Torngat Mountains National Park

After an emotional and educational excursion to Hebron, it was back to nature for two days in Torngat Mountains National Park. Established as one of the extended outcomes of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement that came into legal effect in December 2005, the park sees about 500 visitors each year. The low visitor count is partly due to the short season (roughly 6 to 7 weeks from later in July through late August each year) and partly due to its remoteness (access is by boat, charter plane or helicopter). Most visitors stay at the bear-fence-enclosed Torngat Mountains Base Camp located just outside the southern park boundary.

Our expedition cruise aboard One Ocean’s RCGS Resolute dropped anchor at the northern arm of Saglek fjord and again in Nachvak fjord. The steep, mountain walls are the highest in Canada east of the Rockies. Waterfalls cut the ridge lines here and there. Since the entire park is above the tree line, the geology was readily visible. Wildlife sightings included black bears, polar bears and caribou.

Day 1 – Saglek Fjord

We were up on the observation deck in time to watch the sun rise high enough to light up the steep sides of Saglek fjord with a lovely golden glow.

I had the lucky thought to look back down towards the outlet of the fjord, and enjoyed the moodier, cloud-induced orange tones.

A short while later, after breakfast in the dining room and bundling up in our expedition parkas, overalls and boots, I peered over the stern to see four Zodiacs: 3 with expedition guides, patiently waiting for passengers to be called to the gangway, while the fourth was operated by two members of the ship’s crew, patiently waiting to begin the day’s painting assignment!

Within a half hour, our flotilla of Zodiacs was motoring up the north arm of Saglek fjord.

We passed several stunning waterfalls; some carved their way down rust-coloured slopes…

…while others had already carved a niche in the ridge line and constant enough to support some grasses and low shrubs.

Our destination: the head of the north arm of Saglek fjord, where a pair of red “share the chairs” was hard to pick out from the masses of red expedition parka-wearing passengers already ashore. The white power boat transported our guides and bear guards from the Torngat Mountains Base Camp.

We were welcomed ashore with an offering of bannock and freshly-caught Arctic char, both cooked traditionally on hot stones.

We had some time to explore the beach while we waited our turn to take the guided hike to a nearby waterfall.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the chance to stretch out and soak up the sunshine…

…while under the protection of our bear guard.

Our hiking/interpretive guide explained how researchers and archaeologists are just beginning to study the area, and asked two things of us: 1) follow in her footsteps so as not to accidentally disturb any artifacts; and 2) let her know if we spotted any possible artifacts (we did not).

And then we were off. Again, it was disconcerting not to hike an established trail. There just aren’t any boot beaten tracks in this part of the world!

We would have enjoyed continuing on to this beautiful, indigo-blue lake, but our hike ended just to the right of this frame.

We climbed up a bit of a steep rock and then the photographers in the group jockeyed for position to photograph a beautiful, multi-stepped waterfall. Since Mr GeoK was on the job, I opted to study the vegetation and enjoy the views instead.

The scenery here is amazing – I would definitely consider coming back for a few days of serious hiking.

The waterfall!

Back at the beach, everyone had moved away from the Zodiacs, which gave me the chance to take a photograph looking back down the fjord.

All too soon, we waded in and climbed aboard our Zodiacs for the return trip to our home-at-sea, the RCGS Resolute. As she sailed out of Saglek fjord, we spotted a Cold War-era advance-warning radar station perched up on a ridge. Apparently there’s a second such station in Torngat Mountains National Park, but we didn’t see that one.

Day 2 – Nachvak Fjord

Our second morning in ‘Torngat Mountains NP started with reflections – the water was so amazingly still that many passengers headed out to the observation decks to take photos.

This was as far as the RCGS Resolute could sail into Nachvak fjord. We’d be traveling by Zodiac the rest of the way, thanks to a long gravel bar extending out from the little point of land coming off the left mountain.

The water was so still that trip photographer Adeline Heymann headed off in a Zodiac to get a photo of the ship’s reflection in Nachvak fjord. Her pilot went slowly, to minimize waves created in the wake of the Zodiac’s motor.

Here’s what she came back with:

Meanwhile, I had fun with all the abstracts created by those ripples:

And I had time to notice a rainbow cloud above one of the mountains, perhaps confirmation that this really is a “place of spirits” (English translation of the the Inuktitut word Tongait, which is the basis of the park’s name).

Eventually, all passengers interested in exploring Nachvak fjord by kayak or Zodiac were on the water. There was no shore landing (no permit) and a helicopter flew over a couple of times to be sure we didn’t go ashore.

Instead, this excursion was all about wildlife. There was a bit of a Zodiac jam when someone spotted a polar bear and two cubs high up on a mountainside.

The kayakers were eager to join us for the viewing party.

Here’s Adeline’s best photo of the trio…

…and here’s ours!

By the time we reached the head of the fjord, the wind really picked up. Gusts triggered some decent spray and white caps started rolling down the fjord.

The kayaks didn’t make it to the head of the fjord (probably a good thing). Despite the rough water, we were reluctant to leave – and so were our Zodiac expedition guides! Why? Because there were three caribou near the shore. It was only after they finally turned away that we did, too. This is Adeline’s photo of two of the caribou.

Just as the first Zodiac turned to depart, someone spotted a black bear part way up the mountainside, so of course we had to hang around for a bit longer. The chop was so bad it was pretty much impossible to get any great photos of either the caribou or the bear. This is Adeline’s best photo of this particular bear.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we were all safely back aboard the RCGS Resolute, mugs of hot chocolate clutched in our chilled hands. As we headed back down the fjord, clouds rolled in over the walls of the fjord and we were soon enveloped in fog.

It was a suitably mystical ending to two fabulous days in a majestic “place of spirits.”

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