Mingan Archipelago

Quebec Province, Canada

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Paddle Trip{short description of image}{short description of image}(A Level 4 Trip)
Starting but 124 miles from the end of the road along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River (La Fleuve), the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada spreads about 109 miles eastward as it dots the coastline with over 2,000 islands and islets. To the southwest a 9 to 10 hour drive away lies Quebec City. Due south across a 12 mile channel is Anticosti Island and below Anticosti another 25 miles is the eastern tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. To the east is a roadless coastline all the way to Laborador and Newfoundland. To the north are tundra, lakes, bog and rock. In late June it is still Spring.

The Launch: The beach at Longue Pointe was my launch site and the paddle took me to camp sites throughout the park.

Paddling time and distance: more than 3 days.

Route: From a beach launch in the fog at Longue Pointe, I paddled to campsites on Ile Nue de Mingan where I spent one night in a campsite (one of two sites on the island)in the midst of Roseate Tern rookery, watch your head. The un-named monoliths on this island were spectacular. The next morning I paddled past Ile aux Bouleaux de Terre to the campsite at Barachois Mont Petit on Grande Isle. Grande Ile has two campsites each with four sites. After two nights on Grande Ile and a day trip circumnavigating the island and visiting the monoliths at Le Zoo and Le Chateau, I paddled past Ile Quarry to the campsite on Ile Niapiskau (six sites on this island). After setting up camp I backtracked to Ile Quarry to see a monolith grouping called Pots du Fluers and then crossed to the southern end of Ile Niapiskau and swung around the eastern side to view the monolith La Bonne Femme de Niapiskau. From there I crossed the to Ile du Fantome and through the small straight between it and Ile au Fermin to Ile du Havre for one night. The next day I made the short paddle to Havre-Saint-Pierre then after reprovisioning I drove to a launch on the Riviere du Milieu (at low tide - a big mistake) and paddled from there to L'ile a la Chasse for two nights. I circumnavigated L'ile a la Chasse and finally returned to Riviere du Milieu (at high tide - a lesson learned).

Paddling Tips: I have been to Mingan twice and the areas that consistentently require the most attention and care were the crossing from Longue Point to Ile Nue de Mingan and crossing the Niapiskau channel from Ile du Fantome to Ile Niapiskau. The crossing to Ile Nue usually puts you perpendicular to the wind and a 3 knot maximum rate current flow, go and return at slack tide if you can. The Niapiskau channel seems to bend and intensify the wind. I've had two of three crossings there where I experienecd far more adreniline than I'd like. My wife and I had to stow our boats one time during a later trip there and walk back to our camp as we were unable to round the northen head due to winds and current flows. At least we made the campsite and got a great whale watch, the local area guides were barely able to get their tour across the channel and to an emergency bivouac on the east side of the island. In generally the southern passages around the islands are rougher. The southern shores of Ile Niapiskau can be treacherous as they are laced with many ledge fingers that spread out from the visible land like spokes from a hub and can set up a terrible claptois ("voodoo chop") due to the multiple refraction of the waves. The channel between Ile aux Bouleaux de Terre and Ile aux Bouleaux du Large I was warned to stay away from. When landing at the Havre au Sauvage campsite on Ile du Havre the shoreline gives the appearance of being sand. It is rock and it has a stepped ledge that at the wrong tide height could splinter a boat making a surf landing. Look for the low spots on the ledge by finding the green alge where water drains down the rocks and you can slide right in. While Ile du Havre is the closest to civilization, bear in mind that the campsite is in Havre au Sauvage just round Pointe Enragee. The Riviere du Milieu is nearly impassible at low tide and every black fly in Canada knows about it when you get stuck lining your boat through the muck. When you paddle this area you must get your timing right because you are in both ocean and river. There are very bizarre rapids on the northwest corner of the island and the sign marking them is incomprehensible. .
Watch out for: Fog, wind, very cold water, black flies on the Riviere du Milieu. Though I have spent a lot of time in my boat, I am not an expert. I found that my navigational skills were challenged by tides and fog and I learned tremendously through several misjudgments made along the way. Traveling in these islands takes good equipment, thorough planning and great care. While you are camping in Mingan no one checks up on you. I went alone the last week in June 2001 and was only the 8th camping permit issued. My wife and I went back the first week in July of 2003 and received the 45th permit; however, that was because there had been a kayak symposium there that year. Only if you fail to turn in your Parcs Canada camping permit on the appointed day would anyone come looking. Likewise should one get into trouble on the water many areas are far enough away from Parcs Canada facilities that it would be a significant time before rescue personnel could reach you. Probably too significant an amount of time given the water temperature (which I believe is 39 degrees).

Natural Features: The geography is spectacular. The islands are covered with towering dolomite monoliths and on each island they seem to have their own character. It was hard to believe that you are not at some ancient Druid monument or on Easter Island. Ile Nue de Mingan is a treeless island inhabited by birds. The other islands are forested with openland covered with tiny tundra flowers and greenery. Seals abound in these islands. I was startled but what appeared to be broad strip of rapids ahead of me when my chart said I was in 70 feet of water. The noise and commotion was 100+ seals in a feeding frenzy. Porpoise are common as well. What a joy when they get curious and accompany you for a few meters. The bird life is exquisite. I saw puffin, gannet, Guillemont, Spruce Grouse wandered through my campsite, I camped in a Roseate Tern rookery, Common Eiders and Scoters are in creches everywhere defending their young from the preditation of Black-Backed Gulls. The seabirds lead you to the whales, predominantly Minkes, the smallest of the baline whales (small like a school bus). In 2003 we floated by Ile Quarry through a narrow strip of shallow water while watching 5-6 Minkes feeding on Capelin maybe 20 feet away. Bigger whales come too but generally later in the season.

Stretch Your Legs: This varies by where you are and what the conditions are. I always plotted on my charts my desired route and an escape route in case of fog or wind.
One Paddler's Story:I am a middle aged paddle freak. Living in Vermont, I spend most weekends from ice-out until deer season on Lake Champlain. Whenever I can I travel to salt water. I just recently completed a solo paddle/camping trip from South Bay in Whitehall, NY the length of the lake to Kelly Bay in Alburg, VT. I have paddled and camped both solo and with my wife in the Mingan Archepeligo, on various parts of the Maine Island Trail, off Gran Manan, New Brunswick, and before buying our own boats with guides in Newfoundland and the Florida Keys. My wife and I own Chesepeake Light Craft boats (Chesepeake model - mine 18', hers 16') beautifully constructed by Geoff Kerr of Two Daughters Boatworks in Westport, VT.

-- Trip contributed by Jeff Gephart

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