Trans Labrador Highway and other places of interest 2010

I've had this trip in mind ever since my James Bay road trip in 2007. After months of planning, and a few special modifications and prep work to my truck, my wife and I headed out of town on July 3rd.

The Plan:
My plan was to make a giant counter clockwise loop starting from the U.P. of Michigan and heading through Ontario, New England, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, and then Quebec.

I had four specific things that I wanted to see/tour. Things that I consider “engineering marvels”. I also had a few special activities and accomplishments in mind.

We started our trip by heading to downstate Michigan to drop off our dog at my wife's parent's house. This put Niagara Falls right on our path heading towards New England.

We then cut through Ontario to get to New England and then started making our way north.
I couldn't wait to get out of this.

We ended up spending the night in a really nice city owned campground right on the ocean. Winslow Memorial Park near Freeport Main. It was the 5th of July. A few miles up the coast, a community was having their fireworks display which we could see right from our campsite.

The next day we headed north through New Brunswick to see the first “engineering marvel” on my list. The Confederation Bridge.

This bridge connects Prince Edwards Island to the mainland. It's an “engineering marvel” because it's the longest bridge in the world (8 miles) over iced water. The toll was $42 but you only pay it when crossing back to the mainland and is considerably cheaper and faster than the ferry.
We made such good time cutting through New England that we were able to spend three nights on the island. The first night was at a private campground with our campsite being just yards away from the ocean.

Lots of fog

The owner spends the summer here on sight but is, I think he said, in Florida for the winter. He came back this year to find that the ocean had swallowed up 20feet of his property during a storm surge.

The next two days were spent doing some coastal touring learning about the history of the island.

Near Fort Amherst National Historic site, the first permanent settlement of Prince Edwards Island.

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Hiking Trail rear the north coast

We stopped at the historic Yeo House and shipbuilding museum. A girl dressed in period clothing took us on a tour.

Then we drove to North Cape to check out the wind turbine farm and testing facility. Taking a tour at the interpretive center was well worth the time.

After another night on the island we crossed the Confederation Bridge and headed to North Sydney Nova Scotia to catch the Ferry to Argentia Newfoundland.
We arrived early enough to walk around town and read about the history of the area.

We parked and popped up the roof on the camper to eat dinner and this truck pulled in.

They were also going to be boarding the ferry to do essentially the same loop through Newfoundland and Labrador that we had planned.

The scheduled departure time for the Ferry was 1:30am Saturday morning. We had to be there at least an hour and a half early to get in line.

When it was time to board the ferry, semis and larger trucks boarded first and were placed on level one. Smaller vehicles drove in and then up a ramp to level three. There was no level two in the parking area. Level three was five lanes wide. The first three lanes of vehicles had to turn around to face the ramp.

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A few pictures of the ship

This is the theater. This is where you sleep if you were to cheap…like me…to get a cabin.

Gift shop

Lounge…complete with entertainment


Top deck, there was fog the entire trip

After 16 and a half hours we made it to Newfoundland.

Driving back down the ramp to level 1

Back on solid ground

Our first look at Newfoundland

Our first official stop was at Cataracts Provincial Park to see the waterfall and to hike the short boardwalk.

We were then off to Butterpot Provincial Park to get a campsite. I actually had a couple of other places in mind to see but it was getting late and we had to get up really early the next morning. Early, in order to achieve one of my goals of the trip, to be the first people in North America to see the sunrise. Cape Spear is the easternmost point in North America. This being the case and the fact that we were the only ones there made my wife and I the first people in North America to see the sunrise on July 11th 2010, 5:14am local time.

It was a little cloudy but the sun did poke through.

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If the sunrise wasn't good enough we were treated to a whale surfacing right in front of us. I think it was a Minke whale.

After the sunrise we checked out the lighthouse and the WWII gun battery.

We were then off to Terra Nova National Park to do some hiking. Hiking was one of my main reasons I came to Newfoundland and it's something my wife and I really enjoy doing. We stayed at the Malady Head campground and hiked the short 5km Malady Head Trail. It felt good to get our legs moving after spending so much time in the truck. This trail was an easy warm-up for what we had in store the next day.

View at the end of the trail

After the hike we took a short drive to check out some roads in the area.

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The next morning we drove to Gros Morne National Park. On our way we saw two black bear and one moose along the side of the road. Gros Morne is the big national park in Newfoundland. We had nineteen designated hiking trails to choose from. The next morning we got up early and drove to the one trail rated as severe. Gros Morne Mountain, 16km loop, estimated time to complete 6 to 8 hours.

The first section of the trail is an easy ascent through a forest of evergreens.

Sights along the way.

Colorful spider

Rock Ptarmigan

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The next section of the trail got a little more steep and the trees disappeared. We climbed up Gros Morne and then looped around back on Ferry Gulch.

You can just make out people climbing up the trail.

Looking up

Looking down

View from the top

Newfoundland gets a lot of rain. This area actually reminded me a lot of Kauai Hawaii. The ponds on the mountain tops would overflow creating waterfalls down the steep slopes.

Heading down Ferry Gulch

Ten Mile Pond

We made it back to the truck in only 5 hours and 20 minutes.
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After a stop for lunch we decided to do one more short hike. This time we chose the easy (almost wheelchair accessible) 6km Western Brook Pond Trail.

On our drive back to our campsite we were treated to this.

The next morning we drove north to L’Aunce Aux Meadows. We literally had a half hour to run around like crazy people and take as many pictures as we could before we would have to drive back down south 88 miles to catch the ferry to Labrador.

Waiting for the Ferry at St. Barbe Newfoundland

Jaws of the beast opening up

Video driving onboard St.Barbe - Blanc Sablon Ferry

Getting ready to dock in Quebec

Just a short drive up the road and we were in Labrador!!!

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We were able to get a campsite at the Pinware River Provincial Park. This is where the insects started to get bad. I purchased a can of Rapel Outdoor camp fogger before we left. I gave the campsite a good spraydown and hopped in the truck to wait for it to take effect. The bloodsuckers landed on the windows, looked inside and laughed at us. Times like this I wish I could access my camper from the cab of my truck.

The next morning we were back on the road. We took a short break at Red Bay.

And this is where the pavement ends. Route 510

Firewood stacked along the roadside.

Nice scenery

The longest stretch without fuel is from Port Hope Simpson to Happy Valley Goose Bay. The distance being 410km (255 miles). Not a huge distance but my truck only gets about 13.5 mpg when fully loaded and I was definitely fully loaded for this trip. This means I have an estimated range of 269 miles. Not a lot of room for error. I took along an extra Jerry can just for this stretch of the road.

Gas station at Port Hope Simpson

If I had been traveling from north to south I would have found the “normal” gas station right up on the main road. This one had more character.

This is the junction of route 510 and the new section of route 500 (Trans Labrador Highway). I had already traveled 125km by this point.

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The new section of the TLH ranged from being fully complete in which highway speeds could be attained (posted speed limit 70km/h) to full on construction zone.

It was near the end of the work day and the workers were being picked up in this school bus. It was bouncing all over the place.

They were being brought to this makeshift camp along the road.

Other overlanders on this stretch

When my gas gauge hit 1/8th of a tank I pulled off into a gravel pit and put my 5 extra gallons in my tank. Back on the road it was downhill almost all the way to Happy Valley Goose Bay. I probably could have made it but I would have been on fumes.
This section of road is paved.

While in Happy Valley Goose Bay we gassed up, ate pizza, booked a hydroelectric facility tour and relaxed at a hotel. The hotel made me feel like I was somehow cheating.
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The next morning we were once again on the TLH heading towards Churchill Falls. On the way, we turned off the highway to check out Muskrat Falls. This is the lower end of the Churchill River that is soon going to be dammed up to make a hydro power plant.

Looking west. You can just see the falls in the middle of the picture.

Looking east

There were some really nice camping spots in this area.

When we got to Churchill Falls we filled up the tank and had a look around. We picked up some groceries and talked to a guy in a campervan that said we were allowed to park overnight in the Town Center parking lot and we could even plug into the outlets that were provided at each parking place if we wanted to free of charge.

Company owned town. Everybody that lives here, works here.

The hydro tour was scheduled for the next day and I wanted to know where I had to be. After confirming the location is was time for the real adventure to begin.

One of my goals for the trip was to drive farther north than I have on any other trip. I've been to Alaska but that was by cruise ship. My previous farthest north Journey had been to Radisson on my James Bay trip. (N53 47.510) In researching this trip, I discovered that the farthest north you could drive in Labrador was along the Orma Lake Road. The Oram Lake Road is an access road to the dykes that hold the reservoir of water used by the hydro plant. According to my GPS program, the road is 97.5 miles long.

The road itself is bumpy but drivable by most vehicles.

Video of Orma Lake Road Warning: Shaky camera syndrome

I originally had this video a little longer and set perfectly to the Talking Heads song Road to Nowhere. But because of a little thing called copywrite infringement I had to use one of the songs provided by Flip Video.

This is as far as we got

I beat my record but we didn't reach the end. We drove for four and a half hours to get this far. We made it 76.6 miles at a fairly conservative pace, taking a lot of pictures and video. Logistically we had to turn back. It was getting late and we had to find a place to park for the night and make it back into Churchill Falls the next day for the hydro tour.

We turned around and drove for about an hour and then set up the camper for the night. During that hour drive we saw two large black bear. They were too far up the road and it was too dark to take a picture. They each took off as soon as they saw the truck but it did make me a little nervous. The only people we saw were at some kind of fuel depot camp about 51miles in.

This is where we camped. (taken the following morning)

On the way out we passed a full sized truck/truck camper. I don't think he made it very far in. He was going about one forth our speed and I thought we were going slow.
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On the way back to town we passed the generating station. My camera didn't photograph the numbers very well but under where it says megawatt production there is a display that is in real time.

This unit has a capacity of 5,428 Megawatts. The actual output depends on demand which varies depending on the time of the year and time of day.

The majority of the power produced gets tied into the Hydro Quebec grid through these lines.

Time for the tour. This facility was the second “engineering marvel” on my list of things to see. It's the second largest underground hydro facility in the world. Second only to the Robert-Bourassa generating station in Quebec that we just missed getting a tour of on our James Bay trip.

Dressed for the occasion

The elevator that we took down doesn't have floor levels like a normal elevator. Each stop is depicted by sea level. Ground level was 1327 feet above sea level. We were then lowered to 457 feet above sea level.

We stepped off the elevator into this walkway.

It wound around and down and opened up into this long hallway.

At the end of this hallway was the evacuation bus to be used if there was ever an emergency. Obviously the elevator wasn't the only way out. If you miss the bus they had a room set up with 30 days worth of supplies for 30 people. The bus has never been used but it is routinely maintained.

Around the corner from the bus the hallway opened up into this giant room. 232 m long, 45 m high, 19 m wide

We made our way back to the elevator. We were now at a level about 100 feet lower then where we got off to start the tour.

Back at the surface they had this bottle on display in a showcase.

It was left at the falls (before the hydro pant existed) by a couple of explorers in the area in 1891. A note inside encouraged other explorers who came across the bottle to write their impressions of the falls. A story of their adventure called the Bowdoin Boys in Labrador was written by their professor when they finally made it back to civilization. An online copy of the book can be read here.

After the tour we gassed up again and were back on the road. A few miles west of town we crossed a bridge over the remains of the original path of the Churchill River.

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Labrador City is at the far west end of the TLH. We gassed up and then we were on our way south on highway 398. Highway 398 isn’t maintained nearly as well as the TLH and you really have to watch out for heavy truck traffic. We took a short detour into the town of Fermont. Fermont is a small iron mining community that is housed almost entirely in one building.

The structure in the background that extends from the far left of the picture to the far right of the picture is one building.

Further south we decided to check out the abandoned Gagnon airport. You could drive right down the runway.

The runway and hanger looked to be in good shape. I was thinking that the runway might still be used on an unofficial bases. This would have been a good place to set up camp.

Just south of here we filled the tank up again. This gas station gets the distinction of having the most expensive gas of the entire trip. $1.36 a liter ($5.17 a gallon)

Next in line was the third “engineering marvel” that I wanted to see. Manic 5 dam is located just south of the fifth largest confirmed impact crater on earth.

The dam itself is the largest buttressed multiple arch dam in the world.

A little farther south, the road turned back into pavement. But don’t let your guard down.

One more ferry somewhere in Quebec.

And then it was time for the forth “engineering marvel” on my list. The Peterborough lift lock.

Located on the Trent-Severn waterway connecting Lake Huron to Lake Ontario. It is the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock.

A tour boat just happened to be going through when we were there.

Video of the lock in action.
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Overall my wife and I had a great time. I would highly recommend this route to everyone. The hiking in Newfoundland is top notch and if you really want to get away from it all Labrador is the place to be. The more time you have the better.

My recommendation to anyone wanting to drive up Orma Lake Road would be to go along with a second vehicle. Even though I didn't make it all the way to the end, a breakdown would have meant a least a day and a half walk. There was very little traffic on this road. If you want to read about a really interesting canoe trip in this area click here.

Here are my statistics:

Total Miles = 6245
Average mpg = 14.4
Average Price/Gallon (in U.S. currency) = $3.75

The only breakdown was my cheap off road light falling apart. The Colorado held up well.

Next years I am thinking someplace closer; maybe North and South Dakota.
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The research i've done showed me the highest you can go is Esker, a small train stop. Going west after churchill you should have seen a branch going north west. This road take about 3-4 hours up to esker, Esker is about 80 km from Shefferville. Only way to shefferville is By train.

Awesome tripp you did, were there alot of flies, up there?