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Alone across Labrador 2004

Labrador déjà vu
On a freezing January morning 20 years ago, Jerry Kobalenko set off on what would be the hardest trek of his life: a journey through the interior of Labrador that lasted 46 days and left him with frost blisters and frostbite. It took a month for him to recover the feeling in his toes. Now, on the anniversary of his first trip, he will set off again, solo, to follow the same route.

“I remember thrilling to a description from Henry Youle Hind, one of Labrador’s early explorers,” says Kobalenko.“ ‘Words fail to describe the awful desolation of the Labrador tableland.’ That would put off most people; it was a magnet for me.”

Supported by a grant from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Kobalenko will start in Churchill Falls, Labrador, and trek 600 kilometres to Nain, a small community on the Atlantic coast. He will hike or ski with a 120-kilogram sled of supplies in tow and, staying true to his original experience, will not carry a radio or satellite phone.

“The interior of Labrador will not have changed much, except for Voisey’s Bay,” he says. “Twenty years ago, there was not even a trapper’s cabin.” Now, a massive nickel mine is under construction there.

Since that first trek, Kobalenko has some 20 Arctic expeditions under his belt, including annual trips to Ellesmere Island. But he says those were neither as cold nor as challenging as the Labrador trip.

Regardless, Kobalenko is anxious to do it all again. “I love the hard, simple, contemplative sledding life,” he says. “It feels like my natural environment. Everywhere else, I’m somewhat a fish out of water.”

Look for Kobalenko’s story and photographs from his Labrador journey in a future issue of Canadian Geographic.

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