If you’re looking for the adventure of a lifetime, the Baffin Island wilderness should be high on your list of places to explore. Conditions there can be harsh and strong wilderness travel and wilderness survival skills are mandatory in any season. It is a deep wilderness as it lies high in Canada’s Arctic.
In 2018, my dog Buck and I undertook the challenge of crossing Baffin Island’s Cumberland Peninsula via Akshayak Pass, a traditional Inuit travel route that is part of of the far-flung Auyuittuq National Park. Auyuittuq means “The land that never melts” in Inuktitut, the Inuit language. It’s named for the massive and ever-present Penny Ice Cap which is the most southerly remnant of the Laurentide Ice Sheet that covered all of North America East of the Rockies 18,000 years ago. Indeed, a trip to Auyuittuq is like travelling back to the last Ice Age. But Akshayuk Pass would make up less than half of my route.
Buck and I would start north of the Arctic Circle in the Inuit community of Qikitarjuaq, Nunavut, travelling over 80 kilometres along the eastern coast of Baffin Island before reaching the wind-ravaged pass. Then, we’d compleat the trip with a final 30km trek to reach the community of Pangnirtung, Nunavut.
In late March and early April, when I was there, female Polar Bears are coming out of hibernation on land and walking out to the sea ice with their cubs. They are hungry and aggressive. My route along the coast would be directly crossing their paths. This was a serious concern and my 7-months pregnant wife who I left behind was very concerned for my safety. Once in the pass, the Polar Bear danger is less significant but the wind can be just a deadly. Winds falling off the flanking mountains are funnelled into the pass creating a wind tunnel that sees wind speeds of 170kmph. This, combined with temperatures below -40 and low visibility due to blowing snow can create a very dangerous situation to travellers.
The scenery the area provides is some of the most impressive in the world. Mountains include Thor Peak which boasts the longest vertical drop in the world. Another notable mountain is the flat-topped Mt. Asgard which means “Realm of the Gods” and is part of Norse mythology. The mountain is three times the height of the Empire State Building.
Come along on this amazing journey with Buck and to witness the grandeur and rugged beauty of Baffin Island. Watch how we travel and survive the elements and the other hardships we face. In the remote arctic wilderness, the bond between man and dog can be strong.
My companion Buck is no longer with us, he died late in 2019 because of bone cancer. That’s one of the reasons why I’m dedicating this series to Buck and to man’s best friend in general.