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Saturday, 30 April 2011 12:43

Will Steger - Sailing the Northwest Passage

Written by Will Steger
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Will StegerThe Northwest Passage always represented to me permanent ice clogged channels and sounds, and, for the most part, almost impossible ice to navigate thru by vessel. This image was shattered by global warming in the summer of 2001. I was invited to join an expedition led by Gary Comer, a good friend and founder of Lands End Clothing. Gary had been a sailor since a young child and his interest in sailing led him to form the now famous company. Gary's plan was to travel as far north up the west coast of Greenland and then make an attempt on the Passage if conditions were favorable. We traveled on his motor powered yacht Turmoil, which was about 209 feet (63m) long and was not ice reinforced.

In 2001, for the first time, there were live and detailed ice information available on the web, and for the first time, the web could be accessed in the high arctic. This proved to be a powerful tool, because we were able to observer ice conditions for the first time thousands of miles away, along with accurate weather data including wind direction and speed. We watched on the web as the ice east of Cambridge Bay started to break up. It was then that we decided to abandon our plan to go far north on the Greenland coast and to head immediately to Resolute and wait for an opening to make our east-west traverse of the Passage. The ice on the Northwest Passage is especially bad on the southwest side of William Island, just south of Resolute, where it is believed that Franklin's ships were crushed. This area is like a gigantic moving ice plug that blocks passage, but on the web we saw an area that was weakening and starting to open up. We made the decision to go for it and see if we could get thru. It was a dangerous crossing, but we managed to get thru and a half a day later the ice shut fast behind us, so there was no turning back and the only way home was forward and that was westward.

What we saw next astounded all of us. In all directions as far as the eye could see, it was completely open ocean, just water with no trace at all of any ice. So we sailed in the 24 hour light, day and night. The image that will always remain with me is basking in the 70°F (21°C) heat under clear skies drinking gin and tonics on the deck of Gary's boat in the Coronation Gulf. In the land where Franklin's men suffered and died, we laid on our easy chairs in Miami Beach weather. Something was dreadfully wrong with this picture, and it registered like no other event that I had experienced to that date of what global warming means to the Arctic. It affected Gary so profoundly that he dedicated the rest of his life to advancing our knowledge of the science of global warming and it solutions.

The expedition made its way in open water effortlessly all the way to Pt Barrow Alaska. It seemed to me a shallow victory in the face of the reality that climate change is quickly altering the Arctic that I once knew. And now, for the first time, the changing climate is starting to affect the rest of the world.

The Northwest Passage was just one of many first's and last's expeditions that I have been on. All the ice shelves that I have ever traveled on in both Antarctica and the Arctic are now gone. The North Pole is rapidly losing its summer sea ice and is no longer possible to reach by dog team. The land fast ice on Greenland is breaking up and soon will no longer exist. And now soon, the Northwest Passage will be wide open every summer and the ice will no longer threaten those that dare sail across its vast waters.

Will Steger

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 May 2011 12:48
Thursday, 28 April 2011 12:37

The finest Harbour

Written by Sarah McNair-Landry
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Gjoa HavenDistance traveled:
April 27th: 7 km
April 28th: 0 km

Position: Gjoa Haven

"The finest Harbour in the world", Roald Amundsen

The weather was overcast, and the hamlet of Gjoa Haven was concealed by the thick mist till we were only kilometers away. We skiied around the point of land, into the small harbour that the town is built around. We were in the true heart of the Northwest Passage.

Many years after Franklin and his men perished, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen set sail for the passage in 1903. He wintered his small boat, named the Gjoa, in a natural harbour, on the south end of King William Island. The ice locked his ship in for almost two years here. Over this time, the Inuit came to trade with Amundsen, and from them he learned the traditional ways to hunt and survive in the Arctic. He also spent time exploring Boothia Pennisula and studying the location and field strength of the Magnetic North Pole. Finally, the ice released his ship, and he continued towards Alaska, becoming the first to sail the Northwest Passage.

After Amunsden left, the Hudson Bay company set up a trading post in 1927, and, eventually, the settlement gained hamlet status in 1981. The surrounding landscape is flat and barren, the highest point on the entire Island being only 300 meters above sea level. The town name, Gjoa Haven, still remains, and the hamlet now boasts a population of 1000 people, not to mention a summer golf course.

Sarah

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 May 2011 12:48
Wednesday, 20 April 2011 08:33

How we protect against polar bears [Video]

Written by Sarah McNair-Landry
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This new video from the Pittarak team lets you in on how they make sure they don't end up a polar bear midnight snack...

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Friday, 29 April 2011 08:47
Wednesday, 27 April 2011 08:30

Why we carry different size kites [Video]

Written by Sarah McNair-Landry
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Take a peek at this new video by Pittarak, in which they tell all about sailing off into the distance... and reaching their destination.

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Friday, 29 April 2011 08:33
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 08:03

The fate of Franklin

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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rubbleiceApril 23rd: 111.8 km
April 24th: 77.3 km

Position: N68°36'49.4 W096°01'39.3

We are now in the heart of the the Northwest Passage, camped on King William Island just outside of the town of Gjoa Haven. This island is thought to be the final resting place of John Franklin and many of his crew.

Franklin left for his third and final expedition on May 19th, 1845 along with a crew of 129 men. His expedition was well equipped: two large ships endowed with the latest technological advancements, fine china, over a thousand books and three years of supplies. His objectives were straightforward: to sail through the Northwest Passage, and if possible map the remaining 300 miles of unexplored territory.

Franklin set sail for the north, never to return home; he was last seen on July 26th in Baffin Bay by a group of whalers. Franklin's disappearance set in motion a massive search that spanned ten years and involved over 30 expeditions. Of these, only four expeditions would find any useful information with regards to his fate; the other expeditions came back empty handed. However, by looking in all the wrong places, they charted vast sections of undiscovered land.

The first clue to the Franklin mystery came in 1850, when two expeditions found Franklin's winter camp, along with three dead bodies, on Beechey Island. Then four years later, Rae, a highly accomplished explorer working for the Hudson Bay Company, mounted an overland expedition; by talking to Inuit hunters in the region of King William Island, he was able to piece together the story of Franklin's fate, including troubling accounts of cannibalism amongst Franklin's men. Because of these reports, Rae's work was largely discredited at that time.

Finally, in 1959, Francis McClintock's expedition to King William Island found two short written records, several relics and human remains. This evidence confirmed what Rae had discovered; Franklin had wintered at Beechey Island and then turned south, nearly reaching King William Island before becoming beset in the pack ice. The written records state that Franklin died while on his ship in 1847, but no cause of death is given. The rest of his crew continued under the command of Francis Crozier and eventually abandoned their ships in 1848, when they made a desperate attempt to reach the main land. All starved or died of scurvy, and, as later studies show, some did resort to cannibalism.

Eric

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 May 2011 12:37
Sunday, 24 April 2011 07:59

Easter bear

Written by Sarah McNair-Landry
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leavingcambrigebayDay 37

Distance traveled:
April 23rd: 119.3 km
April 24th: 71.3 km

Position: N68°30'45.3 W100°39'11.9

Six kites sliced through the air as Cambridge Bay shrank in size behind us. The local kite crew joined us for the first couple km, then wished us good winds and waved goodbye.

Eric and I traveled East, toward our next destination, Gjoa Haven. As we headed away from Victoria Island, a labyrinth of rough ice slowed our progress, forcing us to zig-zag, hopping from one flat pan to another. We traveled past sunset and into the the darkness.

Civic holidays are unfortunately not taken on expedition; instead, we woke up to our alarm, clipped on our skis and launched our kites for another day of navigating the maze of rough ice. We did however celebrate Easter by gnawing on a frozen chocolate bunny as we took a break in the -30C temperatures.

It was around then that I looked up from my snack and noticed a polar bear approaching fast from down wind. We quickly grabbed the essentials: gun, bears flares and cameras. It was a small bear, and we quickly realized that it was just curious, especially of our kites. We snapped a couple pictures as it approached, till it pawed then bit my kite. A little too close; Eric yelled to scare him off and he slowly wandered 50 meters from us, sat down, rolled on his back, then curled up for a nap. We enjoyed his company for a while, wished him safe travels and better luck finding food elsewhere, then both continued on our separate paths.

Happy Easter!

Sarah

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Friday, 29 April 2011 08:08
Friday, 22 April 2011 07:54

Staying another day

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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otherfamilyDistance traveled:
April 21st: 0 km
April 22nd: to the store and back

Position: Cambridge Bay

Alas, we succumbed, and spent yet another night in the grasp of civilization. It was well justified: Brent Bode, a friend, arrived back in town from a two week kite skiing journey, and we were able to cast our vote for the upcoming federal elections. It was an odd felling coming out of the wilderness to find the rest of the country preoccupied with politics.

Life in Cambridge has been great: we've had a chance to meet and fly with the kiting gang here, and Attima and Elizabeth have welcomed us into their home; in many ways it feels like we have been adopted into a new family.

Eric

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Friday, 29 April 2011 08:25
Wednesday, 20 April 2011 07:48

Arrived in Cambridge Bay

Written by Sarah McNair-Landry
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cambrigebayDay 33

Distance traveled:
April 19th: 60 km
April: 20th: 0 km

Position: Cambridge Bay - 69.1155N,105.0585W

Less than 100 km out of our next community, our route veered due north. With only a subtle breeze outside and having predominant winds against our direction of travel, we were gearing up for three days of skiing. But after only 2 hours, the wind changed direction by 180 degrees, and increased. We quickly rigged the appropriate kites and cruised across an overland section, leaving the mainland of North America to head for Victoria Island. With 1500km behind us, 7 damaged sleds, and tired muscles, our half way point, Cambridge Bay, emerged through the stormy weather.

Brent Bode, a friend, adventurer and Cambridge Bay resident, has been bragging about the kite skiing terrain here. And so, when the winds picked up today and other local kite skiers ripped back and forth in front of town, Eric and I quickly left packing for later and headed out for a quick spin.

Sarah

kitinginspringHere is what Brent Bode has to say about Cambridge Bay:

Cambridge Bay is a community of approximately 1500 people located right in the middle of the NorthWest Passage, on the southeast coast of Victoria Island. The community is known for its great wildlife, fauna, history, culture, landmarks and friendly people. It functions as the business and government center for the Kitikmeot Region.

Cambridge Bay was originally called Ikaluktutiak, which means good fishing place, and there is evidence in the area of occupation going as far back as the Pre Dorset Era. The Hudson Bay Trading Post and RCMP Detachment were established in the 1920s, and a stone Roman Catholic Church was built in 1954. Major infrastructure was developed in the mid 1950's, when the Dewline Distant Early Warning system used Cambridge Bay as a staging center (Cam Bay Main) during the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Cambridge Bay is now a major stopping point for vessels traveling through the NorthWest Passage and, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of yachts and pleasure vessels, due to the reduction of sea ice in the Passage. Kiteskiing has become popular and, fortunately, the community still has a cold enough climate that allows for a long kiteskiing season which usually lasts from October until the end of June. With very small tides and rolling tundra, the area has become a “yet to be discovered” world class spot for Kiteskiing and Kiteboarding.

Brent Bode

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Friday, 29 April 2011 08:08
Monday, 18 April 2011 07:43

Looking for Brent

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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lookingforbrentDay 31

Distance traveled:
April 17th: 60.7 km
April 18th: 50.1 km

Location:
N 68°37'35.9 W 105°41'36.3

The hills were enveloped in a shroud of fine blowing snow, nothing to hamper our ability to navigate, but enough to make finding two other kiters in a large bay rather difficult. Friend, adventurer and Cambridge Bay resident Brent Bode, along with a teammate and his house dog, was headed in the opposite direction of us, making the treck from Cambridge Bay to Bathurst Inlet by kite. Judging by Brent's nightly position updates, we anticipated running into him in the vicinity of Elu inlet, a large body of water peppered with islands, not an ideal place to search for two kite skiers.

As I scanned the horizon, I gained an appreciation for the scale of the North; the bays seem endlessly deep, the peninsula is painfully long, creating a million good places to hide.

At one point, I spotted a red object nestled in the end of a bay; it was worth investigating. Sarah and I un-clipped from our pulks and ripped downwind. After ten minutes the object appeared only marginally larger, while our pulks had disappeared from sight. Ten more minutes confirmed that the object was a massive ship, as Sarah had predicted: a red hull with a multi-story white tower. What a large and expensive ship is doing frozen in the ice is anyone's guess. It would have been worth looking into, had our pulks not been so distant with the weather closing in.

We pitched camp in the center of the only narrow channel that lead to Elu inlet, hoping that Brent would have no choice but to pass through this direction. The next morning, we checked Brent's position, only to realize that he was 14km past us. He had probably passed overland instead of through the narrow strait. We thought of giving him chase, but the winds were not favorable for that, and he had probably already broken camp. Disappointed, we headed for Cambridge Bay, only 100km away.

Eric

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Friday, 29 April 2011 08:08
Tuesday, 19 April 2011 10:08

Charging Electronics [Video]

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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Last modified on Tuesday, 19 April 2011 10:10
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