Category Archives: Expedition

Munro Bagging


We started the week with an ambitious plan of routes, with the aim of bagging as many munro’s as we could whilst meandering our way through the Scottish highlands. We had slight trepidation with the weather set to change for the worst. After a couple of weeks of good weather and the bank holiday on the horizon it was a big ask for a further week of dry weather.

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Photo of the day

Setting off for the most northerly point on our quest in our trusty Landy towards Glen Shiel and the gateway to the Isle of Skye. Arriving to a glorious evening where we ate at the nearby pub over looking Loch Duich before preparing for the next days long outing.

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We woke the next morning to an autumnal feel. Dew glistened on the grass and leaves whilst the colours looked like they were changing to slight hues of reds, oranges and yellows. It was looking to be a perfect day for a walk. Arriving at the start point we noticed a few other walkers covered from head to toe as if it was a freezing day. Getting out of the car we soon realised why they were covered as the Scottish midges were out and descended on us as fresh targets. I was nibbled within the few minutes I left my arms exposed.

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Avoiding midges

To escape the midges we quickly departed the car park and headed the meandering path towards the foot of the first munro. With hardly a breathe of wind we could hardly enjoy the view for a moment before they descended on us again, trying to nibble any exposed skin. The path began to zig zagging its way  up onto the ridge line where we were to follow for the day.

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a warm start to the day

Seven munro’s stood before us on the South Glen Shiel ridge. Each hidden by the one before preventing us from seeing our finish point, which we were very thankful of in many ways. The day turned out to be a scorcher as our water began to run low and we certainly heated up.  Each summit was a mixture of rounded tops to the odd scramble. Despite this we met a few other walkers including a group on very good form despite not liking the occasional element of exposure.

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This was to be the visibility for the rest of the week

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Our journey a head
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Our team mates for the journey, this stopped when the weather turned….

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After a day of relatively good weather the final summit clouded over. With the guide book advising on a more direct route down to the main road we made a bid in this direction and soon picked up the start of a rough path. This however disappeared clearly at a point where people either turned back or everyone took on the ethos of “everyone for themselves”. Making our down steep boggy ground with no signs of it finishing. Until we came across a sheep track that meander alongside a beautiful stream where we could top up on some more water. Not without its challenges as the bottle top fell off and floated down stream before securing it with a walking pole before it descended the next small water fall. The final section finished with a small detour through woodland. Slipping and sliding our way down through the wet under growth before arriving at the road side. We had been joined by a couple from Edinburgh for the final descent who we had a quick celebration with before attempting to hitch hike back to the cars to finish the evening.

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Almost down

The pint of coke in the bar never tasted so good.

7 munro’s down:

  • Creag a’ Mhaim,
  • Druim Shionnach
  • Anoach Air Chrith
  • Maol Chinn-dearg
  • Sgurr an Doire Leathain
  • Sgurr an Lochain
  • Creag nan Damh

 

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South Glen Shie; Ridge

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

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!!!

HOME BAY & BEYOND


About 12 days ago we reached our first depot.

It has been a bit of a shock to the system being back on the trail after everything that has happened, however Jamie and I have been trudging away the miles. We have constantly been looking for that flat and smooth ice where we just effortlessly and gracefully fly over the surface. Sadly we haven’t found it, by any stretch of the imagination, and we now have first hand knowledge of what rough ice looks like. Our standards of what we can expect have almost certainly adjusted.
We had been advised the area we were heading through had very rough ice, the locals keep saying its the worst it has been in years and they have been skirting around it. This process is much quicker on a skidoo and for us the maths made the tougher route the unfortunate winner.
We made it to a large bay that we needed to cross but it was difficult to envisage the vastness of it due to the thick fog that hugged the surface of the ice and the setting sun. Waking the next morning we were met by beautiful blue skies, vast inlets, glorious mountains and ahead of us a rolling sea of broken ice. It was disheartening as our pace slowed to a crawl. It was like being in a constant scrummage with an opponent that lasted for the entire day plus part of the next. For every step won forward you could feel the energy being sapped out of you. Even at -30C we could feel ourselves breaking a sweat, something which we try our hardest to avoid as it clogs our clothes with ice. Being the slightly hotter team member, this comes from bitter experience as I squeezed myself into a ice crunching jacket the following morning.

IF

Despite the tough ice we have been touched by glorious weather. Excluding one day where ourselves and our tent were rattled by the 30mph+ winds. We awoke far earlier in the morning than the usual 5 am. Although we stayed wrapped in our sleeping bags for as long as possible we soon had to depart this safety blanket and meet the day head on. The snow swirled round our feet all day. It was impossible to spot a reasonable path through it all. Despite the balmy temperatures in the mid -20’s the wind made the temperature plummet and every millimetre of skin needed to be covered. Despite our best efforts we would walk along constantly adjusting as the wind managed to squeeze its icy fingers into any gap. It also made the experience of going to the bathroom regardless of what it was, a very chilling and quick but necessary experience. There is only so long you can wait and unfortunately the weather doesn’t seem to correlate with toilet stops.

After all of that we finally made our way to our next stash of food and fuel! We are now sitting here appreciating some warmth from some left over fuel in a good friend Jaipotties hut. We are enjoying munching through some planned treats plus some of the surplus goodies that we have.

The next part of our journey sees us heading over the final stretch of Home Bay and then towards Clyde River. It’s still a fairly good chunk at around 200 km. Possibly more importantly it marks, to Qikiqtarjuaqs relief, the transition from being closer from one to the other. Chris and Halie can finally relax knowing that we aren’t going to spring up and crash in the police station. Thanks again for the awesome hospitality. We are forever grateful.

So now just to push further north.

IF

In doggy news Colin and Tala are getting on incredibly well. Colin whines and pines after Tala when she goes about her wanderings each day. It does give us a slight headache but provides bears with a disincentive to approach. A win overall we have concluded. It might also explain why Talas trundling goes off into the distance until she appears to be a little speck before bounding back…particularly when she senses we are stopping for food. Her nuzzling Colin though suggests she does quite like him after all though.

HUTTER MADNESS


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.

Jamie&Benno Hutter Madness

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.

NORTHERN HOSPITALITY


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.

Northern Hospitality

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.