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Destination Torngat Launches with Dispatches from the Labrador Wilderness—Part One
Posted on July 22, 2014

The Coast of Labrador

Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic are currently on a two-month mission. The purpose is to travel deep into the Torngat Mountains of Canada’s Labrador region to descend the mighty Nachvak River—after ascending the mainline artery of the George—through a rarely visited 10,000-square-kilometer national park to the iceberg-choked waters of the Labrador Sea amidst a landscape of remnant glaciers, polar bears, caribou herds, native Inuit hunting grounds, and the highest peaks in Eastern Canada.

Remote expeditions into stunning landscapes are nothing special for our expedition kayak team, but what makes the Destination Torngat trip a whole different beast is that we’ll be following the team en route through the DeLorme inReach device and satellite phone uplink that allows them to upload photos, respond to tweets, and provide daily recaps from deep in the wilderness. We’ll be tracking their progress on the Live Your Adventure blog, as well as through the Eddie Bauer Facebook and Instagram channels, but you can get more of a real-time recap on their special expedition-tracking DeLorme page. For those who want the full recap of what will go down during the next two months, Ben’s pre-trip game plan is below. —LYA Editor

Second Leg

Words and Images by Ben Stookesberry

An iconic cross-country road trip takes our team of expedition kayakers to a lonely train station at the base of the mighty wilderness of Eastern Canada’s Labrador Plateau.  Three hundred miles north, the journey by train ends and the real adventure begins as the team embarks on the legendary canoe route 400 miles up the George River, giving our group of expedition kayakers the access to untested whitewater on the George and its tributaries and eventually depositing the team at a remote Inuit village and the gateway to Torngat Mountains National Park, and the ultimate goal of the expedition: to descend the mighty Nachvak River from the base of the highest mountains on the east coast of North America into one of the deepest fjords in the world.

To complete this seven-week mission, I have brought together a formidable team of expedition kayakers, including Chris Korbulic and Pedro Oliva, who along with me have logged a major first descent on one of the longest rivers in Greenland and also tallied landmark explorations of rivers flowing off the top of the ice caps on the Svalbard archipelago.  But no one on the team is more familiar with Arctic kayak exploration than Erik Boomer.  Erik was a part of the first team to circumnavigate massive Ellesmere Island, and more recently established a new longitudinal canoe route across legendary Baffin Island.  Rounding out the team is our local contact and Inuit kayaker Noah Kujjuac, who will provide local insight and guidance through a region that includes the Torngat, which has become infamous for polar bear attacks.

Projected Timeline

July 10 – Leave Colorado by Car

July 14 – Pick up Pedro Oliva and Erik Boomer in Chicago

July 17 – Board Train in Sept-Îles

July 18 – Embark on George River Canoe Route

July 24 – Cross Indian House Lake

July 30 – Hike in to George River Tributary Above Helen Falls

August 7 – Meet Chris Korbulic in Kangiqsualujjuaq

August 9  (Weather Permitting) – Take Float Plane to Nachvak Lake

August 11 – Arrive at Put-In for Nachvak River

August 15 – Arrive at Nachvak Lake

August 16 – 18 – Hike to Koroc River

August 19 – 26 – Return to Kangiq on Koroc River

August 28 – Fly out of Kangiq

First look Erik Boomer gallery from the train trip to the wilderness.

The full breakdown:

Fifteen hundred miles due north of New York City, the Atlantic coast of North America is a subarctic wilderness populated only in a few remote Inuit villages, and dominated by caribou, wolves, bears, and countless lakes and rivers. This is the Torngat, and it is probably one of the least famous but most striking wild places on the planet.  A chunk of this wilderness the size of Yellowstone was designated a national park in 2005.  But unlike Yellowstone, the closest road is some 700 miles away from the park boundaries, so just getting to this area is an epic mission, and that is where our story will begin.

For some, a transcontinental road trip is a major undertaking, but for Erik Boomer, Chris Korbulic, Pedro Oliva, native paddler Noah Kujjuac, and me, that is just the first three days of a month-and-a-half-long journey.  Across the Colorado Rockies, through America’s heartland, and ascending into Canada on the far side of the Great Lakes, we will head past Montreal and down the Saint Lawrence Seaway to Sept-Îles, Quebec, where the next phase of the journey begins.  Leaving the car behind in Sept-Îles, the Tshiuetin Railway serves the Inuit communities of Northern Labrador and Quebec, and is the only overland access to Schefferville 350 miles due north.  Then from Schefferville, the real adventure begins in earnest.

The George River is a legendary canoe route that will take us another 400 miles north of Schefferville into the vast roadless wilderness of the Labrador Peninsula. Starting as a series of closely spaced lakes, we will paddle and portage into the de Pas River, which eventually blossoms into the massive riparian superhighway of the George, which is famous for its considerable waters filled with landlocked Arctic char and Atlantic salmon. The massive valley of the George is also home to the largest caribou herd in eastern North America with nearly 200,000 animals.  But for us, the George is more than just an extended canoe trip.  The river is our gateway to some of the most remote whitewater rivers ever attempted.

The northern Labrador Peninsula bulges to over a mile above sea level by the oldest land formation on earth, called the Laurentian Plateau.  Just as the George makes its final push north towards Ungava Bay, several tributaries plunge in off the plateau, forming formidable stretches of rapids and falls that drop over a thousand feet into the river.  Because of the unique geology and geography of the region, these tributaries enter the George proper in canyons that eventually closely parallel the George’s course, and so they can be accessed by a relatively short hike out of the George valley and into the side canyons.  Eventually we will make our way to the terminus of the George and wait for a 50-foot outgoing tide at the river mouth to take us to the small Inuit village of Kangiqsualujjuaq.

From Kangiqsualujjuaq, Torngat Mountains National Park is only 40 miles away, but it might as well be on the other side of the earth.  The gently forested slopes and meandering streams of the Quebec side of the Laurentian Plateau peninsula stand in stark contrast to the Labrador side, which is exposed to the open onslaught of the North Atlantic Ocean.  Like a protective wall to the maelstrom of the Atlantic, the Torngat Mountains are the highest mountains on the east coast of North America, featuring some of the highest sea cliffs on earth. To the native people of this region, the Torngat is literally “a place of spirits.” It seems on the ground that those spirits manifest themselves in the caribou, mighty gray wolves, seals, whales, and even polar bears that today are the only inhabitants of this region.

Running from the tops of those high mountains down into the mile-deep fjords are some awe-inspiring rivers that roar through the treeless tundra. From Kangiq, our team will access the incredible-looking Nachvak River by float plane. Of course, our Inuit counterpart and guide Noah will be an essential part of the entire mission, but nowhere will his importance be showcased as much as it is here.  The polar bear population in the Nachvak Fjord is only rivaled by the majestic Arctic Islands further north, and can only be considered by us to be a major hazard.  Noah will offer a watchful eye and a necessary security measure between us in order to mitigate the risk of a deadly encounter.  Of course, this will also be an opportunity for Noah to share his vast knowledge of the land and his people, and to see a portion of this region for the very first time.

As opposed to exposing ourselves to a potentially extended wait for a float plane pick-up in the polar bear-rich environs of Nachvak Lake, we will end the mission by hiking back inland some 12 miles though a pass to the Koroc  River, which will take us back west towards the village of Kangiqsualujjuaq and our ticket back home.  This could be the most exciting part of the mission, but is also the most unknown due to the extreme remoteness of the area and the fact that there are no reports of anyone testing this new canoe route across this far-flung portion of the Labrador Peninsula.

Ben’s Recap Gallery from the XC drive from Colorado to Quebec:

Track the Destination Torngat expedition on the Destination Torngat DeLorme page and on the Live Your Adventure blog for the next month.

Author: - Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
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