Sunday, August 7, 2011

Into the Arctic - Auyuittuq National Park - Tips for the first time hiker



All throughout my research for this hike, I have not been able to find in depth advice/tips for the first time hiker to Auyuittuq. So, here is a compilation of our mistakes (& learnings) and things that we did right ! You may want to have a look at my gear list (Auyuittuq List) before going through this article.

Though this is meant for the first time hiker to Auyuittuq, even those who have been to Auyuittuq might be able to pick up a point or two.

Travel

What we did right:

Flight cancellations are common due to unpredictable weather. Allow for one day between transits - we saw a group stranded because one of their flights was cancelled and they were at risk of missing their connecting flight. You can avoid this mess by planning better...

What we didn't:

Our planning was just about perfect - we just had to spend one extra day at Pangnirtung because we wound up earlier than expected due to bad weather.

Tent

Tent is the most crucial element of your trip. Your trip can easily be a misadventure if you don't have the right tent. It should be able to face extreme elements !

What we did right:
  • Wind : Make sure your tent is able to withstand heavy gusts of wind (30-35kmph at least). Add extra anchors even if it isn't windy when you setup the tent.
  • Water : You cannot afford to let water in at any cost - the risk of hypothermia is quite high in these environments. Make sure you always use a tarp below the tent. Check out the waterproofness rating. I own the 2 person MSR Hubba Hubba and did not face any issues even in extreme rain conditions we had. No condensation issues despite almost six nights of continuous rain (because of the mesh screen inside which provides very good ventilation)!
  • Tent Location : There are no designated campsites - although you may certainly be able to find some traces of previous campers. Avoid exposed areas. Don't be too close to bed of mountains (rock falls are common) and don't be too close to the river either. We saw some tent sites (traces of previous campers) go under water due to heavy rains. Avoid water streams (even those without water - you never know !)
  • Tent Positioning: While setting up tent, determine wind direction and expose least area to wind. Try to expose corners to wind - this will deflect wind and your tent will not take a hit. This precaution may be extremely helpful if wind direction doesn't change. If the wind direction does keep changing, you anyways have no other better option !!
What we didn't:

Nothing !! - We were bang on. Not even a single drop of water inside tent despite 6 nights of rain and one night of storm. 

Stove, Food and Fuel

What we did right: 

Carry 2 days of extra food - you might be stranded at river crossings and may have to extend your trip.
Carry a backup stove - the first emergency shelter is 20+Kms
Carry enough fuel - Again, don't depend on emergency caches ! About ~100 ml per person per day. This is just an average - go by this if you don't have any prior experience. We managed with ~1L for 2 people for a trip of 8 days. We cooked twice a day - but only boiled water as we had ready-to-eat stuff. We carried 2 litres...

Self sufficiency is the best option for this trip - Don't depend on emergency shelters but know what is available there.

What we didn't

Read instructions thorougly on packs before you leave. Some food items (e.g. scrambled eggs) might need additional utensils. We carried 3-4 extra packs which we could not use. Easily avoidable !
This applies only if you intend to carry ready to eat items which require only boiling water. If you are an experienced hiking cook, you can ignore this...

River crossings

What we did right:

We carried waterblocker sealskinz socks. It worked decently well - although we would have liked to perform better. We did have water inside our socks... This is possibly the best option around.

What we didn't:

Get water shoes.

We used sandals (Merell Waterpro) to cross rivers. This was not a bright option. Your feet is exposed to cold water and you feel that chillness for quite some time. Small pieces of rock get stuck frequently- it was irritating to remove them each time we crossed a river stream.

Be prepared to walk long distances on your water shoes. We had heavy rain and there were numerous new streams created on our return. I almost walked 10-15 kms on my sandals - it takes a toll on your ankles...

Good strong hiking poles

Lighter isn't always better ! 
We opted for ultra light poles from Black Diamond - very expensive and they do not serve the purpose. My poles broke off (yes, thats right !) during a river crossing (luckily, on our return trip). I did the remaining crossings with one pole !!
Get something which is sturdy.

Satellite Phone

What we did right:

Though this is optional, we did carry one. Was very useful - we got the weather forecast and our decision to cut short the trip was based on this forecast. The forecast was indeed very accurate. We were not stranded and did not need rescue (unlike all others who were rescued by helicopters. We were the last ones to come out of the park by themselves) just because we carried a satellite phone.

And of course, you can keep your loved ones informed - saves some unnecesary tense moments for them.

Iridium satellite phones work well in the arctic. We carried 9555 - Latest, lightest and sturdy. Worked as sweet as melted chocolate !!

Don't be ashamed to ask

What we did right:

We always asked about conditions ahead from hikers who were crossing us in the opposite direction (There were not many and there will never be many !! ). It helps tremendously to determine water levels in rivers beforehand. Else, you might have to camp right next to the river to figure out the right time to cross it - you might end up putting up tent in a risky spot.


Others

These apply to any hike in general.
Backpack: Get a comfortable backpack - avoid first use in the arctic. Prefer tried and tested ones.
Map: Get a chrismar map. This is the only map available - very helpful. You can order it online (www.chrismar.com).
Sleeping bag rating: Normally your sleeping bag should be rated 10 degrees lower than the lowest temperature you can expect in a trip. We had a comfortable trip in July with a -7 Deg C rated sleeping bag.
Sleeping pad: Provides insulation and comfort
Hiking boots: Try to get boots that go over the ankle - you don't have to change shoes often for river crossings. The hike is not technically risky. Any type is OK but waterproofing (goretex) is must.
Compass: We carried one but never used it. You may need it in the northern segment of the pass where there is no fixed trail.
Gaiters: Optional but may be helpful. You can skip it...
Energy bars/gels, hydration pack, water purifier tablets (we carried but never used it! You cannot get purer water on this planet - Make sure you collect water from side streams and not the river. You may need purifiers if you use river water) and layered clothing.


Hope this helps - All the best !

Feel free to contact me (by leaving a comment) if you need additional information - I would be glad to assist...

2 comments:

Bhuvan said...

Real real interesting, googled to see where this place is, I guess you will be the only Inquisitive Indian who has thirst to lay footprint on these places. Truly amazing. I felt like this when I went Grossglockner national park- and saw franz josef glacier...

R Athmanathan said...

It was beautiful - easily the best trip of my life till now. True wilderness.