Day 12 |
Aug 10, 2008

Torngat, Mountains National Park of Canada

By Nancy Jean Mann, Ecologist

Co-ordinates: 58°40’20”N, 63°06’02”W


“At the northern extremity of the Labrador coast, a range of high barren mountains with sharp precipices extending inland from the sea, was known to traditional Inuit as the abode of the master spirit of their mythology. Their name for the region, Torngait meaning a place of spirits, derived from the presence of Torngarsoak who was believed to control the life of sea animals and took the form of a huge polar bear.” So wrote Hawkes in 1916 about the land that is now Canada’s 42nd and newest national park, a wilderness park of 9700 km2. “The Inuit gift to the people of Canada,” “…where the rocks revel in their freedom.” Torngat Mountains National Park.

The park begins in Saglek Fjord where the Prince Albert II arrived at 0800. Another glorious day of sunshine (air temperature 16oC), calm seas, and a wet landing. (If only I could get my arms correctly through the life vest the first time.) Speeding ashore in Zodiacs at 0900, I landed on a gravelly beach in front of the base camp for 72 researchers doing baseline inventories and data collection in this little-studied area. A helicopter came and went throughout my time ashore, ferrying supplies and scientists to remote areas in the back country. Every once in a while a caribou would come running down a slope, onto the beach and towards our landing site, and then abruptly veer off back upslope at the sight of so many red jackets milling about.

I chose to go with our Guide from Canada Parks (Gary), on the intermediate hike. In this area there are no polar bears, but the local black bears, called Barren Black Bears, have developed Grizzly Bear feeding and hunting behaviors in the last 2-300 years since Grizzlies were extirpated, and can be very aggressive. Consequently Gary was “loaded for bear” with non-lethal noise makers and very lethal rifle. After an overview of hiking etiquette (such as staying together as a group for now obvious reasons), Gary led us first to a 2000-year-old site of Inuit ruins where gatherings and feasts would take place. A short hike, stroll really, over soft, springy tundra brought us to a spectacular waterfall falling out of craggy walls of gneiss. I took the opportunity to sit quietly on the edge of the cliff taking in the views of the fjord, the Prince Albert II at anchor, the white tents of the base camp, and thought how fortunate I am to be able to visit such a beautiful part of the planet—and to do so in extreme comfort and with such fine fellow travelers, my shipmates.

Gary gathered us up and we hiked back to camp, with another caribou occasionally running hither and yon (what is it thinking of us?). Replenished and refreshed after a snack of homemade rhubarb preserves spread on two variations of freshly made bannok (fry bread) with tea, I reluctantly prepared for the Zodiac ride back to the ship. As I waited until the bitter end for the last Zodiac, I spotted a Golden Eagle flying over the beach. Its identity was confirmed by our ornithologist Brent and by the sparkling golden feathers shining in the sun on the back of its neck. An incredible day – and it was only noon!

Today, there is time for a leisurely lunch buffet in The Restaurant and then I attended a fascinating lecture: “Deeper and Longer:  Diving in Marine Mammals” presented by our Doctor-of-all-Trades — Tony Huntley. Dr. Huntley has studied Northern Elephant Seals extensively, and with wit and flare gave us insights into how these animals are able to dive continuously while at sea for up to 8 months out of the year and up to 1600 meters.

Choices, choices. Lounging on the Sun Deck, keeping an eye out for wildlife in the Observation Lounge, wine tasting with the ship’s excellent sommelier in the Panorama Lounge, or maybe a nap. The days are full on the Prince Albert II

At 1800 I attended the briefing on the next day’s activities at Hopedale including a “precap” about the Moravians who founded Hopedale by our knowledgeable and vibrant Archaeologist, Dr. Susan Langley. The variety of sights we have seen on this trip was reflected in the variety of topics covered in this recap. “Sea Fog and Sea Bows” presented by environmental scientist, explorer (having recently returned from a trek to the North Pole), and outstanding Zodiac driver — Dr. Claudia Holgate. “Geology of the Pacific Craton”, home to some of the oldest rocks on the planet, by our geologist extraordinaire — Mr. Juan Carlos Restrepos. An explanation of the buildings seen at the entrance to Saglek Fjord, a military radar installation, still used, that was originally part of the DEW system during the Cold War by intrepid Zodiac driver and naturalist — Chris Srigley. The capper, as they say, was a marvelous, actually wondrous, slide show with music accompanying pictures of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights that have danced in the sky above the ship the last three nights by our photographer — Camille Seaman. 

After another fine dinner complete with great conversation, this time with Mr. Guido Roberto Vitale, his wife Mrs. Luciana Dusenszky, and Camille, I drop off to sleep not really tired but relaxed and grateful for another splendid day of expedition cruising aboard the Prince Albert II.