Baffin Island is big and remote. It is the largest island in Canada and stretches a little over 1,000 miles from north to south. Most of Baffin lies above the Arctic circle, and the island’s diverse geography includes vast areas of relatively flat land along its western coast, and the magnificent Baffin mountains along the east coast Arctic cordillera, hosting some of the world’s highest shear cliffs, as well as ice caps and glaciers.
North of Iqaluit, the hamlets are small ( home to usually less than 1,000 Inuit) and far apart in remote rugged land that has no roads between them.
So, when I decided to plan a snowmobile journey from Iqaluit to Pond Inlet, stopping only at the hamlet of Clyde River, many of my friends in the south thought the 1,000-mile snowmobile journey a little too adventurous.
They may have been right.
For me, the trip was an opportunity of a lifetime, and it also served a practical purpose. Each year, I require a lot of new gear in Pond Inlet for trips to the floe edge. The most economical way to send gear up North is by ship, but because I live in Ottawa and the ships sail months in advance, receiving and storing gear in Pond can be problematic.
The other way is to send gear by air freight. Air freight to Iqaluit from the south (Ottawa) is expensive. North of Iqaluit, which is serviced by small turbo prop aircraft, is incredibly expensive. So, plan #3 became an adventure — hauling gear from Iqaluit to Pond Inlet by snowmobile.
I tried this with a friend of mine in 2018 and it was a disaster. We decided to go the “east route” to Pangnirtung but we only made it to Cumberland Sound, having run into deep slush on the sea. Truth is , I was not properly prepared and my buddy was more than a little concerned so we simply turned back with the help of some very experienced Inuit guides out of Iqaluit.
With better preparation and knowledge, I planned the trip again in 2019 with a good friend from Denver, Colorado — Jeremiah Mullholland. This time we planned the “west route” across the massive lakes of Amadjuak and Nettling, through the Dewar Lakes Pass and up to just south of the Barnes Ice Cap, and then down through the east coast mountain passes to Clyde River. Along with the gear, we had to haul enough snowmobile fuel for 700 miles.
This time I also planned to take an Inuk guide from Iqaluit, however, the snowmobile I planned for him was delayed coming up from Ottawa, and Jeremiah and I made the decision to go on our own as our window of time was getting tight.
What a trip!
Our experiences and stories are many, but there is one aspect of the trip which had the greatest impact on me.
We travelled some of the traditional routes of Inuit generations ago. We didn’t see many Inukshuk (a common symbol of the North), but we did see many nalunaikkutaq “markers” and a few old rock caches. The “markers” were simply single elongated stones held upright at the top of rock outcrops to make them visible. They, of course, gave us a sense of comfort travelling through the remote regions of Baffin knowing we were probably on the right “trail,” but for me they were also “markers” of reflection on a time when travel was incredibly difficult and dangerous. The “markers” and the rock caches kept reminding me of what it would have been like to be there years and years ago with a dog team or even by foot, in pursuit of food — following the caribou.
We saw many caribou, pushed and pulled our machines up and around waterfalls, slept in our tent and occasional cabin, met Inuit hunters along the way, and rode into Clyde with pride. (Later in May I completed the entire south to north Baffin journey by snowmobile to Pond Inlet with my friend and guide from Clyde, Noah Ashevak).
An eventful trip. A wonderful and remote land — one the Inuit are so comfortable in, but for me, the crazy adventure of a lifetime.
Planning it all again for 2020.
Exploring traditional routes
By Jeremiah Mullholland
This expedition was one of the most awesome experiences of my entire life! After an Inuit guide showed us out of town (Iqaluit), John and I headed out into the white abyss. There were a few times I thought about how tough you must be, mentally and physically, to have survived on this land years and years ago. This was by far the most remote travelling I have ever done and it gave me time to think about how early explorers might have felt travelling new lands. It was an unforgettable trip with some unfortunate events and some extraordinary good luck!
Seeing the caribou and the Inuit “markers” gave me a good feeling that we indeed were on the right route. We also came across several cabins that the Inuit use for hunting and fishing. These were very basic structures but provided us with a great sense of comfort, shelter and a bit of warmth. Seeing the names of people that signed on the walls of these cabins, and then adding ours, gave me a feeling of being in a select club. Not too many people go to these cabins.
When we finally started our home stretch into Clyde River, I had an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment! I am sure the first Inuit who saw us in Clyde had to do a double take! It was an adventure that I will never forget, one of a lifetime!