Solo Labrador Trekker Enters New Phase

Justin Barbour reached the mostly abandoned mining town of Schefferville this week. The border from Quebec to his home province of Newfoundland-Labrador is just a couple of kilometers south.

Barbour began the most recent stage of his 3,800km overland trek to the island of Newfoundland on Jan. 4, after waiting several weeks for the brooks and rivers to freeze solidly. He started from the red star on the map below.

Schefferville was a booming town during the 1950s and 1960s, during its iron ore heyday. Its latest census in 2021 listed just 244 residents, mostly Innu and some southerners trying to reestablish mining operations.

From here, Barbour will continue south, largely tracking the old iron ore railway line, before turning sharply east. It is unclear how closely he will parallel the Trans-Labrador Highway during this eastward phase.

map of route

By mid-February, the sun is strengthening, and the deep cold of late January and early February will soon give way to more springlike temperatures — springlike for the subarctic, that is. Still lots of -20s. However, the prevailing northwest wind is at his back.

Traditional kit

Rather than travel with modern gear, Barbour has adopted the kit of both the old Labrador trappers and the Innu people of the interior. This includes wooden snowshoes with lampwick bindings, a long, tapered toboggan rather than a Scandinavian-style pulk, a leather pulling strap across his shoulders, no poles, and a canvas tent with a wood stove at night.

toboggan hauling

An Innu woman pulls her load across southern Labrador. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko


He admits that one piece of modern kit has not worked out so well — an inflatable sleeping pad. The large plastic valves on that style of pad are unsuitable in the cold. Severe contraction makes it hard both to close them in the evening and to open them in the morning to deflate the pad. A simple foam pad or Thermarest-style mattress, with a different style of valve, works better under severe winter conditions.

This part of the interior has patches of trees where he can take shelter at night and find firewood, but is also largely open, with hard, windblown snow that makes this sort of travel easier.

Jerry Kobalenko

Jerry Kobalenko is the editor of ExplorersWeb. One of Canada’s premier arctic travelers, he is the author of The Horizontal Everest and Arctic Eden, and has just finished a book about adventures in Labrador. In 2018, he was awarded the Polar Medal by the Governor General of Canada and in 2022, he received the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal for services to exploration.