James Bay Road in January 2009
Photos and text by Vanessa Campbell
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|We wanted to see the caribou migration. We had
done the JBR twice in the summer months (2004 &
2007) and always told ourselves that we wanted to go
in the winter. I looked at the satellite maps from
the past few years to try and get an idea for when
I also sent e-mails to the tourism boards
(municipality and SDBJ) to see if I could get a
first-hand answer as to the best time to travel (the
satellite maps only track 70 caribou out of 1
million) and all I got out of them was to look at
the above link....
So, we picked the 3rd week of January. We also
got an idea of the road conditions from these
We expected to average speeds of 60-70km/h given
that everything was ice-covered. We didn't want to
travel at night either, so we planned on 8-hour
days, max. We also packed the tent/sleeping
bags/lantern/food in case of a breakdown and having
to wait for another vehicle to pass by. We're not
equipped with winter camping gear, so we planned on
staying indoors! At 60km/h, and with 8 hours of
light, it was pretty much a given that we'd have to
stay at Km 381.
So, now we've come to the start of the journey.
We wanted to make it to Matagami Saturday night, but
it didn't happen to due black ice along Highway 11
from Gravenhurst through to New Liskard in Ontario
(this was actually the worst road conditions of the
whole trip!). So, we stayed in Amos. This put us a
little behind and so we made it to km 6 for 11am on
The SDBJ does a great job of keeping the
roads plowed. They don't lay down a lot of sand, so
I wouldn't go near the James Bay Road without snow
tires! (We traveled in a Ford Focus with 4 snow
If you're interested in an interesting
Trans-Taiga Road is definitely driveable in the
winter. Since the gravel is frozen and snow-covered,
you can drive an easy 70km/h without worries of
bouncing off the road. In this light, it's better
than the main highway which is ice-covered.
|As you can see
from the first two photos, the pavement is
snow-covered. The plows really push back the
snow, well into the shoulders. The shoulders
are frozen, so there's no problem driving on
them. The road is so wide, it's almost like
having 1.5 lanes in each direction. The next
two photos were taken 45 min later. The
snow-covered road is giving way to
ice-covered, which is pretty much what the
remaining 590-ish kilometers are like.
|Can you drive
faster than 60km/h? Absolutely. Is there
salt? Not really. Is there sand? Not much. A
little bit in the corners, but that's about
it. Not enough to rely on for major
traction. The plows put down a salt/sand
mixture. The salt doesn't really do anything
since it's so cold.
can see the yellow line! More often that
not, it's through clear ice. But once in a
while, bare pavement is exposed.
tourists are few and far between, the plows
don't clear out the rest areas. If you do
climb through the snow to get to the pit
toilets, you'll find that they are
locked.... Just a heads-up to those with
small bladders! (you can see the
snow-covered picnic area in one of the
These pictures turned out fairly well
since it was sunny for the first 2 days.
Unfortunately, sunny = very, very, very
90km/h on the straight sections and
75-80km/h through the corners. We had 4 snow
tires on our car and nothing else special.
Commercial logging still goes on during the
winter months. The trucks move as if it was
summertime and the highway was nice and
clear.... Ice? What ice?
The road surface in the commercial
logging section is worse than it is during
the summer. We hoped that the snow would
fill in the rough areas and make things nice
and smooth. Not to be.
Like in the summer months, it gets better
once you get past the first 200km.
River rest area, and a distant view of the
bridge on the James Bay Road.
thinking that the highway would be devoid of
traffic other than the occasional truck. Not
so. Mid-November through to mid-February is
caribou hunting season. There was as much
passenger traffic as there is during the
summer months. So, if you break down, or
slide off the road, you won't have to wait
for hours for someone to come by.
|We were quite
fascinated with the frozen mist on the trees
by the rapids...
|Did I mention
that it was cold?
|Looking at the
timestamps on the photos, we spent no more
than 30 minutes at the Rupert.
We planned for minus 30 weather, but
there's a huge difference between minus 20
and minus 30...
We stopped on the way south, but it was
overcast that day and the pictures didn't
look that good. (but it was warmer: minus 20
and light snow!).
|We didn't note
the kilometer marker where we saw the fox
munching on the caribou, but it's somewhere
around km 325.
I'm not sure if you like pictures of dead
critters. We were fascinated by the bright
colour of the fox against the pale colours
of the trees & snow. So much for his
camouflage! He didn't mind us watching him
while he was having his dinner.
|This photo is
heading north towards km381, and it's only a
few minutes to 4pm!
We stayed there for
the evening. A single room is $70, and
double occupancy is $100. The beds are far
from luxurious (they're twins) and the
washroom is communal and co-ed.
We learned on the LG-2 tour that the
buildings at 381 were moved there from
Radisson after the dam construction was
complete. So, they're nice, vintage 1970s
work camp accommodations.
Gas at 381 was $1.02/litre. We were
expecting it to be higher, but we weren't
wanted to take full advantage of daylight
for driving, we left Km 381 as the sun was
starting to rise. This pictures was taken
from the parking lot at Km 381.
the frozen Eastmain River.
shrubs along the road.
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