Pingualuit ski tour – 2018

This trip was originally suppose to be a ski crossing of the Ungava peninsula (details here). Due to various circumstances, it ended up being a ski tour of Pingualuit national park. I will not discuss the failed plans in too much details here but focus on the new trip that emerged.


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Trip details

Duration18 days (including 5 windbound days, 1 rest day/crater visit day)
Departure and arrival pointKangiqsujuaq village
LengthApproximately 235 kms on skis
Furthest point visitedPingualuit crater
AccommodationCamping and huts


Trip Summary

On the first day of the trip, I left the village of Kangiqsujuaq in the afternoon. A group of inuit college students doing a course to become Arctic guides came with me for the first kilometres which made the departure quite enjoyable and fun. They left after a couple kilometres and my expedition partner and I kept going until I spotted what looked like a suitable place where to camp. We had skied on frozen sea ice all day and I wanted to camp on land. Crossing the broken ice zone with the sleds to reach shore was difficult but a nice challenge. Since we were so close to the sea, I slept with my shotgun next to me in my tent. Chances of polar bear encounters were very low in the bay, but a tiny possibility was enough to make me worry.


The second day involved a lot of upward terrain. I started the day on skis but soon switched to snowshoes for the steeper parts. I was carrying snowshoes as a back-up in case my skis or bindings failed during the trip. I made good progress on the slopes and since the day was beautiful I decided to go all the way to the first hut and camp next to it. There are four huts in between the village and the crater, all about 28kms apart. My expedition partner was lagging behind, he had more trouble than I did in the slopes. I set up camp around 5.30pm and warmed dehydrated Thai curry for dinner. At 7pm my expedition partner still had not shown up and I was starting to get worried. I dressed up in my down suit and went looking for him. I found him one kilometre from the hut, a little confused and with two icicles hanging from his nose, his face not covered. The wind had started to blow in the afternoon and I had covered my face long ago. I was worried to see him uncovered, both because it indicated he was not able to recognize conditions where you have to fully cover your face (which is close to always in the arctic tundra in winter) and had not recognized the signs of frostbite. It did not look well for the rest of the trip.

The next morning the winds were quite strong and we decided to stay in the hut for the day. His nose was red and did not look too good. We hung around all day, messaging people from the village to get the latest weather forecasts. We decided that we would head out the next day, even though the winds would still be quite strong. We could not afford not to advance on all windy days, otherwise we would never get to the end!

We dressed warmly and headed outside on the next morning. Visibility was poor but we would be traveling by compass. I tied our sleds together so that we would not lose each other. Every couple of steps I had to wait for him as he was struggling. I was getting frustrated, he clearly was not in a good enough shape to do this! About one kilometer from the hut I confronted him and he declared he was abandoning the expedition. We returned to the hut and he called the village on the radio to get evacuated by snowmobile.

I attempted to leave the hut again the next day and did about 3kms before turning back. The winds were still strong and I could not see anything through my fogged and icy ski goggles. I had to stop every couple hundred meters to try to defrost them. At one point I fell down a steep slope with the sled because I had not seen it. I got scared of having to set up camp in those conditions and decided to retract to the first hut. I fell frustrated at myself for being too scared. I had not prepared myself to do this alone, I thought I was going to be able to rely on an experienced partner, which was far from reality. I took time to rest and decided I would attempt leaving again the next day.

The next morning the skies were clear and the weather seemed perfect to head out. I made good progress on that day but not enough to reach the next hut. I camped after about approximately 20kms of progress. Winds were blowing strong again the next morning and I completed the remaining 8kms with very poor visibility, following my compass to make sure I was heading in the right direction. When I reached the hut I decided that I had had enough for that day and stayed there. It’s difficult to resist a sheltered and (eventually) heated place when in the cold tundra on your own! These huts are maintained by Nunavik Parks and are very nice and well equipped. It’s actually quite amazing that huts are available in the area! It’s also during that day that I decided against attempting a crossing all the way to Hudson bay by myself. I would ski to the Pingualuit crater and back by myself. Although not the initial plan, it would provide a nice opportunity to practice winter tundra travel skills while still having a “safety net” nearby: the park’s hut system. Spaced around 30 kms apart, there are four huts in between the village of Kangiqsujuaq and the meteor crater, the main attraction of the park.

The next two days I skied for long hours from hut to hut. The terrain was flat but got difficult at the very end, the area close to the crater is full of boulders that resulted from the meteor impact. I skied for around 12 hours on those two days and felt like I deserved a rest at the hut close to the crater!

I sorted my gear on that rest day and only headed out to see the crater in late afternoon. It was -40 with the wind chill so I hiked in my down suit (with ventilation zips open) and snowshoes, it took me less than one hour to reach the crater from the hut. It was spectacular and I was very glad I went, although my motivation had been low since I was tired and it was so cold!

Return trip

I got a beautiful day for the first day of my return trip. I was able to cover a good distance and to reach the previous hut. Conditions were so good I even took out the drone for the first time! This beautiful day was followed by a windbound day at hut 3, and then another beautiful day where I reached the second hut. My return journey was going well so far!

I camped next to hut 2 and headed out the next morning. It started snowing during the day and the progress was difficult. I had mostly skied on hard-frozen snow up to there, and now I had to deal with accumulation of powdery snow, much more difficult to traverse with the sled. I camped about 9kms from the first hut. The accumulation of snow on my tent during the night was notable. The next morning the snow situation had deteriorated and it took me 6 hours to cover the 9 kms to get back to the first hut! I was exhausted and did not want to camp a third night out so decided to stay in the hut.

Once again the next day was a windbound day. I was getting eager to reach the village and was daydreaming of burgers and french fries. I headed out at 6.30am the next morning, determined to cover a good distance that day and who knows, maybe even make it back to the village! I soon found out that the conditions would not allow for a 30km day. I was sinking in powdery snow up to my knees in many places. The progress was painfully slow and the sled got stuck in many snow drifts. Even though most of the terrain I had to cross was downhill, managing the sled in the snow wind-loaded slopes was quite a challenge. I reached the bay after more than 10 hours of travel. I skied until 7pm and camped in the bay in an area full of rocks which I intended to use to secure my tent. I soon found put that they were frozen in the ground and impossible for me to move! I still managed to build a tiny wall of snow to protect my tent from the winds.

The night was windy but nothing my tent could not manage. I started skiing under cloudy skies which soon cleared out. Winds stopped blowing allowing me to take out the drone while skiing on frozen sea ice in the bay. I love those images!
My friend from the village had warned me that it takes forever to get to the village once you see it. He was right, I got my first sight of the village when I was still around 6kms away. It seemed much closer than it was! I tried not to look at it too much during the last hours of the trip, I was quite eager to reach it. As I was reaching the village I saw my friend skiing towards me. He pulled my sled for the last kilometre or so. I was back!

Because of the hut system, I think the access corridor to the Pingualuit national park is a very good destination for anyone who wants to practice winter arctic travel skills. You have to be self-reliant and independent as any rescue team could have to wait days to reach you if the conditions are bad (blizzard or strong winds), which seems to occur quite regularly in the area.

Gear List

thumbnail of Equipment list 2018