Hiking in the Auyuittuq National Park, Fall 2009

Finally a little something on the hike that Delia, Jessica and I did last fall in the Auyuittuq National Park (ANP). We completed the 100 km Akshayuk Pass last in the late August and early September of 2009, in fairly good fall conditions, and in fairly good manner.

There are many things to be excited about the ANP: the mountains, the glaciers, the kilometer-high sheer rock faces, the rugged wild, and the fact that you are completely on your own. Things not to be so excited about: the moraine fields, the shifting boulders, the icy cold river crossings ready to sweep you away, and the mud flats (some would add bugs). And the fact that you truly are left to your own devices.

In the French Alps, for example, if the sh*t hits the fan, one can always phone the rescue number and a chopper will fly in to salvage your rear - for free. In the northern remote parks, this is not the case. Communications are difficult and the rescue response times are measured in days, not hours. You may lay a long time jammed between a rock and a hard place should that happen, just like Aaron Ralston did in Utah in his epic story. Even a small error may turn out to have severe consequences.

So why go? The minuses seem to overwhelm the pluses. As Aaron wrote: "In my view, we define who we are precisely by what we do. We find our identity in action. If we do nothing, we are nothing. Our bodies even take on a look that is largely the result of our lifestyle." Good man, that Aaron. He chewed his arm off to get from underneath that boulder.

If you do nothing, you are nothing. And if you get in trouble, think like Aaron.

Our group was solid in terms of skills, and the Pass is not exactly that demanding technically. It's just a hike. But don't let it fool you. This summer a single inexperienced group of hikers had two life-endangering incidences on a single trip, one of them a dangerous boulder entrapment. They saw none of it coming, and that was their mistake.

We started off at North Pang Fiord in nice conditions. In the first few days we were traveling in good terrain at good speed. We hit the first major river crossing just before Summit Lake on our third day but thanks to our autumnly timing, the crossing did not pose an issue like it would have in July (glacial-fed river; warmer weather). We all got across easily.

Then began The Slog. We were warned about this. There is a 15 km stretch of moraine from one end of Summit Lake to the other. It is absolutely obnoxious to walk on, worse than the stories, and took us 1.5 days to complete. Had you been there, you might have heard me laughing, but that wasn't because I was having fun. The Slog is an excruciating test of patience and footwork. Its rocks on steroids, as somebody put it.

My favorite part was the stretch between Summit Lake and Thor Peak. Absolutely brilliant sceneries, very inspiring! Pretty, but with thorns. There's a lot of rockfall in that area. We heard a big one rumble down some hundreds of meters from our tent at night.

By the time we had finished a full week in the park, with one member of the group having been sick for most of it and myself starting to get to that point, we were smelly, tired, worn out and absolutely looking forward to going home. We did not get any broken legs or chewed up arms, get swept by the rivers or have problems with gear. All this we acknowledged with great pleasure. And the company could not have been better.

See you again next year, Auyuittuq!

NOTE: For the rest of the pictures, please navigate here.