Added by natalie panek
If you want remote backcountry wilderness in Canada, all you have to do is go north. The Akshayuk Pass lies in Auyuittuq National Park on Canada’s Baffin Island. This is a 100 km (62 mi) hike through stunning Arctic scenery, traversing a glacial valley surrounded by the southern Baffin Mountains in Nunavut.
To start this hike, you’ll need to make your way to Qikiqtarjuaq (likely through Ottawa to Iqaluit to Pangnirtung to Qikiqtarjuaq). This description follows the pass north to south from Qik to Pang, but can also be done in reverse. Once in Qik, a local guide can transport you by boat in summer into the North Pangnirtung Fjord to the start of the Pass. You’ll see numerous icebergs along the 2 hour ride.
While the majority of the pass has no distinct trail to follow, it’s easy navigation through the valley especially if following GPS waypoints. Because of the remoteness of the location, there are basic emergency shelters located at the following distances along the route:
- North Pangnirtung to Owl River: 15 km (9.5 miles)
- Owl River to June Valley: 14.7 km (9.1 miles)
- June Valley to Glacier Lake: 19.7 km (12.3 miles)
- Glacier Lake to Summit Lake: 19.6 km (12 miles)
- Summit Lake to Thor Peak: 8.6 km (5.3 miles)
- Thor Peak to Windy Lake: 9 km (5.5 miles)
- Windy Lake to Overlord: 14.6 km (9 miles)
Camping is not allowed inside these shelters but they do provide a great place to stop for lunch or a break, especially if the weather is questionable. The most remarkable aspect of the hike is walking past the many glaciers that feed into the Owl and Weasel Rivers in the valley and trekking over their massive moraine fields.
The first 20 km (12.4 mi) of the pass from North Pangnirtung to just north of June Valley are marshlands that feel like walking on a wet sponge. You’ll sink more than an inch into the saturated vegetation so be prepared to get your feet wet. It’s up to you to find the best way through. The biggest safety concern during the hike are numerous river crossings, fed directly by the glaciers. The water levels change drastically given time of day and rainfall. You may often try to camp near major river crossings and start early the following morning to cross when the river is at its lowest. The first major river crossing is at Owl River, where you’ll need to cross at the most braided section of the river. Neoprene booties inside your hiking boots are a great way to keep your feet warm in the glacial water.
From just north of June Valley to Glacier Lake you’ll walk along sandy and rocky beaches next to the river. Your best bet is to stay on the hard-packed sand where possible instead of venturing into marshy areas. The majority of the peaks on this north section of the hike remain unnamed, but the peak across from the June Valley emergency shelter looks a lot like Half Dome.
The second major river crossing is just north of the Glacier Lake emergency shelter, where you’ll cross a very wide braided section into the moraine of Highway Glacier. This moraine is an excellent location to camp if you can find a flat spot. It provides stunning views up the northern end of the valley you just came from, but also south towards Mount Asgard. There are also a number of hanging glaciers that seem just at your fingertips. If camping near Glacier Lake, consider waking up very early to tackle three major river crossings (Norman, Quvney Glacier, and Turner) the next morning.
The hike south of Turner Glacier follows along the shores of Summit Lake. This section feels like the land before time as you walk over cracked mud surrounded by a number of peaks and glaciers. The emergency shelter at Summit Lake is just on the south side of the Caribou Glacier moraine field. You’ll see a number of circular rock shelters in this area built to protect tents from high winds. Continuing south, you’ll reach a high point of the pass on the south shore of Summit Lake, and if lucky on a clear day, will have spectacular views of the iconic Thor Peak and across from it, Mount Odin.
The last major milestone is crossing the Arctic Circle at 66°30’ N and a river section at Schwartzenbach Falls at around km 85 (53 mi). From there it’s an easy 10 -15 km (6-9 mi) to the Pangnirtung Fjord where you can arrange for a boat pick up in advance. This a land of remote wilderness, a gem in Canada, and a wonderfully special place.
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Satellite phone
- Hiking boots
- Neoprene boots
- Layering clothing
- Trekking poles
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