Days 6 - 7: The Route du Nord

Waskaganish to Mistissini


Once again the Weather Gods smiled on us with a blue sky day for our drive along the Route du Nord. In our case, it would be the Route de Sud, as we would retrace the James Bay Road north and head east on the Route du Nord towards Nemaska and on to Misstissini (Mistisiniiyuukamikw), a distance of about 400 miles. We would pass the mighty Rupert River for the last time at Oatmeal Falls, but would also cross it's eastern headwaters along the Route du Nord. Once in Mistissini, we would stay two nights and then continue to Oujé-Bougoumou.

The Rupert looked different on each of our three visits. This morning a fine mist had covered all the trees with frost, and the falls remained slightly mysterious behind the spray. We had one last moment of reverence for this river, and wondered if we would ever see it run free again.

The western end of the Route du Nord at the James Bay Road. This road was primarily gravel, narrow and twisty compared to the roads we had been driving. The landscape had more hills and valleys than we had seen so far.

It also was a sheet of ice for the opening 100 miles. This was interesting on a narrow, remote road with lots of sharp turns and rises. Essentially it means no brakes, and once you get used to that simple rule, everything is fine.

Gentle use of the throttle and don't touch the brakes... even in conditions like this we would occasionally pass a big oncoming truck which was simply flying. We wondered aloud how they managed to drive so fast and not crash...

...well, truth is they do crash. About six guys were standing around wondering just how to remedy this situation as we drove past.

Into Nemaska for fuel and a quick look around. Nemaska (Cree for Where the fish abound) is the seat of Cree government with a population of 600 located on the shores of Lake Champion.

Nemaska reminds me of a sleepy Colorado ski town...

...complete with sleepy Labs lounging on snowmobiles.

We left Nemaska with a full tank of fuel and continued south on what we were now calling the Route du Ice.

I couldn't get the Talking Heads song "We're on a Road to Nowhere" out of my head...

Some places were pristine and beautiful, while others where devastated by clear cutting and the ever-present power lines, a constant reminder of Hydro Quebec's influence over this region.



Rupert River at the Route du Nord

We reached the eastern section of the Rupert River, marking our final contact with this river. The diversion will occur about 10 miles upstream from this point, effectively stopping the water flow at this location too. The powerlines that overshadow this photo will soon carry the energy previously held by this river.

There is an extensive picnic area built at this site with boardwalks and viewing areas of the falls. After the 2008 diversion I suppose people will picnic under the solitary hum of the powerlines, without the sights or sounds of the falls, which will be essentially channeled into the increased electrical hum.

The eastern end of the Rupert, soon to be lost forever.

You (were) Here: X marks the spot. Click on the map for a detail of the Route du Nord.

Time to get back on the (only) road if we want to reach Mistissini by dark.


When the forest wasn't clearcut the drive was gorgeous. But these areas were less and less as we headed south.

The powerline cuts along the Route du Nord provided viewsheds that often had caribou grazing.

You can also find these 'bou in the upper right of the larger picture above.


One of the disturbing facts of the Route du Nord was the density of roadkill caribou. We stopped counting after double digits, I'd estimate we saw about 15 dead. Considering how quickly the snowfall and plowtrucks cover up the side berms, there are probably considerably more dead under the snow.

And then we were done with the Route du Nord. Apparently if you take it northbound there is some sort of warning system, but we didn't see anything like that driving south.

Mistissini Lodge is among the nicest I've ever stayed at, anywhere. This community is very modern and was a welcome sight after a long days drive... on ice.

The view from the lodge overlooks Mistissini Lake, a 110+ mile long glacial lake. After seeing so many reservoirs we felt relieved to know natural landscapes still exist.

The street signs were Cree and English, no French spoken here.


Dogtown in Mistissini

To remind us we do live in a global economy, the Cree owned True Value Hardware store carries bear traps by the Bridger Trap Company of Salt Lake City, Utah. Made in Taiwan.

These images are of a Cree culture walk returning home. This has become an annual walk among the Cree to help retain their native connection to the land, and to engage the younger generation with their heritage. the walks are often two to three weeks long and may cover great distances. We would be joining another village's walk tomorrow for two days and two nights. For now all I wanted to do was rest in preparation.

Day 8 - 9: in the bush with Oujé-Bougoumou Crees



Day 1 - 2 of the James Bay Trip

Day 3 of the James Bay Trip

Day 4 - 5: Radisson to Waskaganish

Day 6 - 7: The Route du Nord

Day 8 - 9: in the bush with Oujé-Bougoumou Crees