The landscape of Labrador and Northern Quebec is peppered with water. Outlet streams from headwater lakes along the Quebec/Labrador border gain size and speed as the flow northward toward Ungava Bay or the Labrador Sea. The canoe is the craft of choice to travel efficiently here where there is a long history of human presence from nomadic groups of native people followed the caribou. Today this vast and incredibly remote territory, is unsettled with the exception of the mining town of Schefferville and the First Nation community of Kawawachikamach with small Inuit communities scattered along the Ungava and Labrador Coast.
A week ago our George River Expedition left Chewonki Neck on 3-days of travel to Nunavik, as the Inuit knows northern Quebec. The route took them first along the north shore of the St Lawrence River to Sept Iles Quebec where they loaded canoes and gear on the Tshiuetin Railroad for a day long train ride to Schefferville, here after a night at the McGill University Sub-Arctic research Station, the group began their canoe trip to Ungava Bay.
We have been following the group’s progress on daily texts received through their Garmin InReach GPS device that allows us to pinpoint them on a google map and through which two-way texts can be shared.
This morning a text arrived from a spot where the DePass River makes a ninety-degree bend to the east. It is a beautiful spot, a widening of the river with expansive sand bars, a forest of black spruce trees with their uniform spear like tops extend a few hundred yards from the riverbank where the forest floor is covered in a thick carpet of white caribou moss or reindeer lichen. Then a transition into a landscape of barren lichen encrusted exposed rock of the Canadian Shield. The place itself is inspiring enough and particularly so when mixed in is the clicking hooves of 80 caribou and the presence our wilderness travelers to bear witness.
Before I parted ways with the group a little over a week ago at the train station in Sept Iles, I shared a favorite quote of mine, from another wilderness traveler who knew this land well.
“Where the caribou are standing
On the gilded hills of morning,
Where the white moss meets the footsteps and the way is long before.
The light of the days that have been never quite fails the wilderness traveler
Although his or her feet may remain afar the mind returns always”
-William Brooks Cabot
There will be many more adventures and memories to make for our George River paddlers in the next few weeks. Today was made a memory that will stay with our participants for a lifetime and forever connect them to this place and to caribou.