Saturday’s morning program provided us with three group presentations about Labrador, which is considered by many as the land of the premiere wilderness camping experience in eastern North America.
I came in a bit late for Bill Fitzhugh’s “ The Archeology of Forgotten Labrador”. Bill has been conducting 16th Century archeology in Labrador and Baffin Island for over 40 years. He has researched the site of Martin Frobisher in Frobisher Bay ( 1576-1578) and is currently working in Mongolia on Bronze Age ceremonial sites, searching for ties to Eskimo origins. He shared some computer projected images of the excavation of a site around Blanc Sablon near the eastern edge of Quebec along the mouth of the St.Lawrence River. His research is verifying cooperative living arrangements between the Inuit and the Basques as they attempted to overwinter as they were establishing whaling sites in the New World. We viewed stunning photos of soapstone lamps, whale and codfish bones that were found under an overhanging cliff at the deep water’s edge.
Bill’s wife Lynn Fitzhugh was up next. She is the author of The Labradorians, and shared background information about a historical novel that she is researching and writing about an 18th century Inuit woman names Mikak, who was born and lived in a sod house near Nain in the 1740’s. Mikak traveled to London, where she was a celebrity, and returned to help found the settlement at Northwest River, Labrador. Another sad tale of abuse, alcohol, guns, and cultural dismemberment.
Scott McCormack wrapped up the morning’s presentations with a slide show/ talk about his 21 day winter snowshoeing/toboggan haul through the Menehek Hills in Labrador. Scott is a teacher, outdoor education instructor and guide from Canada, whose work explores issues of self , northern landscapes, and “ participatory modes of experience” . The stunning photos he displayed were taken by Colin O’Conner, a professional photographer who was with him for the trek. The photos are copyrighted, so I have not reproduced them here. I’d encourage the reader to click on the above link and view the 12 shots in that album. I particularly like the last one, an arresting shot of a illuminated wall tent against a starry sky streaked with northern lights.
You self-select your two afternoon workshops.
I made the right choice attending Mark Kutolowski’s demonstration : Making Pemmican-The Ultimate trail Food. Mark is a Vermont guide and traditional wilderness skills teacher who is currently teaching a course at Dartmouth College that he Developed on Bushcraft , Survival, Foraging, and Natural History. He also leads retreats focusing on the intersection between contemporary spirituality and wilderness living www.newcreationwilderness.org . The story of pemmican, which dates to pre-European contact, is tied to cold northern climates, where large game prevailed, snow fell, and the drying and preserving process was essential for survival. Pemmican has historically involved drying strips of meat that has all the fat cut off, to which is added rendered animal fat, berries, and sometimes maple sugar and salt. Done properly it is edible for years , if not decades, even when held at room temperature. The ability of man to live on meat alone, for periods of years has been documented in Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s “Fat of the Land” . The product was so important to early settlers that in 1832 the Hudson’s Bay Company purchased from the natives 28 tons of pemmican, in 150 pound bales. We sampled some pemmican that Mark had previously prepared and were taken though tpreparing it, which is partly documented in this “how to make pemmican” video.
The second workshop I attended was Garrett Conover’s “Winter Navigation and map Strategy”.
It was an advanced session on use of compass, maps, symbols, and river flowage patterns that ranged from visible elements of winter travel like light, falling snow, blowing snow, encountering drifts, whiteouts, the necessity for using hand signals, the perils of party separations, and backtracking strategies. The bottom line is that it is very difficult to tell what is going on in a complicated lake system when you are down walking on the ground. Garrett pulled out some maps of the north country and had real life examples and stories to go along with physical details on the maps themselves. It was a real treat to gain such focused information from someone who may be one of the top experts in extended periods of winter travel in the North Woods.
Two presentations made up the after dinner programs.
Katherine Suboch’s “Cold Camping On Baffin Island” kicked off the program.
Katherine joined a friend to take advantage of a free flight from her home in Ontario up to northern Quebec, where another 700 mile flight and a long snowmobile ride deposited them and their Hilleberg tent in a landscape where there were no trees, shelters, running water, and mostly ice. One of the frozen rivers they walked on was the Weasel. They depended on white gas to fuel their MSR stove. They ate a lot of instant oatmeal, fruit leather, butter and cheese to stay warm.
The final presentation was by Dave Freeman, who is the executive director of The Wilderness Classroom , a multidimensional experience which introduces elementary and middle school students to wilderness exploration. Mark made himself two plastic sleds, borrowed a huge malamute from a friend, then hooked up himself and the dog to the two sleds and proceeded to spend a couple of months walking along the US. Canada border in Northern Minnesota in the middle of the winter . He showed us photos of where he fell through the ice on a river, and learned to negotiate around a great deal of open water. He’s now gearing up for a multiyear adventure up the west coast of North American up to the Arctic Ocean the across the top of NA and down the eastern seaboard all the way to South America.