Akami-Uapishkᵁ Expedition: First ski descents of the Mealy Mountains, Labrador
Perhaps you were waiting for it? Here is the story of Estski and the Loners in the Mealy Mountains, Labrador, which took place spring of 2018. In this first text, Olivier Dion returns on this expedition which was much further North than usual.
Preamble to the trip:
True to our habits, Tom and I have done everything to come up with a plan that is out of the ordinary. The idea of the Mealy Mountains in Labrador was born from who knows where, but Tom has been obsessed with it. It all came possible in our minds when he found a way to access the mountains (special thanks to Jamie, without whom it would never have happened).
Left to be done; find a few amigos and develop the plan for a pleasant stay at the Mealy summer camp.
The final distribution:
- Thomas Thiery (Tom): main organizer
- Mathieu Martel (Math): responsible for food
- Jean-Philippe (JP) and Olivier Dion (Oli): snow and wilderness first aid professionals
- Émile Dontigny (Émile) and Charles Bernier (Charles) of the Loners: they stick to their Loneries (capture images)
We then found several partners to gather required equipment and food supplies. A few hours before the departure, we were ready for the adventure (read here that some unforeseen events pushed us to improvise). It should also be noted that following Math's request to organize a 100% plant-based expedition, we delegated him the entire food planning responsibility. The expedition was therefore plant-based all along the line.
Day 1-2: Transportation to Happy Valley-Goose Bay
In a rental Ford Transit, the crew picked me up in Quebec City. On my arrival at Wal-Mart parking lot, five ski bums and a sh!tload of gear laying on the ground is what awaits me. After distribution of the group items, we depart Quebec City.
I had never met Émile, Charles and JP. My entire trust was based on Tom's words, which can sometimes be difficult to decode when you don’t know him well. Afterwards, I can say that despite our limited experience initially, he had convinced me that we had a strong team.
After 16 hours on the road and a passage in front of the Manic 5 Dam, the group is unanimous, we’re stoping for the night in Fermont. I get us one room, obviously without specifying that we are six. The facial expression of the host lady is epic when she sees us all: ‘’Tabaaaarnak! Vous êtes une gang!’’ We end up sharing pitchers at the legendary Fer-Tek.
(Manic 5 picture (2))
The next morning, we move towards Happy Valley-Goose Bay. As we get closer to the city, we are more and more impressed by the size of the snow banks, excitement becomes palpable amongst the group. We make two small stops along the way. A first one to see the white mountains on the other side (Innu: Akami-Uapishkᵁ), from the village of North West River.
And a second one to see our snowmobiles set-up and meet Jamie. This is were we realize the two-by-fours that awaits us for 140km on packed ice.
(Jamie's garage pictures (2) )
Day 3: Beginning of the expedition
The day begins at sunrise, at the edge of the huge Lake Melville. The goal of the day is to cross almost all of it using snowmobiles.
Jamie warns us that the last days have been hot and that water has gone between layers of ice. Still, the locals are confident. They know by heart this large expanse of ice that can betray.
It is around 0°C that day, and the sleds get bogged down in the slush several times.
Jamie's friend, Nicholas, pulls out this key phrase "A bad day in the slush is always better than a good day at work!"
Arrived were the sleds drop us some 5 hours later, Nicolas throws another good one, great philosopher that he is: "We are not nowhere, but we can see nowhere from here."
The expedition begins. After skinning 10km following a partially covered creek, we set up a temporary camp.
Around the temporary kitchen, a small wind of panic settles when we realize that one of the two burners won’t maintain a decent flame. Kerosene and Nafta were mixed up during the purchase. Nothing bad since we had spare nozzles for both burners. Another learning of JP against his will: the choice of the snow melting location is important. A few drops of kerosene were found in his Nalgene bottle.
From that moment on in the trip, time does not matter to us anymore. We eat when we’re hungry, come back from skiing when the sun sets, sleep when we’re tired and we wake up when someone gets up and pisses us off.
Day 4: Final approach
We pack all the gear and start the fifteen kilometres that separates us from the location of our real base camp. Emile knows the way by heart, but the distances remain unclear for us. After 8 hours approach, our train of skiers finally sees the thousand meters mountains, filled with fresh snow. Once the base camp is up, the temperature drops quickly below -20°C, then certainly under -30°C. It is 9 pm, we put on the down jackets and consume comforting substances.
Leaving the kitchen, I stumble upon majestic northern lights. The Loners get outside and start their Loneries, equipped with their cameras by -30°C. After half an hour, I lose the sensation of my toes and my fingers. I overlook kitchen cleaning and the complete chore of water. I go to the tent and advise others to do the same, feeling hypothermia is threatening us. I am anxious to wake up to a case of hypothermia to manage in the group the next morning...
Day 5: First descent
In the early morning, everyone was pretty hot at night. A few toes are to be recovered through frozen boot liners, but everything is manageable. We get into this blue bird day, light powder still hanging on the slopes, what else could we be asking for?
We set a small goal in the morning. Seeing the big face of 600-700m vertical, we finally decide to tackle more engaging terrain. The energy level is good, the mood of the troops too. Avalanche conditions are perfect to travel on steep slopes without much worry.
JP is first to set foot on the summit, after 4 hours of ascent. The view is breathtaking, but a peak remains a peak, and most of the time, it's not a place to grab a sandwich.
The consensus is obtained, I will make the first descent of the Mealy mountains. Perfect powder on a vertical of more than 600 metres. I am so "FUCKING STOKED" that I even forgot to wait for the film crew.
Day 6 and 7: Skiing and skiing
The following days, we ski several different faces. Loneries here, powder there, the temperature is close to the freezing point and the wind starts transforming the snow. The turns are still excellent. On the last skiing day, we’re busy finding the perfect corn snow. After we had seen -30°C the first night at base camp, these two days seem like the perfect temperature!
It was also on that day we realized that Émile's boot was holding up by magic. It was enough to awaken Math and the engineer that he is. By taking some parts of the burner repair kit, Emile's boot was working as new.
Day 8: Return in full
In the morning, we decide to go all the way to Lake Melville, where Jamie should to take us back to civilization. Since our only contact with him is text messages via a satellite phone, there are really no other options for us. We have to go to the lake despite the darkness.
Before leaving, during the deconstruction of the camp, I ask myself a stupid question: Where is Emile? I had not seen him for half an hour, and his camera equipment was not with him. We start looking for him to find out he’s cleaning his clothes near the toilet (snow hole). He had fallen into it. Worth saying this was not the first ‘shitty’ accident of the trip. Thomas was forced to scratch JP’s shovel after missing his shot when burying his work. Hot on cold metal, it ices directly...
We end up at Lake Melville near midnight, feeling the trench feet and dry throat. It's the end of the mountain trip.
Day 9 and 10: Towards civilization
Jamie arrives around 8:00am, handing us a few beers. The way back is done in a few hours. After a shower and dinner at the restaurant, Tom and I are get to meet the locals in one of the village bars. The rest of the group will stay in the room to sleep. Three beers for five bucks in a place where Inuits, Métis and Whites come together in a festive atmosphere. Tom and I get our trip fix.
The next day, back to the city. I get off at Fermont, where I will be working the next day. I still invite guys to take a classic poutine at Chez Barbie, the snack of the Wall. The rest of the road will be long for the rest of the team but it will be done in a single stretch and without any issue.
For more informations, this is the guide for skiing the Mealy mountains (in French)
Thanks to our partners for this expedition: Gusta, MEC, Black Diamond, Nemo Equipment and BioBon.