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Canadian Canoe Routes

Nottaway River
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Author:  DougB [ October 14th, 2003, 3:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Nottaway River

I'm interested in learning more about the Nottaway as a potential trip for next year. Likely starting from Matagami and ending in Fort Rupert. Has anyone paddled this stretch? Any good sources for information?

Author:  HOOP_ [ October 14th, 2003, 6:23 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi Doug,

I paddled the route in 1995. I was a crew member, and I don't have the maps, and so I don't have precise route details. I have no journal notes either to rely on. But I can provide some advice and info.

The mid to lower river is huge, and the gradient very steep, and some of the rapids are very technical. It is an intermediate to advanced whitewater skills river. It starts down from Matagami looking average, but it soon gathers huge volume. We paddled it in early August, and the water levels were lower. It was still huge in many sections. In high water, I would suspect that some of the sections are huge, and totally not paddle-able. I recall very clearly thinking that portages were out of the question for many long runs. The bush was too thick, and the banks too steep. We simply had to run stuff that was on the edge of being do-able (class 3+). Therefore I recommend doing the river in lower water.

We had whitewater runs for several kilometers, maybe 5-10 km without a break, and catching eddies was necessary to empty water. Spray decks and royalex boats, rigged with flotation (end bags and tied down packs) are essential. You will be going through huge stuff which will swamp your boat unless you have a good spraydeck. In some sections you cannot afford to be swamped, because you will miss an eddy and maybe die, or at the least lose your boat and gear. You must have excellent whitewater skills to be able to read water and pick lines, catch eddies, tilt and lean, and front ferry against a strong current without losing your angle. You should have an instinctual low brace because you will need it. I recommend helmets.

The portage for Iroquois Falls is on river left. It is not well marked, but its there.

About 3/4 the way down is a big island with a high flow channel on river left. The channel was dry, and we did the portage boulder hopping through this dry channel. It is maybe the toughest portage I have ever done. But it was worth it because I am sure it is almost unique. It is almost surreal, hopping rounded boulders. There are also big smooth rock sections. You walk on the bottom of the river that is scoured completely clean. You see what the fish see. It can only be done in dry weather. If it had been raining, we would have all broken our legs and necks. River right is class 5-6, and not do-able by canoe. We never saw a trail on river right, so I think the high flow channel river left is the ticket. Early in the season, there may be water in this channel, in which case it might be easy to line/wade, but that is just speculation. There is a massive ledge, about 8 feet high, about 3/4 the way down the channel, which we rock climbed down. If I recall, it took us 4 hours to do the portage, with 2 trips. Not exceptionally long, but the boulder hopping and ledge takes its toll.

I recall thinking at the time that in the spring, this river must be massive, and totally not runnable. No wonder Hydro Quebec wants to kill it by damming it, or re-routing the river into the Broadback. (Aside: The Nottaway is one of the 3 sisters, with the Broadback and the Rupert being the others. The idea for Hydro Quebec is to build a massive dam-dike system, and route both the Nottaway and Rupert into the central Broadback. It is a crime against humanity, not to mention the planet, if you ask me. How can we destroy natural marvels like these rivers in this day and age?).

The river is also silty, which makes lining treacherous, because the rocks are very slippery. The silt is enough to clog water filters, so if you plan filter, you will need a pre-filter. We drank the water straight and did not have a problem, but silt can upset some people's constitution.

Down near the bottom of the river, it cuts through classic James bay lowland. The river banks are dry and well forested, but back in behind there are spectacular wetlands that stretch on forever. The have the classic string fens. You can see these on the 1:50 topos. You won’t know they are there from the river. The river drains the local topography, but about 100-200m back, the wetlands are perched on clays. If you go, you should hike back into these, and just bounce around on the floating peat mats, but be careful because you can fall through the mat and drown! But you just have to see these wetlands that not many people have set foot in.

Once in the ocean, we paddled to the mouth of the Broadback and camped above, repeat, ABOVE the first big rapid. NOTE: The tides are high and the first rapid disappears in high tide. But the tide line is very deceiving. We were almost flooded out of our campsite. The water rises real fast, backing up the river. Go way upstream to camp in the Broadback, or you'll wake up under water, with your boats gone. Bring your tide tables.

There is an island just upstream from Waskaganish (Fort Rupert, on the Rupert River), to camp on. The locals recommended we camp there instead of in town. There is private property and we got the impression that our gear was at risk, maybe. Hard to say. There is also a very nice hotel there, which you may want to inquire about. You can paddle right up it. We flew out from Waskaganish, but I believe they have, or soon will have a permanent road in there now, so you might be able to drive back?

The Nottaway is a serious, serious river. Be absolutely sure of your skills before you decide to go.

Good luck.

Author:  DougB [ October 15th, 2003, 10:27 am ]
Post subject: 


Thanks for the information. This is exactly what I'm looking for... If you remeber anything else about the river please feel free to send me a message sometime.

As I understand it, the route is about 250 km long, broken down as maybe 80 km lake, 150 km river, and 20 km bay... of the river section, how long do the difficult rapids last, before the river opens up into the lowlands?

Author:  HOOP_ [ October 15th, 2003, 6:52 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi Doug,

Depending on water levels, there is a huge, wide rock garden section about a day or two from sea level. There are rapids all the way down to sea level, separated by flat or swift sections. You enter the sea after the last rapid (although the water still tastes fresh because of the plume of the river).

You will never see the lowlands from the river, because they are actually above you, which sounds paradoxical I know. The river has cut down through ancient ocean sediments, and meanwhile the land has risen from isostatic rebound. The river drains and dries the immediate banks, but because there are sediments laden with clays over the larger landscape, the water table is perched, well back from the riverbank. Thus the great lowland wetland formations are higher and back from the river, obscured by high forested riverbank. In the lower river, you climb up and over the steep banks to get into the wetlands. So the river never opens up. It stays well confined in its valley.

It is an epic river. We did in it 12 days down from Matagami. But I would recommend a few more days to take a break, do some fishing, photography, swimming, and messing about with some wetland hikes at the end of the river. Like maybe 16 days. We also had some near windbound days on the upper river where the lakes are larger. We had great weather paddling down the coast to Waskaganish. But you could easily get stormbound, so best to plan in a few extra days. You can phone for your plane pick up from Waskaganish (if you can arrange that with the float plane company), or drive back perhaps if the road is there, which allows for an open-ended schedule, which prevents any needless and risky hurrying down the river.

Author:  david milot [ October 16th, 2003, 9:42 am ]
Post subject: 

If I refer to our last trip down the Pontax river 15km north of the Rupert river(june 2003)
The best way to take out is using a car shuttle from Waskaganish...
A gravel road leaves the James-Bay highway for 102km to Waskaganish. This road is easily travelled by car (well maintened).

We were very lucky too on the bay having a clear sky and no wind... if it would have been as the two last days on the river (high wind and rains) I think we would have need to take a long break on the shore wainting to the weather to become good.


Author:  KayakDov [ July 31st, 2019, 5:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nottaway River

My partner and I will be paddling this river on August 8th. Since this thread has been dead for 16 years I thought I'd put out a new plea for any updated information on the river and its portages.

Thank you!

Author:  Sam82 [ July 31st, 2019, 6:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nottaway River

Please please please write a trip report!!!

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