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A Backpacking Trip in Auyuittuq NP on Baffin Island – Part I

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A blast of cold air hits me as I saunter off the plane in Pangnirtung – a remote, mostly Inuit community on Baffin Island in Nunavut. Instantly I am wondering just what the hell I’ve got myself into. It’s June 30th and I know it’s the Arctic but somehow I didn’t expect cold like this.

I have already endured a flight to Ottawa, another to Iqaluit and then finally one to Pangnirtung – the starting point for my backpacking trip into Auyuittuq National Park. This part of the world is not an easy – or an inexpensive place to visit. But I’m here because I have willingly signed on to do hump what feels like a 60 pound load to Akshayuk Pass in Auyuittuq National Park over the course of 11 days. It’s a place you’ve likely never heard of.

There’s a reason for that.

It’s a frozen expanse of snow, ice and rock – tucked away from most of humanity. Auyuittuq National Park boasts a polar ice cap the size of Prince Edward Island, glaciers galore, icy rivers, fjords, lichen covered rocks and Mack truck sized boulders casually strewn about by retreating glaciers.

"A gorgeous view from our campsite in Pangnirtung"

A gorgeous view from our campsite in Pangnirtung

I’ve flown in with my husband and five others – two woman physiotherapist friends from Australia – Georgie, always the life of the party and Michele – a woman with an awesome set of adventures behind her already, Matthew – a strategist/anthropologist if I’ve got that right from Burlington, Ontario and a father and son team – Tom, a recent retiree from Maine and his son Noah, a financial type from Boston.

We are joined by two young Black Feather guides – Natalie who’s done this trip four times already and Daire from Ireland, a recent adventure guide graduate from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

Since our plane is about seven hours late getting into Pangnirtung, we camp above the town behind windproof screens. It takes a while to get our tents set up – not that we all don’t have a lot of experience doing this sort of thing – but these are four season tents with six poles (so we don’t blow away in a wind storm) so it takes a while to figure out where all the bits go. Then it’s time for some wine – the last I’ll see for almost two weeks – cheese and conversation.

"Our group on the first night - at about 11 pm"

Our group on the first night – at about 11 pm

I don’t last long before I seek the warmth of my sleeping bag – plus I’m feeling sleep deprived and we have to be up and at it early the next day.

"Looking down to the town of Pangnirtung"

Looking down to the town of Pangnirtung

The start of our backpacking trip inAuyuittuq National Park

The next morning we pack up our gear – and try to separate out any items we won’t need for the next 12 days. I say goodbye to my computer and phone – quite happily – as there will be no chance of any WiFi while we’re in the park. We’re told to leave room for an additional 20 pounds or so of food – but quite frankly once my pack is on – without any food in it, I have serious concerns about my ability to carry any more weight.

Every visitor to Auyuittuq National Park must go through an orientation session so that was our first stop of the morning. We learned what the biggest killer in the park happens to be – and it’s not hypothermia but drowning when fording the glacier fed streams. And although our chances of seeing polar bears are slim we did watch a video about what one should do if you should see one. As a group I figured we’d be OK but alone I’d pray for a quick end. I might try stabbing it with my Swiss Army knife but really I’d expect to be dinner.

'pounds of camp food"

Georgie I’m sure is thinking the same thoughts I am – how am I going to carry this?

Next we were all given food – labeled by meal and day – and a one liter bottle of fuel. Somehow – and I don’t know how we managed to get everything into our packs. (Here’s the packing list if you’re interested – and I used everything except the one extra pair of heavy duty long underwear.)

"fully loaded backpackers in the Arctic"

Leaving the parks office – fully loaded – for the boat

We’re finally off to the dock to catch a one hour boat ride – to our start point at Mount Overlord. Departures – and pickups are always timed with the tides.

"It's hard work just loading the packs"

It’s hard work just loading the packs

The boat ride was fantastic with one superlative mountain view after another.

"Mount Overlord views"

So lucky to have sunny skies on our way in

By noon we’re on land and ready to go – but first lunch – to fuel ourselves for what lies ahead.

"the drop off point in Auyuittuq National Park"

Dropped off

"John by the cairn marking the start of the trail"

John by the cairn marking the start of the trail

Stay tuned for the next post on Week One of backpacking – which includes stream crossings and a walk across the Arctic Circle.

Would you ever consider a backpacking trip on Baffin Island?

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Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 21 Comments

  • Jackie Smith says:

    As I sit in the warmth and comfort of my home reading of your adventure, I keep mumbling, OMG, OMG. . . .you’ve certainly got this reader hanging on the edge of her seat waiting for the next chapter! Your photos – as always – are stunning!

    • @Jackie Thanks for your lovely comment. It was a hard trip and a cold one- but the cold kept the bugs at bay – so we only had mosquitoes in small doses on a couple of occasions. Stay tuned for more.

  • Jenna says:

    The colors are just stunning. What a fun trip to be with a group of like-minded people in such a stunning setting. Looking forward to the next part!

  • Looks like a beautiful start for an amazing adventure. Since you are writing it now, I can safely assume you did not need your Swiss army knife to fend off a polar bear.

    • @Ted You would be correct in that assumption. I was actually really hoping to see one and if we’d started at the far end of Akshayuk Pass – there would have been a much better chance to see one. On the route we did one was sighted in 2011.

  • Pang is BEAUTIFUL! I had no idea – I’ve only seen drawings and photos taken of people, not of the landscape. Wow.

    I would NEVER do the hike you are doing (I’m way to wimpy), but we’ve long talked of going here for the art – but I never realized it would also be so astoundingly beautiful.

    Can’t wait to hear about your trip (and see pictures!). Stay clear of the polar bears and be careful in those streams!

    • @Cindy The setting for Pang is breathtaking. We are out – and did survive the stream crossings and there was not a polar bear to be seen. We also came home with two prints – and met the artist so we just have to get them framed now.

  • Marcia says:

    Wow, this is one adventure, Leigh! I’m glad you have so many people on this leg of your trip. I’m sure it’ll make the experience richer. I’m excited to hear more!

    Yes, I’d go and after seeing your photos and reading your posts, I’m very curious to experience it myself. I’d have to wait until next year when my ankle’s in better shape. I think everyone should do something like this at least once in their lives.

    I was thinking when I saw the headline that I’ve been hearing about Baffin Island since I was a kid but this is the first time I think I’ve heard of anyone going there. Kudos, Leigh!

  • budget jan says:

    A truly beautiful place. The blues are so intense – I can feel the cold. I would love to see it, but not hike it. I shall do that vicariously :)

  • Steve says:

    We are trekking the pass over the second part of August. Eagerly awaiting your future instalments!

    • @Steve I will probably have another post up next week. Pray for more good weather than bad, rivers that aren’t too deep and an absence of bugs.

      • Steve says:

        From what I hear the bugs are gone and the water levels lower by late August. Fingers crossed for favorable weather.

        I enjoyed your packing list, btw.

      • @Steve Good luck with your trip. Fortunately our bugs were few-one of the benefits of cold temperatures. And you’re right about the water levels. Good luck with the trip.

  • Suzy says:

    Wow, that scenery is breathtaking! Definitely worth the risk of death by polar bear, I would say.

  • JodyR says:

    Wow. Looks incredible. Wondering if you ever felt isolated? Also, what was the food they supplied you with like?

    • @Jody I felt isolated but not in a bad way. The food started off alright but after week one we started running out of things like peanut butter and hot chocolate and I wasn’t too happy about that. Too much cheese is what I’d say.

  • Jenny says:

    Hi,

    Just wondering, how many km was the trip?

    Thanks

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