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Tuesday, 17 May 2011 08:59

Of plans and routes

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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mapsandrouteDistance traveled:
May 16th: 48.1 km
May 17th: 25.2 km

Position: N67°03'20.6 W086°59'09.3

Yesterday, the rough ice in Committee Bay kept us land bound, so we kite-skied south, following the trail toward the town of Repulse Bay. There was alarmingly little snow covering the sandy and rocky coastline; the snow had often melted on either side of the trail. Spring melt is definitely on its way.

This morning, we huddled over the maps with our GPS in hand, reviewing the available information. We had two options ahead: we could continue to detour south-east overland pushing inland towards flat kiteable terrain, or we could attempt to ski the next few days through the rough ice of Committee Bay.

Although the Committee Bay route was much shorter, heading inland, provided the winds were good, would allow us to travel bigger distances with our kites.

We had recently received a weather update calling for north-west winds tomorrow, and clear windless weather for today.

And so we decided that sometimes, you have to head south to go north, so we packed our kiting gear away, got out our shorts and ipods out and hauled through the day and into the night. With any luck, there will be winds tomorrow and we can kite overland.

Eric

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Sunday, 15 May 2011 07:20

A pristine North?

Written by Sarah McNair-Landry
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DumpsiteDistance traveled:
May 14th: To the airport and back
May 15th: 132.5 km

Position: N67°35'31.2 W087°52'25.5

We walked down the main street of town, past the hotel, then the church; were given some more route advice by a couple friendly guys hanging out in front of the local co-op store; then continued on towards the airport to check if our resupply of food, and most importantly our maps, had arrived. Still no luck. Hopefully they'll arrive on the next flight.

As we walked back, I admired the location of the town, perched on the ocean by the mouth of a river, with a beautiful backdrop of rocky hills. Surprisingly, we have yet to see the town dump, which was probably hidden behind a hill, during our walks.

Many think of the North as pristine and clean; however, the dump sites in most communities in Nunavut stick up like a sore thumb. As we skied into Taloyoak a couple weeks ago, the first sign of town was a cloud of ravens circling their landfill. Back in Cambridge Bay, while a friend was giving us a tour of town (which, of course, included the dump), we watched two men throw out bags of good quality winter jackets and snow pants. We stopped and picked up the clothing, filling the back of our friend's pick up truck - it wouldn't be hard to find people who would need winter jackets. This kind of wasteful behaviour happens regularly in all the communities, earning the dumps in the North the nickname "Canadian Tire", after the chain of hardware stores.

And what happens to the trash? Most communities pile it up and light it on fire, burning plastics outside at low temperatures just beside the town.

But how can we blame the small towns, when Iqaluit, both the capital of Nunavut and my home town, sets no better example. Although we have now stopped burning our garbage, we pile it up into a mountain of trash that is now several times higher than the fences that surround the dump. Located on an island with high cost of shipping, most supplies arrive in town by boat or plane, and never leave, adding to our landfill site.

The problem first came to my attention a couple of years back when my brother, some friends and myself started to build a cabin; the goal was to use only recycled materials, most of which found at the dump. As you can imagine, we got to know that dump site pretty well, and I started to wonder, is there no better option? Was recycling or compost a feasible option for the city? Thanks to ONF (the french division of National Film Board of Canada), I launched myself into a two year project researching, writing and directing a film on the topic, featuring both the construction of our cabin, and one man's struggle to run a compost project in town.

See it for your self: www.nfb.ca/film/

Sarah

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Friday, 13 May 2011 07:16

Arrived in Kugaaruk

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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headingoutcampingDistance traveled:
May 12th: 88.9 km
May 13th: 30.2 km

Position: N68°31'34.9 W089°50'09.3

We kite-skied into Kugaaruk, once known as Pelly Bay. As we packed our kites away, we were welcomed by several hunters on snowmachines who had come to see who was traveling through their bay. We arrived on Friday, and as we walked into town, we saw many people busy packing their sleds with skins and other camping equipment, getting ready to head out on the land for a hunting or camping excursion. The word was out that we had arrived in town, and people on the streets offered us advice on the route ahead.

The winter weather is breaking and the spring is coming, along with long daylight hours. Soon the annual caribou migration will happen, bringing the herds up from mainland North America through the Boothia Peninsula. Besides caribou, the people here hunt seals, muskox, and polar bear, all important staples in their diet.

We are also anxious to get back to the land; while the warmer weather makes traveling more pleasurable, the onset of spring determines the end date of our expedition. We can't kite without snow. However, for the time being, we are delayed, waiting for a resupply of food to arrive by air. We have been keeping busy asking the locals for advice on the route ahead, what the ice conditions are like in Committee Bay and what overland options we can use to travel to our next stop, the community of Igloolik.

Eric

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 May 2011 07:19
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 10:03

Navigating [Video]

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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This new Team Pittarak video will show you how the we know which way to go (except when running away from all those polar bears, that is...).

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 10:01

Crossing Open Water [Video]

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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Take a look at this new video by Team Pittarak, which explains how they plan to cross some of the water that lies ahead of them.

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Thursday, 12 May 2011 10:05
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 09:51

The many routes of the Northwest Passage

Written by Sarah McNair-Landry
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Distance traveled:
May 10th: 34.8 km
May 11th: 16.5 km

 

Position: N69°23'58.4 W091°30'30.7

The winds and terrain have been unfavorable to kiting the last couple days, so we ski south into head winds towards the small hamlet of Kugaaruk.

Although we have deviated from our original route, forced south because of bad ice and open water, we are still following one of the many Northwest Passage routes.

Though it is usually referred to as "The" Northwest Passage, there are several navigable routes that connect the Arctic Ocean to the Beaufort Sea. A century ago, the ice forced Amundsen south of Victoria Island, a route which took him three years to complete. But now, through a combination of climate change, melting the multi-year ice that used to block the passages even in the summer, and better ice breaker ships, more routes have become navigable. The widest and deepest heads north of Victoria Island. We are now following the most southerly route that passes south of Baffin Island through the Fury and Hecla strait, which lies by the community of Igloolik.

The various routes can be seen on the following map, along with some interesting information on the ice.

Sarah

As a side note, Trude Wohlleben, a friend and advisor of Pittarak who works with the Canadian Ice Service, had this to say about the choices Team Pittarak were facing:

"There are some pretty significant leads that opened up between the coast and the pack ice where Sarah and Eric are, as a result of those north-northwesterly winds last week. The main advice I can offer is to look for a section of coast that runs parallel to the prevailing wind directions (which gets funnelled up/down the Gulf of Boothia, so it tends to come from the north-northwest or south-southeast). Sections of the coast that are parallel to the winds will have shear zones but smaller shore leads. Sections of the coast that are perpendicular to the wind, on the other hand, will tend to have larger shore leads when offshore winds occur. Where they are now, it looks like the coast is facing kind of southeastwards, perpendicular to the wind direction of that big storm last week, so as a result there is a pretty wide lead.

Also, while the pack ice itself looks similar to what Sarah crossed last year on the way to the North Pole, the ice floes in the Gulf of Boothia will be smaller than those in the Arctic Ocean, and not as thick. The leads and fractures in between will also be slower to freeze. Once they are on the pack, they should just push hard and get to the other side as quickly as possible. Again, aim for a section of coast that appears to run parallel to the main wind directions, so they don't risk running into another wide lead on the other side.

****And finally ... if the ice in the Gulf of Boothia looks too dangerous, Sarah and Eric should recall that Fury and Hecla Strait is an alternate route of the Northwest Passage. So if they went south along the coastal fast ice to Pelly Bay (Kugaruk) and then rounded Committee Bay over to Igloolik and Hall Beach (instead of heading northeast to Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet) they would STILL be doing one of the recognised routes of the Northwest Passage. Overall, that may be the safer option.****"

Image reference: NASA
Statistics reference: Canadian Ice Service 1968-2010 Ice Chart Data

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Thursday, 12 May 2011 10:00
Monday, 09 May 2011 09:47

Headed South

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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happybirthdaysarahDistance traveled:
May 8th: 30.4 km
May 9th: 25.6 km

Position: N69°47'41.0 W092°05'55.4

"Regret to inform you, headed south" were the words Amundsen telegraphed when he changed plans and abandoned his dream of becoming the first to the North Pole, racing Scott to the South Pole instead. Our plans have also changed, sending us on a more southern path.

After spending a night on the edge of the Gulf of Boothia watching the ice drift by and being rudely awoken by a polar bear we decided that our original route was no longer our best option. Sarah, who has been to the North Pole twice, thought that the ice and open water ahead of us would be difficult, maybe impossible with the equipment we had; namely sleds that did not float and extra weight in the form of kiting gear. We had with us an inflatable kayak, but a lead of open water that was kilometers wide like the one we saw to the south, would halt us, and possibly prevent us from being able to make it back to shore. And obviously kiting wouldn't be an option as the ice in Boothia is rough, which means slow progress.

Another option was available to us, head south to Igloolik and cross to Baffin Island at Furry and Hecla Strait. This Route adds roughly 400 extra kilometers to our route, but hopefully we should be able to kite sections of it.

After making a final decision we retraced our steps and skied back through the ruble ice, seeing no less than five more polar bear on our way. Once we were back on flat ground we were able to kite for a short distance where we stopped and stayed the night in a cabin. After seeing so many bears it was a relief to have sturdy walls and a roof over our heads. Today was windless and rather uneventful after yesterday, and it was a relief not to see any more bears. Hopefully this is what Sarah wished for on her 25th birthday.

Happy birthday Sarah!

Eric

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Saturday, 07 May 2011 09:44

Halted by open water

Written by Sarah McNair-Landry
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deislandDistance traveled:
May 6th: 24.7 km
May 7th: 6.3 km

Position: N70°14'18.3 W091°28'12.0

We left the mainland and skied down onto the Arctic Ocean. A wolverine scurried away from us and hid in the rocky hills. Polar bear tracks crisscrossed the area, but we surprisingly have not seen any recently.

In the bay and among the islands, the ice was solid. But today we headed out into the open Gulf of Boothia. Our first obstacle was a field of rubble ice, over which we double hauled - first pulling one sled, then backtracking and hauling our second sled. After more than two hours of hard work, we climbed up on an ice chunk to scout. The entire ice pack in front of us was moving and shifting. To the South, clouds of black mist signaled open water. We decided to head back to a small unnamed island, which we have been calling Decision Island. We frequent the crest of this rocky island to get a better view on the ice conditions, and to gaze at the ever expanding lead of open water blocking our route.

It's decision time; and as no good decisions can be made without a good bowl of soup in hand, we set up our tent and made some calls asking for advice. We have two options, both presenting challenges: the first is to stick with our original plan, hope to find a way around the open water and attempt to cross Boothia. Our second option is to head South, detouring around the strait, adding but a mere 600 km to our route. Personally, we have no time limit and extending the trip would be fun; however, as the weather warms, it'll soon be a race against spring melt.

What route will we choose? You'll have to wait till our next update to find out.

Sarah

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Thursday, 05 May 2011 09:41

We are our own Explorers

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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BoothiaFelixDistance traveled:
May 4th: 37.16 km
May 5th: 21.71 km

Position: N70°06'37 W092°07'03

We are but a day away from starting our crossing of Boothia Strait, which, despite being named after a brand of gin, is possibly the most difficult section of the expedition. A mixture of open leads and rubble ice will make kiting impossible for the next week or so. Yesterday we managed a bit of kiting in intermittent winds, but today we skied in shorts, through a beautiful but windless day.

Explorer John Ross named this area after one of his major sponsors, Felix Booth, a gin producer from London. His expedition was ill-fated: Boothia strait refused to thaw in the summers, and after three years entrapped, he finally abandoned his vessel and headed North; he was rescued a year later by a whaling fleet. Over the years, Ross' ship surrendered to the elements; however, some of its valuable wood and copper platings were scavenged by Inuit living nearby.

We cross our fingers, hoping we will have better luck than Ross. Ice conditions and open leads is not something that can be plotted on a map, as every year the ice in Boothia is different. We will have to explore it for ourselves.

Eric

We are for ever exploring, as Maren Nilsen, ambassador for Outdoor Nations, explains:

From apartments to tents, cities to fields there is always something to be discovered. Just as Lewis and Clarke, we are our own explorers mapping individual routes.

There are lessons given by the Earth that can richly enhance life when the time to go out and find is given. It is imagination that will carry us to where and who we want to be. As children, backyard bugs and rock collections might have ruled our adventures and creativity. Yet as adults, the same persistence and curiosity grown from those bug boxes and miles of hikes around the neighborhood will never be lost.

Each bug name may be forgotten but the feeling of finding or accomplishing something special will never be forgotten. Keep making discoveries for in exploring nature we discover ourselves. You never know when that hidden piece of heaven is just around the corner.

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 09:37

Ground storms

Written by Eric McNair-Landry
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ericeatingsoupDistance traveled:
May 2nd: 21.86 km
May 3rd: 4.67 km

Position: N69°43'11 W093°07'25

Camped outside of the small community of Taloyoak, we were delayed a day waiting for new sleds to arrive. The rough ice and rocks have caused the bottoms of our sleds to rip apart, and so we had 4 new sleds shipped, which we picked up at Canadian North cargo.

Loaded with more than 20 days of food and supplies, we headed off; ahead of us lay our longest and hardest section. First we have to navigate across the Boothia Peninsula, skiing through the rocky hills and only kite skiing when the terrain allows us, generally on the larger lakes. Soon we will be faced with our biggest challenge: crossing a 100 kilometer stretch of Boothia Strait to get to Baffin Island.

We have always known that crossing this strait would be difficult, but the locals have declared such a route impossible. The ice there freezes in large, mobile pans, which shift and crash into one another, creating mounds of rubble ice and leads of open water. With us, however, we have a secret weapon: an inflatable kayak, which will hopefully allow us to paddle across the smaller leads of open water.

But first, we must concentrate on crossing the peninsula. This morning we woke up to strong winds beating the walls of our tent, whipping up a storm outside. We broke camp, but skied for only 3 hours, till the winds increased so much it was hard to stand and impossible to ski. We took shelter from the storm inside our Hilleberg tent, sipping on a hot chocolate with a bowl of soup in hand. Fingers crossed the strong winds won't break apart the ice in the Boothia strait.

Sarah

[Via Pittarak: Northwest Passage Expedition]

Last modified on Thursday, 12 May 2011 09:41
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