Arriving in Qikiqtarjuaq in early March and, as we expected, the entire landscape around the hamlet was completely frozen. In the frozen bay, a series of icebergs that had been slowly moving along with the currents before the winter were stuck fast in the sea-ice and would stay there until the sea-ice disintegrates in and around June.
A park warden’s cabin glows orange in the grey and white environment, announcing its presence in an otherwise undisturbed place. In spite of being in the Arctic circle, there is very little snow around – the wind in this region gets so strong it just blows everything away. This makes it hard to find enough to be able to melt for water. The cabin is locked an uninhabited, though a nearby emergency shelter offers hope for anyone who gets into trouble… but still even with this… snow is essential!
After the moraine, we managed to get to Summit Lake after a good day skiing over 15km over snow and ice. The amount of snow to ski on was gradually decreasing as we got onto more exposed ice where the wind would simply blow it away, making it a little difficult, though we eventually found some good snow for camping and melting for water before sunrise, with a lovely view of the steeply angular mountain of Thor in the distance.
So difficult to get a context for distances, though the moraine you can see took three days to go up. It is a labyrinth of rock and ice so difficult pulling pulks through it all, and the headwinds rushing down made progress especially hard. Needless to say, we were pleased to reach the end of it! I guess that with the difficulty, this part of the journey turned into one of the real highlights – especially as we were able to go over frozen lakes that not many hikers in the passage would go near in summer, let alone winter.
It’s incredible going through the park, though one of the essential aspects of our training is going over pressure ridges – where the ice folds up out of the water because of the pressure from currents and winds. When we eventually set out to the North Pole, we will have to navigate vast swathes of regions full of these ridges, with 100kg pulks. The challenges can be mind boggling and good team work is essential to succeed and avoid injury.
The weather can change so quickly here. You have to always be aware for good spots for camping, where you will be able to see out a storm. Calm days can turn into terrific nights! If like us in this photo you have no choice but to camp in an exposed area, while you need a good tent, you also have got to make sure it’s fully secure, with snow flaps nicely covered, and guy-lines well pegged into the snow and extended as much as possible. The noise the wind makes as it batters the tent can be scary, and being a relative novice at the time, I was kept awake praying that nothing would happen as the storm passed over!
The view down the frozen Owl River – the snow brilliantly bright, highlighting the mountains that tower over the fiord. We often imagined what it would be like climbing them, though in -40C temperatures and often stiff winds, this wasn’t really an option. Maybe one summer some time…
Walking on the ice with just boots with no crampons could be a little tricky. The boots did manage to grip, though we would occasionally slide a little. The biggest problem came with the pulk behind us sliding, often with no control – especially when the winds got up and pushed it around. We would have to brace ourselves as it went pivoting to the side or run out of its way as it sped downwards towards us.
Passing across the frozen lakes and it is not possible to stop looking at the sheer rock faces that we pass. Natalia, hauling her pulk, can be seen here – tiny in comparison to the mountains of gods. Notions of distances are thrown out the window as points that look close to us take hours to reach, and the sizes distort all perspectives.
The Auyuittuq National Park, with its northern entrance located north of the Arctic Circle, is breathtaking – not just with the freezing cold conditions and the way the winds bring the wind chill even lower, but also with the incredible landscape of the fiords that you ski through.