Last big trip of the year!
The plan was to drive to Churchill Falls, meeting a friend driving from Lab City, after which we’d ride north to Border Beacon. The history of Border Beacon is pretty interesting, and if you’d like to read a little about it, check out this article.
The drive to Churchill Falls is 3 hours, so in order to meet Matt at 6am as planned, I was out of bed at 2am and on the road by 3. With a quick stop at Tim’s I was on my way.
Matt had it a little tougher. The drive from Lab City is a little shorter, but he had to finish getting ready after work, and ended up not sleeping at all before hitting the road. He still managed to show up around 7. We drove up to the dyke outside of town and were ready to hit the trail around 8.
The thermometer in the truck was showing -20C at 8am. Colder than I was expecting for the 17th of April, but the sun was shining, and it promised to be a beautiful day.
The first part of the trip was Orma Lake road, which skirts the east side of the Smallwood Reservoir, allowing for access to the various dykes that diverted water to the Churchill River.
This was my first time up Orma Lake road in the winter time, though I had been here before on my KLR. The road seems just as long on sled.
About 150kms up the road I find Matt’s sleigh just sitting in the trail.
The pin keeping the tongue attached to the sled had come off. Luckily Matt’s idea of travelling “light” meant he still had two spares, so in no time we were off again.
Stopped for a short break at a cabin
Looking over the Kanairiktok river valley
Despite getting away fairly early, the day was getting away from us, and we had a long ways to go.
After pulling an all-nighter, Matt was having trouble staying awake on the sled, so he took a short cat-nap
While he was sleeping, I kept myself busy taking more pictures
Underway again, trying to get to Border Beacon before the sun was completely gone
We pulled in just after dark, around, 9pm, picked out a cabin in decent shape, got a fire going and made supper. After our long day we both got a good night’s sleep in a very cozy cabin.
The next morning we were up early, but by the time we made breakfast, cleaned up the cabin and repacked our gear, it was pushing 11:00 before we were underway. We had a different route planned for the way back, and we had no idea how long it would take us, so we upped the pace a little.
Matt getting a drink of water
Running down a lake, trying to make time, I found the limits of my sleigh. It normally flies straight and true, but doing 95kph on untracked snow it flipped over and spewed the contents of the cooler all over the snow.
Time to slow down just a little I guess.
A little while later Matt spotted something out on a lake we were skirting the edge of. We went out for a look. Tracks in the snow were evidence of a battle that had taken place, and the evidence of who lost was all too clear.
Nature is harsh, but for me it was good to see evidence of caribou. I’ve yet to see a live one in Labrador.
I’m sure the wolves weren’t far away, probably watching us from the trees, but we never caught a glimpse of them.
Back in the saddle
We ran a long section of river that would’ve been better on hockey skates, and it had me wishing for studs. Luckily we were able to just zip across most places and get to the snow along the edge.
Getting close to the Kanairiktok again
And on the river
We had talked about going down the river from here to where we had originally crossed, but looking at the GPS and the steep walls of the river, we knew if would be tough travelling, so we continued south cross-country.
We finally got back to the reservoir, and did a bit of hunting for an hour or so.
It was getting late, and we had a decision to make. Just head for the cabin and have a relaxing evening, or go back to the place we crossed the Kanairiktok so we could explore down river. Common sense said to go to the cabin, but our sense of curiosity led us back down to the river.
The Kanairitok is a huge river, measuring 322km in length and extending from near the Quebec border, north of the Smallwood reservoir to the Atlantic coast.
It’s a shame we got there so late in the day as the light was fading. The scenery was spectacular, and I look forward to getting back there again and traveling more of it.
In addition to the fantastic scenery, we saw bald eagles and a black bear. We followed the bear tracks for about 10 kms down the river until finally we came up on him.
As we got closer, he ran up the side of a hill, and sat there watching us as we watched him.
Finally we turned back and made our way up the river. We knew we wouldn’t make it back to camp before dark, but getting off the river proved to be a challenge. It’s a massive hill, and my sled got stuck twice trying to get up over it. The second time was near the top, so we unhooked the sleigh, bungeed my sled up, and than hauled my sleigh up with rope. We finally made it to camp around 11pm.
We were up the next morning by 8, with plans to get on the go earlier than the day before, but between cooking breakfast, cleaning up, cleaning all the birds we had shot the day before and fixing Matt’s sleigh, it was almost 2pm by the time we pulled out of camp.
Not far down the road we did some more hunting. There were birds everywhere. We could easily have filled our bag limits, but neither of us wanted that many birds. As it was, we had plenty.
From there we decided to take the reservoir back to the truck rather than the road. It was beautiful going.
The reservoir surprised us both. We were expecting just a massive lake, but it’s full of channels, open water, islands and peninsulas. At about 50km from the trucks we decided to try and portage overland. We ended up finding a trappers trail that led us to the other side, and we just had one last bay to cross to finish our ride.
One last look at the lake before driving away
680 kms over three days of fantastic riding.