The Trip to the End of The Road – is not just a catchy name, it is actually true and very real destination on the east north portion of the Quebecois map. I must admit that for me this trip was an epic journey. You see, I often travel to other places to dive, and, as a rule, I have an easy access to all conveniences modern dive resorts seldom fail to offer. But this trip, as you’ll see further, was totally different from what we are so used to. Once in 2013, I had somewhat similar experience, when Jonathan Bird organized Тrans-Indonesian voyage from Sorong to Alor. Yes, we travel on a comfortable boat, did not have to cook, to be concerned where to fill our tanks or to worry about places to sleep. But what made a huge difference between this trip and others – we constantly moved from island to island, discovering new places, diving and exploring new, remote locations. And just for this very reason “The Trip to the End of the Road” rightfully became a milestone in my diving career.
You can continue reading the story as it progressed or you can use corresponding buttons (listed below) to jump to the section you are interested in the most. Enjoy
How did my dive-buddy Matt come out with the name? You see, In July he sent me a screenshot of a map, depicting the road from Boston to Kegaska, the town located at the terminus of the Canadian highway 138. And, quite frankly, that did it. I have always fantasized about driving north across Canada, until there is no more drivable road, I’d have plenty of food, warm clothing and an ample supply of gasoline strapped to the bumper of my truck. And now, minus strapped tanks 😉 I had a chance to make my dream to come true.
We began preparation by making a few phone calls to our Canadian friends, trying to find out all they knew about final points of our expedition. Steve, with whom we dove previously and who used to work at Les Escoumins’ Marine Environment Discovery Centre, gave us Patrick’s phone number, who dives regularly at Baie Comeau; a town located two hours east and north from Les Escoumins. We exchanged a few e-mails with Patrick and he expressed enthusiastically his desire to meet and guide our dives.
Then we researched Kegaska area, trying to find a suitable place to stay. On the map, Google pinned down only one hotel, “Auberge Brion” and upon our inquiry, it turned out that at the time we planned to arrive all rooms were occupied. The lady, who answered the phone, recommended calling a campground in Natashquan, the town 30 miles west of Kegaska. So we phoned “Chemin Faisant” and spoke with Richard.
After explaining the goal of our trip, Richard said that he is going to find out all he could about diving in the area. The man kept his promise and a few days later we’ve got a phone number of the fisherman named Serge. Serge said he was not only happy to show us around, but also invited us to stay at his place. So instead of sleeping in the tent, as we had intended, we had very bright lodging perspectives plus now we could dive off the boat.
Matt and I were somewhat familiar with Les Escoumins and in Saguenay Fjord, therefore we choose not to call ahead to reserve lodging there. After such an auspicious turn of events at Natashquan, we decided that it wouldn’t be a problem to book a hotel at the last minute. But just in case, we took tent and all necessary gears for camping on the side of the road.
So to summarize, we hoped first to drive east and dive at Les Escoumins, Baie Comeau, Natashquan and Kegaska, then, on our way back, to explore Saguenay and, if time allowed, dive again at Baie Comeau or Les Escoumins.
That was our preliminary and very flexible plan. Therefore, we packed for all contingencies tent, cots and all cooking gear to reduce trip expenses. We stocked one large bin with plenty of dry goods and sizable cooler with perishable products, so now we were ready to picnic at any chosen location. We loaded 15 tanks and diving gear, making sure that we had a spare for all-important items.
And on the 15th of August, at 2 pm, Matt left his house. An hour later he picked me up and at 4 pm we were on our way to the “End of The Road”.
Because we left very late, we had to make our first stop in Quebec City hotel after escaping near collision with a moose in the Maine wilds. The next afternoon, about 3 pm, we parked at Les Escoumins’ Marine Environment Discovery Centre.
Whale seekers at the Les Escoumins’ Marine Environment Discovery Centre
To our deep regret, due to dive gear malfunction, we were unable to make dive at this spectacular place, which we have visited before and really looked forward exploring it again. We repacked the truck and departed for Baie Comeau, arriving about 9 pm to the hotel Haute Rive.
On our way to Baie Comeau, we discovered good place to eat – Le Migneron Charlevoix
Matt cooked scrumptious dinner on the tailgate of his truck and after finishing our meal, we rechecked all our gear ensuring that we were ready for the next day’s adventures.
Matt busy at his makeshift kitchen
At 8:45 am we left the hotel and 15 minutes later, as agreed, met Patrick at the Port Bay Comeau parking lot. We loaded his 18 feet long Bombard rib with enough tanks for 2 dives, light snacks, water, cameras and launched the boat.
Patrick Bourgeois (the captain) and Matt Wills on the way to the first dive spot
It took about 30 minutes to reach our first spot. Usually, the places we dive already have names, but Patrick surprised us by telling that although he dove there many times, he has still failed to name few spots. So being good-natured and on the spur of the moment, he called the first place we dove Matt’s Bay and the second Bay got my name … well, well, who knew)))
Matt’s Bay at Baie Comeau
Later, I realized how wise it was to give to each of these places our names. Patrick knew well that we were planning to write a review about our diving experiences. And now, since both spots had our names it would be hard to say anything else, but how gorgeous they both were.
Patrick Bourgeois and I
Well, jokes aside, both spots could’ve remained nameless, I’d go back, again and again, to dive at any of them. However, I think Matt’s Bay was the most spectacular out of all 4 locations we dove at Baie Comeau. Visibility was about 40-50 feet and water temperature fluctuated between 54F at the surface and a frigid 35F at 55 feet of depth.
Clonal plumose anemone (Metridium senile)
The bottom was covered with scarlet psoluses and orange-footed sea cucumbers thickly settled over large boulders. We saw plenty of smooth and spiny sea stars, found three species of nudibranchs and one spiny lumpsucker.
Atlantic spiny lumpsucker ( Eumicrotremus spinosus)
The most remarkable marine organisms at this site were red anemones with extremely think tentacles. Actually, the whole animal was very impressive in size; its oral disk was reaching 8-10 inches in diameter.
Northern red anemone (Urticina felina)
Almost everywhere there were lots and lots of soft sea strawberry corals. As for me, I saw for the first time the smallest Trumpet stalked jellyfish, its tiny bell was bouncing all over the place on its thin springy stem, reminding me of an unruly yo-yo. There wasn’t much of a current, but it was hard to get a decent shot of a diminutive constantly swaying animal.
Trumpet stalked jellyfish (Haliclystus salpinx)
We returned next day for 2 additional dives with Patrick. But since we needed to get to the Natashquan before too late and had more than 400 miles to cover, we asked Patrick not to venture far from the pier. Thus, he’s lead us to the dive sites closer to the Baie Des Anglais.
Early morning of august 18. Harbor of the Club Nautique de Baie-Comeau
Harbor seal at our first dive spot
Upon arrival to our first dive spot, Patrick pointed at the rocks with deep scars left thousands of years ago by grinding glaciers.
The first dive spot offered greater diversity than the second one. The most identifiable feature of the second dive was the huge colony of the scarlet psoluses
Scarlet psolus (Psolus fabricii)
Later, in the second dive, Matt and I, losing slightly compass bearing, ended up in the area where previously, for many years, during almost every plunge, divers would encounter at least few Greenland sharks. The last time Greenland shark was observed in this area in 2012. The Greenland shark is known as the longest living vertebrate, with the lifespan over 450 years. Therefore, it takes about 70 years for this species to reach sexual maturity, so the hope remains that one-day they will return to Baie Comeau
Polar Lebbeid Shrimp (Lebbeus polaris)
The story of Natashquan begins with Richard, an attendee at the Chením Faísant campsite, to whom we should express our deepest appreciation for our acquaintance with fisherman Serge Gagnon. When I called, trying to book a camping spot, I asked if Richard knew anything about diving near Natashquan. Richard suggested calling back in a week. The man kept his word; he went and spoke with Serge, who expressed high interest to talk to us. And that’s how we’ve got Serge phone number, two awesome dives off Serge’s boat, an excellent place to stay and a wonderful dinner with his beautiful family
Stopping at the Riviere Aux Rochers, Port-Cartier
When we arrived at Natashquan, about 11 in the evening, Serge took us up to the second floor of his house, where we found 3 spacious rooms with comfortable beds, a fully equipped kitchen, shower cabin, laundry and balcony with a view of the bay. We also got bed sheets and fresh towels. Before he bid us good night, we agreed to meet downstairs at 9 am for a short drive to his boat.
At Sergio’s house. Getting photo equipment for dive
The Lino D, is the third fishing vessel built by Serge with his own hands. The boat was 50 feet long with plenty of free space on its wide deck for tanks and other necessary equipment. After examining the situation, we asked Serge how we could get back on deck after the dive. The vessel’s boards were not too high, but still, there were at least few feet to climb, so Serge brought with him chain stepladder, to assist us back on board.
About 9:30 in the morning, Matt and I, with the help of Serge, his beautiful 6 years old daughter Naila and deckhand Francois, loaded 5 tanks, couple plastic bins with dive gear and “sail” to our first destination.
On the board of Lino D
Since nobody has dove in this area before, we explained to Serge what we were looking for and we asked for safe (preferably without strong current and not too deep) place that we could explore. The captain took us first to a cluster of small islands, located 30-40 minutes away from the pier, where water was calm and protected from strong currents.
We couldn’t wish for a better day, skies were clear, wind not existent, and the air temperature was just above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 C). When we anchored, within 50 yards from the nearest landmass, Serge explained the situation; he picked a spot between 2 small islands with the average depth of 30-40 feet. We could safely go to the left or right from the boat and swim underwater closer to the island’s base. Matt and I agreed on a dive plan, reviewed our safety precautions, donned our gears and made giant stride into unknown.
Initial landing to the bottom of the Grand Bay Island
A day before we were diving in Baie Comeau, a 400miles southwest of where we were diving now, experiencing a 35F degree of chilling water. However, our first surprise, as we descend to the button, was a much warmer temperature of the water, about 39-40F. Hence, Matt and I realized that with HP 100 cu/feet cylinders on our backs and the shallow depth of 40 feet we could explore this place for at least an hour. With visibility of 40-50 feet, we set our compasses and began our slow progress to the nearest island.
Diving at Natashquan. Grand Bay Islands
Since we did not know what to expect, we decided to dive with 2 different camera setups, Matt dove with wide angle and I with a macro lens. At first, I was slightly discouraged because for the most part, it was a sandy bottom, abundantly peppered with sand dollars. But just a few minutes into the dive, we detected very small “reef”. Well, calling that a “reef” is a big stretch; more precisely it was a small rock covered with seaweed at the base of which a polar lebbeid shrimp greeted us.
Polar lebbeid shrimp
On the same rock, we detected our first species of sea slug, a small Dendronotus frondosus (bushy backed nudibranch).
Bushy backed nudibranch (Dendronotus frondosus)
50 feet farther Matt spotted the largest eared stalked jellyfish I’ve ever seen in my life. In Baie Comeau, we saw plenty of tiny Trumpet stalked jellyfish, but this was a real giant.
We also saw many sea gooseberries and Beroe’s comb jelly.
Eared stalked jellyfish
I can’t say that at the places, where we dove in Natashquan, marine life was as lavish as in Les Escoumins or Baie Comeau. We explored two areas, the Black Rock, a part of the Islands of Gulls (Île aux Goélands) and the American Island. Yes, we had to swim a fair amount, trying to find interesting subjects to photograph. But the whole experience, including the process of getting back on board of Lino D, was simply unforgettable.
The following picture is one of my favorite out of thousands that we capture during this trip. While bobbing in the water, Matt was able to capture benign nature of a human soul.
This is one of my favorite pictures of a whole trip. Matt, while bobbing in the water, was able to capture the true spirit of Serge Gagnon.
I’m sure if we come back to this beautiful place and stay a little longer, with help of Serge and our collective enthusiasm, we’ll find something very interesting and very unique to waters of Natashquan.
Since Kegaska was marked as the climax of our trip, this chapter supposed to be lengthy and descriptive of a local marine life and new subtidal discoveries. Our main intention was to reach, to dive and then to tell to the world what we have found beneath the surface of Kegaska. However, at this time, we only were able to accomplish the first part of our plan. And thus, on the windy and rainy morning of 21st, Matt and I, just an hour later as we left Natashquan, successfully reached seemingly peaceful beach located right at the end of the road 138.
We have successfully accomplished the goal of our trip, reaching The End of the Road
I have no doubt that we could found the spot to dive, but the weather did not cooperate. Waves were restless and diving in the area was out of questions.
Nevertheless, after such a long way to Kegashka, we did not want just turn around and leave, because even with a strong wind and light rain the place looked magical. Thus, after a short walk on a deserted rocky coast, we both agreed on a very tough verdict, we decided to make lemonade out of lemons and picked a spot for … a lunch 😉
Matt’s getting ready to cook
I’ve never talked much about Matt’s skills in preparing delicious meals. Cause’ we usually do not have many occasions to cook while on the road, if we hungry, we patronize local restaurants.
location, location, location
But here was a chance for Matt yet again to demonstrate his excellent culinary skills. And let me tell you, he prepared the best olive oil dressed zucchini, along with the sizzling pork chops I’ve ever eaten at the 50°11’00. 3″N 61°15’45. 0″W. (You see, I have to be very accurate with the location because he cooked a better meal at 49°13’08. 2″N 68°08’32. 2″W 😉
On a serious note, besides that it was practically impossible to dive, I think that at this time we decided to take it easy. Since Kegaska was located just 35 miles away from the Natashquan, in our minds we kind of substituted one place for the other. However, I am sure that for the next time we’ll research the area more thoroughly and find the way to investigate what lays beneath the agitated waves of Kegaska.
As we turned around and began our journey home, we stopped at the Kegaska’s grocery/restaurant. Chatting with a clerk, we found out that town’s population was about 120 souls and that road from Natashquan to Kegaska was opened only 3 years ago
The road between Natashquan and Kegaska
And that is all that we were able to accomplish in Kegaska for now. Despite that it was the last town located at the “End of the Road”, our voyage was only halfway through. We looked forward getting to our two favorite Quebec dive locations – Marine Park of the Les Escoumins and in the fiord of Sainte-Rose-du-Nord.
Matt and I at the Salmon River of Kegaska (click on this link to read more about this river)
On the way from Kegaska to Natashquan
In June of 2012 I visited Les Escoumins for the very first time, and since then St Lawrence River became one of my favorite places to dive in Canada. I also remember very well, how during my first dive, I was simply overwhelmed by an incredible amount of marine creatures thickly settled on the walls, rocks and sandy bottoms of the Marine Park. It took only two dives to fill up all 16 GB memory card in my camera.
Beneath the sea near the Marine Environment Discovery Centre
And during this trip the situation under the surface was the same, the only difference was that I had with me a larger card. Each rock was covered by bouquets of sea strawberries, clonal plumose anemones, rugose anemones, sea cucumbers and scarlet psoluses nested in close proximity to each other.
Underwater flora and fauna of Les Escoumins
Furthermore, there were lots of variable colors northern red anemones, dead man fingers and large colonies of yellow sponges.
Underwater flora and fauna of Les Escoumins
As soon as Matt and I submerged at Anemone Bay, I spotted the largest Green balloon Aeolis I’ve ever seen.
Green balloon Aeolid (Eubranchus olivaceus)
Atlantic Ancula (Ancula gibbosa)
Aeolis nudibranch (Flabellina gracilis)
We easily spotted the plentiful Flabellina verrucosas and later in the dive Matt detected a well-camouflaged dark-red, spiny lumpsucker. I have to say that during this whole trip, at many locations, we saw quite a few individuals of this rare fish. And almost all of them were the same dark-red color, except one, that was detected at Les Escoumins, among sea urchins and had the body color to match.
The visibility wasn’t great, maybe 10-15 feet, otherwise I’d switch to wide angle for the second dive. We’ve made two dives using the same entrance – Anemone Bay –, which, in my opinion, is the easiest spot to get in and out of the water. At about 7 pm we loaded all our gear into the truck and drove to the last mark on our map, Sainte-Rose-du-Nord.
Frond aeolid (dendronotus frondosus)
I was visiting St-Rose-du-Nord before, but only had enough time for a dive or two and then I would go back. Therefore, I had no knowledge of what is available in town in regard of lodging. But Google search revealed plenty of gîtes (pronounced as zhēt), small bed-and-breakfast, located within boundaries of the village. And after a few phone calls, we were able to book a night at Gîte de Monsieur le Maire.
Gîte de Monsieur le Maire
Recognizing during a phone conversation that we didn’t clearly understand given directions and foreseeing that at midnight it would be difficult to find new place, Mr. Gerard, the owner of the Gîte de Monsieur le Maire, took the flashlight and drove to the intersection of the highway and the town road, to personally guide us to his house.
View from the dining room of the Gîte de Monsieur le Maire
Now, the following reference is made with the highest respect to Mr. Gerard. If the commercial with Energizer Bunny is meant to illustrate infinite supply of power, then the company can accentuate its intended message by replacing their drumming marketing icon with Mr. Gerard. At 88 years old, Mr. Gerard not only kept going strong, but he was doing it with no visible indication of a fading energy.
Mr. Gerard explains clever design of the fireplace
As I mentioned before, it was a midnight when Mr. Gerard played a role of a welcoming beacon in the middle of an empty highway. So by the time we’ve reached Gîte de Monsieur le Maire and Mr. Gerard explained how things work at his house, at least another hour has passed.
But at 8 am, after a short rest, all upbeat and smiling, Mr. Gerard welcomed us upstairs to a beautifully served breakfast table. Matt and I were so impressed by the host, cleanness of the place and its location that we decided to stay an extra night.
Breakfast prepared by Mr. Gerard
On our way to Saguenay, we spoke over the phone with Pascal and agreed on making an evening dive at the pier of the Sainte-Rose-du-Nord with our Canadian friends. Pascal reminded us that due to the intense boat traffic, diving at the pier St-Rose is permitted only after 5 pm. Thus, he was planning come over and dive with us after 6 pm.
Not to waste the whole day, we load our gear and drove 50 minutes south to dive at Quai de l’Anse-de-Roche (Pier of l’Anse-de-Roche). For Matt and myself this pier was of historical significance, in summer of 2012 Matt and I dove the Saguenay with Ryan King for the very first time.
Quai de l’Anse-de-Roche (Pier of l’Anse-de-Roche)
If you’ve read my previous reports about Saguenay, then you know what my take about this river. If you didn’t, then here is the short summary -I think that Saguenay River should have a single digit placed before its name in the list of wonders of the marine world. So far, I haven’t dove in any other place that would come close to matching exceptional characteristics of this 65 miles long, amazing fjord.
Arctic shanny (Stichaeus punctatus)
Just in the first few minutes of your descent, you will experience both fresh and salt water, total darkness, and crystal clear visibility. Your dive computer could register 70F within first 20-30 feet and below the thermocline, the temperature will drop to chilling 35F. And to top it off, on a clear, sunny day, upon resurfacing you’ll see above your head fantastic red glow.
Arctic lyre crab (Hyas coarctatus)
But that’s just a small part of what is so unique about Saguenay, its real treasures are hidden below the surface, inhibiting vertical walls of the fjord. If you know where to dive, at 60-80 feet, you can find a snailfish that normally is seen at depth unreachable by divers. In parts of the river, the marine life so dense, that you won’t see the wall beneath it. Also, due to an abundance of food, all organisms are much larger in sizes. Some basket stars are reaching approximately two feet in diameter and nudibranchs, which someplace else are 3-4 inches long can grow here to 9-10 inches.