Linda at Lake Kamestastin
Photo by Steve Oliver

There is magic in the Silent Places     
where wind, and hooves, and water meet.

Linda Besse          
Lake Kamestastin, Labrador 2008

Lake Kamestastin, Labrador Expedition
Completed October 18, 2008

The Tshikapisk Foundation in Sheshatshit, Labrador invited us to Lake Kamestastin where for over 7,500 years the Mushua-Innu have met the George River caribou herd on its spring and autumn migrations. We explored the region in preparation for further work in the area next year, photographed bears, ptarmigan and well over a thousand caribou at close range and helped winterize the cabins and main lodge.

This expedition was made possible by the generosity and insight of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

The Expedition consisted of 8 artists, Tony Jenkinson (our representative from the Tshikapisk Foundation) and his 10 year-old granddaughter Jordana. Leader of the group was artist Rob Mullen. The other artists include Cole Johnson, Jay Johnson, Gary McGuffin (a professional photographer), Steve Oliver, John Pitcher, Sue Westin, and me.

The Great Caribou Hunt (with camera and a lot of determination.)

I have many stories from this fantastic trip, but first I want to share the day spent hunting caribou on the north east side of the lake.


Leaving only shadows
in this unspoiled wilderness

Good fortune had me traveling the day with artist Cole Johnson. After a hard morning of hiking, we found ourselves on a small peak glassing for the elusive caribou herds. I spotted a sizeable group off to the northeast but on the other side of the river which drains out of Lake Kamestastin. From all accounts, they would be crossing the river below them and then come up through the spruce tree draw directly below us.

This would be tricky. The timing had to be perfect to place ourselves in a good position. We knew how fast they could move, and a swing out from a direct line could mean we would easily miss them. After enjoying watching two bulls battle (tiny dots through our binoculars), they started to move. Leaving our packs on the ridge, we raced down the slope trying to keep an eye on their position. One more check on their progress and then we entered the spruce forest. Cole and I were separated, and I heard the crack of twigs in front of me for a short time. I stopped. Silence. Was he already in position? Were the caribou near? Did we miss them? Continuing on for another 100 yards, I stopped again. No sound. In the spruce forest, I couldn't see any distance. Fallen logs and thick cover seemed to deaden even the slightest breeze. Staying in the forest was doing me no good. I had to break out of this cover and hope I hadn't missed them (and hope I wouldn't be messing with Cole's position.)

A little further and I broke into a slight clearing dominated by small hill. Surely, the caribou herd has passed by now. Inching up the hill in a crouched position, I peaked over the edge. Caribou! Just below me. I dropped instantly, lying on the slope, propped up by one elbow, holding my camera at the ready. Just then, I heard hooves, lots of them, coming right for me. About 15 caribou came running up the slope and stopped less than 30 feet from me. They paused, watching me, then ran off. No sooner had I recovered from this amazing encounter, but I had hooves racing toward me again. Numerous times when I thought the whole herd must have passed, another group approached. Sometimes they would pause for more than 30 seconds. I started getting used to this wonderful experience until I heard hooves again, on the other side of me! A huge bull was among them and coming almost right for me. Caribou may not be the largest ungulate, but when you are lying on the ground in front of them, they seem plenty big enough. This encounter lasted maybe 20 minutes and then I dared to peak over the edge of the hill only to spot 2 more big bulls. I waited another 10 minutes, then stood to get a better view. No caribou in sight, but I spotted Cole just below me. He had been in the trees and at times even had to back into them for cover to avoid getting run down by caribou! While our reference photos for future paintings are awesome, for me it is the "hunting" and amazing encounter with this herd of well over a 100 caribou which is the special part of this experience. The almost 11 hours in the bush this day were worth every minute.

Caribou from our encounter

Paintings from Labrador Expedition:


First Light