Soper Heritage River
Like a long turquoise green ribbon the Soper Heritage River winds its way from the highlands of the Meta Incognita Peninsula of southern Baffin Island to the azure blue waters of Soper Lake, which drains into Pleasant Inlet before reaching the Arctic Ocean at Hudson Strait.
The Inuktitut name for the Soper River is ‘Kuujuaq’ which means ‘big river’ and the Inuktitut name for Soper Lake is ‘Tasiujajuaq’ meaning ‘big lake-like lake’ — which refers to the lake’s meromictic nature, stratified with layers of fresh and salt water caused by a set of reversing falls and the 10.6 metre (35 ft.) tides of Pleasant Inlet.
Meta Incognita — The Unknown Place — is the forbidding name given to this picturesque region by Queen Elizabeth I in 1576 after the British explorer Martin Frobisher had described it to her. The Canadian biologist J. Dewey Soper explored this area in 1931 and decided to name the Soper River and Soper Lake after himself.
Navigable for 50 kilometres (31 miles) by kayak and canoe, the Soper was designated a Canadian Heritage River because it is part of an ancient Inuit travel corridor that crosses the Meta Incognita Peninsula from Frobisher Bay near Iqaluit to Kimmirut at Glasgow Bay in Pleasant Inlet. The Soper Heritage River flows through the protected lands of Katannilik Territorial Park. ‘Katannilik’ means ‘the place of waterfalls’ in Inuktitut, named for the countless cascades that tumble down its mountains and steep river valley walls.
Repeated Ice Age glaciations scoured the highest elevations of the Meta Incognita Peninsula, leaving largely exposed bedrock and a barren plateau area near the 610 metre tall (2,001 ft.) Mount Joy and the 535 metre tall (1,755 ft.) Mount Moore. The Soper River originates on this glacially scoured plateau, where shallow basins drain away the melting snow each summer. Numerous small creeks, cascades and lakes combine their waters to form the Soper River, which cuts increasingly deeper into the rocky landscape as it flows rapidly southwards toward Kimmirut.
Steep valley walls tower over the middle reaches of the river where it broadens and flows more gently. Descending from the sparsely vegetated uplands of lichens and mosses, the river flows through rolling tundra hills, creating a fertile valley sheltered from harsh winds with a warm microclimate that provides for a rich diversity of unique plant life species — including several copses of willow trees that grow to three and a half metres (12 ft.) in height, small groves of dwarf birch trees, many sedges, arctic heather, cotton grass, sphagnum moss, yellow mountain saxifrage, Labrador tea, a wide variety of berry plants and a great profusion of arctic wildflowers.
The lush valley of the Soper Heritage River supports an abundance of wildlife species — including caribou, arctic wolves, arctic foxes, arctic hares, lemmings, peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, rough-legged hawks, loons, terns, plovers, murres, guillemots, horned larks, snow buntings and ptarmigan. Arctic char are plentiful in the river and Soper Lake contains Greenland cod.
Several creeks and major tributaries cascade down the high valley walls, spilling into the meandering river wending its way through the lush terrain. In places along its course, massive terraces rise to 34 metres (112 ft.) above the riverbanks and bands of intrusive bedrock jut upwards from the bottom of the river creating rapids and swirling pools. The rolling tundra landscape becomes less steep and severe along the lower reaches of the river where it widens before emptying through the Soper River Falls into Soper Lake.
The Soper Heritage River offers a variety of recreational activities suitable for a wide range of visitors. Canoeing, kayaking and river rafting are all possible along the river’s course south of Mount Joy. However, the navigable length of river depends on the seasonal water level and the skill level of the paddlers. Sandy riverbank terraces provide convenient camping spots for river travellers. Fishing for arctic char in the river, or for Greenland cod in Soper Lake, is very popular. Hiking through the valley onto the upland area is a rewarding experience, offering considerable diversity in terrain. The lush vegetation, abundant wildlife and attractive waterfalls make this a wonderful place to pursue photography and study nature. The scenic areas from Mount Joy to Cascade Creek, near Livingstone River Falls and around Soper Lake are particularly attractive for outdoor recreational activities.
In the winter the land takes on a new character. Cross-country skiing up the river valley offers spectacular scenery with a low level of difficulty. Sledding expeditions up the Soper Valley by dog team or snowmobile are exhilarating adventures most enjoyed in the springtime, when there is still lots of snow and ice, but the temperature is warmer and the days are long and sunny.
How to get to Iqaluit and then to Kimmirut:
Iqaluit is reached from Ottawa and Montreal on First Air and Canadian North. 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.
How to get to the Soper Heritage River:
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 and onto the Soper Heritage River is by air charter to the Soper Valley. Kayakers, canoeists and rafters either land near Mount Joy, or at Livingstone River, which feeds into the Soper River. Hikers usually fly to 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. Registration from June to October is mandatory. 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
For more information about the Soper Heritage River, including mandatory visitor registration and permit procedures, check the Nunavut Parks website.