Broadback River (James Bay Highway to Waskaganish)

CanadaQuebec08 Lower James Bay
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Jared Nusinoff
Trip Date : 
Early August 2020
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
145 km
Duration: 
10 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
10
Total Portage Distance: 
7500 m
Longest Portage: 
2500 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Advanced
Lake Travel: 
Advanced
Portaging: 
Difficult
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
High
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

We started the trip at the James Bay Highway bridge crossing. There was a sign clearly marking the Broadback River. Additionally there was a mini-camping area there (just off the highway).

To put in we hiked towards the bridge (from the camping site) and then put in below without going underneath it. It was steep, and sandy. Definitely have someone holding down the boats - so you don't lose em before you start.

Before the trip we had heard about staying on the left side, either to deal with rapids after or put-in, but didn't seem to know what it meant. Rapids/flow here is real - but very manageable compared to what is coming up!

The drive to the put-in (and through to Waskaganish for pick-up) was great. No issues with the road, potholes or anything. It has all been generally paved. There were rolling electricity on/off issues with hydro in Matagami on our drive.

Technical Guide: 

Overall Safety - is this for you: This is an extremely advanced river. We would only recommend to a very experienced group in big fast water rivers – looking for a challenge. It was a spectacular trip – but can be extremely demanding, nerve racking – and very dangerous (a mistake can easily be catastrophic/lead to death or evac). Take-outs for portages were not really marked and were very close to falls in fast water, demanding bushwack portages and huge water, that if you aren't on the right side can be a challenge getting upriver and corssing. Some portages just didn't exist - and ones that did... well there was maybe sort of a trail.

Even given all that, it is one of the best and most incredible rivers we have had the pleasure to paddle!

Group & Background (EXPERIENCED): We were 6 well travelled paddlers. 5 of us were former canoe trip guides. We as a group we have been paddling rivers together throughout Ontario & Quebec for 20 years. Routes we have paddled include  Harricana QC, Lower & Upper Missinaibi, Dumoine, Coulonge, Noire, Mountain River NWT, Chapleau, Petawawa, Bazin, Misstassibi NE, Haute Gatineau . We pack heavy (lots of fresh food for the entirety of the trip) and are all fine doubling pack, pushing it. We like the sleep-in, but giver while moving/necessary - we just take our time and don't rush it. 

Context (COVID YEAR / MAYBE OVERGROWN): We paddled this river during the year of Covid. We were to our knowledge (and confirmed by the folks in Waskaganish) the first group to have paddled it during the year (and perhaps over a longer timeframe). We got town approavl beforehand. Everything was extremely overgrown in terms of finding portages/markings - it was a make your own adventure in many ways. It was pure wild aside from a rare portage marker randomly discovered.

Water Levels - HIGH: The nearest water station that is still tracking data is at at the exit of Lake Quénonisca which appears to be around ~80KM away from our stretch of river, and includes the big Lake Evans in between. We weren't sure how representative it would be, but suspect it was. Upon departure the readings were around 190 m^3/s... but increased to around ~250 m^3/s by the end of our trip (which we checked on return).  The water at points was very big - we could take referenced side channels that likely would have been empty – and lining/shooting many sections were out of the question. According to others these levels are very high.
Check levels at: https://www.cehq.gouv.qc.ca/Suivihydro/graphique.asp?NoStation=080809

Weather - GREAT Mostly: Aside from a 24 hour period of consistent and very heavy rain, we generally had 20-25 degree celsius weather. Good for  a swim and drying off nicely without too many clouds. A few nights the weather didn't seem to cool down and remained humid which felt odd to us. 

River: The river is big and wide. You never want to be near the middle without a way to exit/get to land (aside from two long paddle stretches). Lots of waves/rapids/hydrolcis that can easily swamp you. Many rapids are NOT scoutable in detail and you have to make a call to eddy hop and risk bushwacking, or hunting for some sort of trail and bushwacking. We made different calls at different locations. This could be because of the state of the river without anyone doing any maintenance. Next year we suspect it will be even crazier as not sure anyone else went through after us!

Gear: We were in 16 ft prospector style open boat canoes. We had float bags which were a lifesaver at one point. We had very high water levels, and while some would hvae liked skirted boats to maybe shoot more... the issue is you still have the huge waterfall risk afterwards regardless. This would also be a huge pain for portaging. It's a tradeoff and water level dependent. 

Fast Water Rescues & Tie Down: Know your stuff here. If it goes in the water, you ain't getting it back. We watched the water level rise a few feet one day.

Sites: For incredible river views and hanging... the sites were incredible. In terms of wood and access to water in a few, they weren't ideal - just what it is! Aside from the areas marked on our maps... there weren't any other site options that we think could be comfortable in any way. The sites marked are usually flat/bumpy rocks that you make work - but are just gorgeous. We had a 6 man tent fo 4 and a 3 man tent for two. Most places we were just fine as tough to accommodate the bigger tent. I think you HAVE to stay at Tupatukasi, Rooster. We also loved Quicky Rapid, the Nottacomisie and end of River 22KM marker site on the right (most legendary of sunsets). 

Pictures: Photos here if interested. https://photos.app.goo.gl/sepPd6XXfvzDNHjp9

=====================

Commute to Smoothwater Outfitters in Temagami (who were awesome): We drove to a bit north of North Bayand half packout/prep for early departure following AM. We had three vehicles given different abilities to get off-work on a Thursday evening – and one hooligan coming from Ottawa. We stayed overnight in a prime bunkhouse

Smoothwater Outfitters:  705-868-6464, https://smoothwater.com

The outfitter, Francis, provided our canoes + gear and managed driivng to and from the river (which is a monster commute. The vehicle was great + comy, and the ride was smooth and very safe. Also super flexible in terms of how we structured things on the front/back. They have trailer setups, smaller vehicles with custom canoe rigs on top and top of the line gear e.g., ABS boats (note: not lifejackets for whitewater)

The cabins at the outfitter were also awesome. If just staying in Temagami or pre-trip for a trip requiriing outfitting, a no-brainer. It was gorgeous and very reasonably priced.

 

Commute + River Day 1 (Push Day) - Start to KM 120:

  • We left the outfitter around 5am and arrived around 3pm, on the water by 4pm after doing a reorganization and packout. Lots of sunlight, but lots of ground to cover. There were no issues on the drive finding the put-in or filling up gas.
  • We did spend about 30 minutes going through a process to estimate the # of jerry cans the driver should bring for the pick-up (as after matagami there is only a gas station in waskaganish, that might be closed and driving there/back could be an issue). We recommend doin
  • Even though we were exhausted we pushed to camp at the 4D beach camp site at 120KM marker near Ile Kaishiweyachinakaniskach. It was small - but did the trick (albeit tough to get wood). Chance if water levels were 3 feet lower to be a big beach and nice.
  • We didn't investigate the Tent Cabins on the Ile if it was possible to sleep there on the Ile (we were getting low on sunlight). Rapids at 125kKM Kapitochuck beforehand were big, but fine.
  • You could also likely camp at 131KM marked beach.... but we didn't get up too close to say if it would be too comfy.  I wouldn't bank on it though.

 

River Day 2 - Beach at 120KM marker to 104KM Roster Falls

  • This was a relaxing, fun an relatively easy day. Some fun rapids as well - with big flow in the middle. AND Rooster Falls site is a MUST stay at. It was incredible with HUGE power! Big water! We had miami ribs for lunch. This arrogance might have been bad karma. Who has ribs for lunch?!
  • The R4 near the fishing lake. We didn't see an option on the left that was safe to line/run (water levels?) or get close. Super strong/fast current. We took the safe approach and portaged up the creek on RR to the fishing lake (potential ankle breaker boulders).
  • The fishin lake back to river portage was a bit of a bushwack to say the least. There wasn't really a trail for most of it. 

 

River Day 3 - 104KM Rooster Falls to 101.5KM preDAB)

  • We thought this was a day we might skip DAB and go to Tupatukasi Falls (pre-trip planning... and we were really wrong). Welcome to the broadback....
  • We had a late start to the day, we didn't even make it to the DAB site instead camped at a nice site on the left site overlooking the rapids at the end of the R1. It wasn't marked on our map.
  • Given the water levels we couldn't eddie hop, line etc. so portaged The Rinse Cycle, The Washing Machine. The portage was beyond a bushwack. It took us probably more than half a day alone around these. Better water levels we think would be a different story.

 

River Day 4 - 101.5KM preDAB to 88KM Tupatukasi Falls

  • The portage past the Agitator/DAB site was truly Rocky Horror Picture Show. Another no trail/marker bushwack. A huge part of it also had lots of boulder rock jumping for 500m or so. This was a tough one... like them all.
  • I don't remember seeing the DAB site where it was marked on our map near The Agitator.
  • The following rapis weren't too bad and portaging around Yard Sale were reasonable but took some scouting figuring out what to do. We paddled majority of it through.
  • Portage/Access to Tupatukasi Falls.... we couldn't find any entry as shown on maps on the right site. We scouted options for 1.5hrs including hiking up to the site along the creek and couldn't find something back. From the site (which you can paddle to in a very high risk way...). We meandered our way around the island... very very nerve racking.
  • Note: The Falls are very queit until you get up top to the site and WOW!!!
  • The payoff was phenomenal.

River Day 5 - 88KM Tupatukasi Falls to 71KM Quick Rapid Flat Rock Site

  • Things finally got much more manageable.
  • We finished the Tupatukasi portage (well basically the entire thing) in the morning. Maneuvaring boats through as per most a pain - but only for part of it, as the middle you are over a gorgeous vallye.
  • Try and get some time at the bottom to paddle to the right fo the waterfall to explore.
  • Submarine Rapids: We ran it and had no issues, same with Rock Nest Monster (and a bit of lining around). 
  • We then had a nice headwind paddle!
  • R4 Cannonball I think we thought about lining, but instead did a creek slog to get around.
  • Short paddle and we were there.
  • Site was great. Rapids in EVERY direction!

River Day 6 - 71KM Quicky Rapid Site to 57KM Exposed Rock Site (mid-portage)

  • We did the portage here rather than trying to do an R4.
  • The "Side Door Rapid" for us was full on the right side and felt less than an R2. Looking back at it from the other side looked paddleable on the left as well - we think water was so high that the rapids partially went down
  • Portage and rapids for most of it were challenging - but mangeable until around the 58KM marker. There was no real way to scout and it narrows.
  • The water got really fast around 58KM. There is a portage there which you can take around and is how you get to the "expose rock site". This site has no water access and is in the middle of a long and difficult portage. If we could have paddled instead of portaging/staying here would have been very nice.

River Day 7 - 57KM Exposed Rock Site (mid-portage) to 40KM Natoucamisie River Exposed Rock Site

  • We protaged until we could put back in around 56KM point. TheIsland Rpaids, and Continuous R2-R3 we eddie hopped the entire way. We didn't have to portage over teh island bu t paddled it river right without issue.
  • This was a fun day! Lot of fun water/rapids the entire way with some paddles in the middle ot break things up.
  • At around 45KM mark there was a short carry-over portage on the left to get around one of the ledges.
  • The site at 40KM marker is great - big rock face. We spent about 1.5 hours creating a place to put our large tent - clearing an area. We paddled around the area to get some wood.

River Day 8 - 40KM Natoucamisie River Exposed Rock Site to 22KM Big Rock Channel Site with Amazing Sunset

  • Big headwind the entire way with small standing waves.
  • There was no current to help, so took us awhile - but more than manageable.
  • Getting to the site has a decent amount of big rapids and eddy hopping just around the bedn past the water hut/station. 
  • The site is along a bend and you can hike around the area to great little swimming holes and epic sunset views!

James Bay Day 9 - 22km through Rupert Bay to 0KM Waskaganish

  • The rapids from our site class 3+ big water to get around and past our site and unscoutable. The river was big here. There was also a very small braid/channel just up-river of the site on the right side as well. While rocky, we paddled/pushed/dragged our way through it as much safer given the levels and the time of day! (4am!)
  • Once in Rupert Bay... what can we say other than we had a huge tailwind and sailed the entire way in. It was our easiest day which is crazy!
  • As for our planning we timed the tides and were up at 4am, on the water at nautical twilight with a half moon to help as well. Tides were rising as we planned to depart and getting lower, reaching half way to low tide by 1pm giving us what we would have thought would be buffer time for a headwind in Rupert Bay. It wouldn't have been the case. You would be dragging at that point. Give ample time.

When in Waskaganish we had folks waiving at us from above the docks and met a few of the townsfolk including Stacy that showed us where to go and hang out until our pick-up. We were confined to there and couldn't explore because of COVID. Regardless they were super helpful, welcomeing and great.

What a ride!

 

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
We have annotated maps that we will be editing and uploading. 32 N 2 32 N 3 - HIGHWAY (1) 32 N 4 - FULL (20 32 N 5 - SLIVER, bottom left of map (3) 32 M 8 - FULL (4) 32 M 7 - FULL (5) 32 M 10 (Not needed) We are about a 12 degree west declination for difference between magnetic and true north.
Other Maps: 
We designed/made our own maps based on the following maps, trip reports/notes in forums (we will upload our maps shortly). We also spoke to folks at Kandalore and Camp Odyssee for some tips. 1) Topos 2) Kovacs Maps (http://www.cartespleinair.org/Canot/08/BroadbackKovac.pdf) 3) Fraser Notes: https://frasercepella.weebly.com/broadback-river.html 4) Some notes from the camps above. 5) https://www.myccr.com/phpbbforum/viewtopic.php?f=116&t=47538