Baffin Island Canada is a far-flung and spectacular yet often dangerous place to dog sled, backpack and trek. It lies in a state of true wilderness in the Arctic islands of the far north. Mount Thor is one of the highlights of Baffin, it boasts the world’s largest vertical face and is the figurehead of Auyuittuq National Park.
My dog Buk and I compleated an 18-day adventure along the Baffin coast and through this far-flung park’s legendary Akshayuk Pass in the winter, (or, technically early spring) of 2018. This is my Ontario Winter Camping Symposium presentation on this adventure. Stay tuned for a full YouTube series on this trip!
With a small canvas tent for shelter, along with food and other necessary survival gear, my dog Buck and I headed out from a small Inuit hamlet to follow the coast towards Akshayuk Pass. I soon saw a number of massive icebergs locked in the sea ice. They’d broken off the Greenland Ice Sheet and slowly drifted south with the wind and ocean currents.
Female Polar Bears are coming out of hibernation at this time of year and they are with cubs, hungry and protective. I was not able to carry a gun because about half of my route went through the National Park, and because I had to purchase a “shoot permit” to film some videos out there, I wasn’t allowed to carry a gun without hiring an Inuit Polar Bear guard. Needless to say, this was concerning (particularly to my seven-months pregnant wife) and a couple local people were flabbergasted to think I was doing this route without a gun.
Akshayuk pass is a traditional Inuit travel route used to cross Baffin Island’s Cumberland Peninsula. It’s travelled by adventurers more regularly in summer as a backpacking route. Some travellers go in and back via the south end, starting and ending their trip out of the community of Pangnirtung, and some traverse the entire pass. Boat shuttle (in summer) or ski-doo assistance is needed from either end, it’s a must in the summer and necessary in winter…(unless you do what I did, and walked all the way from community to community. I began in Qikatarjuaq and ended in Pangnirtung. This adds an additional 110kms to the journey.
At any time of year, the pass can act as a wind tunnel and very strong winds are common. I dealt with winds of about 100kmph on one scary occasion and very strong winds a number of other times too. On the one occasion where they were really bad, I had to find shelter in the lee of a large sand dune and then carve a snow block wall out of a drift in order to block the winds sufficiently enough get my tent up. Though the trip started out in near perfect conditions, I dealt with unstable weather conditions for nearly the entire time that I was in the pass.
Auyuittuq is an Inuktitut word meaning “The land that never melts” and it gets its name from the ever-present Penny Ice Cap which lies high in the mountains off the north side of the pass and the Penny’s ancient, iridescent-blue ice is visible in a few places from the pass. The Penny Ice Cap is the most southerly remnant of the Laurentide ice sheet that covered all of North America east of the Rockies during the last glacial period. This means that a trek through Akshayak Pass is like travelling back to the last Ice Age.
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