Our Baffin Island Snowmobile Adventure

19 April, 2017 0 comments Leave a comment

Richardson party in Iqualuit on Baffin Island

To celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, John and I, with friends Rick and Nancy, embarked on a 3-day guided snowmobile adventure on Baffin Island, in Canada's far north. Our trip was on Easter weekend, to take advantage of the long hours of daylight and milder spring temperatures.

Iqualuit Baffin Island

We flew via First Air on a Friday morning, from Ottawa to Iqualuit, the capital of the territory of Nunavut. This was our first view of the town from our airplane. We stayed at the big brown building at the top of the photo above.

John and Karen Richardson in Iqualuit Baffin Island

Our guide from Arctic Kingdom picked us up at the airport, and we collected our snowmobiles. John and I are pictured above on our Arctic Kingdom Polar Expedition Grand Touring Skidoo.

Richardson party on Baffin Island

We all went on a short test ride on the sea ice. The photo above shows John and I beside our Skidoo, with our friends in the background. Rick and Nancy each drove a Skidoo.

Sled dogs and Fuel tanks Baffin Island

We saw lots of dogsled teams tied up near the shore. In the background are fuel storage tanks, that are refilled every summer from tanker ships, to provide fuel for the town of Iqualuit all year.

Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island

After an excellent dinner and comfortable overnight stay at the Frobisher Inn, we set off early Saturday morning across the sea ice of Frobisher Bay (shown above). This 20 km crossing took us over tortuous 2-meter pressure ridges near Iqualuit, then over smoother sea ice to the far shore of the Bay. 

Baffin Island trip equipment

Our destination was the tiny village of Kimmirut on the other side of Baffin Island, about 130 km away. The photo above shows the two traditional qamutik (pronounced KAMmatick) expedition sleds made of wood and twine, and five snowmobiles, that made the journey. We had to bring all our gas, personal luggage, safety equipment, camp stove, and food with us.

Baffin Island snowmobile trail

We followed tundra trails through more than 100 km of Katannilik Territorial Park, and along the Soper River valley. We enjoyed sunshine and blue sky all day, surrounded by glaciated mountains and pure white snow. The trail was busier than we had expected, and we saw about 50 snowmobiles that day, because there was a snowmobile race along the route we were taking.

 Baffin Island trail hut

Shelter cabins, like the one pictured above, were provided at intervals along the route to Kimmirut. Travelers use them to get out of the wind for a lunch break or even to sleep in overnight. The huts are very plain, with one window, one door, a chimney vent, and three raised platforms inside. Visitors have to provide their own heat source, such as a camp stove.

Baffin Island guide making tea

The photo above shows the inside of the cabin where we stopped for lunch. This is Wayne Broomfield, our unflappable, capable guide, boiling water and heating soup on a camp stove. We enjoyed homemade vegetable beef soup and biscuits, hot chocolate, and ham, cheddar, and lettuce wrap sandwiches for lunch. Delicious! Wayne grew up in northern Labrador and still spends time there. In addition to working as an expedition guide on Baffin Island, he is a professional photographer. 

Baffin Island guide Malaya

After lunch we prepared for a steep descent down a mountain pass. We left the second qamutik full of gas cans beside the trail, hidden behind a rocky ridge. Malaya Qaunirq Chapman, our guide's assistant, is shown in the photo above, sans qamutik. She was born in the Iqualuit area, spent several years in Los Angeles, and returned to live in the north. She was fully bilingual and a delightful addition to our group.

Malaya on Baffin Island

The photo above shows Malaya in full riding attire, Baffin Island style (i.e. parka and goggles rather than snowmobile suit and helmet).

Baffin Island Willow Trees

We passed through the only 'forest' on Baffin Island – the Giant Willow Tree Forest. The trees reach 3 meters (10 feet) in height, although the ones we saw looked to be about 1 meter tall above the snow.

Kimik Coop in Kimmirut, Baffin Island

We reached Kimmirut by late afternoon and got settled in our rooms above the Kimik Co-op store.

View from Kimmirut, Baffin Island

This photo is our view of the harbour from the dining room above the Co-op. The tide is out, so the sea ice has subsided beside the iconic peninsula in the harbour.

Dinner in Kimmirut, Baffin Island

We were served a wonderful dinner - homemade buns, shepherd's pie and poutine with cheese AND bacon. Good job we all had worked up a good appetite that day.

Polar bear skin, Baffin Island

After dinner we walked around the village and visited the local museum to see their collection of traditional artifacts, tools, and clothing. We also saw this polar bear hide beside a house.

Friends on Baffin Island

After hot showers and a good sleep, we embarked on our return journey on Sunday morning. The day was windy with some haze, but it was interesting to see the scenery under different weather conditions. The photo above shows our friends Rick and Nancy with our guide Wayne.

Arctic sun, Baffin Island

As the day progressed, the wind increased and visibility decreased, but Wayne guided us confidently through the route back to Iqualuit. We wore our sunglasses the whole trip, because the Arctic spring sun is very strong and can cause snow blindness.

Waterfall, Baffin Island

We stopped to see this huge frozen waterfall on the Soper River. It was the same gorgeous aquamarine colour you see in glacier crevasses.

Whiteout, Baffin Island

Our guide, Wayne, took the photo above. John and I are on the snowmobile on the left. Behind us are Malaya and three local women who joined our group when the weather worsened.

Whiteout, Baffin Island

Wayne took this picture above. Rick and Nancy are in front, with John and I behind them. You could not tell where the land ended and the sky began - everything was white. But Wayne got us through and back to our hotel by late afternoon. Three of us ended up with a bit of frostbite on our necks, where the wind sneaked in between our jackets and helmets. Gotta have battle scars, right?

Arctic Kingdom house, Baffin Island

We returned our snowmobiles and qamutiks to the Arctic Kingdom office in Iqualuit (shown above). Afterwards, we had dinner at the Frobisher Inn, and Wayne entertained us with more enthralling tales of his Arctic adventures.

While we dined and talked, several local artisans came through the restaurant, offering their creations for sale. (This is an acceptable practice in the north.) It was wonderful to meet these Inuit folk, and it was a convenient and affordable way to acquire some quality paintings and carvings, as souvenirs of our visit to Baffin Island.

Group photo, Baffin Island

On Monday morning, Wayne picked us up from the Frobisher Inn, to give us a driving tour of town, before we flew back to Ottawa in the early afternoon. Above, we are pictured at the Arctic Kingdom office - John, Nancy, Wayne, Karen, and Rick - in front of four brand new qamutiks.

Iqualuit Baffin Island 

This is one of the residential streets in Iqualuit, above. Wayne told us house prices run in the $300K to $500K range and jobs are very well paid here.

Grocery store in Iqualuit Baffin Island

This is one of their grocery stores, above. Groceries are more expensive here due to freight costs - goods have to be shipped in during summer when the sea ice is out, or flown in during the rest of the year.

Trilingual stop sign in Iqualuit Baffin Island

Stop signs are tri-lingual in Iqualuit.

Tim Hortons in Iqualuit Baffin Island

And, yes, there is a Tim Horton's here too... Now you have no excuse not to go to Baffin Island!

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