Kayaking the Lawagamau River to James Bay solo bill holland

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
bill holland
Trip Date : 
Mid. June 2011
Additional Route Information
250 km
14 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
600 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

The Lawagamau River (also know as the Kattawagami) is about as remote as you can get

easy to get to the put in off HWY 652 north east of Cochrane but to get to the take out at Mooseonee you have 50K of open ocean to deal with sorry you do not get to stay by the shore on this paddle when the tide goes out it goes a way out and you are beached

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Adventures with Bill Point 2.0 Day 1 June 10/11

How much can you jam into a kayak?

This is the easy part just drive north after work

Going on another run down the Kattawagami River to James Bay

See if I lose any weight this trip starting at 217 lbs.

Drove as far as North Bay Fri. after work, parked just off the HWY. 11 slept in van

Drive so far was uneventful

Saw one dead moose on road been hit by a truck best not to drive up here after dark hitting a moose with van not good way to start trip

Gas is a bit more pricy this trip going to cost about two hundred in gas or so. I have a SPOT device with me this time plan to send an OK out to everyone each day were\when I set up camp

Day 2 June 11/11

Drove the rest of the way to Cochrane in the morning

At Cochrane I stopped at the cop shop just to let them know there is another dam fool going down the Kattawagami River

The cop asked why would I go down this river by myself I told him because I could not find anyone stupid enough to come with me

To get from Cochrane to Kattawagami Lake it is a 160 Km. drive down HWY. 652

And when you get there you still have to get your van back to Cochrane

Johnny Bait Canoe Shuttle Service to the rescue

From the cop shop I phoned the shuttle driver Terry Oneil 705-272-8002

Terry is an old local from Cochrane that is sort of retired but does a shuttle service on the side

Not cheap $180. Terry rides with you to the put in spot then takes your van back to his place

And locks it up for a week or two (or uses it as the town taxi till you get back)

When you get to Moosonee you give terry a call and he meets you at the train with your van

On the drive to Kattawagami Lake we saw one bear

It was 3 PM before I got on the water

I was just off the lake starting down the river when I saw a family of ducks mom and about 10 ducklings little black and white ducklings the only ducklings I saw the whole trip

Did see lots of goslings though

One hour into the paddle there was a cow moose and calf right by the water they just stood and let me drift right by them “as I tried to get my camera out” by the time I got camera out I had drifted past them so you cannot see the calf in the pic’s

Saw a second moose later that day, the moose let you get fairly close to them they do not see kayaks often it is just a blue log with arms to them

About two hours into the paddle there is an area of an old forest fire on the right bank when you get here it’s time to put the camera away and one last check of to see that your gear is all tide down. Things are about to pick up speed ‘1/2 hour stretch of class 1 rapids not hard but rocky

Still day 2 June 11/11

Back home on the credit these rapids would be fun. Out here by myself I’m not sorry to see the end of them of course there is days of rapids up ahead but will deal with them when I get to them

Last time I came down this river the water was lower had a lot of problems with dragging over rocks

This time the water is about a foot deeper so I’m floating over rock without hitting them that part is good but the water is also going a lot faster that part not so good

There is one thing that has me really uneasy as I go through the rapids I see the water is right from one bank to the other tight against the tree both sides last time I was able to walk on the rocks along shore to rope the kayak past some of the bad rapids if there is no were to walk to get past some of the big rapids I could be in for a hard trip!

Bush crashed for a place to set up the tent today steak for supper tonight. Suppers from here on though will be add boiling water wait 5 min. serve yum yum

The mosquitos are bad here; as soon as I could I got into the tent for the night I called it a day

Nothing bothered me at night never saw a bear on the river

Day 3 June12/11

Got up about 7 AM rainy start to the day of course the bugs are bad

Skipped breakfast packed up, on the water by 8 PM

Mostly flat water today some swifts and easy class 1’s I’ll take this all the way to the bay but that’s not going to happen

Was tooled the trip is about 190 Kms. With 80 sets of rapids or falls (I’m sure there was more)

Have been seeing beaver now and then but no moose today

Saw a hawk and its nest in the tree tops the hawk was not happy that I was on” its” river kept flying around me squawking and showing me how big its talons are

Made it to the next lake today of course just as I start to cross the lake the wind starts to howl crossed the lake by that time I’m beat and it looked like rain set up camp called it a day bugs still bad

Day 4 June 13/11

All day I thought I was making good time

The weather is ok the water is high but I’m doing ok

End of the day I got to the same spot I camped day 4 two years ago a bit of a let-down that

Saw a moose cow with twins today but I was running a class 1 at the time no pic.s

Today hit 6 big rapids portaged 1 snuck by two on a little side streams behind islands roped two

Used my life jacket to get down one did not go as planned

The kayak I’m using is a Pongo 120 wilderness made for flat water it has an oversized skeg at its rear tip helps it go straight but the skeg is only 1 in. wide by 4 in. deep if you slid the kayak over a rock the kayak becomes very tipsy as the 1 in wide part slides over the rock that put me in the water more than once, also will not turn fast, good kayak for the open bay and flat water parts of the trip not the best in white water

Stomach a bit off today should not be Jardia again I’ve been only drinking filtered water I have one of those hand pumps with the ceramic filter lost appetite not eating much though

At the landing points of the bigger rapids I’m seeing red marks on the rocks probably from Doug’s canoe he tried to run this river about 2 weeks the fact that we are thinking a lot alike landing at the same spot most of the time may not be a good thing “he did not make it” had to be air lifted out by helicopter

Doug’s canoe and all of his gear is still ahead on the river some place

This is the area that put holes in bottom of my other kayak two years ago but the new one is doing ok of course the water is deeper

Bit of a problem with leg cramps tonight

End of day 5 June 14/11

This was one hard nasty day

No idea how many rapids I’ve paddled roped or portaged today lost count a long time ago

Swam one too did I mention this kayak is not the best in fast water

Blame the kayak the fact that I’m not a great white water paddler has nothing to do with it!

Lost a bit of skin off my thumb and right leg if that’s the most that happens this trip I’ll call this a good trip

Saw a bull moose today

Camped on an island with water falls on both sides

Have not seen red paint from Doug’s canoe on the rocks since morning today may have missed were his canoe is stranded

There are island with fast water on both sides it would not be hard to go left and Doug have gone right so I’d never see his canoe

Supper tonight is instant soup also took some muscle relaxants so my legs may not cramp, there are no hot showers out here to help the cramps

Note could use a shower by now but had an unplanned swim today we can call that my bath. Water is a bit cold by the way. Nice on this island bugs not bad deer fly and horse fly only

Checked my GPS again tonight making a bit better time now thanks to the high water more of the rapids are runnable

Portaging sets is slow about an hour every set since there are sets about every 300 yards (I’m not kidding) as you get out of one set you look ahead at the next to see were to land to scout it

I’m not running the class 3s or falls but have found myself in some nasty class 2s

Day 6 June 15/11

Having a lazy start to the day its noon and I still have not packed up yet

Tried fishing this morning should be a great spot below a set of falls only got two fish about a foot long silver gold scales mouth like a sucker. They like yellow or orange spinners

Cooked one up they are a cousin to the white fish, a bag of bones if you get this type of fish through it back

Bugs not bad till I sat in the shade to write this

Day 6 June 15/11

Day from hell

No1 First I’m sick as dog can’t keep anything down jardia again I think

That SOS button on my SPOT device is calling to me

Where to start about this day

No2 there was a water fall on the main river not going over that. there was a small branch of the river off around an island i was landing off to the right of the main falls to scout this smaller side branch out, got cot in the current of the small offshoot and got pulled over a 5 foot water fall backwards you can probably find my finger nail marks on the rocks all the way down the falls landed without getting hurt but not in the kayak

No3 found Doug’s canoe also found out why he was not in it. there is an easy strait rock shoot from the top of it looks like an easy class 2 half way down there is a standing wave must be four foot but it is not across in front of you it hits you sideways last thing I saw was my kayak going straight up the rock wall if it had wheels it would of driven right out of the gorge bet there is blue marks 8 foot up that wall. what goes up has to come down the kayak rolled came down upside down dumped me straight down I got to the surface got one gulp of air then got pulled down again life jacket and all but it is a shoot so it does shoot you out when I pooped up I still had a hold of my paddle and the kayak was only about 30 feet to the left. Of course my kayak skirt is around my legs. Kick it off swim to the kayak

Swim to shore “long swim” empty kayak (again) go after my skirt that ‘floats’ this time unlike last trip were I lost the skirt

Still day 6 June 15/11

Just downstream below an easy class 1 I pick up skirt and there is Doug’s canoe trapped on a rock between two nasty waterfalls I’m thinking my kayak went left so it was easy to get his canoe went right stayed in the current through the class 1 hung up between the two falls no way for a swimmer to get to it

Hey but I’m in a kayak sorry no pic.s of the canoe on the rock my camera did not like going under either

Note the SPOT device also was wet and would not turn on but it worked after a bit of time in the sun the wife would of panicked if I stopped sending a I’m ok every day did miss one day must of turned the spot off to soon

Camera took longer to dry out but it did work again the next day?

Portaged all my gear down below falls except the kayak. first I paddle out to were the canoe was, turned it over pointed it into one of the falls and let it go I was thinking I’ll tow it on the flat water and at the falls\rapids just point it down stream this will slow me down but I can bring both boats out that way

Worked for about four rapids\falls then as I turned it into a class 2 that I was running the canoe turned right got into an eddy at the top of the set I was going down, last I saw of Doug’s canoe was it going around and around as I went down stream

Note Doug was only about one day from the end of the white water too

That was one tricked out canoe big ‘18 foot’ I think with full deck spray skirt. Skirt for paddler five packs full of gear he doesn’t travel light still had both paddles with it one attached to deck the other had washed up with the canoe.

All still going around and around more likely back on a rock somewhere

To top the day off the dry bag my sleeping bag is in ripped open drying everything tonight again tomorrow I’ll have to move things around there is one other bag big enough for the sleeping bag

Day 7 June 16/11

Saw another moose today. moose still just stand and look at the strange blue log with arms

Got to try out my life jacket again today going through a rocky class 2 the nose of the kayak cot on a rock turned me sideways in the white water, that usually does not have a good outcome

Have a small hole in the kayak right at the back tip of the skeg slid over one to many rock or maybe it was the ride over the falls backwards have stuff with me to patch hope it works better that last trip

Still cannot eat or drink much that SOS button still calling to me

Have not eat a meal in 3 days just light snacks Dawn sent me a bag of hard candies I have been eating those anytime there is work to do it is just a sugar rush but they have gotten me over more than one portage

Got past the last rapids today now it’s just a long paddle to the bay

Had my last hot chocolate today time to get out of here lots of food left just can’t eat it can eat a bit of soup though and I have soup

Day 8 June 17/11

Well you can say I’m stuck on a deserted island had to stop about 4 miles short of the bay the wind is blowing big time white caps on the river and from here to the bay is a strait run into the wind with the river being about a mile wide here looks like I’m camping here today not nice island just bush

High tide about 5 pm today had to pull the kayak right up into the bush to get above the tide. The ground I stood on to land on this island is underwater

Took 4 days to cross the bay last time thanks to the wind hope that’s not the case again

Day 9 June 18

Well I’m stuck in the old hunting camp just short of the bay

Spent 2 days here last time the wind is still blowing from the north white caps on the water not interested in going out on the open bay till the winds calm down

The patch on the rear of the kayak stayed on still have lots of food it’s the lack of something good to drink that’s killing me hat water when its clean this brown nasty stuff is not a hit

One of the old hunting shacks is gone the one I stayed in last time is next to fall down but someone fixed up the third one put new tarp on roof there was a small wood stove in the shack so I fired it up smoked like hell had to get out of the shack will not have a fire going in it for the night

There are two more old shacks just north across a small creek did not see them last time also ready to fall down one of the shacks has a box of traps left in it. The price of those things, not something to leave behind

Day 10 June 19/11

4 AM I’m up and ready to go out on the bay not much wind this early in the day

It is light though full moon and this far north may not get very dark at night at least it has been very light at night this trip got on the water just ahead of the high tide

Tide went out before I got to sand Point Island got stuck on the tidal flats about two miles short of the island it took me 3 hours to move all my gear to the island a pain if tides going out come at the island from the north deeper water

If you had to get stuck on an island you would have a hard time to find a nicer one than sand point it has a nice beach almost no bugs only dragon flies and butter flies

The ground is covered with wild strawberries plus there is lots of goose berries, the berries are not ready this early though

Lots of other flowers also goose nests the goslings are gone now found one nest with an egg in it must have been a dud

Out on the sand spit there is a gull rockery there eggs have not hatched yet. The gull were not happy with me walking by their nests

Saw some large mice like things about the size of a chip monk (what does a lemming look like?)

Also had a fox come to my camp? Small fox though it was a rabbit at first, black and silver asked the locals about it when I got to Moosonee they figure it was an artic fox with summer fur

Out on the tidal flats just off the beach there are holes dug as if someone is looking for clams but there are no shells on the beach?

Camp is set fire has burnt down looked around island now what its only 6 pm would love to be here with friends and some good drinks or even just the drinks ‘I have nether’

Day 11 June 20/11

It’s been a long paddle but I made it across the bay to the Moose River that will take me to Moosonee

I had to do it the hard way left the island just ahead of the high tide about 5 AM the day started off on an ominous note clouds with a red sky (red sky at morning shepherds warning)

Wind not too bad that is the main fear about the bay if the wind picks up, there is no were to hide about 3 foot swells this morning not a problem

Before I got to the moose river the tide started to go out and there is a “long” sand bar from the east tip of the moose river out into the bay high tide you can paddle over it low tide I had to point the kayak north and just paddle I was out on the bay 5 miles before I got around the sand bar good thing the wind calmed down.

Now that I’m around the sand bar I have no idea where I am the shore is so far away you can only just see a tree line glad I have a GPS it’s what put me back on course

An hour or two latter and I’m paddling up the moose river with a strong tail wind the wind picked as I got to the river mouth good sized white caps but it is a tail wind so I just road them in

Nice beaches on the moose took a break on shore then set off up steam with a tail wind and tide pushing me about an hour in a big boat went by heading out to the bay some business men had time to kill so they were taking a ride out to see the bay but the open water still had white caps they turned around. On their way back I bummed a ride with them to Moosonee we just pulled the kayak up onto their boat

The boat owner dropped me off right by the polar bear lodge

The boat owner also told me there is a channel by the shore I could have used to get by the sand bar to come into the Moose River but till the tide goes out you can’t see it

Civilation at last ok Moosonee almost civalation got a room at the lodge $115.00 not cheap but I’m not about to argue ask if they have laundry facilities’ for the guests ‘no’. But one sniff of me and the lady let me use the privet hotel laundry (something the other people on the train tomorrow thank her for) phone the wife, shower and real food. Supper that night was a cheese burger and fries plus 4 coffees best cheese burger I’ve had in two years. Off to bed nice soft bed with no bugs I almost feel human again two things left to do go to the doc and phone the shuttle driver to meet me back in Cochran

Day 12 June 21/11

The visit to the doc should have been an easy in and out but lack of clean water had left me very dehydrated none of the tests came back ok everything was off\low. Two hours later with bag of meds in hand all there is left to do is kill time till the 5 o’clock train

The lodges rooms are none smoking i was thinking may have a bit of a problem ‘note I do not smoke’ but my gear is in the room and it sure smelt of smoke except my wet hiking boots after being wet for 12 days they had their own special smell

In Moosonee ATV’s are street legal! More ATV’s on the road than cars

Knew the train ride was going to be a bit boring so went looking for a book to read on the train you cannot by a book in Moosonee there are none in the stores!

Picked up a ‘medium’ Pizza for lunch $25.00 that was a medium remember ouch!

The visit to the doc should have been an easy in and out but lack of clean water had left me very dehydrated none of the tests came back ok everything was off\low. Two hours later with bag of meds in hand all there is left to do is kill time till the 5 o’clock train


Post date: Tue, 02/04/2020 - 15:30


Hi Bill, quite the compelling read. How did you find water levels throughout the trip. From your time, would you expect the river to be runnable in late-august?