Here is the account of a recent trip I did; a loop around southern and central Labrador.
Touring in Labrador is very different than in provinces such as Quebec or Ontario. There is a Trans Labrador Trail, but most of it has been abandoned, is rarely traveled and never groomed. Other sections of our tour followed old trapping routes, and were either very poorly marked, or not marked at all. It’s definitely not the kind of trip you do without a fair amount of preparation. Guy and I spent quite a bit of time texting back and forth, figuring out what to take and how to take it, I gathered GPS tracks and waypoints, we estimated distances and made phone calls about fuel, restaurants and hotels. But finally, Easter break arrived, and we were ready to start.
Day 1: L’anse Au Clair to Port Hope Simpson.
Well, it wasn’t really day one. I was meeting Guy coming across the ferry from Newfoundland, so first I had to drive the 650kms down to Blanc Sablon after work on Thursday. And the next day the ferry announced that they wouldn’t be leaving, but would be waiting for the arrival of an ice breaker, so I spent a day riding around the area by myself, and went up as far as Red Bay for a ride.
Eventually, though, the ferry made it across and we were able to get a late start, heading out of town around noon on Saturday.
Beautiful weather that first day, and it was nice starting off with 80kms of groomed trails going up the coast.
At Red Bay we took a little detour over to Black Bay, which was worth a look. Sadly, I never took and pictures on the way, but one of these days I’d like to do a collection of photos just of the trail markers around Red Bay. They have quite the assortment.
From Red Bay you head inland, and the trail is marked, but not groomed. It wasn’t too rough though, and it’s kind of surprising that not more people are using it, though as you get higher up the terrain gets rather barren, and the snow rather sparse.
We pulled in to Mary’s Harbour with the intention of having supper, but at 6pm on a Saturday, the restaurant was already closed, so we phoned ahead to the Alexis in Port Hope Simpson, booked a room, and they said they’d keep the restaurant open for us.
Day 2: Port Hope Simpson to Cartwright
We left Port Hope in a crisp -23C, but the sun was out, so we knew it was going to be a beautiful day. From Port Hope to Charlottetown there’s a nice marked trail, a real shame it’s not groomed.
Easter morning in Charlottetown there’s not much happening, so we continued on, and from here most of our route was on ice, either sea ice, or following a series of big lakes. Again, the trail is not groomed, but it is clearly marked and easy enough to follow, though at times out on the big bays looking around we’d kind of go astray.
Trying to thaw out a sub-sandwich, I put it in my tool tray under the hood of the sled. It would work, but we weren’t patient enough and tried to eat it too soon.
This area was really well traveled, lots of tracks, lakes staked, signs posted, and the emergency shelters well stocked with wood.
It’s clear that the people living in the tiny, remote communities use the routes as highways in the winter, and that makes for fairly easy travel for tourists.
One such community was Norman Bay, population 32.
Mr. Turnbuckle came out to see us while we were passing through, and pointed us in the right direction to find Partridge Bay. The tracks and trail signs were more sparse up there, but the scenery was stunning.
Partridge Bay is where the trail markers end, and it was there that we met an older feller who invited us into his cabin for a cup of tea. There’s 4 or 5 cabins in Partridge Bay now, but he told us how he actually grew up there, it was a community of 7 or 8 families, until the resettlement program when his family moved, first to Cartwright and later to Charlottetown.
After a grand chat with him, we started to make our way again. We’d been told that someone had traveled from Black Tickle to Charlottetown a couple of days before, so we’d have good “footin’s” all the way. They were a help, for sure, as the route here is very close to the sea edge, and the terrain is very barren. Not the kind of country you’d want to travel in if the weather was bad.
As we were cruising along, enjoying the scenery and looking at an iceberg, something caught our eye
A graveyard, out in the middle of nowhere, and some of the tombstones were recent. Obviously, people who wanted to be buried with their families, back where they had grown up. We crested a hill and came upon Batteau, and it would be hard to imagine a bleaker place to live.
We found out later that other snowmobilers in the area that same day saw a polar bear, and were able to get good close up pics of it. What a shame we missed that!
Onward to Black Tickle, one of the larger remote communities on the south coast.
From here we were back on a marked and groomed trail into Cartwright.
Day 3: Cartwright to Goose Bay
To get to Goose Bay we had a choice, take the traditional route leaving Cartwright, which follows the coast, or go overland, up the White Bear River to Barron Lake, picking up the old TLT back down to Lake Melville.
The TLT here is never used, but because Cain’s Quest had come through this way earlier in the winter, we knew that it was doable, so that’s what we decided to do.
Going up Sandwich Bay and the White Bear River was pretty straightforward, but we had to find the portage off the river and up to Barron Lake, and all we had to follow here was the waypoints from the racers trackers.
Looking at the map and the waypoints we knew more or less where to get off the river, just not the exact route. It looked like a little brook would get us off the river so we tried that.
No go, it got narrower and narrower, so we turned around and went up river a little further where we found a portage.
This actually shows how we were navigating really well. We had tracks made from the pings racers were making every ten minutes, giving us the general direction to go, but certainly not the exact route to follow.
Once we found our way up we went across Baron Lake, and up Baron River, where we stopped for a bit of a lunch.
Eventually we met up with the TLT again, but this section of the trail is completely unused, other than for Cain’s Quest this winter. It was good traveling for the most part, with just a few challenging sections.
Finally we made it to the lake, went across and rode the groomed trail into Goose Bay, arriving around 9:30 after a 13 and a half hour day.
Day 4: Goose Bay to Park Lake
We did a bit of maintenance to the sleds, and got a bit of a late start. The weather wasn’t the best, but we had a good track to follow, so off we went.
Headed into the Mealy’s.
Up near the top.
Park Lake in the morning.
Day 5: Park Lake to Rubber Brook. Here’s where it gets interesting.
We left from Park Lake camp early in the morning and made good progress, riding down the Eagle River, checking out camps along the way. We were planning on making L’anse Au Clair that day. But plans change.
At the highway we filled up our tanks from a fuel cache I had put there a few days earlier. But when we arrived at the highway we spoke with someone unloading their sleds who told us it was only 192kms to the south coast, so we foolishly decided not to fill our spare tanks. Bad decision.
On our detour south to check out a couple of camps we made a wrong turn and got into some stucks between a couple of lakes.
No big deal, we made it through, did a bit of exploring and then started heading east again.
Glad we hadn’t planned to spend a night in this place…
One of the suggested routes we had heading east off of Birchy Lake took us up a river. There was a snowmobile track going in that turned around, and we soon did the same thing. The river was not good traveling, as it would cave in behind this first sled, leaving big holes for the guy following.
So we turned around and found a better path going east.
Things were going well. We crossed Shawns River, hit a string of bogs, following good visible tracks. Then things got confusing. We came to a lake and followed the tracks across it, but they turned and started heading north again. We doubled back, and looked for any sign of tracks headed to the east. We found a single track, but it was clearly someone doing the same thing we were, poking around the edges of bogs, looking for a way through to the next set, and not having any luck doing so.
We had waypoints to the east of us we knew we had to hit, we just couldn’t see how to get to them. And two issues were creeping up on us. It was getting dark, and we were burning fuel we couldn’t afford to burn. We went back to the top of the lake, looking for evidence of a track heading south. We went back to the original track and followed it further to see if it would turn east. We poked further into the woods in all the spots we had already checked out to see if we could find a way through, but once the sun was down we knew it was only going to get harder. So we made the decision to set up camp and see what things looked like in the morning.
Day 6: Shawns River to L’anse Au Clair
Oofda, that was a tough night. But, with the Delorme, I had been texting with my wife, who called a friend, who called a friend, and through the magic of modern technology he was not only able to see where we were, he was able to give us the coordinates of a cabin where there was a fuel cache. So at 6am we packed up, and headed to the cabin, looking forward to putting on a fire, warming up, and making some coffee and breakfast.
But we couldn’t find the fuel. There were two empty cans by the camp, and where I had been told to dig turned up nothing. This was problematic. We knew we didn’t have enough fuel to make it out, but how would we tell someone where to meet us? We were thinking we’d have to find someone to come all the way in to where we were, and we were kind of looking forward to having a nap in the warm cabin while waiting when Mark got back to me with a different location on where to dig for the gas cans. Pay-dirt! I struck 4 jerry cans filled with precious gas, and we knew we’d have plenty to get us out.
All we had to do now was get past the point we couldn’t find our way past the day before. We returned to the same lake, and had much the same issue, but this time we knew we had to go south further west than we’d been doing. While poking along the edges of bogs I saw a faint track cross our path. We followed that, and it lead us to a better track, which lead us to a trail, which lead us through the woods to another series of bogs. What a relief!
From there it was pretty clear sailing, down the bogs to the Lost River, down the Bujeault River, up on the barrens, and on south to Forteau where we picked up the trail into L’anse Au Clair.
It was quite the trip, and by the time we were back we were already talking about “next time”.
Both sleds performed flawlessly throughout the trip, with only the most minor of issues. I lost a bolt for my shift lever, and had an idler wheel come loose. Guy had a handwarmer quit, and the lever for his underseat storage jammed. That was it.
The Expedition gets the nod for getting around in the snow and for fuel mileage. The Bearcat wins the award for being able to haul the most gear. The thing is a beast. Both make really good touring sleds for Labrador.