The tallest peaks in mainland Canada east of the Rockies, the Torngat Mountains rise at the northern tip of Labrador. From elevations of more than 1,600 metres, they plunge into the frigid waters of the Labrador Sea. Ghostly winds, flash snowstorms and plenty of polar bears characterize this perilous coastline.
It's not the kind of place that attracts great numbers of visitors, so when my wife Alexandra and I kayaked this rocky coast last summer, we became the first official visitors to Canada's newest national park.
Departing from the tip of Labrador
Our original plan was to hire a fishing boat to Nachvak Fiord and kayak back to Nain - a classic route for adventurous paddlers, done once every three years or so. But then the manager of Cruise North, a new Inuit-owned tour company, invited us along on its inaugural Labrador run from St. John's. This gave us the chance to do a more ambitious journey - departing from the northern tip of Labrador and paddling the entire length of the park. And, thanks to the ship's early departure, we became the new park's first visitors. Fellow passengers were disappointed when bad weather scuttled a planned shore landing in the park, but everyone got up at 4 a.m. the following day to see us off at tiny Kohlmeister Island.
An official souvenir
When we arrived back in Nain, our park friends tried to give us permit 2006001 as a souvenir, but the first three numbers had been used when park staff was experimenting with the registration system. In the end, we received number 2006004, with a special note acknowledging that we were the first official visitors to Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve. More extreme travellers have probed this coast in even frailer craft for centuries, but it still felt like an honour.
Apart from scientists, wardens, an Inuit youth camp and a later cruise ship, the park had only eight visitors in its first season, including us and frequent Torngats hiker Alfred Duller and his hiking partner. Unknown to either party, Alexandra and I were camped just three kilometers from Duller at Ramah Bay. A black bear ripped into Duller's tent around the same time that a black bear, perhaps the same one, broke into our kayak while we were away hiking to Mount Caubvick.