Overnight another howling wind storm this time with a dusting of snow. By 10am when the sun finally crests the mountain peaks, its still blowing hard enough to white out Windy Lake behind us. The Crater Lake moraine dissipates the worst of the wind plus I enjoy wandering around the moraine slopes, finding caribou bones frozen hard into the soil.
Across the valley, an unnamed peak is blasted by north winds, the dusting of loose snow spun into delicate vapourous clouds before settling down again on windward slopes. However its fairly calm down here on the valley floor, a weak sun just bright enough to blind us with ice and snow reflections.
The snow offers no glide to our battered sled bottoms instead building and crusting up, acting as a brake. Any advantage of elevation drop has been lost here as it is essentially flat going from here to Overlord, 8 km away. Our last full day on the trail, I’m determined to enjoy it.
Lunch stop. Feeling completely at ease, mitts provide enough insulation between our derrieres and ice. Snacking on the last of the gorp and cheese, I am feeling somewhat melancholy: a typical feeling at the end of a good trip.
The Weasel broadens into multiple braided channels as it nears Overlord. We pick our way, trying to stay on the largest channel thus avoiding ‘sanded in’ routes. Clouds linger and it feels like a winter wonderland with the mild –5C temperature and dispersed light.
Tasting the water for saltiness. The outlet of the river is still at least 1 km downstream but the salt water, aided by tidal action, has worked it way upstream. We decide to camp immediately, not wanting to camp at Overlord. However finding a suitable site proves somewhat difficult as the river flats are filled with hummocky ground and little snow cover. Eventually we locate something suitable with a convenient snow patch. Tonight for the first time, we will melt snow to make drinking water.
Final campsite looking north up the Weasel River. The valley is about 2 km broad, camp is nestled up against the eastern side. It’s calm and mild enough for fleece only layers – after spending the last 10 days in expedition long underwear, it is refreshing to doff the wind layers. Sunglasses, a baseball cap and ear flap hat are still needed. Soaking up the stillness peace and isolation, knowing all too soon it will end.
Dog sledders! Two teams with at least 16 dogs each were going through Akshayuk Pass to Qiqiktarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island) then up the Baffin coast to Clyde River and onto Pond Inlet. Four people for six weeks, each sled with about one ton of gear. The logistics for such a trip would give anyone a headache but the rewards worth it. I wish them well and hope they successfully completed their expedition.
The sleds have just about had it, plastic bottoms getting thinner with each gravelly kilometer. However, at a cost of $12 each, with airline baggage constraints and the ambitions of our travel, they were just right. A bit of hardware in the form of eye hooks and bolts, some cheap nylon rope and presto, a Macgyver special. Sometimes the benefits of extreme specialized gear is overhyped and plain Jane will often do.
Overlord wardens cabin marks the official southern entrance to Auyuittuq. Its not much to look at with empty oil tank and weathered wood windows but I suppose it does the job. What’s a national park with out a sign in three appropriate languages? Sigh. Fox tracks criss crossed the site as well as plastic bottles, paper wrap and other assorted trash bits. Welcome to civilization.
Ptarmigan pretending to be rocks. Chicken sized birds, I spotted four ptarmigan browsing on willow buds. Except for the beady black eye, they are well camouflaged with white winter coats (their tracks in the snow gave them away). In summer, feathers change to mottled browns and greys. Good eating when pan fried.
The outfitter was late picking us up…so we started walking down Pang fiord. It was a glorious sunny day, my smile says it all. Despite initial reservations, the days here were special in so many ways: the challenge of cold and wind, the company of one other person, the remoteness and isolation, the sheer physical beauty all contributed to deeply imprint these arctic days. Unforgettable!