Time seems to have gone incredibly quickly since we left our depot on the final section of the expedition as we continued our trudge north. We had been informed by the skidoo riders we met at the hut as well as from Shari, one of our friends from Clyde River, who’s husband Jake along with Sarah and Boomer who were making their way with their dog sled teams to Pond Inlet to expect some bad ice. Every time we came towards a spot or closer to a headland where it tends to accumulate we wondered if it was going to hit. We knew roughly where it might be but without knowing it’s exact start point we kept wondering if we had passed it or if not how much would it slow us down. With both our finite number of supplies as well as having to start finalising departure plans from Pond inlet we were watching our daily mileage carefully.
Rounding a headland our route options split. The faint outline of the dog teams trail hugged the shoreline through the “rough” ice where as a skidoo trail from the hunters we had bumped into headed out into the frozen sea of Baffin Bay. Maybe this was the start. After a day of trudging through it it didn’t seem that bad and if this was as bad as it got then we could cope with that. Camping up we felt pleasantly surprised and satisfied with the situation as well as our mileage for the day. Falling asleep thinking was this as bad as it would get? We both hoped so. Dreams of the perfect ice kept floating through our minds. Depending on your thinking spending your nights dreaming as well as physically walking across ice during the day could be bliss or a nightmare, it all depended on how smooth the journey was.
The next day we rounded a point and our questions were answered. The ice resembled a mountain range shrunken down to the scale of car sized peaks. This picture went as far as the eye could see. Basically our worst nightmare. On top of this the wind was blowing into our faces. Meaning that despite the hot work we had to wear face masks and goggles that steamed up before ice froze on the inside during our breaks. With no sign of an obvious path there was nothing for it but to get stuck in.
For the remainder of the day we spent it happily dragging our sleds up, down and around this field of ice debris. With sleds rolling over, dogs getting tangled and skis crossed there was a lot of huffing, puffing and a number of choice words being used. It had only reached 3pm with a couple of sessions still to go and it felt like we had gone 8 rounds in a boxing match. Our backs ached, legs burned and our minds hurt from having to constantly look for the best route with only a multitude of bad options.
With the wind picking up we found a beautiful iceberg to pitch our tent behind. It didn’t cut all the wind out but certainly made a difference.
Standing on top of the iceberg it was difficult to see with the swirling snow but one thing for sure the next day would certainly involve more of the same. The views were spectacular though, being able to get a different perspective with the extra height allowed us to see above all the debris which stretched out all the way to the horizon. Collapsing into the tent we checked out the maps to try and hazard a guess at what was causing it and where it might end. Despite our up beat thinking we were still estimating it could continue for another 30km for all we knew. As I checked our position and distance covered for the day it had hit us hard but given the start of the day had been ok conditions it meant it was not as bad as it could be at a whopping 12km over 8 hours. About 6 to 8 km shorter than we had been averaging for the trip but it still beat the 4km we managed over the moraine earlier in our voyage, which took a day and a half.
We both agreed that the conditions were a recipe for a tough few days as we curled up in our sleeping bags munching down our dinner and strategically placing our hot Nalgene bottles on our aching muscles. The day had certainly quickly developed to type 3 fun!
Waking the next morning ready to take on the world or as Jamie has started singing “welcome to paradise” as he rubs the sleep from his eyes and his old body creaks up from a morning doze. The tent door was opened to a scene of flat light. This was far from ideal!
Within minutes of starting we had one sled tip over as the continuation of bumping along over the ice began for another day like we had never stopped. This is always a good sign of what the day has install. We soon found ourselves back on the trail of the dog sled team with the occasional pee mark from the dogs making it feel like something out of Hansel and Gretel. Then a skidoo track appeared this was great news as it showed there would have to be a half decent route out. The Inuits are not going to completely trash a skidoo simply to find a route through some bad ice when there might be the option to go round. However we soon lost both due to the flat light and a pause in pee marks, shame it wasn’t bread crumbs or even better chocolate buttons. We continued on making our own fresh tracks through this unforgiving terrain. For a brief period of time we were even treated to a spot of sunshine which revealed that we were coming to the end of the bad ice or at least a larger section of ok ice. In the distance we could see the point we were aiming for however it was slowly being shrouded in a vail of fog.
First snow began to fall but as we continued on the wind speed began to increase and for a second night in a row we headed instinctively towards an iceberg. We had been incredibly fortuitous to have this in what is otherwise an incredibly exposed channel. With our initial thoughts of getting our ice breakers back on, which we had taken off earlier in the day due to the balmy -20c temperatures, our thoughts soon turned to the fact we probably need to get the tent up with the wind speed rising.
With a couple of attempts at finding a large enough spot for our tent tipi we finally settled on one. The downside of our tent for 2 people is that it is monstrous in width and more importantly height. Despite it’s strong construction this represents a real challenge in rough ice and strong winds as you try to find somewhere flat enough to sleep as well as with enough of a wind break to naturally block it or with enough snow to create your own wall. Pitching it up we had all the guy lines out pinning it to the ground with the majestic grey and blue iceberg behind it. As much as I would like to stand on top of this one we would need ice axes and crampons to make it up.
Our daily mileage was again disappointing at just over 10km due to it being a couple of sessions short. But with no protection past this iceberg it was our best option. Day soon turned to night and conditions improved. That was until about 3am when we were awoken to roaring winds. By 4 we decided a snow wall was now required as well.
Kitted up with not a millimetre of skin showing we went outside where we were almost blown off our feet. We stumbled about for about an hour getting a wall together along with tightening down the guy lines. None of this was helped by the fact that the wind had turned through 90 degrees. Although we still had a natural wind break there too it just wasn’t quite big enough. By 5am we were back in the tent with breakfast being served far earlier than normal before heading back into the sleeping bags for a duvet day. Just without the same level of comfort or films on show.
Throughout the day we lay there eating, drinking hot chocolate and watching as the one central pole vibrated and bent in the wind as the high sides of the tent acted like small sails billowing in the breeze. It was unnerving not knowing how much the wind might increase or how much more the tent could take. We made the occasional trip outside to adjust guy lines, to redo bits that had loosened and build up the snow round it’s base as the tent took a battering from the wind and snow. There was the occasional lull, which gave us some hope before kicking back in with greater ferocity. Falling asleep that night we hoped not to be woken in the early hours nor that it would be blowing still the next day.
Waking to not a sound was incredible there was hardly a breathe on the tent, we could hear ourselves rather than shouting across to one another despite being only a meter apart.
The next few days ticked by incredibly quickly as we made good progress, keen to get away from the area that had pinned us down for almost 2 days. With this calm came a period where we could admire Bylot Island which although felt incredibly close was actually still 20km away. It’s picture perfect peaks, ridges, bowls and glaciers covered the horizon. It was an incredible sight and together with the region we were passing through looked incredible for a ski trip, downhill as apposed to the cross country we were currently doing.
Camping up for the final time we finished slightly earlier than usual. We could see the houses in Pond Inlet up on the hillside which felt strange being so close but yet not quite there. We had planned this so that the next day would be short but not too short plus it would give us a chance to take some more photos assuming we had good conditions. We relaxed eating left over chocolate, biltong and hot chocolates until a couple of celebratory cigars came out. Although it was slightly early the last few days had been windy and the chances of us being able to smoke them as we skied along through face mask and goggles was not likely!
It was amazing to think that 70 days previously we had left Qik and about 100 days since we had left the shores of the UK. We were almost at the end of the journey……