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Destination Torngat Ticks a No-Portage Descent of the Nachvak—Part Seven
Posted on September 18, 2014


Arctic char feeds, frigid river swims, polar bear alertness, and a no-portage descent of the 18 falls of the Nachvak River through the Torngat Mountains—or so summarizes the sixth and seventh field reports from Destination Torngat team captain Ben Stookesberry. It’s been a hell of a trip… on the mighty George, on the raging Ford, and on a river that Stookesberry called “the most awe-inspiring and distinctive whitewater any of us have ever seen.” The sum total of all this epicness on an expedition along historical canoe routes deep in Labrador’s Torngat Wilderness is an expedition kayak trip fast-acquiring legendary status as one of the all-time best we’ve covered on the Live Your Adventure blog. It’s a tale nearing its conclusion—which you can track back via their DeLorme inReach timeline—but for those who prefer to keep track via written word and stunning visual imagery, this is the penultimate chapter of Stookesberry’s tale of Torngat. —LYA Editor


Words by Ben Stookesberry, Images by Ben Stookesberry, Ben Marr and Pedro Oliva

Nachvak Part One

Since starting our pioneer canoe route into the Nachvak River from Kangiqsualujjuaq nine days ago, we’ve accomplished what none of us dreamed was possible: a no-portage descent of the 18 falls of the Nachvak through the Torngat Mountains.  Certainly the presence of legendary kayaker Benny Marr went a long way towards this complete descent, but every member of the kayak team, including Pedro Oliva, Chris Korbulic, and myself, had our turn at first go at some of the most awe-inspiring and distinctive whitewater any of us have ever seen.  The experience was something like a classic big falls river out of Norway or California dropped on the moon. A big difference is that this lunar landscape is covered in blueberries, a plant like a cranberry, and mushrooms.

I would be remiss if I did not mention our Inuit counterparts, Jake Sandy and David from Kangiq.  In spite of leaving behind a precious food cache for this 5-day descent, they have been worth more than gold on this trip in keeping our minds at ease in terms of the very real threat of a dangerous polar bear encounter.  More than that, they have kept our team in good spirits with fantastic stories of a life of adventure in this one-of-a-kind subarctic wilderness, and just tonight treated us to an elaborate, fresh Arctic char feed that will propel us into the daunting next step of the mission: the return trip to the George River.

Up next, we will say goodbye to Jake and David and head out on a full on 20-mile portage back to the Koroc River for our return trip to that tiny Inuit outpost. It’s a 2,500-foot pass straight out of a storybook that leads to a river flowing the wrong direction, “so to speak.” This is unlike any kayaking mission I have ever been a part of, and I am thankful for every minute here.  But a mission like this through a wilderness of this magnitude is no fairy tale, and we’ll have to stay on our toes for the rest of the trip, especially without our bear guides.  And of course as thrilling and spectacular as these falls are to descend, just today I had an extremely close call during a two-minute swim, where I spent the majority of that time struggling for air.  But that is life on the Nachvak and those are the risks we signed up for in the Torngat.


Nachvak Part Two

Even after we added the canoe route/portage approach in lieu of a float plane to the Nachvak River, the ”grand trek” out for the return trip to the George River was going to be the crux of our mission.  Add to that the fact that our Inuit resupply team forgot a full cache of food for the Nachvak portion of the trip, and this 20-mile trek into terrain with no trail was daunting, to say the least.

Just before midday on the 19th of August, we set out on the steepest climb of the mission. We followed our DeLorme Explorer GPS 1,500 feet up and out of the Nachvak canyon through terrain initially thick with bushes and then stacked with tributary gorges, slowing our progress to just 4 miles on the first day.  With extremely minimal food, we pushed through an epic gateway to the Palmer River, through a 4,000-foot-deep chasm we called the “keyhole,” and set up our Eddie Bauer Stargazers towards the end of the chasm at the base of a spectacular waterfall.  Yesterday, we had nearly 10 miles to cover to reach the intersection of the incredible Palmer River valley and the westward-flowing Koroc River, which would be our kayak route home.  More importantly, a vital food cache awaited to sustain us for the final week of the mission.

But we’re not done yet.  Ahead is an 80-mile paddle-out on the legendary Koroc River, which leads to what Benny Marr estimates will be one of the biggest tidal rapids in the world in the Short Lakes Fjord.

For now Benny, Chris Korbulic, Pedro Oliva, and I are lounging in the relative safety of a solar-powered, electrified bear fence in the heart of the Torngat, on the downhill slope of finishing this unprecedented Class V canoe route: Destination Torngat.


Author: - Thursday, September 18th, 2014

  1. Kim

    Absolutely amazing!

  2. Daz

    amazing photography – looked epic!

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