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INTO THE WILDERNESS

Having left Labrador City, rather later than intended yet again, and in the rain and sleet, I've been encountering railway locomotives and that kind of thing.

quebec north shore railway locomotive trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

Regardless of what it is on the western side of Labrador City, it's definitely the Québec and North Shore Railway that runs around the eastern side and I encounter it after driving back through the city on my way out along the highway.

This seems to be some kind of small freight yard or depot or the like, and here are a couple of the engines that pull the trains along the line. Monsters they are too, as you can see.

And you can see exactly what the weather was like that morning. Wet, grey, depressing and miserable. Just like me, in fact.


quebec north shore railway locomotive mine trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

There doesn't seem to be any doubt at all about this photograph. This one was taken just a short distance further on, on the right-hand side of the road. In the background you can clearly see what look like heavy mining installations and buildings and the like.

There's certainly a great deal of activity up here, and it all looks rather out-of-place with all of the tundra vegetation and so on. It isn't what you would expect at all.


quebec north shore railway locomotive trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

There has to be the obligatory close-up of the locomotives at the side of the track. In fact there are four of them just here, indicating that somewhere there is a line of wagons about a mile long waiting around somewhere

I'm not impressed with the colour scheme of the locomotives. Up here you need something like bright yellow or flourescent orange to stand out against the grey and miserable background.


quebec north shore railway locomotive mine trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

A colour scheme rather like this, for example. That's the kind of thing that you need to make your locomotive stand out in the tundra.

The wagons at the front of the train look line ore-carriers to me, not that I would particularly know, but I have no idea what the cylindrical ones might be. I don't imagine that they would shift the ore in closed containers (unless the weather is particularly severe around here) and they don't look like the traditional liquid containers that you find on any railway network.


Just after the railway line the road bends round to the right in the direction of Wabush, but the Trans-Labrador Highway turns off to the left. I am told that back in the good old days the road merely continued to Wabush and there was nothing in the way of highway out to Churchill Falls, but all of this changed in 1992 when this section was opened. And this is the way that I am going.

There's a sign here that informs me that
"Next Fuel 240 kilometres"
which is at Churchill Falls without a doubt, and that's my destination for lunchtime. At least, that is, if things go according to plan.

And a little further on, at 23.7 kilometres on my trip meter, I cross the railway line again. I set it to zero when I fuelled up at Fermont and I recall that the Québec border was at 9 kilometres or so, and so I'll simply deduct 9 kilometres from the speedo reading for now, and check it every so often. That should mean that we are at 14.7 kilometres from the border when we encounter this line.


humorous sign caribou trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

Now this is a useful sign to bear in mind next time that you are up here.

If you just happen to be transporting caribou remains around with you and you need to dispose of them in accordance with local authority by-laws, then this sign tells you how to do it. It's quite an important consideration so don't forget your very long tape measure. You'll need it

Just 100 yards after that there is a left turning. It's marked
"attention heavy trucks and equipment operating for the next 20 kms - enter at your own risk"
but I took one look at this track and decided that I wasn't going to enter at anybody's risk. Not in a Chrysler PT Cruiser anyway.


The railway turns up again at 29.7 kilometres and shortly afterwards, so does a kilometre post. 30 kilometres from the Québec border and my trip meter is showing 39.3, so my deduction of about 9 kilometres is about right for now but I'll see what it's like the further on we go as I'm bound to be doing U-turns to go back and look at things.


It's been snowing for a while, although only half-heartedly and I've been noticing for the last few kilometres that the conifers are now looking slightly bigger than they did up on the Canadian Shield on my way over to here from Manic 5 yesterday.

The temperature too has warmed up a little - according to the temperature gauge it's zero degrees. And just a little further on, the snow has turned to rain again. It's still a horrible day and the weather has not been kind at all to me.

At 43.6 kilometres we cross the railway again and just afterwards is a large lake complete with boat dock and slipway. There's evidently some kind of recreational activity taking place on this lake in the 5 months that isn't winter around here.


quebec north shore railway locomotive train trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

Now this is an interesting photograph - taken at kilometre 48.3 or thereabouts. This train is at a standstill on the line just here. You'll notice that the train is a push-me-pull-you, with the engine in the middle of the train and that isn't half unusual because if a signal is on red, how does the driver see it?

And of course, even if he can see it, or if he has some kind of radio control in his cab, how would he know whereabouts to stop his train bearing in mind that his cab is in the middle of the train? These trains as we know can be 6000 feet long or even more and you'll need to be a really good judge of distance.


quebec north shore railway locomotive train trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

I drove on a little further down the line and as you can see, there was a red light showing against the train. And he'd brought the thing to a standstill just about 25 metres away from the signal, presumably without the aid of anyone else. It's pretty impressive, that.

But I wonder why the train has stopped. I didn't notice anything coming the other way and if there were anything else about then where would it go? Although there is a signal here, which is now showing green by the way, it doesn't look like a passing place to me.


This railway by the way is another one of the reasons why I came up here to the Labrador Trail. I spent much of my childhood reading adventure books by people such as Alistair MacLean and Hammond Innes and one of the books by Hammond Pickles, written in 1958, was The Land God Gave to Cain.

That was a description of the North Coast of the St Lawrence by the navigator Jacques Cartier in 1534, and not without justification in certain places. The novel however concerns the exploration of Upper Labrador and makes a great deal of reference to the construction of the railway.


I have a few CDs (well, about 30 in fact) that I'm listening to as I'm driving around, and one that I am currently listening to is Allies by Crosby Stills Nash and Young. And just as I'm musing on the above we get the
"Spent Last Night in a Good Hotel"
and of course I did, as you know. But that was more by accident than design, and I certainly didn't go out buying jewels next morning. I'll be lucky if I can afford a slice of bread at the rate I'm having to spend money.

And on another completely different matter, then according to the lady who lives in my satnav, the next turning off this road is a left turning in 308 miles. That will be around by Goose Bay I reckon. Do I really need to travel that far today?

And of course, when I get to Goose Bay I shan't be stopping straight away. I shall have to go for a gander.


Just around here at about 62 kilometres at Grand Hermine is a camp site, would you believe? I bet that's perishing cold in this weather. I'm not even sure that it would be something that I would want to do in August up here.

And as far as the scenery goes, I've seen nothing but trees, lakes and quarries so far. But the sun is trying its best to struggle its way through the clouds. I suppose that thatis something, even though it is pouring down with rain. God alone knows what it might be like later on today. Anything is possible around here.


wind turbine solar panel lake shore trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

Round about kilometre 67 my attention is drawn to this building here on the shore of a lake. Or, to be more precise, the wind turbine that is quietly doing its stuff on top of the tower just to the left of centre.

Even more interesting are the solar panels that were here too. Now I think that that is being somewhat optimistic. But it's encouraging. As you know, I live with a few wind turbines and a large number of solar panels and I'm always interested to see them working in places such as this.


beautiful lake trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

Half a kilometre further on, I come to the head of this rather large and impressive lake. You can see that it is quite spectacular an well worth a photograph.

But while I was organising myself, a huge snowplough came from the other direction towards me and the front end of it was totally plastered in snow. I found that rather ominous and I remember wishing that I would rather not have seen that and have been left in blissful ignorance. I've no idea where all that snow might be but I had an uncomfortable feeling that before I get to Goose Bay (if I ever do) I'm likely to find out.


From round about the 75-kilometre mark I notice a change in the scenery. The landscape is littered with huge boulders, at the side of the road and all as far as the eye can see.

And they are huge too. It's hard to imagine that they have all been transported down here by glaciers in whenever was the last ice age around here - perhaps the one in the 14th Century that did for the Vikings in Greenland. There must be some tremendous power in these glaciers to push these stones this distance - some of these stones are enormous.


snow on side of road fog mist trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

Round about the 91 kilometre mark I begin to notice the snow on the edges of the road. So far, the roads are clear but it might not stay like that as the temperature is slowly dropping, the higher up onto the Labrador Plateau that I drive.

However at kilometre 104 I see a car coming the other way. I've no idea where he might have come from as there's really nothing up here until Churchill Falls about 140 kilometres away. What is reassuring about seeing this vehicle is that he isn't all plastered with snow. That cheers me up a little.

And that reminds me, and it's well-worth mentioning it. Apart from the snowplough, this is the first other vehicle that I have seen on the highway since I stopped to photograph that train at kilometre 48. That's pretty astonishing.


A short while later the snow stops falling - at least for the moment anyway - and it might be a little more optimistic for moving onwards. I'm not sure how long the snow will stay stopped but I don't suppose that it will be for long and so I reckon that I ought to push on pretty quickly while the going is good.

snow on side of road bad surface trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

Of course the best-laid plans of mice and men go gang awa just a short while further on. Just as I was thinking that the drive was going to be pretty uneventful between Labrador City and Churchill Falls, the paved road comes to a shuddering halt at about kilometre 118, and we are back on the gravel and dirt.

According to the compass in the car I'm travelling south-east but the sat-nav tells me that I'm travelling north-east. So work that one out. But the temperature is now -1°C. Nevertheless even if the weather and the temperature stay like this then there won't be too much danger of the road freezing, what with all the stones and gravel on it.


road grader trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

A short way further on, I have to have a road-grader working on the road, don't I? This is at kilometre 123.

The bane of my life, these graders. What he is doing with his machine is to scrape the surface of the road, with the idea of pushing all of the loose gravel into the potholes and making the road much more smooth. However it isn't possible to do very much of a job and if you want my honest opinion all it does is to make the surface worse. There are now rocks and stones everywhere now where he has graded it and it is really uncomfortable to drive on. It's awful.

What it really needs after the grader has passed is a really good compactor to tamp it all down, but that's wishful thinking up here.


devastated forest fire trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

You probably noticed in the background of the photo above that we are approaching some more devastated forest. Here, just a few hundred metres further on, we are well-stuck in the middle of all of it.

I'm intrigued to know what has caused all of it. You immediately think of a forest fire but my experience of that is that the smell of burnt timber is overpowering. And not only that - just take a look at this weather. How on earth can anything catch fire when you have weather like this to contend with?

I wrote that, by the way, before I had read the book The Woman Who Mapped Labrador: The Life and Expedition Diary of Mina Hubbard. In that book, the narrator reports a forest fire in the late 1980s that burnt out part of the route followed by Mina Hubbard, up on where is now part of the reservoir for the Churchill Falls generating station. So clearly forest fires are a known phenomenon up here.


At kilometre 127 or thereabouts the road grading comes to an end and we are back on a real dirt road again. And I have to say it - the bit that he hasn't reached yet is much more smooth and level than that where he has already finished.


road menders depot trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

The next item of note can be found at kilometre 129 or so. This is some kind of cabin with a load of lorries parked all aound it .That's interesting too. I'm intrigued to know what it might be.

All kinds of suggestions roll around my head about it. Are they offices of some kind? Could it be a quarry behind the banks there? The most enticing suggestion is that it's some kind of transport café for long-distance truckers. Yes, my imagination was working overtime and it was strange how it all seemed to revolve around food.

Beans on toast anyone? And still no snow poles either


glacier transported boulders trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

You'll probably remember from a few minutes ago that I was talking about boulders all over the place. I was looking for a good point to stop and take a few photographs to show you exactly what I mean. And so here, not even half a kilometre on from that lorry depot or whatever it was, here is a view of exactly what I mean about all of the boulders.

And do you not agree with me that it's particularly impressive?


glacier transported boulders trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

Some of these boulders are massive. You cannot even imagine what forces must have been involved to carry that weight of stuff in a glacier.

In fact, if you look at the size of the boulders and how many there are of them, how big must the glaciers have been to carry them? And of course when the glaciers slowed down and began to melt, the boulders dropped out of suspension and fell to the ground. The soil that was picked up by the glaciers continued onwards into the Great Lakes and that's presumably what has created the fertile farming belt down on the shores of the St Lawrence

And of course, we are back in the snow again as you can see.


road works grey depressing day magnificent scenery trans labrador highway 500 canada october octobre 2010

Round about 138 kilometres we come across yet more road works and I wonder if they might actually be planning some kind of major improvement to the highway just here. There was a lady surveyor complete with digital theodolite, so it looked like it might be serious stuff. They might be going to make a real highway out of this.

And look at the scenery. Even on a grey miserable day like today there's a certain kind of magnificent grandeur up here on the Labrador Plateau and I think that this particular photograph sums up everything that you need to know about the Trans-Labrador Highway.


Just a little further on from here is what might well be a parking area at the side of the road with a load of portacabin-type buildings with apex roofs. These are the kind of things that may well be workers' huts and barracks and so on. After all, the workers on the highway have to live somewhere. It's an enormous distance for commuting otherwise.

And right now things seem to be happening thick and fast. I almost immediately fall upon a road sign telling me that Churchill Falls is 121 kms (am I really only about halfway there? It seems as if I have been driving for a week!) and Happy Valley - Goose Bay 416. That's an enormous distance to cover in the rest of the day over uncertain roads and in uncertain weather but nevertheless I ought to be putting my foot down a little.

Right after the road sign, at about 139 kilometres, is a big highway maintenance depot. This is presumably where all of the machinery hangs out and from where the road works are directed. And, presumably, where everyone from the labour camp just down the road will be working.

Although the road past the highway depot is a dirt track, it is no surprise to learn that it is in excellent condition. I wonder why. In fact I kept on coming across isolated patches of this dirt track that are in really good condition. A darn sight better than some of this paved highway I've been driving on as well. But astute readers of these pages will have noticed that I started off describing this as an "unpaved road". I'm now down to a "dirt track". I wonder what I will be calling it by the time I arrive at Goose Bay (if I ever do) if it continues to deteriorate.


Sites (and sights) of note continue to crop up every so often, and if you are wondering why it is that there are not so many photographs of things, it's because at certain moments things are absolutely perishing outside and there's rain and sleet and everything bouncing around off the windscreen.

At 152 kilometres we encounter more snow on the side of the highway, and I also encounter a grader with his blade up heading towards me and, presumably, his depot. The fact that he has his blade up is of course a good sign, but it might not be so good a little further on. I wonder where he has been and where he has been working.

And just as everywhere and everything look really nice in the sunshine, so do they look so depressing and gloomy in the miserable weather that I am encountering just now. That includes Ranger Lake that I drive past at about 154 kilometres. That leads me on to another stretch of devastated forest that is somehow well in keeping with the weather. Perhaps Dante wrote his Inferno here. Or maybe it is the inspiration for Mordor.


There's something clearly not right here now. I've just passed kilometre marking 160 and on Casey's tripmeter the figure is 167.7. So the 9 kilometres or so that I travelled before crossing the Labrador frontier has now reduced itself to 7.7, even though on occasion I've been doubling back to look at things. I've certainly not been catching up on myself, if you know what I mean. Someone's measurements aren't particularly accurate.

Anyway, for now I'll set the adjustment to 8 kilometres until further notice.



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