Thor Peak is like no other mountain on earth. Its precipitous west face is known 'round the world in climbing circles and is the one mountain most often associated with Auyuittuq by visitors. The Inuit refer to Thor as 'Qaisualuk' as the mountains of Auyuittuq (the Penny Highlands) have an important role in the lives of the people of Baffin Island. Like Asgard, Thor takes its name from Norse mythology named after the mighty god of thunder who with mjolnir in hand controlled the winds and raged against the frost giants.
Thor Peak is located on Baffin Island in Auyuittuq (eye-you-ee-took) National Park. A park established in 1976 to protect this remarkable area for generations to come. It can be found along the eastern side of the Weasel/Owl river valley (Akshayuk Pass )about 4hours past Windy Lake much closer to the park entrance than Asgard. Akshayuk Pas is your atypical glacial valley with steep sides and wide avenue down which the glacier travelled. It is thought that this was where Pleistoscene or North America's last ice age started.
Thor's west face is a sheer 1250m uninterrupted wall, considered by some to be the largest on earth. The average grade of the wall is 105 degrees so it is slightly overhanging for most of the climb... an added challenge. On Thor was established Canada's first Grade VII route and the Midgaarde Serpent route was Canada's first route to receive a new wave A5 grading. There is limitless potential here and on neighbouring peaks for grade IV and V free rock routes... it is truly like few places on earth.
What surprises many also are the sheer number of vertical faces located throughout the park. Peaks like Tirokwa, Freya. mighty Odin and Breidablik-Baldr to name but a few... all have vertical rock faces ranging between 500 and 1000 meters... it is indeed in all ways a geological wonder unlike anywhere else.
Thor was first climbed in 1953 by an Arctic Institute of North America team. The team members were Hans Weber, J Rothlisberger and F. Schwarzenbach. The same men who climbed the North Tower of Asgard for the first time.
While not one of the highest peaks in the park Thor Peak is clearly one of the most spectacular... even its backside whcih closely resembles a steep ramp has an unmistakable look about it... again Auyuittuq is a land of superlatives and Thor is one of the reasons why. Visitors to the park often gape in awe at this peak... taking picture after picture trying to capture it because it seems to defy our imaginations... words fail when it come to Thor and only pictures can do it any justice at all. Asgard is a much more difficult peak to access so most visitors only get to lay eyes on Thor, Breidablik, Odin and many of the other redoubtable spires located in Auyuittuq. Though this is often more than enough.
This climb is clearly only for the most seasoned and intrepid of climbers... there exists a route up the backside of the mountain up the steep weathered eastern side, but it is a serious scramble with more than a few large technical sections
that would require extensive experience on rock. Bottom line there is no simple walk up to the top. It is a technically challenging mountain no matter which route one picks.
The area is also known to have regular rockfalls. It is not uncommon to see car sized boulders roaring down the slopes of Thor, Asgard, Breidablik, Odin and Freya to name but a few... so its wise to always keep an eye out.
*** Note- all pictures are used with permission from Neil Monteith and Colin Salias.
This is most assuredly the most difficult part far and away, the costs involved can be somewhat prohibitive. Tour groups offer 15 day tours which can run in excess of $5000 CDN. The trick is to arrange a flight into Pangnirtung, quite often by way of Churchill Manitoba.
To say that Auyuittuq is off the beaten path is more than a small understatement. It is incredibly remote. From Pangnirtung one must take a 30km boat ride (or if the fjord is frozen one must use a snowmobile) to the park entrance at the head of the Akshayuk Pass (which was once known as the Pangnirtung Pass). The route cuts across the Cumberland Peninsula and is the main travel route year round, though most especially in winter.
The park entrance is located here at the head of the valley and here is located the one and only Ranger Station in the entire park. The Weasel And Owl rivers flow through the valley, and one has to ford the river as well as several runoff streams as you make your way along the valley floor.
The trail is marked by ‘Inukshuks’ which are man shaped cairns that are placed at distant but regular intervals so one doesn’t lose their way… though that is kind of hard to do. As the route only follows the valley to its terminus.
Thor is located about 20km from the park entrance and is a 4 hour hike past Windy Lake. Its closest neighbour is Mt. Breidablik which lies just to the south. There is a hut located near the base of the peak on the valley floor which can sleep 2-4 people.
Again it is possible to make your way up the eastern side of Thor but it is a treacherous scramble/climb... there is plenty of loose rock in places and the Granite is very smooth and in places free of handholds and footholds. If attempting this climb do not take it lightly... while easy in comparison to the west wall it is still 60-65 degrees in places and requires a sure knowledge of the route and years of experience on rock.
For more information on routes or on getting there you can check out www.bivouac.com, though to view this material one must be a paid member which costs $20 per year.
Yes permits are required, they can be purchased for either $15 a day or an annual permist can be purchased for $100 at the Parks Visitor Information Center in Pangnirtung. For more info. you can call 1 867 473 8828 or try email@example.com.
There are no real seasonal closures to speak of... though very few would want to visit the area in the dead of winter as temperatures hover for weeks on end around -40 degrees celsius or colder. Winter expeditions head up usually in late March or April when winter begins to loosen its icy grip just a little.
It is asked that you stick to walking across rock, sand or snow especially if wildflowers and other rare Arctic plants are out and that you leave the local animals alone. Please also be sure to pack in what you pack out... this is raw unspoiled wilderness at its finest... please respect that.
The best time for climbing is the summer months between mid June to mid August though one can stretch the season earlier in June or later into the first week of September if the weather holds.
The greatest obstacle to overcome in any other season is winter itself and of course the usual logistical difficulties.. such as arranging transportation, local guides etc. this can all be compunded infinitely by the return of storms to the area. I haven't heard whether there have been early spring climbs or not though I believe it is possible though the costs and logistics would be more than a little prohibitive
Camping is allowed. The only official site is near the entrance to the Akshayuk Valley near Overlord Mountain. The other sites are officially termed random sites which means camp where you find a good spot. Preferably not too close to the Weasel or Owl rivers and somewhere sheltered as the wind is known to really whip down through the valley.
There is a hut for Thor Peak located near the base of the peak that can sleep 4-6 people I believe. There is also a hut on Asgard and at the park entrance near Mt. Overlord.
The only phone number to call for up to date conditions is the one already provided in the red tape section, and the web address provided should also yield relatively accurate weather conditions. The other web site you could try is the Parks Canada website which is www.pc.gc.ca/auyuittuq. The phone number provided is for the Park superintendent so it should be relatively easy to discover the weather conditions from there.
Failing all of this you could try www.theweathernetwork.com and type in Iqaluit it will give you up to the hour weather conditions.