Holiday water report 2019
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HOLIDAY WATER 2019 - NUNAVUT NATIONAL PARKS
By Suzanne Forcese
The stark contrasts in vast stretches of pristine landscapes dotted with sudden splashes of vibrant color, glaciers glinting, mountains scraping the sky, frozen seas and the commanding presence of Nature’s dominance awaits you in the solitary journey through Nunavut’s National Parks. Accompanied by Parks Canada, you can be taken to jump the North Pole, touch ancient glaciers, bask in the never sleeping sun and continue to be simultaneously humbled and awed by the Arctic ‘s grandeur. Here is a glimpse.
Ukkusiksalik National Park
Meaning “place where soapstone to make pots and oil lamps is found” in the Inukitut language, and occupying 20,885 sq. km in Nunavut, Ukkusiksalik, just south of the Arctic Circle on the north side of Hudson Bay features stretches of rolling ochre hills and lush tundra growing over Canadian shield rock. Coastal mudflats, low ridges, countless lakes, broad rivers and a reversing waterfall are the main attractions. The park is also home to several archeological sites and a rich abundance of flora and fauna.
Wolves, polar bears, caribou, peregrine falcons and grizzly are the most important residents. Four species of Arctic char inhabit the waters. The high concentrations of wildlife are the reason this area has a rich human history evidenced by the number of Inuksuit (plural of Inuksuk) tent rings, food caches, hunter’s blinds, pits and campsites. The Hudson Bay Company traded in the area from 192 5 to 1947 and remains of their building can be seen at Ford Lake.
There are more than 400 documented archaeological sites within the park. Several of these may be visited with a licenced operator.
Visitors to the park come to hike, boat, and view wildlife during the brief Arctic summer. For a 7 hour trip to the park by boat, access to the park is by licenced outfitter from Repulse Bay, Chesterfield Inlet, Coral Harbour, Rankin Inlet or Baker Lake. Chartered aircraft out of Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet will also get you there.
Paddle or boat an inland sea amid beluga whales and seals. Snowmobile across frozen sea. Hike through wildflowers in the company of stone inuksuk beneath the glow of the midnight sun.
Cruising the waters of Wager Bay with a local outfitter is the best and safest way to sightsee the landscape, wildlife and marine life. Kayaking is discouraged due to the extreme polar bear risk. From Wager Bay it is possible to day hike along the coast and rolling inland hills with an experienced guide and Bear Guard. Daylight won’t limit hiking options but tide schedules may since swift currents and long tidal flats influence boat access.
There are no Parks Canada services, facilities or campgrounds in the park.
An experienced outfitter may be able to set up an appropriate campsite with a solar powered electric fence and a sentry. Otherwise Parks Canada only recommends the use of hard sided accommodations. Contact Kivalliq Regional office of Nunavut Tourism for more information.
Ukkusiksalik is the traditional homeland of the modern Inuit who live in the area. Residents maintain living ties to the land, and it is not unusual to see Inuit families camping in the park, practising their traditional harvesting activities. Parks Canada reminds visitors to respect Inuit subsistence hunting, fishing and trapping rights. Please give them their privacy and refrain from approaching unless invited. Always ask permission before taking photos or videos. Beneficiaries of the Nunavut Agreement may travel through the park by motorized vehicle for traditional activities. Anyone transporting a visitor into the park for commercial gain will require a business licence and all visitors will be required to register and deregister with the park office.
PC requires that you visit Ukkusiksalik with a licenced guide due to the extremely high density of polar bears in Wager Bay.
Auyuittuq National Park
Located on eastern Baffin Island between the communities of Pangmirtung and Qiliqtarjiaq, Auyuittuq is the most accessible national park in Nunavut and the most popular for short and extended visits. The landscape is 85 % rock and ice dominated by steep and rugged mountains with vast glaciers, powerful rivers, and fjords teeming with narwhal and ringed seals.
Meaning “the land that never melts” Auyuittuq straddles the Arctic Circle and is covered by the Penny Ice Cap. This glacier, a remnant of the Laurentide Ice Sheet that covered most of North America, is approximately 6000 sq. km covering more ground than Prince Edward Island.
Although there are no pre-set trails in the park, most hikers and skiers follow the silence and solitude of Akshayuk Pass, a 97km traditional Inuit travel corridor that traverses the park, starts at sea level and rises to 420 metres at Summit Lake. Overnight hikes to the Arctic Circle are possible from Pangnirtung. Parks Canada strongly recommends that hikers hike at least 3 hours inland rather than camping near the ground drop-off area due to the high concentrations of polar bears in the coastal area.
Visitors can also experience dogsledding or snowmobiling from Overlord, the main entry to the park. Climbers experienced in glacier travel and crevasse rescue can tackle the summits of the 1675 m Thor Peak (the earth’s greatest vertical drop), or the famous Mount Asgard (featured in the 1974 James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me), and other peaks nearby. Climbers should contact the Park Office well in advance to discuss expedition plans and arrange for permits for base camps and caches.
There are no campgrounds or services except for emergency shelters spaced about a day’s travel apart. Hike in July & August but be prepared for sudden drops in temperature, strong winds, rain or snow.
*** While it is possible to travel the 31 km from Pangnirtung to the park by foot along the fjord in summer, this has been likened to a 2-3 day slog and is not recommended. It is much easier during the winter when travelling on sea ice at the North end of the park. It is approximately 82 km from the community of Qikiqtarjuaq to the North Park Emergency shelter. Since it is located on an island it is important to know you will need a boat operator to reach the community. Always plan extra time for travel in the park and a couple of extra days in the communities particularly as weather and river crossings can affect your schedule any time in the season.
Auyuittuq’s glaciers, rock cliffs, and mountains provide world-class opportunities for rock climbing, mountaineering, and ski mountaineering in an arctic environment. There are many great bouldering areas in the park. Contact Parks Canada for more information. Potentially harsh conditions and lack of local rescue services make mountaineering in the park inadvisable for all but the most experienced climbers. Are you prepared for self-rescue? In an emergency situation technical rescue equipment and personnel have to be brought in from outside Nunavut.
Ski travel is best accomplished along the Weasel River and Owl River Valleys. Metal edged skis with skins, snowshoes or boots with attachable crampons are recommended. Keep in mind weather may delay travel for one or more days. ***Although your skis can take you to may peaks and glaciers, most actual ascents will require technical climbing and glacier travel skills and equipment.
Although there are no designated campsites in the park you may camp anywhere except at archaeological sites designated areas of special preservation, rockfall areas and potential wildlife habitat such as sedge meadows. Select campsites in
durable locations where signs of your occupation will be minimized. Camping equipment should be lightweight, durable and able to withstand harsh conditions. Fires are not allowed but country stoves that burn white gas are (may be purchased in Qikiqtarjuaq and Pangnirtung but phone suppliers ahead of time).
Parks Canada would like to remind you to respect Inuit hunting, fishing, and trapping rights and refrain from interfering with these activities. Inuit may travel through the park by motorized vehicle for all manner of cultural experiences.
All visitors MUST register and attend a mandatory orientation session before entering the park and de-register after leaving otherwise a very costly search will be initiated. Visitors must be self-sufficient and aware of the risks associated with polar bear encounters. Drownings, hypothermia and rock falls have happened in the park. PC implores visitors to be properly prepared and prudent.
Sea ice and river conditions vary from year to year affecting when the park is accessible and when certain activities are possible. Due to summer flooding events each year since 2008 there may be closures between mid -July and early August. Warm temperatures or rain cause glacial melt runoff that can make river crossings extremely hazardous. Auyuittuq has a polar marine climate which means winters are long and cold. Snow is possible in summer and it can be very windy with gusts of 175 kph.
Please check Parks Canada’s Guided Arctic Circle day trips info at:
Qausuittuq National Park
Protecting an area of 11,000 sq. km on Bathurst Island including the waters of May Inlet and Young Inlet, Qausuittuq (meaning “the place where the sun does not shine”) is mostly covered by ice and snow in most parts with little vegetation except for herbs such as yellow arctic poppies, purple saxifrage –the territorial flower of Nunavut. The only tree to survive is the arctic willow. An important habitat for a subspecies of the caribou known as Peary caribou, the park supports polar bears, Arctic wolves, foxes, snowy owls, jaegers, gulls, and snow geese. Marine life is rich and diverse including beluga whales, bearded seals, walruses, ringed seals, and narwhals.
Prehistoric glaciation shaped the surface of Bathurst Island moving across the land. glaciers deposited layers of sedimentary rock including limestone and dolomite. The landforms they left behind include morains, eskers, and raised beaches. The climate is among the coldest and driest on Earth with a temperature average of minus 32°C. in January while July sees just 5° C. Snow can fall in midsummer.
Despite its harsh conditions, Qausuittuq is among the most pristine places left on the planet. Muskoxen roam the interior of Bathurst Island where the park protects critical calving grounds.
Traces left by the Thule, Inuit, pre- Dorset and Dorset peoples dating back 4500 years have been found on Bathurst Island.
In early 19th century several British naval expeditions arrived in the Bathurst Island area for the elusive Northwest passage or the lost Franklin expedition. In the 20th century explorers sought to establish Canadian Arctic Sovereignty and conducted geological, geographical, hydrological and biological research. Most recently exploration in the area has focused on finding resources such as oil, gas and minerals.
Quasuittuq National Park is co-operatively managed by Parks Canada and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. A central feature of the agreement between these parties is the protection of the park’s cultural heritage and ecosystems. In all management decisions it is recognized that Inuit are an integral part of these ecosystems. They retain the right to use the park, harvest wildlife within the boundaries, and remove carving stone found there as well as participate in all facets of its management.
Remember that the park is a cluster of islands in a frozen sea and there are no facilities or services. Access is only by chartered aircraft, boat, snowmobile or dogsled from Resolute Bay where Parks Canada plans to build a visitor centre.
Parks Canada states that “The fact that the sun stays below the horizon for several months in winter, we are still exploring this park ourselves.”
The Park is best accessed from July until mid- August. Mandatory registration is required by all visitors to the park.
Visitor services are available year round Mon- Fri by calling 867-975-4673 or 1-888-773-8888 (toll free)
Quttinirpaaq National Park
The world’s second most northerly park located on Nunavut’s Ellesmere Island encompasses an area of 37,775 sq. km. and also hosts Nunavut's highest point, the 2,616 m tall Barbeau Park. Described as a polar desert, the landscape is rugged and ice-covered with negligible annual precipitation. Glaciers descend down from the ice-covered mountains. There is a small mammalian population of lemmings, Arctic wolves, hare and peary caribou. Wildlife which have had little contact with humans so often are curious and unafraid. Coast areas and waters
house polar bears, ringed and bearded seals, narwhals and walruses. Several species of migratory birds including Arctic tern fly more than 18,000 km from Antarctica to summer here as well as other avian species that winter in Europe and Africa.
Featuring wilderness and isolation at its most extreme Quttinirpaaq, meaning “at the top of the world” is a vast landscape. Visitors can backpack, ski or climb under 24-hr daylight and feel like a mere speck in this sprawling landscape. The park represents the eastern High Arctic natural region in the Parks Canada system. Despite being the most northerly landmass hardy plants like arctic willow arctic poppy, purple saxifrage plus numerous mosses and lichens preserve here during the short Arctic summer. Plants are abundant in the thermal oasis ecosystem around Lake Hazen.
Ancient indigenous people have a long history on Ellesmere Island starting with the arrival of the Paleo Eskimos about 4500 years ago followed by the Dorset culture and then the Thule people who arrived during the past 1000 years.
No designated trails are in the park but there are many possible backpacking routes. Tanquary Fiord and Lake Haazen are the most popular access points. Base Camp can be set up from either of these locations. It is also possible to backpack between Tanquery Fiord and Lake Hazen following the MacDonald River and Very River valleys. These valleys are broad yet the hiking is rugged on a trek that will require 8-12 days depending on time allotted for side trips and inclement weather. Another option is to embark on a 7-10 day loop from Tanquary Fiord around the Ad Astra and Viking Ice Caps.
The park offers thousands of miles of skiing terrain for those with a suitably high level of skill and experience. You are not likely to see anyone else’s tracks.
The snow here is windblown and shallow. Some peaks sill remain unclimbed. Although the dangers of crevasses or icefalls are lower here than in southern locations due to the slower movement of polar glaciers all visitors travelling on glaciers must have experience in glacier travel and in crevasse rescue techniques.
Visitors can tour historic Fort Conger located on the eastern park boundary near Archer Fiord with special permission. Park staff must accompany all groups to this site.
All visitors MUST register and attend a mandatory orientation session with park staff in Tanquary Fiord. Advance notice is required. Visitors must also deregister.
This is one of the most remote wilderness areas in Canada. In case of emergency help could take several days. Potential hazards include river crossings, rock falls, extreme weather that can cause hypothermia, snow blindness, frostbite. Avalanches are also common.
Charter aircraft will not fly to the park between September and March due to the extreme cold and darkness. The average daily high in Tanquary in July is 6.1°C. Coastal areas are cooler than inland.
Don’t forget to bring an eye-mask and watch during the summer -- 24 hours of continual daylight won’t tell your body when to sleep. Also pack a map and GPS. Due to its proximity to the magnetic north pole compasses do not work!
Experience the top of the world on the Parks Canada Charter trip. Join a 14 day hike with Black Feather wilderness guides or create your own. Walk in the footsteps of ancient hunters, polar explorers, and military scientists whose adventures are woven into the history of the park.
There are no designated campsites. You may camp anywhere except archaeological sites and designated areas of special preservation. If you base at Tanquary Fiord you also have the option to stay in PC’s rustic 8-bed Weatherhaven group sleeper tent or in the new semi-private Weatherhaven sleeper tent that features private double rooms and a cozy shared living room. There is access to a shared group kitchen, pit toilets and picnic tables with a view of glaciers and wildlife. Water can be obtained from the creek. Boil before use.
Back country camping for serious wilderness adventurers offers the rarest of opportunities. Select campsites in durable locations where signs of your occupation will be minimized. Avoid camping near potential wildlife habitat. Fires are not allowed. Campers will have to carry white gas and portable stoves. White gas may be purchased at Resolute bay but phone first to ensure it is in stock.
Ellesmere Island has been the staging point for northern exploration to the North Pole attempts since the late 19th century.
If you are planning to attempt the North Pole from any land managed by the park including Ward Hunt Island, Mclintock Inlet or Cape Columbia you must contact park staff. You may also be required to register and take part in a mandatory session in person at the Iquluit Park Office.
Sirmilik National Park
Massive spills of glaciers into Eclipse Sound can be seen in the Arctic light from the community of Pond Inlet, one of 2 gateway communities to the park, a 22,200 sq.km protected area which is situated within the Arctic Cordillera. Sixteen glaciers fan out across Bylot Island. Others carve out the landscape of the Borden Peninsula and into the waters of Oliver Sound from Baffin Island.
Climb and cross glaciers by ski and crampon. July is ice-break up and you must wait until August and September to hike u-shaped river valleys sculpted by glaciers.
Meaning ‘the place of glaciers’ located on northern Baffin Island, Sirmilik is one of Canada’s most isolated and most spectacular national parks.
The park comprises 3 separate land components: Oliver Sound, south of Pond Inlet is a long narrow fjord surrounded by high cliffs, glaciers, and ice caps. The Borden Peninsula is an extensive plateau dissected by broad river valleys and includes Baillarge Bay, a seabird colony. Bylot Island is a spectacular area of rugged mountains, icefields, and glaciers. The coastal lowlands of Bylot Island are the nesting area for a large colony of greater snow geese. Within the park there are also caribou, arctic fox, wolf, arctic hare, and many other species of birds. Marine waters are extremely rich and support high concentrations of marine wildlife such as polar bear, bowhead and beluga whale, narwhal seals, and walrus.
Hundreds of archaeological sites are evidence of thousands of years of use and occupy by the ancestors of the present day Inuit. There is also evidence of more recent activity by European whalers and explorers searching for the Northwest Passage. The area continues to be used extensively for hunting and fishing by local Inuit.
Park Staff are located in Pond Inlet and Iqaluit. Visitor season is short. Spring and summer travel is by air to Pond Inlet or Arctic Bay and then travel to the park by ski, snowmobile, or boat. Hiking, cross-country skiing, and floe-edge wildlife viewing are the most popular ways to experience this dramatic northern landscape for the ultimate Arctic adventure under the midnight sun.
Though ice-fields can be traversed, mountains scaled and waterways paddled by experienced adventurers, the park also welcomes day-hikers to explore cultural sites and hoo-doos in a comfortable multi-day floe edge trip across frozen seas in an unforgettable guided trip of a lifetime.
As the various sections of the park are connected by the sea, the park is accessible by water from late July to early September. Local boat operators and guides are available at Pond Inlet or Arctic Bay to provide marine transportation to the park. Equipment rentals may be available in Pond Inlet. Travelling by sea kayak is one way to experience the beauty and scenery of Sirmilik but only for those who are experienced and only in certain areas. Marine hazards include strong winds, adverse weather, floating ice and tides. Extremely cold water kills quickly. The Arctic is no place to learn new skills.
Remember there are no services of facilities and when back country camping boil your water.
Spring is the ideal time for ski touring and mountaineering. Groups planning to do glacier travel should have an experienced leader and have thorough knowledge of glacier travel including crevasse rescue.
Nunavut, where nature reigns supreme, is the ultimate conquest.
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