Auyuittuq National Park

Auyuittuq National ParkThat sniffing sound outside your tent—could that be a hungry polar bear? Way up here above the Arctic Circle, it could very well be. Auyuittuq National Park, one of North America’s most isolated and pristine reserves, is home to polar bears, caribou, rabbits, arctic fox, lemmings—and not much else. The name “Auyuittuq” means “the land that never melts,” and the dearth of vegetation here makes life rough for animals, including humans. Nobody comes here looking for lush forests or a fantastic menagerie of exotic animals. It’s all about the splendid isolation of this land, and the spectacular beauty of the immense fjords, ragged, icy peaks, and massive glaciers that define this lonely peninsula of Baffin Island.

And yet they come, hundreds of them each year, to trek across this brutal landscape. Getting here is a bit of an ordeal itself, as air service to the settlement of Pangnirtung is infrequent. Visitors who enter the park at Pangnirtung or Qikiqtarjuaq must register at the park offices there, pay a fee, and attend a rather intense orientation that’s designed to ensure they don’t risk their lives in the wilderness.

For lives have been lost in this park, most notably by those who dare to challenge Mount Thor. This awe-inspiring pinnacle is famous among rock-climbers and nature photographers alike for its fantastic 105-degree overhanging mountain face, considered the biggest unobstructed vertical drop in the world—over 1,230m (4,100 ft.) of sheer granite. More climbing routes are established each year, including some on Mount Asgard’s 780m (2,600-ft.) face, but none can rival Thor for its imposing grandeur. Outdoor adventurers who prefer to keep their feet on terra firma hike the Akshayuk Pass, a 97km (60-mile) trek that follows the Owl and Weasel Rivers, connecting the east and west coasts of Baffin Island.

Only seasoned, extreme-weather backpackers attempt to trek this wilderness without guides. Mere mortals should consider contacting an experienced tour group (see below) for their introduction to this amazing land where the summer sun never sets.