The Falls of Southeast Upsalquitch

Waterfall Detail: The Upsalquitch River is corrupted from the Mk’ gmaq, Absetquetch meaning “small river” (when compared to the Restigouche River). The river has two main branches, the gentler northwest that hugs the deep valleys of the Appalachian Mountains and the southeast branch that runs northerly in a geological fault line through the mountains, thus slicing the geology to form an impressive river valley. This is most evident at the Southeast (Upsalquitch) Gorge. The branches join at what is known as the Forks and continue through a broad valley to the Restigouche River.

In 1902, William Francis Ganong travelled down Southeast Branch from Upsalquitch Lake to the forks, continuing to the confluence with the Restigouche River. Previous to this trip scant information was documented about the river system. In his report on the Natural History and Physiography of New Brunswick, he describes the southeast branch as; “It issues from the deep valley of Upsalquitch Lake over a typical drift dam. Immediately, the valley opens out greatly, and the river, here very small, wanders about with a gentle current over drift in a flat country, at times almost smothered in alders until eight miles from the lake, it plunges into a typical post-glacial gorge two miles in length, in which the water by a series of falls and rocky rapids drops some 150 feet. In the gorge are two sets of beautiful falls, one near the head of the gorge, of some three or four regular pitches, in all about forty feet, and another a quarter mile lower down, also some three or four pitches, an upper nearly vertical of twenty feet, and a lower, also vertical, of ten feet. The walls are here very steep and close together and with their summit of forest present a wild and beautiful aspect. Altogether the gorge and falls deserve to rank among the finer of the province, although owing to the small size of the river they are surpassed in magnitude by several others”

The location of lower falls is unusual in that it is not situated at the top of the gorge but near the end of the gorge proper. The gorge itself continues further down river beyond this point but its sheerness diminishes with the transition to a softer rock formation. This waterfall is located at the transition from the harder igneous volcanic rock to the softer siltstone.

The area is steeped in logging history and was once a base camp for activities managed out of the NBIP paper mill in Dalhousie. This particular location was used as a staging area. The logging road has recently been graded and cutback making the drive easy. As well the bridge at Simpson Field has been replaced indicating renewed forestry operations in the area.

Driving along route 180, or what is known as “The Road to Resources” from either Bathurst or St. Quentin turn at waypoint N 47 32’ 20.11” / W 066 30’16.61”. This road leads down along the west side of the Southeast Upsalquitch. Drive approximately 4 km and park at waypoint N 47 33’ 11.8” / W 066 31’ 27.77”. Just before the waypoint you will drive across a logging bridge spanning the Southeast Upsalquitch River. There will be an old woods road on the left. Walk down this road, it will turn to brush and eventual end at somewhat of a clearing. Look for the trail that leads to the upper falls. To get to the lower falls, drive back across the bridge along the same woods road to waypoint N 47 33’ 02.22” / W 066 31’ 44.12”. This is the old Ramsay Portage Portage Road. Drive down this road approximately 1 km to waypoint N 47 33’ 32” / W 066 32’ 16.” and park. Hike to the waypoint N 47 33’ 28.7” / W 066 31’ 55.7”

Visit Detail: Day 1: Following the old logging road from Simpsons Field we walked to a area with remnants of buildings and alders. This was the location of the Southeast Depot where NBIP Woodlands Division operated from 1940 through 70’s. There was a flushing dam constructed just down river above the upper falls and was used to sluice pulp wood down through the gorge. My friend Rod O’Connell leads the way through the brush and picks up a trail down along the eastern side of the river.

Along the way the river changes character warning us that the upper falls is nearby. Invitingly warm, the late afternoon sun provides comfort as we scramble over the rock formation that marks the beginning of the gorge. There is a series of four waterfalls in this upper complex. It is here that the sheerness of the fissure is exposed. The western side provides a rampart of sorts, curling the river back to the east where a large pool is produced before it continues down through the fault in a series of waterfalls to crash against sheer walls of rock.

After photographing this section we decided to continue down river to the lower falls. Unsure of it exact location we anticipate that it cannot be that far. Not many people have been down below the upper falls and this is confirmed by the fact that beyond this point there is no trail, so in order to continue further we are relegated to bushwhacking through a maze of fallen trees and large boulders. A deep carpet of moss cloaks the space between boulders adding to the difficult walk. Several times we both step through the moss into the fissure between boulders. It is very slow moving through the thick brush but eventually we emerge at what we think is the top of the lower falls. Instead of both of scouting the area below the rock face I decided to stay and photography one of the many waterfalls. Rod returns with news that it must be further on. Nearly 5 PM we decide to retreat and leave the lower falls for another visit.

Day 2: Awake at 6:30 AM and minutes later I am dressed and ready for a quick coffee and toast. I am on the road by 7:00 driving from my sister’s home in Dalhousie to Bathurst to rendezvous with Rod and Karl Branch. From Bathurst we head out on second day of waterfalling (See post for Rainbow, Buck & Indian Falls).

Parked in an old clear cut we head east through the woods towards the gorge. In little time we begin a steep descent into the gorge, hanging onto trees and roots to emerge at the river about 200 metres below the lower falls. The gorge at this location is wide but tappers quickly near the falls. Our pace up along the river is hampered by thick brush, moss laden oulders and high water as well as the edge of the gorge as it begins to pinch into the river.

The lower falls can be heard but not seen until we traverse over a sharp outcrop. At this spot the river is less than 3 metres wide. We are required to jump from boulder to boulder across the top of the lower falls to gain a clear view of the most impressive of all the falls. This is a wondrous place. In this narrow twisting rift the sound of the river rushing through is thunderous and I experience an awakening. “If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in.” Richard Feynman

The sheerness of the walls blocks the sun from entering the gorge even though it is a cloudless sky. It is safe to surmise that the midday sun reaches into the abyss momentarily before it returns back into shadows and in mid-winter the area remains in shadow. After I am done photographing from my vantage point Rod suggests that I climb to a rock outcrop that provides an unobstructed view. With Karl’s help I make it to this point and while he holds onto the camera strap; I photograph the stunning waterfalls.

Climbing out of the gorge is taxing as we clutch to trees and thick moss in a slow ascent. Eventually the terrain begins to taper and the gradient become manageable. Scars of past timbering operations remain as new growth fill the gaps. There is fresh survey lines marked through the area indicating possible renewed timber harvesting or new mineral exploration. I cannot understand why this part of the Upsalquitch is not protected by our government. Maybe my pictures might be the last we see of this magnificent river gorge and waterfall complex.

Back at the truck, I enjoy a cup of Rod’s tea. I must say that he does make a wicked cup of King Cole. After a quick snack we drive down the Ramsay Portage which was extensively used to bypass the Southeast Gorge. The road leads down from Simpsons Field to the Southeast Upsalquitch River. At this location there was a lumber camp located along the flats near the river. The river at this point has already begun to widen. Just below this clearing is Ramsay Brook and just above on the opposite is Murray Brook. Both are formed by the small geological fault line. This has been an adventure. Thanks to Rod O’Connell and Karl Branch.