Romaine River

CanadaQuebec07 Lower St Lawrence, N Shore
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Allan Jacobs
Trip Date : 
Route Author: 
Stewart Coffin
Additional Route Information
575 km
18 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
9000 m
Longest Portage: 
1200 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Train from Sept-Iles to Oreway. Lac `a l’Eau Claire, Riv. `a l’Eau Claire; Lacs Pas d’Eau, Joseph, Kepimits & Atikonak. Height of land portage to Riv. Romaine; Lac Br^ul’e, Petit lac Lozeau, Lac Lozeau. Riv. Romaine through 50 miles of canyons and gorges, past Rivs. Garneau & de l’Abb’e-Huard, Bassin des Murailles; Grande Chute. Hwy 138.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Romaine River, Labrador and Quebec, August 1980

Party consisted of Russ Binning and Ralph Clim, Jim Sindelar and Brian Farrell,
Dick Irwin and Stewart Coffin.

Aug. 7 - Party assembled at Sept-Iles, discussed plans with Sept-Iles Police, bought train tickets and left canoes and most packs at train station, shuttled one car to Havre-St. Pierre, and camped at Moisie River campground.

Aug. 8 - Took 8 a.m. train to Oreway, arrived Oreway 3 p.m. Portaged 1000 yards along tote road to Lac a 1'Eau-Claire, paddled 4 miles to fair campsite on island, (4 miles).

Note: All mileages in parentheses are distances from Oreway by route we took.

Aug. 9 - Paddled to outlet of Lac a 1'Eau-Claire, and started down Riv. a 1'Eau-Claire. Found this stream to be small, with good current and minor rapids, all easily run because of high water levels. Did not see many good campsites in this section. Paddled through Lac Pas d'Eau, which certainly proved true to its name. We had only slight difficulty, but a few weeks later Henry Franklin’s party reported having to wade and drag through parts of this shallow, rock-strewn lake. Ran some more easy rapids, and camped just below one of them. (35 miles).

Aug. 10 - Ran some heavier rapids, the river now much enlarged by tributaries. At the last rapid before entering Lac Joseph, portaged 20 yards around an impassable drop. To avoid a long paddle around Lac Joseph with possible headwinds, we followed a sheltered route through its southern islands and bays, involving one 180-yard portage across a neck of land, at which we found an old portage trail. This route was made easier to follow by our use of 1:50,000 maps, which we used to good advantage for the entire trip. Camped at southeastern tip of an esker island near outlet of lake. (65 miles).

Aug. 11 - Near outlet of Lac Joseph, met fishing party consisting of Indian (?) and three companions, with canoe and outboard. We understood him to indicate that he had been on the Romaine River as far down as the St. Jean portage, that he entered it by a route farther north than the one we intended to take, and that the water was now higher than normal. Ran a strong rapid into Kepimits Lake. At outlet of this lake, ran and lined heavy rapid on left. Ran several more short rapids, ran and lined strong rapid and had lunch at foot of it. At point where river is joined by large tributary and turns northeast, found an occupied fishing camp, and an old cabin on opposite point. Entered Atikonak Lake. Saw many excellent looking campsites on these lakes. Camped at sandy beach on peninsula in southern part of lake. (96 miles).

Aug. 12 - Continuing across Atikonak Lake, we saw what looked like fishing camp on island in southern part of lake. We here joined the route followed by A. P. Low in 1894, and described in detail in his geological survey report. At southeastern end of long narrow bay, came to 3-foot falls which we portaged up 50 yards, and started up a small stream, paddling first southerly, then easterly, and finally northerly. Stream was broad, deep, and quiet in most places, but very shallow in a few spots. Portaged 150 yards up very shallow place, then came to deep water again as the stream bends closer to the Romaine River. At the second of two clearings we came to, which may have been landing sites for survey crews, we left this stream. Followed a survey line a short way, but found it went in the wrong direction, followed another a way, then struck off across this height of land on 106 degree magnetic bearing for about 3/4 mile to the edge of a string bog, where we camped in mosquito heaven. (119 miles).

Aug. 13 - Crossed bog by tortuous route, and came to small stream which we descended a short way through beaver dams and alder thickets, until it entered impassable swamp. A portage of about 3/4 mile at 88 degrees magnetic over fairly good terrain brought us back onto this little stream just above the point where it joins a larger branch coming in from the south. Paddled 1/2 mile downstream northeastward to junction with Romaine River, which is here deep and slow, with brushy banks. In 2 miles, came to a pair of rapids and ran both. Entered Lac Brule, a very shallow lake. Did not see any good campsites until 12 miles down lake, where we found fair site at sandy beach in a cove on the west side. (140 miles).

Aug. 14 - Soon after leaving campsite, entered a western bay of lake which led to a shortcut portage route. At first portage, carried 200 yards along right side of rocky stream bed to a small lake, which we then crossed. Second portage was ¼ mile over a burned hillside, following faint old trail, into Petit Lac Lozeau. Ran small chute out of this lake into Lac Lozeau, and rejoined the Romaine. (May have saved a little by this route.) Leaving Lac Lozeau, lined down heavy rapid on right, crossed small bay, and came to another heavy rapid. The start of the portage trail here is on the right, well above the rapid, and marked by blazes. It goes up and over steep hill to bay on other side, 250 yards, with beautiful campsite at top. Camped 2 miles below on right, a beautiful site on lichen-covered sandy terrace. (158 miles).

Aug. 15 - River has good current here. Ran several miles easy rapids above junction with Riv. aux Sauterelles. Twelve miles below, came to set of rapids and falls marked on map. At first rapid, portaged right 300 yards over obscure trail around 20-foot drop. Portaged second drop right 300 yards—trail obscure, rough and brushy. Ran sharp drop below, then several miles of moderate rapids that gradually diminish. Came to cabin on an island, and camped there. (195 miles).

Aug. l6 - Fast current for 19 miles brought us to mouth of Petite-Romaine, where the old portage route that A. P. Low followed leaves the Romaine, goes up and over a considerable height of land, and down the St. Jean River to the Gulf. Explored up this route a mile to the first portage, and found the old trail still clearly visible as it ascends a high bank on west side of this stream. (What tales it must hold.) Returned to Romaine, and paddled 2 miles to the head of rapids which mark the start of 50 miles of canyons and gorges with a drop in the river from 1400 feet elevation to 600 feet. (We have no knowledge of previous canoe travel in this section, reported to be “totally impassable,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Based on our close study of the maps, we have obtained air photos of the more challenging looking places, some in stereo, and we carry a small stereo viewer with us.) First set of rapids are 4 miles long and continuous. Lined down about three short drops and ran the rest. Ran a few easier rapids, and camped on smooth ledge on left at head of heavy rapids. (227 miles).

Aug. 17 - Lined down several heavy drops on the left, lifting over two or three. Came to falls with easy portage left over smooth ledge. Came to second falls with hard portage left among boulders and cliffs. Ferried across to right, and camped among huge boulders. (232 miles).

Saw much evidence of surveying and water measurements all along here. We are now in a very steep and narrow canyon, a likely site for hydro dam. The crews come in by helicopter.

Aug. 18 - Very heavy rapids easily lined down on the right. At next rapid, ferried across to left and lined down easily to a pool or expansion in the river. Below this pool is a set of staircase falls, which we passed by lining on the left and by short but difficult carries over very rough terrain, two men per canoe. Paddled left to next rapids. Ran upper part and lined down sharp drop at bottom. Passed left of island, lining down shallow rapids. Rapids continue past small rocky islands—ran all on left. Paddled around cliff on left to brink of heavy drop, lifted over a ledge, and lined the rest (river here turns left and flows eastward). Next drop is spectacular 20-foot falls, portaged easily along left bank over boulders and ledge to deep pool below. Mountain views downstream. Continued lining and lifting on left down a series of drops—fairly easy walking on ledge. Final ledge has large deposits of bright blue Labradorite imbedded in it. Ran continuous easy rapids past large island, and camped at ledge on left below rapids—cold brook here. (237 miles).

Aug. 19 - A 1/2-mile paddle brought us to an expansion, with Riv. Garneau coming in from north. Explored up this river a bit—too steep to canoe. In 3 miles, came to 16-foot falls. Large island at head has good campsites. Easy portage left of island through flume and down ledge to large pool. Good campsites here also. In 1/4 mile, came to second falls with 8-foot drop. Avoided difficult carry by paddling left along wall to small cove just before falls, then lifting over ledge to pool below. Paddled placid stretch of 10 miles with magnificent mountain views in all directions, and spectacular waterfalls cascading into canyon. Next, a 20-foot falls was portaged right 200 yards over poor and faint trail to sandy beach below. In another mile, came to start of heavy rapids where river turns sharp left in a gorge. Found blazed trail on left about 1/2 mile long around this gorge—very difficult with canoes because of rough terrain and close spacing of spruce trees. Scouted river route and found it to be even worse. While peacefully admiring the view from a rocky knoll high above the river, a curious helicopter pilot, after failing in his apparent attempt to lop our heads off with his rotor blades, came roaring down in a cloud of dust right next to us. He estimated the flow here to be 24,000 to 30,000 cfs. He said dam construction might begin in 2 to 3 years, which we had already heard, and which was one reason for our choosing to do this route when we did. Ferried across to right, and camped precariously on steep ledges with huge potholes, one large enough to float all three canoes. (254 miles).

Aug. 20 - Spent all morning descending left bank for 1-1/2 miles among rock islands, making several short portages over rough terrain. Slow progress. Afternoon, more of same. Came to set of heavy drops where river turns left around sort of an island. Found best portage route to be along rocks of left bank of main river. Camped just below at smooth ledge on left, a fair tent sites in woods. (259 miles).

Aug. 21 - One-half mile below camp, came to start of heavy rapids. Stayed on right all morning, lining and running. Tough rapids here, slow going. Filled one canoe and almost another while lining. Arrived at point where tributaries enter from both sides. Ferried across mouth of right tributary, just barely possible because it was low. Alternative would have been to carry up it 100 yards over rough terrain, where it could have been forded easily. If this tributary were as high as it was when our air photo was taken, it would present quite an obstacle. Party could either ascend it over rough terrain until a pool was found which could perhaps be ferried, or cross over to left side of Romaine, ford the much smaller tributary on that side (again perhaps), and negotiate ½ mile of steep rough terrain below it past unrunnable rapids. Lined down steep rapids just below junction. One mile below, ran long heavy rapids on right, then miles of fast current and minor rapids to junction with Riv. 1'Abbe-Huard. Poled up 1'Abbe-Huard several miles, and found it to be mostly shallow and gravelly, with scenic cliffs on west side of valley. Camped at junction. (272 miles).

Aug. 22 - We now followed the guide to lower Romaine published by Parks Canada. Paddled many miles fast current, fine mountain scenery, cliffs and waterfalls. Came to deep rapid and ran on right, ran the next on the left, portaged the third on the left over great smooth ledges, so characteristic of the lower river. Ran, lined, and made short portages around rapids all afternoon, following guide. Camped on island with thunderous falls on both sides—not recommended (see photo in Black Spruce Journals). (302 miles).

Aug. 23 - Lined and lifted several short rapids, following guide. Came to start of heavy rapids above Bassin des Murailles. Made short portage on left, paddled a short ways, then portaged along sloping ledge of left bank, made difficult and dangerous by shower and requiring two men per canoe, lined down slipperiest part to huge boulders, then portaged among boulders, through brush, and up steep cliffs, again requiring two men per canoe, finally to easy ledges leading into the basin. Spent most of the day making this portage. Much easier route would have been up and over a hill to the left, passing just right of small pond, then steeply down to the basin, all open country and easy walking, with good trail down to basin. Camped in poor site in northeast corner of basin, the only one we could find. (306 miles).

Aug. 24 - Negotiated several rapids and falls, following the guide. At Grande Chute, the shortest portage was found to be along the right bluff, then down directly to the head of the pool below. Camped on open hillside 1/2 mile below Grande Chute. The trees have all been cut down here, probably for another dam site. Blueberries very abundant here, fat and juicy. (326 miles).

Aug. 25 - Rapids at campsite easily portaged on right over rocks and ledges, which are here eroded into fantastic shapes and color patterns. Portage at next falls, 10 miles below, was easily made over an island with smooth ledge. Took out at Route 138 highway bridge, (mile 357).

While Jim and Ralph went to Havre-St. Pierre to get van, others paddled another mile to mouth of river for view of tidewater, then upstream again to bridge.

Notes: Because of the nearly ideal water levels, favorable winds, and truly phenomenal good weather experienced throughout the trip, we finished several days sooner than expected, as we had planned a 22-day trip. For canoes, we used two Old Town Trippers and one Mad River Kevlar, Both had 15 inches of depth, and we were glad of every inch. Much time was spent on this trip wading or lining down rapids, portaging on slippery rocks along the shore, climbing over rough boulders and ledges, and forcing our way through alder thickets, in and out of the water constantly; and so we all became very conscious of the need for adequate footwear. Most members took two pairs—one like canvas sneakers for wading, the other like L. L. Bean boots for rough use and protection of ankles against constant abrasion of brush and rocks, and black flies. If I were to do this again, I would skip the aerial photos and stereo viewer because, besides being unessential, in some strange way I found they detracted from the sense of adventure and lure of the unknown that so often draws us to these wild places.

The upper Romaine must surely be one of the most scenic wilderness rivers in eastern North America, surpassing even the Moisie in my opinion. It appears likely that it will remain so only a few more years before hydroelectric development takes place.

This is a slightly revised version of my original 1980 report, made by scanning it with OCR and then making numerous corrections. I may have missed some. Some of the information may be incorrect or obsolete, such as train schedules and hydro development.

Stewart Coffin, April 2008

Other transcribed reports now available:

Timber Lake, 1962
Dumoine River, 1962
Riv. du Chef, 1963
Chibougamau, 1964
Kazan River, 1966
George River, 1967
Kipawa-Dumoine, 1979
Ste. Marguerite River, 1981
Ugjoktok River, 1982


Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
12L5, 12L6, 12L11, 12L14; 12M3, 12M5, 12M6, 12M12, 12M13; 13D4, 13D5; 23A8, 23A9, 23A10, 23A11, 23A12, 23A14 (likely not needed).
Special Comments: 

Editor’s note:

This is one of ten trip reports kindly provided by Stewart Coffin; he retains copyright to them. His book Black Spruce Journals (Heron Press, 2007) provides further information on these routes; contact information is given in the Comment attached to his George River report (Routes / Quebec / Northern).

Thanks to Stewart for the hard work in preparing this report and for sharing it with the CCR community.

The Hydro Qu’ebec web site says that the Romaine is to be dammed starting in mid 2009. The flooded area will extend from about the mouth to just below the Labrador border. I don’t know though whether the project has been approved. The most recent document I found, dated 6 October 2004, says that environmental assessment is in progress.

The figures for the number of portages, the total length and the average length based on guesses for the most part; they are not to be taken literally. Please note Stewart reports a good many liftovers and linings. The main point is that this is a very demanding trip.

Allan Jacobs, CCR Routes Coordinator



Post date: Sat, 05/30/2009 - 20:19


Ran the Romaine in August 1978, from L'abbe Huard confluence to highway, with Larry Gross, Phil Leider, Tom Cole, Bob Whaley, Dave Bowen and Paul Ferguson. Can I get a copy of your original, unabridged trip report?

Thanks, Tom Coron
Fredericksburg, Va.