Like most Nunavut trails, there is a fluidity and flexibility to its parameters.
It is not so often that a city’s most well-known hiking trail starts inside a cemetery. But Apex Trail isn’t your typical out and back hiking trail in many other ways, as well. For instance, while it is the only Iqaluit hiking trail which is officially named and officially measured, with informational signage and even some path infrastructure (only really visible in the summer,) the measurements are often disputed. At the same time, only a portion of the trail is marked, measured and maintained by the city. The remaining majority is “hike at your own risk.”
According to the City of Iqaluit’s own Apex Trail sign at the entrance, the trail measures 2.5 km from the start of the Old Cemetery to the Hudson Bay Company buildings. You might have to squint to read it though, as the text has faded with time. It’s actually not clear in the map portion of the sign what length of the trail is not maintained after the short, official portion, because the dashed line that represents that part of the trail either appears to be unbelievably short, or the lines have just faded completely off.
All Trails lists Apex Trail as five kilometres (likely doubling the estimated 2.5 km for the return trip), but Lonely Planet lists it as four kilometres. Since part of the hike doesn’t have a clearly marked pathway and much of it takes place on a rocky hill and cliff beside the water, this measurement discrepancy might be due to walking more of a distance if you are higher up on the mountain than if you choose to walk lower, right next to the water in some parts. Of course, especially in winter, the end of the trail is not marked and clear, so you could make it a 2-km, 3-km or even 5-km hike if you so choose, by simply turning back earlier or continuing on.
Even when you look at Google Maps, though, you will see that the first part of Apex Trail shows up as a white line and ends just before the trail reaches a curve by the residential street Paurngaq. This is where there is a local bed and breakfast, Accommodations by the Sea, by Frobisher Bay’s Koojesse Inlet. Google Maps shows this portion of the trail, from the cemetery to the bed and breakfast, to measure just over one kilometre.
It is here, where the official portion of the trail supposedly ends -one kilometre into the hike- that you will have another great lookout point, near the backyard of Accommodations by the Sea. Oddly the City of Iqaluit sign indicates that the unmaintained portion of the trail ends here – odd because that would total a distance much less than the 2.5 km and because it is not even half the way at that point to the Hudson Bay buildings the sign says it is including in its measurement.
At this vantage point, you will also be able to see the Hudson Bay’s Company buildings far off in the distance. If you follow Google’s logic, either Apex Trail ends there, or you are supposed to walk up to the street to continue on, before a green dash line, which usually represents a bicycle path, then guides you the rest of the way to the Hudson Bay’s Company buildings. But that is not a bicycle path – it is just hilly land that is “unmaintained” trail along the shoreline, after the bed and breakfast.
Still, when you ask the City of Iqaluit, or the Nunavut Department of Environment’s Parks and Special Places, they don’t know how the official measurements came to be. As for the elevation, forget about it. According to several Nunavut government departments, that is simply unknown or unrecorded by these agencies at this time.
Like most hiking options in Iqaluit, Nunavut, there is a fluidity and flexibility to the parameters. Without maintained trails marked with orange ribbons or trees and/or stones lining a pathway, often your hiking trail is an open canvas for you to choose when to climb and where to turn.
In the Iqaluit snowy seasons, from October to June, those canvas parameters grow larger. Even having the opportunity just to know where the actual trail should be is quite limited under snow cover. For the most part, Apex Trail is where ever the snowmobile, dog walker, or winter-hiker that came before you decided to go last. You turn where they turned. And it can change each day, or throughout the day, depending on the snow fall, wind, and how many other people passed through.
From the literally named “Old Cemetery” on Nipisa Street, along the shore of the Frobisher Bay to Apex, all the way to the original Hudson Bay Company buildings on the beach moved from Ward Inlet in 1949, you’ll pass a variety of landscapes and textures that can change with the seasons.
In winter, for instance, you may find the initial hill part is slippery without microspikes or crampons for your boots. If you don’t have any sharp grips for your boots, walking with one foot angled will help you not slide down the hill every few steps. You might find that you actually don’t feel comfortable completing the last half of the hike, where you can see the ground start to turn almost completely into rocks by the frozen water. Since the snow is covering most of those rocks, you might worry that you could easily twist an ankle around all the rocks. But this can change if the snow is deeper and packed at certain times of the year, or if the snow is more shallow other times of the year.
On Apex Trail during summer, you’ll be able to walk on grassy hills (long Arctic cotton grass), jump over larger rocks, and even walk over a little waterfall. In the warmer parts of the year there is even a fire pit area set up with seats on the curve of the cliff that is kept by the nearby B&B owner. I was told by an old friend who has lived in Iqaluit for several years now that during the summer this area is open to the public, for hikers looking to rest, picnic or to share a campfire. So, while the trail is technically in the backyard of Accommodations By The Sea at this specific curve, anyone can access this land. That is because in Nunavut, homeowners don’t actually own the land their house is on.
Follow us through some of our recent journey winter hiking the only officially named and measured hiking trail in Iqaluit – Apex Trail.
The trail starts on Nipisa Street, which is a primarily residential crescent in the downtown section of Iqaluit. It is just a couple streets over from the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, near the Arctic Ventures grocery store, a couple popular fast food chain counters in a small convenience store, and the Grind and Brew café. At the roundest part of the crescent, closest to the bay, you’ll see the entrance to the cemetery. A path runs alongside it, toward the water, and up a hill that overlooks the inlet you will hike along.
Choose how high up on the hilly cliff’s edge you’d like to be. You can even walk down by the water at certain points. Obviously it will be sea ice in the colder parts of the year. If you make this hike in the non winter months, it will be easier to walk along the shore the whole way to make it to the beach at Apex and its historical Hudson Bay Company buildings. These buildings are now housing a couple local businesses, and you will see an abandoned red boat out front which survived a faraway shipwreck and was left out on the shore for decades. It was featured in a White Stripes music video almost a decade ago.
While Apex Trail is mostly unmarked, only partly maintained, and somewhat difficult to research clearly and thoroughly in advance of arriving for the hike, once you do get there it is virtually impossible to get lost. You make your own path along the shore, but following the water is pretty simple to navigate no matter how you choose to vary your hike. You can walk as high up the cliff as you would like, and you can opt to walk along the street or the rockier parts by the shore once you reach the bed and breakfast “backyard.”
No matter how you measure it, from the first step into the Old Cemetery on Nipisa, to the Hudson Bay buildings in Apex, this trail is unlike any other you will hike again.