Week 13 Pushing On

Date Posted: 5.25.2009
Location: 69º24'N 67º35'W
Isabella Bay, Nunavut, Canada
Weather Conditions: Foggy, 32°F (0°C)
We are on our way pushing to Clyde River. Allan Pallousie, a local Elder from Qikiqtarjuaq, traveled for two days to reach us in Home Bay along the shores of Baffin Island on the Arctic Ocean. When his snowmobile pulled up at 4 in the morning it was a clear day out. With all of us huddling around the map in the tent, Allan showed us areas where leads traditionally open first in the Spring and the route he planned to travel. Allan said he would travel ahead carefully looking for signs of
leads that were already opening wider than what we would be able to
pass with the dogsled. A quick cup of tea later, he took off for Henry
Kater Peninsula about half our way to Clyde River. Less than a few
hours later, we set out to follow with the dogsleds. It was not long
before we reached the cabin with our dog food supplies. We quickly
loaded the sleds up and continued the chase. However, what seemed
like just minutes, the wind picked up and fog rolled in leaving only the
faintest signs of Allan’s snowmobile trail to follow.


      
 
Yes, there is so much snow, but the tundra is also showing as the hot sun melts away large patches of snow  




 
 
With the dogs and heavy sleds trudging through deep, heavy snow, Mille skied out in front of the teams to read the snow as carefully as possible for us to stay on Allan’s path. It was a matter of our continued safety to meet him on his return and receive his report on the ice conditions ahead. It had started snowing by the time we saw Allan’s headlights approaching.  He reported of some opening leads, but said that if we move ahead at a brisk pace we should have no issues. It had taking him considerably longer to drive the distance than planned because of the deep snow, the fog and the flat light making it so difficult to see anything. We had Allan’s fresh trail for less than 30 minutes before the trail was gone! Thick fog enveloped us putting Mille at full ‘polar-bear-alert’ skiing in front when the dogs perked their ears starring into the white as we were going through pack ice. Snowflakes grew bigger and before long it was a full-fledged snow storm. We made camp listening to the heavy snow falling all night on the fly of the tent. We had more than 12 inches (~ 20 – 25 cm) of wet snow overnight. That is a lot here in the Arctic polar dessert! A breeze from the southeast continued to push in the fog created from the open water by the floe edge (where open water meets the edge of the ice). Sky, ice and earth were one: all cloaked in white.



      
 


 
    Explore the pack-ice. Can you find the
  two sleds?
   
 
  Watch Disko & Mille at work in the fog
 

 
If for some reason it’s really tough going forward, we head out on skis or by foot in front of the dogs; in front of the lead dog on the first team. Remember when we were traveling on the river through the Pass and skied out front to check if the ice was safe for the sleds to travel on? Other conditions where we might ski in front of the team is when it is very foggy and we are traveling in a terrain where we need to see what is ahead for safety; if its snowing heavy; through really jumbled pack-ice; in areas where there are leads of open water; in snow so deep that the lead dog has to be hard at work just to move forward and break trail; when it is so hot that it is hard for the dogs to pull the load in the wet snow; or anytime when we need very precise navigation! With only two people, Mikkel is left to control two teams. However, Mille skiing out front allows her to just concentrate on navigation, and the lead dog to concentrate only on moving the sled forward. This week, we skied out front a lot. Or we walked...
   

      
 
When snow gets really wet and the temperatures are just right – or wrong depending on how you look at it – the snow becomes like cement grabbing everything! This includes the bottom of the sled when it stops, or our skis as we try to move forward. Sometimes, the conditions are so bad it is basically impossible to ski because you simply can’t move the ski forward!  To deal with the worsening snow conditions, and the warmer temperatures and fog that seemed to be at its worst in the middle of the day, we started running earlier and earlier every day. This meant crawling into our sleeping bags at 7, 6 and then 5  o’clock in the afternoon to get up earlier and earlier so we could wake up at 1 AM and be out the tent to get on the move at 3 AM! Because it is daylight 24 hours a day, this is actually not too hard for us to do. Good Thunder has seemed to have the hardest time adjusting, being a little morning grumpy the first few days when we chimed in with the many sea gulls, geese and other huge flocks of birds that it’s time to get up!


Right: Hoarfrost on a small Arctic plant

           



      
 
Nazca, Disko and a seal hole: ‘hello, we know you are in there!’  
   
  Explore the cabin and area on
  Henry Kater Peninsula
 
At first ‘night running’ really helped. We did not succeed in escaping the fog, still having to navigate into the white, but the snow was harder and the temps much cooler. So even though we could not see any landmarks what-so-ever, Disko was able to lead the teams across the sea ice at a high pace – chasing seals! It was not until we approached land on Henry Kater Peninsula that Mille had to strap skis on again, when many leads which were wider and wider,  brought Disko to a halt looking over his shoulders for instructions. By then, it had started snowing very heavy again. The weather then turned to sleep and then a mist of drizzling rain. Our bags were soaked. The dogs were soaked. We were soaked. Staying in a cabin that night where we picked up a few more bags of dog food, we tried to dry everything out to no avail. It was more like a sauna. For days it felt like we were dogsledding in a steam bath only at times to be relieved by a breeze. It turns out we sort of were. Aaron shared with us that the air humidity this week here has been reported to be about 90% most of the time!!! 





      
 
    Where are we going?
  Mille is working at it!
   
The original plan we laid out to deal with the early worsening of the ice conditions was not only for Allan to check out the ice conditions to Henry Kater Peninsula, but from the other end, we were to be met by an Elder from Clyde River coming towards us planned for four days later. It turns out though, the conditions were simply too bad for travel by snowmobile from Clyde River. Shari, our GoNorth! Cool Scientist who lives in Clyde River, and Aaron have been hard at work all week helping out with coordination for us. Shari reported that the weather has been so bad no planes have been able to land for four days in Clyde River. The Polar Huskies always move on, so we set out to find our way across the Peninsula through its maze of mountains, rivers and lakes in the thick fog. Yes, Mille was out front again - map, compass and GPS in hand. On the map we had a thin pencil line giving us a general idea of the traditional path to follow. It was a bit tricky though as most of the time it was flat light with completely low visibility. It didn’t matter exactly where we were going as long as we weren’t climbing and climbing.  We were told to move off the Peninsula and move into a river valley about 8 miles long that would get narrow, but it would take us straight out onto Isabella Bay on the Arctic Ocean. Getting to the valley turned out to be a bit of a challenge, and a big surprise awaited us.    

                      
  

  Watch Mille out front and Mikkel’s take on the day!






 

 
      
 
  Listen to the sound of Mille walking
  in deep snow through the riverbed
 
   
   
  Listen to the ‘good morning howl’!  

 

 
 


Usually traveling through a river bed means, ice and faster travel especially when going downhill to the ocean. It turned out, not so. “Sitting at lunch that day we were within 3 miles of the river bed. Climbing for days with the sleds, we had made it above the clouds The fog lay like a thick blanket below us and we could actually see the beautiful mountaintops surrounding us only blue sky above – now the sun was scorching us! And it was only 9:30 in the morning!” grins Mikkel. Going downhill again to the riverbed was in slow-motion because the dogs were so hot and the snow so sticky. And when we reached the river bed, well, we soon found ourselves crawling in snow at times above our waist. “It was a bit of a night mare” sighs Mille, “it took us more than five hours to make it the last some 4 or 5 miles to the ocean.” We were drenched in sweat, Mikkel skiing in front now while Mille shoveled out the sleds whenever too stuck for the Polar Huskies pulling like oxes to move them forward, they too crawling and stumbling around in the bottomless snow pack. It was a long 12 hour day of dogsledding and we were thrilled to make camp on the Arctic Ocean again listening to the howl of the Polar Huskies ready for a day off


      
 
Help! What is this? Feces from a polar bear?]  
Next week will be the last of the Polar Husky howls from Nunavut this time around as this adventure learning expedition is coming to an end. We should be pulling into Clyde River any day then and we hope to be chatting with you live from there! It definitely depends upon when we actually make it into Clyde River, so make sure to keep an eye for an alert letting you know the time and date. We cannot wait to answer your questions and hear what you like most about taking part in this adventure learning expedition! Actually, we hope to hear lots from you this week! First of all, we have a question for you to help us answer: What does polar bear feces look like? We realized this week we don’t actually know that!! Send us a picture of that to howl@polarhusky.com – and we will post it online in next week’s report.




On that note, the final posts were made to the Collaboration Zones on last Friday. Keep an eye out for the banner to change on the homepage in the next week or so announcing this years winners!!! Lastly, while we are out here on the trail, we think the most important exploration goes on in your classroom. You are all explorers, exploring in your classroom along with us. So, in next week’s Trail Report – the last of this live adventure learning expedition – we would like to be reporting from your classrooms! To do so please email us pictures, movies and write about your investigations, adventures and what you have explored over the past 13 weeks! Teachers, keep an eye on your inbox for the week 13 newsletter for more detail. Just like it is out here on the trail, its some tight deadlines. Please send all media, in any form by noon Central Time on Friday, May 29th. ☺


      
 
    Mikkel and his team of Polar Huskies in
  the fog
   
    Watch a team of Polar Huskies
  in action
We are very excited about it and can’t wait to see what YOU report from the classroom. As always, some of the hardest parts about wrapping up an expedition is the last days out here being with the old veteran Polar Husky sled dogs and knowing that this will be, or may be, their last year on the trail with us. “Yes,” says Mille with tears running down her face, “they are my family and I have been through a lot of with them. Together we have some unbelievable memories and I consider it my honor to have traveled with them. These guys are always there, loyal and loving, trusting me 100% and giving me all they have. It breaks my heart to know that a guy like Hershey will not be back out here. For some of them it is tough to believe, really. Like Nazca, she is still one of the strongest dogs here and yet I realize her age and that she may very well have passed the threshold of not being up for going out on another long expedition come winter next year. Only time will tell.  But such is the cycle of living and breathing incredible journeys with the Polar Huskies.  The veterans retire, and new outstanding Polar Huskies step in their paw prints carrying on their spirit and tradition. Mille goes on, “Every day I see and hear little things I know that the guys today were taught by the past Polar Huskies. It is so amazing to experience and observe this and I of course love to see the youngsters learn the ropes and mature to become mighty Polar Husky sled dogs!”


      
 
Polar Husky Superstar Chukchi  
   

  Chukchi says hi!
 

 

Chukchi is this week’s Polar Husky Superstar and one that has really come a long ways on this his first adventure learning expedition. His huge, long and flowing coat fools your eye, but Chukchi is the smallest male in the Kennel. Traits of some of the greatest Polar Huskies of the past are carried on in this little guy. He is already proving to have a grand heart for pulling a sled, tough stamina and a cool mind that keeps him focused when the going gets tough. Chukchi is very shy with new people. He has actually been sort of illusive with people since he could just get up on his little legs to crawl around his mom. He would often choose to crawl away from you and just watch the action to come around when he thought it was fit. It has been remarkable to see his self-confidence and trust grow during this expedition. He has always been very playful, but is always keeping an eye out and keeps anyone at an arm’s length. That’s changing! He jumps leads, he throws himself into the harness with an already fine-tuned technique that even starts the sled (!!), and he is now one to lick your face wet and frosty if he can get to it. Just a really happy guy, Chukchi is roaring and ready to be pushing on along with the rest of the Polar Husky gang!