Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The British Empire Range, to the north of Lake Hazen

Back in the Arctic Archipelago, in the extreme north of Nunavut province, Canada.

Ellesmere Island, high up in the Arctic Ocean, close to Greenland.

Ellesmere Island is a large territory in the canadian arctic, and in the northern part of the island the British Empire Range is a mountain range, one of the most northern ranges in the world.

The British Empire Range, part of Quttinirpaaq Park in Ellesmere.

At 81°54′N, 75°01′W, British Empire Range is located north of Tanquary Fiord and Lake Hazen, all part of Quttinirpaaq National Park, one of the most northern and least explored nature parks in the world.

Several nunataks in the Range protrude through the icecap, the highest being Mount Barbeau, at 2616 m, the highest peak in Nunavut.

The highest mountain in the range is Barbeau Peak

The range was named by Gordon N. Humphreys, a British born pilot, botanist and explorer, during the 1934 Oxford University Ellesmere Land Expedition to Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island, where they set up camp.

The Air force Glacier, coming from the mountain range into Lake Hazen.

The Air Force glacier front.

Quttinirpaaq park ("Top of the world") covers the most remote, rugged, and northerly lands in North America.

The whole area is a polar desert, one of the driest areas of the northern hemisphere, with an annual precipitation of only 60 mm.

South and east of the Range mountains, the land abruptly descends to Lake Hazen, 80 km long, where a Guard Camp welcomes visitors.


Lake Hazen is up to 280 m deep, 542 km2 wide

Situated at the northern end of Ellesmere Island at 81.0°N, Lake Hazen is the largest lake located entirely above the Arctic Circle. It was first discovered by the Inuit of the Dorset culture, circa 1000 AD.

The region around Lake Hazen functions as a "thermal oasis" in a true polar desert. Air temperatures frequently rise to 10-13℃ between June 1 and August 10 although the lake itself remains ice-covered in all but the warmest years.

Fed by multiple glacier inflows, Lake Hazen is home to an unusual abundance of flora and fauna for that northern latitude. The Arctic Char population of the lake is the largest above the arctic circle.



Quttinirpaaq was first visited by humans about 4000 years ago. They were Paleo-Eskimos, an ancient race of people who probably came across the Bering Strait from Siberia.

They hunted musk ox and caribou and somehow survived the long, dark arctic winters. It appears no humans lived on Quttinirpaaq for many centuries afterward.

Then the Dorset people lived on Quttinirpaaq up until about 1000 years ago. They were in turn supplanted by the Thule people who were skillful hunters of whales and other marine mammals. While the Thule culture survived elsewhere and are the ancestors of the modern Inuit, they abandoned Quttinirpaaq when the climate turned colder leading up to the Little Ice Age of 1600-1850 AD.

The first Europeans to arrive in the area in 1875-76 were part of a two-ship British expedition, led by Sir George Nares, to attempt to reach the North Pole via the Smith Sound, a passage in the arctic sea between Greenland and Ellesmere Island.

Two ships, HMS Alert and HMS Discovery, sailed from Portsmouth on 29 May 1875.

HMS Discovery and HMS Alert.

The expedition failed to reach the North Pole, but the coasts of Greenland and Ellesmere Island were extensively explored and large amounts of scientific data were collected. HMS Discovery went as far as the now named Cape Discovery, in Ellesmere Island. In 1876 HMS Alert reached a record latitude of 82° N.

I published before a post on Ellesmere's inuit village Grise Fjord



Beautiful, thank you Mário. Those mountains are incredible, just imagine what it would be like to stand beside them!

I find the Dorset culture fascinating. So little remains to explain how they survived in those wild places.

Mário said...

Yes, Nancy, the Dorset and the Thule cultures still hide a lot of secrets. Maybe they played a more important role than what we now know...

Andrew Brian Collins said...

Thanks for great article. Any all m evidence of activity in Arctic Canada earlier than 4000 BP? And who were the first people of the region. Any pictures of artefacts? Thank you. Andrew

Andrew Brian Collins said...

Any slim of anyone being in Arctic Canada prior to 2000 BCE?

Andrew Brian Collins said...

Thanks for the great article, btw