Day 11-14: Torngat Mountains National Park
Posted by Terri
We woke up with the moon perched over Forteau at 5 o’clock in the morning. After ten days, 20-odd communities spread across three time zones, hundreds of photos, today we were heading to the Torngats.
We caught a flight from Blanc-Sablon to Goose Bay to meet up with our charter. When we arrived, the Air Labrador lounge was already buzzing with people, luggage carts, and general excitement. Waiting passengers, mostly seasoned travel media, were decked out in zip-off pants, puffy coats, and hiking boots. They shook hands over coffee, muffins, and an abundance of camera gear.
The newly minted Torngat Mountains National Park is a rare, remote part of the world. Located on traditional Inuit hunting grounds, it’s as rich in Inuit culture and history as it is natural beauty. It was everything we could hope for, and nothing we expected.
Arriving at the airstrip in Saglek was like landing on Mars, or so I imagined. As we deplaned, everyone was quiet, and our heads twisted and turned like bobbles, absorbing the strange, new landscape.
We passed a group of people waiting to board our plane and head back home. It was easy to tell they’d been in the wilderness for a while. By comparison, we looked and felt like fresh meat.
Walking down the rocky slope towards the zodiac waiting below felt a bit like walking the plank, all of us about to jump into the unknown together. At least we were wearing PFDs and an abundance of bug repellent.
After a short ride to the boat, our eclectic group of travellers settled in for a one-hour steam to Basecamp. Along the way, we passed the kind of iceberg that every other iceberg aspires to be. Highlighted by cool greens and bright blues, it was sculpted into nature’s finest example of Northern architecture.
When we rounded the bay, we could see Basecamp in the distance, a blend of safari-like white tents and Arctic green domes that would be our home for the next four days.
On the wharf, we stepped onto a little wooden step painted with the word Welcome. And it was exactly how we felt in this strange, new world.
The first day anywhere new is always a little awkward – where’s the bathroom, what time is dinner, does this bug net highlight my eyes? But we soon found our way around and happily settled into our new life in a deluxe tent, outfitted in Ikea furnishings, fixtures, and linens, surrounded by mountains, the sea, and an electric polar bear fence.
By the end of the day, it already felt like a tightknit community, where everyone waves and says hello, good night, and sleep well. On account of not having any Internet or cell service (bonus feature), we found the time to practice the ancient art of conversation over dinner, around the fire, or hiking up the side of a mountain.
(Days 12 – 13)
In the days that followed, we found there was never a dull moment, unless you wanted one. Guests could choose their own adventure, as long as the weather cooperated and you were accompanied by a bear guide for any offsite excursions.
When the sun came out, we took full advantage of spontaneous hikes above Basecamp, or boat trips through deep waters, surrounded by mountains on either side. Some sharp, some soft and round. All ancient.
When the fog camouflaged the surrounding mountains and any safe passage out of the bay, plans quickly changed. Everyone just rolled with it, the staff expertly so. And every day was delightfully different from the next.
We were fortunate to be at Basecamp at the same time as three amazing musicians: Joe Grass, Mike Stevens, and Elisapie. I couldn’t think of a better soundtrack to help us absorb the surroundings. Or a cooler jam than Willie Thrasher’s Wolves don’t live by the rules.
Though the epic Torngat Mountains themselves didn’t disappoint, from the geology to the incredible history, our stay was about much more than grabbing a screensaver panoramic. It’s an incredibly special place where you don’t just hear about Inuit culture, you experience it firsthand.
On a day trip to North Arm, three hours by boat from Basecamp, we fished for char in the middle of a stunning fjord. Then they were cleaned on the beach and prepped for lunch. We watched as Sophie, a beloved Inuit elder born on nearby Rose Island, made Bannock (traditional Inuit bread) and served it with the freshly caught ‘fjord to fire’ char.
Surrounded by a fortress of ancient mountains on all sides, we felt quite literally in the heart of the Torngats. And each and every one of us knew what an honour that was. As we left, the sun warmed the steep slopes of brown earth, and us along with it.
Another day, we learned about the forced resettlement of Hebron, a nearby community, that had a devastating and lasting impact on its people. A former resident of the community, John, told his story and answered our questions. His perseverance was astounding. His willingness to share even more so.
At lunch or around the fire, we chatted with Inuit youth, elders or one of the Inuit Basecamp staff. We tried (with varying degrees of success) to pronounce Inuit words. We heard stories of fishing and hunting and living off the land. We listened to incredible songs written in Inuktitut. We ate seal. (OK, Michele ate seal.)
And it was even more amazing than the Torngats themselves. If there’s one thing they don’t tell you on the brochure, it’s the tangible sense of community among staff, students, and guests, rooted in Inuit culture. It may not be as grand as the fjords but it’s equally important and leaves a lasting impression.
Though every day was incredible, our last night was particularly memorable.
After a full day of relentless rain and heavy fog, we spent the evening gathered in a large tent watching, learning, and attempting Inuit games such as the Monkey Dance, Owl Hop, Airplane, Musk Ox, and Seal Kick. There was so much talent in one room, and so much joy.
At the end of the evening, the doors of the hot tent flung open into night. The rain had finally stopped, and the sky cleared. As if on cue, the Northern Lights finally made an appearance. We stayed up until 2am in the crisp air, and nobody seemed to mind the cold hands, faces, and toes. The sky was dancing and so were we (on the inside at least).
Perhaps it was the rawness of the landscape, or the fact that we had no buzzing phones to hide behind, but there’s something pretty magical about a place that makes you smile wider and feel more deeply.
On our very last morning, the sun was warm and strong as we toured the mountains by helicopter. As stunning as they are from the ground, they are truly incredible from the sky.
After our epic tour, we knew we had to jump in the ocean at least once (and for a very short amount of time on account of hypothermia). So off we went, bikini clad in the Torngats, with our friend Janice as our fearless guide. We then spent a few quiet hours taking photos, writing, and processing the experience, as much as we could.
Just before we were heading out, a new group of people arrived at Basecamp. It was almost startling to see their fresh faces. They looked just like us four days ago, and we were the disheveled group of people on the airstrip, shipping out as they shipped in.
We only wished we could go back and ship in once again.
Thanks to the entire Basecamp staff who made our trip so incredible, and in particular, Janice, Jean, Gary, Joe (Hi Joe!), Brian, Chesley, Matt the Medic / Sherpa, and the amazing kitchen staff for feeding us so well (maybe too well?).
Thanks to Peter, Rena, and Adam for letting us crash your ride, Marnie at Hotel North 2 for being a miracle worker when we needed it (and for putting my char in the freezer), our Universal Helicopters pilot Steve, and our Air Labrador pilots Bob and Dave for picking us and taking us home. Heartfelt thanks to everyone at Air Labrador, Nunatsiavut Group of Companies, and Parks Canada for an incredible Torngats experience. And thanks to Shelagh for being the best Musk Ox opponent a girl could ask for.