Sunday, July 25, 2010

Changing Labrador

Traveling through Labrador constantly brought surprises, some more unexpected than others. I knew all about arctic flowers, how colourful and vibrant they can be, but still it was almost shocking to see them again. We used to suck the sweetness out of these ones and cook them in bannock.

Now and then we drove through areas which had burned over during forest fires. These too I had seen before and recalled that fire renews life in these boreal forests, allowing new seeds to grow and establish themselves as though they were the phoenix trees.

Labrador is not just forest, but much of the land is covered in peat bogs. Now and then one comes across patterns in the bogs such as you can see here. These areas of patterned ground, as they're called, is the result of alternating freezing and thawing of the soils over long periods of time. This one in the photo was particularly interesting and large.

Nature hasn't been the only one at work in Labrador and along it's border with Quebec. Here mountains are being taken apart, the iron ore extracted and then shipped south the smelters so we can build buildings and make cars. This has been going on for nearly 50 years in Labrador and there seems to be lots of mountains left to mine!

Finally, now in Quebec, is the Manicouagan 5 power dam, sending electricity into the North American Power grid, so we can all enjoy a coffee every morning and heat our homes at night. This dam has created a giant circular lake as its reservoir which begs to be paddled some day...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Building Boats in Cartwright

Looking for a hiking trail in Cartwright, Labrador led to an unexpected find. The trailhead was supposed to be on a particular street, but driving up and down in search of it, nothing like a trail entrance or beginning looked obvious. Finally we broke down and drove into a driveway, parked the van and headed towards the garage behind the house where we could hear voices. This is what we found...

It seems the trail began right beside the garage and headed up the hill. The rocks we'd seen painted white, blue and green, Labrador's official colours, had actually not been some child's prank, but were the beginning of the trail! Meanwhile we focused on the folks in the garage. They were building a boat, a 'speed-boat', they called it. It normally would take about two weeks to put together a boat like the one in the photos. The design was a local one, adapted to the waters in the area. As we spoke they had just finished nailing the last of the ribs into her. A little finishing here and there, some paint and she'd be in the water ready to swell-up and head out fishing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Roads Of Labrador

One of the reason for going to Labrador this year was the news that the Trans-Labrador Highway (TLH) would be open for private vehicles for the first time. Until this summer, it wasn't possible to drive from Newfoundland all the way to Goose Bay and south into Quebec. One had to drive to Cartwright and take the ferry instead. You can still take the ferry, but once the road is finished at the end of the summer, the car ride ferry will end.

In Red Bay where the Basques used to render the whales they caught in the 1500's, the TLH switches from pavement to gravel. There is also a gate which opens only when the road is passable. We gassed up the car and headed out wondering what it would be like. We'd heard a few tales of woe..

It wasn't long before we were passed by another vehicle and got to see the dust. By the time we got back on pavement we'd collected enough dust to make our own road! We began to pray for rain...

The good news was finding that the road was maintained in excellent shape by a series of graders working full time. I live on a gravel road and know what regular grading can do to keep a gravel road passable. In Labrador it was common to see the graders pulling a truck so that at the end of his shift, the operator can park his machine and drive back home.

The new section heading to Goose Bay was passable, but a 30 kms section was pretty rough. Parts were still being blasted out of the rock, lightly covered with rubble and gravel and called a 'detour'. We'd met folks pulling large trailers who'd told scary stories of their transit of this section, but our van managed to get through with only a few scrapes. Had it really rained and there been mud, I'd probably be writing this from the bush somewhere...

Was the trip worth the effort? You bet it was! Instead of a long boring drive through muskeg and black spruce, we were continually amazed and intrigued by what we saw.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cartwright, Labrador

If you're up on your Norse Sagas, you'll recall mention of a golden strand of sand discovered in the world to the west. It turns out that endless stretch of sand is located on the coast just north of Cartwright and I had the idea it would make a good paddling destination on my Labrador trip. We suited up and launched using Experience Labrador's hospitality and water access.

Out we headed in almost calm seas, ready for a day's adventure. To be on the safe side, we decided we'd use some islands along the way as a wind shadow for the east winds expected to build up during the afternoon. That would also allow for two short open water crossings rather than one longer one which was reputed to have adverse tidal issues we could avoid.

All went as planned, but when we reached the first crossing from the mainland to the first island, a good sea was running and it was still morning, long before the arrival of the expected winds. What to do?

While we wondered what to do, we decided to do some fishing and have lunch. The waves continued to build and as time went by, I knew we weren't going to risk crossing the now white capped channel. We continued to fish and I went out to surf in the waves to get an idea how serious they might be in the planned crossing.

The warm weather began to work on our heads. Why paddle into the fray when we could have fun where we were, surfing, fishing and playing? The Viking strand could wait for another day, couldn't it?

We headed out in the waves to play instead. It was weird seeing the snow still on the hills ahead of the boat as we sweltered in our drysuits, but that's part of paddling in Labrador. Things are not always what you might expect.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Battle Harbour, Labrador

Had you been born 100 years ago or so in Newfoundland, you would have certainly heard of Battle Harbour. Today, few people know the community and it's place in history, but it was well known for a variety of reasons. Perhaps most widely known is the news which Admiral Peary burst upon the world when he announced to the press gathered in the upper floor of the Battle Harbour salt store that he and not Cook had been the first to the North Pole. Why did he make the announcement from there? It was the first telegraph post he came to on his voyage south from Greenland.

The community sits in a strategic location just to the north of the Straits of Belle Isle and at the point where the Labrador coast turns towards the northwest and the fishing grounds found up the coast. It became a center for all sorts of things including commerce and fishing. Almost no one passed by without stopping in, buying supplies and getting the news from the coast of far away England.

However, times changed and over the course of the 20th century, Battle Harbour lost its place as mainland communities like Mary's Harbour and St Lewis took over and linked to the road system. Today you still need to go to Battle Harbour by boat.

In the early 1990's however the spirit of renewal brought Battle Harbour back to life. Many of the original buildings have been restored and it's now possible to visit and gain a real appreciation for what the place once was and the lives people lived back when salt cod was king. I could easily have spent longer there soaking up the history. It would make a great base from which to kayak the many bays and inlets, islands and shoals in the area...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Whales and Bergs In Labrador

Leaving Newfoundland and heading to Labrador on the ferry to Blanc Sablon, our only regret was not seeing much in the way of icebergs and whales. Perhaps we were too early. Perhaps we weren't in the right places, it was difficult to say. All that changed once we arrived on the Labrador coast however! These icebergs were soaking in the sun, grounded in Fox Harbour and off nearby Battle Harbour.

Walking on historic Caribou Island after rowing across the tickle from Battle Harbour, we spotted this interesting iceberg literally sailing past like the schooners of old.

The whales weren't far behind. In fact we caught up with them off St Modeste where this humpback was leaping after schools of caplin making their way northward. It was an exciting drive along the coast where whale after whale came out of the fog and sported after food. At times we could see half a dozen or more herding the fish.

A bit far offshore for that really dramatic shot of a tail flashing as it's owner sounds into the depths, but it's a whale's tail nonetheless. It was one of those days when you could park the car, sit on the beach and watch the show. Wonderful!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Burnt Island Ecological Reserve

To paddle or to hike - the travelers dilemma, and so it was when visiting the Burnt Island Reserve off the community of Raleigh in northern Newfoundland. When we looked out from our shoreside cabins, the day looked foggy and the breeze was offshore. Perhaps it was a day to hike on Burnt Island we thought. This turned out to be both a good idea and a not so good one.

We drove over to the island and the rather rough road and parked at the 'trailhead'. As the photos show, the place seems barren and desolate, yet there are gems to be found when one looks around. For one, it is interesting and colourful cave at the sea's edge. Where does that marvelous blue come from in such a drab environment?

We walked out to the northern tip of the island to watch the swell action at the base of the cliffs. Back-tracking, we came across these 'cannon holes' blasted out by wave action when the island sat lower in the sea years ago. Some were large enough to stand in and walk about Others inter-connected via interior tunnels. To bad the swell wasn't bashing into them the day we were there. What a sight that would have been!

At the north tip the swell was up and watching the waves come in made me want to run and get our kayaks. While the wave action was too much for my rock-hopping skills, I love to see the spray from the outside looking shoreward rather than the reverse. The fog had also lifted somewhat and we could see whales feeding offshore just a few tens of meters away. What a great opportunity that would have been! Alas, we'd opted to hike. The boats were at least an hour or more away.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Digging Up Newfoundland

As if there wasn't enough on the surface of Newfoundland to keep one busy, some folks have been busy digging up Newfoundland's past to see who else had some fun times on the island. I stopped in at Point au Choix on the west coast to have a look at this latest dig. It turns out people have been visiting this area for several thousand years mostly for the offshore seal hunting.

Lots of old house sites and some burial caves have been found nearby and this dig is to look at the Point Rich area where other houses have been found. The site is quite exposed to the winds from all directions making me wonder why the archeologists didn't erect some sort of shelter over the site to make their work more pleasant.

The photo above is perhaps more familiar to many. It's the reconstructed Viking compound discovered at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland. It's an attempt to show what the Viking settlement might have looked like 1000 years ago when it was settled by people coming from Greenland.

I was interested to see this small boat in the compound at an early stage of construction. The method of fastening the hull planks to the stem was curious, so different from the dory I saw being built in Gloucester a few weeks ago!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Climbing Gros Morne

There are two main features in Gros Morne National Park which seem to follow one everywhere. First is the Tablelands with its brown colour, so different from the lush green seen everywhere else. Then there is Gros Morne mountain, a huge grey dome overlooking Bonne Bay opposite the Tablelands. Both were begging to be climbed. As the Tablelands required a long drive , we opted to head up the latter.Driving a few miles down the road towards Deer Lake, we pulled off at the trailhead, parked the car and headed up the trail...

Then we climbed and climbed...

And we went up stairs and more stairs...

Until, finally we arrived at the last stage of the climb, the grey dome itself. We could see the path leading up the skree delta at the base into the gully heading to the summit. Once we arrived at the gully there was a sign written in small print: Do Not Pass This Point. Breeding Ptarmigan and Arctic Hare Need Privacy or words to that effect! Although a few other climbers ignored the sign's request and continued up, we stopped, ate our lunch and then headed back down the trail.

We'll finish to the summit another time. As it turned out, the climb did not take us the predicted the "6 to 8 hours" mentioned in the guidebooks, so we're ready to do it again.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Back in Bonne Bay

Although I have now been lucky enough to visit Gros Morne National Park on several occasions, it is always a pleasure to paddle on the waters of Bonne Bay. Every time I have, the weather has been superb and the water has not disappointed. Once again it was interesting to see the brown, barren Tablelands looking down on the bay and wonder how on earth that odd chunk of mantle made it's way onto the surface when it ought to be miles below our feet

Jeff Dawson, of Ottawa, tried out my Vaäg on the morning run down the bay. We headed off to look for an osprey's nest, but winds and waves decided we ought to head elsewhere. Turning around we passed a cliff and surprised a moose with her calf doing some height training. Moose can be a problem on the roads on Newfoundland, but having one fall into your boat would not be much fun either! Thankfully momma moose had her baby well in tow and there were no accidents!

There are several places to pull out for lunch. This was our choice, colourful pebbles and dried out moose droppings added to the ambiance...

With only two kayaks between four people, we rented a double from the outfitter in Norris Point. It got the job done getting Mairi Watson and Scott Pashley up and down the bay. We're heading back to the put-in after a great day on the water in the photo above.