Vivid yellows, deep reds, ocean blues, mesmerising greens and undertone grey, the fall colours of the tundra... all at the height of your toes or a at best a foot or two above your head. Willows with their Golden leaves grow as little ground cover plants, alongside Blue berry with its name sake coloured berries and blushing red leaves, Lingonberry shrubs contrast there deep green leaves with their loaded blood red tart fruit, Black Crow berries nestled amongst the emerald green of their leaves, while the Bear berry bush was on fire with a scarlet blast, and the fresh fragrance of Labrador Tea fills the senses as it is crushed under foot. In the places where spruce and larch still grow (the protected valleys) the Spruce stand proudly evergreen, while the larch’s celebrate the coming winter with a vivid display of golden needles (this being a member of one of the two conifer tree genera to be deciduous in north America, with another three in China). The entire landscape is and was a painting to be walked amongst. But where are the Caribou?
Read more on conifers here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conifer
Kamestastin Lake located in central “Northern Labrador” just east of the Quebec border, is a powerful and special place. Located right on the edge of the tree line zone of where the Taiga and Boreal forest ends and where the Arctic Barren Tundra begins. The highlands are scarred granite and dwarfed tundra shrubs, while in the protected valleys and along the Eskers (Sand dunes left behind under Ice Rivers of the melting glaciers of the last ice age) there grows pockets of remnant Boreal forest and willow chocked streams. To the native people of the land, the Innu, it is a sacred lake, a place where the Caribou come every fall to spend the winter, a place where in the summer, abundant fish (Arctic Char) can be caught, and the many rivers flowing in and out of the lake can be used as paths to all parts of the surrounding land. 36 - 38 million years ago a meteor struck the earth and created the crater that Kamestastin (or on the maps “Mestastin”) lake lies in. The crater peaks are on average 140 meters higher than the lake level which is about 327 meter above sea level; the crater is also 28 km in diameter while the lake is 16km wide. Due to the carvings of Glaciers in the last ice ages, the crater has been deformed and turned into a rugged landscape, and erratic boulders perch atop the mountain tops as if placed by some UFO for fun.
The Lakes name means “a place of strong winds” and that is just what we experienced for 3 weeks, during this time only 5 days were not slammed by moderate to strong winds from one direction or another. The land proved why it has been scarcely developed or explored over the past 100 years, yet also promises so much, with its beauty and expanse; “the big land” indeed. During our time here we the staff had 3 days to set up, clean up and prep camp for two weeks of clients (7 people at a go). The camp was very basic, though promised much, the original buildings were constructed not long ago, though due to lack of money, where never finished and the dream of an eco lodge was paused. We arrived to a great central log cabin lodge, stuffed full of building supplies and snow mobiles, with the only usable buildings being 3 cabins, and rough looking cook shake and disorderly workshop. No running water, not much insulation and limited fire wood, there were beds for our clients though we, the crew, lived out of our tents.
The Clients arrived and we enjoyed the rustic habitation of the lodge, and loved the few clear nights we got for our campfire, guitar music and the Northern Lights. It was quite mesmerising how clear the sky was and how bright the stars were. unfortunately the Northern Lights never truly kicked into full power for us, though we certainly had some fun taking photo’s of the lights we did get, which often meant staying up till 2am, and cold temperatures.
Despite the windy conditions and often frozen morning, our camp site was much protected and living out of our tents was not a chore. Our days were spent searching he land by foot, to the highest points and into the most forested valleys, searching for wildlife and scouting for Caribou. This time last year the Caribou where here already, though this time all we find is fresh sets of tracks every other day along the beach or sandy eskers. Where are the Caribou? The George River heard as once the strongest heard of Caribou in all of Canada, at 800,000 head (20 years ago), this year they are reported at 27,600, with a 96% decrease in the last 11 years, why? No one seems to know. (read a report on the heard here http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1022843/decline-of-the-george-river-caribou-herd-the-canadian-boreal-initiative-calls-for-protection-of-the-caribou-homeland )
During our wonderful and sometimes frustrating time here, we never sited the caribou before we left, though we had some wonderful encounters with Black Bear, Porcupine, and Ptarmigan. The allusive wolf was also present, leaving us fresh tracks near camp and surrounds, though not privileging us with a view. The Lands proved a wonder to explore and despite the lack of our quarry we all had some fun. The clients from all over: New Zealand, France, USA, Canada were great people and enjoyed the rustic adventure in the wilds of Labrador.
Subsistence fishing was also a nice Hi-light, catching Arctic Char to feed us for a couple of nights lead us on a wonderful journey along the Mestastin River, and introduced us to another potential threat to the caribou numbers and most certainly the beauty of the lake, A Hydro Dam Proposal. We encountered, twice, a helicopter from the nearby mine in Boise Bay, with hydrologists looking at potential to dam the lake, despite a past “no go” given by the Local Innu. Hopefully this “Dam” never comes to fruition and the beauty and sacredness of this place prevails.
Weather threatened to hold us for a few extra days, though on our last day, a Twin Otter plane on floats, landed on the lake, loaded the 12 of us and gear in and flew of direct to Goose bay, and so ended a wonderful journey into the fall landscape of northern Labrador. A land I must return to soon and explore more of, “the big land”.
Extra Photos by
Sabine Bernert - http://sabinebernert.com/
Saying good bye to the second week’s worth of clients, the crew ( Graham,Adele, Dan, Tom and me) loaded up the van and prepared to embark on a road trip to Deer Lake Newfoundland in order to get our flights to our respective homes. But where are the Caribou?