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Auyuittuq National Park

Area: 21283 sq km. Location: Located on Baffin Island's Cumberland Peninsula, Auyuittuq (ow-you-ee-tuk) National Park covers 19,500 square kilometres of rugged mountains, active glaciers, deep valleys, and spectacular fjords. Terrain: Millions of years of geologic history lie locked in the rocks and ice of Auyuittuq National Park. The separation of Baffin Island from Greenland, the buckling of bedrock into mountains by continental drift forces, the compression of accumulated snow into glaciers and the deepening of valleys by those moving glaciers, are all part of that history. The park is dominated by the Penny Highlands with mountains of Precambrian granite reach up to 2100 m in height. Most of the highlands is covered by the the 300-m thick Penny Ice Cap and that covers 5100 sq. km in area. This ice cap could be a remnant of the continental glaciers of the last ice age.

Akshayuk Pass - Akshayuk Akutinga is a 100 km long ice-free trough that cuts through the mountains between Cumberland Sound and Davis Strait. Glaciers once filled it and helped carve out its deep U-shaped profile, characteristic of glacier-formed valleys. Along the coast, the glaciers have incised the valley floors below sea level, creating deep, narrow fjords with vertical walls up to 900 m high.

Akshayuk Pass contains textbook examples of the work of glaciers. You can see these throughout the pass. The sharp mountain ridges and peaks of the mountains lining the pass were created by small mountain glaciers called cirque or alpine glaciers. Some large cirque glaciers extend down onto the floor of the pass on the colder north side of the pass. In many places you will have to hike over or around great mounds and ridges of rock and boulders. These are glacial moraines, a word of French origin meaning "rubble heap"in other words, glacial rock litter. The ridge of sand gravel and boulders pushed up by the moving front of a glacier is called an end moraine. It marks the limit of a glacier's latest advance. The lateral extent of a glacier's latest advance is marked by deposits of sand and gravel known as lateral moraines.

Mount Overlord (1490 m) also known as Pangniqtup Qingua is the majestic peak that stands as a sentinel guarding the southern entrance to the pass. Just below Overlord, where the Weasel River meets Cumberland Sound, the range between high and low tides can be as much as 10 metres. You will see many extensive sandy areas along the trail. This sand was created by ice, as well as wind and water. Moving glaciers grind rock into particles of varying sizes. The sand here was sorted by wind out of the moraines and outwash deposits close by. But finer particles of silt and clay may be carried away by wind into the upper atmosphere and be distributed across entire continents.

Crater Lake - Aqulutaqrusiq, on the west side of the Weasel River, is a beautiful, circular greenish-blue lake. It was not formed by a meteor as its name suggests, but is surrounded by an almost circular ridge of gravel and sand. From the main trail you cannot see over that ridge to view the lake itself. The ridge is the end moraine of the glacier above the lake. It marks the limit of the glacier's latest advance, which occurred about 100 years ago. Now that the glacier has melted back, this natural dam impounds the meltwater from the glacier. Summit and Windy lakes were also created by water being impounded behind end moraines. The water is a greenish-blue because of the sediment-laden waters that enter the lake. In similar fashion, the water of the Weasel River is totally opaque. Glaciers crush rock into extremely fine particles called glacial flour. When these tiny particles are suspended in water, the mixture is called glacial milk.

The Arctic Circle (Ukiuqtaqtuup) is an imaginary line marking the latitude of 66:33.5 North. At any point on the line, there is one day of near total sunshine on June 21 and one of near total darkness on December 21. Schwartzenbach Falls (Qulitasaniakvik marks) the Arctic Circle with a white torrent of water where it descends 650 metres to the Weasel River. Its Inuit name means, "the place to get caribou skins." In the past, Inuit climbed past these falls to hunt caribou in the valleys beyond. Thor Peak - Qaisualuk peak soars 1675 m up out of the valley floor. This regal mountain is named after the Norse god of thunder as a tribute to its power. It has the longest uninterrupted cliff face in the world, about one kilometre in height. Summit Lake (Tasiruluk) marks the height of land in Akshayuk Pass. Glacial waters from the lake flow both north and south in the Owl and Weasel rivers, dropping 500 metres before reaching the Arctic Ocean.

At the summit, Mount Asgard (2015 m) also called Sivanitirutinguak stands among surrounding glaciers like a scene out of Norse mythology. The flat top of its two cylindrical towers has been the goal of climbing expeditions from around the world. The Turner and Highway Glaciers - Auyuittuit radiate outwards from the vast Penny Ice Cap like enormous tentacles. In imperceptible slow motion, the great ice rivers flow down from the high plateau of the park's interior, pulled to the valley floor by gravity and the weight of the ice itself. The Owl River Valley - Inatiavaluk lies beyond the summit. It is not hiked as often as the south half of the pass and offers even greater solitude. As the name implies, this valley is an excellent place for you to see snowy owls during years of high lemming populations. Antlers on the valley floor suggest that the rich tundra vegetation you will find there once provided habitat for herds of caribou.

The land here stays permanently frozen except for a thin layer on the surface. However, there are sections of the Owl River bed which thaw deeply enough to create waist-deep quagmires. Water seeping through the sediments gives them dangerous quicksand-like properties. Take care when hiking on the mud along the river. The polar marine climate means long, cold winters and short, cool summers. July is the warmest month, with an average high of 10C. In January the average high is a chilly -23C. The park receives very little precipitation, although the sky is often cloudy in late summer. The weather can change rapidly and without warning. There is usually a strong breeze blowing through Akshayuk Pass and down the fjords. History: The history of the park dates back about 4000 years to the Pre-Dorset period when Siberian peoples crossed the Bering land-bridge into North America. For centuries these nomadic people traversed across the Arctic. The Thule, ancestors of the present-day Inuit, moved into the area after about 1200 AD. Stone walls of Thule houses can still be seen at some sites. There is evidence that the Thules may have met and traded with the Vikings between the 13th and 15th centuries when the Vikings traveled from Greenland to visit the shores of Baffin Island.

In 1585, John Davis explored parts of Baffin Island and charted and named the Cumberland Peninsula just to the north of Frobisher Bay. Martin Frobisher in search of the Northwest Passage, it is said, discovered gold there. Although the Inuit were in contact with European whalers, missionaries and fur traders as early as the 17th century, their culture changed most dramatically in the 19th century when English and Scottish commercial whaling brought alcohol and disease. In 1858, William Penny, mapped the coast southeast of Broughton Island and Cumberland South. He noted that Baffin Island's population was only 350, compared with over 1000 when he had visited the island a decade earlier. When local Inuit were hired to work on whaling ships, hunting patterns were disrupted because traders encouraged them to use firearms and metal traps. Missionary schools discouraged the use of their own language, ancient rites and traditional beliefs.

Auyuittuq National Park was created in 1976.

Top Trips
A Tour of an Unnamed Glacier in Auyuittuq National Park Rick Collier

Top Photos
Mount Asgard from South David Wasserman
Weasel River Valley with Thor Peak David Wasserman
Nanna and Breidablik Peaks in Auyuittuq National Park David Wasserman
Rundle Glacier from Mount Battle's Northeast Slopes Dave Hodge
Turner Glacier in Auyuittuq National Park David Wasserman
Mt Asgard from Auyuittuq Pass Paul Kubik
Mount Asgard, Baffin Island (From Air) Sandy Briggs
Midnight Sun Peak and Mount Battle Dave Hodge
Thor Peak and the Forkbeard Glacier Dave Hodge
View from Umik Mountain, Auyuittuq Park Sandy Briggs
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