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Port Nelson Manitoba

Discussion in 'Canada' started by Biker_Andy, Jan 3, 2021.

  1. Biker_Andy

    Biker_Andy Adventurer

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    I know Churchill has been attempted a few times and successful even fewer by using the existing rail line. I am however interested in going to the, as far as I know, never attempted ghost town of Port Nelson and the manmade island nearby. That is if it's safe to access across the 17 spans of dilapidated bridges between large concrete pillars. Might only be possible to hike, climb, jump the way to the island and leaving the bike behind. The rail bed was made the entire way to Port Nelson 100 years ago but the track was mostly never laid or since removed. Road access can take you to Sundance or further northeast (closer to the Port) to the Keeyask dam a mile off the rail bed. A few miles past Sundance at Amery is where the rail bed forks towards Port Nelson about 75 miles away. The rail bed condition is completely unknown. Fuel would obviously need to be packed for the ride in and out. Rescue only possible by boat and that's if you can get to the Nelson which at times is miles away. The route was once described as doable in a "lightweight gasoline powered vehicle" but I think that was back in the 1920s. Several river crossings, Weir and many smaller rivers. What research I've done suggests bridges were built but they appear absent from satilite pictures so might need to raft the bike across. To get onto the rail bed at Amery you would need to ride on the 'in use' tracks to Churchill for a few miles. Or blaze a trail from Keeyask a mile through pure bog but that's likely not possible unless under the high voltage DC transmission line. These were recently erected, mostly by helicopter but it might be possible to ride under if they used heavy equipment to put these ones up instead as the close proximity to the converter station where heavy equipment was used.

    I'm thinking of heading to Sundance and checking out the potential this summer 2021 and planning for the trek in 2022. I've never ridden in bog so I'd like to see what it's like. I need to talk to trappers/hunters at Sundance and see if I can get any idea of the condition of the rail bed and if theres bridges along the way. I also like to know what boats are nearby and if you can even launch a boat downstream of Keeyask Dam to traverse to the Hudson Bay. Pictures of the bike in the ruins of Port Nelson would be epic as well as on the 17 span bridge to the island. Even more epic would be on the island or at nearby York Factory. Drone shots would be mandatory but I don't have a drone. I also don't know what bike to use, Rokon perhaps? I think a SAT phone would probably be better then a SPOT for arranging rescue. York Factory is a few miles away via boat from Port Nelson and attended all summer by a Parks Canada employee. I'd like to arrange a boat to take the bike from Port Nelson to York Factory but I'm not sure if the attendant at York Factory even has a sea bearing boat or how they & supplies get in and out. Have to contact Parks Canada and find out more information. People apparently visit York Factory, not sure if it's by seaplane or by boat. Perhaps they take a boat from Churchill to York Factory, not sure. If it's not possible to ride to Port Nelson I might see if I can arrange to just boat it their instead.

    Anyone interested in joining or have valid information?
    #1
  2. Lycan1

    Lycan1 Grizzly herder

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Port Nelson.

    Interesting history that despite living in Manitoba for 25 years and going to school there, I had never heard of prior. I thank you for making me look it up.

    I quick google search yielded plenty of interesting reading and some more recent photos.

    http://heritage.enggeomb.ca/index.php/Port_Nelson

    2560px-Port_Nelson_-_Safety_Shelter_-_MB_Hydro_Collection.jpeg
    I doubt you would even get across on foot safely though. Some of the piers have started to collapse further out. Only the rails span across. It would be a bad place to get hurt. From the history, the piers were timber and filled with gravel, and the pictures confirm.
    CsNII6UXYAAbKiJ.jpeg

    One of the pictures in the link shown shows the shore side and how grown-in it is there.
    Over a hundred years have passed and the road bed may not even be easy to find. Walking through a Bog isn't fun, riding, well not for most mortals.

    2560px-Port_Nelson_-_Bridge_Shoreline_-_MB_Hydro_Collection.jpeg

    A trip by float plane and a day exploring the site would be spectacular though. Pictures from the air the only way to do the site justice. Considering the nature of the townsite construction, likely very little to see at ground level.

    Port_Nelson_-_Island_and_Bridge_-_MB_Hydro_Collection.jpeg

    http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/08/hudsonbayrailway.shtml








    Go to 15:00

    I explored an old port on Quadra Island near Campbell River many years ago and carefully walked across an old bridge that the timbers, despite being Over a foot square, were so rotted that you would fall through them. I walked along the lengthwise timbers by carefully following the bolts. The wood was still spongy but held my weight.

    The Manitoba Historical video author echoes those comments about the wood being completely rotten on the bridge decking at Port Nelson. And apparently You have to watch out for Polar Bears. I'd rather meet a Grizzly (and have) any day. Polar bears see us as food.
    #2
  3. fredgreen

    fredgreen Beer drinkin Bluenoser

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    I checked about 20km of the rail line on google earth, a pile of bridges missing. It would be a formidable task to get through there at all!
    #3
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  4. shuswap1

    shuswap1 Long timer

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    Lycan echos my thoughts and the GE Sat images are quite poor but do appear to show an absence of road bed and bridge structures over the majority of the route. Very ambitious undertaking!! I also think an over flight would be a great way to assess the situation. You might find a flying club with a member or Instructor interested enough to do it for shared costs. Just remember that everything will look better from the air than it will be on the ground! This might be a trip where a M/C, of any type, would be more of a hindrance than a help.
    #4
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  5. squonker

    squonker Stupid is the new norm

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    Very cool idea, would be awesome if you could pull it off!
    #5
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  6. Bootht99

    Bootht99 Been here awhile

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    Location:
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    I've been to Port Nelson a few dozen times for work, and a video of mine of the dredge has been posted above. I've always taken a helicopter there, but I have boated from Conawapa to Gillam Island just upstream of Port Nelson. This was on a 20' jet boat, and the river gets shallow and super wide. You need to know where in the river you are, and need a proper boat. Northern Current Expeditors and Nelson River Adventures would be my recommendations for hiring a boat of needed. I've worked more with Northern Current Expeditors. The river can't really be accessed by boat until almost July due to ice frozen to the shoreline until then.

    As for ridng the old rail bed, I'm not going to say it can't be done, but I might as well. I know of a guy to got stranded on Port Nelson in a kayak and thought he was going to die, so he messed with our instrumentation in the weather station to try and get someone to come fix it. He ended up walking to Conawapa (the same area as the Keewatinhok Converter station), but I think he followed the shoreline of the river. I think this was in October, so sall creek crossings would have froze over and provided easier walking.

    Polar bears is a concern. Dense population there in the summer, we always carried a shotgun with slugs. I've seen many.

    If things go south, Custom Helicopters keeps at least one chopper in Gillam, and the RCMP and Conservation have used it lots to find people in trouble. There's also the Rangers, who are a badass group of hardcore bushmen and bushwomen.

    I can comment more when I'm on my laptop. My phone is being annoying right now lol
    #6
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  7. Lycan1

    Lycan1 Grizzly herder

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    Love to see more photos and Video of the island and bridge if you have.

    Screenshot_20210103-094446.png
    #7
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  8. Bootht99

    Bootht99 Been here awhile

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    I'll make a few posts with some of the photos I took. From 2012-2014 I used to visit there on a regular basis. I've been to York Factory many times too.

    There's a few comments the OP has made that I feel need addressing:

    Keeyask Dam is actually far from Sundance, that's the Limestone dam that's near Sundance. The Keewatinohk Converter station marks the end of the road, many locals call the area Conawapa, because it's the site of the hydro dam that's been proposed since the 80's or so. This is where any boats will launch to boat down the river to get to Port Nelson and York Factory. There's two commercial outfits in Gillam that do this route (Nelson River Adventures and Northern Current Expeditors). NRA will be more comfy, NCE is more of a work boat with a small hiab crane. Operators of both outfits are solid dudes, and are very knowledgeable and experienced. If they ever offer advice, it is my recommendation to follow it. They've both helped enough inexperienced people who got in over their heads, some having gone entirely against their advice.

    Sundance is not a real community. It's a work camp, and it's probably not even active right now. It's likely just an empty trailer court. Bird, or Fox Lake Cree Nation is an actual community. Any local trapper will be from Bird or Gillam. Fox River Outfitters run some moose camps down the river I believe. They'll have some knowledgeable people too.

    Rescue wise, some sort of 2-way communication device would go a long way in ensuring efficient rescue, even if its just calling Custom Helicopters and getting a chopper to pick you up on the shore if it's not a life or death situation. I know SPOT has some devices, along with Garmin InReach that function as Personal Locator Beacons, and 2-way communicators via text and email.

    Following this post, I'll post pics and describe what they're of, and any other thoughts that pop in my head.
    #8
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  9. Bootht99

    Bootht99 Been here awhile

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    Ok, so in this batch of photos, you can see some of the original townsite on the mainland. I never did walk around on the ground on this side of the bridge. It would have been cool, but in the summer, I would have been freaked out by polar bears (back when I worked along the coast lots, I actually used to have nightmares of polar bears and would wake up sweaty). I know groups of Rangers have snowmobiled out to the townsite. I think some school groups from Gillam, Bird, and maybe York Factory have as well. Any trails to the site that currently exist are likely only for winter, probably maintained by whoever runs the Registered Trap Line in the area.

    I wish I got better photos, but you can see where some of the old road and streets would have been judging by tree growth. Certain species would grow better along the roads. This unfortunately also happened with the old rail bed. The railbed was made over 100 yrs ago, and the raised, drier ground creates better growing conditions than the surrounding muskeg. You'll find taller trees along the railbed, including right in the middle. Willows, alder, and birch grow dense there too, and are a b*tch to blaze a trail through.

    There's a reason that waterways were the preferred routes of travel in the north until the establishment of aircraft and railways. Land travel on anything but a road up there is punishing and slow.

    Across the river on the south bank there's another shipwreck. I'm not sure the name (might be either the SS Cearense or the SS Alette), but it's in pretty good shape. There's another wreck downstream of the island that you can barely see at low tide. There's another upstream of the bridge that was apparently sunk to break up ice pans flowing towards the bridge piers.

    The tide is about 12'. During extreme high tides, the island can be flooded.

    Attached Files:

    #9
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  10. Bootht99

    Bootht99 Been here awhile

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    This batch of photos are just assorted ones I have of the actual island.

    The white garage looking structure is actually a safe haven for those down on their luck. Survival equipment is found inside, along with some instruments for a weather station, which has sensors mounted to the mast outside.

    The tent and PFD are left behind from the guy who walked to Conawapa (in 2009 I think). He also left behind some soya sauce, salt and pepper, and a partial bag of rice.

    The photo of the zodiac seemed sketchy. I'm in the boat with my old supervisor resetting a water level sensor line. The ice grabs it and drags it downstream every year, and must be placed back in deep enough water so it doesn't get exposed to air at low tide. We did this as the tide just started to go down, which meant the river speed seemed like it tripled. The little 8hp could barely hold us in position against the current.

    Attached Files:

    #10
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  11. Bootht99

    Bootht99 Been here awhile

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    These are photos of the terrain. The valley is steep, with hundreds of gullies lining both banks of the river. On top of the valley, the land is flat and wet. This is not a bog, it is extensive muskeg that extends for hundreds of kilometers. Things don't green up until June. Water won't ever get warm, unless it's the Nelson (which receives warm water from Lake Winnipeg). There's brook trout that can be found in smaller rivers (Limestone, Weir, Angling, etc..). There's black bears, there's polar bears.

    I guess one thing to consider, is that this is the area where the two numbnutz murderers went and were hiding in. It took the RCMP a heck of a time to find them. I think that speaks as to how thick, tough, and vast the terrain is there.

    The Nelson River is about 1km wide for the most part there. With the engine off in the boat, I was drifting at 13km/hr. The river banks are over 100ft tall, and quite steep. They look like sand, but the banks are clay. Don't jump from the top expecting to slide down in soft sand...:doh I imagine the Assinaboine Valley would have looked like this when it was draining melt-water from glaciers. The photo with the ice frozen along the shore was taken in May, 2012.

    Closer to Port Nelson, the banks become smaller, and the river gets insanely wide. The banks become mud flats, and the water line actually moves KILOMETERS in some areas (further from Port Nelson) between high tide and low tide. I was told boats traveling between the Nelson River and Hayes river must boat out 4km from shore to avoid running aground, and that this can't be done during low tide.

    Attached Files:

    #11
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  12. Bootht99

    Bootht99 Been here awhile

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    These are from York Factory. Parks Canada used to staff it for about 2 months in the summer, but they may have cut back. Nelson River Adventures has the keys and permission to enter York Factory during boat tours. In summer, York Factory is only accessible by air or boat. It would be a tough go even in winter.

    The big white building is the depot building, and only a part of what the community used to be. The building is still square and solid, built on a drainage system to prevent frost heaving. The building was built by shipbuilders, so it has unique characteristics that help the building flex during shifting ground. I'm not sure if this was done on purpose, or if the builders just built using techniques they were comfortable with (since they may have normally built ships). There is also a creepy cemetery. It's crazy to think this spot was settled by Europeans well over a hundred years before the Red River Settlement.

    Both places are very cool, and I've been very fortunate to visit both on many occasions. I'm not interested in joining, but I would be willing to help answer some questions and offer some advice if asked. This would be a very physically and mentally demanding adventure, and it would be very easy for someone to get in over their heads. The bugs alone might make you mad.

    Attached Files:

    #12
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  13. damurph

    damurph Cold Adventurer

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    You asked a question and got one boatload of info. Thanks for the history lesson.
    Good on ya Bootht99.
    #13
  14. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

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    @Bootht99 following the rail grade down to the highway, i see a couple features out in the bush that look rectangular, therefore man made. have you ever flown over any structures out there that could have been old rail crew quarters?
    #14
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  15. Biker_Andy

    Biker_Andy Adventurer

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    First let me say thanks for the responses, wealth of information and great pictures!

    I think I will plan to use one of the mentioned guide boats to take my bike from Gillam to York Factory sometime this summer. I assume that's how supplies are taken to York Factory. My friend from Churchill informed me that none of the locals take boats out on the Bay at all, the only sea vessels are international cargo ships. If I boat my bike I could visit and see all the mentioned places and still ride it where nobody has likely ever ridden. Stopping at the Port island for obligatory pictures and even unload it if feasible, unfortunately I'd like to spead at least a day on the island but if I'm paying for a boat that's not likely happening. Has anyone ever had a motorcycle at York to anyone's knowledge? I suspect it hasn't been done either. I also doubt a motorcycle has ever been rode on the Port island including 100 years ago when occupied (first motorcycle build in 1885, island last occupied 1927 it's possible but very unlikely) The good part of this plan is it's not technically challenging but it might be cost prohibitive as I assume a cargo boat from Gillam burns a lot of fuel especially going upriver. If I can coordinate my travel when they are already running supplies to York it might be more reasonable. What's a boat ride from Gillam to York typically run at?

    If I still feel the need for further Northern adventure for 2022 I could still ride my way to Port Nelson along the old rail bed and hopefully find someone mad enough to join, even if they were on a Quad, Argo or foot. I'd plan on a snails pace anyway with many days at near walking speed with a lightweight motorcycle. I'd likely be dragging supplies behind including an inflatable raft. Unless I can figure out a way to bring a canoe on a motorcycle... How big is the Weir river? Is it comparable to the Assiniboine? As to getting to the Island, if the rail is still in one piece which it appears to be then I assume I could get across the giant bridge on foot shimmying on the rail if nothing else. Of course a fall into the Nelson away from shore would be certain death unless one of the Beluga whales decides to save your hide. I incorrectly assumed that the 'in progress' damn in the satilite photos was Keeyask rather than Conawapa.
    #15
  16. Biker_Andy

    Biker_Andy Adventurer

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    Also since the rail bed is straight as an arrow a small canoe with a trailer might work, or a sleigh that could double as a short bridge at times and carry an inflatable raft other times. Raft might be a bad idea depending on the currents on the Weir. I'm thinking a Rokon, Tauras 2x2 or TW200. What's everyone's opinion on the ideal muskeg bike? Needs to be small and light enough for river crossings. Another idea is finding someone with an Argo to join as a chase vehicle.
    #16
  17. Bootht99

    Bootht99 Been here awhile

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    Along the current railway from Churchill, yes. Not along the incompleted railbed from Port Nelson to Amery. I have spotted the odd trapper cabin, but not along the railbed.
    #17
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  18. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

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    i meant along the incomplete railbed, maybe there's a sat view with higher resolution.
    #18
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  19. Bootht99

    Bootht99 Been here awhile

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    Some of those rectangles might be borrow pits where they took material to buildup the railbed. I would imagine any old crew cabins would have been salvaged for other uses, whether by the rail company or private citizens making use of something that would otherwise go to waste.
    #19
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  20. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

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    my thinking was the same, but i've never seen borrow pits that appeared perfectly rectangular especially in a remote location either side of 49. the sat view makes it look like snow on a roof.
    #20
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