Mont Provencher, and Highway 389 North
Monday, June 20
The next morning, we were fortunate enough to have a brief window of decent weather, with a bit of sun occasionally piercing through the murk. We made an early ascent of nearby Mont Provencher (elevation approx 3,550 feet) and returned to pack up our camp. It started raining again on the descent, but we did have a brief window of clearing allowing us to finally get a nice shot of the nearby Manicouagan Reservoir. We arrived back at the car shortly after 11am, completing our backpack in under 24 hours. This was good, since we needed to reach somewhere in the vicinity of Churchill Falls, Labrador by this evening (more on why later).
Video, Clips from the Monts Groulx - Click on video above to start
If you are interested in reading more about our Mont Provencher climb and backpack, along with lot of extra pictures not in this main narrative, please click here
We resumed our drive north on highway 389. The on-and-off drizzle and rain meant that the road was in a pretty nice state between muddy and dusty - kind of a dust-less moist state (I've heard that sections of 389 can raise a choking dust-storm when it is dry). It continued to chart a course generally north-east through the foothills of the Monts Groulx, occasionally giving a nice view of a lower peak or of the Manicouagan Reservoir. Eventually we left the reservoir behind and started to chart a more north-easterly course towards the mining community of Fermont.
Northeastern Manicouagan Arm
The hilly terrain of the foothills of the Monts Groulx faded away, and the road became straighter and flatter, as the trees around us gradually became shorter. We arrived at a cleared section of land with pavement, a boulevard, and sidewalks - but nothing else. This was the town of Gagnon, built in the late fifties as part of an iron ore mining operation. Eventually the mine became unprofitable, and in 1985 everything was dismantled - except for this stretch of pavement and sidewalks on the former 'main drag'.
At Gagnon's former townsite, highway 389 becomes paved again, and for the next 80 or so kilometres is actually quite a nice, high-speed highway. The terrain became very flat, with lots of low, black spruce and lots of bog and muskeg. It felt... northerly.
Through trackless wilderness
All good things must come to an end, and, at Fire Lake, the highway returned to gravel. The quality of the aggregate was less good along this next stretch, with bigger and more angular rocks. And, this stretch is fairly twisty again. For some reason, we saw a lot more traffic along this section than anywhere else on our drive along this highway. Perhaps it was the time of day?
Approaching Mont Wright Mine
After negotiating the dusty, somewhat rough and somewhat curvy stretch of 389 north of Fire Lake, we stopped at the crest of a rise to take a photo of a strangely-flattened low mountain in the distance. Upon closer examination, it was clear that this a mining operation. A big one, too: it was our first view of Mont Wright -- a huge iron ore mine that was started in 1973. They've razed a very large part of the top of Mont Wright, and there's more to come. ArcelorMittal -- the world's largest steel maker -- recently purchased the mine, and announced a huge expansion that will double the size of it.
As we drew closer to the Mont Wright mine, we saw how big the place is. The tailings mound adjacent to the mine is huge, and Mont Wright itself is quite a large, broad peak. It is difficult to imagine the quantity of material that has been processed to shave so much of its top off.
Nfld and Labrador Border
At Mont Wright, 389 becomes nicely paved again, and soon we reached both the signed turnoff for the mining town of Fermont (which we did not take) and the sign indicating that we had reached the border with Labrador. From here on until the very end of our trip, we would be travelling within the boundaries of Atlantic Canada!
Interactive trackmap with photo points, Ontario to Labrador Border - click map to view