Saturday, 16 August 2014

Magnificently Exquisite

This Park is in Baffin Island. Our plan is to hike from North Pang to South Pang which is the Ashayuk Pass. It's a challenging loop of 100km with many river crossings, and moraines.

Time is drawing near and preparation is coming together. Don has been getting used to the coffee from the Ultralight Javadrip Coffee Maker.

Some extra padding on the shoulder straps was required.

Our longest training trip was nine kilometres near Wakefield which included some good hills. We did it in about 2.5 hours with a quick three minute snack break since the mosquitoes were hungry and the deer flies even hungrier. Zeetie was a trooper as she carried a pack, as well. Zeetie is our five year old rescue Pyr. That break was just the refresher we needed. The sun was hot and the shade was absolutely marvellous.

It’s a good thing I've been training because that nine kilometres would have been more difficult. Sore shoulders all around and my quads haven't seen such a workout since my triathlon days. Don goes to the gym as his training, yet, in his usual style, he goes well ahead of me with 60 pounds. I weighed in at carrying 44 pounds.

The food is finally coming together. I have 12 ziplock bags of dinners, and two desserts which were split up into four desserts. I've made up six baggies of bannock bread ingredients which was split up for twelve breads. Oatmeal and egg powder are ready. I still need to make up two dinners for dehydration for our two night stay on arrival before out trip to our start point.

We've picked up a few things such as head bug nets, a small camp pillow, and a hat for me. Still a few odds and ends to get.

Saturday, 19 July

Who would have thought it could take so long to pack so little so you are self-contained. Weighing everything so you only carry just as much as you absolutely need—no more, no less. Then, as we are setting up the tent in Iqaluit, this bottle of Scotch and two tiny bottles of ice wine come out of his pack.

This is a sunset from Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park where we camped before flying to Qikiqtarjuac. (Nothing flies on weekends. Next time, I would make sure to get a direct flight and pay the extra money.) It has campsites and two out-houses in the parking lot plus a beautiful view!

We did have to put up with the dump fire which was spewing who-knows-what into the air. I awoke in the mornings with swollen eyes full of guck.

Sadly, Don discovered his new Thermarest Pro did not make it into his pack on last packing. He was just happy everything, at that time, actually fit into the pack on last packing. It had rolled under the couch unseen. He had to purchase a Woods version at the Iqaluit Northern store.

Sunday, July 20

Hiked about and took photographs. I kept my eyes averted as much as I could to avoid seeing the dogs.

Monday, July 21

We flew from Iqaluit to Pangnirtung (Pang) to Qikiqtarjuac (Qik). From there, we took the boat with Bill Arnuquq, the local outfitter, to the start of our journey at North Pang Fjord.

One of many icebergs along the way.

We boated in with a guided trip of five guests and two guides. We trekked across 5 km of bog where we hoped Polar Bears could not find us. 

We came to the first river crossing where we crossed many braids (off-shoots from the main river but they were still strong and some deep). The guided trip all crossed although we didn't watch them since we were still trying to work our way through the braids. 

When we did get there, the guide was kind enough to back us with his throw rope.

Don crossed. It was a very fast, and strong river and up to Don's hips. I stepped in, one step, two steps, three steps, poles feeling my way–I shook my head and backed out. I lost my nerve. Don had to cross back. Something happened and his Woods sleeping pad loosened and was swept down river. Thankfully, it became lodged against a rock and Don was able to retrieve it. Had it disappeared, that may have well ended our trip.

We turned back and set up camp near the emergency hut. The huts are Polar Bear proof and contain radios for contact with the wardens, although none of them seemed to work. I constantly checked for Polar Bears. We never did see any the entire trip!

Tuesday, July 22
We attempted crossing the river at 2h00 and 3h00 over the next couple of mornings, with no success. 

Wednesday, July 23

There was a very low cloud ceiling over the next few day. We did a couple of day hikes and I took photographs.

Arctic Cotton.

You can drink directly from the glacial waters. You haven't had real water until you've had this.

Note the mosquito head bug net. Someone told me the mosquitos were big but didn't bite. Female mosquitoes will always need blood. Thank goodness we had the nets.

This is further up the river from where we tried crossing. It's very strong and deep.

Thursday, July 24

We decided to go in from South Pang and hike to Summit Lake. This meant going back to Qik to catch a flight from there to Pang and then the boat to the entrance of Weasel River. We called Billy on the satellite phone to pick us up the next day.

Friday, July 25

We had to stay in Qik over the weekend to get our flight to South Pang on Monday. We had a home stay at Billy's parents. It might sound inexpensive but it wasn't at $100 a night per person! His mom's only English was 'Are you married?'. Very, very religious people. 

Camping is not recommended here due to kids throwing rocks at your tent. We met a couple who had to put up with that for four days since the planes could not fly due to bad weather. The RCMP wouldn't do anything. They moved their tent every night but it didn't matter.

Hotels cost $500 per night and do include meals since there are no restaurants here. Geologists and the like are here quite a bit it seems.

On our boat ride back to Qik. We couldn't get enough of these stunning icebergs.

Saturday, July 26th

We climbed a lovely little hill where we cleaned up two big black bags of garbage. 

The community of Qikiqtarjuac, 600 people. 

We pigged out on a couple of bags of chips over two days. It was a tough call at $10 a bag but they tasted good in the ten seconds it took to eat them. 

Sunday, 27 July

Billy was kind enough to take us out in his boat on Sunday evening for a photo shoot of icebergs and a sunset which disappeared before we got out there. You'll see more pictures in the gallery at the top.

Monday, 28 July

We arrived in South Pang (1,500 people) on Monday where we rode with the outfitter, Peter Kilabuck, to the west side of the Weasel River. The entrance used to be on the east side. It is the route people use for a shorter hike so they can have their picture taken at the signage for the Arctic Circle and then return.

Previously, once they did that, they could cross at the suspension bridge to the west side to continue the longer hike to Summit Lake. However, the bridge was washed out in the flash flood in 2008. The bridge hangs there, now, on the rocks. The river had been extremely high at that time. 

Climbers use a cable to cross back and forth with some sort of harness so they can get over to climb Thor, now. No thanks.

We boated in with Eva Aariak, former premier of Nunvut, and Geri (sp?), RCMP person. They were doing the Arctic Circle trip. It turns out they didn't get there due to high river crossings.

We hiked into the Ulu hut where we set up camp for the night.

Tuesday, 29 July

It was a beautiful sunny day and remained that way. We started out early and thought we could get to Mount Thor.

On another note–every night we slept near running water. I could hear voices and music and tried to make out what was being said. Thank goodness Don could hear them, too. It has something to do with the echo of the water. I only noticed it, thank goodness, when we were about to fall asleep.

You couldn't build a pond as beautiful as nature can. I believe the purple flowers are purple saxifrage.

After an 8.5 hour hike and thinking we could get to Thor (space is very deceiving out here), we camped on top of a moraine on the other side of Windy Lake.

It was this night that Don's new Woods sleeping pad's valve malfunctioned. He just wasn't meant to be comfortable on this trip. I tried to have him use mine, but he refused.

Wednesday, July 30

We arrived at Mount Thor on this day. I couldn't wait to have a quick foot dip in the waters.

Three climbers came through camp early evening. The female Australian had been there six weeks going back and forth between camps, leaving gear, picking up gear. Another male from England. The third man was 72 years old. Don didn't know why they wore their clothes so tight. Well, I'm guessing they started out loose but, holy smokes, muscle bound they were! Peter Kilabuck told us the climbers brought 50 pounds of cheese as part of their food stash.

Incredible. The three had come from a 27-hour non-stop ascension and descension of Mount Asgar. This mountain was made famous in the James Bond movie 'The Spy Who Loved Me'. Here is a clip about that stunt. Here is the final cut.  It's unfortunate we didn't make it there. We did see it from the plane, though. But, Thor was pretty stunning, too.

 Thursday, July 31

This is the sun coming up behind Thor.

After breakfast we went on a short hike to see if we could get across the first river in order to get to Summit Lake but no luck. The river was strong and high. Instead, we did a hiking photo day and decided to head back and camp at Windy Lake tomorrow.

One of many glacial ponds.

Don didn't want to leave without braving a dip. It was a quick in and out!

Friday, August 1

This little gem was at our campsite back at Windy Lake.

We never did get the expected high winds (can go up to 175 km/hour) but we still secured the tent well for this evening, just in case.

Arctic Willow.

Saturday, August 2

We got up at 3h30, had breakfast and packed up. By the time we arrived at this river crossing near Crater Lake at about 5h30, it was knee deep and not too fast at this hour. One can still be hurt if they aren't careful. It was much deeper and faster going into the Park, of course, but I was getting better at these crossings. Don is just a natural.

A zen-like area.

Sunday, August 3
Today we burned up some fuel since we had to dump it, anyways, before flying out. Bath day. We took the stove, a couple of pots, biodegradable soap and headed to the stream. We heated up water and had a great kind of warm bath. Our money was down and it was going to cost us $15 a shower at the restaurant in Iqaluit. This was so much better!

Monday, August 4

Heading back out to get the boat back to Pang with Peter.

Back in Pang, we went to the Park office where we signed out and spoke to Matthew, a Park Warden. We told him we had heard a call at Thor on the radio. He was solo hiker in need of assistance at June Valley (this was about 30k north of Thor). Don tried to raise him a few times but could not. We heard nothing else but a few more calls from him. 

Matthew told us later that day that they had finally reached him.

It's a relatively new Parks office. However, below the deck was a lot of garbage. Not such a welcoming site for guests so Don and I took 10 minutes and cleaned it up.

Tuesday, August 5

I think most would find it ironic that 'Inuit treated human beings, the land, animals and plants with equal respect' since garbage is everywhere, children throw rocks at dogs, and puppies are tied up on short chains who are not even old enough to be away from their moms, and they appear to be pretty hungry.

The working dogs are not socialized I was told by an RCMP person. One person had to be airlifted out due to a 'dog bite' while we were there. RCMP said it was more than a dog bite since the dogs will kill.

This is the view from our Pang campsite. They had about twelve camping platforms and two outhouses. These territorial parks are kept relatively free of litter compared to the communities which are abound with litter and garbage. That being said, Ottawa has its fair share of garbage on the streeets. It's just that we have more bushes in which people can hide it. As for the dogs there, I had to keep my eyes down it was so heartbreaking.

We flew to Iqualit where we overnighted at Sylvia Grinelle, again.

Wednesday, August 6

We had our oatmeal breakfast, then to the airport to check-in. The airport scale indicated my pack was down to 25 pounds from about 50 pounds. Don's was down from over 80 pounds to 45 pounds. We then walked to Tim's for a coffee and muffin.

We went to the North store where Don was able to return the malfunctioning Woods pad for a full refund, no problems.

Back to the airport.

Don went off to check out some shops. I was hungry. I went into the gift shop where I discovered a canteen. One bowl of chili which I ate slowly and spoke to the woman who worked there. Christine was here with her husband who is a health inspector for the northern area. Still hungry, I had an egg salad sandwich. Mmm. Still hungry but almost time to get on the plane.

Airplane food never tasted so good. Pot roast dinner it was. I was still hungry. Along came the huge warmed-up chocolate chip cookie. I ate it slowly. I asked for another. I was finally full and I think I made up for my lost calories. I had only lost two pounds. Don lost 10 pounds and it took him all week to make up for it.

It was an absolutely stunning trip and very much a wonderful journey. Everyone's trip is different depending on weather and circumstances. I would recommend that if you want to do the 10-12 day hike loop that you go with a guide. Water levels are very high even in the wee hours, and are extremely dangerous if you make a slip. People who have done the loop in earlier years talk about a skip and a jump through the waters. Not so now with the extreme melting of the glaciers.

People have had to be airlifted out because because of hypothermia and losing their packs down the river. There is a plaque on the Ulu (the first hut going into the Park) hut about Horst Pfaus who died in the hut in 1985 due to hypothermia. There are many other stories of people losing their footing and having to end their trip. At the orientation session, they tell you that the closest medical care is 5000 km away in Edmonton and it may take up to six days to get you out. Be safe. Do not take risks.

If I were to do it, again, I would have more direct flights so I didn't have to see the dogs in the communities. The locals were friendly and helpful. I kept thinking about how I could make a change but I don't think I could.