Round the Cape and Northward bound we go! Benno and I have started to rack up some respectable distances and rounded Cape Hooper in calm and clear weather and good spirits. The ice and snow Gods have not however been particularly kind to us and the conditions under sled and foot have been testing and frustrating. As our sleds get lighter the going is getting easier and the previously insurmountable ice and snow ridges can now be conquered with brute force and a lot of swearing. The lighter sleds bring us happiness in that they now feel like dragging a small dead cow behind you where as previously it had felt like trying to drag a dead Narwhal tusk and all through the deep snow, the difference I assure you is noticeable! This happiness is tinged with the knowledge that the sleds are light because they are rapidly emptying. Food, fuel, dog food and Benno’s haemorrhoid cream are all disappearing at an alarming rate and it is a daily reminder to us of what is needed out here to keep your body functioning and our tent warm.
We have however judged it correctly so far and we should be arriving at the next depot in 3 days time with 5 days worth of everything to spare which is good to know I case we get any unforeseen hold ups. Jaipotties hut that we are now aiming for has our cache of food and fuel is well marked and we have exact coordinates from the man himself, so finding it should pose no problem. Not so with the last two huts. There are few things more demoralising than promising yourself a warm evening in a hut, maybe even sitting in just your base layer if it gets warm enough. A raised platform to snuggle up together on, the ability to sit upright against a wall and the special thought of waking up in the morning without your beard frozen to your sleeping bag. We have had these heady dreams twice dashed now in the last week. True disappointment is knowing that despite having skied for 8 hours to reach a random point on a map given to you by a hunter 2 weeks previously, the 8ft by 8ft hut that is apparently “unmissable” is nowhere to be found. When moving by skidoo traveling 6-10kms in search of the exact spot is a 15min job and of no real concern but when that distance represents half a day’s travel by foot, searching becomes a totally different proposition. Knowing you are probably only 1-2kms from a small shed whilst you put your tent up in -30c after a long and arduous day is completely gutting but at least it means we will really appreciate Jai’s hut when we get there.
We are starting to see more bear tracks and in one area saw either a single bear running around a lot looking for something or the equivalent of a mass polar bear rave. We both agreed it was probably just one or maybe two sniffing about and cleared and recycled the shotguns. We have taken more recent glances over our shoulders just in case. A quick and casual reminder of whose Kingdom we are trespassing in and that vigilance is key to a safe journey through.
Our evening of sulking over a lack of huts was improved immeasurable by eating some of the brownies Celine had given us before we left. We had been saving them for a low moment and this seemed appropriate. As we broke the brownies hurriedly we saw pieces of paper tucked in between the slices. On our piece of paper was a quote from Ernest Shackleton giving us a timely reminder as we snuggled in our down sleeping bags next to our roaring camp stoves that somethings are best kept in perspective. A wonderful gesture from Celine and Yves and it helped turn a miserable night into a happy one as we sat like children at Christmas reading our quote and munching our brownies.
So onwards to the hut and some more biltong, chocolate buttons and no doubt more deep snow and horrible mounds of ice. However as the great Shackleton said “difficulties are just things to overcome after all” and we will be bearing that in mind as we go.
We departed Qik early in the morning in a bid to get dropped off before our drivers for the day Jaipottie and his son kyle headed further north. Despite the time, Yves and Celine who have been incredibly helpful, gave us a departing gift of brownies!! We are definitely going to appreciate them when the going gets tough.
After a few hours driving we were dropped off near to where Alex had his head injury and where we were all picked up. Smack bang in the middle of nowhere. Standing there realising this was our opportunity to continue further north towards Clyde river and continue learning about the east coast of Baffin Island. Despite the early start and following a late night doing last minute packing and final goodbyes, we still managed to get some good miles under our feet before stopping for the night on an open estuary between distant towering cliffs.
It was a beautiful spot with the mountains behind us still glowing in a pinky colour with the setting sun and the icebergs in the distance gradually turning from electric blue to green. We managed to get all the necessary snow melted for the next morning before hitting the sack. What struck us whilst lying there was the lack of sound. There was not a breath of wind and all we could hear throughout the night was the odd snore or one of the dogs have a short walk and a shake off. At least with the snoring it is obvious who the culprit is.
I had forgotten my alarm was set for 5 am, I soon corrected it for a bit later in the morning when I realised it was still dark and freezing cold.
Morning in the Arctic is always a nice surprise. All the moisture in your breath freezes to the lip of your sleeping bag during the night so when the time comes to wake up this has a tendency to flutter down onto your face in ice cold spots. On top of that if you happen to touch the side of the tent this has the same effect but on a grander scale! Heading off with the sun rising into the sky and burning off any cloud, we continued on to our depot of food. It was a fairly standard day with Tala running about in her crazy fashion, while Colin whined constantly at the injustice of being on a lead. Jemima I am afraid despite some spectacular final attempts to catch her, remains in Qik. We miss her dearly.
We knew we were getting close. Coming round a head land a hut slowly appeared and what made it even more special was that smoke was rising from it. This meant one thing warmth! Then off one hill appeared two boys tobogganing down it and going off a small jump. It was quite a surreal sight. Tala meanwhile was ignoring all commands and exploring the new smells and surroundings. Arriving we were soon offered a warm room for night, a choice of caribo and Arctic char soup and some tea. Both soups Jamie and I decided were delicious. All this, despite our conversation either being translated by the 12 year old boy Edmond or through a mixture of English and hand signals. We couldn’t have asked for more then they provided us with a huge chunk of iceberg ice saving the task of collecting a load of snow to melt. It also makes some pretty epic tea, hot chocolate or maxi nutrition viper for recovering. Not quite as good as the glenlivet on iceberg ice but carrying that would be an unnecessary extravagance. It has been some incredible hospitality from our hosts who were surprised to see 2 men walk over hauling sleds.
The coming days see us heading further north towards our next depot. Meanwhile Alex is heading further south to Ottawa for further medical evaluation and recuperation. We are hoping he has a speedy recovery and to see him shortly.
Its been an odd month inside what so far has been a completely normal winter. The snow fell as is usual and the darkness and frozen sea gradually grew longer and stronger in just the same way they have for the last 4 winters I can remember. My cold paws and nose felt just the same whilst waiting patiently for my coat to grow nice and thick again to warm me up and of course occasional visits from “the man” to bring food and get us all excited before driving off again on his dogless sled. I am quite an anxious dog by nature and know one has ever accused me of being too intelligent therefore it brings me a great deal of contentment when things happen as they should, the seasons change and the “the man” comes and goes. I’m not one for too much excitement.
Things took a considerable turn for the worse when “the man” arrived one afternoon with the dogless sled and unceremoniously dumped me sideways onto it. Despite the lack of strong canine’s running out front those things can really move and make very loud and distressing noises and before long I was dizzy, scared and half choked on the black fog belching from within the monster. The noise gradually lessened and as we came to a stop I assumed we had reached our destination, although I was so shaken and disorientated I was struggling to stand up, let alone make a rational judgement as to where I was. I was also very distressed that Jemima had disappeared and since we do everything together this was defiantly a cause for concern.
In front of a very large box with a door stood 3 pale faced mens with massive orange chests and arms and surprisingly skinny legs, talking in an odd sounding growl to “the man”. They came over and touched my head and paws, felt my tummy and looked in my eyes and mouth. Being a well behaved dog who knows his manners I did not growl or pull away but i can tell you now I didn’t like it. Not one little bit. Whilst assuming my standard meeting new people pose of cowering and shaking slightly I spied Jemima through the wall of orange , she had found me. My heart leapt and i gave a little whoof to let her know I had seen her. This happy feeling was quickly banished when “the man” grab my special area saying in his strange growley language “if you want him stand up just grab penis” I stood up as he grabbed me as I am sure you would and tried to look unconcerned but this is difficult when some you don’t want to touch your privates is rather forcefully holding onto your delicates.
Suddenly i was released, the dogless sled was being started and small pieces of paper were changing hands. I braced myself for another horrible sideways ride but it never came. Instead “the man” drove away, kicking up a cloud of snow and dirty smoke and leaving me lost and forgotten with 3 strange orange mens in a new and terrifying part of town. Thankfully my memory is pretty poor even by dog standards and despite feeling anxious, the sight of Jemima skulking around out of grabbing range and the large bag of dog food one of the orange mens was bringing calmed my heart rate and bought the most influential part of me back into immediate focus. My tummy. Now i wouldn’t consider myself a greedy dog although others may disagree but here in the North when tasty edible things are put in reach, you dont wait for a polar bear or Jemima to come and take it, you eat it as fast as you can. Tasty and edible covers a range of things, well to be honest absolutely anything unless I am physically unable to chew it or get it in my mouth. I have eaten some things that were a bit queer, even things that smelt alot like dogs I once knew but I am sure its a coincidence Uncle Chops disappeared on the same day we had that strange, stringy, furry meat .
I digress, see food does that to me, its very therapeutic it clears my mind of everything else regardless of the situation I am in which is not always a blessing.
The orange mens put the bag of food away after a disappointing portion size, they always are and pulled me round the back of the building. As we turned the corner an alarming flurry of grey fur, massive ears and booming bark was my shock introduction me to Tala. What a Bitch. Please take it from an amorous male dog she is a slamming hottie. Well built in all the right areas, luxurious flowing fur, gleaming teeth and a come get me stare in her bright eyes. Her lovely coat was grey with flecks of white and black and as I stared at her a strange sensation began to creep over me. Instincts from the past 1000 years began to click together in my brain and I could feel the cogs turning until suddenly the realisation hit me, holy f*#k its a wolf.
This was not a good scenario, the orange mens had obviously bought me to feed to this massive slavering wolf thing, I cowered and shook as if my life depended on it, which believe me I thought it did. In the way of all dogs, horrible nasty wolfs or nice well behaved huskys, we sniffed at each other, front and back to find out a few essential facts. I had my eyes firmly shut the entire time waiting for the blow to come that would end my beautiful and terribly short life. After several minutes had passed and I hadn’t taken my last breath, I ventured a glance through one squinting eye at the wolf. To my considerable relief and bemusement the wolf dog was sitting down next to the Orange Mens whilst they spoke to her and patted her on the head. To my amazement they began pouring a small pile of food from the same bag that they fed me from and with various grunts from the Orange Mens the wolf dog sat down, then lay down, then gave them a paw and finally waited agonisingly by the pile of food until one of the mens gave her a sign and she attacked it with gusto. This was really bad news. These Orange Mens were strange sorcerers from a distance place, no dog I had ever seen or met would do that for any mens, anywhere, ever. The Orange Mens must be very powerful dog lords indeed and I whimpered anxiously wondering when I would come under their spell and be fed to their pet wolf.
However the Orange Mens patted me on the head and wandered off leaving me sitting with the wolf under a frozen Arctic sky with the darkness broken only by the pinpricks of starlight and the glow of the young moon (I always know where the moon is and how big it is. Its a husky thing). The wolf approached. “Hello daaarling, my names Tala, with a T in case you didnt know. Your a sorry looking boy arent you, when was the last time you got dewormed?”. Although I understood what she said her accent was very strange, clipped yet snotty, crystal clear and yet nasal. ” My name is ᑕᐃᒪᐃᓪᓗᑐᕐᑐᐊᓗᒍᓐᓇ I replied and you dont sound as if you come from these parts”. “Thats funny” Tala quipped, “My boys said you were called Colin, dreadfully common sort of name but easier to comprehend than that rubbish you just came out with”. “Your right, I am not from around here, I am from Chelsea in London, I am sure you know it, everyone does so I wont go into to details but needless to say this winter ski holiday is proving to be quite disagreeable. I flew cattle class over, I have missed an entire week of Made in Chelsea and its bloody freezing. I only recently changed into my winter collection and my coat is taking longer to come through than usual hence this awful red thing I am wearing. Still it will be worth the wait wolf grey is this seasons black according to Karl. I can only imagine there has been a terrible mix up with the Maitre’d in the hotel here as I have been outside for the last 2 nights, but I am sure my boys are sorting out my room as we speak and hopefully they have digital so I can catch up on New York fashion week”
Well I was pretty tired and most of this made very little sense to me so I simply said “well its certainly nice to meet you” and added as a after thought, “do you only eat dog food”? “Of course” replied Tala “although I am partial to a little fish if served correctly and I only drink glacial water or snow served at room temperature”. “Oh good” I replied “Well I hope you dont mind but I am going to sleep, its been an eventful day ” and with a quick look round for Jemima, hiding under the building, she has a wonderful knack for finding the warmest places, I settled down and closed my eyes. As I mentioned before its difficult for me to dwell on things for to long as I tend to forget everything rather quickly even my supposed new name and as I got comfortable I thought I could almost hear my friends from the dog team snuffling next to me. As I drifted of to sleep I thought whatever next, hopefully breakfast.
It had been a bit of a rough few days for the team and both our dogs, Colin and Tala. Colin had made up for all his high pitched and constant whining by making us aware of Alex being down. I will cover this more in the next blog. Since then we had called the RCMP for some assistance and bundled both dogs into the back of a komatik, which is a big sled dragged behind a skidoo, before driving them back at high speed to our starting point in Qik.
It was that night that Colin managed to escape! We woke in the morning to no Colin. All that was left was his tracks wondering about the entire area. We could tell it was him by the weird dragging trail in the snow as a result of the cord that was still attached to his collar. Following this trail led us all round Qik from the surroundings of his sleeping area, to the dog sled area on the edge of town before heading to the dumb. It had clearly been quite an active night of adventure for him. Maybe the bug for adventure had bitten him a long the trail. We did however find Jemima, who had evidently run all night to get back. We hadn’t been able to get her before leaving (although she was following us, she is pretty wild and feral) so we knew he must be around. She looked a bit stiff and was clearly very hungry. In a bid to get colin to come to us we tried to lure her in with food. We tried a pile of food close to us. She clearly decided this was too close, a second was placed with a trail of Inukshuk dog food leading to it. Myself and Jamie stood between the two piles. Despite our best efforts, she managed to eat all the food we put out without coming close enough for us to take her back home. She even wandered round and ate the initial pile we put out.
A new plan was needed.
48 hours later and still no sign. We jumped onto the skidoos and headed towards his old haunt. Fortunately and slightly unexpectedly I spotted him lying in the ground with his fluorescent cord on the snow. Jumping onto the cord, in case there was a risk of him getting away, I reeled him in. It was clearly a bit of a shock, unsurprisingly as he had been relaxing, curled up in the low lying winter sun. It didn’t take long till between us we had him on the back of the skidoo. As he was sitting on my lap I was hoping the warm feeling was due to his furry coat and general body warmth rather than him peeing on me. I was fortunate in this respect, however he drooled (which froze instantly) all over my arm as he gazed at the surroundings we were zooming past.
Back at the RMCP base camp he was safely and much more securely tied up.
Now for a couple of my previous challenges I have wanted to use this sound track but I have been saving it. I think it is an awesome tune to start this expedition that myself, Jamie Anderson and Team leader Alex Hibbert are soon to start.
In the next couple of days once everything is ready, people are fully recovered from illness and we will be heading out onto the ice along this epic route, with staggering scenery and a fantastic team.
Like all good plans there has been a slight change of plan. Due to the conditions, a non-supported route of this length isn’t feasible for this expedition. The more than average snow that has fallen this year slowed us considerably during our test run. So instead we are going to be resupplied.
There are lots of cliches that we can use like we have adapted and overcome or something a long those lines.
The good news though is that it was resolved with a lot of discussions around routes, logistics and ice forecasts. We are all extremely excited about the start of it and will keep you up dated with our progress.
Thanks to everyone for your messages over the last few days. Our launch date at the start of the week has been knocked back a little for a couple of reasons – firstly due to what we assumed was a minor airport-caused sniffle, but developing into full-blown respiratory infections for first Alex and Jamie soon after. Benno has miraculously side-stepped the biological onslaught. Secondly, our freight was nigh on destroyed by the carrier, so a half-day repack became three days of painstaking re-organisation and finding lost items. The weather has been stable at around -30 to -35 degrees and with a little wind, settling at around -40. It looks to be staying that way so it’s really only our frustration that has suffered from the delay.
It’s been vital for Jamie and me to recover fully, otherwise we’d be sure to take another health dive after the toil begins. We think we’re more or less there now and so, packed, we’re looking to move north soon. A final factor is that the snowfall here so far this winter has been huge. Even skidoo-powered hunters are returning with news of tough surfaces. This means that we have taken the decision to ship some of our supplies up the coast to pick up later in the journey. In the interests of full disclosure, this means that although we will travel man-powered (what some still refer to as unassisted or unsupported), our status with now be ‘with resupplies’.
The hiccup in preparations have allowed us to integrate into the community here in Qikiqtarjuaq and our heartfelt thanks go to Louis, the guesthouse host and enormously so to Chris, Glen and Halie from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who have taken us into their home and offered every help possible.
So, with a brief show of the northern lights, hour on hour of repacking and wistful looks towards the headland we want to aim for first, we’ll get going as soon as possible. We need to ensure we are all able to sleep fully the night without wheezing and major signs of illness and without any elevated temperature first though. Being impatient will only end in tears after all and we have time. The ice ahead appears to be ‘okay’. A couple of broken sections which we’ll avoid due to the bears that will congregate and the tough navigation they’ll cause. Stay tuned to Twitter, the tracker and the blog all! Cheers.