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Landscapes of the Soul: Canada’s Arctic

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

After an hour of speeding down the fjord’s calm waters, the skiff slows and pulls up to a half-

submerged rock. Jeff Bowman and I throw our packs ashore, then leap overboard. Immediately the outboard pulls back, and almost as quickly it melts into the slate-blue horizon. We turn slowly in place, trying to make sense of the sudden shift in our universe. A moment ago we were connected to the familiar electro-mechanical pulse of late twentieth-century life. Now we’re standing alone on Baffin Island, a spectacularly empty 1,000-mile-long chunk of land in Canada’s new Nunavut Territory.

We’ve flown thousands of miles to the northeastern corner of our continent for one ostensible reason: to trace a route up Mt. Asgard, a 3,500-foot granite spire. At least that’s why Jeff invited me on this expedition. Though Jeff is a businessman from Boston and I’m a writer from Hood River, Oregon, we’ve somehow managed to link ropes in Yosemite, the Tetons, New Hampshire, and various rocky points between. But this would be our first adventure where backpacking to the mountain-a three-week trip-involves a greater journey than summiting it. And frankly, the lure of hiking through the foothills is the primary reason why I accepted Jeff’s invitation. I wanted to come home to the Arctic, to my first true love, long ignored but never forgotten.

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