We walked and lined our boats down through shallow rapids off the side of the current down the hill until we got to the lake at the bottom, where with a minimal amount of dragging, we got the boats over rocks, streams rushing between them.
Below, the water was calmer, until it wasn’t. The first set of rapids were shallow. Erin, both taller and lighter, sat higher up and with the better view choose deeper water than I did. Stuck, I got out to pull my boat over pebbles in the middle of the river.
We decided to paddle the first set of larger rapids. The waves rose to about a meter, but the water looked deep and with no major obstacles we gleefully bounced down the center.
The river split into narrower streams around enormous pebbly islands, and where the islands closed in, the water poured fast and picked up height.
Then the river curved back into a single body, but now the right side shot down viciously, the main current forced through a long narrow channel beneath a cliff, and the left side of the river, a shallow rock spiked lake with rivulets of water falling off the side into the wild rush below. We paddled the shallow gradually descending lake, and then climbed down one of the last falls before rocks took the lake over entirely.
The chanel widened slightly and the current slowed down enough to manage. The river widened, and then narrowed a little, and we arrived at the next set of big rapids. Erin thought they looked too shallow, so we paddled down the calmer river right to a short portage over yet more rocks, a short paddle across a calm beside the storm, and then a climb down a rocky wall between falling streams to the river beneath the rapids.
A wide dry river bed full of low growth lead away from the rapids around, what would have been in a high water, the island marked on our map.
Another larger island lay ahead. To the right, the river flowed smaller and cascaded down one set of rapids and then another. To the left, we could not see the rapids, but knew they were there.
We walked down through the river, three sets of rapids on the right, and paddled where we could.
At the bottom, the Notaway still flowed, but calmly.
And then we weren’t on the Notaway any more. Though the water didn’t taste salty, our map said we were in a tidal region. We were on James Bay.
We spotted a couple cabins on the side of the river, and considered stopping. We had about three days of food, but that meant eating mostly stale granola.
We decided to push on. With the wind at our backs, we could make Waskaganish by 8:00pm or so.
The water grew too shallow to paddle easily. We tried heading out to deeper water, but couldn’t find any. At times, my boat deeper in the water than Erin’s, I had to get out and walk. We progressed across the shallow bay slowly.
At one point, both Erin and I both walked, pulling our boats through the shallow water on leashes. Erin shrieked. She’d been dragging her leash in the water, no boat on the other end of it, for the last few minutes without noticing. Her boat floated some hundred meters away. She sprinted through the shallow water before it could complete its escape.
The sun began to set and we put our deck lights on. We’d learned how to read the weather of the region over the summer, together with the barometer on my watch, and knew a storm approached. Maybe any minute, maybe tomorrow morning (It took two days, but it came.)
Erin spotted the red buoy first, while I pulled my kayak on a leash at least a mile from shore. The buoy meant we’d find a channel. We were saved. I walked, she paddled slowly, toward the channel, and from there, we raced.
We paddled up the very bottom of the Rupert River, and arrived in Waskaganish around 9:30pm. Some First Nations folk on the beach helped us move our boats inland with their truck. The town has a couple of tepees set up for travelers like ourselves, and we used an expensive hotel’s bathrooms.
A friendly First Nations man heard about our trip. “You paddled the Nottaway? The last guy who did that had to eat his dog.”
Check out pictures here!
GPS coordinates: 51.488860, -78.745829