Baffin Island Backpacking Trip (3 weeks next August) in Canada’s Arctic

Hello,

I am looking to find partners to do this very demanding 100 k or 60 mi backpacking trip next August. While this trip does not involve much cumulative elevation gain to cross the pass in the middle, it is on very rough terrain and it includes crossing glacial streams.

However, the setting is unique as it is in a wonderful arctic glacier-edged valley surrounded by big walls. In fact, it is a fjord that was recently vacated by glaciers and has been used by Inuit as a traditional route where glaciers line the edges of the valley. While nothing of this magnitude can really be compared, I believe that it is a place similar to Yosemite in California with one notable difference: you replace the crowd with numerous glaciers. In 2004 Outside Magazine voted the Auyuittuq Backpacking trip one of the top “Trips Of A Lifetime”.

Without doubt, this is an amazing place with two thirds of the trip above the Arctic Circle. Auyuittuq means “The Land That Never Melts” in Inuit and this National Park has two mountains very famous around the world that draw a few world-class climbers every year.

Mount Asgard consists of two flat-topped and cylindrical rock towers that may have seen in a James Bond movie (“A spy who loved me”) when a stuntman performed a BASE jump, skiing off the mountain with a parachute for the opening sequence of the film (see the end of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzA5R9aSFCI).

Mount Thor features the greatest vertical drop in the world (i.e., 1,250 m or 4,101 ft), with the cliff overhanging at an average angle of 15 degrees from vertical. To illustrate, climbing this cliff, visible for days during the trip, takes about 30 days on the most technical routes.

I did most of the south part in 2012 and ever since I have been wanting to go back to do the whole pass from north to south. A description of the south part can be seen at http://www.blackfeather.com/hike/hike_auyuittuqgetaway.htm.

Regarding what I am proposing, the whole trip from north to south, you can see a description at http://www.blackfeather.com/hike/hike_auyuittuqtraverse.htm. While all organized trips doing the whole trip are 2 weeks long (i.e., time away from the south), I would like to go there for three weeks to have about 18 days in the Park so there is plenty of time to explore and climb some non-technical summits such as Tete Blanche, Tyr and Battle. The scenery is great from the valley but it got just amazing once you climb up a bit to see the Penny ice cap (i.e., 6,000 km2 or 2,300 sq mi), which is thought by scientists to be the last remains of the massive Laurentide Ice sheet that covered most of Canada and a large portion of northern USA during the last ice age. In 2012, I scrambled to the end of the Niflheim glacier, which is very close to Thor, and the view just got incredible on the Ice cap such as Highway glacier.

My research is all done and I could coordinate many aspects. Next summer, the best dates to go, weather wise, would be from August the 8th until the 29th when the river levels are usually lower. At that time, the average temperature ranges between 4 and 10C or 39 and 50F. This is an arctic trip that is reasonably affordable, safe and logistically manageable as you can get there with scheduled flights and the Park maintains emergency shelters approximately every 10 kilometers where communications with the outside world is possible twice a day to call for help and to get weather forecasts. There are even a few food and gear caches if something really bad happen. If you want to do some research, you can start at
http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nu/auyuittuq/index.aspx with the Visitor Information Package.

The main risk is the crossing of the numerous glacier-fed rivers and it is possible that few crossings may have to be done very early in the day like 4 am. Regarding the polar bears, they are rarely entering the Park as they prefer to stay on the north coast of Baffin island. This latest point explains why we start from the north so that our Inuit outfitter can make sure that it is safe before unloading the boat. As well, once we get off the boat, we walk 5 km or 3 mi inland before camping and we carry bear bangers.

The required budget could be as follows:

1) Approximately 300$ for the Park entry and two boat rides.
2) Accommodations costs can be avoided completely by camping in communities as hotels are, otherwise, very expensive. This is what I am going to do.
3) A budget for an extra boat ride could be nice while in Qikitarjuuaq as icebergs, polar bears, narwhals (a.k.a. the unicorn of the sea by Jules Verne), walrus, belugas, orcas and bow whales can be seen. FYI, this community is often called the iceberg capital of the world since it is facing Greenland and this is the coast that all Greenland icebergs follow before going down to melt in the Atlantic Ocean.
4) Lightweight dry food for 3 weeks.
5) The most expensive thing is the airfare. For example, the return flight from Ottawa is approximately 3000$ Canadian (First Air and Canadian North fly, via Iqaluit, to Qikitarjuuaq, the departure community, as well as Pangnitung, the arriving community) but it is still a lot cheaper than other arctic trip as you don’t need to add the cost of a charter plane. I also know some cheaper options provided that booking is done enough in advance. If you are very interested and the airfare cost is the only issue, we could talk about this specifically.

As the packs would be very heavy (approximately 35 kg or 75 pounds), a few weather-bound days are to be expected and well-though planning for 3 weeks of autonomy respecting food and gears is critical, the composition of the group is very important. It is therefore important that interested persons be able to do at least one short group activity over the next few months, most likely in the New York State’s Adirondacks, in order to make sure that participants are compatible, capable, well equipped and fit enough.

I am experienced, well-organized, mature, tall and fit. In addition to my personal gear, I have a very light 2 person winter tent that can stand the possible katabatic winds.

If others are interested, we could also bring some gears for glacier travel so some of us can go camping on the glacier at the foot of Asgard (i.e., Turner glacier for 6 km or 4 mi one-way). As well, climbing gears could be brought so some of us in order to climb Thor on the less technical routes (i.e., the “standard” route thru East Face/North Ridge which has 3 pitches of 5.7 near the top or, alternatively, the route over the South Ridge which is mostly four class with the last 300 m or 100 ft been fifth class with one short section of 5.8 or 5.9).

If you are interested, the next steps would be to participate into a group discussion on Skype at 7 :00 pm (Eastern Time) on Wednesday September 23rd. In order to participate in the call, please send me an e-mail (email removed – please shares your emails address via private message) with your skype id as well as your weight and height with a description of your relevant experience for this trip (backpacking or other similar trip) and whether the airfare is an issue. If you are interested but can’t make it that evening, this is not a problem but please let me know and send me the above information as I will arrange another group discussion in the following week starting on September 28th. As needed, other discussions would be arranged.

Thanks

Stephen from Ottawa, Canada

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4 replies
  1. Moderator

    Exciting trip, Stephen. Good luck… Will do what we can to help promote it for you. Would love to hear about it on your return.

  2. Hi Stephen,

    I am interested in this trip. Do you have a mail or FB/Skype messenger id where we can have a brief talk?

  3. Hello Srinivas,

    As discussed on Skype and subsequently confirmed with the rest of the group, this trip will require that we can get to know you before confirming the expedition. As such, unless you can commit to come for a pre-trip expedition in North-East North America, it will not be possible. We had our second get to know weekend ealier this month and we even had someone that flew in from Seattle.

    Is it too sad as we would have love to put an Indian flag on the summit of Odin as we found a non tecnical route on the highest peak of Baffin Island that can be done in 16 hours, which is what we are going to get as dailight anyway.

    Take care and I hope to be able to connect with you eventually.

    BTW, I am in Nepal for 4 weeks doing the EBC and the three high passes at the end of the month so closer to you.

    Stephen

  4. Stephen are you still open to people joining this? The pre-trip expedition should be doable for me.

Logistics

Departed
ServiceIndependent
Duration 21 days
StartQikitarjuuaq, Nunavut, Canada
FinishPangnitung, Nunavut, Canada
SleepingCamping
PaceModerate
Budget$4 per person
BudgetLuxury