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Crossing a small ice cap in Quttinirpaaq National Park. (Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail/Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)
Crossing a small ice cap in Quttinirpaaq National Park. (Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail/Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)

Go north! Why you should trek to Quttinirpaaq national park Add to ...

1) 32 C

The closer to the North Pole you are, the colder it gets, right? Wrong - especially in summer, when night doesn't exist.

Quttinirpaaq is chockablock with glaciers; 36 per cent is covered by glaciers and ice caps, some of them nearly a kilometre thick. But its prime destinations - a pair of outrageously picturesque places called Lake Hazen and Tanquary Fiord - can, in the height of a sun-kissed summer, compete with destinations far to the south on temperature. Think shorts and T-shirts. Scientists describe Lake Hazen as a "thermal oasis" and thermometers can read 32 C in the sun. It's not always this warm, of course - the waters of Lake Hazen thaws only in the warmest of years. But because both Hazen and

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Tanquary are so far north, they get nearly 150 days of non-stop sunshine. You read that right - nearly five months without a single sunset. And of that, about a third is frost-free. A frozen wasteland this is definitely not.

2) Mind-blowing scenery

Ever hear of a nunatak? It's a mountain surrounded by so much ice that only the tip emerges from a sea of brilliant white. How about a Peary caribou? It's a miniature version of its southern cousin and, as an endangered species, incredibly rare. But travel to Quttinirpaaq, and chances are you'll see both nunatait (more than one nunatak) and small herds of Peary caribou - or, at very least, the sun-bleached remains of their impressive antlers. And that's just the beginning. One popular trip involves hiking between Lake Hazen and Tanquary Fiord - a difficult, 130-kilometre grunter, but one that places your feet on a land filled with rich rewards. Remnants of pre-Inuit peoples provide cause for legitimate wonder how anyone could live in a place this utterly remote. There are glaciers in all sizes and shapes. One looks like a hand of God. Another bears a distinctive heart shape.

Because summer is brief, flowers spring to life all at once, coating verdant hillsides with brilliant yellow Arctic poppies and ethereal Arctic cotton. Only seven mammals call the park home: Arctic hare, lemming, ermine, Arctic fox, Arctic wolf, musk ox and Peary caribou. You'll notice polar bears aren't on that list - they do make their way inside park boundaries, but generally, it's too far north even for the ice bear. You'll also notice that the animals are shockingly friendly. Human contact is so rare here that primal defensive fear is largely lacking. Travellers have told stories about ermine hopping into bed with them.

3) Bragging rights

Take that very small slice of the Canadian population that has been north of the Arctic Circle. Then trim it by about 99.9 per cent. You'll be left with an entirely unscientific guess at how many people have ever made it north of 80 degrees. At the park's latitude, you're within 1,000 kilometres of the North Pole - and unlike those who travel to that pole, only to find a disappointing sameness in the endless ice, you are in a place replete with enough scenery to leave your mouth agape for days. Hikers in Quttinirpaaq, in any given year, typically numbers in the dozens. You are more likely to meet someone who has been to one of the poles than to this park. There are few other destinations on Earth that place a traveller in such select company. Sure, you can brag about a beach in Thailand or a visit to Machu Picchu - but so can plenty of other people. Come to Quttinirpaaq and it's a pretty safe bet you'll never have someone match your tales.

…And here's the catch

Quttinirpaaq is home to the highest latitude of any piece of land in the Americas. Its southern boundary is 4,100 kilometres north of Toronto. If you went that far south from the city, you'd be just outside Bogota. Getting to Quttinirpaaq is neither easy nor cheap. Expect to pay more than $10,000 a person - including airfare to Resolute Bay, Nunavut, and a shared charter to Ellesmere Island, as well as grand accommodations in the form of the tent you lug around yourself on a guided trip. But if you're the kind of traveller who sees those obstacles as virtues - if you thrive on the unknown, if you thirst for the most untrammelled of vistas - it's hard to think why you wouldn't make the journey. There are, after all, vanishingly few places left on Earth where you can make a convincing argument that you have set foot on virgin ground.

Follow on Twitter: @nvanderklippe

 

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