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Backpacker Magazine – May 1999

Landscapes of the Soul: Canada's Arctic

Like your first love, you never forget your initial visit to the Arctic.

by: John Harlin


Auyuittuq National Park Reserve, Canada

GETTING THERE: Auyuittuq lies in southern Baffin Island, in Canada's new Nunavut Territory (formerly part of the Northwest Territories). Fly to Pangnirtung with First Air out of Ottawa (613-839-3340 or 800-267-1247; about $1,030). To get to the park, you'll need to arrange for a motorboat at the visitor center ($50 per person each way) or fly to Broughton Island ($50 extra) and then take a boat ride (negotiable fee; about $140 per person) to the trailhead for the Owl River-Weasel River trek. There is a $70 per person fee for staying in the national park for more than three days (prices above are in U.S. currency and are subject to change; consult any major newspaper for up-to-date U.S./Canadian conversion rates).

TRAILS: The Weasel River Trail, which we hiked, is well marked, generally easy to follow, and climbs less than 1,500 feet in 25 miles to its source at Summit Lake. The wilder and less-traveled Owl River Trail continues on to North Pangnirtung Fjord. To hike this 50-mile route along both valleys, begin at the north end. Otherwise you could hike to the mouth of the Owl River only to find that ice conditions prevent a boat pickup. In midsummer, glacier crevasses are fully visible and allow for interesting hiking. Use care when walking on glaciers, and do not travel unroped if there's fresh snow on the glacier because it may conceal crevasses. A few short trails outside the park leave directly from Pangnirtung for a spectacular wilderness journey into country rarely visited by non-Inuit.

RESOURCES: Pangnirtung 26I, 1:250,000 scale (about $6); Canada Map Office; 613-952-7000). Nunavut Handbook: Travelling in Canada's Arctic ($21.50; Nortext Multimedia, Inc.; 800-263-1452 or 613-727-5466; is essential reading for a northern visit. It includes a detailed description of the park.

SEASON: Cross-country skiing is excellent in May and June, when you'll have to access the park by snowmobile because the fjord is frozen. During breakup in late June or early July, reaching the park requires a rough two-day hike along the shores of the fjord. Hikers clear out by mid-September because of threatening weather.

CONTACT: Auyuittuq National Park Reserve; (867) 473-8828; Its Web site ( offers everything you need to know about the park, including photos.

-J. Harlin

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