Irish Canadian Franklin Search Expedition 2002 – Daily Notes
Saturday April 27 – Drive to P.G., depart at 10:06 (six minutes late). Shop for last minute things (mugs, spoons, battery pack, tote) at Canadian Tire and Zellers in Terrace. Pick up AG/BR at Greyhound at 20:30, repack van (very heavy – lots on top) and go. Drive all night (northern lights at stop).
Sunday April 28 – Breakfast at the Frontier in High Level. Arrive at Tom’s friend’s cabin – wake him up?, dogs, “enjoy Peace River.” Pick up Tom’s gear – only one set of caribou clothes (Amie’s). Arrive Hay R. in afternoon and check in to Migrator Hotel. Repack and shower. Go out to the Airport with Amie to arrange our overweight while Bill sets up his computer at the hotel. Long discussion about Bill’s misunderstanding re: August. Told that our excess baggage may get bumped on flight to Gjoa as it is full. Call to confirm that two Scintrex boxes are already in Gjoa. Nothing we can do. Have Chinese smorg – A. and I go to movie “Showtime” where I promptly (and repeatedly) fall asleep. Call home but only Franca is there (misunderstood girl’s arrival time) – crash at 21:30.
Monday April 29th – Up at 5:45 – shower, pack. Nothing open for breakfast so go to Red Rooster convenience store for stale muffin and an apple. Fly to YK at 08:05 – Tom meets us in the terminal – skinny! Call home again – Laura gold at swim meet, Natalie home but exhausted from Whistler. Prioritize excess baggage so that if some comes we get essentials. Fly to Gjoa – heavy plane so everyone has to move to the back for takeoff and landings. Meet with family headed to Spence for funeral of stepdaughter. Program GPS points – CD = LTE. Saul meets us at airport with his son (Colin Putuguq) and his son-in-law (Daryl Kovtek). Find that our excess baggage has been totally bumped – we only have our checked and carry-on. Promised for tomorrow. Quick shopping trip to Co-op to buy food and essentials. Organize sleds at Saul’s house – surrounded by curious kids who want to know everyone’s names. Out at 15:30 after very quick turnaround – Bill driving extra machine. Stop ¾ of the way to Umiartalik and make camp (Gjoa Haven 087 degrees, 42 miles). Set up two Macpherson tents – guides in one, A., B. and me in the other. Beautiful day – all good – little whiteout, sled luxurious, ice seems smoother. Have soup, salami and biscuits for dinner – good sleep.
Tuesday April 30th – up at 8:00. Plan: Saul & I to GH to retrieve excess baggage, others to Umiartalik. We leave at 9 – beautiful ride, back in town at 11:30, coffee in hotel. Visit RCMP to let them know what is going on – trip to Co-op to buy matches. Our luggage all arrives – Saul has picked it up. Reload sled and out at 14:30. Two miles out of town in Petersen Bay the snowmobile overheats. Saul stops and checks everything, changes plugs – can’t get a spark. Start to walk back, get a ride, borrow machine from Saul’s brother Jacob. Needs synthetic oil – buy $200 worth (8 ltrs) but only use 2 (?!) Back on trail by 16:00 – fast trip, in and out of whiteouts. Fast and cold, only two stops – one 2/3 of the way to retrieve 5 gals of fuel in jerry can left by advance party, once when our drum rolls off as Saul does a sharp turn looking for a way over pressure ridge. Eventually Saul stops and tells me that he is lost – GPS check shows that we have strayed too far north – correct and set off. An hour later we approach islet and see headlights coming out to meet us. Advance team was caught in the same whiteouts, uncertain about position and navigation so camped for 3 hours to let it lift. Ate all the breadsticks (Amie later fills in with anecdotes – an interesting time). They arrive just 1 hour before us (although we travelled 84 extra miles and had 5 hours in GH!) and are still setting up camp. Help set up tents and unpack – work out the stiffness of a long day in sled. Pasta Delight for dinner, stories. A. and B. to tents early, I visit with Saul, Colin and Daryl – to bed at 01:00.
Wednesday May 1 – Up at 6:15 – quiet, beautiful and clear. –15 degrees in tent. Make coffee, do dishes, wait for others to stir. Colin and Daryl will go home today – we will start on survey. After breakfast we set up the third MacPherson – largest, becomes our kitchen tent. Spend morning with A. and S. rigging the gradiometer – cutting box and arranging braces, lashing system – my mounting plan with the flower boxes won’t work. Bill sets up the charging system in the “work tent.” Lunch of Veg&macaroni soup, boiled garlic sausage, cheese and Pilot biscuits. Set off for first run to our closest target – out at 16:00. On the way out the top aluminum bracket fails from pounding and grad stops. Reset – no good, find loose connections on belt. B. and S. return to camp to fetch tools back in 1 hour – A. and I discuss psychic powers and competitiveness while we wait. Saul fashions wooden brace for top sensor and we reboot and reconnect. Do ½ line then comm problems again – batteries this time. Return to camp – batteries are at 7 and 8 volts after 2 ½ hours! Find fully charged ones, reheat water bottles and back out at 19:30. Run 1st box – complete at 22:10. Sunset – return to camp, everything (esp. Amie) frozen. Will look at data in morning, hot drinks and bed at 23:15.
Thursday May 2 – Up at 5:45 – restless night. Boil water then toothpaste. Fox track within 10m of tent. Cold (-20) clear and beautiful morning – do some filming of sleeping camp. Wake others at 7:30 as agreed. Still slow getting org – brkfst, dishes, gear. Bill routine coming together – everything charging. Out at 10 for point 6. Goes smoothly back at 14:00. Large lunch – S’s bannock, spaghetti, pepperoni, cheese and cookies. Too much – feel sleepy. Amie’s feet are still cold so give her my spare blue fleece socks. Load the second sled with genny, stove, food and spare batteries and charger. Plan to try to knock off the 4 close-together buggers at one go. B. very reluctant to get moving since batteries are only partly charged – I insist as they won’t be fully charged until after sunset! Waste 30 minutes arguing but out at 16:30 – 10 km to area – do box around no. 1. Plan line extensions to cover points 2,3,4 but then get comm probl again – back to camp. Batts aren’t lasting. Back in camp at 18:30. Only 2 points covered today – not good.
Friday May 3 – Wx –20, clear, wind 5 kts from west. Up at 6:45, call Amie and Bill – slow start. Bill downloads and checks data from yesterday, A. and I do dishes, chores, crib. Review plots and data with Bill – not good, looks like one sensor has failed. Don’t leave camp until 15:30 again but finish pts 2,3,4 (overlapping) using all four battery belts. Can’t get more than 1-1 ½ hours out of each. Feet cold – frozen kumiks – liners frozen solidly to outer boots. Saul will dry them in his tent. Back in camp at 18:30, beautiful light – go with A. for nature pix to ice near island. Saul making caribou covers for sensors again. Dishes with Bill. Amie has new vocabulary this year – “Totally” (sometimes “exactly” for variety), “zut alors”, “dinah” and everyone is “buddy”. Bed at 00:30.
Saturday May 4 – Very cold overnight –35. Light wind from N – drifting and overcast. Up at 6:30, call Amie and Bill at 7 – no action from either till 8. Cranky stove – naptha is frozen slush so I warm tank between my legs. Today is moving day but hope to get in final point as well. I take down my tent, Bill makes helpful suggestions on chores that need doing from his sleeping bag – snap! Saul late as well – surprise. Pack up two sleds with Saul and proceed with him to Skull Is. (15.6 miles) arrive at 10:54. Fast and fun trip in good weather – no stops. Search for site for an hour then set up one Macpherson. Saul wants to go directly back but I am dehydrated and insist on setting up stove for a warm gatorade. Snack on gatorade and prunes. I flip my snowmobile on the return but Saul is ahead and never looks back. Luckily I am unhurt and manage to flip it back and proceed. The N. wind is in our faces now and my cheeks start to freeze to balaclava. Back at camp by 13:30 – Bill again notes problems with yesterday’s data. Slowly pack up Saul’s and work tent – lunch on macaroni/veg soup. Go to finish pt 5, also complete an2 (actually 3) on one battery pack (way to go Battery Pack “C”!) Very cold 30 mile ride to Skull Island on top of sled with “no-stops” Saul. Amie pulling Bill in box (disconnects once!) happy to get to drive. Arrive at 21:30 – set up sleep tents – gatorade, smarties, bed at 23:00. Cold – wind increasing as front moves in.
Sunday May 5 – Cold and clear, wind is strong (15 kts?) from N – veering. Same routine as yesterday – shakes at 6:30 and 7, action at 8:15. (This becomes my standard routine for the rest of the trip – up at 5:45, start stove and boil water, boil toothpaste and brush teeth, make water and fill all pots, call A. at 6:30, B. at 7, listen to music, plan day, organize paperwork and write journal. If time allows before breakfast at 8 I would read (Joe Simpson – Touching the Void) or go for a walk. After others arrive also shake TG and JM at 7, KC at 7:30). Change socks, cranky stove, pounding headache. Organize paperwork. Will call Tom tonight. Set up elec. (work) tent with Amie and Saul – then Bill takes over to organize. He and Saul cut 2-level benches – very nice. A. and I do dishes, make water, crib. Bill’s tent is threatening to blow away so we go out and cut snow blocks to make windward wall (now blowing 20+ N’ly). Camp is quickly drifting up – whiteout conditions. Saul builds small igloo for Amie – she is happy. Bill wants to talk – vents: betrayal, overwork, excluded from activities. Threatens to leave on Tuesday or Wed when team 2 arrives. His decision. Make stroganoff for lunch/dinner. A. is working with satphone and manual – ok. My tent has drifted in and snowpack under the fly. I dig it out and heighten and extend the snowwall around it – sweaty work. Data from yesterday is strange too – ah well. Bill will try to rig a charging circuit from the snowmobile electrics on Saul’s machine. My computer was frozen solid, now working so I download data and clear datalogger (May 5 cumulative north area file). Try to run Idump from dos box – no, boot in dos – no. Try to configure Belkin adapter for dos box support – no. Decide to reinstall adapter – won’t! Restore system to May 3rd settings – no com port! This could be serious if Bill takes off with his computer. Meet in tent at 19:00 to finalize Tom’s shopping list and call. 1 hour spent before we unravel phone problem (“dial 00”) and can call out – no answer at Tom’s. Try Sharon – no answer. Call Franca – pass message and list. Laura invited to 2004 Olympic tryouts, Puulik translators called, Discovery channel. Everything ok, but colour printer out of ink! Spend evening telling dits and lies. Dig out tent again (3rd time today) and crawl in. Warm and comfy tonight – sleep well. 1 lost day to wx.
Monday May 6 – Cold (-15), windy from NE 7-10 kts, clear. Up at 5:50, shakes, stove, etc. same routine. Must have been very cold overnight, had to defrost my toiletry bag zipper to even get at my toothpaste – then thaw that. Broken headphones this morning – fixed with duct tape – CD = Satriani. Granola fruit bars for breakfast. Dig out tent from last night’s drift and rebuild walls to SE, they now almost completely enclose the tent – Troy was never so grand. Bill is working on the electrical charging harness, Amie doing dishes. Called Brad at 12:30 left message to warn him for another call at 14:00. Called John at Scintrex (ext. 316) but he thinks the sensor angle could be the problem – very doubtful, not too much help. Helped Amie dig out her tent from its drift and take it down – she has decided to spend the rest of the trip in her iglu. We have generator problems, the green one is frozen solid – brought inside tent to try to defrost it. There are big ice-cracks running under the snow in a line about 80 feet to seaward of the tents, this is probably where the still-attached shore ice has broken away from the sea ice. The cracks are knee-thigh depth and irregular in width up to about 6” – real ankle twisters-leg breakers. Bill and Amie both manage to fall in – I find the crack twice today – once with one leg, once with both at once. The second time I bark my left shin – very painful but as no-one is watching I just pull myself out and carry on. Wind continues to pound the camp, the drift between my tent and Bill’s which was 1 foot high this morning is now (afternoon) 3 ½’ high. Dig my tent out again – first sweat, then freeze, all my clothing is damp and clammy. Brad is expecting our call and diagnoses problem as frozen electronics in the wand or sensor of one unit of the gradiometer. He thinks some of the data recorded over the last few days might be recoverable, and recommends a troubleshooting routine. We do this and discover one US sensor, and one questionable. Decide to use the other two sensors as a grad, and to keep this unit in the tent for a few days to warm up. Saul tells of a “big stick” which was found 7 years ago by a hunter (now deceased) on the mainland nearby. He estimates it is 2 miles away. It was a long and round stick, maybe a mast from a ship, and found on the peninsula N. of Sherman Inlet. Broken at one end, metal fittings on the other. Long way from the ocean now – ocean not as high as it was. He has never seen it himself but knows the place. Since now late afternoon and it is still too windy for survey, and the grad is broken, we decide to look for the “stick.” Depart camp at 16:00 and return four hours later. Saul’s navigation was a little off today – we started too far south (almost to O’Reilly) then headed NE, till we finally arrived at the general location – not 2 but 10 miles from our camp. Nothing was found but the trip was enjoyable anyway in improving weather. Long talk with Amie in sled, leg cramp, then my turn on snowmobile and charging around having fun. Amie and Bill share sled on ride home – she reports he is in a good mood and thinks he might stay with us after all. Cold in camp, Amie looks and feels unwell, and disappears to her tent. I am very chilled still from wet clothes. Shovel out tent AGAIN. Sweat – freeze cycles really take their toll on the body. Simple dinner is all we can manage – Ritz and cheese, salami, warm drinks. Very tired – crave bed. Call Tom to verify that Franca managed to pass the list, confirm camp location and require a spare computer. Crawl off to my sleeping bag at 22:30 – tell Bill to leave the dishes till tomorrow but he does them anyway. Hear him talking in Saul’s tent as I drift off. Team two flies to GH tomorrow – here the next day or one after that.
Tuesday May 7 – Overcast, light breeze, -20, clear, visibility 15 Nm. Up at 6. Only light snow on the tent this morning. Stove, coffee, shakes routine. Amie seems better today. Three jobs for today – move and reset the kitchen tent, set up my computer again, and get some lines started. Change socks and inspect left leg – swollen with nice purple bruising from ankle to half-way up to knee. Move the kitchen tent to the south where there is a nice new drift for cutting in. Two hours of heavy work for Saul, Amie and me but result is impressive – including middle “island”. Amie continues nesting and organizing our new base. Cutting out and moving blocks has started me on the sweat-freeze rotation again. Saul works his magic on the generators – both are working again. By noon there is light snow in reduced visibility. Bill rigs the charging harness he has made for Saul’s snowmobile. Although everyone is busy things seem to be so slow and I get snappy and frustrated at our inability to get out and do lines. Amie and I eventually leave at 15:30 to run some lines, see a large seal. Get three lines finished, I drive for two then Amie does one both ways and continually sees her track – she is very frustrated at her navigation and I tell her it just takes practice but she doesn’t want to drive any more (and never does again). Lose a little time when Amie drops Tom’s mitt – we eventually find it on our old track. On the return to camp I notice a burning electrical smell from my crotch area (where the batteries from the charging circuit are) as well as some whisps of smoke. Stop and disconnect batteries – unnerving. It is Saul’s 55th birthday today so we organize some impromptu presents – I give him my saw, Amie presents him with a new carabiner, and Bill gives him a fish-gutting knife. We have a little party then to bed at midnight.
Tuesday May 8 – Wake from deep sleep to hear Tom Gross’ voice announcing the arrival of Team 2. It is 2 am, and everyone is here, but they have one broken down machine and sled 27 miles to the east. I get up and get coffee, welcome John, Colin and David (Shiksik – Saul’s brother) and meet Kevin. Decide to retrieve sled and machine while weather holds, so I wake Saul and he and I prepare to go. I offer the Irish my two-man tent but they find it a little cramped and Saul graciously offers his – Tom sets up his own. Saul and I depart camp with two snowmobiles and one empty sled at 3. It is a beautiful morning. Travel overland route to MacGillivray B., hoist the broken machine (Saul’s original – the one that failed us in Petersen Bay) onto the empty sled, and I take the full equipment sled and video camera (a little surprised that John left this behind and to my tender mercies – ride back with it on my lap – bumpy ride so I get much more intimate with it than I wanted). Arrive back in camp at 9:45 – come in fast and with a flourish for a hero’s welcome – only to run into empty fuel drum and send it flying! My talent for turning triumph into farce remains intact. Tom promised sausage and eggs for breakfast before we left and he delivers in style. He and Colin shortly have established a snowmobile repair facility on a piece of plywood in the snow, and discover a seized piston which they promptly repair. Our other new arrivals are settling in – Kevin seems to have very questionable gear, his tent doesn’t even have a fly! Bill and I work on the computers transferring waypoints – he’s staying. We all get acquainted over lunch, then using the new sled and box we rig another mounting system for the working grad. Amie and I take it out for a test run at 17:45 and return at 20:30 having redone line 3 and ½ of line 4 before experiencing another battery failure. Kraft Dinner for supper, I discuss our plans and the routine I would like to establish. Irish bring out a bottle of whiskey – except for themselves and Saul there are no takers. Bed at 21:30.
Thursday May 9 – Wx: Overcast, -10, vis 10 Nm, calm. Up at 5:45 – routine. Tom joins me in the tent this morning and we talk over old times, new times. I work on my welcome “speech”. Breakfast is oatmeal and coffee. I call a group meeting where I review progress, plans, routines and rules. Today is an Irish training day – we will try for three shifts. Everyone enthusiastic so we rush to get going at 10. I depart with Amie and Kevin in sled, we finish E ½ of line 4, race to the end of it, then all but the last km of a new line. Spill the hot water bottles – the equipment bag needs some kind of supporting shelf (now who recommended that again?). Return to camp at 12:30 for redesign. A quick lunch and then assist in the team turnaround. Amie and John together muddle up the setup (both are technically competent from their film jobs and disdain the checklist – they are a bad combination). They and I waste 1 hr troubleshooting the grad, then find that it was human error after all. Saul, John and Tom finally out at 15:00. A. and K. off for naps so I do the dishes and use the dishwater and unaccustomed privacy to shave and WASH MY HAIR. I make chili and mixed veg for supper, help Bill with zip files as he sets up the spare computer Pam managed to finagle from her teacher. I hope to get a third shift in after dinner but team 2 is 45 minutes overdue. They have managed 3 ½ lines but are uncertain of the last (did they do a repeat or crosstrack?). As my dinner is cold and their tardiness has forced a very late third shift I am a little annoyed. The field record-keeping forms need improvement, spaces are too small and there is a need for a visual map to help keep things straight. John volunteers to do this. We notice that the upper aluminum bracket on the grad has also broken at a stress point. Take the time to lash it together and install the bench for the mag belt. Amie, Kevin and I out again at 19:30 back at 22:00. Try running lines at 20 kph – no complaints but a little harrowing on the driver. Get two more lines (7 today total?) Have a long-running discussion on efficiency improvements till midnight. Upshot is: try to get 4 runs in per day, each team twice, will use 3 man teams vice 2 man – teams will be DW/KC/TG and AG/JM/SA with Bill in support; will try to relieve teams in the field at pre-arranged spots and times. Not sure that this will work out but agree to try. Different whisky bottle tonight.
Friday May 10 – Wx: o’cast, warm (still –13 but feels warm), no wind. Up at 5:30 – routine. Breakfast oatmeal and coffee. Saul spends an hour with my spare pieces of aluminum (refashioned with a hatchet!) to stiffen the broken upper aluminum strut on the mag. He can fix anything. Team one (now AG/JM/SA) out at 9:16 – we are concerned about our radio reception so I walk over the island to NW end to conduct radio checks. These are OK, but base camp can’t hear either them or me. My leg is sore but getting better. Do dishes, computer work. KC remarks that this morning is the first time that he brushed his teeth since leaving Ireland, Bill can beat that record! Start on Box 2 waypoints, load John’s GPS and review our tracks so far. Tom makes a hearty lunch of Irish stew and then team two (KC, TG and me) depart to meet T1 at end of their 4th line (WPT 33). Now using the northern route around island. We wait ½ hour for their arrival – they are full of life. Quick changearound and we are off. First line required two loops – bounce and battery. Tom turns the driving over to me and we do 1 uneventful line, 1 more (Tom gets lost), then a final wayward one (Nav and Batt). The last one definitely must be redone. T1 waiting at EOL at 16:00, they take over and are off enthusiastically. The afternoon is beautiful, so with chores all done I go into my nice warm tent to change my socks and promptly fall asleep for 2 hours – wake up guiltily from my first nap of the trip but oohh it was nice! I confidently predict to others that JM/AG will push the limits and try to get more than the 4 lines they were assigned – which will mean a late return. True to that they don’t arrive back in camp till 20:30 with 6 more lines (one a redo of our last) – but this means that it is too late to turnaround for a fourth 4 line shift before the 22:00 curfew. Upper bracket repair has come undone again anyway so it will need to be re-engineered in the morning. I am a little annoyed by T1’s exuberant disregard for the “system” but everyone has a very cheerful late supper together rejoicing in our 13-line day while Bill downloads the tracks in the work tent. I am a little leery of the results, knowing that our team’s navigation was a little questionable, and that T1 seems to have raced around the course. Bill calls me to the tent and confirms my fears – 5 ½ (4 from T1) of the 13 lines we did today wander too far off track and will need to be redone. Saul/Tom driving, excess speed, and the competitive and eager nature of the JM/AG combo are all factors. When I announce the result the euphoria evaporates and depression and disappointment set in. We discuss solutions – 3 teams (DW/KC, TG/AG, JM/SA) will reduce the time Saul has to navigate (and break up the dangerous duo), we will reduce speed, and I will insert intermediate waypoints on all future lines to improve navigation and offer mid-point check. I repeatedly point out that the 8 good lines we did still represents a daily record for us. Group is still sombre as we go to an early bed at 21:40. Night is clearing and looks to be COLD.
Saturday May 11 – Wx: O’cast, -20, calm. Up at 5:39 – routine except that Bill and Kevin have moved from 7 to 7:30 shakes. Rather than wait for Saul to fix the grad mount I decide to troubleshoot Grad 1 which has lived in the tent for a week to see if we can bring it back to life. Bill has be tasked with doing this but never seems to get around to it – Amie, John and I get it working in 15 minutes. It seems fine but finicky. I decide to give it a run and tell Kevin to get ready, although she is not on our “new” team for some reason Amie jumps in the sled with Kevin and we’re off at 9. Halfway through our first line the system fails and we note that the grey controller in the battery pack has failed. This is a new error mode. We change it for a spare which works in a test before the cables are plugged in, but won’t work with cables. We suspect that one sensor or cable is shorting out and blowing the internal fuse. Quick and bumpy ride back to camp at 11:15. Leave Grad 1 with Bill and switch over to now-repaired Grad 2. Out again in fifteen minutes. John asks about relief – tell him to meet us at WPT 27 in 4 hours – he notes the time and position in his notebook. Despite our agreement to form 2-man teams last night our 3-man team remains, not sure why except that Amie has become Kevin’s security blanket/companion. Plan is to redo the bad lines from yesterday – get 3 ½ done and arrive at waypoint 27 at 15:00 – no reliefs. Kevin seems cold and wants to go into camp but I say we wait where we planned. After 15 minutes I give in and decide to start back. I let Kevin drive the snowmobile (new experience) but mistakenly direct him to the wrong island (the next one N. from Skull – they all look the same) and he can’t use GPS to correct. Take opportunity to talk to A. in sled about yesterday’s results and unfocussed enthusiasm – she is very defensive. After a 5 Km detour we realize our navigation mistake and I resume driving – decide that we should return to check at 27 to see if John’s team has arrived yet. No-one there or in sight. K. again pushes to return to camp, I’m getting a little tired of it (him). At 15:56 finally see a snowmobile and sled approaching but it is only Tom! Confusion in camp (as I had suspected J is filming – wx is clear now!) . A. volunteers to do another shift with Tom but I’m not about to let anyone else do a double shift while I stay in camp so I send her and K. back and carry on – I also know that I’m in no mood for company right now. I drive, and by juggling the batteries off the snowmobile charging system (which is working fine now) we manage to complete the final 2 “re-dos” and we get another new one done before I turn over to Tom who will try to navigate using a different GPS screen (XTE rather than graphical road) to see if it is easier. The weather is beautiful and working with Tom is great – I can’t sustain my bad mood. We get 7/9 of the next line done uneventfully when the entire mounting frame for the Grad breaks loose (sheered bronze screws) and starts to drag in the snow and shake itself apart! 100m later I get Tom’s attention while yelling over my shoulder and holding on to the “gallows” in a bearhug. We disconnect the Grad connections and temporarily lash the frame back in place – I hold it while Tom drives slowly home. Halfway back we are met by John and Saul who have come out worried that we might have run out of gas and they escort us in. In camp at 20:30 – soup and rice, apple crumble. Test the grad – seems ok. Beautiful light at sunset – Amie rushes off to top of island for photos, John directs Saul and I on “fake” runs with sunset in the background – all very rushed and with very questionable lashings but he assures me that no-one will notice. Review today’s data tracks with Bill – all good. Tom pleased with new navigation system. 7 7/9 lines done today (5 redo). In tent till midnight listening to stories. Mainly Amie and John trading film dits – Saul gives me a wry look as he doesn’t understand the jargon or know the personalities and he goes off to bed. I am still rather unforgiving of John’s relief “mix-up” and am starting to dislike him. Kevin and John’s fieldcraft leaves much to be desired – they dispose of waste water right by the door or even in the corner of the kitchen tent, never seem to close the zipper behind them when they leave, sleeping in, and other irritations which are driving Bill crazy. Although Kevin is more than willing to chuck in and do menial chores John has been here three days and had to ask where we get the snowblocks for water! Apparently I am not the only one – John had a bit of an argument with Saul today when I was out about him wanting an igloo built for the film – Saul understandably wanted to be paid for the heavy (and to him unnecessary) work, but John thought it should be free. I grumpily remark that I don’t mind being the maker of water every morning but would appreciate not waking up to an empty stove. I am very tired from my long day and leave them chatting as I drag myself off to bed at midnight.
Sunday May 12 (Mother’s Day) – Wake to my alarm at 5:45, first time that that has happened! Have another bad headache this morning (2 ounces of Irish whisky or 10 hours on a snowmobile?) but knock it down with 2 Advil. Weather is gorgeous – bright blue sky, no wind, and only –7 (-10?). Routine, take photos of sleeping camp. Shakes, genny. Take a long walk over the island, listening to Djam Karet and thinking deep thoughts. Hope to complete Box 1 today. Again repairs to the broken grad mounting from yesterday’s runs delay departure till 10:00. Saul works wonders with caribou horn found on the hill, some duct tape, foam, and cordage. How he cuts the horn smoothly in half lengthwise with a handsaw and no support is mystifying to me – I couldn’t do that with a bandsaw and table vise! Will try to enforce 2-man, 3-team rotation today – John and Saul are first up and depart for the final 5 northern lines of the box – ice fog to the north might cut short their trip though – I firmly tell Saul not to let John talk him into any foolhardy perseverance. Kevin pulls out the Satphone and calls home, then offers everyone a chance to do the same (except me – oversight not malice). Morale improves with calls and weather. Bill and Kevin are troubleshooting Grad 1 to see if the cables are the reason it blew up two fuses yesterday, find 2 out of the 6 cables are broken but these are discontinuities not shorts. Tom and I go on walkabout on the island to find the “grave” found by others yesterday – miss it and wonder whether they have mistaken a broken down cairn for it (Saul later leads me to it – small child size, Inuit). A. has disappeared off somewhere. Take a break in my warm tent for a full clothing change with baby powder and a short nap. Luxury. Ice fog seems to be lifting as temperature “soars” (-5?). Amie says that her igloo is threatening to collapse on her in the warm weather. Bill and I suggest she re-erect her tent now to take advantage of the good weather – offer to help but she does nothing. I rework the waypoints for Box 2 and insert another 26 mid-points. Also build some intercalary lines for the bottom of Box 1 so that we can get 100m coverage over the “target” that has Bill so excited. Intend to do these before starting box 2. Tom and Amie prepare to depart to relieve Saul’s team at 14:30 – for some reason Kevin jumps in as well (there goes 3 teams!) Remembering yesterday I give firm instructions – meet John’s team at the rendesvouz, complete any remaining lines in box 1 which John and Saul have not managed, or if Box 1 is complete then to return for instructions. At 15:15 John and Saul return having finished the last 5 lines in Box 1 – but no sign of the other team. John has again used his “initiative” and countermanded my instructions by telling them to carry on to the Box 2 waypoints in his GPS (which I have since changed in the master plan). I explode and drain down on John for this (Bill practically runs from the equipment tent to leave us alone), yesterday’s missed assignment, delay caused by failure to use checklists and “speed is everything” attitude. He is very contrite and accepts everything so well that I can’t maintain my anger too long – we make peace with a better mutual understanding. To cool down I go make some tomato soup for the TG/AG group, Saul comes into the tent and announces quietly that on his afternoon walkabout he has found “the head” (the Bertulli skull) and a tent-site. I can’t restrain myself and immediately set off with him to take pictures – TG/AG get cold soup. Send TG/AG/KC out again from camp at 16:00 to do new lines AA-AF. Return @ 19:30 done but upper bracket on the wand broken again. Very difficult and rough passage through the ice in the low-angled light. Saul and I unwrap the bracket and discuss possible repair improvements, can’t repair before the mandated last departure time so the planned lines with Bill are cancelled for tonight (would have been Bill’s first!) Tom makes a combined KD and Caribou meal – excellent! We all go off to see/photo the skull and tentsite. I GPS. Find 2 more suspicious tentsites nearby – this is getting good.Talk to Kevin on impromptu group search N. – he seems satisfied with team and effort. Walk back from N. end of island with Amie and Bill – more Amie’s “bunny.” Evening talk in tent – JM/KC/AG/BR and me – Tom and Saul again repair to tents early. I do dishes – I didn’t leave camp today and feel guilty about my “day off.” Off to bed at 22:30.
Monday, May 13. Wx: O’cast, light snow fm N’west, fairly warm (-10), vis only about 2 miles. Routine, switch CD to LTE. Plan today start box 2, call Brad and sort plans for last week. Despite my rant y’day the stove is MT again but this time I was the last user – serves me right. Saul and the “design team” come up with a plywood “sandwich” design for the broken upper head. Preps for departure are smooth – we are getting our groove. I will go out with KC/AG again – despite efforts to initiate 2×3-man crews it is clear that KC will never ride sled alone. Tom approaches me and complains privately about blood in his stool – thinks he injured his back and might have internal bleeding (lifting toilet in Yellowknife). I tell him to keep me advised and also tell JM to watch him for symptoms – thirst etc. JM and BR will finally diagnose Grad 1’s problems today so I can call Brad. Depart at 10:24 – conditions ideal – sunny and warm, light powder on surface making for a smooth ride. Equipment working well. Complete 8 lines by relief time @ 16:00. Second party (JM/TG/SA) takes a ½ hr for filming on ice. Tom tells AG/KC about his problem – surprising! JM tried to call Brad – he is not at work. Grad 1 is dead but we can salvage 1 mag unit from it. Back in camp I help Amie set up her tent. Her iglu is about to collapse from heat/age and I have been bugging her to move out for days. 17 “thank yous.” Sweat-freeze. A. & I go to take more pix of Yorik in better light – more “bunny” pix as well. Bill joins us and tells of a “patio” of small stones. It appears to be arrow-shaped and may have had a marker – pointing to the WSW. Bill and I hatch grand theories (toward the ships? – Saul later informs us that it was built by pre-teen Inuit girls as a traditional game!) I prepare water and food (Mac/spaghetti sauce/ham) for returning crew. Told them to be back by 21:30 – of course they will probably stay out until they finish 8 lines too! Nap in tent – still a little cold from sweat/freeze cycle earlier. Team 2 is back at 22:00 – yep 8 lines! A 16-line day and box 2 is over half done. Post-dinner conversation is more subdued than recently – everyone tired. Looking forward to showers in a week. Off to bed at 23:10.
Tuesday May 14 – Up with alarm @ 5:45. Another light dust of snow overnight but continues warm, no wind. Dull o’cast light though for John’s film. Routine. Bill worked “late” last night and asks to be excused shake. Since no repairs today try to get off by 9. Notice crack in frame of 2×4 so some last-minute repairs after all – delay us till 9:24. Then my overenthusiastic pull on the starter cord of Saul’s snowmobile breaks the reset spring – change to yellow machine causes further delay. On track at 10 (AG/KC/me) but with no charging system we have only 2 belts so hope for 4 lines, which we uneventfully complete by 13:15. Rough ice-ridge N-S at 99 03 – foxes, wolverine tracks (pix). Our mechanics have fixed Saul’s snowmobile and a modified Team 2 (SA/TG/BR) set out to finish the last 5 lines of box 2. Back in camp John is taking advantage of good weather to film, we do a staged satphone conversation with Brad (whose voicemail is on), A & K retire to their tents, then we notice that we have charged belts to relieve team 2 at 17:00 as planned. They should be in by 17:30. At 18:15 John and I prepare to go find them. We proceed to the last waypoint they should have reached – they have been here but there is a very confusing track pattern. We swing south to see if they have continued into box 3 but there are no further lines. Decide to follow their track to the west when we see Saul alone to the north on his machine racing back to camp. After fast (and bumpy for J.) ride I overtake him near s. end of island and follow him into camp. His repaired engine stalled and wouldn’t start. Once started (after 30 mins) it couldn’t pull the sled – Bill and Tom tried pushing it but no luck. They are still out at pt 76. Saul takes yellow machine out to retrieve them – all back in camp @ 20:30 for adventure stories – box 2 is finished. Will try to fix Saul’s machine again in morning. With only one running we won’t try lines so morning will be slow – cancel shakes and reschedule brkfst (Bacon, eggs, hashbrowns) for 9:00. Low energy conversation tonight – reserves are draining down and everyone looking to what they will be doing in 1 week. Kevin has found another bottle but no-one except he and Saul wants any. Changing wx sky and temp dropping fast. Off to bed at 22:00.
Wednesday May 15 – Up for biological reason at 5:00 but decide to go back to bag to warm up and doze until 6:45. Beautiful bright morning –20, clear, nice photo light but everyone is sleeping in. Routine. Cranky stove. Wednesday is big breakfast day – Tom makes bacon/sausage/eggs. I make a pilot-biscuit McMuffin. Can’t leave camp until 2nd machine working (safety reason, if away team breaks down no way to get to them) so an idle morning for everyone except T&S (mechanics). I do computer work and interview with John. Amie doing “thank you”s and her hill sign. Kevin puttering and napping while John finally gets his film light. Bill? Make soup for lunch. Saul’s machine has been rebuilt with another spare piston from Neksek’s (yellow) machine – now runs but we remove the cowling to keep it from overheating. Tom and I out on survey 15:00-20:30 in boxes 2 & 3 – 8 lines in gorgeous wx – everything works. More filming of bunny while away and Saul has found a glass prism under a rock while doing a snowmobile survey of the island – amazing. Big dinner at 21:00 of KD & caribou. Walk over to see prism with Saul, each thinks the other is walking too fast but says nothing – others meet us by sled/box. Prism looks like weathered optics but could be anything. Take insurance photos – back to camp. Colin and David arrive tomorrow with more gas. Conversation tonight centers on celebrities, our bad hair, and prescription drugs. To bed @ 23:00.
Thursday May 16 – wx: warm (-10), o’cast, dull morning, no wind. Up @ 5:45 with alarm, routine and shakes. Hope to complete box 3 and start box 4. Team 1 (AG/KC/SA) out at 09:17 and back @ 14:00 having completed 6 lines (5 good). Only 3 left in box 3. Saul has shot a seal. John has been filming Bill and I doing a grad assembly, Tom snoozing and cooking. Amie disappears for a while upon return – napping or upset about the seal? She had my video out and filmed the entire sequence – not easy for a vegetarian but her professionalism took over. Tom and I prepare for our run – 1 hour spent troubleshooting grad – eventually identify bad console! On the way out we see John and Saul in the distance recreating seal kill for the camera. Redo line from the morning run and 2 more OK. Go to change batts with those on the machine – they are 3V! GPS loses external power – on ½ strength AA. Tell Tom to race down the last line of box 3 to try to get 4 lines from 1 set of batteries – he flies, I bounce. 1 km from the end of line he stops to report suspension breakdown on the snowmobile. We crawl the last K and into camp at 18:00. Saul has another large bearded seal to go with his ringed one. Both have been cleaned on the ice near his (and Amie’s) tents. Colin and David arrive @ 20:30 – they have come out from Gjoa in 6 hours and killed a (but not THE) wolverine. They also found the microphone shield I lost when retrieving John’s camera on our morning overland rescue. I make supper of macaroni and spaghetti sauce and tinned ham (a fan favourite). Conversation tonight about aircraft incidents and jokes. John films 2 mock meetings, Amie can’t keep a straight face. Tom and Saul again close up snowmobile shop and in 1 hour they have fixed suspension “better than new” with 2 of my aluminum plates. Saul says if his machine breaks down again he will leave it! Kevin queried plans for the next 2 days with a hint that he would like to go to the hotel even earlier! His feet are cold (almost all his gear is inadequate) & mother Amie cuts up insoles from equipment insulation and gives him hot paks. She has taken Kevin under her wing. To bed at 22:30.
Friday May 17 – Oversleep alarm – up at 6:45! Bright cold morning – first significant wind for a while, S’ly @ 10-15 kts. Routine. Today will train Colin and/or David as drivers to allow them to accompany me in box 5 with the mag salvaged from Grad 1. Othes will continue grad work in box 4. Get team 1 out (JM/TG) to Box 4 at 09;00 – A and I walk over to get better photos of the skull, tent and prism with a ruler for scale. On return to camp I teach Colin how to navigate with the GPS then set out on a mag run with him. 100 yards into first track the mag fails (it worked in camp before departure). Troubleshoot but nothing works – reset 10 times! We return the 12 km to camp in 20 minutes – ouch. Bill fires up the mag on our return and it works. We try it five times and it only works sometimes – when we shake the electronics we can hear something rattling around inside so we are really down to Grad #2. At 14:15 Team 2 returns with 12 (shorter – 5 km) lines done – 5 to go! Also bring in dead baby fox – curled up frozen to death – looks like it is sleeping. Inuit are afraid that it might have died of rabies and insist on taking it away and burning it – David takes charge. I set out at 15:00 driving for AG & KC (the siamese twins) to finish box 4. JM and BR come out on the second sled for the first hour filming us. John films me while riding on my snowmobile skis, and puts his life in jeopardy by making me do runs at him “fast and close”. We will never be friends but I can’t help but respect the effort he puts into his craft. After 3 lines Amie asks to divert to a large mound of ice visible to the NW for photos. I allow it if we can agree to be back on survey by 19:15 – it is actually a lot closer than it looked and we all get some great nature photos. On way back to camp divert around small island to the north so that I can run N-S at speed (in trough of snow drifts). Get quite close to two very large seals sunbathing near a hole, Kevin films them. Back in camp just as the relief party is starting to worry at 20:30. Box 4 is done, but I still hope to get some of box 5 started tomorrow by judicious use of the grad. Saul’s brother Jacob is coming to camp from Gjoa tonight to pick up his big seal (the small one will be cached locally for dog food) he may take some of our excess baggage back with him as well to lighten our loads for the return. Have a supper of caribou and rice – V.G. Raymond arrives after a 3 hr!!! trip from G.H. – 1 hour later he departs taking 2 Scintrex boxes, the spare genny, and 1 equipment box. He wants to be back at work at 8 am. Beautiful sunset, many photos (including group shots). My elaborate plans for the team breakup and separation tomorrow falter under Saul’s concern about sled loads – he wants to totally break camp in the morning and distribute the weight. All Koblunas off to the N. end of the island at 21:30 for sunset photos. Bored. Amie delays everyone ½ hour waiting for a moon photo – annoyed. Others send me out on ice to fetch her, on the way back she points out a piece of metal partially sticking out of the snow which looks like a pot handle – I lift it out and it is a (thankfully rusted tight) leg-hold trap. When we arrive at others she apologizes and they act like it was no problem – all me – thanks. Despite all the talk about a party on the last night everyone is subdued and tired. I pointedly start preparations to do dishes – everyone else pointedly ignores me and toddles off to bed. My mood is not good and forgiving tonight – maybe because the expedition is drawing rapidly to a close. On the way to my tent I notice that the generator is still running and check in on the equipment tent – Bill is lying there snoring. I wake him and he says that he will shut off genny. Crawl into tent at 00:35.
Saturday May 18 – Warm, o’cast, calm, vis 5 Nm in some haze. Stove is very cranky this morning and repeatedly flares up – I abandon it and use Tom’s one-burner to melt snow for breakfast. Routine – CD today is Trey Gunn #2. Plan today is a hearty breakfast of sausage and hashbrowns then break camp and travel as a group to Umiartalik. Party 1 (KC, JM, Colin, David, and a very reluctant Tom) will then continue on toward GH and hopefully arrive in time to get a hotel. The rest of us (SA, AG, BR and I) will stay at Umiartalik and continue the survey of the hot spots from last year which we did with the broken grad in the first week. With some creative navigation we will be able to get most of them done in one day. This will be a heavy work day. Our camp is now well established and running smoothly. Will be a shame to leave. Kitchen tent has now iced up with condensation and needs a new floor though. Everyone busy packing up – break camp by noon. Visit by a fearless fox (enticed by meat) intrigues photographers (AG/JM) and keeps them busy for ½ hour while everyone else humps gear – a few raised eyebrows. Generally everyone is working well like they now want to get home. A little nav uncertainty in the enveloping whiteout conditions – Saul misses Umiartalik to the E and N (even I thought we were S) – we must have passed 300 yards away! Two quick GPS checks and course corrections and back to the waypoint. Can’t believe that this is where we camped only 10 days ago – snow from our “blizzard” has changed everything – but there are the snow blocks from our kitchen tent and almost-buried stones from Saul’s. Set up two Macphersons and transfer some fuel. Will have to leave 30 gals on the island in a drum, and one empty drum as well. Party 1 dawdle waiting for conditions to improve and have tea – set up radio in Saul’s tent. Tom and I talk and wait, he is a little mad at me for ordering him into town early but his condition has not improved and he understands my concern. Thank God for Tom. The other party departs at 16:00 – just the original 4 of us left now. Lazy afternoon reading Joe Simpson and listening to T. Levin. Bill and Saul have gone for a walk. Fall asleep myself for an hour or so and wake up to Bill’s snoring. Amie had to flee tent to escape our “chorus.” Make KD for dinner on sledge – V.G. conversation and pace seems slower and more harmonious now that we are back to our original 4. Bill talks about taking the bus from Hay R. to P.G. with some gear to save weight in the van. Please! All wrapped up with J. Simpson by 19:30. Bill sleeps but I wait for Amie to drop off @ 22:30. She totally disappears under her big coat and once she is snoring I finish my chapter and turn in @ 23:00.
Sunday May 19 – Umiartalik camp. Sunny, -5, light W’ly breeze, vis 10 Nm. Broken sleep – warm but very uneven snow. Wake to alarm – modified morning routine, CD – Tubular Bells. Make water, start genny, charge up our belts for the last time. Beautiful morning. A & B promptly get up as well – Breakfast is oatmeal and coffee. Saul is sleeping in but will appear when needed. Will try to knock off some AN & PRI points today – then run close to Gjoa and camp. Tomorrow we run a few miles into town to get the plane at 13:00. Break camp efficiently then out at 08:00. Proceed to do AN 3 & $ (combined), AN2, PRI 2 (+3,4). Finish by 13:06 (six minutes late!) Break down Grad and have a quick lunch of soup on the snow. 14:30 on the trail to Gjoa – 115 km to go. Saul asks me to drive to Gladman Pt while he rests in the sled – he has never asked for relief before – he is tired and his back hurts. He promptly falls asleep in sled but only rests for 1 ½ hrs then he takes the lead again. I relieve Bill on the other machine and drop back for solitude – cross Washington Bay. Eventually stop at Koka Is. – go to the crest alone. Take some more “thank you” photos for Amie (she forgot her grandma!). Saul really doesn’t want to camp again and tells us that David might let us stay in his shack on the W. side of Petersen Bay – or maybe Colin will let us use his spare room. He obviously wants to go home. Arrive at Gjoa – David and his wife(?) meet us and hurry to open up their shack & shovel out entrance – all smiles (no english). Doorways are about 5’7” high – two beds – I take the floor. Tables are all 12” high – everything miniturized to David scale – I expect Snow White at any moment. Walk across P. Bay to town to find Tom – SHOWER!!!! Shocking sunburn and frostbite blisters. Then back to shack. Cold night on floor (only 2 levels of clean clothing vs usual 5 of dirty). I don’t think I have lost much weight this year (unlike last) but the foamy and inflatable mattresses can’t keep my hip-bones off the floor! Much nicer in the tent yesterday, but morning comes.
Monday May 20 – Up with alarm at 06:45, walk across bay to hotel and 2nd shower in Tom’s room. Breakfast with group (except John who is staying with RCMP) – Saul sleeps in and misses 09:30 appointment to meet me. Cross back to David’s shed to repack sleds then return to hotel and wait for Saul. John arrives @ 11:00 then all depart to find carvings. Saul eventually arrives will meet Bill @ David’s to retrieve sleds – too much gravel in town so takes them to his house rather than hotel. Jacob, Colin and another arrive – I pay for fuel ($622.73). Move our gear (that Jacob brought back earlier) from their truck to the conference room. They want payment for their sleds and machines – we have already paid Saul (he later clears it up). Give Saul $150 for caribou skin and broken knife – he only wants $30 but I insist. Meet Danny in restaurant and buy drawing from him – then to his house and order another (Sedna) for later delivery. Repack all the boxes in the conference room of Amundsen Hotel after all the gear is collected. Plane is delayed at least until 4 pm – van ordered for 2:30. Find that I have lost my hiking boots somehow (left behind in the drift that filled my vestibule?) so I continue to wear my kummiks – this elicits the comment from one lady at the hotel that I obviously need an Inuit wife – not sure whether she is volunteering. Have developed digestive distress (Tom warned me about the hotel hashbrowns). Pile all gear and everyone into pickup – I ride outside on top. Plane delayed again till 4:30 but eventually arrives – no sign of Saul who still looked sick. John is staying behind for more filming and insists that we are filmed coming back off the plane (fake arrival). Milk run flight – Pelly B., Spence B., Yellowknife. Arrive YK at 21:30 – ship the Scintrex boxes to avoid taking them to Tom’s. Bill (Greek taxi driver) story about gold coins – give him info for magnetometers. Too late for Boston Pizza or the bars so order in, drink Tom’s Dad’s home-made wine (good and better the second time) and watch part of a DVD (Coyote Ugly) and A.’s and my arctic videos on Tom’s new BIG T.V. till 01:00. Sleep on floor between Kevin (couch) and Bill.
Tuesday May 21 – up at 5 to shower and pack for 7 am flight to Hay River. My ruby red face is quickly turning brown, frostbite blisters fading and nose peeling. Say goodbye to Tom and Pam, have juice at airport with Kevin – down to original 3 now. At Hay River Bill hits me in the head with the hatchback on van (bloody mess). Drive to High Level Alberta and have lunch (+ Beard trim and shave) in our customary restaurant (Frontier). Intend to drive and overnight at hotel so that A. and B. can catch 0800 bus tomorrow, but somehow we have made great time and decide at Dawson Creek to try for the 23:15 bus. Drop off B. & A. on time – very tired. Drive to Vanderhoof before it catches up – sleep in van until my alarm wakes me at 5:45. Drive home and arrive at 15:30 – no-one is home so I unpack the van and start my laundry. Everyone is surprised – I am home 1 day early!
Mr. Saul Aksalook – Primary Guide
Mr. Kevin Cronin – Field Surveyor
Ms. Amie Gibbons – Field Surveyor
Mr. Tom Gross – Field Surveyor, Snowmobile and equipment mechanic
Mr. John Murray – Film maker, Field Surveyor
Mr. Bill Robinson – Field Surveyor
Mr. Dave Woodman – Field Surveyor, Search Co-ordinator
Mr. Brad Nelson – Magnetometer expert, and post-expedition data analysis