Baffin Island Dispatch

After two months in the Arctic, the Qajaqtuqtut expedition nears its crux

Baffin Island

Paddling our hand made Inuit sea kayaks for the first time. Photo courtesy Pittarak Expeditions

This summer, the team made up of American paddler Erik Boomer, Canadian brother and sister polar super-guides Eric and Sarah McNair-Landry and Nunavut-based physician Katherine Breen began a multi-sport traverse of northern Canada’s Baffin Island. The team hopes to raise the profile of traditional skin-on-frame kayaks in Canadian Arctic culture. The expedition, named  Qajaqtuqtut, meaning “they kayak” in the Inuit language, is a two-month-long, 600-mile crossing of Baffin island following traditional routes in hand-made kayaks. It’s an ambitious trip to accomplish in the short Arctic summer.

The team is now about to embark on their last 120-mile stretch along the coast line toward their journey’s final destination. Pushing into September and potentially past their projected finishing date, the team may confront fall storms, and will have to deal with huge tidal fluctuations and the ever-present polar bears to get to the community of Cape Dorset. As McNair-Landry puts it in her Sept. 10 blog entry, the conditions “will probably make this our toughest section and definitely our coldest.”

The team has encountered many adventures along their journey. Here are highlights from the team’s latest dispatches detailing their adventures so far:

Baffin Island

The team skiing across the Penny Ice Cap early in the expedition. Photo Courtesy Pittarak Expeditions

27 Jul, 13 – 18:44
67.1990N, 64.8440W
It looks like your adventure has just began stated Billy, our boat driver from Qikiqtarjuak. Sheets of ice were blocking our passage from Broughton Island to Coronation Fiord, our expedition start. Billy was right; after hours of slamming his boat (which Billy assured us that it had a re-enforced hull) into solid sheets of ice and slowly breaking his way to open water we found ourselves cruising south along the Baffin coastline with the 1:00 am arctic sunset burning into the sky. With little sleep, we found ourselves at the foot of Coronation glacier; ahead of us 80 kilometers that we needed to cross in short order. —Erik

1 Aug, 13 – 23:23
66.0722N, 67.2166W
The past three days have been an excellent test for our kayaks and I’m happy to report that they have performed marvellously well. A gale warning on Cumberland Sound brought high winds and high waves but didn’t slow our progress. The boats proved their stability in the rough water and tracked well through headwinds. At times I felt slightly seasick from surfing the large rollers, but never did my kayak feel unsteady. –Sarah

8 Aug, 13 – 20:55
66.3333N, 69.0847W
After 11 days of paddling our handmade traditional sea kayaks across the ocean, we have begun to head inland towards Nettiling Lake. To reach the massive lake we are portaging our boats and shuttling our gear through a series of small lakes. After two days of hiking and padding, four of the portages are behind us, with two more ahead. –Erik

15 Aug, 13 – 19:25
65.9500N, 71.2250W
I’m not sure if Boomer ever really loses his cool, but when I saw him swinging his paddle like a wild maniac and shouting at the top of his lungs a few mornings ago, I would say that he was pretty close. I can cut him some slack, and you would too, if you could see the great clouds of mosquitoes that have entered our lives since arriving on Nettiling Lake. –Kate

26 Aug, 13 – 17:45
65.2396N,71.6944W
The snow pelted down stinging our faces and hands, and covering the ground in a white blanket. We paddled hard to keep warm … we are only 41 km away from the two big wood boxes that contain our cache. With only several days of food left, we now have our eyes on the prize. Fingers crossed it’s still there and intact! —Sarah

29 Aug, 13 – 15:31
64.8969N,71.3889W
When I told myself that I wouldn’t cry on this expedition I knew that it was only a matter of time before it would be a broken promise. For the record, I lasted three days. It wasn’t the fall into that crevasse, but an accumulation of small things that pushed me over the edge. Feeling a bit too hungry, a bit too tired, and realizing that I was incompetent at the art of melting snow on the stove, I shed a few tears on the Penny Ice Cap. It didn’t stop there. Cumberland Sound, Nettling Fiord, Nettling Lake and the portages in between have all been made a bit saltier by my tears. –Kate

10 Sep, 13 – 08:58
64.5131N,73.2793W
During the last couple of days, we have started preparing for ocean travel. To combat the cold, we have been repairing the small leaks in our boats to stay dry, adding extra foam insulation to our boat seats and, in the tents, we are all busy modifying gear and converting socks into mitts. Also, now in polar bear country, we sleep with one eye open,and the shotgun not far out of reach. —Sarah

CLICK HERE to read full dispatches and learn more about the expedition. You can also follow them on Facebook as Pittarak Expeditions.

Stay tuned as Canoe & Kayak covers the expedition final stage and wrap up.

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  • Robert Egelstaff

    Keep it moving and complete your challenge. A fantastic effort and achievement- well done!
    Robert Egelstaff (Pond Inlet – Lancaster Sound in 1999 and Kayaks Across the Bering Strait in 1989)

  • Ds

    Wow. Unreal story. Keep it up guys. Best of luck

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