In 2007 we did a three week ski traverse near Clyde River on the east coast of Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. Below is a slightly modified version of an article Manrico wrote for another publication. A slideshow follows the article.
About a week into our trip a lone man on a snow machine stopped to talk to us on his way home from a few days of ice fishing. Like most Inuk (Inuit people) we’ve met, this fellow used few, well chosen words. Here’s the first part of our conversation:
Inuk fisher: “Hello.”
One of us: “Hello.”
Inuk fisher: “Are you climbers?”
One of us: “Some of us are climbers but we are not here to climb.”
Inuk fisher: “Are you base jumpers?”
One of us: “No, we don’t base jump.”
Inuk fisher: “Then you must be sightseers.”
That pretty much sums up our trip; our primary objective really was sightseeing. However, since we were on a three week ski traverse in a remote part of the world in a land of extreme geography, we felt justified in calling ourselves extreme sightseers. The trip was in May 2007 and the sightseers were Linda, Julia, Chris, Liz, and Manrico.
The Sam Ford Fiord area of Baffin Island is one of the most impressive concentrations of big walls in the world. What makes this area truly unique is that many of these walls rise straight out of the deep fiords or are easily accessible from them. Think of a narrow fiord, only a few kilometers wide, lined with granite walls rising up to 1,300 meters straight out of the sea. Now imagine the sea being frozen solid with a thin layer of snow making it very easy to ski or walk anywhere you want. Finally, imagine several of these fiords close together connected either directly or by low passes.
There are many articles and at least one guidebook written about this well known area so I won’t repeat any climbing, base jumping, or snow chute ski descent related information here. I will tell you a little bit about our trip which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Liz and I started by spending several days at a home stay in Clyde River while waiting for the others to arrive. This worked out very well as we got to know the community. This was an important part of our trip and I encourage anyone coming to the area to spend a few days in town. Clyde River has about 800 inhabitants, all but about 20 of whom are Inuk. It’s about 800 km by air to the nearest major centre, Iqaluit, and 400 km by air to the nearest other towns, Qikiqtarjuaq to the southeast and Pond Inlet to the northwest.
Tourism by climbers, base jumpers, and sightseers like our group is very important to the community. That’s why Liz and I really didn’t mind spending several nights at $75 per night each for space to put our sleeping bags on the floor of a local person’s house. However the $200 per person per night plus meals at the one hotel would have been a bit much for our budget!
Polar bear trophy hunting is also very important to the community. There are about 20 polar bear hunting licenses given to the community each year for trophy hunting. It costs each hunter about $20-30,000 in total for their hunt, almost all of which goes to the community. That’s a huge impact to the local economy. I’m not a hunter and I absolutely abhor the concept of trophy hunting generally. I never thought it would ever be possible but I came around to understanding and actually supporting polar bear trophy hunting out of communities like Clyde River. Issues like that are never as simple as they first seem.
Now the trip: five of us did a meandering, northwest to southeast ski traverse through the area. As usual with our arctic trips, we allowed ourselves about twice as much time as we thought was actually required to go from start to finish. Also as usual with our trips we weren’t shy about using chartered, motorized transportation to get us to and from the area of interest.
On this trip we hired Levi Palituq to take us by snow machine from Clyde River to Refuge Harbour in Gibbs Fiord. That was an all day trip and, like everything else in the arctic, it was expensive. However it was well worth the cost, especially considering the amount of wear put on the machines and the hard work by the drivers. (Levi told us their machines wear out completely after just 2-3 years.)
One of the first things we did when we arrived at Refuge Harbour was to practice shooting. Julia was in charge of the shotgun we brought along in case of polar bears and she taught us how to use it. In terms of ferocity and danger, polar bears are to grizzlies as grizzlies are to puppies. (OK, maybe as grizzlies are to black bears.) Polar bears are a serious factor in that area and bear spray is only a minor irritant for them.
The shotgun we had could be loaded with four pieces of ammunition. The recommended approach is to have the first be a banger/loud noise maker, the second be a rubber slug, and the last two be solid metal slugs. The recommended approach is also to shoot without hesitation if the bear looks threatening. Julia skied along with the shotgun slung on her back while the rest of us stayed close to her, at least for the first part of the trip. As it turned out we saw no polar bears or any other wildlife for that matter except for a few seals in the distance, a couple of arctic hare, and a few birds arriving for spring.
From Refuge Harbour we skied through Stewart Valley traversing under the Sail Peaks. From the south end of the Stewart Valley we started our meandering. Instead of taking the direct route by heading west down Walker Arm to Sam Ford Fiord and Swiss Harbour, we turned right and went up Walker Arm to explore the scenery in that seldom visited area. We went three quarters of the way around the very impressive Walker Citadel.
From there we came back down and crisscrossed Walker Arm a couple of times before heading to the base of Polar Sun Spire. We again took a meandering route by going up Sam Ford Fiord south past the base of Broad Peak before coming back down to Swiss Bay. We then went through Revoir Pass to the head of Eglington Fiord where Levi picked us up. See the slideshow for more description of our route and what we saw.
Our highest altitude achieved on the actual traverse was about the same as the Upper Levels Highway in West Vancouver, a big 200 meters above sea level. The weather was mostly high clouds with almost constant wind. Temperatures were mostly in the -5 to -15 degree Celsius range although it often felt colder because of the wind. It felt a lot warmer when it was sunny and calm. We were tent bound three days on the trip because of bad weather. The weather is better, although colder in April. June is getting a bit late because of the melting sea ice.
Some words I would use to describe the area are: awesome, jaw-dropping, overwhelming, astounding, stunning … you get the picture. It’s a fantastic area to visit even if you are just sightseers like us.
Following is video is a Google Earth tour of our route and a slideshow of our trip. You can see the video in full screen view and higher resolution by pressing the buttons on the lower right.
Now the photos. If you expand the photo viewer to full page the “Adventures” menu will stop working. This is because of technical issues with the website software. Pick any other menu item and go to that web page. The “Adventures” menu will then work properly.