Fri July 16
The plan is to spend several days in the immediate area, exploring, adjusting to temperatures, drifting at will here and there, seeing what pops up. Breakfast for the next few weeks will be pretty much the same: quick cook oatmeal (pre measured and bagged with added goodies like instant skim milk powder, raisins, a few teaspoons of either/or/and granola, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, coconut, sugar, grapenuts, bran flakes) plus a coffee or two. It’s neat, fast and easy on the stomach. I never tired of it and it frees me of the tedious job of food preparation when I want to be exploring.
The day feels like summer as the wind has reverse direction, coming off the land and not off the frozen sea ice. We head out again towards Jones Sound, meandering between ponds, in a westerly direction. A whale bone skull gleams white and smooth in contrast to the textured rock and tundra. It was likely initially deposited by the sea upon this raised beach terrace (which typifies the Truelove Lowlands area) but was more recently disturbed most likely by human hands, having been flipped over. But it quite heavy and I give up trying to nest it back into its original resting space. The magenta flowers of the wooly lousewort and yellow poppies, arctic saxifrage wave in the breeze, brilliant in their late spring glory. Upon reaching a rock cairn, we turn back to the hut for lunch.
The fox kits are playing tag with each other, pouncing playfully on each other and biting the others tail. They let us approach within 2m. I sit on the ground, Alfred flops down on his belly to film them – Mom circles cautiously around and sniffs at the sole of Alfred’s boot before turning away to settle down for a peaceful snooze in the sun. The kits are about 2/3 her size and still try to suckle at her – she snarls and eventually they back off to amuse themselves or follow her lead, napping. Later, we watch as Mom leads them off on a hunting trip…the smallest kit has great difficulty in hopping from rock to rock, trying to cross the river outlet and keep his feet dry. Eventually he crosses but not until after he dunks himself a few times, shakes himself, then streaks after the retreating hunting party. We follow, crossing the same stream and rocks…the rocks tipping under our feet, we laugh at how easily Mom fox made it appear.
Climbing among the large rocks at the cliff base, it seems to be a favourite rubbing area for the musk ox. Quiviut is plastered against most rock edges, I peel flowing clumps and stuff the warm down into my pockets for some later use. The long guard hairs can be easily picked out from the pale brown undercoat, for the time being I’m content to burrow my fingers deep into this soft ball of wool.
The sky is rapidly thickening with thick clouds of sea fog…above my head, it’s clear blue, but an ominous gray bank is rapidly building, blowing from the sea onto the land. The last views are of the golden rock delta of the Truelove River where it empties into frozen Jones Sound. With out further warning, the fog engulfs us and visibility is reduced to about 100 meters. It feels like night, too dark for photography. We have no GPS and estimate our position to be 5 km over relatively flat unremarkable terrain towards camp. The sky and even the position of the sun is completely obscured. I cast about for my internal compass, relying on gut reaction to say which way to go…we carefully pick our way back, relying on the many landmarks (‘look at this rock’, ‘what a large clump of poppies’, ‘this pile of shit looks really fresh’, and so on) we observed on the outbound trip. It would be easy to get lost here be forced to spend a few hours in the cold chill until visibility improved enough for navigation.
The wind has picked up, its 0C and blowing but inside, after a few cups of tea and dinner, my feet warm up and I sack out by 11pm under a dark blanket of starless nightlike sky.
Sat July 17
Bumped up the level of sleeping attire: my summer down bag is just not warm enough inside the hut (would be warmer inside the tent with less air space but its just soooo convenient inside four walls!). Have added the thin weight balaclava, which stops neck drafts plus a light weight wool sweater over the poly long underwear. Cozy and warm all night and finally woke at 10:30am…arctic time is starting to make its mark.
It’s a blue sky day outside in sharp contrast to yesterday’s fog attack. High clouds over head seem to be moving out. Gentle warm winds prick my wandering urge into high gear. We head north, past the radio antenna at the end of camp. Two dark brown dots in the distance are musk ox, the first we’ve seen since arriving. They look like rocks and I wouldn’t have noticed until these ‘rocks’ moved. Ellesmere Island is clearly visible, 100 km away, the south shore with its white capped glaciers outlined against the blue horizon.
We scramble up some rocks for a 360 view and are reward with a closer group of 4 musk ox, 1 male, 2 females and calf, feeding on a green terrace below. But a single animal is closer, a lone male and we attempt to sneak in for a closer look. But he has seen us already and we circle each other, a large boulder in the centre. When we stop, he stops and paws at the ground with his hoof or else rubs his head on his front leg while making a huffing snorting sound. I take this as a warning and don’t approach closer. Alfred films while I inspect him with binoculars.
The sharp warning yip of fox bark is audible from near by rocks: we ponder : is it another fox family or the same? This group has a pale coloured kit who barks at us from top a small rock – the others stop their playing among the rubble boulders and look at us. We look at them quietly: eventually they get loose interest in us and continue their game of tag.
The temperature definitely warms the further one moves in land, away from the sea ice. A few mosquitoes buzz around but its fairly wind calm – they are not numerous enough to be annoying (yet!). We find another musk ox skeleton, this one is headless – rather odd, we wonder if it had been collected by an earlier group of visitors. Skin and fur remnants are matted into the tundra, bone fragments are scattered about – small piles of fox and wolf shit lie bleaching in the sun.
Although there is no midnight, by 7pm the sun is definitely arcing lower in the sky. Wonderful ‘photographers’ light starts to develop in contrast to the overly bright sun of high noon. The sun pulls us like a magnet, down the long finger of gravel which points north west. The footing is drier here than inland, I’m relieved as my boots are somewhat soggy from the afternoon forays over sedge meadows. The light plays tricks on the eye, offshore icebergs shimmering like fairy castles, surrounded by heat haze. Melt water opens up small riverlettes, flushing fresh water into salt, under still frozen leads. A large inukshuk with bone pieces marks the end of the land. The music of golden plovers fills the still air. It’s the picture perfect midnight arctic summer day! we are entranced, time is meaningless, as we meander and soak up the late day rays. Tiny surface ponds reflect the evening light, an arctic tern swoops and darts, hunting.