I'm pondering a longer-term hike in Northern Quebec/Labrador. Autonomous style, sky or snowshoe (TBD) with a sled etc. Right now, considering going Fermont, going south to Sept-Iles (possibly following the Rivière Moisie for some of the way). About 400k give or take, though I might downsize that and leave from somewhere else (south of Fermont, along the road) if that seems to be too ambitious.

I have tons of experience in winter outdoors and winter camping, so that aspect of things I am not worried. I would like to know what would it look like in terms of navigation in that region/environment for a thru-hiker in winter, more precisely for River/lack crossing. I have read this post (How to be safe on lake and river ice and what should I do when I fall through?) on the topic. However I'd be interested to know what to look for (from a topographic perspective) as to where should I expect better odds of finding a good crossing.

1 - When looking at a topographic map, what clues (variations in widths, winding or not, upstream or downstream, etc) may help find a route that is likely to provide better crossings?

2 - In a typical winter, with average temparature for the region (or a comparable region), what are my odds of finding solidly frozen lakes (I am not too worried about those) and finding decently frozen rivers crossings? The Moisie river would be a good example to start from (because it's well-known and a large river)

  • Well what would you want me to ask like 5 questions with the same intro? If you consider parts not to be answerable, it would be nice to point out which ones exactly. I agree it's a bit broad, but I think I have made a fair effort at making each questions pointed at specifics. At the same time this isn't the same topics as SO where you can usually just put up a script & take it from there...
    – Francky_V
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 12:15
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    I would try to break this question(s) down and hope for the best. I seen it done one some Stack Exchange sites with good results. Just remember to ask one question at a time and not more than one question within a question.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 14:04
  • Yeah I might. But to me we're trying to apply a recipe that was developped, orginally, in a different context for a different topic by nature. I am not convinced that and outdoors type of exchange can be managed the way SO is. But I guess this is getting closer to a meta-discussion than a strickly outdoors stack exchange....
    – Francky_V
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 14:14
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    I see three questions. (1) Strategy to find a good crossing. Elements of the answer should address the points you make in your second paragraph. You have too many question marks in your second paragraph, so it looks like too many questions. (2) Liklihood of finding a frozen lake crossing in Feb/March in a typical year in Femont/Labrador region. (3) Ditto for the Moisie river.
    – ab2
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 21:53
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    Yeah you're right - it was more a hypothesis-testing formulation. This makes it clearer. Using the MOisie was more an example because it's the largest in the area and there's any info out there about this, it's likely to be about the Moisie. People may even use it as a snowmobile highway in some places I don't know.
    – Francky_V
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


River crossings:

I've done a couple dozen three week trips on the Canadian Shield, most in Northern Saskatchewan, but also northern Alberta and the N.W.T. I think the following will be applicable to any land form that has been recently glaciated.

Rapids and fast current are likely at the following:

  • Any place where a contour line crosses the water course.
  • Any place that is the outlet of a lake.
  • Any place where the water course narrows by a factor of 3.
  • Any place that a small water course goes from double line with shading to a single line in the downstream direction.
  • Any place where an esker crosses a water course.
  • Any place where a water course passes through a notch in a landform.

Canoeing, about 1/3 of the above turned out have a visible effect.

But I've also seen rapids, sometimes big ones, where none of the above were true. Sometimes they weren't on the map either.

All of these are based on notion that faster water takes less room.

Lake crossings:

Ice continues to contract as it gets cold. While the bottom of the ice is at freezing,the top may be much colder. This can crack the ice through. This is NOT usually a real safety hazard -- you won't fall through. The ice is usually at least 8 inches thick before this happens. But, combined with a snow or wind load, you can get overflow, and end up with a foot of snow, and 6 inches of slush on parts of the lake. This is a real nuisance to deal with.

Cracks can also occur earlier in the season from snow loads on thinner ice.

The place where streams enter the lake may be thin. If the ice was thick enough to walk on the stream, you're likely safe. I've sometimes seen a wide gravel bar where a stream enters a lake. If the water level is low, you may have fast enough current to have thin ice at this point.

Use your ears. You can often hear water moving.

Pay attention to the pattern of cold and precipitation in the fall. Heavy snow on bogs can result in the bog not freezing -- net result you have snow on top of soggy peat moss. Can also result in shallow ice on lakes with lots of slush.

I've not traveled in Labrador, but have done trips on the east shore of Lake Winnipeg, both summer and winter. It's also Canadian Shield. Very low relief. Topo maps are not a lot of help, as the land's relief is often less than the height of the trees. Lake edges and shapes are the primary set of features used for navigation. I much preferred the photo-mosaic maps, as you could see trees versus rocks versus bogs.

My trips were in late December, early January. There was not a problem with thin ice generally. In February you were more likely to have overflow.

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