Trip report by David C. Whyte
Thumbnail images - click on each image to enlarge.
Maps of overall location.
My previous kayak trip in Labrador was short but vigorous Four years older but no wiser I decided to try again. This time my gateway was Port Hope Simpson, about 60 km up the coast from my previous starting place at Lodge Bay. My general destination was Occasional Harbour and the eastern portion of Gilbert Bay (circled on the map). I neglected to keep a journal this time, but I beefed up my photographic equipment instead. The result is this “comic book” style trip report, short on words but long on pixels.
But first, some pre-trip business. Please bear with me. I'm just making sure all the luggage fits in. A new addition this year was a Digital Hero video camera mounted on the back deck...one of two available camera positions.
A view of the deck spaghetti. A second camera mount (vacant) is just to the right of the GPS…and yes I did end up putting together a short video of the trip. If you humour me for a few minutes, I’ll eventually tell you where on the web you can find it…and no my wife wouldn’t like it if she saw me dragging a dirty kayak over her nice clean floor…fortunately I haven’t met her yet…and yes I did listen to Abba at full volume on the boom box while packing. Many do but few confess…
Map - Day 1 – 27 Kilometres
I got on the water just before noon after spending the previous evening down in L’Anse Au Clair. The red line shows the day’s progress. Not a bad afternoon’s work. I was helped by a strong tail wind, the river current and a favourable tide.
Posing for my own camera on the Alexis River. If all else fails you can at least look cool.
This is definitely the suburbs. My yellow boat looks insignificant and barely visible in this landscape.
At home on a small peninsula about 6 km southwest of River Out. A dry and peaceful end to a very busy day. The bugs are active but tolerable.
Map - Day 2 – 11 Kilometres
A less active day. I’m starting to unwind a bit.
Some equipment notes…I used a Garmin Etrex GPS in a swivel mount bolted to the deck…very handy. Coating the inside of the battery case with Vaseline ensures a waterproof set-up. I carry a spare GPS unit as a back up. After a quick location update I usually shut off the GPS and navigate using the deck compass. (I’m not sure how I managed an average speed of 148 km per hour, but that’s what appears to be showing).
Pointed like a spear tip at the mouth of Shinneys River
This portion of Gilbert Bay has the feel of a large sub-Arctic lake rather than the ocean. The Gilbert Bay, Alexis River complex makes for some excellent sheltered paddling in a remote and pristine environment.
A perfect campsite on an island in Gilbert Bay…light wind, no bugs, no rain, big sky.
Gilbert Bay alone covers approximately 60 km². It has been designated as a marine protected area by virtue of its diversity of marine life; in particular the Gilbert Bay Golden Cod.
Dinner’s ready….sort of. Outdoors, I’m an indifferent chef at best; more interested in the physics of compression, ignition and combustion than in trivial things like taste and texture. I’ve never yet put on any weight while paddling.
After some reflection, I decided not to eat these.
Map - Day 3 – 16 Kilometres
Today’s route included a 600 metre portage from Gilbert Bay to the head of Occasional Harbour. I tried to make it out to the coast but was blown back by a strong north wind and heavy rain.
It took about 4 round trips to get everything across the portage. The terrain was mostly flat, and the ground was soft and grassy, so I was able to drag the empty boat stern first without too much difficulty. I’ve become quite a fan of the short portage. It’s probably a holdover from my canoeing days. A well chosen carry can save a lot of paddling and offers a chance to do some inland exploring. The key is to take it slow and easy…and be sure to take a celebratory photo once the deed is done. The geeky hat smeared with Muskoil helped keep the bugs at bay.
I was turned away from the open ocean by the weather but found compensation in exploring the abandoned settlement of Occasional Harbour.
There’s some moisture in the basement but it’s in a good neighbourhood.
I was temped to look under this boat but decided against it.
Obviously, I made myself right at home. Note the fresh raspberries at my front door.
A late lunch…the temperature is dropping, and the wind is still blowing…time for fleece and gortex. I'm happy that I brought a full jar of peanut butter, but at this point I'm wondering why I bothered to get the low calorie version…
The wind continued into the evening, so I moved my kitchen to a more sheltered spot for dinner. The floor of this old warehouse was tilted at a dangerous angle, so I kept close to the door.
Map - Day 4 – 10 Kilometres
A quick fair weather jaunt to the coast…
View southwest into Occasional Harbour from the open ocean. The video camera has been transferred to the front mount and is ready to shoot. I used part of an old desk lamp to attach the camera to the "mast" (made from the pole for a Scotty SEA light.) The yellow foam wrap at the bottom will keep the whole thing afloat if it drops overboard.
Looking north…approaching the southern edge of Cape St. Michaels.
Looking eastward from the head of Ship Harbour (not to be confused with Fishing Ships Harbour which is about 5 km to the south east). Abandoned settlements can be found at both locations.
The reverse (western) view back towards Occasional Harbour and the Labrador interior. Vegetation grows relatively slowly in this environment, and an old portage route between Fishing Ships Harbour and Occasional Harbour is still evident in the foreground. I imagine it was used as a “back door” for travelling between the two communities in rough weather. I didn’t haul my boat along this one, but hiked across.
A well sheltered camp in Delaney Cove. The normal tidal range at this location is about 1 metre.
I often camp alone , but sometimes still get scared at night. This time, it was a light wind and some shrubs rubbing against the tent fly that caused my imagination to create a stealthy night-time visitor, running long, sharp, dirty, yellow fingernails along the taunt nylon; muttering and drooling in anticipation… I groped for my can of grizzly strength pepper spray and waited…the apparition, sensing that I was alert and aware, faded back into the night mist…for now.
I once made the mistake of watching the Blair Witch Project and was unable to enjoy camping again for a solid 6 months. Mind you, I still went camping alone…I just didn’t enjoy it.
A bakeapple; also known as a cloudberry. I found this one on a hill overlooking Ship Harbour. It tasted great but there were few others to be found.
Map -Day 5 – 21 Kilometres
…spent exploring a portion of the eastern end of Gilbert Bay
My boat, waiting patiently to be carried back to Gilbert Bay (i.e. me, taking another picture to delay the inevitable). I mistimed my return to the head of Occasional Harbour and had quite a struggle against the tidal current and exposed rocks at the narrows about 2 kilometres to the east.
My camp on the south side of Deer Park…a strange name for a body of water but another perfect location. Splendid isolation. Deep sleep. No finger nails.
Map - Day 6 – 42 Kilometres
I didn’t intend to finish today. It just worked out that way.
The challenge du jour...dense fog is rolling in very quickly from the east. Do you: a) Take a quick compass bearing; b) paddle hard for shore; or c) stop to take a picture….
Paying the penalty for choosing option "c" and wondering where everything went. The water is dead calm and the silence is amazing.
I decide to trust my GPS and make a sharp turn to starboard. It’s hard to argue with 8 satellites…especially clever American military ones.
The kayaking handbook says to take advantage of local knowledge whenever you can. “Hey ! You with the feathers ! Have you seen any land lately?”
Technology is wonderful…when it works. This time it worked perfectly. Rexons Point dead ahead.
A well used boat near Rexons Cove. You get to see a little more of it in the video (which I'll tell you how to find shortly).
A shoreline scene near the former settlement of Rexons Cove. For some, these abandoned communities evoke sadness. For others they are a reminder of former way of life. For occasional tourists like me, they are merely peaceful rest stops.
The view eastward from Rexons Cove. Bald Island is on the right. A distant fog bank still shrouds Granby Island about 6 kilometres to the east. The weathered skeleton of another boat is in the foreground.
…Shifting some potable water to the deck bag in preparation for the long slog back to Port Hope Simpson. Denbigh Island is in the background to the south. To this day I'm not sure what possessed me to make the long run back to my starting point in one day. Today’s paddle was a monument to the endurance and stupidity of mankind. I do remember thinking at one point that it would take more energy to stop and camp than to just keep going…After reaching my car I was unable to slow the manic pace and I actually made it all the way down to the Northern Light Motel in L’Anse Au Clair by 10:55 p.m., where I had the satisfaction of ordering my traditional post-trip club sandwich and Pepsi just 5 minutes before they closed the restaurant…and yes it is possible to eat a club sandwich and fries while soaking in a bathtub full of hot water but it requires skill of a special kind.
But that’s not the kind of image I want to leave you with, so here is one more….
A final view..wind dappled water and low hanging cloud along the distant north side of Alexis Bay. If you’ve got a minute, please check out the videos (If you have a fast connection, save your eyesight and select the “Watch in high quality option”):
Video 1: Trial run near Fredericton NB using 4 camera positions (too tedious and time consuming for the Labrador trip) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrngA8lc1hw
Video 2: Highlights from the Labrador trip using two camera positions – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0XZWAh085E
All still images were captured using an Intova IC600 waterproof digital camera. It’s my first digital camera and a joy to use. It’s reportedly functional to a depth of 50 metres, but I’ll leave it to others to take advantage of that particular feature.
Thanks for your time and attention.