A few pictures between Resolute and Baker Lake

Dave, Jim 1 Comment

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Dave working on the pan / tilt camera mount

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Jim with a narwahl tusk

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Winging along in the sun, a rare event

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Ice flows in McClintock Channel

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Mark is a happy pilot in the sun (and all the other times as well)

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No, this isn’t the Caribbean, but this stretch of beach sure looked like it

Episode 18: A Cold Country with Warm People

Jim 4 Comments

After breakfast this morning in Cambridge Bay, Eric and Jim visited an archaeological dig with Brendan Griebel. Brendan is a warm and energetic student at the University of Toronto, working on a graduate degree in archeology. The Thule Inuit campsite dates back to the 14Th Century and has spurred debate about the reasons for an eastern migration of Thule Inuit across the Arctic. Some of Brendan’s colleagues speculate that the search for precious metals such as copper and gold, which were valued as currency during that period, sent these hearty people on their journey. Thank you Brendan, for your time and for sharing your passion with us. Good luck with your thesis.

Meanwhile Doug was busy with multiple expedition related chores including more needed repairs to that darn camera equipment. He twice again proved his indispensability to the team with a quick troubleshoot and repair of a binding elevator on 67DN and a masterful field soldering job on a camera connector with a nice assist from Jim.

Mark slept in 2SF again for security reasons. Not to be out-gunned, this time he enlisted the help of one of Canada’s finest, RCMP Con. Greg Deagle. Con. Deagle came down to survey the scene at the seaplane base and graciously promised to patrol regularly, which allowed Mark to get some sleep. Con. Deagle has only been in the North a few weeks, having transferred from Merritt, BC. He is adapting well however, and looks forward to reuniting with his wife and three kids soon, as they start their new life in Cambridge Bay. We are impressed with the commitment to duty of these fine officers of the RCMP. Especially the friendly and professional way in which they connect with the residents and visitors in the communities they serve. They provide a safe presence all across Canada. Thanks again to Greg and Sgt. Louie Jenvenne, the station commander, for all their help.

Mark spent the morning tending to airplanes beached at the mouth of the river which had to be moved every few minutes because of the full moon flood tide (app. 6 feet), while catching up on paperwork and checking the weather in Resolute.

It was mixed news. While the ceilings were the best we had seen in the last four days, the occasional low ceilings and visibilities in mist and snow could make for some troublesome VFR (visual flight rules) flying. Winter is arriving in the Arctic. After some well thought-out risk analysis with spirited and honest debate, the decision was made to press on for Resolute.

These are not easy decisions. Wait or go? Wait for how long? Hours? Days? Do we really expect it to get better? When? If we go, go for how long? And into what kind of conditions? Will there be unfrozen lakes in which to land in the event we run into un-flyable weather? The only two reporting stations for nearly 400 nautical miles are Cambridge Bay, our departure point, and Resolute. We knew little of the conditions between the stations. What we did know is that this leg would be our longest to date, would include three pack ice choked open water crossings of between 20 and 45 miles, would be flown into a sub-freezing northerly head wind, stretch the fuel limits of our machines as well as the physical limits of our team, over some of the harshest land we will encounter. And so our five hour odyssey began.

Donning dry suits and life vests, with the survival raft within easy reach (in the unlikely event of an uncontrolled ditching), we broke water just before 3:00 local. Dipping the wings one last time to our good friends at High Arctic Lodge, John, Fred and Bill, we headed NE across the char invested lakes region of the south end of Victoria Island.

We had planned our route of flight not in a direct line, but in a line that would minimize the time over open water. At Pelly Point (70d.35m.N, 100d.30m.W) we started our first crossing to the SW corner of Prince of Wales Island, via Gateshead Island at 4500 feet. McClintock Channel was a spectacular patchwork of floating pack ice. While it was beautiful and at the same time a bit ominous, the ice actually interrupted the channel’s fetch, making most of the open water quite land-able for the mighty Beaver. We could take some comfort.

Prince of Wales Island was long and flat, with the odd musk ox and snow flurry. Low ceilings required some tundra running at 1000 feet. The highlands of Young Bay and Pandora Island (there must be quite a story behind that name!) were amazing, and warrant a visit on another trip.

The 20 mile crossing of Peel Sound from Pandora Island (72d.55m.N, 96d.40m.W) to Somerset Island was the wild one, flown at 1200 feet. The ice was cleared out and the great Northerly combined with a 60 mile fetch down a 20-30 mile wide slot made for some great Straits of Juan de Fuca-like rollers. Eric and I diverted our attention by discussing whether or not his odd behavior could be explained by a bad case of hypoxia brought on by the tight fitting neck line of his dry suit. We both agreed that at whatever the cost, it was quite a fashion statement and would be a hit on the Santa Cruz waterfront.

Somerset Island was another outer-worldly place that made our jaws drop. As the pesky snow flurries pounded the landscape and the airframe, high rocky cliffs, deep cut lakes and two large pods (50 to 100 whales each including several small calves) of belugas, feeding feverishly in shallow water off the rocks, slid by underneath the EDO’s. (EDO is the brand of floats that we use on our Beavers.)

At the north end of Somerset Island, 48 miles out, we made contact with Resolute Airport Radio. They were expecting us. The final crossing of Barrow Strait was back to a patchwork pack ice, intermixed with small bergs and our nemesis, snow flurries. We sighed with relief as we rounded snow-capped Griffith Island and spotted the village of Resolute.

While Mark and Doug always keep in close communication while flying, this leg had an unusually large amount of quiet time over the radio. Perhaps keeping track of each other is becoming second nature. Or perhaps our close-knit team of four was taking time out to individually contemplate our reasons for this undertaking, at this special place and time. The combination of the reliable drone of the Pratt, the new (to us at least) natural wonders, the ominous weather with harsh landscapes, and maybe even a little bit of fear, set our minds at work in introspective, perhaps healthy ways. Did we all take a step forward today?

It was at this point, rounding Griffith Island, with our objective securely in sight, that our plane to plane chatter increased. The excitement of arriving at this remote place and the realization of what we had just witnessed interrupted our quiet musings. We were happy.

We were pleasantly surprised to find Resolute Lake deep and sheltered, the perfect place to park the Beavers. We touched down gently, closed our flight-of-two flight plan and taxied back to a grand welcoming committee of Ozzie, Aleeasuk, Tony, Tagga and Ludy waiting to help on the beach. (More on our Resolute friends later as it is now 1:30 AM.) Smiles were exchanged, hugs and handshakes all around. Weary and hungry, Ozzie and Aleeasuk arranged for a late night meal and some warm beds. Thus ends another astounding day on the GAAA trail.

Episode 17: Retreat to Cambridge Bay

Jim 3 Comments

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As we reluctantly unzipped our less-then-toasty sleeping bags and poked our heads out into the vast arctic we were dismayed to find our carefully engineered shelter blown down and scattered over the tundra. Seems the shelter was built to survive winds from the east, but when the wind changed to the west it fell like the tower of Babel. Another lesson we’ve learned in the arctic: the winds change both frequently and unpredictably.

Unfortunately, the weather to Resolute continued to be hostile, so we stood around and exchanged ideas on how to keep warm as we considered our options. In addition to the normal VFR flight planning process, we consider other factors including:

- Since there are no intermediate fueling locations, if the wind changes to the worst case condition can we still make the destination with adequate reserves? In many cases this requires us to take extra fuel in Jerry cans that we can use to refuel. (Requires setting down on a lake)
- For ocean crossings, what is the water condition in case of a forced landing? If the seas are too large for landing, what is the ceiling and how high can we fly to minimize the exposure?
- If we are crossing the open water for any distance, all crew members must have their dry suits on, and the life rafts must be readily accessible.
- For ocean landings such as those at Resolute and Cambridge Bay, what is the tide condition, and how does it affect the landing zone?
- We are finding that the arctic lakes, though numerous are very shallow, so surveying the lake closely before landing is a must.

So today, after evaluating all of these factors, we decided to follow the lead of all brave men and retreat to Cambridge Bay to fly another day. Sadly, we said good bye to Vince, who returned to the lower forty eight today. Vince was a tremendous contributor to the flights, a great chef, and kept us thoroughly entertained with his humorous comments. Vince, we will miss you!

In a strange development, Mark’s hair dryer has become one of the most popular items on the trip. Given Mark’s buzz cut, we are not quite sure why he has chosen to bring this styling appliance, but it has been very useful as a heater to dry one’s boots, clothes, and body while in the cabin of our beached seaplanes. (We have a portable generator for a power source.)

As we packed up to leave, a flock of hearty Glaucous Gulls skulked about in hopes that our vacated campsite may render some meager scraps of food for their consumption. Speaking of birds here is our list of sightings so far: (This is for you, Allison Schoening)

Tundra Swan
Canada Goose (No, the Canadians have not exported all of them to the states)
Brant Goose
Bald Eagle
Red Tailed Hawk
Sanderling
Snowy (?) Owl
Peregrine Falcon
Cormorant
Glaucous Gull

Our shout out tonight is to Dave Good, webmaster, engineer, planner, and general renaissance man who has done a fantastic job of keeping the technology end of the undertaking ticking. As I say this, Dave is frantically trying to find a replacement for our blogging laptop which got dunked (complete with Sat phone modem) In the meantime, our blogs may be less frequent, giving you all a chance to do something useful with your time.

Signing off from Cambridge Bay,

Jim