Freshwater Pools of the Canadian Shield

When I left my tent for a morning hike, little did I know that I would find myself in a wilderness rock garden, featuring colorful plants and beautiful pools of cool, clear water. Such was my luck when I chose to camp on the shore of James Bay at Longue Pointe, north of Chisasibi, Quebec.

Just before the hike, I listened to the birds and watched the sunrise from my seaside campsite

Hear the birds and the waves for yourself by watching this brief video, recorded at the above location:    YouTube     Vimeo

Leaving the shore and walking uphill through the trees and brush, I arrived on the high ground of Longue Pointe—the exposed gneissic granite of the Canadian Shield

The pools are perennial fixtures of the terrain, fed only by rain and snow…

Here’s another short video, which will give you a 360° tour of this area:    YouTube    Vimeo

Fascinating microecosystems…

Algae? Pollen? Ribbons of orange floating on the still water…

I never thought it was such a bad little tree: Below, a ragged little evergreen makes its home on the hard stone…

I left the trees behind as I walked westward toward the end of the point…

Above and below, dikes of pegmatite run for long distances across the great slabs of granite…

Terminus: The western tip of Longue Pointe, where the rock dives below the calm, blue waters of James Bay…

A short but extremely satisfying hike…one that I’d like to take morning after morning. Perhaps I’ll be able to stay for several nights on my next visit.

End of the Road

Stone of the Canadian Shield, visible above and below the cool, clear waters of James Bay. This is the view from the end of Longue Pointe Road, north of Chisasibi. Here, the Pontiac sits at 53.974089° N 79.078265° W—the northernmost drivable point* in Quebec—parked among the boats of local residents and outfitters…

Moment of Zen: Enjoy the softly-lapping waters of James Bay in a brief video recorded on the rocks of the nearby shore…      YouTube      Vimeo

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Actually, it is possible to drive farther north in Quebec, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so in a vintage Pontiac.

As I’ve stated in prior posts about trips to the northern limit of a provincial road system, my use of the phrase “northernmost drivable point” pertains to roads that (1) are connected to the rest of the North American highway system, (2) are open to the public, (3) can be used in all seasons, and (4) are suitable for passenger cars with low ground clearance.

Less than an hour south of the town of Radisson, a gravel road leads northeasterly off of the James Bay Road and takes you 414 miles (666 km) deep into the heart of Quebec’s vast boreal wilderness. This is the Trans-Taiga Road, and at it’s terminus you would be 59 miles closer to the North Pole than the spot where I am parked in the photo above.

This extremely remote road is open to the public, but it was constructed to service the area’s massive hydroelectric industry. It is mainly used by trucks, usually moving at high speed. There are no towns along the Trans-Taiga; access to fuel and food is very limited. Also, this road has a reputation for eating tires and windshields. Learn more about the hazards of driving the Trans-Taiga Road through this link.

(Below, a look at the first kilometer of the Trans-Taiga Road. This is as far as went went…just wanted a taste. Farther on, the road becomes narrower and rougher.)

I couldn’t justify the risk of damage to the Pontiac simply to get that extra 59 miles of latitude, so I passed on the Trans-Taiga. Additionally, I suspected that using the end of that road as a northern benchmark would have been anticlimactic; the thought of making that very long and difficult drive, only to arrive at a gated industrial complex in the middle of the forest, just didn’t thrill me. But conquering the full length of the James Bay Road and reaching the boat landing on Longue Pointe, overlooking the crystal-blue waters of James Bay…that felt right. To me, that spot does a great job of capturing that “end of the road” flavor.

I may drive the Trans-Taiga Road someday, but only in a 4WD vehicle that is outfitted for camping. Driving up Route de la Baie-James in the Pontiac was a great experience; I enjoyed the scenery and the friendly people I met along the way. If you’re interested in traveling either of these roads, I encourage you to make it happen. But take the time to research the trip before leaving home, and make sure your vehicle is thoroughly ready for the journey.

The Prize

Four Pontiac latitude records are in the books—two here, one here and the most recent, from 2016, here. The fifth latitude record will be the last. I’ve long dreamed of driving to the shore of the Arctic Ocean; as of last Wednesday, that dream can become reality.

The coastal village of Tuktoyaktuk was previously accessible to drivers only from late November through April via an ice road which begins in the town of Inuvik. You don’t have to be a mechanic to know that this LeMans was not built for driving in the Arctic winter, and there is no way I would ever attempt such travel with this car. Now, with the opening of the all-season gravel road from Inuvik to Tuk, many motorists, myself included, are looking forward to making that long drive to the top of North America. (Here’s an excellent CBC article about the new highway.)

Tuk sits just short of 70° north latitude—over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Yes, I could take the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse, Alaska to crack the 70° mark and get about 52 miles farther north, but I’m not interested in making that drive. Why? Because the Dalton ends at Deadhorse, about seven miles short of the Arctic coast. This is where the Prudhoe Bay oil field begins, and private vehicles are not permitted in that area. The only way to see the shore at Prudhoe Bay is to go on a tour bus. Carl doesn’t do tour buses.

Driving to Tuk is not a journey to be taken lightly; it will require a lot of planning and preparation. The round-trip distance from my home will exceed 8000 miles, and more than 1100 of those miles will be logged on gravel roads, beginning at the Dempster Highway near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. The Pontiac will need a lot of maintenance before the trip in order to get through successfully. Still, I expect at least one flat tire on the Dempster, and likely some more windshield damage. I rarely use the back seat on my excursions, so I plan to remove it for this adventure and use that space for the recommended gear—two full-size spare tires, ten gallons of gasoline and other additions beyond my usual assortment of tools, fluids and spare parts. And you can bet I’ll be buying a satellite phone before I head out.

Aside from the latitude record and a view of the North Coast, I’m looking forward to my first visit north of the tree line and seeing actual tundra. I’m expecting an overdose of visual splendor on this journey; can’t yet imagine how many rolls of film I’ll burn through. As for the departure date, I’ve been following the weather up there and early September looks promising. 2018, 2019, 2020? One of those, hopefully. A little early to make that call, but I will let you know once I know.

So Many Trees

During my final day in the Northwest Territories, I pulled over and parked on this piece of high ground to gawk at the sprawling and seemingly endless boreal forest. These shots were captured with my infrared DSLR.

My trip as a whole was virtually bug-free, with the exception of the area around Fort Providence. When I stopped to photograph the narrow forest road seen below, the sand flies came after me with great enthusiasm. Fortunately, I was prepared with gloves and a mosquito-netting hat. The dark blobs you see are just a few of the hundreds of sand flies swarming around my head. They didn’t get my blood, but they photobombed every shot taken in this area.

A Last Look at the Boreal Forest

Before we head back to lower latitudes and enjoy the scenery of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, here are some final images from the far north:

Old wood, being reclaimed by the forest…

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No shortage of abandoned mines in the north country…

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Some of the forest’s smaller residents…

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Something with wings…

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Speaking of wings, the ravens were everywhere, and always on the lookout for a free meal. Though I never fed them, they stalked me constantly, and I couldn’t wander far from the car if the top was down; I could tell that this one was just waiting for me to turn around so he could hop in and steal my crackers…

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Another waterfall: Alexandra Falls, on the Hay River…

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The gorge below…

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Nature’s masonry skills on display…

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So many trees…

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