Story by Team Outpost
Photos by Simon Vaughan and Will Allen
Team Outpost Baffin
Takes to the Tundra
How can air smell smooth or go down clean, like it feels up here? We’re already discussing this among ourselves, but clearly the conversation is rhetorical.
No sooner have we found our Northern feet, than we head off to do some ATVing with Arctic Kingdom. An ATV is not just a recreational vehicle for Nunavummiut (as people from Nunavut are known), but it is a common mode of transport: the 21st century equivalent of the dog sled. The roads of Iqaluit and every other community buzz with the quad bikes, as people head out to shop, fish or hunt, go on the land, visit friends...or just pick up Timbits.
We don helmets and drive through the town, out to Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park. The park is one of Nunavut’s most accessible, a favourite recreation spot. Every weekend, locals gather for barbecues and picnics or to engage in a spot of fishing. Iqaluit means “place of many fish,” and it’s the bountiful Sylvia Grinnell River from which it derived its name. One of 20 territorial parks, heritage rivers and designated places administered by Nunavut Parks, Sylvia Grinnell offers hiking trails, interpretive station, lookouts and Arctic wilderness that is within strolling distance of downtown. Bizarre and delightful.
The park sprawls over distant rolling hills and plays host to archaeological sites, great birdwatching and the chance to spot Arctic hare, Arctic fox and even caribou. Re-mounting our ATVs, we skirt around the outside of the park perimeter, following a muddy, rock-strewn trail along the banks of the river. The water tumbles well below us, while dotted along the spongy tundra are tiny cabins and large canvas tents where locals come to fish or camp or just be on the land.
"Heavy grey clouds straggle wispy fingers across the high ground, while wildflowers and berries, Arctic cotton, dwarf birch and purple mountain saxifrage decorate the verdant landscape."
As we move deeper onto the tundra, the terrain becomes more chaotic: deep pools of mud, jagged rock features and nearly vertical inclines challenge us at constant intervals. The mud forces us to winch, the rock forces us to move slowly and the inclines test our ATV skills.
We manage just fine, and the experience of riding the land is unforgettable.
We stop for lunch at a spot that overlooks the river, pressing hard against the leeward side of a shack. Heavy grey clouds straggle wispy fingers across the high ground, while wildflowers and berries, Arctic cotton, dwarf birch and purple mountain saxifrage decorate the verdant landscape.
“Ever seen a polar bear here?” we ask Brian, our guide, thinking back to a warning sign we’d seen in the park earlier. Originally from British Columbia, Brian is young, quiet and an exceptional ATV pilot who has a permanent grin plastered across his face—we can’t help but wonder if Nunavut is casting its spell on him, too.
“I’ve never seen one here,” he answers. “I saw one out on an ice floe in the spring, though. He’d caught a seal, and we watched it feeding before it slipped back into the water.”
At this point we should likely stress it’s not that Team Outpost has a thing for polar bears; we’re up here for all the adventure on offer. But we’ve only seen one in the wild once or twice before, and are perhaps a tad preoccupied with a potential sighting.
The following day it’s back to the airport. First Air isn’t your usual airline. Inuit-owned, the carrier provides a lifeline between the South—as the rest of Canada is referred to in Nunavut—and all of the territory’s communities; not just for passengers, but fresh produce, medicine, and just about anything else you could imagine.
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