Utjulik 2001 – Daily Notes
Wednesday 2 May 2001 – Work forenoon, depart PR at 1400 by van for Prince George.
Thursday, 3 May – Sleep 3 hrs at rest stop from 0100 to 0400, arrive PG at 0500, even Tim Horton’s isn’t open yet! Drive around for ½ hour then breakfast at TH. Find bus station and while waiting in parking lot reconfigure Fugawi software and my GPS which wasn’t working yesterday.
Meet Amie and Bill at bus station at 0830, load their gear. Spend till 11:00 doing last-minute shopping for some stuff.
Drive north towards Hay River. Speeding ticket at Chetwynd. Call Tom from High Level – we need to arrange drums, but fuel will open for us on Sunday. Must pay cash however, which may be a problem.
Friday, 4 May – Arrive at 60N park about 00:30 and decide to camp out behind barricade. All of us cram into my 4-man tent, good sleep. Northern lights, full moon. Wake up early and read Hannibal in car while watching a rabbit investigate tent.
Breakfast in Enterprise NWT. When we emerge from parking lot we (I) miss the sign which is right there at the intersection, therefore drive a further 140 km on wrong highway until the Mackenzie R. turnoff. There goes all the time we had saved!
Arrive in Hay River with 3 hours to kill before flight to Yellowknife. Bill and I go off to get cash for fuel from our bank machines. There is no Bank of Montreal in Hay River so I arrange to transfer money from my personal account to the joint CIBC account and then withdraw. Leave phone message for Franca. Amie in library checking her email.
Fly to Yellowknife at 1800, meet Tom at airport and he takes us home in borrowed truck. Nice place! Meet Pam. All have dinner at Boston pizza (ribs for me).
Saturday, 5 May – Today is for last-last minute shopping and to firm up arrangements for Rangers. Meet Conrad Schubert for lunch (Ukrainian Special) and discuss co-ordination with Doug Stern in Gjoa. He offers a generator but we decline since we can’t steam-clean it for airline.
Shop for small items – toothbrush, sleep mask etc. Meet Janet Leader at bookstore while shopping for Up Here magazine which has an article about Tom.
Call Doug from Tom’s and confirm that everything is ready for our arrival tomorrow. Call home and talk to Franca. Amie and Tom go to the movies (“The Mummy’s Return”) while Bill and I stay at the table and try to get our computers and software configured – mine won’t work with the GPS again! Teach Pam how to burn a CD on her new computer.
Sunday, 6 May – Finally fed up with my computer I crash at 0200, Bill holds out till 0500. We are all up at 0600 to pack for the airport. Excess baggage charges amount to $321. We all (with Pam) have a last breakfast at McDonalds, then drop off Pam and truck.
Depart YK at 10:30 for Gjoa Haven (via CamBay) and arrive at 14:20 after uneventful flight. Meet 3 Rangers (Charlie, Saul, and Simon) at the airport – Doug is at the Amundsen Hotel. We load our gear in the Co-op truck and go to the hotel together. I give a short briefing on what we are hoping to do overall and specifically today.
Break up into two teams. TG/AG go to arrange fuel and buy toilet paper and other items. Bill and I hook up magnetometer and test it on a truck as target. We also unpack Echo Sounder and plan for a full test on the ice of Petersen Bay.
At 20:00 TG/AG and 3 Rangers (Simon, Saul, Charlie) set out for Simon’s cabin (actually his father-in-law’s) which is about 50 miles along Simpson Strait. Doug remains behind with Bill and I to get the echo sounder out on the ice. We test it and find it working (4.5m depth) then return to town. The plan is for the rangers to return for the remaining gear and ourselves and then take us to the cabin. The hotel is closed and Doug has given up his room, so rather than wait in the cold we invite ourselves to George Porter’s house for tea and conversation (watch hockey game).
Monday, 7 May – By 0100 we realize that the rangers are not returning, or assume that if they do they will not want to continue night travelling after their long day. George tells us to bunk down in his living room, but his wife Effie is not too sure about the strangers in her house and gets the hotel manager to let us back in. We leave a sign on Doug’s sled for any returning rangers and then all go to sleep in Doug’s room (me on floor).
Up at 0630. We meet 2 rangers at breakfast, they arrived at 0200 and came looking for us but didn’t find our sign so went home. They were ready to continue travelling though. Everyone at the cabin is fine, but they say Amie had very cold feet last night.
By 0900 we are all packed and ready and set off in bright clear weather for Simon’s cabin. Pass by Todd Islets and C. James Ross, stop for a break and see ice rings around the sun. Cross Simpson Strait to Cape Seaforth (location of cabin) and all have a reunion at 1400.
After an hour socializing we repack all the sleds and everyone except Bill and I depart for Camp One on First Island (which I am informed by Saul is actually Umiartalik – not Kirkwall, very encouraging). Two Rangers will return for Bill and I and the last drum of fuel. Bill and I solve some of our computer problems in the comfort of the cabin, but we flood the stove and start a small stove fire. While standing outdoors with the burning stove I pray that our rangers don’t arrive to this scene of crazy kodlunas trying to heat up the entire arctic!
Eventually the temperature drops and Bill and I unpack our sleeping bags. Very cold in the cabin (stove is out of fuel). Listen to some music and try to read. At 2300 sound of approaching snowmobiles (Doug and Saul). Pack up and away.
Tuesday, 8 May – Very cold trip on the sleds from C. Seaforth overland to Cape Geddes and on to Umiartalik. Arrive at 02:30 to find everyone asleep, but camp is set up beautifully (including my tent). Bill’s tent was in the last load so I help him set it up then crawl into my own at 0330.
Up at 0800 to a beautiful morning. Unpack and set up electronics, solar panels etc. Bill spends morning wiring up a “charging area” in our main tent for all of our assorted electronics and batteries. We rig two sleds for survey, transferring a small box to one large sled and lashing down echo sounder on another.
Spend 1200-1530 familiarizing Amie and Tom with echo sounder checklist and operation. Go out with them for first two soundings, then Bill and I return while they carry on (a further 10 soundings). Bill lets me drive snowmobile back.
While we have been gone the rangers have built a very fancy snow-block latrine.
Bill and I have reworked the mag survey boxes but can’t seem to get the waypoints to transfer properly between our laptop programs and our GPSs. My computer has frozen overnight and requires multiple reboots and restores – very frustrating.
Tom and Amie return in late afternoon, dinner is pasta primavera – bland but ok. Tom and Amie go to work on the main tent building shelving area around the perimeter with snow blocks – very civilized!
Bill and I set up and test the magnetometer, it runs but the batteries are weak. Have a problem with my GPS and lose all my waypoints and route data, crash computer again. After many delays set out with Saul for a quick mag survey at 2200.
Wednesday, 9 May – Return to sleeping camp at 0130. We have only managed to do one survey line (southernmost of Box A – E to W) before weak batteries give us a communications problem on the mag, but at least we have worked out a methodology for later. Cup of soup and bed at 0200.
Up at 0600. Charlie and I are the first up and have nice talk in tent. Today we will test the download of the track and magnetometer data from last night.
ES party (Tom, Amie, Simon and Charlie) is now geared up and raring to go on a “50 point day” – out of camp by 0900. I spend the morning restoring my laptop to a previous state AGAIN (doesn’t like these cold nights) and working at getting the track data out of my GPS. Except for the fact that the Fugawi software imports the date as October 2102 the tracks look fine.
In the afternoon the wind rises from dead calm to a northerly of about 7 kts bringing a chill. Doug builds a windbreak of snow blocks around Bill’s tent, and then moves on to mine for good measure.
Bill and I find that IDUMP doesn’t like my Belkin serial port adapter and won’t transfer mag data to my laptop through it. This means that effectively we only have his laptop for data storage. Also we find that Bill did a battery change on the mag console this morning which apparently effectively equals a cold boot, so we have no data from the line done last night. This is no great loss since last night was a functional run which was not intended to generate much useful data anyway, but will mean rerunning that line eventually.
At 1300 we hear the ES party returning. They are towing Charlie’s snowmobile on a sled which isn’t a good sign, find that it has a broken bearing. The decision is made to send a ranger (Simon) into town for a replacement bearing plus some other needed miscellany (AA batteries, more vegetable oil for echo sounders, more naptha, and some more gas). Although initially they wanted to send him in immediately I decide to defer trip for one day to see how other needs develop.
Saul has carved a beautiful brace for the magnetometer head which will keep it lashed at the appropriate angle in spite of heavy pounding, one of the problems identified last night was that it would bounce out of alignment. We run the generator to fully charge the mag batteries to hopefully solve another problem.
After a communal lunch TG/AG leave again for echo sounding and accomplish another 12 points by 18:00 when printer head freezeup brings them home. This has been a full and productive day for them, unlike the rather frustrating day Bill and I have had troubleshooting computers and solving the mag problems. Bill and I finally get the mag to work and run it in camp for an hour to ensure we can collect data and transfer it. While waiting for the data to accumulate we join Doug in Saul’s tent for a little fresh rabbit (ribs) which was killed today up on the hill. This is the discrete way to get some fresh meat without offending Amie’s vegetarian sensibilities since she is out of camp. We discuss life in the rangers with Doug who has spent the day building protective snow walls around everything in camp (they now surround Amie’s tent as well).
At 1900 I leave with Saul to commence Box A in earnest, optimistically starting from the furthest (NW) corner.
Thursday, 10 May – We finish seven lines by midnight but the night cold has frozen the CRT screen on my GPS to make it unreadable so we head back to camp. A beautiful clear night, about –30 degrees, with a red sun hanging on the horizon and dipping below for only one hour. Saul had installed a plywood windscreen in front of the box for my protection, but it works loose from its nails before we even get to the survey area. By the time I return to camp my face is very frozen (my balaclava is a solid mask and I pull it away from the skin into a hard point in front of my nose), and my left foot is also pretty well frozen. Luckily Bill is still awake when we get in to camp and he unloads the sled and takes care of getting some warm coffee/hot chocolate into me. Realizing that we have missed supper Bill makes a pot of chili (very good – Bill inadvertently puts in a full spice package which helps thaw me out). We are anxious to test the data download but the tent is too dim in the early morning to read the LCD screen on the mag console and Bill’s flashlight is too frozen to work, so we must wait for real morning.
In bed at 0300 – very cold night but very warm sleeping bag!
Up at 0630 to find the stove in the tent is on (Charlie again?) but no-one else is moving yet. A heavy frost on the inside of the tent snows down on me if I touch it, and as the tent warms up. To avoid the recurring computer problems I left it on all night inside Bill’s insulated bag – toasty! Charlie comes in for coffee and we talk about the possibility of building a cabin on Umiartalik, he thinks it would be a great idea and that the local Council would go for it. Maybe the Laurier could bring up the materials and the rangers could build it.
Amie left the echosounder on all night as well and it has remained warm and it “is all good.” Bill downloads the track data from last night successfully, and we find that we must redo lines 1-3, and #5 (of 7) since there appear to be “holidays.” Saul watches the screen carefully and notices that the snowmobile didn’t follow the planned tracks – he looks crestfallen. Bill does notice a large magnetic variance on one of the first lines which justifies this extra precision.
At 1300 Simon leaves for Gjoa Haven. I am a little worried at sending him out alone, our policy (and my promise to the Ranger Authorities) being that we would never travel with less than two machines, but he seems offended that I think he can’t do what all the rangers consider to be a “milk run” without backup. We have been in contact with the ranger sergeant in Gjoa who is expecting him, so if anything happens we will know right away. Simon is well respected by all the other rangers who tell awestruck stories of his trials, tribulations, and triumphs on the land. Simon is expected to arrive in Gjoa about 1800 and overnight at home, he will return tomorrow about 20:00 (fuel depot doesn’t open until 10).
TG/AG spend another morning echo sounding and come in with 15 more points before printer problems resurface. The machine seems to have a field working life of only 3-4 hours.
In the afternoon I go out with TG/AG and Saul to run the Mellis box with the magnetometer. This is the closest box so should avoid a lot of downtime in transit if problems emerge, also it is a small but complicated search area and so serves as a good training run for Amie and Tom who have never operated the machine before. After four lines I leave them to complete the box and walk over Umiartalik to camp. They are back with the box finished about an hour later, the chart inaccuracies of our little island mean that they had to shorten most of the legs on the eastern end as the waypoints were in the middle of the island instead of close to the western coast.
Although both Amie and Tom now are “trained” they still want to remain together as a team. They certainly work well together and enjoy each other’s company, but this means that effectively we have only two magnetometer shifts rather than three (Bill is fully occupied with repairs and battery work) and I argue that with the lack of production in mag work so far this is not acceptable. Since we have beautiful weather (which cannot last) I want to take maximum advantage and work around the clock (24 hours a day – 4 on 8 off) in three watches. Tom and Amie agree only to work one 8 hour shift as a team if I take one 4-hour shift before and after (16 hrs a day). Despite losing 8 hours of production I doubt whether they can keep going for 8 hours at a stretch. Discussion is animated, but I realize that I can’t carry the day against this minor mutiny and give up. Frustrated. Our first personality conflict, Bill later gives me the avuncular “they are only volunteers and not as committed as you” speech and tells me to lighten up and let them enjoy themselves. Nevertheless I can tell that he is as frustrated as I am at the lack of magnetometer success – we are paying for a hydrographic survey so far.
Computer gremlins hit again – massive frustration. Bill and I agree to use his computer exclusively until it fails and that mine will be only used as an emergency spare – we’ll sort it out if we need it. Things seem to be coming apart.
Leave with Saul to rerun lines from last night. He has rebuilt the plywood windscreen with heavier nails and a 2×6, but it still can’t survive the pounding and comes flying off on our first line. Despite the fact that it is a large piece of plywood I don’t see or hear it come off, and only notice its absence at the end of the line. Saul retraces our route and finds it two miles back. After only one line we get persistent comm. problems on the mag console but I decide to just reset the machine and soldier on.
Friday, 11 May – Saul and I finish three lines by midnight and start back to camp again. I storm into camp and start muttering darkly and kicking things with frustration of slow progress. Decide to play the guilt card on TG/AG and remark that next year I will bring Holland and Hobson to run shifts with me while they do only daywork. Point is made but I feel very manipulative and sneaky.
Very cold night again but the weather is changing as we notice that clear skies are clouding over. In bed at 0200.
Wake up to a strong southerly wind on the tent at 0830. Of course the snow block wall is only on the north side, so the tent is a little pressed in but still comfortable. Everyone is slow getting started this morning.
The plan today is for everyone to run magnetometer lines and to forego the echo sounder work for a few days. We almost have my minimum 100 soundings already anyway, but have fewer than 10 lines of Box A done with only 6 days to go! As per our agreement I will run a morning and evening shift while TG/AG run a combined forenoon-afternoon.
I depart with Doug but after about 3 km he stops and informs me that he needs to change his glasses. While stopped I notice the mag has stopped recording so we return to camp and find that one battery is very low. Depart again at 1200 and run out to survey area but when we set up for the first line we have the ubiquitous comm. problem! We have now run 24 km this morning with no result! FRUSTRATION.
Return to camp again and Bill finds that the batteries are still low. He thinks that the solar panels are not providing enough charging “oomph” to let the batteries survive in the cold. We run the generator again to top them up. While waiting I join Charlie for some fresh caribou which he has killed (4). He fishes delicacies out of the pot for me (heart, tongue) all of which is very good if a little chewy. Doug informs me that the rangers are calling me “Atanook Dave” – “Boss” Dave, which I find rather amusing. Radio contact with Gjoa informs us that Simon has left on his return trip.
The ever-ambitious TG/AG Task Force has not been idle. They have spent the morning doing another echo sounder run and collected another 15 soundings which seems to the limit the “government machine” will allow before quitting on them. Doug brings in some fresh bannock, I do the dishes, and then Tom and Amie decide to try to make pancakes for a late lunch – we now know what to use as mortar should we wish to build something! The mood among us is good, much laughter and the troubles of last night are forgotten.
TG/AG leave at 1600 for more echo sounding work, I take a 1 hr nap and then leave with Doug to try the magnetometer again. We return at 1900 having run 3 ½ lines, only one of which was any good (ie no comm problem). The echo sounding team returns having found two uncharted islands. Bill innocently asks them how they know they were on land, Tom replies that the fact that there were rocks and that they had to go up gave them a clue!
Simon arrives safely back in camp after an uneventful run at 20:30. I am very relieved. He has managed to get everything except extra hot water bottles (which we are informed are unknown in the arctic anyway).
Despite having worked all day on echo sounding Tom still is a little sheepish about the “mutiny” and offers to drive for me if we go out on mag survey again. We depart at 2300. Bill thinks one problem might be that the cesium head is getting cold so I wrap it in some spare 1 ½” foam as an experiment.
Saturday, 12 May – Wrapping the sensor head seems to work since Tom and I manage to finish 7 lines tonight (6 good) and run until 0400 sharing the snowmobile and box work. We run back to camp in a whiteout – the weather is definitely changing for the worse. Everyone is asleep, Tom disappears into his tent immediately while I go for a warm up drink and to write journal. In bed at 0500.
Up at 0830. Amie is getting ready for her first independent magnetometer run with Doug, it seems that somehow we have gone on a watch rotation after all. They depart at 10:00.
Simon has brought a bigger box back from Gjoa with him and the rangers reconfigure one long sled with it for the magnetometer work. This should be much more comfortable than bouncing around in the small 4’ box on a small sled – my back can testify to the rigours of a few hours of that!
While Tom sleeps and Amie is out of camp Bill and I decide that this would be a good time for a quick wash and underwear change. The sight of two middle aged men dancing semi-naked barefoot in a snow-floored tent surrounded by a cloud of medicated powder is one we don’t want captured on camera!
The afternoon is surprisingly warm now that the front has passed. I spend it reconfiguring my computer and extracting the waypoints from Fugawi to paper so that I don’t lose them. I also build a chartlet for plotting the echo sounder readings, and reconfigure the search boxes for more efficiency (combining boxes C and D partially) since it looks like we will not have enough time to finish the original plan. Bill hoots at my “not to be used for navigation.” Bill goes for a walkabout around the island and unknowingly has an adventure as Charlie later infoms me that Simon thought he was an animal and almost took a bead on him! This breaks another of my rules about people going off alone, but I have been enough of a heavy and decide to let it slide.
Amie and Doug return about 1315 with 7 lines finished. Box A is done! It now seems that finally we are getting some good production out of the mag survey and our spirits rise. Saul is busy making caribou-skin cases for the magnetometer head and the wand electronics to replace my foamy monstrosity. These are works of art, but made with the uncured skins of recently-living animals they leave a little blood on the equipment – we’ll try to hide that in the pictures to Scintrex.
Everyone has cameras out this afternoon for pictures – do a few “product placement” shots. Bill is getting worried that we still haven’t got good ones for our sponsors but I promise that we will devote some time to it.
I have had an easy day so far so I decide to go out with Amie, Simon, and Charlie for some echo sounder runs. Since Amie and Tom are now dual tasked it is only fair that I take some time for this job as well. After a few holes where I get used to Amie’s record-keeping regime I take over Tom’s job of lead machine – finding the spot with GPS so that the sounder team can drive right up to me and dig the hole in the snow and then get the sounding. It is amazing that Amie can maintain her “whoohoo” enthusiasm over some holes in the snow! We only manage to get 7 soundings however before the printer freezes again and forces us back to camp. Dave seemingly can break anything.
Tom decides to go out for a mag run with Saul, they depart at 2100 and return just before midnight having completed another 7 lines and finished Box B. Now we are getting somewhere!
Sunday, May 13 – We all realize that we have missed supper again, so prepare a feast of Kraft Dinner, pilot biscuits, and pecan cookies at 0030. Mood is good – we talk about how many times I can sell the same soul to the devil for this continued good weather. He mustn’t be keeping track.
Still not sleepy and feeling that the weather HAS TO BREAK, I decide to try to cram another run in with the magnetometer. Charlie reluctantly offers to drive for me so we depart at 0100 and proceed out to the box, only to arrive at start of line 45 minutes later and find that the console will not accept data. After repeated runs through the checklist and resets I notice that the grey cable from the console to the wand has three broken wires. Arrive back in camp at 0330 – everyone asleep. I leave a note for Bill describing the problem then crawl into my sleeping bag. The black meanies have returned to my mood.
Up at 0900 – Bill has again worked soldering magic and has repaired the data cable. He tells me that only one wire was actually broken, the other two were not used in the first place. The console has been taking quite a beating bouncing around in the sled and it is no surprise that the connectors have suffered as well. Amie is busy getting ready for a mag run, but during the checklist and prep we still get a persistent comm. error so Bill again takes the console into his “workshop” (a corner of the tent).
While we wait we take advantage of another glorious clear day for photos (wx: clear blue sky, 3/8 cloud, winds SE @10, temp –10C). I have configured my insulated box for the console with a magnifying glass for a window. This has been left in the sled on a cushion, and inadvertently started a small fire by focussing the sun’s rays. Saul notices and puts out the fire (no damage) but now Doug picks it up and puts it to his face eliciting howls of glee from the other rangers as they see his magified googly eyes. Soon they are all taking turns playing with it laughing uproariously. When I show them how the fire started they get a small handful of caribou hair (lots of that everywhere) and purposefully set it alight. The practical possibilities of the magnifying glass are coming home to them, and Saul asks if I am taking it south. I can tell that they all want one now (note – buy three more and mail).
I seem to have the special knack of finding soft snow (with one leg anyway) and ending up doing rather embarrassing and painful “splits” all over the place. The resultant leg-sized holes are christened “woodman holes” by the others who think this is very funny. Although I am not a ballerina by any stretch I am not significantly heavier than either Tom or Bill (none of us would pose for a calendar) so I can’t fathom why only I manage to break through the snow crust. My luck I guess.
Bill has again fixed the console, so Amie and Simon depart at 1115. Our tent floor has now become slick and rather disgusting with repeated refreezing and spilled naptha, water, food etc. so we decide to renovate by cutting down another six inches and getting a new floor. Tom and Bill do most of the heavy lifting while I supervise. With a new floor and reorganization of our working spaces the result is amazingly comfortable and functional.
Bill and I discuss progress. I am getting more realistic (and surprisingly zen) about our chances of coaxing continued life out of the magnetometer and feel that there is no possiblility of our moving south to the second search area near O’Reilly Is. We will stay and hopefully finish this area, if we have time we will address any “holidays.”
Spend the afternoon doing chores. These typically include filling stoves with naptha, doing dishes, melting snow for water, adjusting and cleaning the solar panels, and transferring fuel. We now have 1 empty fuel drum and 1 full one here with 1/3 of a drum at Simon’s cabin and a full suite of full jerry cans. Quick calculations show we have enough fuel to complete our northern survey and get us home with a comfortable emergency factor. Naptha is another problem – we left Gjoa initially with 20 litres, Simon bought 15 more and we are already running short. This is largely because the rangers keep their stoves burning almost continually to heat their tents. It is amazing that we can go through so much, Tom and I used only 3 litres in 10 days in 1999!
Doug makes another batch of delicious bannock – he warns us that it won’t be as good as Saul’s earlier batch but it is still great. Tim Horton’s should sell bannock, but then I’d weigh 400 pounds.
Amie and Simon come back at 1500. Amie is very upset, which is rather shocking since she has been so upbeat normally. Apparently Simon got lost and took them on a long 35 km excursion well to the north before she could turn him around. All that they accomplished was the discovery of a beautiful “iceberg,” and Amie doesn’t want to let Simon do any more mag runs. I point out that he is the most senior ranger, and that I cannot make him lose face by changing the rotation, but that I will try to ensure that I go out with him, or that at least Amie gets Saul or Doug or another experienced driver from now on. I think she is more disappointed in “letting the team down” than mad at Simon and it is a little weird to see her in a bad mood – that’s my job! She bounces back in an hour though.
As an added bonus we note that my GPS power-data cable has also broken. Bill again does surgery and fixes it but we decide to use Tom’s and Bill’s GPSs in the field, even though Tom’s eats batteries since we need my data transfer cable.
Tom, Saul and Charlie depart at 17:11 to continue to run mag lines. Since the lines are now 18.3 km long, and with questionable ice conditions, the rangers feel that it is best to have a safety machine tag along behind the survey team. The weather seems to be deteriorating, heavy cloud coming in the afternoon with the wind beginning to pick up. It continues warm, which is nice for us but makes the snow sticky and snowmobiling slow.
Tom’s party returns at 21:45 having run 4 lines but the track plot shows that line 3 was a repeat of line 2 and must be redone. The mag seems to be running fine however, requiring only one quick reset.
We manage a quick turnaround and I depart with Doug and Simon to redo Tom’s line 3 and continue the survey. We are out at 23:30.
Monday, 14 May – Back in camp at 03:30 having finished Tom’s line and one other. The wind was directly from the east at 5 kts, as this was our survey speed on a westerly track Doug became ill (nausea and headache) from exhaust fumes and had to come back. Conditions have also deteriorated to a whiteout which doesn’t affect our electronic navigation but makes the rangers uneasy. A little disappointed at only doing two lines but it is another 36 km of running – the equivalent of 6 lines in the smaller boxes!
As usual the camp is asleep upon our return, but I find a mess in the tent when I go in for my night warm-up drink. There is no water available in kettle or pot, and no snow blocks cut to make some. Dirty dishes piled up in washbasin. Very irritated as I cut snow and boil water for myself.
As per his request I shake Bill at 03:45 so that he can download my data. This will speed up our turnaround in the morning. Bill and I agree that he and I will stay till the 20th and let Tom and Amie go back to Yellowknife on the 18th as planned with two rangers. Now convinced that this will probably happen. We also discuss the employment of the rangers for the extra two days and demobilization issues. In bed at 04:20.
I wake up to the sounds of impending departure at 09:00. The TG/AG task force has reformed and they are preparing to depart on a mag run with Tom on the safety machine and Saul driving Amie in the sled. I inform them of our navigational inaccuracies noted the night before – using the “highway” mode on an 18 km track does not allow enough precision, and we should use the cross-track error instead. This is more difficult on the sled puller and Tom decides to “break trail” ahead rather than lag behind. This works well.
I vent to Bill again about TG/AG reforming one enthusiastic but rather undisciplined team. Although we haven’t been able to run 24 hours as expected we are getting pretty good utilization of the mag running three shifts, now we are back to two. Bill says he is getting a little bored now that the technical problems have been largely settled and offers to take a shift himself.
I do dishes, make water, plan more waypoints, and read while Bill takes a nap in preparation for his shift. TG/AG return at 13:30 with 5 more lines complete and perfect. The rangers report larger cracks in the ice and water just under the snow. Although this is not dangerous it is a sign that the summer is fast approaching and they are glad that the survey lines are now getting closer to our camp.
Bill, Doug and Charlie depart at 15:30 for more lines. The morning whiteout has cleared to another beautiful clear afternoon and evening with only a moderate wind. We seem to be missing a 5 gallon jerry can of naptha – a search finds it beside our generator. We find that Amie inadvertently fueled the genny with naptha this morning (the can was not marked) and feels a little sheepish about it, but there seems to have been no ill effect.
Having spent a boring and lonely day in the tent I decide to accompany Tom, Amie, Simon and Saul on a search for “Amie’s iceberg” that she found when on her excursion with Simon. We know that it is far to the north so set off with the three of us crammed into the small 4-foot box (definitely “3 men in a tub”). The good weather, quickly-increasing data, and general high spirits of TG/AG are infectious and I finally have fun for the first time on the trip. Life is good. We don’t find the “iceberg” but Saul does lead us north and tries repeatedly for seals. His luck is not good although he wounds some before they slip back beneath the ice, much to the delight of animal-loving Amie who cannot restrain her face and offer the proper condolences to the unfortunate hunter. Saul is a little irritated but Amie relishes the “Seals 7, hunter 0” score.
We end up on the unnamed island directly W. of Grant Pt and see Bill and the survey team out on the ice. They look so small and insignificant. I point out that Tom and Amie are dressed in caribou and outlined to the hunters as they stand on the crest of the island – they think my blue parka will appear black to them and I am more visible.
We meet Bill and his party on the ice – he is not happy as his GPS is broken and the console is having problems. I “lay on hands” and bring the console back to life, but it later dies near the end of his line (the 4th). We head back to camp, Bill and survey party arrive shortly thereafter (20:00). Undaunted by their pancake fiasco Tom and Amie are ambitious cooks and we all have Tex-mex eggs for dinner (largely untouched). Convinced that the mag is now dead for good I announce to everyone that we will not work tonight.
Amie sits stroking the console on her lap and “mothers” it back to life. Bill, more scientifically, opens the case and tightens connections, somehow the thing revives again. Having just announced a night off I am reluctant to ask someone to drive for me, but eventually Tom steps up as a volunteer and we depart at 23:30.
Tuesday, 15 May – The mag barely survives to the start of the first line, and a nav error takes us 1/3 of the way along a line on a diagonal (heading for the wrong waypoint one to the north at east end). We retrace to start of line to try again when the console refuses to reset and we give up. Back in camp, again in a midnight whiteout, at 01:30 with only a few kilometers of data. Doug tells me that weather reports from communities to the west indicate that a blizzard is coming.
Up at 08:30, waking to strong winds from the south at 25-30 kts. This is the first significant weather we have had. Sky is still generally clear and the visibility is improved so I hope that we can still work. Charlie and I are the only ones moving at 09:30, everyone else still hunkered down in their tents. I make water and coffee, read more “Hannibal” and listen to my new “Gordian Knot” CD on the laptop while waiting for the team to emerge. This is Mother’s Day so I try to imagine what my mum and Franca are doing today. Bet they can’t guess what I’m doing.
As the morning progresses the weather deteriorates further, wind now 40 kts, temperature dropping and cloud cover coming in.
Thinking that the mag is now dead we revert to echo sounding work. I depart with Tom, Amie, and Saul at 11:30 and we return at 15:00 with another 14 soundings accomplished before the printer head freezes.
The wind has continued with a heavy overcast coming in and in our absence Simon and Charlie have been busy building a small iglu for Amie to sleep in. Meanwhile Doug has added more snowwalls around the entrance to our tent and totally surrounded Bill’s and my sleeping tents. The iglu is a work of art and Saul asks if I would like one too – soon a larger (8’) model is taking shape for me, and then a slightly larger second one for Amie. I offer to share mine with Bill and we move our gear from our tents. Doug tells me the rangers are starting to get bored and homesick and we discuss options for our return.
Bill has spent the afternoon poking around with the magnetometer console. He finds that two of the bolts from my improvised insulated box have dimpled the faceplate and at first suspects that the erratic behaviour is the result of a short caused by these. He also finds some connections and screws inside the box which have been shaken loose by the constant pounding that the console (and us!) takes in the sled. He tells me that we are now at the point where he doesn’t know if he can fix it, and that any attempt will undoubtedly wipe any data clear. He thinks there is only a 50/50 chance it will work again without major repair, so I decide to leave well enough alone and try to preserve the data still locked inside until it can be returned to Scintrex where hopefully they can extract it. This will mean keeping the battery powered and warm, but shouldn’t be too much of a problem. R.I.P.
With both machines broken or temporarily out of service there is not much to do and everyone disappears into tents and iglus. I stay alone in the main tent and wait for them to reappear for dinner but they never do. Visit with Saul who tells of being stranded in a blizzard while hunting polar bear with a broken snowmobile on the ice. He built an iglu garage, then fixed the cylinder head with a beaten-out teapot lid, and a hole in the piston which he repaired with two washers and a bolt. His only tools were a hammer and file. What a guy!
Wandering through camp at 2300 the only noise is from Doug and Charlie’s tent so I go visiting and eat some more caribou. Still thinking about making dinner so I stop by Amie’s iglu but she is already blocked in and tells me that she is settled for the night. Bill is snoring in ours, and there is no noise from Tom and Saul’s tent so I decide to call it a night too. Struggle with the snow block of the iglu – not easy to lift it in place while on your knees and bending through a 2’ hole!
Wednesday, 16 May – Wake up to sounds of Bill struggling and pounding away at something. A 6” hole over the entrance block (probably dislodged by me during my struggles with the door block last night) has let in a snowdrift overnight which now covers his feet and sleeping bag about 10” deep. Since I left my boots, overpants, mitts, and hat down there as well they are all covered too. Bill is very worried about getting wet and acting bitchy in general today.
The storm seems to have blown itself out over night, although we now face a few deep snowdrifts (our tents are almost buried) and the wind continues fairly brisk we have a bright clear day again. With the mag broken we only have echo sounder work, so I decide to take advantage of the fine morning and get the “publicity” pictures done. Multiple group shots, some specific shots for the sponsors, lots of laughter.
I tell Doug that we probably won’t have much work for the rangers today, so they could go hunting if they want. He tells me that they would rather hear that directly from “Atanook” so I go into their tents and officially tell them that they can go – many smiles and a rush of activity. Doug, who is not an avid hunter, agrees to stay back to accompany us on an echo sounder run in the afternoon.
Bill again fiddles with the mag console, and manages to get it running long enough to extract the data from the last lines. He seems to have it running again, but now it doesn’t even make it out of the main tent before it starts to act erratically.
At 10:45 Tom, Amie, Doug and I go out for an echo sounder run. Although all checks appear to be correct we can’t get the machine to actually transmit. Go through checklist again and then give up – it seems the electronics want us to have a day off. The day is too glorious to spend in camp so we decide, once again, to go searching for Amie’s iceberg. After a brief meeting with the hunting party (Saul, Charlie and Simon) at the nav mark on Kirkwall Is. we continue north, finally spotting a solitary mass of jumbled ice about 45 feet high far to the northwest (about 25 miles due east of Hat Is.). Photos and video. Tom takes pity on my aching back and lets me ride his snowmobile back to Kirkwall while he shares “the box” with Amie – whoopee!
Arrive back in camp in late afternoon. Feel a little sheepish about taking a holiday while Bill thought we were out running soundings but he emerges from the tent seemingly content with having a solitary quiet day in camp. He tells us that he thinks he has fixed the console again so Doug and I quickly prepare to continue the mag survey hoping to finish box C-D.
Have Stroganoff for dinner and take advantage of the beautiful weather (calm, clear and warm) to dig out and take down my tent (will sleep in the iglu tonight). With the equipment problems Bill and I have decided not to stay the extra two days, everyone will start back together tomorrow. To help with the loads we arranged this morning for two rangers to make an equipment run to Simon’s cabin tonight, and then return – this should allow everyone to travel together tomorrow.
Doug and I depart at 20:30 but Doug suffers from back problems after two lines (30 km) and decides he can’t continue. Leaving me out in the sled he goes back alone to fetch a new driver – I am not too surprised to see Tom a half hour later. Tom tells me that the hunters have not yet returned, and we decide to do two more lines and then head back. If they aren’t back by midnight we will go looking for them. The weather is changing again, light snow and the nightly whiteout envelops us at the end of the fourth line. Box C-D is done!
We arrive at camp at 23:50 to find everyone is back and gathered together in our communal tent having cookies and coffee. Since we are heading back tomorrow we are now officially at the end of the survey, and everyone seems to be happy to be going home. Lots of laughter and a good mood prevails.
The hunters are particularly happy, Saul having killed a large seal which is lashed to Charlie’s sled. With the deteriorating weather there will be no cargo run to Saul’s cabin tonight so we will see how it goes tomorrow. I discuss with Bill that we might have to duplicate the outbound routine – he and I might have to stay behind in the iglu with some of the gear until a second trip can be made. He doesn’t seem enthusiastic about that.
Bed at 01:30. I take the entrance tarp from the tent and drape it over the opening in our iglu to prevent the drift fiasco from last night.
Thursday, 17 May – First up at 07:10. Overcast in light wind, some new snow, about 1’ deep, -10C. Conditions aren’t ideal for travelling but should be ok.
Morning spent packing and organizing, rangers load their sleds. Amazingly they cram everything onto the four sleds, although Saul’s and Doug’s are pretty heavy. Amie and Tom will ride on Saul’s in the open, even though I offer they don’t want to ride in Simon’s box with Bill, which pleasure falls to me.
Depart Utjulik camp at 13:30 enroute for Simon’s cabin. It is still undecided whether two rangers (Simon and Charlie) will carry on directly for Gjoa upon arrival there and then return with empty sleds to reduce loads for tomorrow.
Windy but clear, soft snow slows us up but generally uneventful trip to Simon’s cabin (YMCA!). Discuss paperwork, bills, with Bill on trip. Arrive at the cabin at 17:00.
We all have tea and Mars bars (last ones) and discuss the options for getting everyone from here to Gjoa. The rangers want to keep moving (some of them) but also don’t want to separate into groups because of the difficulty of the soft snow they need the mutual support of four sleds. I point out that going in a day early costs us $1000 in hotel and food which we can’t afford. Somehow the decision is made to stay together overnight. We decide to start early tomorrow (get away at 7) so that we can make Gjoa a few hours ahead of the plane at 16:40.
Saul, Charlie and Simon set up a tent outside the cabin so that we all can have more room, Doug will sleep in the cabin with us. This was not our intent (to kick Simon out of his own cabin) but Doug assures us that they prefer it this way, and remembering my own cold time in this large plywood box I am not sure he isn’t right.
We talk about dinner but no-one has much enthusiasm so we just snack on trail mix and drinks. Within an hour everyone is in their sleeping bags reading or napping, this is the quietest this group has been in 12 days. I continue reading about my favourite cannibal.
About 22:00 I notice Amie get up and leave the cabin without her parka or boots. Assuming she is just making a call of nature I expect her back shortly, after 15 minutes I begin to worry (bathroom trips don’t take long up here) and promise myself that I will go check on her at 2230. The time comes and I get out of my sleeping bag and get dressed. Find her snug in the hunter’s tent having tea, they invite me in for a light snack and some more stories. No-one seems too upset about not getting home tonight.
Friday, 18 May- Doug, Bill and I have all set our watch alarms to go off at 6, and they all erupt in a chorus around me. Waking up to an alarm is a sure indication that we are halfway back to the civilized and real (?) world. Quick breakfast of oatmeal and raspberry tea then we pack up the sleds again.
The weather today is still warm, and there is a call for light rain. Snow is soft and heavy and the rangers are expecting some miserable travelling. On trail at 07:20.
Despite the agreement to stay together for support the sleds get strung out as everyone races for home. Charlie gets stuck and we help him out, we get stuck but extricate ourselves. Saul and Doug are way ahead somewhere.
We all reassemble near James Ross Pt. Tom is complaining about a sore foot (which he hurt a few days ago apparently – broken toe?) and a sore throat, Amie gives him Advil, I give him my Cepacol. Saul is soaked from the rain, and spirits are a little depressed – when I greet him with my traditional “are we having fun?” he surprises me by answering, for the first time, “not much fun – wet.” Nevertheless we set off for Gjoa with ranger flags flying (literally) and arrive by noon.
Soon find that there is no plane coming today – it has been cancelled due to bad weather at all of the surrounding airports (not too bad here). After some discussion (Bill tries to get rangers to put us up to save money, rest of us disagree) we get two hotel rooms (Tom and I share, Bill and Doug will share Doug’s room, Amie gets her own). SHOWER and clean clothes!
Take a trip to the Co-op to buy junk food and stock up on sandwiches, cookies, and fruit (meals at the hotel are $100 each per day so we will picnic in the room). Even in town I make a “Woodman hole”!
Spend the afternoon packing up the scientific gear for shipment. Co-op truck comes by to load it up and get it off the street. There are rumours of a flight tomorrow, even though there usually isn’t a Saturday flight they might want to make up for today. Guardedly optimistic but resigned to waiting till Sunday at great damage to our budget. Spend a quiet evening in the hotel room channel surfing. Amie, Tom, Bill and I play a four-handed card game (sets and runs) which Amie teaches us – it goes on forever but eventually, shortly after midnight, I win (being the only one not distracted by watching “Bird on a wire”).
Saturday, 19 May- Up at 7:15, nothing much to do today so Tom and I have a leisurely coffee in the dining room till 9:15. Saul visits us in the hotel, he is the only ranger we have seen (besides Doug who is staying with us). He sells Amie a caribou antler rack for her friend. Charlie has already left town for Spence to take part in a snowmobile derby, Simon has not reappeared after arriving home.
Amie wants to go to the Co-op to look at carvings and to mail some postcards so we troop off – the carvings are great but I have no money, do mail two postcards for the girls which will undoubtedly arrive after I do. While in the Co-op we learn that the flight, which we had been told had already taken off from Yellowknife, had to turn back with mechanical difficulties. Another day in Gjoa, so we buy more snackies.
After lunch, to kill time and avoid cabin-fever, Tom, Amie and I walk out to the town dump. Tom is looking for a replacement door for his truck. Although most of the dump is covered in deep snow Tom finds three trucks which seem to have appropriate doors – he’ll check them out further when he returns this summer. While waiting at the gate I see a sign and without thinking read it aloud, bringing Amie’s attention to the “Dead Animal Disposal Area” where two dead dogs are lying on the snow. Not what the animal-lover wanted to see – not all Woodman holes are physical I guess.
On the walk back I start in on a long lecture about Diamond’s theories from “Guns and Steel.” After ten minutes of only my own voice I realize that I “endeth the lesson” and eventually shut up. Before reaching the hotel we detour to visit the cairn in town erected on the spot of Amundsen’s observatory. Joke that we should not have done both the tourist attractions (dump and cairn) on the same day in case the flights are further delayed.
More TV and junk food, the movie this time is “Bodyguard” and we also watch a rather awful “Stargate” episode which is made interesting by Amie’s technical asides and personal comments (credits don’t stay on screen long enough to get to her though). Buick commercial “It’s all good.”
Slow day ends with music and Hannibal about 0100.
Sunday, 20 May – Hopeful that the plane will arrive today. The plan is to spend tonight with Tom in Yellowknife and then catch the morning flight to Hay River and recover the van. Despite missing two planes we are only 24 hours behind, and Amie is the only one who has a time commitment which we should still be able to meet.
Pass the morning with more TV (“Fatal Attraction”) and conversation. Belatedly realize that there are audio-video jacks on the TV and so we watch some of Amie’s film of our trip – excellent stuff, pretty funny.
The truck arrives at 1445 for the airport run. Arrange shipping for HSO gear and Scintrex mag. The plane arrives at 1538 and departs at 1610 – we are the only four passengers and we each take a separate aisle (it probably looks to the flight attendants like we can’t stand each other). More music and reading, some sleep, and then Yellowknife and real civilization.
Spend evening at Dominos Pizza with the gang (+Pam) and feast on pizza and beer. Later we catch the 9 oclock showing of “A Knight’s Tale” which is silly but passes the time. Watch some more of Amie’s video at Tom’s and then bed down on his floor shortly after midnight.
Monday, 21 May – Up at 0500 to pack for 0645 flight to Hay River. Extra baggage charge is down to $74 now. Say goodbye to Tom and Pam, arrive at Hay River airport at 0725. Quick change and into the van for the drive to Prince George. Amie and Bill are hoping for the 0845 bus to Vancouver tomorrow so we drive all day, finally stopping in Dawson Creek at 1800 – only 4 hours from Prince George. We have time to kill again so we go for a walk in the local park, and then go off to find the local theatre where we have been told “Jervin” is playing (we haven’t heard of it but what the hell). Find that the movie is actually “Drivin” with Sylvester Stallone – predictably awful. I have watched more movies on this trip than I usually do in a year, and none of them has been much good!
Tuesday, 22 May – Drive to within 50 km of Prince George then pull off at a rest stop about 0200 to sleep in the van. Up at 0500 and notice that I have managed to break Amie’s caribou antlers during the night – feel awful but she is more upset (she says) about dropping her coat in the mud. Offer to buy the antlers off her for replacement value but she declines.
Breakfast at Tim Horton’s in Prince George (2 seats away from where I did on the way north) and see Bill and Amie off at the bus station on time. Drive home, 2 hour sleep at rest stop, and arrive at 1815. Another arctic trip is done.
Off-site Support Team:
Andrew Leyzack – CHS Hydrographer
Brad Nelson – Magnetometer analysis
Jim Delgado – Archaeologist
George Hobson – Canadian Geographic Society
Dave Holland – Tech liaison and support
Brad Nelson – Magnetometer analysis
Ranger Saul Aksalook
Mcpl Simon Hiqiniq
Ranger Charlie Ikkutisluk
Cpl. Doug Stern