Previous Post – Day 9: From Rapides Enragés (Km 60) To Chute A L’Ours (Km 43)
- distance: 28 km
- time: start – 8:10 a.m. ; finish – 3:00 p.m.
- portages/rapids: 1/6 + 1 Falls
- – W-53 Swifts / C3–>C4 PRR 350m “Chutes a L’Ours”
- – W-R54 C1 / C2 / C2 / C1 1000m “Guennette”
- – W-R55 C2 300m… Notes Wilson: “be nimble or pay”!
- – W-R56 C1
- – W-R57 C1T RR Ledge
- – W-R58 C1T 125m
- – W-R59 C1/C1T several runs spread out over 2 km.
- weather: sunny and very warm
- campsite: CRCS10 Esprit Rafting – Esprit Point, Davidson; lawn area looking south-east onto Ottawa river.
- Natural Resources Canada topo map sheets: Lac Usborne 031 K 02; Fort-Coulonge 031 F 15
As noted in the previous post, we started this day not really knowing how things were going to unfold. Well, we knew that we’d be paddling about thirty kilometers to the Chutes Coulonge. It was the part after that which was up in the air. Months of research had not turned up anything about a portage around the Chutes Coulonge and the worst-case-scenario of using the roads on either side of the river – all six kilometers of them – to get around them was not appealing.
We did have another option – a possible shuttle with Jim Coffey’s Esprit Rafting – that would be a lot less painful. However, I had only made contact with Jim via email and the last time was in June. I really should have given him a call before we set off at the top of the Coulonge. What if he couldn’t do the shuttle!
We got on the water early – it was just after 8 when we set off. On tap almost immediately were what looked to be the day’s two most challenging sections of the river – W-R54 (the kilometer-long Guennette Rapids) and W-R55, a shorter 300-meter CII right after that.
We seem to have been all business this morning since there are not many pix – in fact, none! As for the rapids, a combination of lining and running and lifting over did the job. They certainly did not seem to have quite the snarl that Wilson describes. The low late-season water levels are probably the explanation. There was also a bit of scraping and bouncing off badly placed boulders in unexpected places – the usual indignities that our no longer new and scratch-free canoe has been subjected to over the past five years.
Around noon we passed this island and decided to check it out as a potential campsite – it is an okay spot that would serve paddlers who had a day to kill while waiting for a shuttle at the Terry Fox Bridge just a bit further down.
We found a shady corner and had lunch there before moving on.
Under the Terry Fox bridge and on to the Chutes..we passed a few residential properties and made easy progress. When we passed the golf course on river right we knew we were getting close to the Chutes.
Just past the golf course – a popular place for Coulonge trippers to leave their vehicles while they do the river – we approached the structure in the image below from river right. We scanned the river right shoreline in search of what we hoped would be a portage trail. The warning signs helped us find it!
Take-Out Spot Above the Pontiac Hydro Installation:
The take-out spot is about 1.5 kilometers downriver from the golf course and is just before the hydro installation. [We would later learn that the structure covers the top end of a one-kilometer tunnel taking the water down to the actual generating station at the bottom of the gorge.]
Next to the partially visible signs pictured below was a landing and a well-used 70-meter trail which goes up to the gravel Chutes Coulonge road. About 100 meters down this road is the gated entry to the Park. We’d later walk down the road to the Chutes Coulonge Park parking lot and the Park’s Ticket Office/Gift Shop/Administrative Building.
Any hesitation to use the trail was neutralized by the fact that we were clearly not the first to use the well-established trail and that the signs (almost completely hidden by the foliage) were undoubtedly put there as lawsuit prevention statements by the managers/owners.
The signs have the “Hydro Pontiac” logo on the top left. It may manage the site for the current owner, Brookfield Renewable Power, a company whose Quebec holdings include more than the Coulonge Chutes G.S. (named the Joey Tanenbaum G.S.) and its 17 MW capacity. (See here for a list of its holdings.)
A fingers-crossed phone call from the take-out point to Jim Coffey at Esprit Rafting to alert him to our arrival put the next stage of our trip – the shuttle – into motion. We had decided to scrap the road portage idea and saw an additional “plus” in chatting with Jim; he would be able to fill us in on the rapids of the Rocher Fendu stretch of the Ottawa.
Luckily, he remembered the correspondence we had exchanged earlier in the year – he had been down in the Caribbean for some of it! Within an hour Dennis Blaedow arrived and we were on our way to the Esprit Rafting base camp in Davidson, a short twenty-minute drive away.
The Double Shuttle Plan:
The plan was this – spend the night on the shores of the Ottawa River at Esprit Point and then get shuttled back to the Coulonge by Dennis the next morning. We would put in at the bottom of the chutes and finish off our Coulonge River trip right to the mouth of the Ottawa River.
Amazingly Jim offered the shuttles to us for free – he said he was inspired by our plan to paddle right down to Ottawa itself. He said we could pay the usual $15. a person for tenting at Esprit! We did insist on paying for the shuttle service and on our departure the next morning left $150. for him to donate to whatever charity he wanted! We were just relieved at how well everything had turned out – from a big question mark to a fantastic exclamation mark!
As for Dennis, as well as working with Jim for Esprit for the past twenty-five years as the ultimate shuttle master, it turns out that he is on the board responsible for the running of the Chutes Coulonge. Well, not just on the board – he is the current Director. His knowledge of – and passion for – the upper Ottawa valley and its river and rafting routes and other attractions made our two rides with him a blur thanks to the great conversation.
Jim and Dennis would be the first of a half-dozen generous and welcoming Ottawa Valley people we would meet as we made our way down river to Ottawa. Never having visited before, we finally got to experience what people were getting at when they talked about that special Ottawa Valley vibe.
The Chutes Coulonge:
Before Dennis arrived, we had a bit more than forty-five minutes for a quick visit to the Chutes down the road. We stashed our canoe and gear at the top end of the trail and set off for the Chutes; the entrance was about ten minutes down the road. Just past the top of the trail and before the park gate we passed the gated entrance to the Brookfield property:
Just before the Park ticket office, we walked through the parking lot and noticed the sign “Parking Canoers “. At the office, our question about the sign got the response that canoe trippers who are shuttled to the beginning of their Coulonge river trip have their cars left here.
This was interesting to hear. Obviously, they would use the same take-out point and trail up to the road as we had to get to their vehicles.
I did wonder how that golf course just two kilometers up the river feels about losing its canoe trippers’ parking business since fewer canoe trippers are now leaving their vehicles up there.
As for the Park itself, while the Chutes themselves are the obvious main attraction, there are a number of exhibits dealing with the lumber industry and forestry to put everything into historical context. Here is some of what we rushed through in thirty minutes. (You could easily spend a couple of hours taking in the falls and the exhibits. We saw what we could since we wouldn’t be back the next day!)
Walking on a boardwalk that recreated the Coulonge and its logging camp locations provided us with a neat review of the river we had just spent the past eight days paddling from Lac Pomponne on down.
The main attraction is definitely the chutes themselves and we hurried past all the plaques and info boards to get to them.
The main lumber era feature was the 915-meter wooden log slide on the river left side of the falls. Down this slide, the logs would come tumbling each spring after the Coulonge ice had broken and the rivermen had driven the results of their winter’s work downstream. Almost a century ago it was replaced by a concrete slide still in place although it has not been used since the last log drive in 1982.
Turning around, we looked down the half-mile or so gorge to the bottom. Not visible is the Powerhouse, a building we would see the next morning when our Esprit Rafting shuttle dropped us off at the bottom of the canyon and we paddled back into it as far as we could.
As it turned out, that was not very far! The bottom is an impassable boulder garden and the late summer lack of water meant a hike would have been necessary.
I really did not see how the chutes were producing hydropower as we looked at them from the various vantage points. It was only when I checked out the Chutes Coulonge website and found a virtual tour of the park that I found this explanation. It connected the building we saw at the take-out on top of the chutes to the one we would see the next morning when Dennis dropped us off at the bottom of the gorge section so we could finish off our Coulonge part of the trip.
There is a green building at the very end of the canyon that is the Hydro Pontiac Power house. This was completed in the spring of 1993. Just inside the gate, on the left as you entered the park [see my photo up above] is the entrance to the 1800 ft (549 m) underground tunnel. The water is diverted down that tunnel directly to the power house where two turbines generate a total of 16.2 megawatts which could supply 8000 homes with electricity.
Our too-quick tour of the Chutes Coulonge done, we hurried back to the gear we had stashed just off the side of the road at the top of the trail from the river. Waiting there was Dennis! Within an hour we were putting up our tent on the Esprit riverfront property.
Missing from any of the photos we took of the Esprit property was the almost century-old pine lodge that had served as restaurant/bar and the social heart of Jim Coffey’s Esprit Rafting business. On May 20 of this year (2016) it burned to the ground. Nearby a few other buildings were also damaged but luckily the gear and the Youth Hostelling International facilities and tenting area were not affected.
We spoke with one of the river guides who was there that night; he told me that, as shocked as they were, they took to the water the very next morning – a busy Saturday – with a full roster of rafts and guests. [See here for a CBC Ottawa news article from the next day which describes the sad event. You can watch a CTV news clip here.]
Jim started the venture in 1992 and made it a success, thanks to his positive way of handling people and the random stuff life throws his way, as well as an excellent staff, people like Dennis Blaedow. It doesn’t hurt that just downriver from Davidson is the Rocher Fendu on the Ottawa River, perhaps eastern North America’s premier whitewater rafting destination.
Esprit is one of three or four local companies on both sides of the river that have made it quite the thrill-seeker draw with their rafts both large and small. The next day we’d get to experience the Middle Channel of Rocher Fendu for ourselves, relying heavily on the notes that Jim had provided as we sat there with our topo maps on the table!
Trailers, YI International tents, and the tents of visitors like us can be seen in the photo above – just a small slice of the Esprit property. A visit to the point on which the lodge used to be revealed little except a few charred pieces of wood; the area had been cleaned out after the fire. In its place stood a large open event tent with tables and chairs.
I turned away from the scene of the fire to the Ottawa River and the setting sun. The next day would mark an end and a beginning – we would finish our Coulonge River trip and start off on our four-day paddle down the Ottawa River.