Katannilik Territorial Park
Katannilik Territorial Park is a surprisingly fertile arctic oasis tucked in the middle of the Meta Incognita Peninsula on southern Baffin Island. The Park stretches northwards from Pleasant Inlet near the hamlet of Kimmirut toward the southern shore of Frobisher Bay near Iqaluit. The park contains the Soper Heritage River valley and the Itijjagiaq Trail — a 120 kilometre (75 mile) traditional overland trail from Iqaluit to Kimmirut. The park’s boundaries follow a series of rivers, lakes and hills on the plateau above the Soper Valley.
The Soper Heritage River with its 1,200 square kilometres (463 square miles) of meandering wilderness is central to the park. Known locally as Kuujjuaq, which means ‘big river’ in Inuktitut, the Soper was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1992 for its cultural significance in the lives of Inuit, for its natural beauty and its countless opportunities for recreation. Along the river course, on its many tributaries, in the streams flowing down the sides the valley, countless cascades echo the recurring theme of the park, the reason it is named Katannilik — ‘the place of waterfalls.’
Katannilik’s three distinct landscapes were created from a complex series of folds, plunges and shears dating from the formation of the Earth, leaving a rich variety of rock formations and exposed geological domains.
The first section starts at the southern shore of Frobisher Bay, where the Itijjagiaq Trail begins. Rising 670 metres (2,198 ft.) from sea level to the plateau of the Meta Incognita Peninsula, the landscape is a playground of deep gorges and sloping valleys. Increasing elevation means shelter for wildlife becomes scarce as the topography flattens out, with a corresponding decrease in vegetation as the temperature drops.
The second section, the plateau of the Meta Incognita Peninsula, has changed little since the last Ice Age glaciers receded. Glacial scars in the landscape are readily discernible. The gently rolling, flattened topography is testament to the immense force of glaciers. Large boulders scattered across the smooth surface of the plateau look like they fell from the sky in a rock shower.
The third region of the park is the Soper River Valley, formed by receding glaciers and water erosion. Over the millennia, the water level of the river has fluctuated dramatically, leaving terraces throughout the valley floor that rise from three to 30 metres (10 to 98 ft.) above the current level of the river. The river valley is most impressive and picturesque at its northern limit. To the south, the valley walls start to diminish as the topography rolls gently toward Hudson Strait.
Plant life in Katannilik varies from almost nothing growing on the top of the Meta Incognita plateau to an astounding abundance and diversity of flora in the sheltered Soper valley, which has a unique microclimate. Even where the conditions are most inhospitable on the plateau, some species of hardy plants, lichens and mosses can be found growing very low to the ground. By contrast, the plant life is lush and plentiful in the Soper Valley, where temperatures average 5°C warmer than at nearby Kimmirut — itself the warmest community on Baffin Island.
Four distinct areas of vegetation have been identified in the valley, each composed of plants with common nutritive needs:
- The dwarf shrub and heath tundra area is made up of willow trees, dwarf birch trees, Lapland rosebay, Labrador tea and arctic heather. These plants, which need more warmth, are found in moist areas below 210 metres (689 ft.) in elevation.
- The grassland tundra area, with its characteristic tussocks of moss surrounded by shallow water, is difficult to hike across. This area includes sedges, arctic cotton, sphagnum moss, bistorts and willows growing near pools of water in the valley.
- The bedrock summit area contains plant life that grows in exposed patches of hilly terrain that is neither wet nor warm. Generally lacking good soil, this area is characterized by large amounts of lichen, purple saxifrage, arctic poppy, mountain aven, broad-leafed willow herb and chickweed plants which tend to grow close to the ground, forming a mat of colour when they bloom.
- The snow patch area is aptly named for its late-thawing snowdrifts which slow the seasonal development of plants. As the snow melts, it permits arctic heather to grow first, followed by dwarf willows, mountain sorrel and finally, mosses. This seasonal growing pattern results in distinctive rings of vegetation.
Mid-July to late August is the best time of year to see Katannilik’s vivid arctic bloom, starting with purple saxifrage, followed by bluebells and dwarf fireweed. In late summer and early autumn, a wide variety of berry plants carpet the park.
The most common large animal seen in the park is the caribou. These local herds do not undertake the long overland migrations of the mainland variety, but instead circulate throughout southern Baffin Island and the Meta Incognita Peninsula. In summer and autumn, caribou prefer the lush vegetation growing in the Soper Valley. In winter and spring they move to the uplands, where strong winds blow the ground free of snow to expose lichens.
Arctic wolves, arctic foxes and red foxes all live the park. Observant summer visitors may find fox dens in well drained, rolling terrain, but evidence of these creatures is easier to spot in winter, as their tracks zigzag across the valley. The population of wolves in the park fluctuates with the availability of prey. They are not as numerous as foxes.
Lemmings and hares are favourite foods of many larger predators, so they tend to make themselves scarce when people are nearby. With careful observation, visitors are sometimes rewarded with a glimpse of one or both. Hares favour the protection of rocky hillsides. Lemmings can sometimes be seen darting from one tunnel to another.
Polar bears generally hunt seals in the coastal areas at the north and south ends of the park, but they sometimes enter the valley and have been seen throughout the park.
Peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons are both present in Katannilik. Peregrines are found inland while gyrfalcons favour the coast. They are joined in the park by two other birds of prey — the snowy owl, recognizable by its white plumage and unmistakable eyes, plus the rough-legged hawk, which is one of the most successful raptors living in the Arctic.
The most common birds in Katannilik are the rock ptarmigan and snow bunting. The ptarmigan, which resides here throughout the year, is never easy to spot. In summer their mottled brown plumage blends in perfectly with the surroundings; in winter they are pure white. The snow bunting, a member of the finch family, spends spring, summer and fall in the area. Black and white males are more easily spotted than brownish females.
Migratory birds such as Canada geese and red-breasted mergansers frequent marshy areas of the river valley, while snow geese can be seen as they migrate in the spring and fall. Three species of loons live near the coast at the southern end of the park, as do shorebirds such as murres, terns and black guillemots.
As its name means, Katannilik is full of waterfalls. The largest is Soper Falls, where the Soper River flows into Soper Lake through a white marble chasm. Farther upstream, just before the Livingstone River flows into the Soper River, is Livingstone Falls. Further north, a pleasant day hike up the Cascade River brings you to Cascade Falls, the highest waterfall in the park.
Getting to Iqaluit and Kimmirut:
Iqaluit is reached from Ottawa and Montreal on First Air, Canadian North and Air Canada. First Air, Canadian North and Calm Air also have flights to Iqaluit from Rankin Inlet, which is reached by airlines from Winnipeg, Churchill and Yellowknife. First Air then has regular scheduled flights from Iqaluit to Kimmirut.
Getting to Katannilik Territorial Park:
Katannilik Territorial Park has a mandatory registration system in place. Visitors are required to register prior to entering the park at the local visitor centre. Some safety communication equipment is mandatory for a trip through Katannilik.
Katannilik Territorial Park begins just a few minutes walk from Kimmirut, but then it is another three hours of hiking to reach Soper Lake. The most popular method of getting into Katannilik Park a is by air charter to one of two designated landing strips in the Soper Valley. Kayakers, canoeists and rafters either land at the airstrip near Mount Joy, or the strip at Livingstone River, which feeds into the Soper River. Hikers usually fly to the airstrip at Mount Joy. Contact the Katannilik Park Visitor Centre in Kimmirut or the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre in Iqaluit to find out more about these chartered flights.
There are several ways to get to Katannilik Territorial Park from Iqaluit, depending on the season. Outfitters from Iqaluit offer package tours of Katannilik Park that fly visitors into the park or arrive by boatride from Iqaluit travelling across Frobisher Bay to the Itijjagiaq trailhead then hiking inland to the Soper River Valley. These outfitters will also transport visitors from Iqaluit to Kimmirut by dogsled or snowmobile in winter and spring.
Contact the Katannilik Park Visitor Centre in Kimmirut, the Katannilik Park Office in Iqaluit, or the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre in Iqaluit to find out what excursions are available. Outfitted trips should be booked well in advance — it’s often not possible to book outfitters by the day.
Katannilik Territorial Park Visitor Centre — Kimmirut
Ph: (867) 939-2416
Fax: (867) 939-2406
Katannilik Territorial Park Office — Iqaluit
Ph: (867) 975-2350
Fax: (867) 975-2349
Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre — Iqaluit
Ph: (867) 979-4636
Fax: (867) 979-3754
For more information about Katannilik Territorial Park, check the Nunavut Parks website.