Following Inuit ancestors’ footsteps
Taitsumani, once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, still very vibrant in their elders’ recollections, Inuit travelled along the natural corridor that the winding flow of the Koroc River extends in the foothills of the Torngat mountains, used by their ancestors for millenniums. Taking its source in this striking mountain range — the highest in North America east of the Rockies, which serves as a physical border between Nunavik and Labrador, this majestic waterway ending its boisterous journey in the Ungava Bay, some 160 km downstream, turns into a true freeway once it turns to ice come winter. This ancient route, now under the protective wing of the Kuururjuaq national park, created in 2009 to ward off industrial
development, namely mining, and thereby preserving Inuit way of life, was named in honour of this glorious river flowing down this lengthy valley, which makes the perfect gateway to access a vast playground; one that will surely delight backcountry skiing and alpine snowshoeing enthusiasts in search of an authentic adventure.
An immersion into Inuit way of life
The Kuururjuaq park opens its doors from the Inuit community of Kangiqsualujjuaq, located at the mouth of the George River on Ungava Bay. Before venturing into the park, visitors have to check in with the park wardens, after which they are invited to join local residents for a traditional feast of country foods, where they can enjoy a taste of Arctic char or ptarmigan, amongst other things.
After a good night’s sleep at the hamlet’s co-op hotel, the immersion into Inuit way of life continues. Following a one-hour introductory town tour, to get acquainted with the
realities of living in a northern village, it’s time to truly engage and get some fresh air.
A short drive away by snowmobile, the Ungava Bay coast is home to an array of small cabins where local Inuit like to get out of town and enjoy a day out ice fishing for Arctic char. With the proper permits, one can even join in the fun on some of the surrounding lakes. Or you can simply enjoy the view as the sun sets behind the surrounding mountains, before heading back for the night and getting ready for the real adventure that begins the next day.
Sightseeing around Qurlutuarjuq Falls
Early in the morning, it’s time to pack up a week’s worth of supplies and gear onto the qamutiit, big sleds pulled by snow machines that are now essential to Inuit’s winter travel across their frozen land, and head out on the Koroc River to the park’s base camp at Qurlutuarjuq.
Led by Inuit guides from Kangiqsualujjuaq, the nearly 100 km journey will take about four to five hours, including frequent stops along the way for the traditional tea break, always accompanied by a slice of freshly made bannock. Dashing through the snow of this relatively flat terrain, you can count on your guides to point out wildlife such as caribou and foxes, as they skim through the landscape along the way.
Though some may decide to ski the last 15 or 20 km to the camp to warm up on a chilly winter day, most prefer to save the exercise for later and simply bundle up and take it all in. Once at destination, there will be plenty of time to go wander around for the next two days.
While some will choose to slip on snowshoes and go for a stroll in the tree cover’s fresh snow to admire the masterpieces left by the neighbouring 10-metre high waterfall or climb up the nearest slope for a viewpoint overlooking the valley, others will prefer to explore the hillside cross-country skiing, following the flow of the Koroc River within the valley itself, where the ice is at least 30-centimetres thick and therefore completely safe to navigate on. The guides will even propose excursions a little further out to take full advantage of this backcountry adventure, whether to Mount Haywood, Naksaruluk Creek or the deep-rooted Naskapi Caribou Haven nearby.
With days well spent, the comfort of the heated Qurlutuarjuq base camp, complete with electricity and hot showers, and furnished with bunk beds, a fully equipped kitchen and a cozy living room, will certainly be a welcoming place to unwind.
The Torngats lurk in the distance
After one last hearty continental breakfast at the Qurlutuarjuq base camp, it’s time to hit the road again and push a little further, this time for a short one-hour ride by snowmobile to catch up to the Palmer River gorge, intersecting with the now familiar Koroc River valley. There, your Inuit guides will set up a traditional camp, made up of tupiks, round canvas tents, which you can help them erect at this spectacular location that they like to call Napaartuit Isua, as the black spruce and larch that adorned the hillside up until now are suddenly scarce past the tree line.
With steeper slopes in the vicinity, it might also be the occasion to have a little fun and enjoy the thrill of a descent while skiing downhill, without any trees in the way. Further up the Koroc River, the peaks get even higher as we approach Quvviliuliniujaaluk, a place where the mountains are split in two like a valley, through which tears of water run down, forming a natural gateway to the mythical and enthralling Torngat Mountains. But beware of the malicious spirits, Tuurngait, known to Inuit for hampering their path with obstacles. Nanuq, the feared polar bear, might also be lurking in the distance. But rest assured, your guides are constantly on the lookout, scanning the area with their keen eyes, ready to draw their gun to scare him away. And come nightfall, their talented storytelling is sure to ignite your dreams.
A camper’s haven at Qamanialuk
Whether you managed to get some shut-eye or not, morning will come with its promise of a new day, as it’s already time to start heading back, with one last stop at Qamanialuk, a tranquil lake-like body of water in the middle of the Koroc River, where we will spend the night in a pre-set tent site, under a cozy tree cover. Other Inuit, who like to camp in the area, may already be on location as well.
Gathered around the wood stove, as your guides prepare a meal of ptarmigan hunted along the way, it may be another occasion to reminisce about the journey there or hear more stories, always seasoned with the legends of this fascinating part of the world.
And if you dare to step outside, you may be surprised at the myriad of stars shining high and bright in the sky above, where Northern Lights have come to celebrate with you the end of a wonderful voyage through time.
For more information on the Parc national Kuururjuaq, contact the park’s Visitor Experience Officer in Kangiqsualujjuaq at 819-337-5454 or check out www.nunavikparks.ca for details on the all-inclusive packages offered this coming winter, which can be booked by calling 1-844-NUNAVIK (686-2845) toll free.