TORNGAT MOUNTAINS, N.L. — The Torngat Mountains near the top end of Labrador is a place to go for those who have been all over the world, says Stan Cook Jr.,
who managed the base camp there this summer.
“Oh my gosh, it is a truly spectacular spot — I came there this summer at the beginning of July,” he told CLN. “When I got there, I was truly blown away by the ruggedness, and the amazing wonder of the natural scenery. Almost every day was more spectacular than the last. It was overwhelming with wildlife including polar bears, geology that knocks it out of the park, and northern lights. It's difficult to describe; words just don't do it justice.”
Such superlatives are common among visitors to this remote location, 100 miles north of Nain, Labrador, which is already quite far north. “I've been to Whitehorse and it is Manhattan compared to this location,” said Cook. “What guests like is that in the night time, there is dead silence — it's an interesting place to get plugged into nature.”
Torngat Mountains Base Camp is not easy to get to; nor is it cheap. Guests fly to Goose Bay, Labrador, and then they can either take a Twin Otter aircraft and fly two hours to Nain, and then to CFS Saglek, a WWII airport with a 5,000-foot paved airstrip. The alternative is to take a Dash 8 that flies directly from Goose Bay to Saglek. From there, it's a 15-minute helicopter ride. “It's very, very remote,” Cook said.
The cost is about $12,000 for a week, and tours are either four or seven days with Wednesdays and Saturdays the turnover days. “It's a price insensitive place,” said Cook. “If you want to go there, you do it.”
Apart from intrepid, worldly travellers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Europe and other countries, both groups and independent travellers, the other base camp caters to research scientists and Inuit youth groups.
This summer has been an interesting one for Cook. For the first time in many years, he had the summer off as his award-winning family business, Stan Cook Sea Kayak Adventures, shut its doors after 50 years of operation. Cook is currently a member of the board of Destination Canada, and has been active in other organizations including being chair of TIAC, and working with Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, and Marine Atlantic Inc.
Air Borealis is the operator off the base camp. The accommodation is in tents and plastic domes, with showers and toilets, surrounded by a bear fence, as there are polar bears in the area. Total occupancy, if every tent is full, is 120 people, but they rarely get more than 75 people. “That's because they designed the structures to sleep two to four, but with bunk beds, they could sleep more,” said Cook. Heating in the structures is electric.
The food is largely from the area: Arctic char, salmon and caribou, along with more mainstream dishes like beef and chicken.
“We ate a fair bit of seal because the Inuit also eat seal,” said Cook. “It's not like the flipper pie [Newfoundlanders] eat in the spring. It's all different parts of the seal — chili lime seal, boiled and barbecued. I had lots of chats with the chef about berries, Inuit foods and all the plants in the area.”
Even though it's a remote location, getting staff is not a problem. “Most of the staff are already there — most come back every summer,” Cook said.
Asked what's next, Cook says he has some leads, and will be sticking to the hospitality industry. His parents, who are now in their 70s, have been travelling — and were in Southern France when CLN interviewed Stan Jr.