Baffin or Bust: An Alpacka Packraft Paddle and Climb Expedition

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Where can an Alpacka packraft take you, you ask? How about to Baffin Island, for a paddling and climbing expedition? Read on for just such an exploit undertaken last year by Bronwyn Hodgins and her crew.

How It Began

Last summer myself, my husband (Jacob Cook) and two of my longtime closest friends (Zack Goldberg-Poch and Thor Stewart) traveled to Baffin Island in northern Canada, only a few hundred km across the bay from Greenland. Our mission was to climb some big mountain faces and to access these cliffs self-propelled by packraft.

I grew up in Ontario, raised by a family of whitewater canoe trippers. At my age, my parents were guiding northern rivers together, like the South Nahanni and the Coppermine rivers. My siblings and I went to canoe tripping camp every summer, first as participants and later as guides.

Baffin Island Alpacka
The next four days we spent dragging upstream and portaging in a
cold rain up the west shore of the Weasel River.

I started rock climbing only as a university student, but quickly became obsessed. I met Jacob in the university climbing club (he’d been climbing since he was a kid) and now seven years later we are married and living in Squamish, BC. We both climb as much as we can, and instead of guiding rivers I now guide rock climbing. So you can understand how excited I was about the opportunity to combine paddling and climbing on an expedition into the remote mountains of Baffin Island!

Baffin Island, Alpacka pack raft
team paddled our Alpacka Foragers up the 30-km Pangnirtung Fjord in unbelievably good weather and calm seas

Our small team of four landed in the remote Inuit community of Pangnirtung, NU, on the east coast of Baffin Island. The following day we inflated our tandem Alpacka Forager packrafts and pushed off onto the Arctic Ocean. I’d been worried about ice pack this early in the season. I’d also been concerned of the 150-mph northerly winds that the locals spoke of.

But, the sea was totally calm; a pane of turquoise glass glistening under the arctic sun. We glided effortlessly, riding the rising tide up the fjord and toward the mountains. After eight hours of solid paddling, we pulled ashore to camp only a km shy of the fjord’s end. What a start to the trip! The next day the wind came from the north, bringing four days of progressively cold and miserable weather. We trudging on, faces to the wind and rain, first dragging the loaded packrafts up the river and then, when the terrain steepened, we lugged the loads on our backs. As we trekked, the mountains grew taller.

Baffin Island Alp[acka pack raft
Smelly polypro? Likely. The motley crew posed under Mount Asgard; (Left to right) Jacob Cook, Zack Goldberg-Poch, Bronwyn Hodgins and Thor Stewart.

Skipping Forward to the Paddling

Then it was time to chance gears; we grabbed our paddling stuff! The upper Weasel is pretty wild. We ran a short rapid at the top, but then the river plunged into a series of drops (Class 5+ according to Eric Boomer who ran the river in 2014). We portaged a couple km before loading our gear into the tubes of our packrafts. After scouting ahead, Jacob and I ran a 500m section of continuous class 3+. The river was flooded which meant eddies were few and far between, but we were able to beach ourselves on a gravel bar to wait for the second boat.

Zack and Thor had some difficulties along the way. Zack fell out of the bow, and then later the entire boat flipped sending them both for a swim. Due to the continuous nature of the river and frigid temperatures, we decided to portage the remaining distance to Mount Thor.

Red full story here:

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