Severe erosion destroys portion of hiking trail
Officials ponder reopening of ravaged park
Parks Canada planned to re-open the southern end of Auyuittuq National Park this week after closing the entrance July 29.
The reopening was to be made official after park staff determined whether the trail from the entrance at Overlord to Windy Lake – a distance of about 15 kilometres – was safe for hikers.
A combination of higher-than-average temperatures, melt-water and rain caused severe erosion in the park, leading to the closure of the park's southern entrance.
Flashfloods washed away a bridge near Windy Lake and destroyed hiking trails.
The closure meant Akshayuk Pass was effectively closed along 60 kilometres of its 97 km. length, an area that spokesperson Pauline Scott called "huge."
Last weekend, Parks Canada received expert advice on the state of the erosion in the park from Dr. Eric Mattson, an ice and snow specialist, and Dr. Meagan Leach, a water specialist.
Accompanied by park staff, the two flew over and photographed Auyuittuq in a Coast Guard helicopter so they could see the extent of the damage and gauge whether the park would be safe for hikers to enter.
The erosion damage in the middle portion of the pass means hikers can't reach all emergency huts, Scott said. This means the route to be followed by hikers will likely be altered.
However, Scott expected that even hikers now heading through the northern end of the park near Qikiqtarjuaq will be able to hike through to Pangnirtung.
Hamlet officials feared that permanent closure of the park's southern end would severely affect summer tourism in Pangnirtung. About 500 park visitors pass through the community each summer, even if they start their hike in Qikiqtarjuaq, 34 km northeast of the park.
Cruise ships are also scheduled to stop in Pangnirtung throughout August, and some plan to travel 28 km up the fiord, where passengers are brought to shore by zodiacs for a hike in the park.
The closure came days after hikers returning from the park showed photographs to hamlet and park officials in Pangnirtung.
The hikers' photos show severe erosion near Crater Lake, a circular, greenish-blue lake, which is protected by a gravel ridge that acts as a natural dam for melt-water.
Alarmed by the level of erosion near the ridge, Parks Canada decided early last week to close the southern entrance to Auyuittuq and to evacuate 21 hikers by helicopter.
Photos taken from the helicopter during the airlift showed the erosion of trails along Akshayuk Pass was even worse than expected.
"That's when we realized that is wasn't just Crater Lake, but it was all the way to the Rundle River," Scott said.
Erosion at Windy Lake had also caused a suspension bridge to collapse.
In June, a similar mix of above average temperatures, heavy rains and a torrent of melt-water sent Pangnirtung into a state of emergency for three weeks.
The Duval River carved a new course and washed away the earth that supported two bridges connecting the town with its water supply, sewage treatment plant and some homes.
The flash flooding also caused cracks and sinkholes to appear near the riverbed, similar to those now seen in Auyuittuq.