'Auyuittuq' - The Land that Never Melts
Monday July 3rd was looking better and I departed early for what would be the most memorable flight of my trip. Today's destination was Qikiqtarjuaq or Broughton Island, in Davis Strait on the northeast coast of Baffin. The skies were clearing, and now I could see a hundred miles across Cumberland Sound and the opening to Pangnirtung ("Pang-ner-tung") Fiord "the place of the bull caribou". The temperature was near freezing but I had several layers of clothing on as I cruised along taking pictures with the window open over the sound, and then I descended from 9,500 ft to 1,500 ft coming into the mouth of the fiord.
The town, locally known as Pang, passed by slowly on my right as I entered the 75mile long Akshayuk Pass, which joins the north and south Pangnirtung fiords. Words do not do justice to this experience, it's wonders satiate your emotions, as the pass narrows down to less than a mile wide with peaks that reach 7,000 ft and glacial swatches of ice painting their outlines. The fiord boasts one of the longest and highest vertical cliff faces in the world and a 6,000 ft mountain of rock that curves up beyond vertical to 105 degrees. I had to take care when loading my camera film, it becomes brittle in the cold and would break. I went through almost a dozen rolls and an hour of video as I continually made lazy circles on my way through the pass. For those who wish to hike the pass, the parks department has erected shelters every 10km and installed HF radio transmitters. Landing is not permitted here, this was Auyuittuq (pronounced "ow-you-ee-tuk"). Set aside in 1972 by the government of Canada, Auyuittuq National Park covers 7,600 square miles, it was the first national park north of the Arctic Circle, and is dominated by the Penny Ice Cap. With ice as thick as 1,000 ft in places, the ice cap provides an excellent record of past climates and has been the base for several major scientific studies into climatic change and global warming. The ice cap also has an uncanny effect on local weather conditions: winds passing over the glaciers become cooler and increase in velocity as they descend through nearby mountain passes.
Nearly two hours later I came out the north end of the pass and landed at the gravel strip on Qikiqtarjuaq (Broughton Island), the iceberg capital of the world. Because this island's northern cape protrudes into the currents flowing south down Davis Strait, it captures many of the mountains of ice that are calved from the coast of Greenland far to the northeast. The small terminal building had a satellite phone so I made a few calls to announce my success in crossing the Arctic Circle. On the gravel ramp I emptied 10 gallons of fuel into the Husky tanks from two jerry cans that I brought along, and then it was time for some hot soup. A Twin Otter owned by First Air landed and I shared some cookies with two pilots; then a helicopter stopped in to retrieve some fuel barrels for a survey crew and we had a cold drink together. Before I left, a naturalist with a huge but friendly husky dog came by to say hello. People often ask me what it is like to go on these adventures all by myself. My simple answer is; I'm only alone until I land somewhere.
I departed the rocky island and headed south looking for wildlife, the naturalist had told me the polar bears were still feeding far out on the sea ice of Davis Strait. I did not see any polar bears on my trip. From the air it would have been thrilling, on the ground, a whole different story. I found some large bergs and then turned east and climbed back to 10,000 ft so I could cross the ice cap and finally descend back into the pass back to the town of Pangnirtung. Bert had arranged for me to meet his friend Markus Wilckie, and I found him waiting by the the Pangnirtung terminal building. We walked to his apartment and he shared a meal of caribou and gave me an Inuksuk pendant. Inuksuit (plural) are the Inuit rock cairns, shaped like humans that have been used for thousands of years to help people to find their way across the featureless landscape. Around 21:30 I walked back to the gravel strip. I waited there while some people were leaving a funeral service, a casualty of suicide. This was the second suicide that I would hear about while I was on Baffin Island. Nunavut has social problems, the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Canada, substance abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, family abuse, and more. All of these problems and much more are here in the south, but because of the low population of Nunavut, these blemishes are more apparent. Who or what is to blame? I would say other people who try to push or dictate their ideals and culture onto others. The reality that these other people might represent a country and government would be coincidental, don't you think? I love this earth; it's the people that say they are trying to run it that is the embarrassment. Stop it Paul and get back to the story.
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