Category Archives: Arctic

The Final Push


It almost felt surreal waking in the tent that morning. It was our last night on the ice in our tent or at least we hoped so as we were only 10km from Pond Inlet. Going about our morning activities as we had for the previous 70 days in a now almost ritualistic and exacting manner. The only difference was there was no hurry. We lay in our sleeping bags drinking tea, despite the fact we had run out of earl grey and were now onto chai. Putting off the inevitable for once not because it was cold but more the fact that by the end of the day that would be it. This was quite a weird and in many ways a scary though as we had been consumed by this adventure from the early stages of congregating round maps in pubs and kitchen tables to where we were on the ice.

Finally escaping from the warm cosy environment of our down sleeping bags we began packing up. We had hoped to wake to blue skies to take us in the final few km’s but as we exited from our tent we were greeted to a grey dull sky. This was not going to help capture those last few photos and footage that we had planned. The tent went away for the last time it had kept us sheltered for the duration of the trip. Despite the fact that each night was only temporary it had become our home, everything had its place and even with the freezing temperatures it had a safe and almost homely feel about it once inside.  There was even enough for a final snow angel before setting off for the day!

snow angel - forgot the head
snow angel – forgot the head

Trudging our way back onto the ice we could already make out the buildings of Pond Inlet with the low cloud behind them. We stopped occasionally to get a few photos yet as the hours ticked by and our supplies of flapjack and chocolate eaten, the community never seemed to get that much closer. There was a thick covering of snow on the ice which had been dumped by the numerous weather systems that had come over the surrounding mountains releasing their soft fluffy load over the area.

The final push
The final push

It still amazed us in this environment how the size and scale of everything around us twisted our perspective making covering ground always seem to be a slow process until you were almost on top of what you were aiming for. It was almost a surprise when we finally could make out cars, lorries and a few dogs on the outskirts of Pond. The buildings were perched on the shore line looking out over to Bylot Island. It must be beautiful in the summer without all the ice as a whole variety of wildlife come through the area including whales and narwhals.

the sight that didn't get closer
the sight that didn’t get closer

We were making our way towards the RCMP building who had kindly been holding some of our gear for the return journey to the UK when we were met by a couple of skidoos. It was the same guys who had met us at our last supply depot on our way from Clyde River to Pond Inlet almost 3 weeks previously. To our delight we had arrived just before the dog sled race, which was due to start that evening. Out on the ice we could already make out a crowd gathering of dogs, people, cars and skidoos all congregating for the start of it. This included our friends Jake and Shari who we soon found out had been drawn to start last out of the 12 or so competitors.

Team Jake
Team Jake

The entries had come from far and wide across the territory ranging from Clyde River to Arctic Bay for this annual event. For some of the teams this year just getting to the start line had been a challenge with rough ice and poor weather coinciding together. You wouldn’t have guessed it as the sun was coming out and the temperature felt positively warm. The dogs would be struggling in the heat as they pulled some heavy loads despite it still being -20C. Most importantly it’s a time when family members can reunite, keep the old methods of travel alive and also the chance to win a cash prize.

DSC02320
The excitement building

We helped out for a bit, including when a dog managed to escape from its owner only to cause havoc with the other teams about it as each pack in turn tried to chase after it. Feeling the pull of the 10 dogs as we stood on their lines holding them back from joining in the chaos was seriously impressive. I thought at one stage it might take me off my feet. Fortunately the dog decided to hide under a sled before, with a bit of team work, one local inuit moved the sled whilst the other pounced on the husky as soon as it was out in the open. The atmosphere was incredible with hundreds of dogs barking with growing excitement for the race to start. It felt like the whole town was out in force with massive 4×4’s lining up on the ice as well as all the spectators young and old.

Everyone Preparing
Everyone Preparing

First to take off on the skidoo’s was an army of support team members carrying extra supplies, food and gear. Although each rider is self-sufficient in case of emergency or for some of the more secluded parts of the race, the skidoo teams set up camp for the dog sled teams each night. As the skidoos headed off into the distance the dogs pulled harder on the lines thinking that they were off next. One team managed to pull so hard it took their driver along the ground with them until others managed to help stop them all.

A family affair
A family affair
Old and new mixed together
Old and new mixed together
The Crowds are building
The crowds are building

We weren’t able to see the start of the race as it was getting late and we needed to head back to our sleds and on towards the RCMP station. It was perched on the coast line with the Canadian flag flying high and proud in this glorious weather that had come out for the start of the race.

We had come to the end of our ski expedition and it was bizarre thinking that tomorrow there would be no skiing, although its not quite so strange as reaching the summit of a mountain where you still have to climb back down, you have in your head a big crescendo the reality is its just like any other day.

There is no big finish line, crowds of people to great us or anything like that. Just an imaginary point on the land. Standing outside the RCMP station we gave each other a hug and a congratulations before wondering up the steps.

We were greeted by the RCMP officers Paul, Jason and Andrew who were incredibly kind and looked after us throughout our stay in Pond Inlet.

Pond Inlet
Pond Inlet 2015
Pond Inlet 2015
Pond Inlet 2015
Pond Inlet 1938, how things have changed!
Pond Inlet 1938, how things have changed!

Our next challenge…. returning to civilisation, starting with a warm shower and a comfy bed!

The Last Slog


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.

Another Headland and the potential of rough ice
Another Headland and the potential of rough ice

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.

Getting stuck!
Getting stuck!

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.

Jamie on top of the Iceberg looking out
Jamie on top of the Iceberg looking out
Our camp spot
Our camp spot

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.

Holed up for a couple of days
Holed up for a couple of days

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.

Trucking along
Trucking along
Bylot Island
First Sighting of Bylot Island

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……

Last camp Spot
Last camp Spot

Bear Necessities


The morning started like any other with the normal rituals of life in the arctic, which after 3 months were running pretty slickly. We were getting the final part of the tent away when I heard an almighty noise. Looking up I realised it was just Jamie sneezing. You forget how quite and soundless the arctic region is. The only sounds we hear are that of our group, the wind on the tent and the odd raven that fly’s past. I had only just started sorting out my sled when a small noise from erupted from Colin’s direction. This could have been a bark or, and probably far my likely, a sudden release of air from one of his other orifices. Jamie looked round. The next word I heard in normal situations wouldn’t make me bat an eyelid in this environment however it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up while your pulse rises rapidly as adrenaline shoots into your veins. 

BEAR!

Spot the Bear (this was it leaving after everything)
Spot the Bear (this was it leaving after everything)

Looking round I immediately see the ambling cream coloured figure of a bear. There was a momentary pause, as you think wow look at that. Then the far more urgent one that this bear was only 30 – 40 m away, which was close enough for us to need to do something about it. Within moments I had my shotgun as did Jamie. We had discussed and run through our plan for this kind of situation particularly after our last encounter, our rapid reaction force known only as Tala was released. Colin was kept by our side partly for security but mainly because he is more likely to run in the opposite direction. Tala chased down her target, barking aggressively until she was closer to the bear. 

Tala had clearly expected the same reaction as with the mother and her cubs, which ran quickly off into the distance. She returned victorious arriving back to a hero’s welcome of belly rubs and food. Being a lonesome young male bear it had other ideas and held his ground. At which point there was a stand off between the two of them. The bear was still obviously trying to work out what we all were and what we were doing in his back garden. They approach down wind lifting his nose in the air to get a better whiff of us and occasionally getting higher on his back legs to see and smell us better. Irritated and distracted by tala he made a little run forward but she kept him at bay. He was only testing the water but the move had Jamie and me on edge.

We didn't get the cameras out when it was closer...
We didn’t get the cameras out when it was closer…

With tala keeping him busy this gave Jamie and I time to load up a few bear bangers to fire at him. The guns are kept with live ammunition as the first option so we have to assess the situation before using bangers. With a loud crack and flash of light they started going off around his feet and one bouncing off him. They took effect immediately on both dog and bear as they paused mid stand off each unsure of what these explosions of noise were. These first few didn’t unfortunately budge him much as he only wondered off a few steps and certainly not far enough away. Before beginning a slow shuffle back in our direction. 


Time seemed to go incredibly slowly. Other than a couple of bangers we kept my shotgun on live rounds as a very last resort. There was the incessant barking from Tala, I had joined in shouting at the bear, Colin well I will come on to that while Jamie loaded up more bangers. This second round of explosions and with everything else he turned on his heels and routed, clearly deciding this was not worth the effort. Tala continued to follow him with continued aggression until we called her back. 


As he wondered off he clearly heard a noise from a seal. Rising on his hind legs he dived into the ice. Nothing, he was not having a good start to the day. We stood watching carefully as he then continued his long walk into the distance. 
Now that he was further away we could appreciate the sight of this magnificent animal as he meander about icebergs with the sun rising behind him. It was a beautiful sight seeing a polar bear in it’s natural environment. They are certainly an animal to both admire but also respect incredibly highly.

Surveying the scene in front of us, it had been quite an experience, we had fired 8 bangers which later when we walked over to see his foot prints you could see the small blast radius’s left as they had exploded about him. Looking from his perspective highlighted just how close he had come. Despite only being 9.30 in the morning we both felt like we had been up and moved a considerable distance already. You don’t appreciate how being on edge even for a short period of time takes it’s toll on the mind and body.  
Finally with some decent distance between us we felt comfortable enough to finish the remainder of the packing and make a quick get away onto whiter pastures.

Colin Chilling
Colin Chilling


Now throughout this entire fiasco Colin who had raised his small alarm had made one of two decisions. Either the situation was all under control and didn’t need his assistance or in one final last stand of pleasure he would look the other way and lick his bollocks. We were both delighted that Colin was the first to highlight the bears presence but then incredibly frustrated that the dog selected for his polar up bringing and likely handling of a polar bear had come so short of the mark. Despite this though he has certainly grown on us particularly over the last few weeks as he still shakes off the effects of 2 years of a harsh upbringing and his lifetime experience where human contact was limited at best. He now nudges me at each break with his nose and licks his lips in hope of receiving some flapjack, which as long as it isn’t cappuccino flavour or ginger choc chip if he has gone to Jamie, he gets some. His confidence does seem to be improving with him now slowly reaching up with mouth opening round and in the direction of the flapjack that we are about to eat ourselves. He is incredibly gentle though feeding him by hand he eases it away from you as if it were a delicate relic from centuries ago rather than the semi frozen block of food that it is. We have resorted to warming them up in our chest pocket before hand to stop some flavours breaking our teeth. Tala on the other hand has been trained under the careful watch of Jamie and the occasional addition by myself to balance food on the end of her nose, having her leave it for a few seconds as drool dribbles from her mouth before flicking it up with her nose and grabbing in her mouth. It is then munched down with such a ravenous tenacity that you would think the flapjack is about to come alive.

Tala Being Rewarded
Tala Being Rewarded

INTO THE FJORDS


From the warming lights and RCMP hospitality in Clyde we travelLed North West into the otherworldly coastal fjord System. We had yet to cover such ground, a mixture of frozen fjords and overland traverses littered with moraines from receding glaciers. It was unknown to us but the visual rewards were full of promise so we took a westerly turn from the direct route north to travel through this area.

Tongue like fjords linked by overland passes, littered with glacial moraines and debris, awaited us and it took us a full day of hard work to cross the first small “small” moraine. The promise of a further two more to escape Stewart Valley meant we hit the ice with a renewed vigour. A big motivator being that over last few days, on the flat fjord ice, we had annihilated our average per day mileage. Luck was now on our side; the ice was pan flat, the wind on our backs, as it swept off the rolling glaciers now behind us and slabs of steep rock face towered above us curving out of sight. It was majestic.

fjords

We soon found large sections of clear ice where you could see into the depths of the fjord beneath our feet, littered with bubbles of air, trapped until the melt. Not that you could see much, the snow covering the majority of it prevented much light entering and peering into the darkness beneath we wondered what sort of fish lurked beneath us- maybe even a Baffin version of Nessie. We were zipping between the slower snow cover and this new found friend of “perfect” ice, where for a brief moment our sleds felt almost weightless and we could let our minds wonder without having to concentrate on picking our way through debris.

Our time was spent admiring the chutes and bowls that could be skied down as well as the numerous cliff faces that may or may not have been climbed. We dreamed we would come round the corner to a huge base camp of climbers on their own winter expedition; ideally with some seriously heated tents, food that was not rehydrated and, best case, a cool beer to sip on. It’s sad and not particularly surprising to say that we didn’t find any.

Ahead of us loomed moraine number two, according to the map and GPS it was certainly shorter than the first but still we dreaded it. From a distance the options didn’t look great- a high wall of rock and mud starting on the right hand side and sweeping across the glaciated valley with the odd dip until land on the adjacent side. There did look to be a tight but potentially skiable path on this far side. As we came closer and could see further it gradually opened up to provide a passable route. Our initial fears of spending a day trying to get over it were brushed aside as we found ourselves cruising down a frozen stream on a gentle sloping gradient with massive grins on our faces. Colin did not have the same feeling as he scrambled around, like Bambi on ice, unable to grip and looking as if he might die of terror at any moment. I tried putting him on top of my sled and he looked pretty happy, especially as he had been sneaking onto them to sleep each night, until I started moving again at which point he jumped off. I hadn’t expected that, I was more expecting him to pee or poo all over it like he had done on the a skidoo ride, which although messy was certainly easier than having him slip and slide whilst attached to my sled.

Two moraine hurdles down and one to go. Despite the sun beaming down on us the days were cold and the temperature was plummeting again with forecasts of -39C which was not great to hear. This made the final section that much harder as we donned masks and goggled up with the breeze of the ice caps chilling exposed skin in seconds.

Approaching the final moraine, which on the map was as foreboding as the first one which had hampered our progress. It brought back still fresh memories and the question of was it worth the detour for these spectacular views? There was meant to be a small stream but it wasn’t that clear on the ground where this was. Spotting what appeared to be a valley and praying for a similar situation to the last frozen stream we made a beeline for it. It was our only option as the rest of the moraine up close was impassable with pulks.

A route briefly opened up before we had to scramble over some rocks. Maybe our luck was up? To our relief a frozen stream lay on the other side. Feeling physically tired we took a short break- it was a perfect spot for filming. Whilst in the process Jamie shouted over that some water was gurgling up under the pressure of the lake behind it and instantly refreezing in beautiful forms on the surface of the established ice. That’s pretty cool! Then we spotted some more and then another patch, this was becoming less cool and a bit concerning. The issue was that a layer of ice had formed with some water running between it and the thick ice that lay beneath. As we moved the pulks occasionally sunk into the weak ice becoming trapped as the water froze around them. We donned skis to spread the weight and focused on our route. Although the water was not at all deep we did not want to get any of our kit wet as it would freeze and make for a particularly unpleasant period depending on where and how wet it got. Even in the tent on the warmest night the temperature wouldn’t be higher than -10C, once wet and then frozen kit would remain frozen. To our relief this weaker patch of ice only lasted a short distance as we carefully and safely made our way through before we were zig zagging the meanders of the river back down to the sea ice once more.

fjords2

We then exited Stewart valley with high fives, fist punches and a hug all round- dogs included. It had been quite a detour and a mini adventure within this journey north. The tough going had certainly taken its toll on us and each night we had collapsed into our sleeping bags hoofing down our meals and any other calories, not thinking of them as food only fuel that we had from that days rations. It had become simple numbers game. When we reflected back on the escapade it is easy to question whether it was it worth it or not? Observing this natural region of jaw dropping beauty made the answer easy; of course it was, now we were out of it!

We now made a straight line crossing past the spectacular Sillam Island with its glaciers falling off its steep sides, skimming Scott Island with its angular bow like rock face rising from the ocean floor, towards another overland pass and our first and only depot. We weren’t sure what to expect from the pass. Our opinion of going overland had been tainted by a few experiences. It certainly didn’t conjure up positive feelings but with lighter sleds we had a positive mind set.

Entering it and despite the views being impressive the pass just didn’t compare to what we had been seeing so recently, we had been spoilt and were in danger of becoming geography snobs. Following the river we met the tracks of our dog sled friends and skidoo drivers Levi and Boris. For the next few days we followed these tracks and as our sleds got ever lighter and the going got easier despite the patches of rough windblown snow and occasional rocky outcrop or the hills that neither set of drivers seemed to wish to avoid. Our map, although sufficient, lacks the detail for micro nav meaning we were hoping they would take the easiest path. We crested another hill again only to find the valley we had been following linked below us with only a small detour which would have avoided all those meters gained to lose them again. It did provide Jamie the opportunity to test out his telemark skiing skills as he glided down in control even with a Pulk. This is an almost impossible task when you have Colin attached to your sled as I did. As the sled picks up speed going downhill it gets closer, panicking Colin decides to increase his pace in a bid to get away from the one object he is tied to on a fixed length of line. This only results in the sled careering into me at higher speed and almost taking my legs out from beneath me.

We are however slowly making progress with the lovely chap as he certainly seems happier and less timid than when we first got him. Falling asleep on top of our sleds certainly shows an air of confidence he didn’t have before and a clever streak that he has managed to keep very well hidden up to now. A beautiful and almost hot (-20C) day brought us nicely into the hut and our depot stop. Sitting by a frozen lake with pristine snow, mountains and glaciers in the surrounding area, it is certainly a beautiful spot.

wandering

The almost unspoilt view excluding the defecated patch where around 20 or so dogs had been with the sled teams which I am sure you can imagine was less pristine. You could see where all the dogs had slept with these small round melted depressions in the snow and the area was littered with the pitter-patter of paw prints. Compared to our previous hut finding days with strong winds and snow this felt a lot better plus the “it’s obvious to see” is very true when the weather is good. We could see it from a good distance off! Unpacking our supplies and re-measuring for the umpteenth time how far the next section is. Concentrating on what we would encounter initially the first 15k are going to be tough with our heavy sleds again as we cross the remaining bit of land down to the sea ice. We are making the most of the opportunity with a day to rest up and to organise ourselves before taking this and the remainder of the journey on.

One slight surprise whilst packing up was the sound of an engine followed by another and then nothing. It was as if a skidoo had stopped outside but we were in the middle of nowhere! Two people suddenly appeared through the door. It was a group heading up for the dog sled race taking place in Pond in about 10 days time. We joined them for hot drinks and the freshest sushi of Arctic char cut straight off a whole fish in large slivers. It was delicious. The remainder of the afternoon was spent chatting away with the group, admiring the caribou gloves they had, packing up the remainder of our kit and patching up some of the gloves which have taken the full brunt of this environment. It isn’t the sort of place that takes any prisoners, the slight sign of weakness in any bit of equipment and it soon unravels. In the case of our gloves my favourite pair is now held together more by my quality sewing (it is anything but this) than the original stitching. The seriously dry air also has the habit of causing fingers and lips especially crack as we begin each day and finish each night with increasing levels of moisturiser including Mushers secret hoof and paw cream for my feet. Jamie has a particular liking for some lotion with self tanning in as he glows ever more orange. At least I can spot him from a distance even without his Baffin jacket on. Onwards and upwards!

THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN


Arriving in Clyde River during a blizzard was never part of what we envisaged. With Chris from the RCMP shouting over the noise of the wind that he had a load of our stuff and we could meet him once we checked out the local hotel.

Bundling into the warm hotel was a treat as new and exciting smells wafted past us from the kitchen. Emily who runs it was incredibly kind to us despite our dishevelled appearance and biohazard smell having not washed for over a month. The price was astronomical compared to our budget. The hotel is in a beautiful spot with views over the frozen bay and mountains behind. Emily pointed out my mum had phoned trying to sort out some supplies that she was sending up including some whiskey. It turns out Clyde is also a community within Nunavut with a by-law requiring a permit to buy alcohol as well as the need to ship it up once it has gone through a committee. So it’s safe to so say we didn’t manage to get any.

Trudging back to the RCMP station in the wind and snow wasn’t pleasant but after explaining our predicament to Chris he kindly let us stay in the police station as well as the use of our first hot shower since we left Qik. In a semi zombie state we ate, showered and crashed to sleep feeling almost normal. It certainly felt strange waking up in a heated building and simply turning on a tap rather than having to melt snow for water. With an aim of getting out within 4 days or so and a long list of things to do the race was on. The most major of  our tasks being to sort out our depot drops for the onward leg. Like in Qik there were some huge maps on the wall of the detachment which we could survey every time we passed during our stay. It served as a very useful reminder of what we still had to cover as well as being able to see how far we had come… whilst also planning our onward journey with it. It was fascinating seeing all the names of the mountains and fjords. Names like Ayr pass, Kintyre point, Patterson fjord, Royal Society fjord, Cape Carmichael and many others with British and particularly Scottish references. Not surprisingly with the likes of John Rae doing the lions share of the exploring up here. We met up with Chris and his partner Shaun at the station in the morning who were full of ideas on who we could speak to. It was a stroke of luck that the first in the list was a guy called Jake who not only has travelled large sections of the area by dog sled but also knew Sarah and Boomer who are currently dog sledding round Baffin and were due in any day. Meeting up with him as well as a few locals, including an elder, we had a pretty experienced bunch examining our map and pointing out areas of interest. Time certainly flew by and soon are map was annotated up with notes on where bears, bad ice, potential routes and an idea of where base jumpers go. The last being more out of interest rather than something that either of us wish to do. Back at the RCMP station we re-examined the huge map of the area, we were in luck potentially for using some of the huts for depots with them being nicely spread out. We were also introduced to a possible skidoo driver who was going to meet us the following day with prices for the trip.

After a few days in Clyde river we can finally see the bay we skied up!
After a few days in Clyde river we can finally see the bay we skied up!

Wandering about Clyde in the sunshine was certainly a different experience to the previous day of blizzards. Turns out it is renowned by local pilots for the worst weather in the region and it is normal for these bad spells to roll through every few days (as we soon found out). With a rather long to do list and mixed emotions…relaxing vs getting back on the trail, the following days were a whirlwind of activity. A large amount of time was spent counting out cakes, flapjacks, beef jerky, chocolate and maxinutrition trying our hardest not to dip into our limited supplies. As I tucked into a packet of chocolate which on the ice could be gobbled up in a few seconds made me pause as I felt slightly ill with all the sweet items we had eaten.

Sorting out the depots was proving challenging. Most of the locals don’t tend to do the big trips between Clyde and pond till April once the ice has had time to flatten, the days are longer and the temperatures are warmer. Due to this the current ice conditions and the fact that the caribou/ polar bear hunts had been postponed meant that people weren’t travelling north particularly as far as we were hoping them to go. We were aiming for two depots splitting the journey into almost perfect thirds. After much negotiating, one driver fell through and we had to settle on plan b. This was for a single drop slightly closer than we anticipated but still far enough away that the second start although heavy would be a feasible weight.

We also adapted the plan to take in Sam fjord particular after Jake and his wife Sheri showed us some incredible pictures of the region. People travel up here just to visit them and in occasions BASE jump off the giant peaks! In between all this we were introduced a delicious local snack at the hotel called bannocks I think they were called. These moreish deep fried bread snacks were exactly what was required by a couple of lads who were eating pretty much everything in sight. Along with all of this was a busy social calendar with dinner kindly put on by Shaun and his wife for a fantastic spicy vegetable curry followed on the next night by Chris and his wife for another treat of pasta followed by cherry pie. It was incredibly kind of them welcoming us into their family homes, the company and a different diet to our normal rehydrated meals. We have eaten all the varieties enough times to work out the pecking order. We did unfortunately miss the local community feast partly whilst trying to sort jobs which inevitably take longer than expected as well as a blizzard forecast speeding up proceedings for a much earlier finish than anticipated. Mainly due to us finally sorting out our depot drops as well as fixing up our skis which we spent a happy few hours drilling and riveting our kicker skins (the bit that provides us with traction under our feet) onto the ski as the stitching on the straps holding them in place had disintegrated.

Some of the awesome views to come...
Some of the awesome views to come…

With the weekend approaching which tends to be the stations busy period we had to find a new place to crash. Walking about town whilst a blizzard was happening reminded us of our arrival, it was pretty awful weather and trying to cross town took far longer with you not being able to see where you were exactly. We were kindly taken in by the nurses of Clyde. Gary did a sterling job of feeding us up on caribou stew and ice cream. A real treat whilst discussing a whole variety of trips we had all done as well as climbing and skiing. Being able to sleep on the sofa was the closest to a bed that we had had in over 2 months both crashing out in minutes. With the blizzard still on our friends Sarah and Boomer who are dog sledding were unable to set off. Despite us expecting them to be chilling it was a hive of activity as they helped their hosts Jake and Shari set his sled up who had decided to head north with them partly in preparation for a dog sled race going from pond inlet to arctic bay some 400 miles roughly. We joined them for Shari’s amazing home-made pizza making me reminisce about the ones i make at home before heading back to Gary’s for evening super of caribou stew, more ice cream and catching up on some climbing/ BASE jumping films he had. A pretty awesome way to chill before heading off the next day. The day had come and we were finally off. After 5 full days it was only marginally longer than we had expected.

Saying final good byes in many ways felt strange as within such a short space of time many of the people had shown a tremendous amount of hospitality to strangers who had walked off the ice. Levi the outfitter rolled up with the two skidoos transporting us and our gear first to our drop then the food to the depot. It was a huge amount of stuff. The dogs unfortunately had to come in the same box as myself and Jamie. Having seen the mess they had created in the last box we had been tactical with our feeding times in the hope of minimise a repeat. With bin bags covering our legs, two nervous looking dogs and even more nervous lads we headed off. The start was thankfully slow as the skidoos meanders there way out onto the sea ice. The dogs unable to sit still kept trying to scramble out of the box over the top of us. As they began to calm down we started to pick up speed causing us all to gain air time over the bumps. It was funny initially until the combination of factors caused Colin to poo in the corner. We now had a ride smelling of engine fumes, dog poo and dog breath. In a confined space this was pretty desperate. On top of that Colin was also drooling constantly like a tap. Tala looked like she had been in the shower while Jamie and I were trying desperately to use the bin bags to prevent us from getting shit or drool on us. Fortunately as this point the dogs began getting the idea that sitting or lying down was more comfortable as we all settled into the three hour ride with the occasional spells of air time. It turned out myself and Jamie could almost find a position to sleep in until we hit a bump as our heads were resting on the ledge we would drop onto. Pulling up for the stop, we exited to beautiful views of the valley ahead with wind causing some of the snow to spin in mini twisters.

It was a pretty special way of starting the second leg.

AN INTERLUDE IN CLYDE RIVER


(a blog from Jamie)

As the wind smashed into the side of the first vehicle we had seen in thirty days, the driver wound down the window, winced at the force of the storm, and said cheerfully “welcome to Clyde River”, thankfully pointing us in the direction of the RCMP detachment. We had made it. The last two days had seen us cover over 56km in dense fog, buffeted by withering winds that had steadily built to gusts of 40mph as a we crossed a seemingly endless succession of broken ice.

Clyde is a natural mid-point on our journey and the knowledge that this was such a key objective for us along with the incentives of walls, heating and possibly a hot shower meant we were willing to push hard to reach it. The journey up the last section of coastline has been long and windy; with extended days of hauling on broken ice making the trip physically hard work and meaning we needed to be extra vigilant to the risks of cold and fatigue. Our sleds however have been steadily lightened and as the daylight hours have increased as has our fitness and ability to push ourselves harder than before whilst staying at safe level of knackered and on the right side of exhaustion. With this has come the satisfaction of seeing our daily mileage start to climb and our spirits rise as the distances to Clyde began to become feasible measurements and no longer unobtainable distances that only existed in the realms of dreamers or those with motorised transport.

The final two days to Clyde were a bit of a crux for us. Two carrots were dangling; the first a hut at the edge of the peninsular which would be a welcome relief after the last seven days of windswept tundra and the second, Clyde, sitting out of sight but within touching distance, we could almost smell the fruit and vegetables in the Northern Store. We kicked off for the hut with a strong headwind that gradually faded away to leave us bathed in sunshine and enjoying the sight of the first big icebergs we had seen for weeks on the horizon. Like container ships gone astray and stranded against the frozen sea line, these mammoth blocks of floating water grow larger and taller as the sun distorts and stretches them into a mirage of illusions often to staggering proportions. These ice bergs often sit on the horizon for two or three days looming majestically over the flat ice like cathedrals of electric blue gracefully decaying in the Arctic sunshine. However, as you get closer they start to shrink rather than grow until as you reach and pass the block of freshwater you have been endlessly looking at it is no bigger than a decent sized church. Still impressive but not quite the Salisbury or Winchester-sized Gothic monument you were expecting.

We had a tough time over the rough ice surrounding the point and as we rounded the Cape and turned west the freshening breeze gave us cause to eagerly scan the horizon for the hut. As we have been disappointed so many times before this time we were ready for the lack of any human-made shelters and a good thing too. No visible hut. After a brief search we tucked into the headland and found the most sheltered spot we could, comforting ourselves in the knowledge that with a big effort the next day we would be in Clyde and hut or not, without today’s slog those bright lights would still be out of reach.

Colin, who had been given bail the day before had steadfastly refused to be caught at night, even forgoing his dinner, stubborn little git and was duly caught that morning – his growling tummy overcoming his usual razor sharp wit and cunning. Similar to a slightly demented dribbling drunk, convinced that a dirty kebab is a good idea and that he can make a run for it from the large, knife-wielding owner without paying, not realising the glass door to the shop is closed – running straight into it and knocking himself out. Colin sulked for the rest of the day.

Despite securing Colin, we had awoken to a world of white. The fog had descended and enclosed us making the days difficult task even harder. As we set out we realised what a great camp spot we had chosen and the wind began to get stronger and stronger as we moved away from the sheltering coast line, battering us in the backs, pushing and urging us forward. The final blow came when after an hour we hit a patch of very rough ice that slowed us down to a crawl for the next two hours. Needing to make a lot of ground, we grunted and crunched our way through the blocks of broken sea, never seeing more than twenty yards ahead so never knowing when it might end. Thankfully it did end, and as we headed into flatter ice the clouds began drifting higher, and the land we were heading for came into focus giving us the shot of motivation we needed to believe there might still be a radiator at the end of the day. We continued slogging until finally the GPS said less than 1km to Clyde and with baited breath we scanned the horizon. When we were supposedly 300m away from a town of 1500 people and yet couldn’t see an aerial, a post-box, even a skidoo trail we began to think something might be up. It turns out the Garmin coordinates for Clyde are 4.2k to the East of the town and with the wind now gusting above 35mph this was an extra few kms we didn’t really need. Eventually however, out of the mist appeared a collection of man-made objects, first barely distinguishable then growing more solid and become the buildings, street lights and boats of an Arctic coastal town in the grip of winter.

As we dragged our pulks through town, too exhausted to realise fully that we had arrived, Clyde RCMP Detachment Commander Chris Moreau opened the front door of his house and said “you must be the British explorers”, we both smiled and thought well I suppose we are now aren’t we?

GINGERLOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS


(Jamie)

It is northwards to Clyde and so northwards we went, leaving a warm and comfortable hut for the sea ice and our trusty tent once more. In good spirits and now both showing signs of good beard growth, things were looking up.

Growing facial hair has always been an issue for Benno so he has been delighted to start to show the signs of some serious progress on his chin and chops and I have been happy to see that his barb is also decidedly gingery in colour. It’s an odd phenomenon that neither of has another ginger hair on our body, we have thoroughly checked, apart from the area between clavicle and nose. So leaving the hut, with a dash of the fox about us, we were determined to make a coastal point some 20km away but with our now reloaded sleds weighing in at around 50kgs heavier, life moved at a slower rate. We were both taken by surprise at quite how much more effort we were now putting in to move the sleds and our dream destination for the evening seemed sure to elude us. That is until we saw the bears- it’s amazing what adrenaline will do for your daily mileage!

We had seen lots of tracks at the hut and criss-crossing our path for the past 6 hours, confidently announcing to each other that this was a male or here you could see a young mother and cub and that this track is clearly weeks old when Benno stopped and squinted at the horizon. “It’s a bear” I replied as soon as I followed his finger and saw a mother and two cubs around 600m away, ambling along towards us very bear like and pausing occasionally to stand on hind legs to smell us and get a better view. Having rapidly dumped harnesses and grabbed shotguns, we secured Tala, hid the marmalade and loaded our bear bangers. As we watched the mother trundle closer who should we suddenly see bolting towards the bear at full pelt but Tala, having slipped her lead and seeing this as a wonderful opportunity to get aquatinted with her polar cousin. As the queen bee of Battersea Park and used to lording it over the Cockapoos and French Bulldogs, Tala is not lacking in self confidence and despite us shouting and swearing at her, she wasn’t coming back for anyone. Benno and I watched in horrified silence both thinking this was going to end in one of two ways, neither happy. Tala would either get mauled or killed by the bear, very bad news meaning we would be left with only Colin who was trying his hardest to look in the other direction and pretend he couldn’t see the bear, or Tala would get close enough to severely piss the bear off and when she realised this wasn’t the big husky from the park and that maybe a play fight was out of the question she would run back towards us bringing an angry and irate mother bear with her. Tala however proved us wrong, she fully charged the bear, ears up, legs galloping, taking entirely airborne strides until the bear turned and with her cubs ran as fast as they could in the opposite direction. Tala chased her for around 600/700m, barked at the bear quite a lot as if to say ” and don’t come back” then turned round and strutted back to us looking very pleased with herself. Needless to say we weren’t shouting at her anymore and she received lots of attention and praise once she had sauntered back to our position, head held high and in expectation of some flapjack for her bravery.

As the light faded and we watched the bear and Cubs saunter off into the dusk we decided to push on to put some distance between us and this large and powerful creature. It is a strange experience being separated from a large, hungry, predator by only an open stretch of flat sea ice and in some ways it felt as if we were watching the whole experience on the most vivid wide screen imaginable, which I suppose in some ways we were. Still it’s nice to have a shotgun and a dog like Tala just in case you can’t find the remote to change channel fast enough when things get a bit too real.

So we made the Point that evening and set off for our next destination, Cape Henry Kater. Having poured over maps looking at this area for many weeks it is always gratifying to arrive at a large, much anticipated check point as it helps validate the miles you have already completed and allows you to settle on your next objective. Having followed our neatly marked map exactly (EXACTLY) to the spot where the Inuit hunters had told us to cross the Cape, we were a little taken aback by the scale of the river valley running down the land. We had been told to expect a ‘steep bit’ at the beginning but the ravine slicing its way down a considerable Munro sized peak was not what we expected. Optimistic as ever we assumed the valley must level out behind and so began the bastard task of lifting the sleds over the 100ms or so of rocky beach and dragging them uphill. After one particular stint of shuttling the sleds up an increasingly steep slope we decided that a quick recce was in order to scout the terrain ahead and if this was a feasible or ludicrous undertaking. After 30 minutes it became obvious that getting a skidoo up this slope, let alone a 140kg man powered sled, would be a tough task and that turning round was the only feasible option. We walked back down to the sleds, which from our new perspective were resting on a slope resembling a challenging red run and we both marveled that we managed to get them that far uphill without realising maybe this was not the right route. We needed some help and when you are pissed off, shattered and confused on Baffin Island the only people to call are the Qik RCMP. We spoke to Chris and John first assuring them that we were fine and hadn’t injured ourselves and asked that they tracked down Jaipotte for us, whose line on the map we had been diligently following. Thirty minutes later Jai was explaining to us that there is a hut to look for right by the valleys entrance and we were about 8km to the west of the position we needed and that our map was very hard to draw accurate lines on. We headed back down the slope as the sun began to fade, frustrated to have wasted a day, a huge amount of energy and our moods only briefly brightened when Colin managed to wrap Benno’s legs up and send him down the slope head first as we were descending. Well it brightened my day although I daren’t laugh as B looked like he was about to skin Colin on the spot. That night was definitely a brownie night and we gratefully ate the last of Celine’s excellent treats and enjoyed her final quote which was, once again, oddly fitting.

The next day we found the hut and valley and with the river frozen our progress and morale increased as the day brightened up with the sleds skimming lightly over the still river despite going uphill. This was not to last. After 7k the river poured into a large frozen lake which was also easy to cross, however with the fog creeping in and an alarming uphill section in front of us we call it a day and camped in a shallow saddle. The next morning was bright and clear which revealed to us in all its glory the task that lay ahead; an undulating hillside, reminiscent of the Scottish highlands, dotted with incalculable rocks which poked menacingly through the snow. Jai’s sage advice to “just follow the land” seemed a little optimistic now and so we headed North as best we could, aiming for the lowest saddle on the horizon and hoping to find a path through. The going was harder than either of us thought possible and always tinged with the knowledge that we didn’t know if this was best course, having no map of a small enough scale to be of use for detailed navigation. The horrible small rocks sticking through the thin snow cover meant that we zigzagged constantly, often pulling for 5 or 6 metres for only 1 metre forward gained, all the while heading uphill. After 5 Hours of this we were both exhausted and beginning to feel cold despite the heavy work load, a sure sign we were running low on energy. Finally we crested the top of the saddle with the glorious sight of a flattish landscape ahead and in the distance the exit valley on the other side of the Cape clearly visible. Benno summed it up perfectly when he said “I feel a bit emotional”.

Not only could we see that the land beyond was tolerably flat we also had a direction to aim for in the form of a topographical feature large enough to be clear on our maps, which put an end to those nagging doubts we were heading into a range of mountains. We trudged off down the hill exhausted and feeling depressed by the reading on the GPS telling us that despite all of our back breaking hard work we had only covered 6km in a straight line. The next day showed no sign of a letup in work load. Pulling pulks on anything other than flat terrain is horrible, any change in gradient is instantly noticeable and made painfully obvious by the biting of the harness into your back and yet we covered some good ground so slept thinking we would be back on the sea ice tomorrow evening. Oh what fools! Those last 16km proved to be every bit as difficult as the first section, constant ups and downs, rocks everywhere and the previously very obvious valley and river system slowly becoming a large drainage area for the surrounding marshes with many false exits and non -draining lakes meaning finding the actual watercourse was sometimes impossible. Both knackered from the previous 3 days our paced slowed and despite eventually finding he main river channel we both realised that this Cape was going to be the gift that kept on giving as night and the temperature dropped. Waking the next morning to a fresh breeze and -38 on the thermometer did little to lift our spirits and we packed in silence and headed back to the river channel. The sea ice was tantalisingly close now, less than 3km away and yet we weren’t counting any chickens this time. The river had steepened into a ravine, obviously a powerful white water rapid during the spring melt, unlike the lovely little river we had pottered up on the other side this was steep, dotted with huge boulders and filled with deep snow. Despite going downhill we had to pull the sleds almost as hard as if we had been going uphill and on three occasions 20ft snow drifts filled the valley forcing us to do shuttle runs to get the sleds over the top. Finally we turned a meander in the river and there, spread before us was the ice, flat and inviting like a massive rink ready to be skated happily across.

I can now fully sympathise with a female turtle desperately hauling herself slowly and painfully up a beach to lay her eggs. Some things are meant to be on land, some things are not. Pulks, and the silly ginger bearded Brits pulling them, are definitely sea mammals and the relief and accomplishment we felt as we crossed the tide gap back onto the ice must be the same as the turtle as she slips gratefully back into the ocean. I do doubt that the turtle turns round to the land, gives it the finger and tells it to go f*$k itself, but it’s nice to think that maybe in her own way she does and after all, who could blame her.

So off we went again, ignoring the map and the drawn line that pointed us towards the next Cape and the recommended over-land crossing, instead heading belligerently for the sea ice and a coastal route beyond where we belong.

“Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, power and grace.” *Thanks Celine!!!