The winding gravel of the Trans-Taiga Road, an ominous 666 kilometres long, takes travellers deep into the taiga and
hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest town.
(Photo: Walter Muma)
Travelling the James Bay Road
Join a remote-road explorer as he drives the lonely James Bay and Trans-Taiga Roads
By Walter Muma
Day 1 |
Day 2 |
Day 3 |
Day 4 |
Day 5 |
Day 6 |
Walter Muma, lifelong nature lover and traveller, has explored vast regions of Canada on foot,
in a canoe and on a moped. He has made numerous trips to
the far-flung frontier of northern Quebec and has developed a deep affection for its'
empty silence and rugged wilderness. Experience this vast expanse of arctic boreal forest with Muma
as he relates his most recent journey to us.
Day 1 - Thursday, September 8
I see the signs of late summer as I pass through the farms and forests of northern
Quebec on my way north to the James Bay Road (see map) from North Bay, Ontario.
The roadside is ablaze with the bright colours of goldenrod and aster flowers and
ash trees turning yellow. It was overcast and raining earlier this morning but
that has cleared and given way to a sky filled with puffy cumulous clouds.
I fill up on diesel since the next fuel is 381 kilometres north.
This is the last town I will see for seven days.
Six hours on the road brings me to the small northern town of Matagami and the
beginning of the James Bay Road. I fill up on diesel since the next fuel is 381
kilometres north of here. This is the last town I will see for seven days.
I stay the night at the campground at Olga Lake, near kilometre 48 of the 620-kilometre
James Bay Road. I have the campsite to myself, and I cook a simple meal amid silence
and a spectacular sunset. A thin crescent moon peers out from behind the clouds
in the darkening sky. Showers pass over after dark. Having not yet set up my tent,
I opt for the station wagon-owner's lazy way out and sleep in the back of my car.
Day 2 – Friday, September 9
After a restful night’s sleep I continue north. It’s another overcast
day – I had been hoping for sunshine.
Walter Muma enjoys a break from the open road soaking in the rapids of the Ruper River.|
(Photo: Walter Muma)
I stop to stretch my legs at kilometre 161 where a short trail leads to the top
of a ridge with a fantastic view of the valley below. I see some small lakes dotting
the landscape before me in the muskeg. There are still a few late blueberries and
I help myself to a snack.
The next stop is the Broadback River where I stop for lunch. There's a very nice
trail leading upriver to some rapids. It winds through foot-deep lichens and moss,
and fall mushrooms are plentiful amid the boulders and spruce trees. I pause for
a while and soak in the ambience of the river and the place then return to my car
to continue my journey north.
I soon find myself at the mighty Rupert River. This huge northern river plunges
into a magnificent set of rapids that can be heard and even felt over a kilometre
away. They are readily seen from the road.
I go for a hike along the north bank of the river and end up at a viewpoint directly
overlooking the rapids. These are known as the Oatmeal Rapids because that's what
you will become if you try to run them in a canoe. At least two people have died
Sadly, the spectacle of the rapids will be no more after 2007, when Hydro Quebec
will divert the river northward to feed our hungry demand for electricity. I spend
some time by the Rupert, listening, watching and soaking it in.
I hop back in the car and continue on to Mirabelli Lake, where I stop to camp
for the night. It is a nice open campsite, overlooking the lake from atop a broad
hill amid jack pines and alders. Once again, I have the campground to myself. It
is so quiet I can hear the small rapids half a kilometre away.
After dark the northern lights put on a subtle display of green with the accompaniment
of the Milky Way stretched across the sky.
Day 3 - Saturday, September 10
I awake to the sound of loons calling and sunshine streaming into my tent. After
a quick breakfast and a dip in the lake, I continue north. I stop to fuel up at
kilometre 381 – the only gas station on the James Bay Road. Surprisingly,
the price of gas isn’t much higher here than down south.
|These are known as the Oatmeal Rapids because that's
what you will become if you try to run them in a canoe.
As I drive I take note of the traffic – or rather the lack of traffic.
I can drive for 15 or 20 minutes without seeing another vehicle, and when I stop
on the side of the road I can hear a vehicle coming for several minutes before
it passes by. This is a function of the silence up here, which for me is a keynote
of any trip to this region.
One doesn't realise the extent of background noise that we put up with in the
more settled areas of the country. There is a constant underlying hum of machine
noise, traffic, airplanes and people. Up here there is none of that. The only thing
you hear is the wind in the leaves and the occasional bird.
Reaching the junction at kilometre 544, I turn right onto the gravel of the Trans-Taiga
Road. This road heads east for 666 kilometres, almost to Labrador. There are no
towns on it and only two places to fuel up. It is the remote-road junkie's ultimate
There is even less traffic along the Trans-Taiga than on the James Bay Road.
I enjoy the solitude and scenery as I drive. Some of the scenery can be monotonous
but at other times beautiful.
I have planned to spend the night at an outfitters camp, thinking it would be
a treat to stay in a nice room. As it turns out, the room is no bigger than a large
closet and the showers and bathroom are down the hall.
Before I retire for the night I go out for a drive. I find a clearing off the
road where hunters dump the remains of their kills and I go there to pick out a
caribou skull for my collection of animal skulls. While I am there some wolves
begin howling very close by. It's a wilderness treat that few people actually get
to hear. To top it off, the northern lights put on a show in dancing curtains across
Day 4 - Sunday, September 11
I am awake and on the road by 5:45 am. It's just getting light as I continue
east. It's a windy, cool overcast day on this lonely, remote road. For the
next five hours I only see three other vehicles.
The road narrows as I continue eastward. I stop frequently to admire the scenery,
take pictures, and soak up the silence and solitude. Although the country is most
definitely not mountainous, there are hills, valleys, rivers and small lakes all
along the way. Although many people would find this landscape boring, I love its
natural wilderness and remoteness.
I find bear tracks in the deep lichens of a jack pine forest by a small lake and collect some "Labrador tea"
By the time I reach Brisay, the sky opens up and it pours. Brisay is the last
hydroelectric generating station of the chain that dot what used to be the La Grande
River. It is now a series of lakes. Brisay is also functionally the end of the
road for most vehicles as the remaining 84 kilometres are very rough and require
a four-wheel drive vehicle, which I do not have. The only way to go is back the
way I came.
For the next 400 kilometres it pours rain. I am glad I got up early today so
I could travel this road in at least one direction while the scenery was visible.
The heavy rain cloaks the landscape.
I spend the night at the Pontois River campground on a site overlooking some
rapids. As I cook dinner the sky clears.
Day 5 - Monday, September 12
I spend the morning exploring the campsite, which is a welcome break from driving.
I find a number of different kinds of mushrooms. Some boreal chickadees keep me
company as I meander about.
As morning wanes, I get back behind the wheel and follow the road along the
top of an esker for about 10 kilometres. It's a fairly high esker with nice
the small lakes below and bright green moss growing abundantly along the side
of the road. At my next stop I find bear tracks in the deep lichens of a jack
forest by a small lake and collect some “ Labrador tea” for later.
Finally, I reach the end of the gravel road and turn south along the James Bay
Road. It seems almost surreal to be driving on pavement again after almost 1,200
kilometres of rough gravel and I welcome the smoothness under the tires.
As I drive on, a bear lumbers into the bush as I approach, a porcupine watches
with great curiosity when I stop to photograph him, and a wolf trots off the road
ahead and observes me from the bush as I pass. And, of course, there are the usual
red squirrels making suicide dashes across the road just ahead of my car.
I stop at Old Factory Lake and climb a nearby rocky ridge to stretch my legs
and enjoy the view, which is far reaching and well worth it.
I camp again at Mirabelli, my favourite lake.
Day 6 - Tuesday, September 13
I decide to take it easy today and take advantage of the dry weather to poke
around the area. Out on the lake there are several loons and I quietly sit and
listen to their unearthly calls. The lake is utterly still, almost a mirror – a
|There is probably a forest fire to the east or south,
possibly started by lightning accompanying yesterday's thunderstorms.
But, alas, the inevitable happens – it starts to rain again! So off I go,
I stop once again at the Rupert River to admire the awesome spectacle, this time
from an upstream vantage point. By the time I reach the Broadback River I am in
the middle of a raging thunderstorm and I don't have the opportunity to repeat
my walk upriver to the rapids. I don't wait around, as I have no way of telling
how long the storm will last.
I spend the last night of my trip in the remote north at the Ouescapis Lake campground,
at kilometre 80. I have company tonight for the first time, a couple at the opposite
end of the campground. As the evening progresses, it turns into an unusually warm
Day 7 - Wednesday, September 14
The atmosphere is hazy and smoky today as I depart and head toward home. There
is probably a forest fire to the east or south, possibly started by lightning accompanying
I stop to climb partway up Mont Laurier at kilometre 10. Threatening rain clouds
keep me from climbing more than halfway up, and in any case the very hazy conditions
would have made the view from the top mediocre at best.
As I drive south, I reflect on my journey along this remote northern road. It
is an experience I will not soon forget - especially the silence. I love these
northern lands, their solitude, their silence and their wildness. It refreshes
my soul and reminds me of the value of the Earth's wild natural places that we
are all too quickly overrunning and destroying.