Auyuittuq National Park – Hiking the Akshayuk Pass
Toronto >> Ottawa >> Iqaluit >> Pangnirtung >> Qikiqtarjuaq >> Auyuittuq National Park
One week. One hundred kilometers through Canada’s remote arctic wilderness. The Akshayuk Pass is a stunning valley surrounded by the southern Baffin Mountains in Nunavut. Through marshlands, sand, and moraines we trekked between the iconic peaks of Thor, Asgard, and Odin starting in the North Pangnirtung Fiord.
The pass is a stunning ancient riverbed for the Owl and Weasel rivers, which are fed by dozens of glaciers running into the valley below. There are a couple of options for the hike; either north to south from Qikiqtarjuaq to Pangnirtung or an in and out to Summit Lake from the south. Travel to the park from either of these two towns is by boat in the summer via the Pangnirtung and North Pangnirtung Fiords.
We passed numerous icebergs along the two hour boat ride into the landing at the northern end of the pass. Once our driver dropped us off, it was us alone in the remote wilderness for however long it would take to trek the 100 km south. The majority of the pass in the north has no trail to follow so you go your own way, navigating the open marshlands that feel like walking on a wet sponge, sinking an inch or more into the tundra. Other times it felt like walking on a sponge sitting in a bucket of water! For seven days we made our way through rocky beaches, tundra, and difficult glacier moraines.
It is interesting that in the northern section of the pass, the majority of the peaks remain unnamed. The biggest safety concern during the hike were the numerous river crossings, fed directly by the glaciers. It was amazing how much the water levels changed given time of day and rainfall. One night we camped next to a raging tributary. The next morning, the creek bed was dry.
After the first major river crossing we camped atop a beautiful moraine with an endless view of the valley, several hanging glaciers around us, and Mount Asgard in the distance. The next day we faced three more major river crossings, rising at 4 am to try and hit low water levels. We also traversed 10 km of difficult moraines from the Highway, Norman, and Turner/Parade glaciers, navigating massive boulders as we circled around Glacier Lake and then along the shore of Summit Lake.
Continuing south we reached another high point of the pass on the south shore of Summit lake, in anticipation of the iconic Thor Peak and across from it, Mount Odin. It is truly spectacular to be surrounded by such a dense population of glaciers in such close proximity, but the size of the moraines are undeniable evidence of how much the glaciers have melted in the past fifty years. ‘Auyuittuq’ means ‘the land that never melts’. Ironic as this wilderness is constantly melting.
The last major milestone was crossing the Arctic Circle at 66 deg 30 N, the day before our boat pick-up at the south end of the pass. This a land of remote wilderness, a gem at our fingertips in Canada, and a wonderfully special place.