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PostPosted: July 20th, 2010, 12:27 pm 
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Reservoir Manicouagan trip report
July 3 – 13, 2010, Prijon Seayak
Solo paddle of the circuit, clockwise from Relais Gabriel put-in


This was one of the most intense long trips I have ever taken, and perhaps the most satisfying.

Drove north from Maryland, USA to the town of Baie-Comeau (B-C) and then up Rte. 389 to Relais Gabriel (RG), a small service station/restaurant/motel about 400 meters from the shore of Lake Manicouagan. Parked my car there with the permission of the gracious owners and put in from their small dock – most likely the only dock anywhere near the road. The fishermen in the four-meter outboard who left just before I did were the last humans I saw for the next eleven days. That was just fine with me, because I had scenery like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97639736@N00/sets/72157624420079547/

…These images are better than any descriptions I could provide, and I am also hesitant to offer too much in terms of background on the lake when others before me have done such a thorough job (see my “If you go” section, below). But I’ll give a rundown of my paddle around the reservoir. FYI, I took to calling René Levasseur Island “René” and dubbing the lake features according to their position on a clock face, as I didn’t have a map showing their proper names.


Day 1 (July 3) I leave B-C at 9:30AM and am on the water at RG by 3:30PM. It’s maybe 16C; the sky is quite foreboding with thick woolen clouds but no wind or rain as yet, so after paddling 80 mins or so to get out of the island-studded bay where RG is situated, I feel like I can attempt a crossing of the main lake channel safely. I head for the smaller and more southerly of the two large islands at the mouth of Baie Memorie (roughly the lake’s Three-Thirty), where I arrive at its southern tip by 6:30PM, paddling there slowly to get my bearings. I make camp, have dinner and hunker down in the tent, hoping I’m not in for a stormy night.

Day 2 What a relief: Was a dry night! Now quite foggy but calm and the lake is a sheet of glass, so I figure I better make tracks while the getting is good. I break camp and by 10AM the fog has mostly burned off, so I head south along the shore of René. At first I head for some cliffs I see on René’s shore about 2-3 km away, and nearly miss the far more dramatic cliffs on the very island I just camped on – a great photo opp now that the sun is out! The sky becomes what I will realize is typical for a good day up here: scattered cumulus with cirrus high above. I’m in good spirits and relieved about the weather, so I paddle 30 km or more on the mirror-smooth water, making camp at the northern tip of Five-Thirty Island, one of the two large ones past which the water flows out toward Manic-5. This is my one good sunset of the trip and I take lots of photos here. I highly recommend this spot, as it is one of the 2-3 places where you can see the curve of the crater’s rim for miles in both directions, bringing it home just how enormous this place is. Big water, big sky…and imagining this ring of low mountains curving around to meet itself 60+ km away behind René brings a pleasant and humbling shock of perspective.

Day 3 Everything changes overnight: The wind kicks up in the wee hours with no warning, and the waves start crashing loudly enough that I get up and move the boat further from the water. I wake up at 7AM to steady rain that grows and ebbs in intensity all day without ever letting up completely. I get maybe two five-minute periods of near-dry to relieve myself and refill my water bottles on the lakeshore (I’m dehydrating quickly up here), but by 3PM it’s clear I’m not going anywhere today. Totally socked in; can barely see the peninsula 500m away. Between naps, I read half of a book, do some journaling and manage to boil water in my vestibule without torching my tent, which pleases me. The rain keeps up well into the night.

Day 4 I wake with the dawn at 4, up for good at 5, and what a gloriously calm and sunny morning it is. Laughing with relief…I’m sick of laying around in my tent worrying about whether it’s going to get worse. After getting everything dry and clean, I’m on the water by 8:30. I’m energetic again, which is good because the word of the day is headwind. For a slight respite, I paddle up Six-Thirty Notch in René to see the clearcutting. Why they can’t make toilet paper out of some other less visible swath of Quebec’s backcountry is beyond me...it’s not like they’re short on territory up here.

Returning to the lake’s main channel, I see two black bears sauntering along René’s beach, probably two young lovers enjoying the sun and sand as any human couple might. They disappear into the hinterlands before I get close enough for photos. I make it as far as the large Seven O’Clock Island, where I camp on the shore facing René. A high spot with a good view. Tired from battling the wind all day; asleep by 9:30.

Day 5 Another rainy morning; I plan to take it easy today but not sit in my tent for the duration...may have no choice however. Cold breakfast in the tent. The drizzle keeps up till 11AM. When I finally get on the water, I manage 14km or so along René before fatigue sets in, and I spy a cabin on a small bay; I figure I wouldn’t mind resting in the shade for once (the sun is almost directly overhead for several hours a day, and the trees up here have no branches…very little relief to be found). On the water again for a bit, I again see two bears on the shore, perhaps the same pair I saw yesterday. Later, after I make camp early, I take a two-hour nap as soon as I’ve got essentials from the boat, and when I wake up I rejuvenate with a big dinner and an alcohol rub and a set of clean clothes. I’m asleep again by 9PM. Clearly I needed a rest.

Day 6 My energy and the sun have both returned, and I’m on the water heading north and paddling to the southernmost island in the small Ten O’Clock Trio, about 20km away. Another good campsite, this one with a sizable rock outcrop facing the main channel about 15m above the water. Again struck by the sheer size and beauty of this place. The Canadian government should make this entire region a forest preserve at the very least. I decide to have dinner on the outcrop, then tea as well; as I’m sipping, I hear my first thunderclap. Time to batten down for a storm. I return to camp and double-check the boat and tent before the rain starts in earnest at 9:15PM.

Day 7 A dozen little problems, each insignificant on their own, add up to a hassle of a day. Hardly slept last night as multiple T-storms passed over me, then felt weary all morning packing up. Inattention caused me to slip on the rocks when I returned to the outcrop one last time, and I scraped up a wrist and ankle; could have been much worse, very thankful I didn’t break something. Dressed both spots but they’ve been damp all day. On the water I have an unbroken two-hour waveriding attention-focus-fest paddling through starboard stern-quartering chop with occasional whitecaps to reach Ten-Thirty Island, then the wind shifts and I have a boring three-hour forced march of a calmer paddle along the mainland looking for a suitable campsite. Finally found a spot, which turns out to be my first genuine black fly colony of the trip. I’m at about Eleven O’Clock on the circuit, about 200m away from a huge stream so loud it sounds like a jet engine. At least it’s good sleep music. I pray for a dry night and collapse.

Day 8 My prayer has been answered: For once, I wake up with a dry tent. It’s chilly and the flies are as bad as last night – there must be 200 of them trapped between my netting and rainfly – and all this is not exactly encouraging me to get up. I have a relaxing cold breakfast without leaving my bag and, between the bug patter against the tent and the roar of the nearby stream, I don’t hear the onset of rain...until it’s falling fairly hard. I cross my fingers that it lets up soon and close my eyes for a nap. Finally I score a break and get on the water by 11AM…and the word of the day turns out to be WAVES. My God, what a riding session. Couple-three thunderstorms blow through and really kick up some chop. I wait out a good bit of it on a tiny rockpile of an island near Twelve O’Clock (where I filtered water as storms passed by on either side), but I get bored and figure I can cove-hop eastward along a series of landspits jutting south from the mainland. Well, this works fine for a couple of coves: only a few whitecaps and two-foot swells, tops. Then one spit has a huge long bar jutting way into the lake and I’m forced out and around it just as things get really bad. Wildest ride I’ve had since the ocean: Meter-high waves, rain, the wind whipping vortices about. The main channel is fairly narrow here and I get some relief when I’m close to René, but I can’t relax fully until I’m off the water for good at René’s Twelve-Thirty.

Tired as I am, the weather changes for the better, there’s not a single fly bothering me as I make camp, and best of all I get a good laugh this evening: I’m walking back from the beach prepping for my daily trail shower, when up the shore comes strolling a lone porcupine. Luckily I’ve got my camera handy and snap a couple of photos as he approaches. He doesn’t see me, obviously; in fact, he only notices some scent from my gear and turns right toward me. I don’t want to freak him out too much, so I figure I’ll just talk to him. I smile and say, “Dude” — I call him dude— “you know I’m here, right?” Well he certainly does now: He immediately pulls a 180 and lopes off for the woods. Not too fast though; obviously you don’t need speed when you’re a walking pincushion.

Day 9 Another choppy day. Starts with a gently rolling swell around 9AM but still windless, so I cross the main channel and head north into one of the lake’s “horns” to check it out. A few km in, along its southern shore, I spot a very well-kept hunting cabin with a couple of outbuildings and even a watch tower, but the owner keeps all of it locked, so I don’t get to check out his interior décor. I realize this is the northernmost point I’ll likely reach on the trip, so I gather a few interesting stones as souvenirs. They’ll make good paperweights to gaze at longingly when I’m chained to my desk back in the world. Tough as this paddle has been, it’s also been marvelous to experience this place.

By 5PM I’m stuck on some steep beach on the mainland around One O’Clock. I realize I may be here all night if the water stays rough. I manage to find a boulder that – with a bit of bodily contortion – permits me some relief from the sun. I chomp an extra energy bar and the last of my nut clusters; I’m still beat from yesterday. After an hour I get up and find a flat spot just big enough for my one-man tent…it suddenly begins to look attractive; this entire skirt-shaped peninsula has been steep, rugged, and entirely unsuited for camping, so I make the best of the spot. Turns out to be a good decision: There’s a rocky outcrop to the east with an unusual layout, allowing me to walk up quite easily yet ascend rapidly to maybe 25m above the lake. I eat dinner here and smoke the last of my cigar as the sun sets and the black flies come out. Chilling there with my head in netting and hands deep in my pockets, watching polar-orbit satellites pass overhead one after another in the slow dusk, I realize it’s been a great trip, and I’ve gotten a good taste of the north country.

Day 10 Can’t believe I just did that: Paddled 30km at least, maybe more. Had good conditions all day and in retrospect I bet I’ve got a touch of get-off-the-water fever. My smoke last night made it clear I got what I came here for: It’s been adventurous and satisfying, but I’m ready to get back. I crossed the main channel early through slow rollers to check out some dramatic cliffs on René’s One-Thirty, then island-hopped along the shore where I got a few good views of the Groulx range across the water. By 5:30PM it was so flat that I considered crossing the water again in case it’s bad tomorrow, but decided against it; was tired and didn’t want to get caught in the middle of the lake when I wasn't fresh in case the wind shifted. Probably wise in retrospect; when I finally stopped at 7PM, I just barely got the tent up and water boiled before the thunderstorms hit. Sucked down two dinners as the rain fell. I’m on a small peninsula at René's Three O'Clock within sight of the island I camped my first night…hope to cross back to RG tomorrow morning.

Day 11 I wake up early to a steady patter of rain and a cold, cloudy landscape. The Groulx are almost completely socked in and I barely have the chance to emerge until 11AM. Fortunately the rain abates long enough to break camp and, as I figure this is my last paddle, I fold up my drenched fly without drying it (for once) and stow it under my deck webbing. This time-saver gets me on the water before noon and around the larger island by 1PM, where the main channel gives me some stern-quartering rollers that keep me on my toes but fortunately don’t get threatening. I make it back to the RG dock by 3:30PM, making this a precisely 11-day trip. I walk up to RG and retrieve my car after changing the flat tire I incurred on the drive up…a slow leak I hadn’t noticed. After thanking the owners of RG and eating a quick meal from their kitchen, I drive back slowly and make B-C by 10PM.


If you go:

Be sure to read the trip reports that Rob Rutten has kindly collected at page bottom at http://www.astro.uu.nl/~rutten/Manicouagan_Reservoir.html. Most of what background I could offer about the landscape, weather, flora/fauna, etc. has been said already, and quite well, by previous paddlers.

EDIT March 2012: Rob Rutten’s page I mention above has disappeared for some reason, but his own PDF trip report is still available here http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~rutte101/stuff/manicouagan/manicouagan-eng.pdf

I can’t emphasize enough how remote this lake is and how completely on your own you are once you put in. Be ready for anything, and to handle it yourself.

As others have noted, you don't really need a topo map; I traveled with images taken from Google Earth, which proved just fine for navigation. If you want to look for a map in B-C you might stop at Aventure Chasse Et Peche at 1800 Boulevard La Fleche (i.e., the main drag), though they were out of map 22N when I stopped by.

I budgeted 13 days to complete the circuit of the lake, figuring I’d probably lose several of these to weather; I ended up making it all the way around in 11 days with about two of those in total waiting on conditions. Daytime temperatures ranged from 25C when it was sunny and calm to maybe 11C when it was windy and overcast. At night it was usually fairly cold; I was always happy I had my winter bag.

Baie-Comeau is a fairly large town with all the services you could want, including nearly every major car dealership. Its layout is a bit odd though. When you first hit it driving east from Quebec City, you’ll pass a lot of businesses and then the forest will return, as though you’ve passed through all of town – with no sign of 389, disconcertingly. Then after a few km town will reappear, rather inexplicably. To get to 389 (the Labrador Highway), turn left at the stoplight with a Shell Station across 138 from a pizza shop/ice cream stand. This road winds uphill past a few car dealerships for a couple km, then you’ll see signs for 389. (You've gone too far if you go up the hill on 138 and see Mike’s restaurant on your right in front of a big mall…but I highly recommend Mike’s for a sit-down breakfast).

B-C has quite a few motels, but when I passed through they were nearly all completely full because road construction crews use the town as their base when making summer repairs around the region. If you hope to sleep there on your trip – especially on a weeknight – make reservations well in advance.

Gas along 138 from QC to B-C is refreshingly consistent in price, but life along 389 gets expensive. When I was there, gas in B-C was $1.07 per liter, but $1.31 at Manic-5 and $1.61 at Relais Gabriel – your only two options after leaving B-C. (There used to be a gas station/restaurant near the huge transformer station at km 165, but it looks like it’s been closed for some time.)

The folks at Relais Gabriel are very nice and accommodating. They didn’t charge me a cent to leave my car next to one of their cabins behind the station…I gave them $20 anyway. A plate of pasta and a cup of soup there set me back about $12. The road from the station to their boat launch is 400m long and is a bit steep, but drive slowly and you should be able to manage without 4WD.

The unpaved road north of Manic-5 is not bad but it ain’t great either. Driving fast you’ll skid on many turns. I popped a tire on the way up and driving back to Baie-Comeau on my spare was not a peaceful experience. Take AT LEAST one extra tire and drive the speed limit…it will likely save you some hassles.

Camping on the lake: Others have pointed out that the beaches are as wide as football fields and you should therefore have lots of room to camp. This is true in principle, but one thing I noticed was that the beaches are fairly steep as well, offering very little flat ground for your tent. Unless you like sleeping at a 25 degree angle, start looking for campsites a good while before you intend to get off the water.

I saw about ten hunting cabins, mostly concentrated on René’s eastern coast but a few elsewhere too. Doubtful you’ll find any of them occupied but maybe they can serve as shelter if you get into a jam.


Shoulda woulda coulda’s:

Up in the northwest section on the mainland there’s a mountain that looks every bit as majestic as the Groulx peaks, and is also much closer to the water. The day I was close I was too busy making tracks to look for a trail, but I bet the view from the summit is astounding.

On that note, you could probably get a great trip out of just paddling up the “horns” as I called them, i.e. the long bays and rivers that feed the lake from the north. The larger of the two islands at the southern end (the arm flowing out toward the dam) also looks like it might have some cool topography.

I didn’t paddle any of Baie Memorie or climb Mont Babel, mostly because I only think I saw the mountain a couple of times on the circuit and therefore figured even if I did climb it I wouldn’t get the 360-view of the lake I wanted. If anyone has summited Babel and thinks the view is nonetheless worthwhile, please tell future paddlers I missed out ;)


Last edited by chad9477 on March 7th, 2012, 3:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: August 10th, 2010, 6:58 am 
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Hi Chad, thanks for the excellent report. We are planning on kayaking the Manicouagan reservoir at the end of August - beginning of September.

What was the water temperature when you did your trip? Very cold? Enough to wear a drysuit or would a wetsuit have been sufficient? We are tying to get info on water and air temperatures for that area but I can't seem to find much...

Were the conditions pretty rough (big waves? lots of wind?), a mix of calm and rough weather?

Any additional info would be appreciated... We can't wait to go paddle the crater :thumbup:


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PostPosted: August 10th, 2010, 7:53 am 
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Chad,

Thanks for sharing. Those were some of the most beautiful trip pictures I have seen.


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PostPosted: August 11th, 2010, 1:46 pm 
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Location: kanata, Ontario canada
Hi Chad,
An excellant trip report! It brought back vivid memories of my ride around the crater. My partner and I found that being on that lake ten years ago was a very humbling experience. The old saying "if you don't like the weather, just wait a minute" certainly applies there. Crazy weather!! On travelling one day with very hot temperatures, we hit the sack early only to find SNOW on the roof of the tent early the next morning.

The weather was unpredictable. On some calm days you could see the weather line coming at you. We soon learned to get off the lake ASAP when we saw those signs. The waves on that size of lake are more like the waves you would experience on a large ocean bay. Very challenging in a canoe!
Lots of wildlife, great scenery, solitude in spades. The trip of a lifetime!
Thanks for sharing.


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PostPosted: August 12th, 2010, 2:26 pm 
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Hi Tremblay 8)
I sent you a private message. Please take a look when you have a sec.

Gracias!


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PostPosted: August 13th, 2010, 1:53 pm 
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@Tremblay, lpaddle: Thanks to you both! Glad you enjoyed!
zabana wrote:
What was the water temperature when you did your trip? Very cold? Enough to wear a drysuit or would a wetsuit have been sufficient? ... Were the conditions pretty rough (big waves? lots of wind?), a mix of calm and rough weather?

The water itself was quite cold...never took a swim and my daily trail showers (with water taken from the shallows) were bracing. Because I was soloing I didn't bother with a suit...my logic being no one would have been there to rescue me anyway, so I could either 1) get out and dry fast, or 2) die.

All that said, despite a few rough moments I never really felt in danger. This was because I stayed close to shore and kept an eye on the weather at all times. Strongly recommend doing the same.

Conditions can and do change very quickly. It's big sky country and you can see far in all directions, but storm fronts can build behind you while you're focused on a heading and creep up unnoticed...this is not the time to be four km from shore :wink:

The worst conditions I experienced were meter-high swells with 30-knot gusts. Rollers of half that size are quite common, but so is flat windless water: Mostly I was fine in a long-sleeved lightweight capilene shirt and sunhat. (Think I put on polypro twice and took it off within an hour both times...got overheated.) Air temps in early July really varied: Got fairly chilly at night (definitely hit 5C a couple of times) but on sunny days it was high 20s and felt like 30C+ while paddling. You'll be happy to have that chilly water nearby to splash on your arms :thumbup:

Check the forecast here: http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/city/pag ... ric_e.html

Lastly, everything Tremblay mentions above I'll vouch for. Don't miss the other trip reports from the URL in my first post, they're a wealth of essential background for anyone making this trip.


Last edited by chad9477 on August 16th, 2010, 12:08 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: August 13th, 2010, 4:30 pm 
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Thanks a bunch Chad! That's very useful information. Can't wait to attempt to shower :lol: Will report back on weather/water conditions in early september once we're back...
(and BTW, kudos for doing this solo... must have been quite the trip).

Cheers,
Isabel


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PostPosted: August 14th, 2010, 12:22 am 
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Thanks so much for posting a detailed report and photos. They allowed me to take a vicarious trip to a remote spot with intriguing geography.


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PostPosted: January 4th, 2011, 12:55 pm 
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Hello Chad,

Thanks for all the info you posted up, it really makes me want to go there! :)

I see you've made the trip with your kayak. Do you think it would be possible to do the same trip, but using a canoe (2 rowers)? Any insight would be welcome here.

Thanks,
Charles


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PostPosted: January 10th, 2011, 2:32 pm 
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@cnepveau

I know people have paddled Manicouagan in canoes before, but based on my experiences and the reading I've done, I'd say be very careful and stick close to shore if you decide to do it. The weather up there can change very rapidly and the waves can quickly grow to a meter high when it's blowing. This is not the time to be in the midchannel of a lake that is Superior-cold and almost completely unvisited.

There's a link to previous trip reports in my first post, here it is again: page bottom at http://www.astro.uu.nl/~rutten/Manicoua ... rvoir.html. A few of these are by canoeists I believe.

Don't let me discourage you, just prepare well and respect the wild. Happy to answer specific questions down the road if you have any.


Last edited by chad9477 on January 11th, 2011, 11:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: January 10th, 2011, 2:53 pm 
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canoeing_eagles's trip report:

in the Trip Reports forum:

viewtopic.php?f=116&t=17315&hilit=Manicouagan

in the Routes folder:

http://www.myccr.com/canoedb/routeDetai ... outeid=624

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PostPosted: September 9th, 2013, 10:39 am 
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For those planning a trip to the reservoir, I posted a second trip report from 2013 :)


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