Rough Waters on the Nepisiguit
  by   Nanook and Scooter

On a wide and swift stream like the Rough Waters section of the Nepisiguit, there are so many rapids in succession that you are never sure which side of the river to favor when approaching a drop. Especially if it's your first time running this river.

For most of them, you can line or drag your boat over the boulders on either side. On others, because of cliffs, you gotta bushwhack back upriver to the previous eddy and ferry across to the other side.

slideboat (76K)
Rough Waters of the Nepisiguit

This spring, the water was freshet high, and it seemed that every rapid on the Rough Waters featured at least one rocky six-foot drop. We had chosen the better shore for lining and dragging almost every time, until we came at last to the old pumphouse in Bathurst. This rapid featured a ten-foot sheer drop and another drop over the pumphouse wall. It was one of those lethal rounded low-head dams that can entrap a boat and crew.

 Rough Waters, Nepisiguit.
Hal lines a in the Rough Waters of the Nepisiguit.

So we decided to carry. We headed to the brink of the drop on river right, and considered our options.

There was no way to hump our boats and gear at the shoreline. Hal and I climbed up the steep embankment, grabbing at roots and rocks, and scouted for a trail.

There was none. Fences and ravines imposed lengthy detours. When we got to the top, we saw the way down to the river was blocked by the pumphouse dam property and a sheer cliff.

So we worked our boats along the shore back upstream through the alders and rockfalls to the top of the eddy. It looked like there were lots of slackwaters behind rocks to let us leapfrog our way to the other shore, where level ground invited an easier portage.

Pabineau Falls outrace
Tailrace of Pabineau Falls. The carry is long and arduous around Pabineau.

I went first, choosing my paddle rather than my pole. I called on all my reserves to keep my boat pointing upriver as I traversed its aerated millrace. I gained the small bay by a concrete berm and turned to watch Scooter.

Scooter tells the story:

"We are on the river again running more whitewater and then come to the section called Rough Waters. According to the maps, which we later got, it's about three miles or so.

pumphouse falls
Pumphouse Falls

The final portage at the Pumphouse is on river left, by a concrete berm. When you see the berm on the left shore, go to the left and carry over the wall and then around another rock island into a calm backwater that leads into the river below the very last rapid. There is no passage on the right shore, and we had to do a dangerous upstream ferry to cross over to the left shore. You are now near sea level for the last half-hour down to the harbour bridge by the mill.

We lined, paddled, lined, paddled and then came to an area where the remnants of a broken dam were on the opposite side of the river, where we needed to be. Below us were three separate drops that were unrunnable in our canoes and the portage trail was so brutal it is not worth doing.

Instead we line back upstream and paddle like hell to two eddies that will take us across the river so we can carry over the broken dam. This is our last obstacle before we take out for the end of the trip. It's dicey, for if one doesn't make it, those drops and hydraulics will be hell to pay.

Nanook goes first and makes it look easy, he's an excellent paddler and a joy to watch. I go next and as soon as the current grips I see that my painter is looped around my paddle and flops in my face with every paddle stroke. I can't even get a full reach but make it to the eddy where I untangle it and make it to the second eddy huffing and puffing. Hal comes last and like Nanook makes it look easy. We carry over and are now in calm water for the first time today it seems.

Scooter and I watched as Hal threaded his boat through the rock gardens and glided across. He worked his pole hard crossing the tongue of the main upriver drop. His balance did not falter as he rested behind each rock in turn to plan his next ferry to slack water.

We had to drag and lug around one last rockpile or two to rejoin the river at the base of the dam. We could feel the tides of Bathurst Harbour, and as we rounded the first turn, the first of two bridges that marked river's end came into view.

tripsend (30K)
Tidewaters of the Nepisiguit

We paddle the Tidewaters of the Nepisiguit for perhaps an hour, under two bridges to reach the sea at Bathurst Harbour.

Jeez, Scooter, you make me blush. You're not too shabby yourself. And thanks for the story and the pictures!


Paul Hill runs Pabineau Falls, Nepisiguit, in spring flood

Here's a tale about Snowdrifts and a Precipice on the upper Keswick.


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