepancies to the white-water Mecca’s kayakers are used too. Most of the land in the uninhabited areas is either under the control of governmental preservation groups, or it is private land. This means that entry and egress can prove to be quite difficult. A lot of the creeks are located in ecological preservation zones (ZEC), these are areas of forestland rezoned for preservation, and logging. ZEC areas are monitored, meaning, you have to pay to get into a majority of these zones. Once you have established that care must be taken in order to keep the peace between kayakers and local Quebecers, the province will hand up some amazing rewards throughout the course of your trip.
Quebec rivers offer a range of III-V+ rivers depending on what you are looking for. There are varying characteristics from each river to the next, some offering mind blowing slides and drops, while others offer up some technical boulder garden style kayaking. Either way Quebec offers kayaking for a range of kayaking abilities.
There are a number of possible base camps depending on where you may happen to find yourself in this vast province. In between Quebec City and Montreal is one area that offers up a number of easily acceptable rivers, making the planning of consecutive missions an easy task for any boater. In the Quebec City - Montreal area you can find the Mastigouche, Shawinigan, and Neilson rivers. These rivers offer up a range features and all are accessible by car, thus making it is easy enough to run shuttles with the right beta.
The Saguenay region, located 180 km’s from Quebec City, holds a hand full of Quebec’s classic white water. The town of Chicoutimi serves as an ideal spot to base your team when exploring the rivers of this region. From here you can access the rivers that flow into the Saguenay River from both the North and South. Hotels are relatively expensive and there is not too much camping around the area, however the river put-ins and take-outs are mostly located on ZEC land, which provide camping, at a small cost for a limited time. The rivers in Southern Saguenay are a little harder to access with some shuttles taking as long as 3 hours round trip. Despite these long turnarounds, the area offers up some of the most rewarding whitewater in Quebec.
So far in this area, we have paddled eight different rivers within 10 days. These rivers range from grade III – V, with varying characteristics. Using Google maps and local beta we were able to locate some first descents, namely, the Upper Petit Saguenay and the Portage River. The Saguenay-North area, which was uncovered and explored by a multi-national team last year, provides even more classic whitewater. Again the majority of the rivers are located on ZEC land, and so you can expect to pay small fee and camp at your desired river put-ins and take-outs. In the Saguenay-North area you will find rivers such as the Ulrik, Pilot, St. Margaret North, West, and Olaf, all of which were discovered in the spring of 2009.
In order to catch the best of Quebec’s white water you need to be in the area for the spring snow melt. This can be hard to time perfectly, but historically it tends to happen in May. At present there are no guidebooks for this area. A local by the name of Pat Levesque is currently writing a guidebook, (keep an eye out for it at www.kayaksaguenay.com). All other information must be gathered from the kayak Quebec website (insert site address) and from others who have paddled in the area. It is important to keep the peace with locals and ZEC officials, and so care must be taken when driving into these areas.
How to get there: Either fly into Montreal, Quebec or Ottawa and drive into the white water regions.
Where to stay: ZEC parks for a cheap nights camping, hotels using priceline.com for the best deal
Where to eat: Seeing as Quebec is famous for poutine it is a must to grab some roadside French goodness.
Water Levels: Some of the levels can be found at www.quebecwhitewater.com however sometimes you must extrapolate levels based on surrounding drainages.
When to paddle: April to June
Petit Saguenay Class III-IV continuous whitewater
Upper Petit Saguenay III-IV boogey boating with some IV drops in between. Is surrounded by private land.
Moulain Downtown III-V+ pool drop slides and drops, minutes from downtown Chicoutimi
Brais Louis III-IV Boulder Garden-style with canyon section and a few drops, long paddle to take out.
Middle Valain III-IV+ pool drops, entry and exit on private land
Lower Valain III-V boulder gardens, slides and drops, enter on private land exit in a public park
Portage Amazing IV-V canyon style steep creek, lengthy flat-water in the middle of the 28km run. Stout triple drop into Easy entry and exit, beautiful campsite at put in.
Neilson A Section III-IV boulder garden style creeks
Neilson B Section III-V boulder garden and pool drop rapids, easy entry and exit in a public park
Shawinigan III-IV Slides and drops
Mastigouche Class III-IV+ slides and drops. Beautiful trail along the whole run littered with scenic camping spots.
Huit Chutes Epitome of IV-V steep-creeking, easy entry and exit. Full on non-stop Quebec classic.
Paddler: Dave Crerar
Photo's: Lu Irwin, Tyler Fox, Josh Neilson, Blake Mahoney