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Baffin Island Backpacking: Across The Arctic Circle In Photos

Baffin Island Backpacking: Across the Arctic Circle in Photos

Last week’s introduction to Baffin Island wasn’t a warm one – as far as the temperature was concerned. And it didn’t really get much better for several days. Fortunately though the scenery did.

"Heading out - on the beach for starters"

Heading out – on the beach for starters

What it’s like to backpack in Auyuittuq National Park

Our plan was to backpack along the Weasel River to the high point at Akshayuk Pass by Summit Lake. Although distances were short, the hiking was slow because of the 50-60 pound loads we were carrying. Most days we did only 10 or 11 kilometres – a few hours outing if I’m hiking normally in the mountains – but the better part of a day with a load.

Our days fell into a rhythm pretty quickly. Coffee at 7:45, breakfast at 8 and hiking by between 9 and 9:30. We’d stop for lunch around noonish with lots of boulder breaks to rest our bodies along the way. Most days we’d finish between 4 and 5. Then we’d set up the tents. We all had that down to a fine art in a hurry. Inside the roomy tent everything had its place too – or you’d be hunting for stuff all the time.

Here’s a look at some Baffin Island scenery – all of it in Auyuittuq National Park. 

"A view up the Weasel River towards Mount Overlord"

A view up the Weasel River towards Mount Overlord

"dinner the first night"

Dinner the first night – notice how many clothes Natalie our guide is wearing

"Juxtaposition of sand on the moraines and ice "

Juxtaposition of sand on the moraines and ice

"An ice covered Crater Lake"

An ice covered Crater Lake

"Hikers looking for a way across the river"

Hikers looking for a way across the river

"A wet Day 2 - rather demoralizing at the beginning of a trip"

A wet Day 2 – rather demoralizing at the beginning of a trip

"Our first river crossing - and a snap compared to other years"

Our first river crossing – and a snap compared to other years

"A small tarn above Windy Lake is bathed in sunshine on Day 3"

A small tarn above Windy Lake is bathed in sunshine on Day 3

"Tents are dwarfed by the mountains in this landscape"

Tents are dwarfed by the mountains in this landscape

Somewhere around here – we will have crossed the Arctic Circle at a latitude of 66 degrees and 33½ minutes. That means that on June 21st  any point above it has 24 hours of sunlight and on December 21st and point above it has 24 hours of darkness.

"Hardy wildflowers and one of the 97 types of lichen"

Hardy wildflowers and one of the 97 types of lichen

"Looks like some interesting scenery ahead"

Looks like some interesting scenery ahead

"My share of the food to carry"

My share of the food to carry

"Michele doing dishes; it was a good way to warm up your hands"

Michele doing dishes; it was a good way to warm up your hands

"Me - probably looking for a rock to rest my load"

Me – probably looking for a rock to rest my load

"Guys being guys on big rocks"

Guys being guys on big rocks

"Another stream that's a snap to cross - especially when you're wearing neoprene booties"

Another stream that’s a snap to cross – especially when you’re wearing neoprene booties

"Matthew climbing a sandy moraine & probably cursing as his boots are glued together now and sand is his enemy"

Matthew climbing a sandy moraine & probably cursing as his boots are glued together now and sand is his enemy

"My husband John testing his balance"

My husband John testing his balance

"Dessert one night"

Dessert one night

"We had to cache the food far from camp every night"

We had to cache the food far from camp every night

"Heading for the Mt. Thor basecamp. Mt Thor has the highest vertical face of any mountain in the world"

Heading for the Mt. Thor basecamp. Mt Thor has the highest vertical face of any mountain in the world – 1675 meters

"The Mt. Thor emergency shelter"

The Mt. Thor emergency shelter

"The Arctic hare is one of the few living things we saw regularly"

The Arctic hare is one of the few living things we saw regularly

"Leaving our Mt. Thor camp"

Leaving our Mt. Thor camp

"Always dwarfed by the landscape"

Always dwarfed by the landscape

"Mt. Thor"

Mt. Thor

"Close-up of Mt. Thor"

Close-up of Mt. Thor

"And yet another scene with the dominant Mt. Thor in it"

And yet another scene with the dominant Mt. Thor in it

"There's still ice in the Weasel River near Summit Lake"

There’s still ice in the Weasel River near Summit Lake

"Hikers making their way to Summit Lake"

Hikers making their way to Summit Lake

"Great view of Mt. Thor from a distance"

Great view of Mt. Thor from a distance

"Some sort of wild willow I think"

Some sort of wild willow I think

"Wildflowers - type?"

Wildflowers – type??

"Wild looking clouds around the mountains"

Wild looking clouds around the mountains

"Summit Lake marks the high point in Akshayuk Pass"

Summit Lake marks the high point in Akshayuk Pass

Could you see yourself backpacking across the Arctic Circle on Baffin Island?

Other posts related to this trip you might find interesting:

Leigh McAdam


Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 82 Comments
  1. That scenery is absolutely incredible. I can imagine that being a life changing trip. It looks like hard work, but a really awe inspiring, humbling experience. I would love to take a hike like that some day!

  2. YES! These are STUNNING! I seriously had no idea Baffin Island was so beautiful. Whoa.

    When are we doing the Long Range Mountains?!

    1. @Candice You don’t come across too many blogs that even mention Baffin Island so it never seems to get much press. Planning for early July next year. John can navigate. You really want to do it with a couple of old farts?

        1. @Candice We’re thinking somewhere around the first week of July right now. I’m going to come 10 days earlier & do a # of other adventures. You have to pass a test with the parks people and demonstrate that you know how to navigate. I can but John is really good at that. Hoping it could be a 4 day trip.

  3. This trip looks absolutely incredible. The scenery is simply indescribable. I can see myself visiting…maybe even backpacking, but not to the purest form that you do it. This was incredible.

  4. oh WOW! WOW! WOW! there is nothing more I can say. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. This sort of trek is only something that I can dream about. I wish I was 30 years younger! Thank you.
    I look forward to your next post. Happy travels.

    1. @Jill You don’t look like you’re very old to me – and since I’m in my 50’s and one guy was 60 I think it’s very doable if you get in shape for it. We did have two Australian women on the trip too.

  5. Baffin Island is one of those places that sounds so fabulously remote. I was hopping back and forth across the Arctic Circle last week, too – very similar terrain, gorgeous and rough. Much toastier temperatures this side of the Atlantic, though. Warm enough for hikers to wander about in bikinis next to the glacier. Gotta love the Gulf stream.

    1. @Sophie Al my life I’ve looked at Baffin Island on the map and wondered if I’d ever get there. Glad I did but I wish the Gulf Stream made an appearance so I could have hike din short sleeves. I’d love to visit Norway in the summer and head to the Lofoten Islands above the Arctic Circle.

  6. I don’t see myself backpacking this no matter how beautiful it is. I’m so glad to go along with you on this beautiful and scenic virtual tour though. You constantly amaze me with your adventures and endurance, Leigh. Those pictures of Mt. Thor and Summit lake are breathtaking.

  7. What an incredible trip you have just done Leigh. The scenery is absolutely breath taking. I can only imagine how beautiful it is to be surrounded by those stunning mountains, the quietness of being the only ones there and the joy you experienced with this wonderful accomplishment. Thank you for taking us to such a beautiful place.

  8. Stunning photos, Leigh! As much as I would love to see Baffin Island, I know that I wouldn’t be up to that kind of backpacking trek – I’ll have to be satisfied with doing it vicariously through you!

    1. @Lisa The trip is definitely not for everybody and in fact I can only imagine a small number of people who actually want to put up with some discomfort for weeks at a time. But how I do love an adventure!

  9. I always like it when you take us along on the these long treks — both because they’re breathtaking and I know that I’ll probably not get around to seeing it in person. I really like that photo of the sand on the morains and ice. You could rotate it in any direction and still have a cool shot. Also, I’d eat that entire dessert myself if I was hiking with a 50-60 lb load all day.

  10. Oh Yes!! I would love to backpack across the Arctic Circle on Baffin Island! I enjoyed this adventure of yours, Leigh. You’re my hiking hero! This scenery is super spectacular and your photos are just breathtaking. Wow, that desert – I can’t believe that they can create such beautiful, yummy looking tart in the middle of nowhere.
    Love all your shots but my most fave? John balancing on the rock! He rocks!

    1. @Marisol You are the first person who has ever called me a hiking hero. Thank you so very much for making my day!!
      I didn’t cook at all – just helped with clean up and carting food back and forth to the food cache so I take no credit for dessert. I have a series of photos of John balancing around the world!

  11. Leigh, your pictures area always so inspiring. Of course, the journey is as well. This world is just one heck of a beautiful place…

  12. just awesome, I love the landscape and wildflowers, the views are so amazing, I would love to do something like this!

    I’m inviting you to join us for Travel Photo Mondays it runs a whole week starting on Mondays, come link up with us 🙂

  13. The scenery is just so breathtaking, I bet or maybe I should say, I hope it makes up for the 50 pounds you have to carry. I must say that dessert looks delicious!
    Thanks so much for taking us along. I feel as if I’ve been looking over your shoulder but I’d love to make this journey one of these days.

    1. @Marcia I’d have to say for the first few days the weight of my pack dominated my thoughts – but after about 4 days it got much easier. I wish I could say I was “ripped” now but at my age that would take 4 months of hard work.

  14. Gorgeous scenery, Leigh. This is my first introduction to Mt. Thor…it really is beautiful. I probably would never do a hike like this, but would love to do something a little “gentler”, of those types of tours exist 🙂

    1. @Nancie To go as far a Baffin Island I think one has to be prepared to do a bit of hard hiking – though you could get a taste of things without nearly the heavy backpack in just 3-4 days – and that’s exactly what one couple we saw did.

  15. No, it would definitely not be for me. In a fitter body perhaps. I certainly can see it’s attraction though. Such a gorgeous wilderness area. It would be lovely to see the arctic hares. My favourite photo is of the hikers making their way to Summit Lake because it highlights the size of the landscape. Wonderful.

  16. Gosh it looks so very cold, not sure that I could trek so very far and carry so much!
    How do you keep your feet warm after walking through the creeks? And how do you manage to carry everything?
    The Plants are incredible, guess they are not affected by the cold climate.

    1. @Lisa We wore neoprene booties with scandals so feet were actually toasty. If the river levels had been higher that might have been an entirely different thing. It’s amazing what can go in a backpack when it has to. We saw one group who had so much hanging on the outside of their backpack that it looked like the proverbial kitchen sink.

  17. The scenery and landscape is absolutely beautiful. Looks like a great place to hikers and nature lovers. Great photos as always, Leigh!

  18. What an adventure! I am still thinking I like this armchair hike I am taking with you. . .especially the food and the scenery. I am curious, did you lose weight on this workout of an outing?

  19. Wow! If it was me over there, I wouldn’t know if it’s the stupendous views that are taking my breath away or the 50-60 lbs of load on my back. So envious!

  20. Lovely, lovely views! I wouldn’t mind trekking there for days. I especially love that 6th photo. So stunning! And I can’t believe you made such a wonderful dessert, even in the middle of nowhere. That would taste really really delicious after hours of walking!

    1. Hi Aleah – I take no credit for the dessert; the guides whipped those up. And the desserts were especially good after a long day of hiking. Maybe one day you will get up to the Arctic.

  21. That is quite a lot of food to carry. I could see why the hiking would be slow going with all that weight. Good thing about it is the pack gets lighter throughout the trip. I will be hiking 7 days in Isle Royale in Lake Superior at the end of the month. It will be one heavy pack the first couple of days. I might even have to leave my whiskey at home. Oh wait, scratch that.

    1. @Ted I’d say it took 5 days before we noticed any lightening of the packs – partly because all uneaten food also had to be packed out and there was considerable weight attached to that too.Take your whiskey – you’ll be glad you did. I have another hard 5 day trip of backpacking on the north shore of Lake Superior – and I’m taking wine for that one – no matter what the weight is!!
      I’d like to visit Isle Royale – but think of it more in terms of kayaking than hiking. Obviously I don’t know enough.

  22. What stunning scenery! Quite an adventure you’re having. This doesn’t look like a backpacking trip for everyone. You’re in such great condition and I’m sure the others in your group had to be, too. I could almost feel the cold looking at a few of those pics. That dessert looks awesome and well worth a hard day’s work. 🙂

    1. @Cathy This is definitely not a trip for the general population. I thought I was in reasonable shape before I went but over 2 weeks I certainly got stronger. Backpacking is a hard adventure to train for too as who carries heavy loads around in the city? All food – not just dessert was certainly eaten with relish.

  23. Gorgeous photos, Leigh! And if that dessert is any indication, it looks like you ate well on your backpacking trip!

  24. Wow, what the Polychrome natural beauty! looking amazing in pictures, you got here. You surely did a marvelous job of capturing the beauty of Baffin island through your camera.
    thanks for sharing your experience.

  25. The landscapes sounds so much beautiful and colorful in the scenario. the Rabbit looking also pretty.
    I got nice information when i found your blog. such you have a great account.

  26. the unknown wildflower looks like Pulsatilla alpina or Pulsatilla vernalis. Maybe is an arctic north american species of Pulsatilla. Beautiful photos. Hi from Italy

  27. I’m not a prolific hiker, but this would certainly be something I would do. The mountains are beautiful, and I think there is a sort-of desolate beauty in tundra.

    Great pics as always! Can’t wait to hear more about this as it’s probably something I’m unlikely to get to do 🙁

  28. Wow. We leave on Sunday. .. Everything has been strategically and ruthlessly added or deleted from the gear and food to make for light packs. Weather looks perfect! Any last words of advice before we plunge into this adventure?

    1. @Glenn Hardcore it was with 60 pound packs. The ice had just left or was still around so bloody cold. Fortunately stream crossings were easy in 2013 and we didn’t have to deal with waist high, hypothermia inducing water.

    1. @Charu for much of the trip the temperature hovered at about 5C (40F). We did have some short-sleeves days and some really cold nights. It was a truly awesome place to visit but it’s not an easy place.

  29. Island Backpacking is one of the most challenging yet fulfilling outdoor adventure as it opens you to how beautiful the nature is. It also unleashes the adventure spirit in you.

  30. Wow, this is really amazing. Just yesterday I found out and heard for the first time of Baffin Island and Mount Asgard. I really want to get there – it is just cool, same with your photos. Probably hiking is the best – but climbing is also very interesting, but also dangerous. I think I have to practice it for some years.

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