Friday, January 15, 2010

Labrador Access on the Trans-Labrador Highway

Wow, two posts in a week, let alone a year. This is just a brief note about improved access to rivers in southern Labrador. Over the holidays I saw a news article that was about the first two vehicles to travel over the recently completed trans-Labrador highway. This is great news for paddlers. It is now possible to drive from Blanc Sablon on the south coast of Labrador to, well, anywhere on the continent.

When I first started map research in the province I noted several runs east of the Pinware River which have the right topo characteristics to be great creeking. Until now access was a bit miserable though, but the new road comes very close to the headwaters of several of these runs. The road may also provide access to rivers that were previously accessible only by flying. At the very least you'll only have to fly to the put-in. However, the challenge remains in getting back to civilization once you hit the ocean. Communities are far and few between here, but I'm sure locals would be amenable to fishing boat pick-ups.

I hope this highway heralds a new era of river exploration in southern Labrador. Even the ability to drive gear and supplies to Goose Bay will reduce costs for getting teams into the more isolated northern rivers. Anyone want to go and see what the Torngats have to offer?

If you take advantage of the highway for paddling, hopefully you'll let me know and contribute to the database of river knowledge in the Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

September, 2009: The West Coast of Newfoundland

My New Year's resolution this year, well there is two, write a post about a White's River trip in September and finish my thesis this year. Here is the first one done and let’s hope the second is as easy. This post describes a road trip in September, 2009 to paddle the White’s River in western Newfoundland. I was using a new camera on this trip and I’m not pleased with a lot of the river pictures, so I apologize in advance for image quality.

After a month in the bush I found myself with a few spare days, a vehicle, and a paddling partner. To sweeten the deal the island had a fair bit of rain just before I came out of Labrador and rivers were running. Unfortunately only Cody Neal could make the trip, but we were determined to get on a few west coast classics. I flew through Deer Lake on the way home and was able to scout the White's River, excellent water levels, but from a few thousand feet it's hard to tell and maybe there would be too much water. Cody and I left town just after lunch with the intent of spending the night at Rafting Newfoundland with Paul Rose.

First waterfall on Eels River. My battery died before Cody ran it.

Along the way we stopped at Eels River, just east of Norris Arm on the TCH. Paul discovered and opened up this run a few years ago, but I've never been there when it had water. Cody and I found enough water for the first waterfall and suited up. The first waterfall was great and we ran it a few times, but downstream of this was way too bony. I'd say we were a day too late for decent flows on this little river. However, it has some nice drops and with enough water it would be a great, full-on run.

We should have skipped Eels River and gone straight to Leech Brook. There was enough water that evening, but it was dark and things were dropping fast which meant Cody didn't get his chance to launch Second Falls. At Paul’s place we monitored Aspen Brook overnight, but after sleeping-in decided it was better to head west than waste time with a waterfall that was at marginally low levels. The landing zone already looked like a pretty hard hit compared to my previous runs on this classic drop. So, west we went.

In the first box canyon of Upper Lomond River.

Fortunately for us my parents were on the island and agreeable to running shuttles. In hindsight they might have regretted this offer. Our first run was Upper Lomond Brook. This is a section of river that includes several beefy drops in committing box canyons. It defeated us on the first descent, felt sketchy on the second descent, and was fun on the third. Cody on the other hand has a contradictory opinion of this river. Although I didn't intend to sandbag him, Cody maintains that I may have under-estimated the visual intensity of this river in previous descriptions. I still think the drops that aren't portaged are class IV to V rapids.

Entrance ledge to the "Access Denied" box canyon.

That said the river is essentially remote, rescue would involve a helicopter, and the consequences of missing any of the lines looks awful. At the end of the day I maintain that Upper Lomond Brook is a classic class V creek, but Cody warns that the undercut, bouldery drops look heinous. The moose burger platter in Wiltondale was still cheap and good though.

The plan after Lomond was to set shuttle for White's River and camp at the put-in. This noble plan quickly turned into a SNAFU. An old logging road accesses a group of cabins on Adies Lake and I had previously suggested that this should be used as the take-out for the White's River. This road is really nothing more than a buffed up skidder trail; it's hard to believe logging trucks ever used it. My Jeep Patriot is a light-weight in the world of off-road vehicles and it was truly tested by this road, but would have made it in the light of day. After creeping down the road at 2 kph in the dark, a strategic retreat was called for by the other participants in the epic and we regrouped in Deer Lake. Early the next morning we headed down the original take-out road on the south end of Adies Lake. In 2006 we drove all the way to the take-out, however, alders have grown in and we were only able to drive to within 500 m of the take-out. At least our shuttle was finally set.

Bridge gauge at the feeder brook put-in. This was very low.

The White’s River logging road was in much worse shape than my last trip into the Long Range Mountains. It will soon require a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The traditional put-in has always been the bridge over a feeder brook to the White’s River, which is where an informal gauge is located. This brook looked low, but the gauge indicated the same level as my 2006 trip. It turned out the feeder brook and upper reaches of the White’s were way to low and lots of boat dragging was required. I’m sure this gauge indicates when the water is way too high for the river, but it is only a vague indicator of low to medium levels. Repeated flights over the White’s and Google Earth indicate that several sets of rapids are located above and below the bridge which crosses the White’s River.

Differences in water levels at the same rapid.

The alternative put-in does not add any river distance to the run and likely adds some good rapids to the start of the day. Also, a gauge on this bridge may provide a more accurate depiction of the levels downstream. These are the gauge levels for the region in September, but I don't have enough data to know how closely these relate to the White's: Main River @ Paradise Pool = 25 cms, Humber River above Black Brook = 28 cms and Humber River @ Reidville = 83 cms

Our run down the White’s was uneventful, but shallow water definitely made the day longer. Here is a picture of a rapid to illustrate the difference in water levels:

A few notes are required to update my previous description of the river:

"Split Lip, " the first major rapid (IV).

1. Once the first major rapid, “Split Lip” is reached there are three class –IV rapids before reaching the first canyon. The third rapid is some distance downstream from the second and is recognized by an obvious, easily avoided boulder sieve on river right. The big waterfall is still a long way downstream from here and there is plenty of time to eddy out above the falls.

Downstream from White's River Falls.

2. The waterfall marks the start of the first canyon. Below the waterfall there are two rapids, class III and IV+, before a rapid that is usually portaged.

3. The only other notable deviation of the original report from reality is in the second canyon. I had described a long pool above the class VI waterfall in this canyon, but forgot about a class III rapid between the blind corner and the waterfall. It isn’t a big deal, but it might as well be known feature.

After leaving the channelized canyon rapids the water almost disappeared on the braided alluvial fan that marks the mouth of the river. This wasn’t much fun, but was far better than the headwind hell that we faced crossing Adies Lake to the take-out. I fully recommend getting a vehicle into the cabins on Adies Lake, it will make the day much shorter. Quads may be useful in shuttling this run, but someone has a motor home parked on Adies Lake so surely we can drive there. This run took Cody and me seven hours, but two of those hours were spent crossing Adies Lake.

One final note: some maps, Google included, indicate that Rd# 422 heads north from Cormack to Sir Richard Squire’s Provincial Park and eventually makes its way to the TCH near the Sop’s Arm turn-off (Rd.# 420). While not exactly wrong, these are barely roads and seem to primarily exist to be snowmobile trails in the winter. At the end of the day it is quicker to back-track to Deer Lake, have a beer and then head north on the TCH.