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Ivvavik National Park of Canada

Hazards

Snowstorm in June
Snowstorm in June.
© Parks Canada / Karsten Heuer, June 30, 2002

Climate

When preparing for the weather in the park, it is best to be ready for all extremes. The weather in the park can be hostile, even in mid-summer. Long spells of rain, ice-cold winds and occasional snowstorms and frost are not uncommon. Average summer temperatures in the park range from +8 °C to +20 °C. Occasionally, temperatures can reach as high as +30 °C and as low as -3°C.

With this in mind, careful trip planning and packing are essential. All parties must carry appropriate equipment because it is unlikely that other people will be encountered during a trip to the park. Visitors must remember that there is no natural protection in the open tundra, no facilities, and no firewood. Park visitors must bring sufficiently warm clothing and rain gear, as well as plenty of fuel for their portable stoves.

Strong winds, precipitation or fog may impede travel in the park and may result in flight delays. Make sure to carry at least two extra days worth of food and fuel in case of a delayed pick-up.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia, due to cold water, wind, precipitation and cool temperatures, is a real threat. Hypothermia is the cooling of the body core temperature to below 35°C. It occurs when heat loss exceeds the body's ability to generate and maintain the thermal energy required for normal physiological processes.

Always be on guard for hypothermia. It is one of the greatest hazards to travellers in the park. Learn to recognize the signs of hypothermia and be prepared to treat them. Dress appropriately, avoid exposure by protecting high heat loss areas, eat high energy foods, stay dry and immediately change out of damp or wet clothing. Avoid travelling in extreme weather.

Be aware that campfires are strictly prohibited in the park. It will be impossible to dry out clothing during bad weather periods.

Hyperthermia

Hyperthermia results from an increase in body temperature. It is caused by excessive heat stress on the body's thermoregulatory mechanisms which normally maintain the body core temperature at 37°C.

Hyperthermia can occur in cooler climates if excess exertion or such contributing factors as low fitness level, dehydration, inadequate clothing and illness are involved. Learn to recognize the signs of hyperthermia. Do not overestimate your physical strength. On hot and windy days, stop frequently for breaks and drink a lot of water.

Water Quality

Although there are no documented cases of giardia in the park, visitors are advised to fine filter (<0.5 microns), treat (iodine or chlorine in warm water), or boil their drinking water. To prevent the spread of diseases, human waste should be disposed of in a responsible manner. (Please see Human Waste Management, under the Camping page).

Rabies

Rabid animals may be found in Ivvavik. Rabies is a serious disease that affects the nervous system and brain. People can acquire rabies from animals that are infected with the virus. Usually, rabies is spread when a rabid animal bites another animal or person. In the park, animals such as foxes, wolves, bears and caribou may be carriers of the virus.

Be suspicious of any friendly or unusually bold animals. As a general rule, keep a safe distance from all wildlife and remember that it is illegal under the Canada National Parks Act to touch, feed, approach, or entice wildlife.

Biting Insects

Insect repellent and mosquito jackets and hats are essential equipment. Some areas and years have very high biting insect levels. Mosquitoes are especially bothersome on warm, calm days.

Bears

Grizzly Bear Tracks
Grizzly Bear Tracks
© Parks Canada / Brian Johnston, July 1998

Ivvavik is home to three species of bears: black, grizzly, and polar bear. Before your trip, we suggest you read the You Are in Bear Country and the Safety in Polar Bear Country brochures, available from the Parks Canada office in Inuvik. Another excellent resource is the video, Staying Safe in Bear Country, available for viewing at the Parks Canada office.

Black and grizzly bears can be found throughout the park. Always practice proper camping, food preparation and food storage procedures. Travel in groups, stay alert and watch for fresh signs of bear activity. When hiking, advertise your presence by calling out, singing or talking loudly, especially near streams and in the dense shrub vegetation along valley bottoms. If you encounter a large dead animal leave the area immediately.

Polar bear distribution is closely related to the distribution of multi-year pack ice. Most polar bears remain on the drifting pack ice throughout the summer and should not pose a problem to park visitors. They may, however, be encountered along the coast in years when the permanent ice pack is blown south towards the mainland.

Learn how to deal with bear encounters and find out which types of bear deterrents are permitted in the park. Firearms are not permitted within Ivvavik.

Muskoxen
Muskoxen.
© Parks Canada / Wayne Lynch, PC-02902

Muskoxen

Muskoxen can be found throughout the park at any time of the year. While normally docile animals, muskoxen, on occasion, may initiate unprovoked charges. The likelihood of this increases when the bulls are in rut between August and September. Remember, these are wild animals. Do not approach them, and where possible, keep a physical barrier such as a ravine, or creek between you.

River Crossings

Small creek crossings are a common part of any hiking or rafting trip in the park. These crossings are usually easy but can lead through knee-deep, fast-flowing water. The water is generally clear and cold, and the creek bottom is usually well visible.

Extreme caution is necessary when crossing bigger streams such as the Babbage, Trail, Crow, Spring and Malcolm rivers and Joe Creek. The seasonal water levels of these drainages vary significantly, depending on snow pack and precipitation. In rainy summers some of the crossings may be very dangerous or impossible. Do not attempt to cross the Firth River without a watercraft. Exposure to the cold water temperatures of the rivers and lakes can quickly lead to hypothermia.

When crossing creeks, we recommend you:

  • cross early in the day when water levels are at their lowest
  • wear boots or sandals to prevent cuts from sharp stones and to give you better footing;
  • undo the waist belt and chest strap of your backpack;
  • use a walking stick, positioned upstream to provide more support;
  • move across the stream in a diagonal fashion, facing upstream and yielding to the current; and
  • link arms with one or more people.

Unconsolidated Slopes

Many of the steep slopes found near canyons and along river banks and mountain sides are comprised of unconsolidated material. Stone, sand and mud slides present a hazard when travelling in these areas. We recommend you do not attempt to enter, climb or traverse steep slopes during rainy periods. Keep this in mind when choosing your campsite location.

Dall's sheep may also cause rocks to fall down the slopes. Be aware as you travel down the river.

Route Finding and Orientation

Most of the park's hiking routes follow unmistakable natural landmarks such as rivers, canyons, valleys and ridge tops. These landmarks are easily identified in the field and indicated on topographical maps. Navigation and route finding is generally easy.

Less experienced visitors should not attempt to cross vast, flat tundra terrain away from the recommended hiking routes. Orientation in these expansive and featureless areas is very difficult.

Compasses are unreliable in certain areas of the park. We recommend you carry a good quality Global Positioning System ( GPS ).

Flash Floods

Water levels of the Firth River have been known to rise as much as 26 feet in a thirty-six hour period. Water from snowmelt and rain quickly makes its way into the Firth River, because permafrost acts as a barrier to absorption. River users must remain alert and be prepared to move camp, especially in the canyon section, during periods of rain lasting more than a few hours.

During these periods of extreme high water, river users must use sound judgement when making decisions about entering the canyon or remaining in the canyon. Some of the class IV rapids become class V and more class IV rapids develop, especially in areas where the canyon becomes quite narrow. Water levels will drop just as quickly after the rain stops.

Aufeis

Aufeis are extensive sheets of ice 2 to 5 metres thick found at the head waters, the delta of the Firth River, and many other locations throughout the park. These sheets of ice are formed by underground springs running over top of existing river ice and then freezing. The ice often becomes so thick that it may not melt completely during the summer.

Aufeis hazards include:

  • Channels flowing under the ice: channels of the river can flow into and under the ice. You must remain alert and stay clear of these channels as a boat or a person could be forced under the ice with serious consequences.
  • Channels undercutting the ice edges: channels of the river can undercut the edges of aufeis. These overhanging sheets of ice are very unstable and should be avoided as they can separate from the main sheet of ice and pin a boat or a person underwater.
  • Icebergs: Chunks of ice that calve off of the main sheets of ice into the river can pose serious navigational problems.