Wednesday, 13th July – Depart Edmonton for Yellowknife. Meet Kowal at airport, informs me that he built the large innookshoo (C. Jane) in 1982. Mooney and Tarrant barely make the plane (slept in) not a good start. Meet Leader, Kellett in Yellowknife airport. Meet Jim Green on flight to Cambay.
Unload gear in Cambay direct to Adlair hangar. Quite a bit of it, a good proportion is GPR stuff. Take shuttle to Co-op hotel, dry caribou steak. George and I check in with RCMP, Cambay council, Renee Laserich for flight arrangements. Holland is going over the gear at Adlair.
Holland reports that only 7 of our 8 shipped pieces have arrived. Missing piece is a large 90L container (the “black box”). We attempt to reconstruct what is missing by memory – mostly food and cooking utensils. Local purchase at Co-op store to replace amounts to almost $200. Evening meeting in Paul’s room. Jim Green is off on his own looking for some Musk-ox reported to be about 10 miles out of town. Check and initialize GPS on sundeck, then to bed.
Thursday, 14th July – Visited at breakfast by Joanne Laserich with more tales of last month’s visit to Cape Jane and northern KWI. She gives me a copy of her photos, and loans me a 4” foam mattress to replace my lost air mattress (black box victim). Also provides dogfood in case we meet with Elvis!
10:00 – Making last minute flight arrangements at the hangar. Dave Kellett will come with the first party in the Otter to allow filming, Jim Green graciously agrees to accompany Janet later in the Beaver. All muster at Adlair to pack gear into aircraft.
13:00 – Depart in Twin Otter for KWI. Flight time approx 1hr 40 mins. Victoria Island is much as I remember from ’92, flat and featureless with lots of lakes. Victoria Strait is still full of ice with some melt pools. Come out of cloud over C. Franklin. Overfly Collinson, and circle Cape Jane for 20 minutes as Ian decides where to land. Only prominent feature is the large innookshoo. With a northerly wind Ian lands on top of the hill. We unload and decide to establish camp on the next level down to the south of the hill so that we have a lee. This turns out to be the best possible campsite in the area. As others hump gear, George, Dave K. and myself proceed to Gjoa Haven to check in and pick up Jimmy Porter. Flight time is approx 30 minutes. Island is desolate. Arrive Gjoa and check in with Raymond Kamookak at Council chambers. They are grateful for advance notice, but no interviews have been arranged, perhaps there will be some people interested to talk to us on the 26th when we fly out. He would like to exchange city pins. RCMP is out in the field so we go in search of Louie Kamookak (Raymond’s brother) who has stories of his grandmother’s camp near white men’s remains. Eventually find him but he is uncommunicative. He knows something, but isn’t talking to a stranger. Check in with RCMP – Constable Simeonie Simok. Jimmy is waiting for us at the airport, lots of gear! Fly back to C. Jane, one main tent is already up, all the gear has been humped to the site. Beaver lands on Cooper Lake about 5 minutes after we arrive. Go to assist in humping gear to base. Janet loses her boots, we later find one. At base assist in setting up personal tents, make dinner (corned beef and cabbage) and get water. Too tired to start search today, turn in at about 23:00.
Friday, 15th July – Clear and cold, calm with a little ice formation. Bright beautiful morning. Most of the party complaining of a cold and uncomfortable night, but I slept like a baby. Holland and I take the GPS to groundproof our airphoto. We proceed to Collinson shore and separate – he west, I east. I find some green-painted canvas which it turns out comes from a wrecked canoe found by Holland on the coast.
Lunch in base camp. Kellett borrows some of my spare longjohns and shoes. Most of the party does the first co-ordinated sweep to the west of camp under direction of Kowal. No finds, Porter not enthusiastic and comes back to base early for a snack. Holland and I continue to attempt groundproofing but the topography has changed considerably in 16 years and we wander to any seemingly significant point to try to establish a grid. After a frustrating afternoon we have finally oriented ourselves but it will be of little use in planning a search, which will be dictated by the condition of the ground. The “lines” on the airphoto are water channels with moss/lichen.
In late afternoon the wind builds from the west, right through camp, and almost blows down my tent. Guy wires everywhere for everyone. We are all too tired to make the planned supper (hamburgers) so we settle for a soup and bread supper. After supper try the hand pump to make water – too slow! In the evening Paul, Bill, and Jimmy go off fishing at Cooper Lake. Walt, Holland and I go to Innookshoo in search of elbow (?) bone described by Gross/Laserich. After a half hour search we find it – seal. If it is this difficult to locate something seen only one month ago, and described by modern witnesses who want us to find it, how can we find Supunger’s vaults?
While at the Innookshoo we hear a shot and see Bill waving to us from further north. Fishing party had no success so went exploring. We join him on northern crest of hill, he has found an Inuit gravesite with hunting implements and a human tooth. He is very casual, and mentions that I might be more interested in what Paul is currently photographing at the base of the hill. It is a human skull, first seen by Jimmy. Walt’s initial impression is that it is Caucasian due to prominence of the nose and spacing of the cheekbones. On the face of the hill are either 5 or 6 (two might be combined) excavations, obviously man-made. They could be meat-caches or graves. One contains a human tibia, another a caribou bone. These immediately bring Bayne story to mind, but orientation is different. On top of hill to west of gravesite we find what might be remains of a human foot. All the finds are 1-1.5 miles back from Crozier’s Landing. The skull shows no signs of having been too roughly handled, it came from here. If these are Franklin relics they pose more problems than solutions. At foot of hill find possible tent circles and remains of burnt wood. Mooney and Porter return to camp while Kowal, Tarrant, Holland, and I continue on to Crozier’s Landing. We find the remains of a tin can rim which was underwater in slough in ’82. All the sloughs are now dry. Walt is very excited as there might be solder adhering to it. Tarrant and Holland return to camp, Walt and I follow a little later – arrive at sleeping base after midnight, exhausted.
Saturday, 16th July – Cloudy and cold, winds northwest 10-15
After breakfast find that almost 1/3 of our naphtha has already been expended! This is due to the fact that water has been kept hot for coffee almost constantly, and stoves have been let unattended. Everyone is tired and slow to get going this morning. I am always first up at 6:00, followed by George and Dave Holland. Some don’t crawl out until almost 9:00.
First lecture – stoves will be controlled. Water for coffee only at mealtimes or if 2 or more want it. Use small kettle, one burner. Set wakeup routine, I will call George, Dave will call Walt etc. We eat in two shifts, while one is eating the other is getting up.
Depart base about 10:00 for skull place. Over the top of the hill, wind in our faces but sunny. At skull everyone takes pictures. Interview. Deploy in search line and comb base of hill east and west. Find small bones, all animal. The “foot” turns out to be a seal flipper – the first of many. No significant finds.\
I am not too optimistic about this site. There is no real sand for digging a flagpole and it is too far from the coast for a pole to have been readily visible from Crozier’s Landing. We nevertheless continue our search toward the coast. On shore south of Crozier’s Landing we find some scraps of canvas and modern (post 1890s) tins. Origin uncertain. We follow the shoreline to C. Jane Franklin then cut inland toward base. About 15:00 while at C. Jane we see Cessna circling. It lands on Cooper Lake and about 16:30 RD walks into camp. He has no tent so will share with me, but has a metal detector.
My feet are very sore today, blisters started from yesterday’s long walk. I shifted to shoes to get different pressure points, this pretty well has wrecked the shoes but seems to have worked. I wash my feet in used dishwater (to amusement of all) and put on fresh socks. Turn in about 22:00, another good sleep.
Sunday, 17 July – Cloudy, winds northerly at 10 kts.
Much better response today at getting up and going. Today’s lecture is on food discipline and pulling your own weight, some people are overindulging in food and snacks, and not contributing to the few domestic chores which are necessary. Dave Holland was up till midnight last night organizing our food in accordance with the planned menu. It is a good thing that we didn’t have the hamburgers on Friday as there is no macaroni and cheese (black box strikes again), but otherwise we should be fine. Field lunches will need to be rationed out as planned, we obviously can’t rely on everyone to take the number of items planned for. Some hoarding of more attractive selections has already taken place. Food will be locked up until the morning of use to prevent us running short.
Pumping our water is also a sore point. Dave, George, and I are doing it all (& Paul once) but everyone is drinking. It is a lot of work, but most of the old hands think it is pointless – they have been drinking out of the sloughs for years. I refuse to allow untreated water use, but will compromise. Water can be treated using the emergency iodine pellets and placed in separately labelled containers. Those who don’t pump can use this or boiled water. Pumped water will be for the use of those who do the pumping, primarily used for juice or cold drinks and cooking if really necessary.
The plan for today is to make use of RD’s metal detector at Crozier’s Landing. We were caught in a brief rain shower while preparing to leave, followed by a strong NW wind. Out in field by 9:30, again into the wind. As we come off the hill we enter the mist and fog which are blowing off the ice in Victoria Strait. Visibility is about 500 ft. This is very cold and desolate.
At Crozier’s Landing the metal detector finds a belt buckle, tin scraps, rivets, and a small bracket which appears to have been made for a sledge. Holland finds a small piece of canvas between some rocks with a very neat hand-sewn grommet hole – a beautiful piece of seamanship. Interviews at the cairn.
Walt and I discuss the excavation (at Irving’s grave?), which he believes was made by Burwash. No sign of the 20’x4’ trench claimed to have been dug by Schwatka. Perhaps there was a little poetic license in operation in his account (Walt just calls him a liar, points out that Schwatka’s dramatic claims for the crossing of the De La Roquette River are also inflated, he crossed it in ’82 without getting his ankles wet.)
Walt, RD, Green and Kellett continue work at Crozier’s Landing while the rest of us begin to scour the beaches working inland. This is the primary search area, and we encouragingly find some “sandy” (ie – less coarse gravelly) areas, but no signs of stones laid together. The beaches were evidently used by Inuit for camps, many tent rings and some meat caches. Two caches are of completely different character – neatly built with rectangular sides, about 3’ long. This involved careful selection and arrangement of stones and some believe these are white man’s constructions, others claim to have seen Inuit caches built with this much care. The functional difference between burying your friend beneath a pile of stones, and securing a caribou carcass in a cache, is negligible.
Walt brings metal detector up from the Landing to use in the tent circles/caches. No result. He confides that part of his plan is to get it away from RD, who he suspects is a pirate. He has been reburying any artifacts located but still thinks RD has pocketed some items against instructions. Paul has a cold and heads back to camp after about an hour. The chilling fog has dampened everyone’s spirits – it is amazing how morale follows the weather. As visibility deteriorates I decide to get RD away from the Landing by accompanying him to his aircraft at Cooper Lake to retrieve his gear. Walt and Jimmy come with us, the others all make their way back over the esker (Holland and Mooney find a curious semi-circle of stones on the way back).
While in the valley we come upon the triangle cairn described by Gross/Laserich. It is not too old as the lichen has not yet filled the spaces between the rocks. RD reaches it first and to Walt’s and my dismay has already taken the first three layers apart and found something. It turns out to be an old raisin box, the design looks reminiscent of the first half of this century, which tends to confirm that this cairn was built by either Burwash or Cooper. Nearby we find two tent circles, one of which has an aerosol can of spray paint (bright orange) under a rock – Cooper or Army (1967). With the wind at our backs and the soft walking underfoot this is quite pleasant, the sun is back out (or rather the mist off the ice does not come this far inland) and Cooper Lake is quite beautiful. At the plane RD packs personal gear and a meagre if welcome addition to the food supply (he is supposed to provide his own food). This consists of 5 lbs of cherries, real eggs, butter, and coffee.
When we arrive back at camp we find the wind has blown both Bill’s and Paul’s tents down. The aluminum tent poles are bent like spaghetti. Enough can be salvaged to rebuild one tent (Paul’s) while Bill gets an old wooden Komotik runner from on the beach and rebuilds his tent (sort of) with this as a strongback and some tarpaulins. It is small and makeshift and flaps a lot in the wind, but it will have to do for the rest of the trip (he declines an invitation to share with anyone). Holland’s tent has also suffered, some tent poles have snapped but are bound together. The rest of us put out more guys.
Good dinner, sunny but very windy (30+ kts). The fishermen (Bill, Paul (cold forgotten now!) and Jimmy) try again without success.
Monday, 18 July – I decide that this should be a day of rest. After the i8nitial success of the skull enthusiasm has definitely dropped, the walking is very difficult and the searching tedious, and prospects of a quick success are gone. During the morning radio check in with Resolute we ask for a message to be passed to Margaret Bertulli. She is in Resolute as it happens. We request permission to take some samples of bone from skull and tibia, and a sample of tin rim for analysis. We are careful to word our message to indicate that these are all surface finds and that we will only take small portions.
Another reason to make this a rest day is to get RD away from here. I ask him to fly me out in the Cessna to visit Erebus Bay (Ranford) and possibly overfly Kirkwall Island to look for signs of the wreck. We follow the coast to Erebus Bay and find the Ranford party already on the site. The lakes are too small to land on so we land on the bay itself – wet feet getting ashore. Ranford describes the site to me (on camera) and I do a short interview with his permission. CBC crew seem quite excited at our chance meeting here. There is not much remaining at the site now, Ranford spins an elaborate tale out of what he found last year and is vague about location of other finds (indicates to the west). Upon my return I point out the location to Walt, who indicates that Ranford’s site is a small islet to seaward of the “boat place” found by himself and Beattie. This was not a discrete “place” but rather a stretch of coast extending perhaps half a mile on which scattered remains were found. RD closely questions Ranford about location but gets nothing out of him.
RD now anxious to get to Gjoa Haven, so we fly directly back to Cooper Lake. Another wet foot as we land even further from shore and I wade in, but thankfully RD immediately flies away after dropping me off.
Back at base people have had a lazy day off. A cold front moves in dropping temperatures in the evening, no wind but the bugs are out. Interview with Janet in the main tent. Bertulli has granted us permission to take samples for study. Early evening in my tent to escape mosquitos.
Tuesday, 19 July – Another beautiful but cold morning. Everyone in high spirits because of the sun (and the rest?)
Holland, Mooney and I go to Crozier’s Landing by a roundabout route along the western shoulder of the hill to visit the structures found by Mooney earlier (two caches – one is the “seat”). The main party proceeds along the direct route over the top, and Walt has them walking lines from the skull place to the coast all morning. Jim Green and Jimmy Porter have managed to escape him and arrive at the Landing where the three of us are again doing a sweep. While the five of us wait and search near the Landing cairn Walt keeps the others hard at it and by lunch they come over the horizon looking beat. As is their habit Green and Porter have wandered off separately in different directions. I am frustrated by the inability to keep everyone together (Green has apparently gone off to find a rock to nap behind!)
At the landing we relocate most of what we found before, finds some clear glass and further pieces of tin – but can’t find the sewn canvas grommet, and the sledge bracket has been removed (probably by Decorby). Green, who wanted pictures of both, is livid. Walt and I have reviewed Trafton’s 1989 paper on his visit in which he claims, without any supporting evidence, that he had discovered the “true” cairn at the landing about 400 yards north of the present one. I go in search and find a few indistinct rock piles which might once have been something – but no evidence of any kind to support this contention. Walt again remarks about “inflated” claims made by non-scientists.
We return to base over the hill by about 3:00, 6-8 hours of effort in the field seems to be about all one can ask in these conditions before lack of motivation and fatigue render further search pointless. I am a little frustrated by this, the light would easily allow 10-16 hours work, but not everyone has the personal motivation I feel. Even so, the area to be searched is now about one half done – we should have plenty of time in hand, and it will be hard to fill the last few days unless we find something significant. Before heading back to camp we have reassembled the entire party except Jim Green, who was last seen wandering alone north of Crozier’s Landing about noon. I am reluctant to leave and discuss with Walt whether we should go off looking for him, but no-one else seems very concerned, concluding that he’s probably just fallen asleep behind a rock. We start back to camp and I determine that if Green hasn’t made it back by 6 PM I will go out to look for him. His is an “old arctic hand” but not too amenable to following rules. Of course, when we return to camp we find him already there – asleep in his tent! I am not amused, we could have wasted a lot of time and effort looking for him, and all my worry has been for naught.
Another calm and sunny evening, but the bugs are back, and between them and my irritable mood I retreat to my tent for an early night.
Wednesday, 20 July – The good weather has held, and we wake to a calm and sunny morning. The plan for today is to finish Walt’s line search all the way to Crozier’s Landing. We also will use the GPF for the first time on a frost bubble found yesterday which appears to have been partially excavated. Walt and I are sceptical, he thinks he may have dug into it in ’82 and it has none of the features we are looking for, but Bill and Paul have their own agenda and we should use the radar if only for Janet’s benefit.
The radar survey shows a discontinuity about 2m down. By the time we finish this a storm blows up with rain, wind, and chilling fog coming off the sea-ice. We head back to base arriving about 12:30. Since we are here we decide to have soup for lunch to help out our quickly dwindling supply of field lunches (still seems to be little discipline – I suspect these are still being used for snacks). Paul’s detailed analysis shows a more distinct anomaly under the frost bubble than he first thought, some are getting excited but I remain doubtful. Nevertheless we plan to dig it out tomorrow.
Walt and I have a free and frank exchange of views on the walk back from the bubble, and stand outside the tent, packs on, in the rain, for a further 40 minutes engaged in a circular argument much to the amusement of everyone else sheltering a few feet away in the main tent. Walt is sure that Supunger wasn’t here, and leans toward the opinion that he made up the whole story for Hall’s benefit. While I admit that we haven’t found anything, and that we must now start on lower-priority areas, I do not believe that Supunger was lying but that we are either wrong in our (my) interpretation of his evidence (and hence our search area) or that what he found is now obscured by the ice-pushed gravel beaches to the point that it will never be found. While I appreciate Walt’s view I wish that he was a little less public about voicing his opinion as it is hard enough trying to inspire these people to continue what looks to be a fruitless search.
Weather improves in the afternoon, wind dies and the bugs come out. We move the table and seats out of the main tent for the first time and eat outdoors. Everyone’s mood has improved with the weather, frisbee time! I again pump water for an hour (followed by George). While out of earshot of the others George and I discuss progress to date and the way things are going. He can offer no solutions or suggestions for improving either morale or discipline, but doesn’t seem dissatisfied. Jimmy Porter has somehow hurt his knee and retires early. I again flee the bugs to my tent. I think the team thinks that I am being anti-social, and don’t realize the consequences of my allergy. Janet interviews George. Walt (the Energizer Bunny), dissatisfied with inactivity, decides to walk over to Cooper River to see if he can cross it and investigate a pile of rocks (cairn?) on the other side.
Thursday, 21 July – Another beautiful morning, sunny and with a light breeze to keep the bugs down. Today is Bill’s 4oth birthday and the mood in camp is good. We plan to excavate the frost bubble to identify the anomaly and to finish the survey along the beaches to the west of the hill. Paul gathers us all together with a straight face saying that further analysis of the GPR data has revealed something interesting. As the image slowly draws on the portable computer screen it becomes apparent that he has superimposed a drawing of a standing man over the results screen. Everyone gets a kick out of this, and Holland, aware of my annoyance with writers who always claim that Franklin’s men were idiots, points out that it was pretty stupid for the crews to dig a seven foot hole in the permafrost to bury Sir John standing up!
As we go over the hill the weather quickly deteriorates, visibility is down to 500 feet in mist and cold wind. Arrive at the frost bubble and begin excavation. It is good to be doing some physical work and everyone pitches in but after about one meter it is becoming obvious that we are the first to dig here. The geologists point out too many “inclusions” – bits of rock which would not have been replaced if this hole had been dug before. We abandon the effort.
We continue walking the beaches and arrive at the Crozier Landing cairn at noon. While waiting for Bill and Paul to catch up (they have characteristically fallen behind by half a mile) we can, through the amazing sound-conducting properties of Arctic air, overhear their conversation as if they were only a few feet away. That they don’t realize this is apparent when they stop briefly at a slough for Paul to catch up on some necessary hygiene – the running commentary keeps us all in stitches (you get amusement wherever you can in the Arctic).
After a cold lunch huddled around the cairn (and the obligatory group photos, endlessly repeated for each person’s camera) it is hard to get started again. There is some grumbling about covering the same ground as before (although I point out that we are still finding new (admittedly small) features which we missed earlier and that the light has changed). Mooney and Tarrant are particularly uncooperative and start back to base. Jimmy’s knee still hurts him (although he seems to walk fine), and he, George (who is beginning to look more tired with each passing day), and Holland also return soon after, taking the easier flat valley route.
I decide to push on up the coast to Victory Point accompanied by Kellett and Leader, while Walt and Jim Green do the same about ¼ mile inland (Walt, however, quickly outpaces everyone and disappears alone into the mist). Walt believes that the “real” (i.e. Ross) Victory Point is far to the north, while I suspect that it is the next visible point. Janet and I arrive at the point and find two cairns, one on the beach and another above it – both modern. There are very fresh Twin Otter tracks on the gravel beach here – probably less than a year old (Gross later confirms that they were noticed on his flight in June). There is a considerable amount of garbage nearby, a dozen rusted AA batteries, two full but rusted cans of sterno, two empty lighter fluid cans, one 45 gallon drum on the beach, a green garbage bag (now ripped open) up near the higher cairn (Walt later says that he used this in ’82 to collect some garbage which he found here). At the upper cairn there is a quantity of paper – some magazines and part of a typescript dealing with Franklin and Beechey Island (with no marks to identify the author). A plaque left by the FRANKLIN PROBE group indicates that an emergency pack was left in the cairn, but the cairn has since been disassembled and the emergency pack is gone. Perhaps that was the source of the batteries, sterno, and lighter fluid.
Green has rejoined us and the four of us start back in two groups, Janet and I leading. Janet suggests that perhaps we could be picked up on Sunday and make the Monday flight home rather than wait till Tuesday for the Wednesday flight. I reluctantly see the sense in this – the search is essentially over. I later propose this to Walt and George and they agree, we pass the request to Adlair on the evening sched.
Walt wanders into camp alone about an hour after our own return – still convinced that only he has reached the “true” Victory Point. The map seems to bear him out – perhaps the modern point is not the same one visited by Ross and mentioned by Crozier?
Birthday party for Bill, bring out the “celebratory” whiskey and rum, and have a sing-along with Stan Rogers and the “Northwest Passage” song. Dave and Janet film this production, but it thankfully ends up on the cutting floor. Everyone is in fine spirits with the hope that we will leave this place early.
Friday, 22nd July – The weather is horrible this morning, cold, misty, and with a northerly wind of 20+ knots. Because of this (and hangovers?) everyone is very slow moving and quiet this morning. Again enthusiasm is at a low point, and I decide to call another rest day (originally scheduled for tomorrow).
Paul emerges from his tent only for breakfast (to eat, of course, not to help prepare or clean up from). Bill, Jim, and Dave Kellett are hardly to be seen. Jimmy Porter tells that he found a “stick” (mast?) on the shore of Collinson Inlet a few days ago so Walt and I accompany him in search of it. Holland, George, and Janet also set off separately down the coast further to the west in search of it. Our party wanders too far to the left and end up at the mouth of Cooper River, then begin to work our way westward. We meet up with the other party without seeing anything. Jimmy thinks the mast is still further west, and eventually he leads us to it. It is about 4” in diameter and about 7’ long to its ends, which have been worked by some modern tool. It does not appear to be too old, but Walt says that it could have preserved itself if locked in ice for a while. No distinguishing markings of any kind. It is probably from the same boat whose wreckage Dave and I found earlier along this same stretch of coast.
We return to camp and again settle for a soup lunch to preserve the field lunches. Only the most unpopular choices of field lunches are left, and few of them despite the fact that Holland and Walt do not take lunch (Dave has his own and Walt doesn’t eat), and Janet and I have forgone lunch at least two days each according to my own certain knowledge. Since there were 120 lunches bought (10 people x 12 days) and we should theoretically have about two dozen in reserve by now, the fact that only enough remain to last us till pickup indicates that this problem with surreptitious snacking on or hoarding of lunches is ongoing. We now control them day by day as with the other food, and distribute them more publicly rather than letting each person take whatever he or she wants from the table.
Weather improves again after supper (it changes every 6-10 hours) and Green, Kellett and Tarrant emerge from their tents refreshed enough to volunteer to go for more Naphtha from our store at Cooper Lake. On the evening radio sched we learn that Adlair cannot pick us up on Sunday, so back to the original plan. Everyone is a little disappointed with this as we can tell that there is little left to be done and Tuesday seems a long and uncomfortable way off. The wind comes up again, this time from the south, and everyone retreats to their tents for a cold night.
Saturday, 23 July – Another bright and beautiful morning, sunny, wind is again northerly at about 10 kts. I announce that since yesterday was a defacto day of rest the once scheduled for today has been cancelled. Some rolling of eyes. The plan is to continue sweeps to the west of the hill.
We head directly west to the coast, Jimmy spots seals on the ice and goes to try his luck, cameramen follow. Again it is difficult to get this undisciplined group to stay together, but eventually we all form up in lines and commence walking north. Mooney and Tarrant are walking abreast about 5’ apart (to allow conversation, rather than the 20’ spacing needed for search), earnestly talking about computers and grumbling about our lack of success (sound travels extraordinarily well here – they can’t tell I can hear every word they say even though I am more than 100’ away at the end of the line). Porter is off on the very ice-edge doing his thing (great seal hunter). He, Walt, and Green spend ¼ hour investigating a polar bear spine found on the beach while everyone waits for the line to reform. We find a few caches, 2 empty 45-gallon drums, and a few cigarette packages but little else. There are many Inuit tent rings along the upper beaches. I finally snap at Mooney out of frustration, while he shoots back that he and Tarrant are doing their share and losing $30,000 a day by being here (right!)
Lunch at the Landing cairn again (as the only landmark it always seems to draw us). We divide into two parties, Walt, Holland, Green, Porter, Leader and Kellett all return to the skull place to do detailed measurements and take photos as the light is good today. Mooney and Tarrant want to search the coast for a reported bear skull. To try and repair feelings I decide to accompany them (and George decides to accompany me), and we engage in lighter conversation to restore equanimity. Bill and I apologize to each other, point has been made. We find the skull and take photos and extract the teeth as souvenirs. We follow the coast all the way around, mainly on the beach, then head directly north to the base camp.
Upon his return from the skull place Walt informs me that his measurements off the skull indicate that it is probably (99%) Inuit. While looking around they found the lower jaw and four more teeth as well, we all can’t believe that we missed them on our earlier search. The fishing party again tries its luck on Cooper Lake – this time they catch 5 char, eat one raw, and bring the rest back for supper. Although fresh-caught char is supposed to be the best fish in the world I still can’t find any enthusiasm for it – the others can’t believe that I’m just not a “fish guy.”
Sunday, 24 July – Another beautiful morning, sunny with a light breeze. I am beginning to worry that this good weather will not last until Tuesday (when we will need it).
As we tried to get picked up today I cannot in good conscience task anyone too hard. Roundtable discussion reveals that Walt and I are the only ones willing to go very far afield, Holland wants to search the coast for the bear skull, no-one else is very ambitious at all. Walt and I decide to cross the Cooper River and search the northern shore of Collinson Inlet (as Schwatka and Gilder did for some reason known only to them. I also remember that Louie Kamookak’s grandmother story is somehow associated with Collinson Inlet). Walt warns me that the river “estuary” is quite wet and muddy going, and we set out at 9:00 and after a surprisingly dry river crossing (relatively) we start walking along upper ridges. July is well along now and the land is quickly drying out, Walt remarks that the bogs which were wet when he did his walk here four days ago are now drier. We see goose, ptarmigan, fresh musk-ox dung, and one solitary caribou (which warily approaches within about 40 yards). We investigate two tent circles (Inuit and very old) on the crest of a ridge and the nearby remains of a meat cache. By 13:30 I am ready to turn back, as always Walt is full of energy andwants to press on. We separate, and I proceed to the shoreline and follow it back to camp, finding two 45 gallon oil drums, plastic netting, and lots of worked wood (flotsam) along the beach. I arrive back at camp about 15:30, Walt finally returns about 19:00 having gone (by his estimate) a further 5 miles (within sight of the end of the inlet). He has found nothing significant.
Monday, 25 July – Another in the series of good mornings. No wind, which means bugs galore.
Today the CBC crew depart by chartered Beaver. We do not know what time the aircraft is coming, so we break down their tents and pack everything up by 10:00, ferry all their gear the 1.5 miles to Cooper Lake by 11:30 (except Walt, whose feet are the worse for his long walk yesterday). We include some of our own spare equipment to lighten our load out on the Twin Otter tomorrow (as we will have one extra person – Jimmy Porter). Again the grumblers don’t see the reason for the extra work in hauling gear to the lake when the Otter will presumably land closer tomorrow. Dave Holland and I end up doing all the extra carrying anyway. The plane arrives at 13:30 and we manage to get the film crew off okay. While waiting Mooney and Tarrant fished, and Bill caught 4 good-sized char which he cooked up for supper. He breaks out the champagne which he brought to celebrate our success – we don’t have too much too celebrate but we are going home tomorrow! Late in the afternoon a storm passed through camp with a fairly heavy rain (for the Arctic desert!) Hope the weather clears for tomorrow.
Tuesday, 26 July – Up at 6:00 and for once everyone else is up early too. A simple breakfast of oatmeal then we commence to break camp. Holland, George and I organize the shipping containers so that they can go directly to Ottawa and Victoria without any intermediate repacking. We there also do most of the breakdown and cleaning of all the common equipment, other individuals being largely content to take down their own personal tents (surprise!)
We don’t know when the aircraft will come for us, but are ready for it by 11:00. The day started out fine but is quickly turning cold and windy, luckily the visibility is still good and only light cloud cover. The wind is from the west, perfect for the landing strip near our camp. This is seen as a good omen as no-one really wants to have to take all of our gear up the 50’ of hill back of camp to our original landing spot on top of the esker.
By 14:00 we are all sheltering from the wind under tarps behind an improvised wall built of our equipment. Wind is now shifting to the north which is bad news as it makes the esker-top landing site a better bet. The normal grumblers are getting increasingly impatient at the delay, as if getting plucked off King William Island can be scheduled as well as a flight in the south! At their insistence George and I re-erect the radio antenna and call Resolute to inquire about our plane. We are told that Adlair expects to be able to get one to us by about 7 pm (the tone indicates a little impatience with these southerners who don’t realize the realities of Arctic travel), and that they will not be able to take us to Gjoa Haven as planned but will fly us directly to Cambridge Bay. This delay and change of plans is a field day for the complainers (all of whom must have heavy dates waiting!).
We (meaning, as always, George, Dave Holland, and I) rebuild the main tent, and I cook up a mess of dried beef, noodles, and spaghetti sauce to improvise a meal. It’s actually pretty good, and warms us up briefly. We then settle again into the shelter of our boxes, I decide to try out the “space blanket” which I have been carrying in my day pack for emergencies and find that it is not really very effective against the arctic chill. However I am one of the lucky ones who still has an unread paperback book (and some patience) so the afternoon passes fine for me.
The aircraft arrives roughly on time, but the wind is now strong from the north and he must use the original landing strip. Nothing for it but to hump all the gear up the steep hillside, although the usual complainers are vocal about the pilot’s landing spot and insist he could have brought the aircraft closer to us. It is interesting, although not surprising, to see who carries the heaviest items and who carefully chooses light but bulky ones.
On the very last gear-hauling trip up the hill I badly sprain my right ankle (good timing!) and limp heavily for the last few yards to the aircraft. After an uneventful flight we arrive at Cambridge Bay about 20:00. The hotel has finished supper, so most of our crew go to the arcade on a junk-food run. I take a leisurely shower, phone home, and get a good night’s sleep.
Wednesday, 27 July – George and I check out with the RCMP and the village Council. Have a short post-expedition interview with Tom Gross and Joanne, and thankfully return her foamy. The rest of the morning is spent packing and preparing to leave. We are all quickly back into our “civilization” mode, all friends (sort of) and happy to be going home. A short stop in Yellowknife is used by Hobson, Woodman, and Holland to thank some of the people who helped us (Paul Laserich, Dan Murphy, and Chuck Arnold in particular) and for a very quick interview with Dave Miller on CBC radio. Then back to real life.