An Expedition Across the Akshayuk Pass, Baffin Island: Terra Firma
In March 2023, Andrew Denton, CEO of the UK’s Outdoor Industries Association & outdoor trade veteran, and a group of his oldest friends took a very cold trip to Akshayuk Pass in the Auyuittuq National Park, Baffin Island to celebrate his 60th birthday.
Known as “the land that never melts”, Auyuittuq National Park, is home to a landscape of sprawling glaciers, steep fiords, and winding river valleys. As they began their unsupported expedition, all of their gear was in their pulks, weighing up to 45kg each. However, Andrew explained that “progress was at times effortless, as the pulks glided uncomplaining behind us as we skied across the smooth snow or stomped on crampons across the unruffled ice. Progress was not so smooth (or so much fun) when we were pulling across undulating tundra or wind-scored sand, but overall, the trek was neither physically, nor technically demanding. The big threat – and what made this trek so challenging – was the cold.”
Despite the opinions of people prior to the trip claiming how cold it would be, they continued with their expedition into -36 degree temperatures, with highs of just -23. He continued, “living in such brutal cold is attritional. The cold finds every chink, every gap in your clothing. If your feet sweat in the boots, the liners freeze to the outers, meaning a colossal struggle at the end of each day to extract the inners and try to thaw them overnight. If we over-exerted ourselves pulling the pulks and got a bit hot, as soon as we stopped, we were instantly cold – there is no transition from hot, to warm, to cold.”
The tent of choice was the Expedition Terra Firma, which Andrew describes as “outstanding”. The Terra Firma has proved its unrivalled capabilities on previous expeditions, so this was no test for it. He explained, “The Terra Nova Terra Firma [tents] were outstanding – tough and robust. Although we were four to a tent, they were spacious enough for bulky mats and sleeping bags (though I confess to being a bit disorganised and I kept losing things in the tent to the amusement/irritation of my friends). And we were confident that even had the wind blown at full-tilt, they would have stood the test. On the final few nights, we camped on the sea ice, with little snow for the valances – instead, we used the weight of the pulks and the tent pegs hammered into the five-foot thick ice.”
They aimed to get camp set up with a few hours of daylight left to dig the snow to melt the evening’s food and drink. He continued, “The stoves started burning almost before the gear was unloaded from the pulks. Drinking plenty and staying well-hydrated helps protect the body from the cold and of course there is no water – melting snow is your only lifeline on this trip. Once camp was set up, the high point of the day – FOOD!”
Reminiscing on their trip to Baffin Island, Andrew explained how stunning the Akshayuk Pass is, adding that they felt the most glorious sense of isolation; “the apocalypse could have occurred and we would have been none the wiser! The perfect, unbroken sound of silence. The sense of camaraderie amongst the group (it helped that most of them had known each other for more than 20 years). The astounding night skies, the northern lights.”
As they came toward the end of the trip, Andrew mentioned that the scenery became even more amazing, “we climbed up the terminal moraine to camp in front of the flat-headed Asgard. And then slipped and slid down the frozen river the next day to camp opposite the imposing majesty of Thor, bending his back to stare down into the valley, his 1,250 metre face frowning down at us, as we plotted impossible routes up it.”
He continued: “When the trip ended in Pangnirtung, I for one felt bereft. It was truly memorable and the quality of the kit we took with us meant that even had the weather turned bad, I was at all times confident of our ability to face it and survive. We are already planning our next adventure!”
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